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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Save us from a strong public option (or else we could lose our top-37 ranking)

Posted by on Tue, Sep 22, 2009 at 3:01 PM

From Funny or Die (Will Ferrell et al) and MoveOn.org, a plea on behalf of your friends in the health insurance industry:

And in case you missed it, here's that toe-tapping tune that toured the internets last week called "We're Number 37" -- something every American can enjoy:

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Carolina Rollergirls bounce back to take 5th place in Eastern regional

Posted by on Tue, Sep 15, 2009 at 12:34 PM

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(Cross-posted from Triangle Offense.)

Your (our) Carolina Rollergirls put on a great show this weekend, playing host to the Women's Flat Track Derby Association's Eastern Regional tournament at Dorton Arena in Raleigh. The home team, unfortunately, was upset in the opening round Friday night by Boston, which cost them any chance to advance to the nationals in November. They bounced back Saturday to drub the team from Virginia, and on Sunday grabbed 5th place (out of 10 teams) with a convincing win over the Providence, Rhode Island club.

"What happened Friday was a big surprise to us," said Pink Slip, the skater a.k.a. Laura Slipsky, a Raleigh graphic designer. "After that, I think we all realized we had to pull together and do what we always do -- do what we practice -- and play our own game."

Boston, meanwhile, proved to be the cinderella team of the tournament. The Derby Dames upset Charm City (Baltimore) to finish third, behind Philadelphia and New York -- top three advance to the nationals, scheduled for November in Philly. (Correction: An earlier version of this, based on my misreading of the WFTDA website, said Boston was the regional champion. h/t to Hydra.)

This was your correspondent's first time at an R'girls event -- the first time, actually, that I've seen roller derby since the olden days on New York TV, where the tracks were banked, the villains dirty, the stars clean as snow white, and it was all, ah, predetermined. (Fixed.) But there's nothing fake -- other than the skaters' names -- about these new flat-track events. The women still skate hard, and they battle for position as before, but the officiating -- at least in the two games I saw -- is excellent, which means you win based on speed, strength, strategy and effort. In other words, it's a helluva sport, fast and gritty, and it's a lot of fun to watch. Regular-season games at Dorton draw an average of 1,400 fans, I'm told.

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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Obama on the public option: We'll trigger it in four years unless ...

Posted by on Wed, Sep 9, 2009 at 10:51 PM

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One of the little-noted details of all the health care reform bills floating out of congressional committees everywhere is they don't take full effect until 2013. The state-level insurance exchanges -- basically, a list of the private insurance products available to small businesses and individuals, plus (perhaps) a public insurance "option" something like Medicare -- aren't slated to go into effect for four years.

The insurance industry reform aspects of the bill -- no excluding folks because they have pre-existing conditions, or over-charging them, or dropping them when they sick, or all the other vile ways insurance companies make a buck by avoiding their obligation to actually insure people -- would come first. So would the money to train more front-line doctors and nurses and to figure out better "standards of care" so that wasteful fee-for-service practices (i.e., the padding of health care bills) can be reined in.

So a little light went on in my head tonight listening to President Obama talk about the public option. He's committed to it or something like it, he said. He mentioned coops. He mentioned triggers. But the point is, he said, and then repeated himself, everybody deserves a choice of good, affordable insurance products wherever they live.

Well, doesn't that mean that the insurance industry has four years to figure out how to offer good, affordable insurance products in every state? And if it doesn't -- if one overpriced United Health or Blue Cross product continues to be a monopoly in Alabama or North Carolina, for example -- reform would then "trigger" the introduction of a public option in the aggrieved state(s)?

Four years to curb their costs, insure all comers, pay out when they should and stop with the blizzard of paperwork, and turn themselves into the health-care equivalent of a public utility, doing what the public wants but in a private, for-profit or nonprofit way. Actually, make it three years, because a public option will need a year or so to get off the ground.

Here's what Obama said:

[S]ome have suggested that that the public option go into effect only in those markets where insurance companies are not providing affordable policies. Others propose a co-op or another non-profit entity to administer the plan. These are all constructive ideas worth exploring. But I will not back down on the basic principle that if Americans can't find affordable coverage, we will provide you with a choice. And I will make sure that no government bureaucrat or insurance company bureaucrat gets between you and the care that you need.

Think lovely thoughts, Congress. But just in case the bastards can't do it, do load the public option into your legislation and attach an easy-to-pull trigger. With a three-year deadline.

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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Van Dyk won't say if he pushed the anti-Crowder poll in District D race

Posted by on Tue, Sep 1, 2009 at 8:52 AM

After the fifth or sixth person asked me if I knew who was behind the push poll in District D (Southwest Raleigh) last week, I started calling it "the push poll" myself. But since push poll is such a dirty term in politics, let's not jump ahead of ourselves. There was some automated calling done in the district. A recorded voice asked "questions" about the District D incumbent, City Councilor Thomas Crowder -- questions that were not really questions at all. They were along the lines of: Would you vote for Crowder if you knew that he (insert criticism or innuendo)? Well, would you still vote for him if you knew that he (insert additional criticism or innuendo)?

You know, like push polls do.

I called Crowder's opponent, Ted Van Dyk, to ask him if he knew who did the poll. "There are interested people" who did it, he said. "There was a poll done ... I did not have direct grimy hands on the questions ... I am party to the information [collected]."

In short, if he knows who took it -- and presumably he does, because he acknowledged getting the results -- Van Dyk wasn't saying. I finally asked him if he was the client. Was it his poll? "I'm not going to say it is my poll, and I'm not going to say it isn't," he said.

On one point, though, Van Dyk was definite. "It was not a push poll," he insisted.

So what is a push poll?

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Council's 5-3 vote chops the head off the comp plan's FLUM monster

Posted by on Tue, Sep 1, 2009 at 7:42 AM

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Opponents termed it a monster's head, a dragon's head, a clenched fist aimed at their Pullen Park/West Morgan neighborhoods. It was the western-reaching appendage of the new comprehensive plan's FLUM (Future Land Use Map) that sought to extend the Central Business District -- as shown in red in the graphic -- to an assemblage of property at the intersection of West Morgan and Hillsborough Streets known to the community as the Bolton tract.

But the dragon won't be eating the neighborhoods, at least any time soon. Because after months of political in-fighting, the City Council Monday voted 5-3 to chop its head off, lifting the CBD designation from the 6.7-acre Bolton tract and instead making it (along with some nearby properties) into a special study area. In other words, the tract will be the subject of a small area plan to determine the most appropriate future land uses there in some detail.

The vote was a victory for a coalition of neighborhoods including Pullen Park and West Morgan on the south side of Hillsborough Street and the Cameron Park and Cameron Village neighborhoods on the north side. (Disclosure: I live in Cameron Park and supported our neighborhood's position.) On the other side were the owners of the Bolton tract, a Charlotte firm called FMW Real Estate, who fought hard to keep the CBD designation, and some adjacent property owners who supported them. The Bolton tract consists of some 11 separate lots assembled by FMW, including the long-vacant Bolton Corporation building itself.

For some background on the FLUM, see our Indy stories about it here and here. The monster's head has been in it from the December, 2008 get-go, with the Raleigh Planning Department staff and the Planning Commission backing it all the way against a growing chorus of neighborhood voices who argued that the Bolton tract simply isn't in the downtown CBD and shouldn't be treated as if it were.

When the issue finally reached the City Council, a flurry of 11th-hour maneuvering began. The neighborhoods were pushing for a special study. On the other side, FMW principal Jim Zanoni, his Raleigh lawyer Mack Paul, Raleigh Planning Director Mitch Silver and others concocted a 'compromise." The Planning Department's "Memo 9" proposed to change the Bolton designation from CBD to "Community Retail -- Mixed Use," a category defined in the comp plan as:

"... medium-sized shopping centers and larger pedestrian-oriented retail districts such as Cameron Village."

It seemed an odd fit, since Zanoni has consistently said that his firm will seek to have the property rezoned for a mainly residential project of about 1,000 units, or 150 units per acre. Not, that is, for a shopping mall.

The CBD designation calls for densities of up to 320 units per acre (and unlimited building heights). CRMU, on the other hand, is about shopping centers with some complementary residential units, but only 14-28 units per acre unless near a transit stop, in which case the upper limit would be 70 units per acre.

But wait -- in the 11th hour deal, the CRMU definition was proposed to be rewritten (as spelled out in Memo 9) to allow "the highest densities -- no more than 150 units per acre -- reserved for areas within a half-mile of a planned rail transit stop...."

Though the Bolton tract isn't located with a half-mile of a planned rail stop as yet, the Planning Department is pitching the idea of re-drawing the main TTA rail line so that it would be.

The idea is to pull the TTA rail line out of the Amtrak rail corridor as it approaches downtown Raleigh from the west and re-route it along West Hargett or West Morgan street -- making it an electrified streetcar, in effect. If that's done --and it's entirely possible that it will be done -- then a stop could be located not just near the Bolton tract but on it.

The rewritten definitiion -- 150 units, just what FMW wanted -- was posted to the city's website at about 4:30 Friday afternoon. Neighborhood leaders had no idea it was there until late Sunday night. By Monday morning, it was under fire. Mayor Charles Meeker, who on Saturday told me that he was inclined to support the CRMU designation (but at that point, I didn't know about the change to 150 units, and he didn't mention it), fielded a slew of emails and calls from irate neighbors.

When the issue came to a vote at the Council work session Monday afternoon, four Council members were lined up on the neighborhoods' side, and Meeker joined them. They were Thomas Crowder (the neighborhoods' district representative), Russ Stephenson (an at-large member), Rodger Koopman and Nancy McFarlane. Koopman and McFarlane represent other districts.

Voting the other way, against the special-study redesignation, were Councilors Mary-Ann Baldwin (the other at-large member), Philip Isley and James West.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Universal health care was Ted Kennedy's greatest wish.

Posted by on Wed, Aug 26, 2009 at 1:39 PM

Ted Kennedy thought that every American deserved health care coverage as good as what our members of Congress provide for themselves. He didn't live long enough to see it happen.

MoveOn.org is sending this clip around to its supporters.

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Friday, August 21, 2009

"Survival of the richest!": Billionaires Against Health Care join the debate

Posted by on Fri, Aug 21, 2009 at 11:30 AM

Wait a minute! I recognize a few of these billionaires, and I'll bet the lot of them aren't worth $100 million. They're making a mockery of our democratic process on a critical policy issue. "Let them eat Advil" indeed:

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Obama: Public option is "important" and btw, no one would be forced to take it

Posted by on Thu, Aug 20, 2009 at 4:10 PM

Probably the biggest problem with keeping the "public option" as part of health care reform is that people don't know what "public option" means. Is it an "option" that would be available to folks who can't get insurance any other way? I can imagine that many people think that's exactly what it would be -- but it isn't. Under all of the proposals under serious consideration in Congress, most folks who have insurance won't have access to the public option at all, let alone be left with it as their only option. But even for those with no insurance, the public option would be one choice available to them among many others -- and all of the other choices would be from private insurers.

In other words, the public option -- when it's available -- would always be a choice to be taken or not. No one would be forced to use it.

There's a Survey USA poll out today indicating that when the "public option" is described as a choice, 77 percent of Americans support it. When the word choice is omitted from the description, however, as it was in last week's NBC poll, support for the public option drops below 50 percent. Huffington Post has a good writeup on the two.

President Obama held a health care forum this afternoon with his Organizing for America troops to talk about -- per OFA's introduction -- "our strategy and message going forward." It came as the debate raged among his supporters about whether Obama is committed to the public option and will fight for it as a critical part of reform; or, alternatively, has given up on it and is prepared to settle for a reform bill without it. There's really no telling about that, I guess -- and Obama didn't address that question directly -- though I have to say that if he's fighting for it, he's been doing it one-handed.

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Today, though, Obama led with the public option in his explanation of reform, called it "important" and "a good idea," and emphasized repeatedly that it is "a choice," "just one option," and "purely voluntary" -- i.e., nobody is going to be forced into it or left with it as their only option.

It's about time.

Just as reform's opponents managed to turn voluntary end-of-life consultations with a doctor into "death panels," a ridiculous mis-characterization that  the White House is finally managing to turn back on them, the opponents have managed to depict the public option as some sort of government takeover of health care. That's not true either, but until just now, I haven't heard the President really push back. If he does, he just might find that most Americans think -- as he says he does -- that a public option makes excellent sense and would, indeed, be an "important" component of health care reform.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Here's a modest proposal: The USICO (a national insurance cooperative)

Posted by on Tue, Aug 18, 2009 at 4:22 PM

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When does an insurance coop equal a public insurance option? Let's see, what if we -- uh -- create a public insurance option and -- oh, goodness -- let the federal government run it but -- by golly, this is hard -- make it so that the policyholders are entitled to any surplus it generates -- after, of course, its bills are paid and a prudent reserve is set aside to pay future claims.

When a surplus is declared, policyholders could receive it in the form of a -- a what?

Man, this is tough.

Wait, I've got it!

Let's call it a membership dividend check.

But here's the toughest part, what could we possibly name this thing that could ever provide political cover for the many Democrats who've pledged never to support health care reform without a public option and the Democrats -- all three of them, but unfortunately they're all in the Senate -- who've said they'll never support a public option, only coops?

How about naming it the U.S. Insurance Cooperative Option? USICO, for short.

Hey, it's public, it's a coop, and if Sens. Max Baucus, Kent Conrad and Ben Nelson insist, it could even have state-level membership boards with the authority to create -- if their state's members approve -- new benefits above and beyond the basic package mandated as part of the public option ... I mean, as part of our USICO.

Wow, that took almost five minutes.

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Reich is right: The public option depends on Obama fighting for it.

Posted by on Mon, Aug 17, 2009 at 3:04 PM

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The public option is already a compromise. Giving it away is a cave-in. So says former Labor Secretary Robert Reich. What he doesn't mention, btw, is that the public options (they differ in form a bit) contained in the four different bills coming from the three House committees and from the Senate HELP Committee, respectively, are extremely limited -- only a very limited number of people could choose them anyway. Wouldn't want to "destabilize" the private insurance industry. So they're not just a compromise, they're a compromise of a compromise.

And this from Ezra Klein, a Washington Post blogger: Per person, health care in Great Britain, where it is "fully socialized," costs $4,298 less than it does in the United States. For better results. Gee, we wouldn't a system like that, would we?

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No, no, no. You don't understand. Thom wasn't "misleading investors." He was just "letting the free market work."

by VirgilCane on State shuts down Sen. Thom ("I call them Moron Mondays") Goolsby's investment biz. (Citizen)

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