Bill Scher's LiberalOasis

Home of the This Is Not Normal podcast, Bill Scher columns and other liberal commentary

Month: April 2009 (page 1 of 2)

Swine Flu

What’s up with the Swine Flu? It seems every time I turn around there is something out there that is really, really bad and it is going to kill me.
Eight students from NY have swine flu. From
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed cases of swine flu in eight students at a New York preparatory school, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Sunday.
The students have had only mild symptoms and none have been hospitalized, he said. Some of the students have already recovered.
More than 100 students were absent from school due to flu-like symptoms last week. New York health officials tested samples for eight students Saturday and determined the students were probably suffering from swine flu, and the CDC confirmed the diagnosis on Sunday, Bloomberg said. (more.. )
What are the facts about Swine flu? Get your answers here.
Swine flu has been declared a public health emergency. Watch the video:
Embedded video from CNN Video
From a disease a day (scary sounding web site but packed with some good information), tips on prevention:
The bottom line – How do I avoid it?
There is no vaccine at the moment that can protect you from the swine flu. There are steps you can take to lower your chance of getting it or of passing it to others –
1. Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
2. Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.
3. Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
4. If you get sick with influenza, CDC recommends that you stay home from work or school and limit contact with others to keep from infecting them. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.
Thanks for the heads up from Roy who pointed out this video from the CDC on Swine Flu:
First death in the US is a 23 month old in South Texas. We don’t have further details.
The international response has been all over the map. Kissing has been banned in Costa Rica. Many countries have banned travel to Mexico and the US.
Several Republicans were very proud of themselves for removing “pork” from the economic stimulus package. Some of that “pork” included pandemic preparedness. Pandemic preparedness is exactly the kind of government infrastructure we need.

Bill O’Reilly hates cartoons and the New York Times and…

In my ongoing quest to try to enlighten some friends of mine, I watched Bill O’Reilly’s Talking Points which aired last night. Okay, let’s break it down —
O’Reilly starts his rant by showing a cartoon picture of the Statue of Liberty holding a cat of nine tails. He wants us to believe that this proves that the New York Times hates America. I guess I could agree with him if the United States didn’t actively torture captives. This is what happened. Now I guess that conservatives like Bill O’Reilly and others would like to forget that chapter in our history (like forgetting the Trail of Tears or imprisonment of Japanese-Americans) but like other painful chapters before, the only way that we rectify this, is by looking directly into the situation. This means investigations. O’Reilly then denigrates the New York Times by suggesting that they are unfair because of this one cartoon. A cartoon in the New York Times is not mean it’s fair or not. It has no relevance on their journalism and their editorial comments. So far, O’Reilly has spent a third of his three minutes babbling on about the New York Times.
Behind every liberal organization, Bill O’Reilly believes George Soros lurks. Of course, anyone with Internet access can take five minutes and find out that Georgia Soros, although he’s a rich man, is not behind every liberal organization or even every liberal cause. George Soros is not behind the New York Times or GE or NBC for that matter. These facts don’t seem to matter to O’Reilly.
O’Reilly then justifies burying the torture story because it harms America’s image. This is one of the dumbest arguments he’s used so far. America’s image will elevate once America faces this problem and deals with it. But, on one hand, conservatives would have us believe that it doesn’t matter what our image in the world is, on the other hand, our image around the world seems to matter to Bill O’Reilly at least in this specific instance. I guess this is one of those cases where you can have your cake and eat it too.

One of the talking points that Republicans have rolled out over the last several months is that any trial on torture will be in “show trial” or “a witchhunt”. For some reason, enforcing the law has now become no more than a show trial. Could it probably be that conservatives have embraced the wrong ideology (torture is good. torture works.)? Not in Bill O’Reilly’s mind. Instead, any trial will be an attempt to marginalize Republicans. Now, why would Democrats want to marginalize Republicans when Republicans are doing a great job of marginalizing themselves. You have Gov. Rick Perry of Texas who is talking about seceding from the union and less the week later is asking for federal funding to fight the swine flu. As long as Republicans continue to beat themselves why should Democrats do anything. So, O’Reilly sees this conspiracy in which Democrats, some Democrats are probably implicated in authorizing the torture, are trying to marginalize Republicans. He offers not one shred of evidence to support his premise. Somehow, exposing the ugly sore that is torture, in O’Reilly’s mind is a win for the Democrats. I’m sorry, I just don’t follow this illogical thought process. Americans torturing prisoners is a loss for all Americans. Independents or Republicans. Anyone who says anything else is simply being disingenuous or stupid.

O’Reilly begins to rail on the Obama administration about releasing photographs. The photographs are mischaracterized by Bill O’Reilly as military investigations into prisoner abuse when in fact there are photographs of prisoner abuse. The ACLU requested the photographs in the same freedom of information act request that released before torture memos last week. The Obama administration is trying to be transparent and try to comply with a court order. O’Reilly believes that the ACLU wants to “inflame the world against the USA.” Again, there is no evidence that the ACLU wants to do any such thing. Of course, in Bill O’Reilly’s world the ACLU is the enemy and therefore they must want to hurt the United States. Yet, when you look at the ACLU’s charter and look at the cases that they take up, they seem to be trying to uphold the Bill of Rights.
Now comes the good part, Bill O’Reilly puts a list of Bush administration officials on the screen and states that these officials have told us that tough interrogation methods work. He then puts up the lone picture of Robert Mueller, FBI director, and states that Dir. Mueller is “vastly outnumbered.” This isn’t a numbers game. We don’t have evidence that “tough interrogation tactics” work. “I said so,” it’s not a good enough reason to believe any of those Bush administration officials. Where is the specific intelligence that we have gained from these tactics? If there were specific intelligence that was gained from these tactics then the Bush administration, in my opinion, would have been more than happy to release that information to get people like me off of their backs. All of the evidence that I’ve been released so far including the four torture memos, the Senate intelligence committee report and the Senate armed services committee report refuting idea that these tactics were necessary.

Here is my problem with this line of thinking and questioning. Torture is illegal in this country. It really doesn’t matter what memos were written. Torture as defined in our laws is illegal in this country. If we are truly a country of laws then we must enforce the law. If I get arrested for stealing, I can’t tell the police officer or the judge that I stole because I needed the money. Stealing is illegal and I will get put in jail for that. Unless Congress removes the law from our books, and that was not done, torture is illegal.

Maybe it is just me but Bill O’Reilly does not seem to be fair or balanced in this 3:09 minute tirade. Maybe, just maybe, Bill O’Reilly may find something to talk about that Americans really cares about like the economy or the unrest in Afghanistan, Pakistan, job losses, manufacturing in this country or the foreclosure rate. These are real issues. A cartoon in the New York Times or the New Yorker or the Washington Post is not a real issue.

At The 100 Day Mark, Climate Is Losing

At the 100 Day mark of the Obama Era, climate protection is behind health care for all.
This shouldn’t be and isn’t a contest. Solving both domestic crises is critical to sustain our economy and our planet.
And the fact that health care is farther along the political process is no reason to be complacent about its final outcome. The insurance and drug lobbies may be on their heels, but they are not beaten.
But the political reality is clear. The proposal to create a public health insurance option had cultivated enough support that the President could successfully insist on leaving open the possibility of passage with a simple majority vote in the Senate. The proposal to cap carbon emissions had no such momentum, as the Senate set a higher supermajority threshold of 60 votes.
Why is this so? Because with the addition of Sen. Arlen Specter to the Democratic caucus, there are now 18 Senate Dems from the top coal-producing states, another four from oil-producing states, and others from states with electricity primarily coal-powered.
Perhaps many of these politicians are sincerely skittish at what a real transition to a clean energy economy would mean for their states. Or as Clean Air Watch’s Frank O’Donnell suggests, perhaps they are unduly influenced by campaign cash for fossil fuel industries.
Whatever the specific reason, these fossil fuel ties are certainly creating a disconnect between them and the will of the President and the public.
Just today, the NBC/Wall Street Journal found that by a 58% to 35% margin, the public supports President Obama’s proposal for, “Charging a fee to companies that emit greenhouse gases … and using the money to provide tax cuts for middle-income families,” even though the poll question raised the possibility of “higher utility bills.”
Yet the Senate flinched from incorporating revenue from such a carbon cap system into the budget resolution.
How can we remove this political barrier between the public and these fossil fuel state Dems?
My earlier Omaha World-Herald oped proposed a policy solution: reinvest the revenue from polluters back into their states for clean energy jobs and consumer rebates. That way, fossil fuel states don’t bear the brunt of a clean energy transition.
But that policy solution needs to be backed up with political muscle if we are to separate the constituents in fossil fuel states from the coal and oil CEOs supplying all that campaign cash.
And that will require mass mobilization.
As Robert Borosage says today:

…what Obama has been missing has been an independent, obstreporous citizens’ movement demanding fundamental reform … it is precisely these movements – independent, disruptive, passionate, demanding bolder reform, taking on entrenched powerful interests – that enabled Roosevelt and Johnson to achieve far more than they ever thought possible.

Similarly Kim Phillips-Fein, author of the new book Invisible Hands chronicling how the conservative movement, drew lessons for progressives in her recent appearance on

Progressive change in this country has come about through … mass mobilization and a genuine populism that is much more difficult for conservatives to attain … There needs to be and kind of consistent emphasis on how …to really engage people in politics and in the struggle to create a more just society…
…The ability to kind of engage large numbers of people in this kind of democratic project is the true strength of progressive politics …To cut taxes, and to deregulate industries and to fight unions you don’t actually need mass support to do those things. But … to build unions, to create national health care, to provide a more democratic structure for the economy you do need to have deep levels of support, mass popular political activity to accomplish those things.

We do have a nascent infrastructure to spark such mass mobilization. Organizations like Powershift, Focus The Nation and Alliance for Climate Protection are helping to prioritize the issue among America’s youth. and VoteVets are activating their memberships and funding TV ads. The Blue Green Alliance and the Apollo Alliance are bringing unions and environmental organizations together to support climate protection legislation.
We even have an important assist from the EPA. Administrator Lisa Jackson said this month the agency is prepared to use its legal authority to follow science and act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. That puts fresh pressure on Congress to act if it wants to design any new system to cap carbon.
But even though the House is in the midst of public debate on a comprehensive clean energy and climate protection bill, we are not seeing a mass mobilization necessary to diminish special interest influence, and make clear to Senators that the interests of voters in fossil fuel states is vastly different that the interests of fossil fuel CEOs.
Further, I would bet that most Americans, including progressives and liberals, aren’t even aware that we are in a sensitive moment with climate legislation, and do not recognize the time is now to influence it. Why would we, when news items about the hearings are buried in the back pages? Meanwhile, special interest lobbyists are acutely aware of the moment we are in.
As I suggested in my own appearance last week, much of the progressive grassroots’ recent attention has been on the torture memos and not on the House climate bill.
Again, this shouldn’t be a contest. Holding torture architects accountable is extremely important.
But as it is ridiculous for pundits to chastise President Obama for “doing too much” when there is much to do, we progressives must also be able to walk and chew gum simultaneously.
If we are to mobilize when it matters, we cannot simply chase the hot news of the moment as decided by cable TV. We must know our goals, and diligently pursue them every day.
Originally posted at

The LiberalOasis Radio Show: Tortured Arguments Edition

Today at 10 AM ET, The LiberalOasis Radio Show was broadcast on WHMP-AM in Western MA. My special guest was Christy Hardin Smith of who cut down the empty arguments coming from the conservative apologists for torture.
My opening segment deals with how we can avoid allowing our efforts to hold torture architects accountable from depleting our energy to exert grassroots pressure for health care reform and climate protection. (No video though this week.)
The audio podcast for the show is here: (iTunes / XML feed / MP3).

Serious Healthcare Reform – Part Two (Goals)

So, what are the goals of health care reform? Some believe that the goals are just to rearrange the deck chairs. In my mind, we’re sailing on the Titanic; therefore, rearranging the deck chairs is not going to fix the problem. Instead, I think we need to take this opportunity to perform a comprehensive overhaul of our health care system. We must remember that our system developed over the last 100 years. It has developed mostly as a hodgepodge. There hasn’t been one person or one group of people who sat down and thought about how health care will be delivered.

Let’s guarantee health care for all. In my mind, universal coverage is the only way to get this done. This does not mean that everybody deserves or should be covered for everything. Instead, I do believe that office visits and hospitalizations need to be covered. Preventive medicine needs to be covered along with mental health care. Physical therapy and occupational therapy, prescriptions and dental care all need to be covered. What’s left? Plastic surgery, reproductive health and cosmetic dentistry to name a few.

There has to be some mechanism to control costs. We’ve seen over the years that without cost controls medical costs skyrocket. Does every hospital need the latest CT scanner?
Americans should be able to choose their own physician and their own hospital. Also, Americans need better data on what they are choosing. How good is that hospital, really? That data should be readily available. If you’re going to a surgeon for a hernia repair, what is his/her rate of recurrence? What is the infection rates?
We need to fix the problem concerning access to health care. Many patients complain about being unable to see a physician. When most doctors offices are open from nine in the morning until four in the afternoon and most people work from 8:30 in the morning until 5:30 in the afternoon, no wonder there’s an access problem. We need clinics to be open earlier and stay open later. We need clinics open on the weekends.

Health care reform must include high-quality, coordinated health care. We have to have a mechanism to control medical errors. How do we decrease or eliminate hospital-acquired infections? How do we guarantee that we are not paying for procedures that have not been proven to be of benefit? These things need to be worked out in order to control costs. A patient who is in a car crash in northern Pennsylvania is currently without his medical records. His physicians are flying blind, as it were. We should be able to put a system in place where his physicians have timely access to his records even if he’s from southern Florida.

We have to do something about malpractice. There’s not a day that goes by that physicians don’t worry about malpractice. Many physicians practice defensive medicine, driving costs up and doesn’t necessarily add to the quality of medicine that they are delivering. We need to develop a malpractice system were patient grievances are compensated adequately and quickly. On the other hand, frivolous lawsuits also need to be handled with minimal costs to physicians, hospitals and insurance companies.
Finally, we have to fund the system in such a way that is fair to all Americans. Everyone should have to pay their fair share.
I believe that these are the correct goals for reforming our health care system. What are your thoughts?

How To Get 60 Votes For a Carbon Cap

In an oped published Sunday by the Omaha World-Herald (and reprinted today by Grist), I argued for a climate compromise with the coal- and oil-state Senators needed for a 60-vote supermajority: a strong carbon cap that makes polluters pay to pollute, but steering that revenue back into the same states to cushion the transition away from fossil fuels.
On Friday, Rep. Henry Waxman indicated to Bloomberg that a compromise along those lines is possible. Bloomberg reports: “Waxman said Representatives John Dingell, a Michigan Democrat who once chaired the committee, and Rick Boucher, a Democrat from Virginia’s coal country, will support his 20 percent reduction [in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020] even though they have previously called for a reduction of just 6 percent. Dingell and Boucher may be willing to accept the higher reductions in part because of Waxman’s proposal for allocating the permit revenue.”
If this idea gains traction, expect coal and oil CEOs to squeal with more misinformation about how capping carbon would affect families and businesses. When we respond, it’s incumbent on us not to view polluter CEOs as proxies from the voters in coal and oil states.
Because in order to gain the support of wavering Senators, we need to build support among their constituents. And the interests of their constituents (stable and manageable energy bills, safe environment) is not the same as the CEOs (personal profits, no competition from new clean energy companies).
For more background, my oped is below.
Obama’s Carbon-Cap Plan Tests Democratic Coalition
By Bill Scher
Democratic gains in the Plains, the interior West, the Rust Belt and the Old Confederacy have transformed the political landscape. But one primary goal of the Obama administration is straining the geographic diversity of the new Democratic coalition: capping carbon pollution to avert a climate crisis.
While a rapid transition to a clean energy-powered economy is a main plank of the Democratic platform, 17 Democratic U.S. senators hail from the top coal-producing states, with another four representing the biggest oil-producing states. Several more (including Nebraska’s Ben Nelson) serve constituents whose electricity is primarily generated by coal, which would intentionally become more expensive in any effective climate protection strategy.
Many of these senators have signaled their reluctance to pass a strong carbon cap. Yet Speaker Nancy Pelosi and top House Democrats have pledged to pass climate protection as part of a broad clean-energy bill this year.
As energy is a hot-button issue felt by every voter every day, an intraparty regional clash would jeopardize the new Democratic coalition. Can Democrats creatively bridge geographic differences to craft effective legislation? Or will they take a path of least resistance: a paper-thin compromise that fails to address the crisis?
The big sticking point is how much polluters pay. President Barack Obama’s initial proposal would cap carbon, create new pollution permits and sell them. Since there would be a limited number of permits, we would be able to control the amount of carbon gumming up the atmosphere.
Since private companies would no longer get to pollute the public’s sky for free, the cost of carbon-heavy goods would rise. The revenue from polluters would fund both clean-energy production and consumer rebates, making low-carbon goods more affordable.
Businesses that burn a lot of carbon — like coal and oil companies — are not enamored with paying to pollute. They want the permits given away for free. This makes some political sense; it buys off the opposition.
But we saw what happened with freebies when Europe struggled with its attempt at capping carbon. As the Wall Street Journal recently explained: “That let utilities pocket billions of euros in windfall profits, because they got the permits for free, yet were able to pass on higher electricity costs to consumers.”
The crudest way to compromise is to split the difference, give away most permits for free to start with, and then gradually sell more as the program ramps up. But there is great concern in the scientific community that we don’t have time for a slow start.
There is a better way to compromise. It still would not appeal to coal and oil CEOs, but — more importantly for senators thinking about re-election — potentially would appeal to voters in fossil-fuel states.
Sen. Evan Bayh, from coal-heavy Indiana, last month on MSNBC criticized President Obama’s intention to take carbon-cap revenue from polluters and steer it to taxpayers across the country: “You’re taking money from carbon-intensive states like Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and redistributing it to California, New York.” But in that concern lies the key to compromise.
Jesse Jenkins, director of energy and climate policy at the Breakthrough Institute think tank, has a simple solution: “Return 80 percent to 85 percent of the revenue back to the states where it came from. Because they have the most to lose, and they need the most help.”
Jenkins further recommends focusing on clean-energy investments rather than taxpayer rebates to get the best bang for the buck: creating clean-energy jobs, lowering the cost of clean energy, easing our ability to purchase less energy and making our bottom-line energy bills manageable and stable.
Coal and oil CEOs would still complain, but that’s inevitable. After all, the whole idea is to lessen our dependence on their products. But if voters in carbon-intensive states know that there will be money on the table to create green jobs and keep their energy bills in check, the corporate scare tactics will ring hollow and skittish senators should be reassured.
The key to keeping the Democratic coalition geographically solid so it can effectively govern is thoughtful policymaking. If communicated directly to voters, that could lock in grass-roots support.
Splitting the difference in back rooms with special interests will not only lead to bad policies that sell voters short but also will greatly shorten the era of Democratic dominance.
Cross-posted at

The LiberalOasis Radio Show: Purity Myth Edition

Today at 10 AM ET, The LiberalOasis Radio Show was broadcast on WHMP-AM in Western MA. My special guest was’s Jessica Valenti who discussed her latest book “The Purity Myth” and the damaging obsession with female virginity.
The audio podcast for the show is here: (iTunes / XML feed / MP3).
Video of the opening segment is below, on why the ineffectiveness of the Tea Party movement is no reason to be complacent regarding the big challenges we face on health care and climate protection.

The Week In Blog: Scared Conservatives Edition

The latest edition of The Week In Blog is up at, featuring Matt Lewis and myself discussing how Twitter is changing blogging, Obama foreign policy, taxes and the potential of domestic terrorism. Watch it below.

The LiberalOasis Radio Show: Family of Secrets Edition

Today at 10 AM ET, The LiberalOasis Radio Show was broadcast on WHMP-AM in Western MA. My special guest was investigative journalist Russ Baker of WhoWhatWhy/Real News Project, who discussed his new book on the Bush family: Family of Secrets.
My opening segment covers where health care and climate protection legislation stands in the House and Senate, and how we can best influence the process. (No video of it though, because I forgot to turn the webcam on!)
The audio podcast for the show is here: (iTunes / XML feed / MP3).

The Week In Blog: Tea Bag Edition

The latest edition of The Week in Blog is up at featuring Matt Lewis and I discussing the upcoming conservative “tea parties,” the smackdown of George “Global Cooling” Will, and GOP jockeying for 2012. Watch it below.

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