Bill Scher's LiberalOasis

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

Month: June 2009 (page 1 of 2)

Yes We Can, Albania!

Taking a moment out of the congressional mishmash of healthcare, climate bills and political sexual intrigue, let us take a look at Albania. The G99 party is modeling Obama pioneered grass roots organizing with American consultants and volunteers, recently college grads fresh off of the campaign trail in their recent elections. These young people were at the forefront of the Obama campaign all over the country in critical capacities: Iowa, New Hampshire and most notably, Florida. Now, after their arduous and exemplary service to the democratic party, they have fanned out to take that explosive and progressive energy to various spheres. G99 is taking advantage of that energy and employing these young people as counsel and witness to their elections.
G99 is composed of citizens under the age of 29 who effectively catalyzed their protests at the conduct of their government and its officials into political organizing. The results are both interesting and compelling: where does civil society and civic engagement determine and support an election? The recent news out of the country seems to be pointing towards the usual problems associated with voting discrepancies, corruption and apathy. What will be critical is how we learn from this process. What methods can employ to better spread democratic processes abroad and inspire countries, communities and citizens to take control of their own political fates?
Meet Erin Mazursky, grass roots organizing consultant for the G99 Party. Through twitter, blogging and updates, Erin has kept abreast of all the developments and used her own experience from the Obama campaign to provide witness, counsel and analysis to G99 and Albania’s youth. With the elections there drawing to an eventful close, I urge you to peruse her blog for its critical analysis and for a passenger side view on the spread of democracy and grass roots organizing.

Gov. Romney was wrong on health care

On Meet the Press, former Gov. Mitt Romney was asked about health care. The former Massachusetts governor, who is credited with getting health care in Massachusetts, is somehow seen as an expert on health care reform. Gov. Romney, when asked about health care reform, stated, “We have a model that worked. One state in America, my state, was able to put in place a plan that got everybody health insurance, and it did not require a public government insurance company. That’s the last thing America needs. You know exactly what it is. President Obama, when he was campaigning, said he wanted a single payer system. That’s would it would lead to. He would subsidize this over time, it would become larger and larger, drive the private options out of the healthcare industry. It would be just disastrous for health care in this country. And therefore the right way to proceed is to reform health care. That we can do, as we did it in Massachusetts, as Wyden-Bennett is proposing doing it at the national level. We can do it for the nation, we can get everybody insured, we can get the cost of health care down, but we don’t have to have government insurance and government running health care to get that done.”

I thought David Gregory was supposed to be the moderator of a policy debate. Instead, he acted as a pitch man for the Republican infomercial. Gregory had plenty of opportunities to ask a decent follow-up question but instead he asked none. Here’s a few follow-up questions I would have asked:

  • Gov., you stated that in Massachusetts you have a model that “worked.” Exactly what you mean by “worked”? Massachusetts has a system that is spending 33% more on health care than the national average. Why is that?
  • Why would driving private options out of the healthcare industry be disastrous for America?
  • By expanding Medicare and Medicaid to cover the poorest people in Massachusetts haven’t you selected the healthiest people to be covered by private health insurance?
  • Aren’t some of the very high profile hospitals in Massachusetts getting paid more to do the same procedures are smaller hospitals? Why is this? How does this help decrease costs?
  • Finally, you said “we can get the cost of health care down” but in your state healthcare has done nothing but increase since the instituting of this reform program. Healthcare costs have increased since 2006 by 42%. How do you plan on controlling costs if you can’t even do it in the small state of Massachusetts?

Universal health care can control costs using several mechanisms.

  • Eliminate insurance costs. This saves $700 billion.
  • Negotiate drug prices. Give pharmaceutical companies longer patent times so they have the ability to recuperate their R&D costs.
  • Fund research to find the best medical options for the most common diseases which include congestive heart failure, peripheral vascular disease, hypertension, diabetes and others.
  • Pay primary care physicians and hospitals differently. Hospitals and primary care physicians should each take care of a population of patients. This eliminates the incentive to see patients over and over and over again. Instead, we should increase incentives to see patients once and get it right the first time.
  • Truly look at medical products (wheelchairs, scooters, CT scanners and lab machines). The government working with physicians and other medical personnel should come up with guidelines for all of these devices. Who truly needs a scooter? Does every hospital need a CT scanner?
  • Fix the immigration problem. By closing our borders, and only letting in people that we want in this country, we can decrease the strain on the emergency rooms across the country.
  • Business saves. Businesses don’t have to spend any money trying to figure out healthcare plans. Instead, they can use that money to increase salaries and to increase investment into their business.
  • End of life. We have to begin to discuss end-of-life issues.

Clean Energy

Waxman-Markley bill has made it out of the House. The vote was relatively close. 219-212. Eight Republicans voted for the bill. 44 Democrats voted against the bill. This bill is also known as the America Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009. A lot of Republicans are upset at the cap-and-trade portion of the bill. Personally, I think that cap-and-trade is a copout. I think this makes the bill overly complex and it’s unclear whether we will gain anything from the complexity. I find a more complex bills are, the larger the loopholes. Simply give companies tax incentives for upgrading to more environmentally friendly equipment and processes. You need to make the incentives large enough that companies that decide not to upgrade will be financially hurt compared to their competitors. Although President Obama has stated that he will support this bill, I predict that a fairly uphill and bruising battle in the Senate. I should add, that this bill is packed with green jobs. Currently, we’re in the midst of a slow jobless recovery (I think… I hope). We should get more jobs as more infrastructure building projects come online. We should also get a significant number of jobs generated through this bill. We need this extra “stimulus.”
Obama talks about this bill in weekly Video address. Watch the video:

The LiberalOasis Radio Show: Can We Govern Edition

The LiberalOasis Radio Show was broadcast today at 12 noon on WHMP in Western MA. This week’s show featured radio host and video store clerk Bill Dwight on the state of talk radio, Ben Ray on the troubling ways states are dealing with budget gaps in this recession, and myself on the climate protection bill.
You can download the podcast at these links: (iTunes / XML feed / MP3).

The Week in Blog: Appalachian Trial Edition

The latest edition of The Week in Blog is up at, featuring Bill Beutler and myself discussing blog reaction to Gov. Sanford, Nico Pitney’s press conference question, the House climate bill and the health care debate. Watch it below.

Micheal Jackson – Billie Jean

I usually only post my best and most serious stuff for Liberal Oasis. This is a great blog but I think that the death of Michael Jackson should be an exception to this rule. Michael Jackson has died at the age of 50. He really was the “King of Pop.” I saw him in concert three times (the first time in 1970 and the last time in 1984). He was spellbinding. I think that Michael’s career can be illuminated through the story of his performance on Motown’s 25th Anniversary Special. I’m not going to dwell on Michael’s negative qualities. He had plenty. I’ll let others do that. I’m going to focus on why millions of people around the world stood up and cheered for Michael.
When Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall album (yep, it was an album back then, 1979) came out, I bought it the first week it was out. I was in college. MTV was just starting. Off the Wall‘s first hit was “Don’t Stop Until You Get Enough.” This was a hit… a huge hit. This began Michael’s best time as a creative performer. He did the voice track for ET and won a Grammy for it.
MTV was getting big. “Billie Jean” was released. As I recall, the song was just doing okay. Nothing big. Nothing huge. At the time, there was almost no Black artists being played on MTV. Whether is was Michael Jackson putting pressure on MTV or CBS threating to pull all of their videos, I don’t know. I do know that MTV played the video. Michael being on MTV was HUGE. Blacks were starting to boycott MTV because of their unwillingness to play RnB/Soul/Funk music. The “Billie Jean” video was slick. It was more than some guy with big hair sticking his tongue out at the camera for three minutes. Was it video’s answer to nuclear physics? NO but it was a huge breakthrough.
There was just a hint of BET (Black Entertainment Television) at this time. Most houses couldn’t get BET. There was no satellite (DirecTV or Dish Network). Cable was still really young. WGN and TNT were the main channels on cable. HBO and Showtime were the only movie channels that I can remember at that time.
So, May of 1983. Motown is going to have their 25th anniversary show. I’m running around with graduation from college duties. I miss the special. Everyone who saw it was amazed at Michael’s performance. This performance, if I’m not mistaken, wins Michael an Emmy. The combination of the video and the live performance caused Michael Jackson to blow up. He was HUGE.
Michael and Quincy Jones, the producer who really was responsible for the sound, cleaned up at the Grammys that year. They won eight.
Just a few words about this performance. There are two new dance moves that Michael breaks out for this performance that floors the crowd and became two legendary Michael Jackson moves. He does the moonwalk for the first time. He also does the thing where he goes up on his toes. I have no idea what that’s called. But he was so fluid, and moved so well, that the audience just stares at one point. Also, watch the passion in Jackson’s face.
No one was as big as Michael Jackson, in my opinion. No single performer. Maybe a group was bigger. The Beatles? Maybe. The Stones? Maybe. Elvis? Nope. Here’s why I say this. Michael Jackson was popular all over the world. With TV and truly world tours, he had the ability to be worldwide like no other performer. Thriller, which was the zenith of his popularity, sold over 104 million copies.

On healthcare, Riddle me this Batman, why do we need trillions more for healthcare?

Everyone is talking about throwing trillions of dollars at healthcare. Look, as a trauma surgeon, I am happy to make more money. You can throw as much money in me as you would like. What many people are talking about, many progressives, is universal healthcare. This means you eliminate insurance costs from the equation. This frees up $700 billion. Somebody go get a calculator. We spend just over $7,000 per person in the United States. We have 46 million Americans who are currently not covered by any insurance. We can use this $700 billion and cover all 46 million Americans. No extra cost.

Joe Scarborough is trying to split the argument into two pieces. First he wants to talk about taking care of the 46 million Americans because, as he says it, “it is a moral issue.” Secondly, he has no idea how we get a control exploding costs. Well, Jack Welch threw out some words without actually throwing out a coherent argument of how to control costs. Here’s how we control costs:

— create a Healthcare Board. Yes, I know, more government bureaucracy. This is critically important. This Healthcare Board will be in charge of health care in the United States. They will be able to direct NIH monies. Monies will be directed to finding “the best of care” strategies for the most common diseases (congestive heart failure, diabetes and hypertension to name a few).
— Congress needs to give this Healthcare Board the power to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies. Negotiating drug prices will push healthcare costs down.
— this Healthcare Board must be given the authority by Congress not to approve certain drugs which come up for FDA approval. Currently, the FDA is charged with figuring out whether a drug is safe or not. The FDA does not evaluate if the drug does the same thing that three other drugs already do. There are something like 50 different drugs available to treat hypertension. There are seven or eight different beta-blockers (these drugs act directly on the heart to slow the strength of the hearts contraction. Therefore, lowering blood pressure.) We are wasting resources developing the same drugs over and over and over again. The Healthcare Board can reject drugs that aren’t BETTER than current drugs that are on the market.

— the Healthcare Board must evaluate all medical products. There are literally thousands of medical products. This market includes everything from titanium orthopedic rods which stabilize fractures, to examination tables, to mammogram machines to those scooters. Scooters are an excellent example of an explosion of a product. 15 years ago, there were no scooters. Sales in wheelchairs and scooters top $3.2 billion in 2005. These costs need to be controlled. Along the same lines, does every hospital need a 64 slice CT scanner which has the ability through sophisticated software to show physicians a three-dimensional image of the heart and spin that image in space? Does every hospital need magnetic resonance imaging? Currently market forces are pushing hospitals to buy more and more technology. This is driving up costs. It is unclear whether it is driving up quality (I’m pretty sure that it is not). The Healthcare Board through scientific evaluation can curb these expenses.

— the one thing that Jack Welsh said, almost under his breath, was that we need to talk about end-of-life issues. We need to go back and examine the Terri Schiavo case. We, as a country, need to decide when we are doing something to the patient as opposed to for the patient. Although the numbers aren’t crystal clear, it is commonly believed in the medical community than 50-70% of some patient’s overall medical expenditures are spent during the last six months of life. Therefore, if it is possible to identify these patients, prospectively, should we work on increasing the patient’s quality of life and not their quantity of life? This needs to be studied and thoroughly debated.
Continue reading

The LiberalOasis Radio Show: Evolution of God Edition

The LiberalOasis Radio Show was broadcast today at 12 noon on WHMP in Western MA. This week’s show featured my interview with “The Evolution of God” author and creator of Robert Wright, on how understanding of and respect for religion is essential for an effective foreign policy. Plus, Standing in the Shadows blogger Sarah Buttenwieser and Michael Brooks give different perspectives on how progressive has President Obama been. Finally, I discuss this critical moment in the health care debate.
You can download the podcast at these links: (iTunes / XML feed / MP3).

The Week In Blog: Iran Uprising Edition

The latest edition of The Week in Blog is up at, featuring Matt Lewis and myself discussing blog reaction to the Iran uprising, the health care debate and the future of the liberal blogosphere. Watch it below.

Serious health-care reform: consumer health cooperatives are not serious

Maybe I’ve missed something, that’s possible I’ve been working very hard lately (I’m a trauma surgeon). Could it be possible that the goals of healthcare reform have changed? I thought the purpose of healthcare reform was twofold — first, to improve healthcare and secondly, to decrease health care costs. Currently we’re spending $2.2 trillion in healthcare per year. Approximately 1/3 of expenses are eaten up by insurance companies. So, if you do the math and a limiting health insurance companies you have approximate $700 billion. This should cover the 46 million Americans who are currently uninsured.
Sen. Kent Conrad (Democrat — North Dakota) has floated a plan which uses customer health cooperatives or co-ops. These co-ops would operate at the state level or even the regional level. They would be not-for-profit. They would provide coverage for individuals or small businesses (with less than 10 employees). State rules and laws would apply to these plans. There would be “strong governance standards” which should help focus on the customer.
I’m sorry, what the hell is this? How does this improve healthcare one iota? In order to improve healthcare we need to pay primary care providers differently. They should be paid to keep a group of Americans healthy. The medical literature needs to focus on what is the “best” medical practice. Once that practice is decided those physicians who adhere to the “best” practices should be financially rewarded. How do these health co-ops get us any closer to this goal?
Americans spend an overwhelming amount of money (over $280 billion) on pharmaceuticals and medical durable products (bedside commodes, pacemakers, examination tables, syringes,titanium orthopedic rods are just a few of these products). How do we control these costs with the combination of large insurance companies and these small health co-ops? I’m not sure who this post be fooled by this proposal. Lawmakers. The American people. Or both.
The answer to fixing our health care problem is very simple. We need universal healthcare. We need the government to have the ability to negotiate prices. What a government run system be a panacea? No, but with the right legislation, it could be the right solution for all Americans.
From TP:
This morning on MSNBC, former Gov. Howard Dean rejected Conrad’s proposal, saying it is “not a real compromise.” “This is a fix for the Senate problem,” he said, “this doesn’t fix the American problem.” After heaping praise on Conrad, Dean explained:

He’s wrong about this. The co-ops are too small to compete with the big, private insurance companies. They will kill the co-ops completely by undercutting them, using their financial clout to do it. In the small states like mine and like Senator Conrad’s, you’re never gonna get to the 500,000 number signed up in the co-op that you need to in order for them to have any marketing [power].
This is a compromise designed to deal with problems in the Senate. But it doesn’t deal with problems in America. And I think it’s time for the Senate to stop playing politics, do what has to be done. … If the Republicans don’t want to get on board, then we can do this without the Republicans.

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