How do you solve a shutdown? Burn down the House?

A random computer-generated phone call came to our land line tonight.  It was from Utah’s Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson, inviting me and a bunch more people from around the state — all registered voters, I’m sure — to a live telephone town hall.

, Congressman from Utah (D-Utah, 2001-present)
Jim Matheson, Democratic Congressman from Utah (2001-present) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I actually stayed on the line and listened to what that rare Democratic lawmaker from Utah had to say, especially in light of a government shutdown getting tons of attention from all corners of the United States and around the globe.

I also wanted to see what Matheson had to say in light of the fact that he’s opposed to the Affordable Care Act, and has actually been among those in the House of Representatives who’ve voted to repeal the ACA, stripping landmark legislation of funding before it’s even gone into effect.

Yes, Utah’s rare Democratic lawmaker has been among the lawmakers choosing to waste time and money by voting 40-some times to do away with that nasty thing called “Obamacare” before shutting down the government because, darn it all, those “kids” in Congress who don’t believe in progress and compromise just won’t be satisfied until they get their way, and they don’t give a damn who gets hurt in the process.

Matheson may be a Utah Democrat, but that doesn’t make him any less of a contributor to Congress’ anti-ACA hamsters taking another spin on that wheel going nowhere.

I got my question in to a screener, waited in the queue, and the call ended before I got to put in my line of questioning.  But I did leave a message, not that I expect it to do any good.

It went kind of like this, with a couple of statements of my disappointment thrown in as well …

Hey, Rep. Matheson, I understand you don’t like “Obamacare” but what specifics do you have to make a better law? And instead of wasting time and money voting 40-some times to defund a law that hasn’t even taken effect yet, why not let it take effect and then work to improve on it — fixing the things that don’t work, moving forward with the things that do?

Along the way, though, I got to get a feel for what’s on the mind of Utah voters over what’s happening in Washington, D.C., these days — or, rather, what’s not happening.  And the bottom line is this:  Liberal or conservative, people are pissed, and they’re pissed that lawmakers in Congress so bent on taking away the ACA would hold a nation hostage in order to do that.

I shared that line of questioning on my Facebook status.  One fellow music-loving friend said I make too much sense.

I need to stop making sense.  Most politicians don’t like it when people make sense, not when there are political points to be made.

How do you solve a government shutdown?  In a figurative (not literal) sense, maybe it takes threatening to “burn down the House.”

Burn the damn thing down.  Start all over again.

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A case of “PR deja vu” for Whole Foods’ John Mackey

Until now, we’ve been weekly customers at Whole Foods.  We don’t usually buy much there — just a few items from the bulk bins like spelt flour or nutritional yeast or a bit of candy for a treat, a bottle of lemon juice, occasionally picking up some vitamin supplements, maybe a healthier brand of hot dogs once in a while, a loaf or two of spelt bread in the past.

Before it became Whole Foods, we shopped at Wild Oats too.  Having Whole Foods buy out Wild Oats wasn’t something to keep us from patronizing the business.  What’s kept us from getting more groceries there has been the simple reason that Whole Foods’ prices on many items are so high.

Whole Foods CEO John Mackey
Whole Foods CEO John Mackey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It appears that may be a thing of the past for us now, and all because of two key words spoken by Whole Foods CEO John Mackey in an interview on National Public Radio this week as he gave his views on the Affordable Care Act, saying it’s “like fascism.”

So, here’s a law that was passed by both branches of Congress, signed by the President, upheld as being constitutional by the Supreme Court, considered by the most ardent liberals as not going far enough to solve the issue of high health care costs for the average American citizen (wanting a single payer system instead), and Whole Foods’ CEO deemed the ACA as being “like fascism.”

Mackey has joined the list of American business leaders who’ve gone out of their way in expressing their displeasure about “Obamacare,” and in many cases ended up backtracking just a tad when customers complained loudly.

When will these folks ever learn?  And how is it that folks like these end up running companies like these anyway?  You’d think once they’ve seen one fool mixing their business side with misstated, inflammatory political views and getting heat from a majority of customers because of it that they might learn a lesson.

If you want to see the kind of response Whole Foods has been getting after Mackey’s “fascism” comment, all you need to do is look at the company’s Facebook page and see the kinds of comments they’ve been getting even on items that have nothing to do with Mackey’s remark.

People are pissed off.

But John Mackey just doesn’t seem to get it.  Even his retraction today didn’t go all that far toward calming people down.

What’s funny is that this isn’t the first time Mackey has found himself in a bad view in the public relations spotlight.  The rest of that story goes back to the days when Whole Foods was looking at buying out Wild Oats — what used to be our favorite health food store before Mackey’s company made the move — and Mackey played a foolish online trolling game to make Wild Oats look bad.  A bit of stock price manipulation, perhaps?

NEW YORK TIMES:  How Whole Foods CEO Led 2 Lives

Aaaahhh, but that was just another case of “Conscious Capitalism,” wasn’t it?

Grover Norquist and “Papa John” have seen better days

It was around this same time last year that I wrote an article here titled “Another pleasant valley Sunday,” based on things that I’d seen on the Sunday morning news talk shows.  Grover Norquist was a topic of discussion then, and he’s a topic of discussion now.

And then there’s “Papa John” Schnatter and a bit of damage control he’s been facing that kind of goes hand in hand with Grover.

Grover Norquist, Bathtub Killer
Grover Norquist, Bathtub Killer (Photo credit: DonkeyHotey)

Norquist’s a topic of discussion now because we’re facing talk of another “fiscal cliff” in our government’s budget, and after too long it seems that Americans want our nation’s leaders to do something leaders are supposed to do — negotiate and come to some form of compromise on how to solve a deficit problem.

That seems to have been a prevailing message that came out of the last general election, with the majority of voters in national races saying to those running for office, in effect, “We’ll let a lot of you keep your jobs, except for some of these more extreme Tea Party members, but you’d better figure out a way to work together or you’re out in the 2014 mid-term elections.  Now, stop screwing around, get to work, and figure out how to solve some problems.”

Since then, it seems, Republican lawmakers have been tripping over themselves to back away from their no-tax-increase pledges that they signed with Norquist, the UNELECTED YET ALL-POWERFUL lobbyist/conservative activist/founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform (ATR).  In the meantime, Norquist — who’s only been able to wield any form of power because he was asked to help out by President Reagan way back when (making Norquist a sort of … gasp! … “Reagan czar!”) — has been working overtime to hold on to any sense of power he can, and it’s dwindling by the day.

Republicans like Saxby Chambliss, Peter King, Lindsey Graham, Bob Corker, even House Majority Leader Eric Cantor have all said they’re willing to back away from the no-tax-increase deal they signed with the dev … err, Norquist … because they now seem convinced that the majority of Americans want revenues raised through tax increases on the top 1-2% to go along with reasonable spending cuts.

Grover Norquist is starting to look more and more like a king without a country, when for all too long he was claiming that ATR and his “pledge” was speaking for the majority of the people.  And many of the things that were predicted in this “60 Minutes” profile from a while back are — to Norquist’s dismay — coming true.

Along with the power that seems to be returning from the voices of the majority of voters at the ballot box comes what could be seen as the return of the power of consumers at the cash register, with a case in point coming from John Schnatter, owner of the Papa John’s pizza franchise.

Schnatter was among those major CEOS speaking loudest both pre- and post-election about the possible dire consequences the Affordable Care Act would have on Papa John’s customers through increases in the cost of a pizza by 14 cents a pie, and/or on employees through reduced hours.

Papa John's Pizza
Papa John’s Pizza (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The end result has been a public backlash, leaving Schnatter and other “anti-Obamacare” CEOs or franchise owners from other chains with the proverbial pizza dough all over their faces, with large numbers of customers or potential customers saying in effect, “Papa John’s, your pizzas just aren’t THAT good, and if you can afford to give away 2 million pizzas in a National Football League promotion then why can’t you absorb the cost of health care?”

Now, it appears that — just like we’re seeing with lawmakers backtracking on their “no tax increase” pledge to Grover Norquist — Schnatter is trying to backtrack in a public way on his “Obamacare” statements.

FORBES.COM:  Papa John’s Schnatter Says He Will Honor Obamacare And Give Health Insurance To All Employees

Of course, the thing to be aware of here is that not all people you see working at a Papa John’s pizza joint are employees of Papa John’s but of the individual franchise owners, which could be John Schnatter or John/Jane Doe.  Oh, and Schnatter has been offering health care to those same full-time Papa John’s corporate and company-owned restaurant employees all along, so it leaves a person to scratch their head as to why Schnatter was raising such a fuss in the first place.

I love it!  That’s amore!

The definition of insanity in the U.S. House

You know the old saying, right?  If you do something more than once, and you do it the exact same way every time and expect different results, that’s the definition of insanity.  There’s some real truth to that.

Healthcare USA, after Anton Bruehl
Healthcare USA, after Anton Bruehl (Photo credit: Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com)

So, how does that old saying relate to what’s been going on in the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives when it comes to the Affordable Care Act?  After all, the House voted last Wednesday to repeal the law that’s previously been approved at every level of government … a vote that’s had the same result 33 times now since the ACA became a law.

Like they truly believe the Democratic-controlled Senate is going to change its mind and decide to vote in favor of repeal itself?

Has anyone actually heard of any plan the Republicans are proposing that is better than what’s in the ACA (aside from just relying on tort reform, which would only help to rein in health care costs by the smallest of fractions)?  It’s like one commenter on USAToday.com said on this story, “Here’s a thought, why not repeal it after you’ve presented a better plan … or any plan at all for that matter.”

What a novel idea!

All the Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats in the House are doing  by demanding that the ACA gets repealed completely — even the parts they say that they like — is wasting time and the money that they say they’re all for trimming out of the federal budget, but the repeal of the ACA is being played as one of those “big guns” by the GOP in this wacky presidential election year.

That point on wasting time and money was raised quite nicely in a commentary by Bob Schieffer on CBS News’ “Face The Nation” Sunday morning.

“There was once this guy who loved to talk about guns.   And when he couldn’t figure out any other way to work guns into the conversation, he would just say, ‘I think I heard a gunshot.’  Speaking of guns and off he’d go talking about his favorite subject, which brings me to Congress where House Republicans did their favorite thing last week, virtually their only thing, of late.  For the 33rd time they voted to repeal all or part of the health care law, knowing that the action was … totally meaningless because the Senate would never go along.  Now, mind you, this is no endorsement of the new health care law.  We need health care reform but I am a long way from believing the President’s plan is the best way to go about it.  My beef is that Congress cannot seem to figure out how to do anything, but vote on this one issue over and over time after time day after day.  Hey, guys, we hear you, we take your point.  But the way I heard it, government is there to improve the lives of citizens.  You seem to believe all this repetitious blather will help you raise campaign money, maybe so, but it is hard for me to see how it helps anyone else.  The best estimates are that Congress has wasted a total of two full work weeks — 80 hours — voting on this one thing.  According to the Congressional Research Service, it costs us millions of dollars a week to operate the House of Representatives, the staff salaries, the mail services, cafeterias, all of that, and we’re not even including paying the capitol cops.  So you do the numbers.  Do you think we’re getting our money’s worth when Congress spends two weeks voting on the same thing over and over again?  I think they can do better.”

The way Congress operates these days, that last sentence is optimistic thinking, bordering on being unrealistic.  They can’t do better.  They just don’t know how.

Reasons to scratch my head over Republican lawmakers’ (non)sense (July 1, 2012 edition)

So, let me get this straight — Mitt Romney is for health care in his state with an individual mandate as governor of Massachusetts but he’s against it on a national level as a Presidential candidate, Republican House Speaker John Boehner says getting rid of health care coverage that penalizes pre-existing conditions and allowing people up to age 26 to be on their parents’ coverage is all fine and good but the law that does those things needs to be gutted, and Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says having 30 million Americans going without health coverage is not an issue?

English: U.S. President is greeted by Speaker ...
English: U.S. President is greeted by Speaker of the House before delivering the State of the Union address before Congress. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yes, those are just more reasons for me to scratch my head over the things that Republican lawmakers say … and much of this is all a result of things that were said on the Sunday morning news shows.

It’s amazing how Boehner can sit on CBS’ “Face The Nation” and say that Republicans are open to the “popular — many of them sound” provisions in the Affordable Care Act such as pre-existing conditions and coverage up to age 26 on parents’ plans, but that repealing the entire bill is preferable to working within it.  It’s amazing to see and hear him say it, with such extreme prejudice.

“No, this has to be, this has to be ripped out by its roots. This is government taking over the entire health insurance industry. The American people do not want to go down this path,” Boehner said.  “They do not want the government telling them what kind of insurance policy they have to buy, and how much they have to pay for it, and if you don’t like it, we’re going to tax you. It has to be ripped out and we need to start over. One step at a time.”

So, the man is willing to take any good parts he sees in the law and rip them out “by the roots” and starting over from scratch, not even using the good parts that he does see to build upon?  That’s supposed to make sense?  And people wonder why so little gets done in the halls of Congress?

Then there’s the head-scratching material McConnell provided on “Fox News Sunday,” talking about the ACA, and when he was asked how Republicans would provide health care coverage to 30 million uninsured Americans his answer was, “That is not the issue.  The question is how to go step by step to improve the American health care system.  It is already the finest health care system in the world.”

In other words, it would appear, they would do nothing.  They’ve got nothing.

As for the matter of pre-existing conditions and how to cover them, McConnell said, “Over half of the states have high-risk pools that deal with that issue,” not adding that those policies often come with high premiums, waiting periods, and coverage exclusions for certain conditions.

Common sense is getting thrown out the window, again, for the sake of political argument.

All the more reasons to scratch my head.

Affordable Care Act survives … for now

Despite what CNN and Fox News reported at first Thursday morning before correcting themselves, the Supreme Court has upheld the most crucial aspects of the Affordable Care Act, including the individual mandate, in a 5-4 decision with the deciding opinion coming from conservative Chief Justice John Roberts.

English: The United States Supreme Court, the ...
English: The United States Supreme Court, the highest court in the United States, in 2010. Top row (left to right): Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice Stephen G. Breyer, Associate Justice Samuel A. Alito, and Associate Justice Elena Kagan. Bottom row (left to right): Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, and Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What caught CNN and Fox News in a bit of inaccurate reporting was the opening sentence of Roberts’ decision.  Reading on would have enabled them to see that Roberts said that the individual mandate is constitutional, thus keeping this particular ruling from becoming a decision based more on politics than constitutionality.

“The individual mandate cannot be upheld as an exercise of Congress’s power under the Commerce Clause,” Roberts wrote. “That Clause authorizes Congress to regulate interstate commerce, not to order individuals to engage in it. In this case, however, it is reasonable to construe what Congress has done as increasing taxes on those who have a certain amount of income, but choose to go without health insurance. Such legislation is within Congress’s power to tax.”

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg took it a step further in her opinion, written separately for the four liberal justices, saying they would have upheld it based on the Commerce Clause as well.

“Unlike the market for almost any other product or service, the market for medical care is one in which all individuals inevitably participate,” she wrote. “Virtually every person residing in the United States, sooner or later, will visit a doctor or other health care professional.”

The four dissenting justices wrote, “The Court regards its strained statutory interpretation as judicial modesty. It is not. It amounts instead to a vast judicial overreaching.”

Taking it to a political level, they added that the decision “creates a debilitated, inoperable version of health-care regulation that Congress did not enact and the public does not expect. It makes enactment of sensible health-care regulation more difficult, since Congress cannot start afresh but must take as its point of departure a jumble of now senseless provisions, provisions that certain interests favored under the Court’s new design will struggle to retain. And it leaves the public and the States to expend vast sums of money on requirements that may or may not survive the necessary congressional revision.”

This is not a perfect law.  It actually gives enough business to the health insurance companies that they should be jumping for joy.  It still leaves too many Americans uninsured.  But it at least gives something to work with and improve upon.

If you ask me, a single payer system would be the better solution with lower administrative costs, those costs being one of the bigger culprits leading to the health care cost mess that we’ve been in that’s brought the U.S. to this point.  Yet the mention of the words “single payer” or “universal care” brings out cries of “socialism.”  Had the Supreme Court struck down the individual mandate, the best option then may have been to fight like never before to get universal care, and I can pretty much guarantee that the majority of American voters would have voted in lawmakers willing to do just that.

What’s the reaction from America’s physicians’?

“The American Medical Association has long supported health insurance coverage for all, and we are pleased that this decision means millions of Americans can look forward to the coverage they need to get healthy and stay healthy.

“The AMA remains committed to working on behalf of America’s physicians and patients to ensure the law continues to be implemented in ways that support and incentivize better health outcomes and improve the nation’s health care system.

“This decision protects important improvements, such as ending coverage denials due to pre-existing conditions and lifetime caps on insurance, and allowing the 2.5 million young adults up to age 26 who gained coverage under the law to stay on their parents’ health insurance policies. The expanded health care coverage upheld by the Supreme Court will allow patients to see their doctors earlier rather than waiting for treatment until they are sicker and care is more expensive. The decision upholds funding for important research on the effectiveness of drugs and treatments and protects expanded coverage for prevention and wellness care, which has already benefited about 54 million Americans.

“The health reform law upheld by the Supreme Court simplifies administrative burdens, including streamlining insurance claims, so physicians and their staff can spend more time with patients and less time on paperwork. It protects those in the Medicare ‘donut hole,’ including the 5.1 million Medicare patients who saved significantly on prescription drugs in 2010 and 2011. These important changes have been made while maintaining our American system with both private and public insurers.” — Jeremy Lazarus, M.D., President, American Medical Association

“The American Academy of Family Physicians is eager to move forward with needed health system reforms now that the Supreme Court has ruled. As a result, more Americans will have access to meaningful insurance coverage and to the primary care physicians who are key to high quality, affordable health services.

“Broad, individual responsibility for health care is the foundation for successful implementation of the Affordable Care Act’s patient protections. Economic realities dictate that ensuring affordable coverage for all Americans depends on participation of all Americans. The 2001 Institute of Medicine Report, ‘Coverage Matters — Insurance and Health Care,’ confirms that — regardless of their insurance status — virtually all Americans use health care services. Without broad participation in a health care coverage system, health care for all cannot be obtained, let alone sustained.

“The Affordable Care Act reduces numerous financial barriers to care, by requiring coverage despite pre-existing conditions, eliminating annual and lifetime limits on benefits, and eliminating cost sharing for preventive services. It recognizes the value of primary care by bringing Medicaid payment for primary care services to Medicare levels.

“Equally important, however, are the law’s provisions that will build the primary care workforce to meet patients’ needs. The Supreme Court decision maintains already-launched initiatives that support wider implementation of the patient-centered medical home and that value primary medical care through payment incentives for primary care physicians. Programs such as the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation’s Comprehensive Primary Care Initiative and Medicare’s Primary Care Incentive Payment can continue to foster a financial environment that builds the primary care physician workforce and helps ensure all Americans have access to a patient-centered medical home.

“The decision allows investment in primary care education and training with improved support for the Health Professions Grants for Family Medicine, funding for teaching health centers, establishment of the Health Care Workforce Commission, and maintenance of scholarships and loan repayment programs in the National Health Service Corps.

“The Affordable Care Act provides a foundation for reforming our health care system, but much work still lies ahead including a permanent replacement for the Sustainable Growth Rate formula and meaningful medical liability reform.

“By upholding the Affordable Care Act, the Supreme Court has ensured that Americans have access to affordable, sustainable health care coverage and that they receive high quality, coordinated and efficient care based on primary care. It is a future that family physicians happily anticipate.” — Glen Stream, MD, MBI, President, American Academy of Family Physicians

And what about Republicans’ reaction to the Supreme Court’s ruling.  They stand more ready than ever to use it to help bring down President Obama in November.

House Republican Press Conference on Health Ca...
House Republican Press Conference on Health Care Reform House Republican Leader John Boehner (R-OH) (Photo credit: House GOP Leader)

“The president’s health care law is hurting our economy by driving up health costs and making it harder for small businesses to hire. Today’s ruling underscores the urgency of repealing this harmful law in its entirety. What Americans want is a common-sense, step-by-step approach to health care reform that will protect Americans’ access to the care they need, from the doctor they choose, at a lower cost. Republicans stand ready to work with a president who will listen to the people and will not repeat the mistakes that gave our country ObamaCare.” — House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio

“If we want to get rid of Obamacare, we’re going to have to replace President Obama.

Mitt Romney

“What the court did not do on its last day in session, I will do on my first day if elected president of the United States, and that is I will act to repeal Obamacare.  Let’s make sure we understand what the court did and did not do. What the court did today was say that Obamacare does not violate the Constitution. What they did not do was say that Obamacare is good law or good policy. Obamacare was bad policy yesterday, it’s bad policy today. Obamacare was bad law yesterday, it’s bad law today.” — Presumptive Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney

The funny thing is that so much of what makes up “ObamaCare” is what Republicans have proposed in the past.  It’s only because the ACA was pushed through under an Obama administration that the staunchest conservatives are having a fit.

My bottom line is this:  Anyone whining about a government takeover of health care needs to walk a few miles in the shoes of those American citizens who are facing very hard realities and are demanding a change, especially in economic times like these with unemployment rates remaining high and not projected to get lower anytime soon, wages being stagnant, health care costs forcing middle class families into bankruptcy, insurance premiums going up and facing coverage that doesn’t improve, or just no health coverage whatsoever, and collection agencies are chasing you down while trying to get money you don’t have due to circumstances beyond your control.

Walk a few miles in those shoes, and let’s see how much the whining continues.

The “politics as usual” will surely continue.  The Supreme Court’s ruling Thursday won’t stop that.  Thankfully, at least in this case, Chief Justice Roberts saw fit to put the American people’s health and welfare above corporate or political greed.  It’s up to us as citizens and voters to uphold our responsibility to keep that corporate and political greed from eroding away a basic constitutional concept.

If we can’t do that, we will have gone from winners in this Supreme Court case to big losers overall.

Copyright 2012, Daddysangbassdude Media