Blogs > In The Mix

Reporter Shaun Byron and Video Editor Andrew DuPont sound-off on whatever is on their minds, from politics to pop-culture, from movies to the main stream media. Local, national, world-wide? If it's in the media mix, these two are sure to have an opinion on it.

Friday, September 11, 2009

“Neither party has an exclusive on wack jobs.”

That's quite a bold statement. It came from Republican media consultant Mark McKinnon, who, like several others, is concerned about the perception of his party.

The whole article can be read here, but the real question I have is... how does either party fix this?


Who's the real winner the "You Lie" debate? Rob Miller

Two days ago, very few people probably even knew who Rob Miller was, but now, thanks to Joe Wilson, Miller has raised $800,000 in less than 48 hours by doing little besides twittering.

Miller, who is running against Congressman Wilson in 2010, suddenly has a formidable amount of financial backing. After word of the surge of donations made the news, Sean Hannity encouraged supporters of Wilson to donate to him as well. Today CNN is reporting that Wilson has also raised about $200,000, which when combined with the $200,000 he already had on hand, he's still only about half-way to what Miller raised in less than 2 days.

But even if there was no money to speak of, the attention the two men have gotten has almost completely benefited Miller. Wilson is, for the most part, in a no-win situation until the heat dies down. Come November 2010, this will likely be old news, but for now, Wilson has yelled out, which made him look uncivil and disrespectful, he apologized, which made him look spineless to his supporters, then went on to talk to Hannity seeming unapologetic, which made him look two-faced and even more spineless (if he only apologized because the higher-ups told him to). The best thing he can do now is keep his head down unil the smoke clears. Today's media thrives on knee-jerk reactions, and Miller is benefiting from those reactions. But the election is a long way off. Instead of feeding into the frenzy, he needs to go back to doing his daily job as Congressman and let the smoke clear.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Health care bill not really bipartisan

While President Obama did acknowledge incorporating some ideas suggested by John McCain into his health care plan, the idea that it is a bipartisan effort is kind of a joke. The plan is almost entirely the work of Democrats, and as POlitifact points out, ideas incorporated from Republican plans are "mostly technical."

From Politifact:

"In his address on health care to a joint session of Congress on Sept. 9, 2009, President Barack Obama suggested the health care bills in Congress are a bipartisan collaboration.

"It’s a plan that incorporates ideas from many of the people in this room tonight — Democrats and Republicans," Obama said.

Earlier in the day, in a conference call with the media, Obama's deputy communications director, Dan Pfeiffer, argued that while the health bills in the House and Senate have not gotten Republican votes, the process was bipartisan because dozens of Republican amendments were adopted.

And that's technically true. But it's a stretch to characterize it as bipartisan.

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions adopted 159 amendments offered by Republicans, but only two of them were significant or controversial enough to merit roll call votes. One of those two affected the manufacture of biologics medication and another required members of Congress and congressional staff to enroll in the government-run option.

Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, said 132 of the 159 were for "technical amendments" and that it was a misnomer to call them proof of bipartisanship.

None of the Republicans' priorities have gotten any traction, he said: Tort reform, equalizing the tax code, reducing the proposed cuts to Medicare spending, and scrapping the proposed "public option."

In fact, he said, only one big-picture Republican issue seems to have gotten the attention of the Democratic majority: creating incentives for wellness, such as cutting insurance costs for people who exercise or don't smoke.

Over in the House, several versions of health care bills have passed various committees. Here's how Republican amendments fared there:

In the Energy and Commerce Committee, 16 Republican amendments were adopted. With the exception of one that would create a pathway for nonpioneer drug companies to manufacture "follow-on" biologics, said Lisa Miller, a spokeswoman for Republicans on the committee, none of the Republican amendments could be considered major, and none change the core of the legislation.

"The process in our committee was bipartisan only in that we were given the opportunity to mark up the bill," said Miller. "In large measure, the bipartisanship that existed during the E&C markup was that of luck and circumstance, not intent among Democrats."

In the Education and Labor Committee, just six of the 17 amendments offered by Republicans were adopted. Several "probably are best described as technical," said Alexa Marrero, a spokesman for Republicans on the committee. And one, which sought to have members of Congress be enrolled in any government-run plan that would be created, was defeated by Democrats in other committees.

One, from Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., would allow employers who would have to cut jobs to meet health coverage costs the opportunity to seek a waiver from the bill’s requirements. It was adopted by voice vote.

In the House Ways and Means committee markup, all 38 of the Republican-sponsored amendments were rejected along a party-line vote.

To see a more detailed accounting of some of the Republican amendments that have been considered, click on some of the links in our list of sources. But suffice to say, we didn't come across many that passed that seem significant.

Michael Steel, spokesman for House Republican Leader John Boehner, said that while it's true that some Republican or bipartisan amendments were accepted, the legislation itself has received zero Republican votes.

"No amendments have changed the core of the legislation" or altered the public option, Steel said.

Back when the House Education and Labor Committee considered its version of the bill in mid July, several Republican legislators complained that there was little real effort to engage a bipartisan process, and they called on Democrats to scrap the plan and start over.

According to an article in Congressional Quarterly , the panel’s chairman, George Miller, D-Calif., said that Republicans and Democrats simply have a "serious difference in opinion on how to approach health care in this country."

We also note that after Obama's appeal to the joint session of Congress, the man designated to offer Republican rebuttal, U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, R-La., again called on Obama and Congress to "start over on a common-sense, bipartisan plan focused on lowering the cost of health care while improving quality."

When Obama said the health plan incorporated ideas from Democrats and Republicans, we think he grossly overstated the bipartisanship of the process to date. Both sides claim the other party is to blame for that, an issue that we will not wade into here. However, we note that none of the plans that have graduated from congressional committees have received a single Republican vote. Yes, Congress adopted dozens of the amendments proposed by Republicans, but we couldn't find any that dramatically altered the plan. Still, to the extent there were at least some, we give Obama's statement a Barely True."

So let's face it, Obama has not bridged the gap between parties on healthcare reform and likely won't. I noticed an interesting tidbit in the polling about his health care reform plans. Approval ratings were steadily dropping prior to the speech, but shot up drastically following. Note this the approval rating for how the health care issue is being handled, not the plan itself. If nothing else, the speech reaffirmed supporters beliefs that Obama is not compromising much, if any, of his plan.


Politifact says Joe Wilson lied, not Obama.

Congressman Joe Wilson has already apologized for yelling "You Lie" during President Obama's speech tonight, but it's probably not going to help him much at this point.

The blog-o-sphere lit up almost immediately following the incident. Almost the moment it was confirmed Wilson was the heckler, his website crashed, his office phone lines were busy, and within hours his 2010 Democratic opponent Rob Miller was close to raising $50,000 from internet donations. (Updated 9/10 4:30 p.m Rob Miller has now raised approximately $425,000 in online donations since the outburst)

To make matters worse, fact-checkers pounced all over things, with Wilson pretty much getting chewed up and spit out.


"Joe Wilson of South Carolina said Obama lied, but he didn't

We suspect it's rare that the president gets heckled during a speech to a joint session of Congress, but Rep. Joe Wilson didn't hold back.

"You lie!" shouted the South Carolina Republican. This was in response to President Barack Obama's statements on illegal immigrants.

"There are also those who claim that our reform effort will insure illegal immigrants," Obama said. "This, too, is false – the reforms I’m proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally."

So who's right here? Wilson or Obama?

Incidentally, Wilson apologized for the outbust after the speech, but said he still disagreed with Obama's statement.

We've been monitoring claims about health care reform and illegal immigrants for some time now. Most notably, a chain e-mail claimed that page 50 of the House bill gave free health care to illegal immigrants. That page didn't say that. Rather, it included a generic nondiscrimination clause that said insurers may not discriminate with regard to "personal characteristics extraneous to the provision of high quality health care or related services." So we rated the chain e-mail's claim Pants on Fire.

We read all 1,000-plus pages of the health care bill and were struck by the fact that it is largely silent on health care for illegal immigrants. Keep in mind that experts estimated there were 6.8 million uninsured illegal immigrants in the United States in 2007, out of a total of 11.9 million illegal immigrants. Right now, most states have laws on the books that require hospitals to treat severely ill people who arrive at the hospital, regardless of immigration status, and we didn't see anything that would change those laws, either.

Most illegal immigrants are also now excluded from Medicaid, the government-run health care for the poor. We didn't see anything that would change that.

One place where the bill does mention immigration status is for "affordability credits." These are tax credits for people of modest means need to buy health insurance. The credits would help them buy insurance on a national health insurance exchange. The bill specifically says that people in the United States illegally are not eligible for tax credits, on page 132, section 242.

Still, given all that, we have heard from people who said that other aspects of reform could benefit illegal immigrants.

One of the most detailed responses was from the anti-immigration group Federation for American Immigration Reform, called FAIR. You can read their statement on the matter on their Web site.

Primarily, they argue that illegal immigrants would be permitted to purchase insurance on the national health insurance exchange because the bill does not include a mechanism for verifying citizenship. So illegal immigrants would have the chance to purchase insurance in the public option, a government-run health care plan that would offer basic coverage at a low price.

FAIR also argues for more robust verification measures for the affordability credit and making sure that illegal immigrant parents won't be able to receive coverage if their citizen children are eligible.

FAIR has a point that illegal immigrants would likely be able to buy insurance on the national health insurance exchange. We don't see anything in the bills that would hinder that. A Congressional Research Service report issued Aug. 25, 2009, confirmed our observation. The House bill "does not contain any restrictions on noncitzens participating in the Exchange—whether the noncitizens are legally or illegally present, or in the United States temporarily or permanently," the report said.

But it's worth pointing out that illegal immigrants participating in the exchange would be paying for their insurance like everyone else. That's similar to the current system -- we're not aware of any particular restrictions that stop illegal immigrants from buying private insurance now. Under health care reform, illegal immigrants would be able to buy private insurance or the public option.

When we look at all of this evidence, it seems that health reform leaves in place the status quo on illegal immigration, and certainly does not provide any new benefits particularly for illegal immigrants. We hope to look at this issue more in the days ahead, because some hospitals are particularly concerned about recouping their costs for treating illegal immigrants, and we're curious to know more about that problem and how it might or might not be solved by reform.

The best argument that we find that health reform would help illegal immigrants is that some might be able to purchase the public option -- if it passes, and it might not -- on the new health insurance exchange. They would purchase that at full cost. Obama's said "the reforms I’m proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally," which Wilson said was a "lie." Actually, Obama can make a pretty thorough case that reform doesn't apply to those here illegally. We don't find the public option argument enough to make the case that Obama "lied." We rate Wilson's statement False."


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Obama's speech to students: Much Ado about Nothing

Funny how quiet the comment sections on stories covering President Obama's speech to school children have been. That is, at least, in comparison to how they were late last week. Conservatives were in an uproar, suggesting the speech was going to be indoctrinating children into becoming hardcore socialist. Even L. Brooks Patterson suggested the speech would"brainwash these children at that early age to believe Obama is the messiah."

Well, now that it's over, it turns out it was all for nothing as the speech was not the propaganda film they claimed it would be. Surely all these people will step up and admit when they were wrong and making a big deal out of nothing. Right?


Of course there is one question asked by critics that still lingers... why not release the content of the speech until the day before? I can't say for sure, but I have some ideas:

a) He knew the speech was harmless and has better things to do

b) The President doesn't have to satisfy every critic's demand

c) With the outcry from critics over Obama's proposed health care reform giving him a PR headache, it couldn't hurt to show his critics getting melodramtic and worked up about something, only to have all their outlandish claims be proven wrong.

I'm not saying any of these are the reason why, but c) would certainly hurt his critics' credibility in the world of political theatre at a time where he needs it.


Friday, September 4, 2009

Objections to Obama's school video are beyond absurd

Normally, I try to see both side of an issue even if I disagree with one side completely. This time however, there's nothing to be said for those pulling their kids out of school to prevent them from watching a 15-minute video from President Obama about the importance of staying in school.

The irony of it all is almost too much to handle.

Even L. Brooks Patterson said he thinks the purpose of the speech is to "brainwash these children at that early age to believe Obama is the messiah"

Please Patterson, spare us the melodramatic hyperbole and tell us specifically what is wrong with the leader of the country telling children it's important to stay in school?

What's next? If Obama makes a "don't do drugs" video are parents going to make their kids smoke pot in protest?

This is beyond absurd. Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush both made similar addresses during their tenures in office. Liberals went equally off the deep end back then about Bush's speech and made an absurd amount of noise about something that most people probably don't even remember. Heck, I was in grade school when it happened and I don't remember a word of what was said. The point is, it's stupid regardless of which side does it. Liberals were wrong then, and conservatives are wrong now.

This knee-jerk reaction to the speech has, ironically, shown those making the outcry to be blindly partisan and paranoid. What exactly are they afraid Obama is going to say? Are they worried he is going to end the video by reminding kids to go home and tell their parents to support his health care initiatives or vote Democrat? How can anyone think a "stay in school" video will turn into some sort of brainwashing propaganda piece? If you do, your tinfoil hat may be on too tight.

I've yet to read any legitimate criticism of this video being shown to students. The only consistent theme seems to be those objecting to it simply don't like Obama and therefore, nothing the man says can have any value. The worst part is, parents telling their children nothing Obama says can be good are telling their children how to think rather than letting them do so for themselves. Who's really brainwashing?


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Notes from outside Gary Peters' town hall meeting

Tuesday night was the first time I had ever gone to a town hall meeting, though I ended up spending the entire time outside in the crowd of people who could not get in.

A few quick thoughts and stories I thought were worth sharing:

- MOST (not all) protesters were much more civil than you see on the news. (Note that I am referring to the protests outside the hall only.) Even if the person next to them disagreed with them, most people stood peacefully with their signs and I saw several people debating calmly.

- There were a few people getting into shouting matches, but for the most part the only large group arguments consisted of opposing chants of "Kill the bill" and "Pass the bill."

- It wasn't all kind and respectful though. I heard many comments attacking individuals sexuality, intelligence and motivations as well as rumors of firearms (nothing on display though).

- Using children to promote your political views is extremely distasteful. There weren't a lot of people doing it, but both sides were guilty of it.

- Even though the crowd seemed pretty evenly split, people protesting against the current health care bill seemed to exaggerate the total number of people present when talking about the crowd. There were easily several hundred people present, but not thousands.

- I was personally accused of being a member of ACORN twice because I was filming and asking people questions.

- People protesting against the current bill carried homemade signs, while a majority of the people who showed up in support of the current bill were holding up pre-printed signs. This lead to accusations that ACORN was paying people to protest in support of the bill. However, the signs appeared to be brought by members of SEIU and distributed throughout the crowd.

- At one point, about 10 protesters gathered around several men holding signs with depicting pictures of Obama with Hitler's mustache and the group began shouting "Kill the bill." In response, two women stood silently in front of them holding up their signs showing support. After a moment, another protester accused the women of being paid to do so. I spoke briefly with both the silent protesters and the woman who accused them of being paid to do so after. One of the silent women was over 90 and could not speak over the crowd noise, but the other, who identified herself as her daughter said they didn't need to yell to speak their mind. The woman who accused them of being paid to do so said they were being disruptive to the other protesters, which I found odd considering the larger group was standing on a stone podium and yelling.

- Both sides accused the other of being "AstroTurf," though frm my interviews it seemed like mostly people who lived within 20 minutes of West Bloomfield High School (including some students).

- The "Chappaquiddick Incident" has absolutely nothing to do with the current health care bill, and I found people referencing it in protest to be in extremely poor taste.

- Regarding Obama/Hitler posters... comparing any modern politician to Hitler is a bad argument. No matter what arguments you have to present, you won't be taken seriously by anyone who doesn't already agree with you. Google Godwin's Law if you want all the details, but in short.... "overuse of Nazi and Hitler comparisons should be avoided, because it robs the valid comparisons of their impact."

One woman who was openly against the current bill, however, said she was sickened to see posters like that, saying it distracts people from having real conversations about the issues and makes it easier for those who disagree with them to dismiss their arguments. Another, also against the bill, said she found the posters funny. Several people were vocally upset about the posters, saying they had relatives who died in WWII. I'll address this more in another blog entry.

- A woman who described herself as an independent who was standing quietly off the to the side said she got the feeling that most people there had not read the actual bill and were not really sure what they were protesting for/against. I don't know if that is true or not, but I did overhear several people claiming they had read the entire bill but failed to quote or reference it in any way beyond that.

- Even though most people could tell I didn't agree with everything they were saying, they were cordial, discussed things in a calm, mature fashion and we shook hands at the end (with the exception of the first person who accused me of being an ACORN spy). I wish I could say the same for everyone else, but there were plenty of nasty things said by both sides.

- Probably the most interesting thing I observed: Regardless if someone was for or against the current bill, most seemed to think it was going to pass, though most opponents added "... but I hope it doesn't."