Tuesday, February 10, 2015

(Stewart's Adieu! Oliver Kicks Big Pharma!)  Who’s Really Benefiting from the Alleged Chinese Hack Attacks  (People could die and that’s OK:  Why the Right’s Free-Market Health Philosophy Is Ludicrous)


Which money is talking today?

Yeah. I believe another very young comedian is retiring.

After Ferguson just leaving and Colbert being given Dave's spot, what do we have to believe in now?

Jon Stewart to Leave the Daily Show in Surprise Announcement

Will the bad news ever stop? And, yes, he may need a vacation, but I don't know anyone who gets to retire after 17 years of working. (I'm kidding! He's tired! And wants to spend some quality time with his family. I'll bet he's the only worker who really does, huh?)

Lucky us. And the candidates for 2016 have been given a real gift.

They couldn't have paid for this present.

Or could they?

50 Doctors for Single Payer Urge SCOTUS to Strike Down Obama’s Individual Mandate

Fifty Medical Doctors for Single Payer Urge Supreme Court to Strike Down Individual Mandate

Fifty medical doctors who favor a single payer health insurance system today urged the US Supreme Court to strike down the individual mandate.

In a brief filed with the Court, the fifty doctors and two non-profit groups – Single Payer Action and It’s Our Economy – said that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) individual mandate is unconstitutional. (link to brief on this page)
The individual mandate is the provision of the ACA that requires Americans to purchase health insurance from private insurance companies if they do not otherwise have coverage.

The doctors are challenging the government’s claim that the individual mandate is necessary to reach Congress’ goal of universal coverage.
Read more.

The "funny" is killing us.

Mark Crispin Miller reports:

John Oliver Kicks the Living Hell Out of Big Pharma, and the Doctors Who Bend Over for Them

by Janet Allon
John Oliver dug deep into the corrupt practices of the pharmaceutical industry in a 17-minute rant Sunday that will be one for the ages.
It’s a must-watch video that lays bare just how deeply invested Big Pharma is in getting doctors to prescribe their drugs to millions of people, no matter what. In fact, Oliver explains, Big Pharma spends much more on marketing to doctors than it does on research, or to marketing to us in television advertising. Why? Because we tend to trust our doctors. And if they say take this pill, we will.

Who’s Really Benefiting from the Alleged Chinese Hack Attacks

February 9, 2015

It didn’t take long for the government to rattle its sabers about cyber-security after the hacking of health insurer Anthem.

Just as swiftly, government officials — anonymously, of course — assigned the blame to China for the theft as many as 80 million personal records. That’s before there was any real evidence, and while the jury is still out among independent cyber-security experts.

So as usual, there’s a rush to judgment, even if it’s not as outright as it was with the hack of Sony Entertainment. In that case, President Barack Obama publicly blamed North Korea, despite lots of doubt among technical experts. No matter though, North Korea played its part when it came time for the president to urge stronger cyber-security laws in his State of the Union Address, laws that mean greater threats to free speech and privacy.

Why does all this matter? Because the successive waves of hacks, from Sony to Anthem and Target to Home Depot, are all refrains in a growing chorus from the government demanding more tools to fight a faceless enemy. And unlike a real war, where there have to be countries or at least terrorist groups, the enemy is literally in the ether.

Cyberwar Rhetoric

When the U.S. starts blaming other countries, it can easily lead to the amping up of “cyberwar” rhetoric, according to Bruce Schneier, a security expert and the CTO of Co3 Systems. That helps government officials who are interested in more powerful and invasive online practices. Such officials find receptive ears when they name a suspect because “there’s a human need to talk about who did it and why and if you don’t know, you find someone who will tell you,” Schneier told WhoWhatWhy.

Certainly, it’s too soon to attribute the hack to China, he said.

Even though the FBI hasn’t publicly blamed China or Chinese state actors for the Anthem hack, it did so in a confidential flash alert shared with corporate cyber-security officials. The FBI described the Anthem hack as “cyber espionage” and indicated it came from “infrastructure located within China,” according to security analyst Brian Krebs.

Of course, Chinese hackers, government or otherwise, could be responsible. Like the U.S. and its Five Eyes allies, China has its own cyber-warriors. The Chinese military has a hacking group in Shanghai known as P.L.A. Unit 61398 with 190,000 soldiers (a unit first identified by a company founded by a former U.S. Air Force computer security officer). The country also has plenty of private hacking crews such as Deep Panda, which has been floated as a suspect in the Anthem hack.

Equally so, it would be expedient to blame China because that fits a pattern of what we’ve been hearing from the government and the private companies that work closely with it on cyber-security. That narrative has already begun. The story is that the Anthem hack is part of a larger campaign to steal sensitive data, which then could be exploited to compromise public officials. Here’s what Bloomberg had to say:

The attack appears to follow a pattern of thefts of medical data by foreigners seeking a pathway into the personal lives and computers of a select group—defense contractors, government workers and others, according to a U.S. government official familiar with a more than year-long investigation into the evidence of a broader campaign.

That characterization of the hack immediately puts it in the territory of a national security threat. And in the language of the government, such an event “renews calls for tougher laws.”

But remember that hacking thrives in the shadowy world between crime and espionage, a fact easily exploited by those seeking to assign or avoid blame. China’s foreign ministry noted as much when denying it had anything to do with the Anthem hack:  “It is very difficult to determine the source of hacking activities, especially when it is carried out across borders.”

The Government’s Favorite Anthem

Since there is no conclusive evidence about who hacked Anthem, that caveat is worth remembering when analyzing what we’re being told. With enough evidence, it is possible to make a legitimate judgment about who is responsible.

Those who make the laws don’t wait for that kind of proof, though. One early beneficiary from the Anthem hack is that tough new cyber-security legislation President Obama wants. And he’s got bipartisan support.

On the same day the hack became public, House Committee on Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul released a statement calling for “aggressive action to remove legal barriers for sharing cyber threat information.” The new legislation will build on laws passed last year that increased the size of the security-industrial complex.

If that song sounds familiar, then you’ve heard the government’s favorite anthem. Again.

Feb 3, 2015

“People Could Die and That’s OK:”  Why the Right’s Free-Market Health Philosophy Is Ludicrous

With this week's insanity, it's time to call GOP's health care approach what it is:  a death trap for the non-rich

"People could die and that's OK": Why the right's free-market health philosophy is ludicrous

Rand and Ron Paul (Credit: Reuters/Jim Young) (Click on photo to enlarge.)

It was startling to see physician and Senator Rand Paul claim the other day that people on disability were faking bad backs and anxiety to get on the dole and cheat the taxpayers. These are real ailments, sometimes totally debilitating,  as anyone who has suffered from either can tell you. Severe back pain can make it impossible to work at any job, even those which only require sitting. Anxiety disorder is a terrible condition that can even make some people unable to even leave their house. What kind of medical doctor would deny such a thing? (If you answered, “one who will willingly trade his professional integrity for political points” you’d be right.)

But this is actually part of the GOP’s ongoing quest to degrade “entitlements” and make America’s health care system the worst in the world for anyone who isn’t wealthy. Their ongoing attack on Obamacare opened up a window to their underlying philosophy about affordable health care.  (They’re not for it.) And now they are taking legislative aim at the Supplemental Security Income portion of the Social Security System.

This is the program that makes it possible for people with disabilities to live without begging on the streets.   Despite the fact that the congress has always routinely pushed money back and forth between the retirement and disability portions of the program as the need occurred, the Republicans in congress have decided that they no longer support doing such a thing. The result, if they have their way, would be to cut the meager stipends of millions of disable Americans within the next year.

They claim that the program is rife with fraud and that far too many people are able bodied and just refuse to work. (They haven’t used the term “disability queen” queen in public yet, but you can be sure they’ve thought it.) Representative Tom Price, another erstwhile medical professional committed to proving that trusting a Republican doctor to treat you is like asking a convicted robber to house sit, said:

“There are a number of studies that demonstrate that a lot of people who are on the program are no longer eligible. People get well, people do other things and other opportunities become available from a medical standpoint to treating whatever disability they have to make it so that they can contribute to a greater degree.”

That’s a convenient story but it’s just not true:

About 8.9 million people receive disability benefits from the fund and its eligibility guidelines are stringent. Beneficiaries must have worked at least one-quarter of their adult life and five of the last 10 years. They must be unable to work because of a severe medical issue that has lasted five months and is expected to last at least another year.

Roughly a quarter of recipients have a mental impairment, some have muscular or skeletal problems and others have diseases like diabetes, Lou Gehrig’s disease, congestive heart failure and cancer. A majority of them are 55 or older and many die within a few years of first receiving the insurance, according to CBPP.
"Think Progress" noted that the reports of disability fraud are actually extremely low and noted:

The severity of the disabilities of those who get benefits is underscored by the fact that one in five men and nearly one in six women die within five years of being approved.
Once on the rolls, payments are far from cushy:  they average $1,130 a month, just over the federal poverty line for a single person, and usually replace less than half of someone’s previous earnings. Very few beneficiaries are able to work and supplement that income:  less than 17 percent worked at some point during the year in 2007, but less than 3 percent of those people made more than $10,000 annually.
Apparently, even that’s too much. The government needs to crack down on these lazy moochers and put them to work. Back in the day they used to sell pencils and apples on street corners, amirite? And in third world countries you see plenty of horrifically disabled people making a tidy living by begging. They show the kind of gumption we are denying our paraplegics and mentally ill by molly coddling them with a poverty level stipend.

These Republican officials are not alone in holding this philosophy. Recall this confrontation between a Tea Partyer and a disabled citizen during the health reform debate:

A man with a sign saying he has Parkinson’s disease and needs help sat down in front of the reform opponents. Several protesters mocked the man, calling him a “communist,” with one derisively “throwing money at him.” “If you’re looking for a handout you’re in the wrong end of town,” another man said.
He added, “nothing for free, over here you have to work for everything you get.” The lovely gentleman who threw a dollar in his face put the begging principle in stark terms yelling “I’ll decide when to give money!”

The immediate future of the health care reforms will be decided this June by the Supreme Court as they take up King vs Burwell (also known as the “Typo Of Death” case.) In the meantime, as that argument is on hold the right is moving against the safety net from this other direction.

Basically, they are challenging the the definition of modern medicine itself:

Fox News Radio host Tom Sullivan told a caller who said she suffered from bipolar disorder that her illness is “something made up by the mental health business” and just “the latest fad.” When the caller told Sullivan that she “would not be alive today” if she hadn’t received mental health treatment, Sullivan wondered if “maybe somebody’s talked you into feeling and thinking this way.”

Sullivan, who is also a frequent Fox Business contributor and guest anchor, began his January 28 program by complaining that people with mental illness have figured how to “game the system” by receiving disability benefits. “They’re mostly government employees and they know how to do it,” he added. Sullivan also defended Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-KY) controversial and false statement that “Over half the people on disability are either anxious or their back hurts.”
Obviously, that is nonsense. But it’s becoming quite common on the right to suggest that illnesses are not real, that people are faking them anyway and that those who are sick are lazy parasites who should find some way to make a living. We have Republicans, some of them medical doctors, publicly declaring that fellow citizens who have been unlucky enough to have an accident or contract a debilitating illness need to be harshly scrutinized by the government to ensure they aren’t stealing that generous $1,000 a month.

I think we probably need to consider the alarming idea that this is going to be the right’s overall approach to dealing with health care. They have no real ideas for how to deliver affordable health care to every citizen and they have no methods for controlling the spiraling costs of the former system. In order to maintain their “free-market” health care philosophy they are going to have to make it clear that you must get rich if you expect to live through catastrophic illness or accidents. If you are sick, it’s up to you to figure out how to pay for your care and shelter. That’s the only solution available to them.

As a libertarian theorist posited in the "Washington Post" last week, "people could die and that’s ok:"

[It] is an acceptable price to pay for certain goals — including more cash for other programs, such as those that help the poor; less government coercion and more individual liberty; more health-care choice for consumers, allowing them to find plans that better fit their needs; more money for taxpayers to spend themselves; and less federal health-care spending.
I’m going to guess that more money to help the poor is an unlikely “choice” that people who want less government coercion and more individual liberty are going to make. But the rest of that sounds like it’s right in the current Republican wheelhouse. If you get sick and can’t make enough money by begging, well, you can console yourself with the knowledge that other people have more freedom, less government, and more money to spend on themselves. And that’s what life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are all about. Well, maybe not life.  But two out of three ain’t bad.

Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to "Salon." She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

Our buddy, Gryphen imparts some wisdom on the Brian Williams "controversy," as if there was controversy about a talking head talking out of his ass.

Reminds me of what happened to the last reporter who wasn't talking out of his ass. Although everyone ended up bloodied as they were tangling with those working hard to ensure that reporters were converted into "talking heads" (and they are not giving up without some real bloodletting).

Jon Stewart Addresses the Brian Williams Controversy and Went After the Media for Their Hypocrisy in Calling for Accountability Here but Not Holding Themselves Accountable for Publishing Lies in the Run Up to the Iraq War.

Click image to play segment.

"Never again will Brian Williams mislead this great nation about being shot at in a war that he probably would not have ended up in if the media had applied this level of scrutiny to the actual fucking war."

Stewart then shows a number of correspondence from across cable news going after Williams and discussing his lack of credibility in the face of this story. And then flips the script and talks about how the media allowed the Bush administration to lie to the American people on a daily basis in the runup to the Iraq War.

"So I love that now the media pretends that they must guard the crown jewel of their credibility when we've already seen it's Al Capone's vault."

Stewart then plays incredibly embarrassing footage of various news types making excuses for why they did not do their job when it really mattered. When the country was about to go to war based on lies.

"But maybe this incident will cause reflection on your part. You’ll go back now and look at other instances of media maleficence that lead our country to the most catastrophic foreign policy decision in decades.”

Of course that won't happen so instead the "Daily Show" plays footage of talking heads discussing further investigations into past reporting done by Brian Williams.

Because you know that will help them redeem their credibility.

Setting the Stage for the Next Wall Street Crisis

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