Canal Water Review

"To teach superstitions as truth is a most terrible thing." Hypatia "Yeah. That pretty much sucks canal water." cwr

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Medicare Part D

The new Medicare prescription drug benefit is a trainwreck waiting to happen. Last night, I reviewed the health insurance information that my husband receives so that he can make decisions about our health plan for the coming fiscal year. He is a retired employee of a state agency. I was much relieved to see that the information provided about Medicare Part D boiled down to: Don't sign up!

As a retired state employee, his insurance (and, thankfully, mine) provides better prescription coverage than Medicare Part D. What is even better is the commitment expressed by the agency that they will not seek to capitalize on the availability of Medicare Part D to reduce their costs. This is gold.

Here's why.

Medicare Part D will provide prescription drug coverage for eligible persons (seniors over age 65 and eligible disabled persons) effective January 1, 2006. The benefit requires that the participant pay first for Medicare Part B premiums ($78.20 in 2005) and then for Medicare Part D premiums ("about" $37 in 2006). This is all before receiving any medications. Then there is a $250 deductible. After that, the benefit is 75 percent of the cost of medications up to a certain point, i.e., when the participant has spent $2000 on the 25 percent of remaining cost. The initial cost is therefore, considerably higher than the $2250 usually discussed as the price of the benefit.

Once this point has been reached, the participant falls into what is called "the doughnut hole." While still paying premiums for Medicare Parts B and D, the participant must also pay 100 percent of the cost of medications until he/she has paid a total of $5100 (not counting the continuing premiums) in "true out of pocket costs."

After reaching the point of "catastrophic coverage," Medicare Part D will pick up 95 percent of the costs of medications.

This means that anyone needing serious amounts of medications will pay more like $7000 before receiving substantial help from Medicare. And this is all for medications for which Medicare is pretty much paying full retail price, no price-lowering negotiations allowed.

Somehow I'm not seeing Medicare Part D keeping a whole of folks from thinking about buying their medications in Canada.

Cross Posting from TPMCafe

I've been spending so much time at TPMCafe that I've had little time to post here. I am, I must say, delighted at the level of discussion and the richness of ideas that I find there. Still, I am a bit distressed that I seem to be wandering away from my home base, so to speak, and neglecting what I had intended to be the purpose of this blog--generally pointing out those things that do and do not suck canal water in this modern world. When at TPMCafe, I do see that some folks publish stuff on their home blog and then republish it at the Cafe. I have felt uncomfortable with that, but I do think I have to get over it. There are only so many hours in a day for reading and writing.

That being said, I think I'll start reposting stuff that I've written for TPMCafe here, as a means to catch up and also as a means to highlight what might otherwise get lost in such a rich web site. Just to make it all the more confusing, I think I'll post them for the dates on which they were posted at TPMCafe.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Rove V. Cooper: Duelling Emails

Originally posted at TPMCafe.

Karl Rove and Matthew Cooper had a telephone conversation on July 11, 2003. Each of them followed up on their conversation with an email to another person in their respective organizations. Cooper emailed his bureau chief, Michael Duffy. Rove emailed Stephen Hadley in the security section. Unless it is standard operating procedure in both organizations to document every telephone conversation in such a manner, it would seem that both understood that they had participated, however briefly (less than two minutes), in a significant interaction with potential national security implications.

Michael Isikoff, writing for Newsweek's July 18 [2005]issue (usually published a week earlier than the date stamp), gives us some information about Cooper's email (direct quotes emphasized):

It was 11:07 on a Friday morning, July 11, 2003, and Time magazine correspondent Matt Cooper was tapping out an e-mail to his bureau chief, Michael Duffy. "Subject: Rove/P&C," (for personal and confidential), Cooper began. "Spoke to Rove on double super secret background for about two mins before he went on vacation ..." Cooper proceeded to spell out some guidance on a story that was beginning to roil Washington. He finished, "please don't source this to rove or even WH [White House]" and suggested another reporter check with the CIA.

. . .

In a brief conversation with Rove, Cooper asked what to make of the flap over Wilson's criticisms. NEWSWEEK obtained a copy of the e-mail that Cooper sent his bureau chief after speaking to Rove. (The e-mail was authenticated by a source intimately familiar with Time's editorial handling of the Wilson story, but who has asked not to be identified because of the magazine's corporate decision not to disclose its contents.) Cooper wrote that Rove offered him a "big warning" not to "get too far out on Wilson." Rove told Cooper that Wilson's trip had not been authorized by "DCIA"—CIA Director George Tenet—or Vice President Dick Cheney. Rather, "it was, KR said, wilson's wife, who apparently works at the agency on wmd [weapons of mass destruction] issues who authorized the trip." Wilson's wife is Plame, then an undercover agent working as an analyst in the CIA's Directorate of Operations counterproliferation division. (Cooper later included the essence of what Rove told him in an online story.) The e-mail characterizing the conversation continues: "not only the genesis of the trip is flawed an[d] suspect but so is the report. he [Rove] implied strongly there's still plenty to implicate iraqi interest in acquiring uranium fro[m] Niger ... "

John Solomon, writing for the Associated Press (July 16 [2005], 10:18 a.m.)quotes from Rove's email to Stephen Hadley (direct quotes emphasized):

Rove told then-deputy national security adviser Stephen Hadley in the July 11, 2003, e-mail that he had spoken with Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper and tried to caution him away from some allegations that CIA operative Valerie Plame's husband was making about faulty Iraq intelligence.

"I didn't take the bait," Rove wrote in the message, disclosed to The Associated Press. In the memo, Rove recounted how Cooper tried to question him
about whether President Bush had been hurt by the new allegations Plame's husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, had been making.
. . .

"Matt Cooper called to give me a heads-up that he's got a welfare reform story coming," Rove wrote Hadley, who has since risen to the top job of national security adviser.

"When he finished his brief heads-up he immediately launched into Niger. Isn't this damaging? Hasn't the president been hurt? I didn't take the bait, but I said if I were him I wouldn't get Time far out in front on this."

While it would be better to have the full texts of the emails to review, there are a couple of points that might be gleaned from the evidence that we do have.

First, while Cooper was reporting new information in an emerging story to his Bureau Chief and requesting additional investigation from other reporters, Rove was reporting one more activity in what was evidently a larger effort to minimize that story and preserve the credibility of claims that Saddam Hussein was seeking resources in Africa for manufacturing nuclear weapons. Rove was reporting to a national security advisor. He didn't provide any context for his reference to Niger ("He immediately launched into Niger." Niger what? Niger's economy? Niger's national dance troup?), indicating that the subject of "Niger" was under discussion and the context already known. Unless Hadley is the mysterious second source for Novak's article (notice how I don't really need to provide context for that reference?), then there was a wider group of individuals in the White House who were looking at strategies to deal with Joseph Wilson's thorn in their side.

Yes, we pretty much "knew" this; this email simply confirms it. The next question is who participated in this group, and what was the full scope of their strategy to deal with Wilson and the whole issue of Niger?

Second, Rove's email to Hadley does not seem to deal with the issue of Wilson's wife, by name or otherwise. Instead, Rove documents a two-minute conversation that includes discussion of a welfare reform story as well as "Niger" just before he is due to leave on a family vacation. That is, if nothing else, an admirable display of attention to detail on a day which one would expect to be fairly hectic in terms of tying up loose ends and making sure that the house didn't burn down, so to speak, while one is away. More than that, however, it points to how important the issue was at the time that even so short a conversation needed to be documented. That it does not include reference to the details of the imputation of nepotism against the Wilsons and the disclosure of a covert operative's identity suggests that (1) Rove recognized that the latter was illegal and didn't want it documented and/or (2) he was creating plausible deniability for himself should his disclosures ever become an issue. It is the latter element that is most interesting here.

How is that so? When Rove talked to Cooper, he warned Cooper that Time should not get too "far out in front on this." He knew that Novak was going to be publishing an article that carried some serious water for the administration very soon. (Indeed, it may have hit the wire that very day.) He also knew that plans were in the works to have CIA Chief George Tenet fall on his sword for the administration, take the blame for the infamous sixteen words in the State of the Union address, and, at the same time, toss a grenade at Wilson by pointing out that there were still concerns about Hussein's aspirations for nuclear capability. That happened within days. If challenged, Rove could say, as his supporters seem to be doing now, that he was merely warning Time away from a story that the administration already expected to have under control and that, indeed, he never really gave much attention to the issue of Wilson's wife. Moreover, that wasn't what he was talking about, so, if it slipped out, he didn't even notice it, which, of course, is why he neglected to mention it in his email to Hadley. No smear here, move along.

Of course, I could be pulling too much from the words (and omissions) of these emails, especially given that we don't have the full texts to look at. Nonetheless, two men talk, two men think their discussion is important enough to document, two men see the same discussion as important for very different reasons. You gotta wonder.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Points about the Plame Case

Originally published at TPMCafe as part of an ongoing discussion of elements of the Valerie Plame case.

First, in what manner is Karl Rove to be considered a whistleblower? The implication of the information provided about Wilson being sent to Niger at his wife's suggestion, while false, is that something akin to nepotism occurred so that the spouse of a government employee could get a free trip to a foreign country. For this, Rove would have needed anonymity to protect himself from retribution for being a whistleblower?

If the whole argument about "protecting sources" and the subsequent defense of Miller and Cooper for standing on principle and protecting their sources (at least until their sources give them a King's X) is based on protecting a putative whistleblower who is one of the most powerful men in the country and who in fact blew a false whistle (never mind the national security issues) regarding something that might be strongly questioned as an offense in the first place, then all those editorial writers have wasted a lot of ink and much of our time. If they want to protect whistleblowers (a good thing), I'd suggest they go find a real one (an even better thing).

Second, although the specific statute under which administration officials are liable for prosecution when "knowingly" revealing the covert status of an intelligence agent may not apply to civilians such as Ms. Miller or Mr. (I choke on the honorific) Novak, I find it hard to believe that she, for crimes we now suspect, and he, for crimes any fool would be able to identify as treason, are not somehow subject to indictment under some statute. Surely it would not be possible for me, an ordinary blogger, to go to Langley, cuddle up to someone in the know, receive information about covert operatives one way or another, and then go blab the information on my blog--or my local corporate media outlet--without being subject to some criminal penalty.

If neither I nor the two "reporters" under discussion are liable for any sort of penalty in those circumstances, I would think that Congress might want to do a little tinkering with the Patriot Act or something. After all, if it's suspicious to pay cash for a plane ticket, it's surely suspicious to publish the NOC list.

Third (and last for now), I think we ought to make a distinction between Valerie Plame and the intelligence network that she was associated with. There is some question--whether valid or not--that she was still active as a covert operative at the time her identity was revealed. Similarly, there is some question--whether valid or not--regarding how much her identity may have been an open secret in some circles. The questions seem to be used to diminish the potential for ill effect from revealing her identity. We can argue that, I suppose, but our focus seems too narrow if we consider Valerie Plame to be the only one harmed by the actions of those who decided to reveal her identity. Ongoing activities and networks were compromised when her name was used to show the link between them and the CIA. This is not about one woman--and certainly not about Joe Wilson and his wife--it's about the network.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

On Patriotism

An essayist on another site watched a Fourth of July parade yesterday and felt great sadness because America has fallen so far short of her ideals and values. I marched in a Fourth of July parade yesterday and felt great joy that America was still the wonderful nation that I love. How could two people, who likely share the same political philosophy on a number of issues, come to such different conclusions?

It could be because we each experienced two different kinds of parades. I'm guessing that his parade was one of those we could have watched on television with big marching bands, even bigger floats, and one or two celebrities displayed for cachet. My parade was something else altogether.

My parade was led by two young boys in the 10-to-12-year-old range. They each carried a large flag, one the U.S. flag, the other the Texas flag. These flags were on 8-foot poles and had to be carried with the belt do-jigger that helps to hold them up, but they still take a lot of muscle after a very few minutes. These kids struggled, but they made it through two rounds of our entire (but very small) neighborhood.

Before the parade started, all the participants gathered at a neighbors house for coffee and watermelon. (Yes, I thought that was a weird menu, too, but everyone seemed to be happy.) Once the group had gathered, the neighbor who had provided the flags (the big ones for the two boys to carry and lots of little ones for everyone else) asked us to begin with the pledge to the flag. We all put our hands over our hearts and said those precious words. Some folks seemed to put a little extra emphasis on "under God;" some of us just didn't say those two words; it all came out to "liberty and justice for all."

So the little flag bearers led the parade.

Next came me and My Prince. He was the band, and I was the band director. His "instrument" was a monstrous boom box borrowed from a neighbor playing a selection of the "world's greatest marches." My "baton" was an old fishing rod converted to use as a pointer some years ago.

We and the flag bearers were surrounded by maybe eight bike riders, who swirled in and about as the mood struck. The bikes had flags and streamers and whatever else the kids could come up with for decoration. Some kids wore patriotic hats, some wore patriotic shorts. About halfway around the block we had an accident, so the whole parade came to a stop while we tended the (barely) skinned knee of an apparently severely traumatized bike rider. But, a little loving attention from mom, and all was much better. The parade proceeded.

Behind the band came assorted parents and neighbors, mostly just strolling through the neighborhood. Again, there was some patriotic attire, or just a red shirt worn with bluejeans (shorts, of course). One nieghbor had made a "float" out of a roller skate with a broom handle to guide it.

Since a good fourth of the neighborhood was in the parade, that left three-fourths of the neighborhood to be the audience. Most of the audience was either out of town or sleeping late, but still we had some folks sitting outside in lawn chairs. One neighbor heard the "band" and came running out to get his flag on its pole. One neighbor provided a "rest stop" with a cooler full of juice boxes.

The day was already quite warm when our parade began. I was very much over heated by the time we finished, and, despite having done some carb loading before the event, I still wound up with low blood sugar. I was, in fact, beat. I slept for eight hours after we walked back home.

But I was ever so glad to have spent that bit of the morning with my neighbors, giving the kids an active way to celebrate the day's meaning, and reminding myself about why I was so happy to be an American.

I'm happy to be an American because this nation is founded on the concept that all men are created equal. Happily, that concept was eventually understood to mean all men, regardless of "race, creed, or color"--and, I should add, national origin. Even more happily, that concept was eventually brought to include women. It is sad, of course, that some folks in America have not fully embraced the concept of equality. These misguided persons hang on to the prejudices and hates of days gone by, promoting racism, sexism, religious bigotry, and homophobia. I feel sorry for them that their lives are so meaningless that they can only derive some purpose by propagating hate. What miserable creatures they must be. How sad that they cannot experience the wonder of a nation that was deliberately designed to give them a fair shot at life just because they can't stand for someone else to have the same benefit. I'm not sure that these people will ever be changed, but I am comforted to realize that they are only a small (though sick) minority of my fellow Americans. And I am comforted to realize that, as a nation, we have been slowly but steadily making sure that the concept of equality really does extend to all of our citizens.

I am happy to be an American because, as an American, I have the inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The constitutional guarantees of the Bill of Rights are most precious. While those protections are often under attack--and while they are sometimes uncomfortable in their exercise--they are guarantors of a way of life that is precious and unique on this planet. Of course, I am saddened by the degree to which my fellow countrymen seem so callously unconcerned about protecting these same rights. Like frightened rabbits, rather than defend their country and the principles on which it was founded, they surrender rights for the illusion of safety. Still, I know that even today there are great patriots among us who will fight--with pen or sword--to defend those same rights, even for the sake the frightened rabbits. I hope I am one of those patriots, for I do so believe that these rights are precious--and inalienable.

I am happy to be an American because I just think that red, white, and blue are excellent colors and make an excellent flag. The stars and stripes never fail to move me. Perhaps I was taught that by my father. My mother still tells the story about how we had turned on the old black and white TV in our tiny den to watch a ball game. When the national anthem began, I stood up in and put my hand over my heart as I had been taught to do--but not at home and not for something on television. Perhaps it is because I have lived in other countries that are less welcoming to the liberties that we take so casually. In those countries, nothing could be so welcome as the sight of our flag. In Dar es Salaam, I passed by our embassy each day--the same one that was later attacked by Al Qaeda--and was grateful to see the flag that flew atop the building. At night, it was especially comforting to see the spotlighted flag and remind myself that I would eventually be going home, and what a better home it was. Perhaps it is because one of my first reactions to the Attacks on 9/11 was to say, "Honey, we need to put the flag out." It hasn't been down since (although we did have to replace the old one with a new one a few months ago). Now I see it every day--my flag, my statement to the world that I stand for my country and liberty and justice for all.

Now, it's sad that some folks see flying the flag as a political statement to be directed toward other Americans. What are they saying?