- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Paging Alanis

Is it an ironic point or is it kicking a man when he’s down?

In this case, “it” means pointing out that Kenneth Gladney, a black man who was attacked and called the infamous N-word by some union “community organizers” at a town hall meeting, is an unemployed man without health insurance.

Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly’s blog Political Animal would probably say the former, to judge from a post titled “Gladney, the Uninsured Activist,” which expressed skepticism about accounts at conservative sites and by Mr. Gladney himself about the fracas.

“Yesterday, about 200 conservative activists held a protest outside the [Service Employees International Union] office in St. Louis. Gladney was there - bandaged and in a wheelchair - as a featured guest. … Reader R.D. alerted me to this tidbit in the local news account of the protest: … … ‘Supporters cheered. [Gladney’s attorney, David] Brown finished by telling the crowd that Gladney is accepting donations toward his medical expenses. Gladney told reporters he was recently laid off and has no health insurance,’ ” Mr. Benen wrote, bold-facing that last sentence before going on to call it “a fascinating sign of the times.”

“Wait, the conservative opponent of health care reform, fighting (literally) to defeat a plan that would bring coverage to those who lose their jobs, lost his coverage because he got laid off?” he gloated.

Strange bedfellow

Maybe it’s just a profitable comparison with Rachel Maddow or Keith Olbermann, but Jon Stewart is becoming a favorite liberal talk-show host among some conservatives. Jacob Gershman reports at the New York magazine blog Daily Intel that “Since the beginning of the Obama administration, Stewart has interviewed more conservative pundits than liberal ones” and cites several’s kind words about their experience.

“While the (conservative) movement professes a disdain for the ‘liberal media elite,’ it has made an exception for the true-blue 46-year-old comedian. ‘He always gives you a chance to answer, which some people don’t do,’ says John Bolton, President Bush’s ambassador to the United Nations and a Fox News contributor, who went on the show last month. … ‘In general, a lot of the media, especially on the left, has lost interest in debate and analysis. It has been much more ad hominem. Stewart fundamentally wants to talk about the issues. That’s what I want to do,’ ” Mr. Gershman wrote, going on to note some of the reasons for the unlikely love.

“Conservatives like Stewart because he’s providing them a platform to reach an audience that usually tunes them out. And they often find that Stewart takes them more seriously than right-wing political hosts, who are often just using them to validate their broad positions, do. Stewart will poke fun, but he offers a good-faith debate on powder kegs - torture, abortion, nuclear weapons, health care - that explode on other networks.”

Cajun Boy at the Gawker, responding to the Daily Intel post, held out hope.

“So maybe there’s hope that Stewart can book Sarah Palin as a guest! After all, Bill Kristol promised he’d try to get her to go on the show during his last appearance! Wouldn’t that just be swell?!” he said at gawker.com.

Killing grandma I

We reported in this column a couple of weeks ago about Elizabeth McCaughey’s criticism of one of the House health care bills as including a provision on “page 425” that she said meant “Congress would make it mandatory absolutely that every five years people in Medicare have a required counseling session” that “will tell [them] how to end their life sooner.”

Others have picked up the cudgel on the issue, including former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who said the bill would establish “death panels.” The circulation of these charges produced considerable liberal push back, based on a report by FactCheck.org, titled “False Euthanasia Claims,” which accused Ms. McCaughey of distorting at least two key points.

First the article noted, “the accepted definition of end-of-life planning means thinking ahead about the care you would like to receive at the end of your life - which may include the choice to reject extraordinary measures of life support, or the choice to embrace them.” But secondly, “the bill would not make these sessions mandatory” because the section of the bill in question is “defining what services Medicare will pay for - if these definitions made treatments mandatory, seniors would all be required to get artificial legs and midwife services, too.”

Killing grandma II

Regardless of the meanings of specific legislative language, libertarian economics blogger Megan McArdle is not reassured on whether the health care bill will cut old people off from late-life care.

In a lengthy post at her eponymous Atlantic blog, Miss McArdle acknowledges that while “I don’t believe that [Democrats or the Obama administration] want to bamboozle people into ending their lives before they should … I think the worry underlying it is legitimate.” Her general point is twofold:

“First of all, Obama has made a number of missteps that paint a worrying picture of what he thinks an ‘unnecessary procedure’ is. … It is actually entirely true that if you’re focused on cutting costs, you would never install a pacemaker in a 99-year-old woman. The number of quality-adjusted-life-years you could expect to get out of that procedure is not high. Meanwhile, she’s very likely to die on the table, wasting thousands of dollars and the last days of her life. If Obama is serious about bending the cost curve, he will create some sort of agency that will say no. … Cutting costs means taking options away from seniors.”

She continues: “The other reason I think the worries are legitimate is that as the government is on the hook for more medical costs, its incentives change. The fact is, it wouldn’t be hard to manipulate a significant number of sick people into forgoing a lot of expensive care. The Obama administration’s point, which is well taken, is that it’s problematic to give doctors financial incentives to bias their advice towards treatment. The problem is, it’s also problematic to give them, or their employers, incentives to bias their advice towards undertreatment. Every compensation scheme on the table does one or the other. And I think Americans are inherently more comfortable with a bias towards proaction than inaction, even if the latter is cheaper and more restful.”

Miss McArdle goes on to note that insurance companies have these same incentives, “But they are limited by, first, competition - an insurance company that tried to do this too blatantly would suffer horrible publicity and ultimately lose business - and second, the threat of lawsuits and/or regulation,” an incentive structure which doesn’t constrain government to the same degree.

‘Meet the new boss’

The issue of the Obama administration and presidential signing statements has crossed the partisan divide. Conservative blogger “Carol” at No Sheeples Here wrote that Mr. Obama had “denounced President Bushs use of signing statements as an ‘abuse’ after he used them to authorize officials to bypass laws like a torture ban and oversight provisions of the USA Patriot Act.”

Things have changed since, “Carol” noted, citing such Obama signing statements on matters such as government whistleblowers, limits on presidential commission appointment, and “a restriction on putting troops under United Nations command.”

But it was a foreign affairs appropriations bill that got Democratic Rep. Barney Frank, Massachusetts Democrat, and Rep. David R. Obey, Wisconsin Democrat, to send a complaint letter to the White House last month that contained a not-so-veiled threat, “Carol” wrote, while linking to the letter at Mr. Frank’s site.

“During the previous administration, all of us were critical of the presidents assertion that he could pick and choose which aspects of Congressional statutes he was required to enforce. We were therefore chagrined to see you appear to express a similar attitude. The policy of using signing statements to assert the right of the White House to ignore certain provisions of legislation regarding the IMF, the World Bank, and other international financial institutions may result not in the invalidation of those various provisions, but rather in insufficient Congressional support for further funding of these institutions,” the congressmen wrote.

— Victor Morton may be reached at vmorton@washingtontimes.com.<

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