The Widdershins

PRESCRIPTION-DRUGS

Happy Hump Day Widdershins, we’re halfway through our week!  I thought today I’d discuss something I came across over at John Aravosis’ website and which I’ve had to deal with as well as some other folks here dealing with the issue  and that is the price of prescription medications.

Most of you know that before the ACA went into effect, I had medical coverage from a plan that was an offshoot of the ACA called PCIP which stood for Pre-exisiting Conditions Insurance Plan.  Now it wasn’t a bad plan until they got closer to the end of it and had to start scaling back on coverages.  However, the prescription medication coverage was definitely a keeper.  In the last year the plan did change on prescriptions, with the individual having a $150 deductible before there was any coverage.  Now that really didn’t take me too long to meet since I take generic lipitor and when it first went generic it was still far from cheap.  Plus, the prescription coverage through PCIP and Express Scripts had a deal whereby when you started a new medication, if you got it in generic form, you only had a $10 co-pay for a 90 day supply for the first year.  Now I have a few meds that aren’t even that expensive when I was under PCIP nor are they expensive under my BCBS-AL plan and I am fortunate in that all of my meds are available in generic form.  And that brings me to the main topic here, brand name medications and their costs here in the U.S. as opposed to other countries.

Apparently John has asthma and uses the Adviar diskus.  Checking my insurance site, there are a couple of strengths that it comes in.  John is apparently well-versed in Advair and it’s cousin Symbicort.  Well John is apparently overjoyed with the insurance companies at least in this one situation:

Hallelujah. I never thought I’d see the day that I’d praise an insurance company. But the proverbial Atlas just shrugged.

Insurance company pharmacy benefit managers, who have apparently had it with drug companies charging American consumers ridiculously high, and ever-increasing, prices for prescription drugs, are starting to say “enough.”

At the top of the list is my asthma drug, Advair.

Some big insurance company pharmacy benefits managers are simply no longer permitting their plans to cover Advair. Or at best, they’ve relegated Advair to the lower “third tier,” which means the patient has to pay so much of the price that they simply won’t buy the drug at all.

As a result, Advair sales plummeted 30% this year in the US.

John goes further to explain the costs in Europe, particularly France since he travels there frequently to see one of his bloggers, Chris-in-Paris.

Advair’s parent company, GlaxoSmithKline, charges Americans five times the price it charges many Europeans for the same drug.

Yes, five times.

advairFor example, in France I bought a one month’s supply of Advair 100/50 last summer for around 38 euros, or around $52 dollars.  The same drug in the states will set you back $254, and that’s at Costco. You’ll pay more elsewhere.

Oh, and it gets even better. In the past few years, Advair’s parent company, GlaxoSmithKline, raised the price 30% in the US over the past few years, while they lowered the price 10% in France over the same time period.  So over the past 5 years, Advair went from being 3x as expensive in the US as it is in  Europe, to 5x as expensive.

And before you think that France is somehow subsidizing the purchase, they’re not. France simply negotiated with GlaxoSmithKline, and the company agreed to charge the French FIVE TIMES LESS THAN IT CHARGES AMERICANS.

Think about that for a moment. You’re paying five times the price for an obscenely expensive prescription drug because of your citizenship.

Now I looked up the Advair at MyPrime which handles my  retail scripts and their second site myprimemail which naturally handles the 90 day mail orders.  I put in the dosage that Aravosis said he used, but got confused about whether he used a 12EA disp pack a month or 60, so I used 60.  The cost would be $30/month retail or $75 Prescripton-costsfor a 90 day supply.  I believe Aravosis mentioned he’s under a grandfathered plan prior to the ACA so that’s probably why he pays that much.  And I assure you that with the premiums I’m paying, it’s not like I’m getting a big break on anything.

Bargaining by the PBMs (Pharmacy Benefits Managers) is beginning to pay off, but maybe not directly to the consumer.

If health plans are now winning bigger discounts or rebates, it will not show up in list prices but will help relieve pressure on insurance premiums.

That appears to be happening to some extent. Analysts at Credit Suisse estimate that the collective discounts and rebates for 15 large drug companies amounted to 31.9 percent of gross United States sales in 2013, up from 30.2 percent in 2012 and 19.7 percent in 2007.

 

Still, why is it that Americans have to pay so much more for medications than our European cousins across the pond?

Our entire health care system is a mess. It’s bought by and owned by huge companies, like the drug companies.  And even under Obamacare, Congress refused to lift the laws that help drug companies maintain their obscene prices.  For example, did you know that it’s illegal for the Medicare program to negotiate prescription drug prices with Big Pharma?

Now, as Aravosis points out, it didn’t have to be this way with drug prices when they were debating the ACA.

US Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota offered an amendment that would have permitted “pharmacies and wholesalers to import U.S.-approved medication from Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Japan, where drug costs are far lower because of price controls.” And who led the opposition to that amendment, but the Democratic Senator from Delaware, Thomas Carper, who has the big pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca headquartered in his state.

And further, the FDA is even complicit in helping to keep up prices of medicines here in the U.S. as seen from their own website:

Is it legal for me to personally import drugs?

In most circumstances, it is illegal for individuals to import drugs into the United States for personal use. This is because drugs from other countries that are available for purchase by individuals often have not been approved by FDA for use and sale in the United States. For example, if a drug is approved by Health Canada (FDA’s counterpart in Canada) but has not been approved by FDA, it is an unapproved drug in the United States and, therefore, illegal to import. FDA cannot ensure the safety and effectiveness of drugs that it has not approved. (Me here:  like you can really ensure the safety of drugs here in the U.S.  Right!)

FDA, however, has a policy explaining that it typically does not object to personal imports of drugs that FDA has not approved under certain circumstances, including the following situation:

  • The drug is for use for a serious condition for which effective treatment is not available in the United States;
  • There is no commercialization or promotion of the drug to U.S. residents;
  • The drug is considered not to represent an unreasonable risk;
  • The individual importing the drug verifies in writing that it is for his or her own use, and provides contact information for the doctor providing treatment or shows the product is for the continuation of treatment begun in a foreign country; and
  • Generally, not more than a 3-month supply of the drug is imported.

 

Again as Aravosis wrote:

Excuse me, but I’ve been traveling to France for years and they have THE SAME EXACT DRUGS MADE BY THE SAME EXACT PHARMACEUTICAL COMPANIES SELLING FOR 1/3 TO 1/5 THE COST THEY CHARGE AMERICANS FOR THE EXACT SAME THING.  Period.  Advair, sold in both countries by same company, is 1/5 the cost in France.  Singulair, 1/4 the price.  Pulmicort, 1/3.

[snip]

They’re drugs made by the same companies, often sold under the same names, and those same companies agree to sell the same drugs for significantly less in Europe because they know they can make up the difference, and then some, by gouging Americans at home (I have been told this by numerous sources on the inside). We are subsidizing low drug prices in Europe in order to pad the profits of American drug companies.  You are paying what amounts to a tax on your prescription drug purchases in order to help Europeans buy cheaper drugs.

Now, as I mentioned with the Advair example, I do get a break on that medication compared to Aravosis.  But that’s also because I signed up for a platinum plan; I’m paying the premiums for that “subsidy”.  And the thing is, the lower you go in the metal levels, the higher your costs rise.  If someone is signed up at the bronze or silver level in a plan, they are paying a goodly amount for drug co-pays (I don’t have those brochures handy anymore).  What it will take is for some of the congress critters to stop accepting the bribes, uh contributions from Big Pharma and do what’s right for the people.  Of course I don’t see that happening anytime soon, and uh, asthmatics: don’t hold your breath.

This is an open thread.

Top of the Tuesday to you Widdershin friends. I hope your 4th was a good one. Since it seems my fingers have retaken residence over the computer home keys, I’m pleased to report my 4th was “digitally” unremarkable.

Last Friday’s post on the effects of the Hobby Lobby case by Caterwaulin’ Sam Alito and the Four Supremes was The Supreme Court as the Supremesfinished and posted about 5:00 p.m. on Thursday. As you will recall, Alito went out of his way to assuage any trepidation about the effects of the ruling and even Justice Kennedy harmonized this refrain, “the majority opinion does not have the breadth and sweep ascribed to it by the respectful and powerful dissent.” We Widdershinville “why-askers” knew better.

Thursday evening, just as the Supremes left for summer vacay, was where the “rubbers” met the road on the whole religious liberty and contraceptive issue. A mere three days after issuing the decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, with all its cooing and sweet nothings about it just being the outer most tip of religious liberty, the five conservative justices stuck it in with reckless abandon.

The down and dirty is this: In an unsigned emergency order granted Thursday evening, the court said the religious exemption “work around” it had just praised in the Hobby Lobby decision most likely would also be struck down. Accordingly, the ballyhooed “work around” would also be found an impermissible burden on the freedom of religious employers.

Whilst we slept, Monday’s permissible cure for “burdening” employers suddenly became the disease. In short, having explicitly promised that the Hobby Lobby decision would go no further than closely held corporations, the court went back on its word, then promptly skipped town for the summer.

Uterus CaucusThe sneak attack of Thursday night last was the first skirmish in the great Womb Wars of 2014-15. On the one side you have five Catholic testosterone units with their “berobed” dangling junk versus the Uterus Caucus, the three female Justices. Here’s how it played out.

The five conservative Justices, constituting a majority, issued an emergency temporary injunction to Wheaton College. Wheaton is a small Illinois Christian college that has never had to comply with the contraceptive mandate of the ACA since there has always been an exemption and a “work around” for religious organizations.

To get the exemption they just have to file a short form, known as Form 700, that says, “We have a religious objection to providing contraception.” No one checks. No one is questioned. No one really cares because the cost of the contraceptives is borne through a government “work around” with the insurance companies.

That is, no one cares except Wheaton and several similarly situated plaintiffs. These religious organizations have filed appeals and are awaiting their day before the Supremes next term. Their beef: Someone signing the two page Form 700 triggers some third-party to provide the contraception, which in turn triggers women to have access to IUDs or morning-after pills, which according to their admittedly unscientific 16th Century principles, is akin to abortions, and thus violates their collective religious conscience.

Wheaton College

Wheaton College

Wheaton College and the other plaintiffs won’t abide being branded with the scarlet ACA even though their “religious burden” is merely signing a form. Their argument is the butterfly effect of contraception: Any time Wheaton flaps its religious-conscience wings, some woman somewhere gets an IUD and Wheaton’s religious liberties are violated.

This emergency injunction is in addition to the cases the court kicked back to various lower courts immediately after last Monday’s decision. In one case, the employer had objections to not just IUDs and the morning-after pill, but twenty other different types of contraception guaranteed by the ACA.

Another of these cases started out as a religious objection by the business owner, but morphed into a, “What gives anyone the right to tell me what I have to do? That’s my issue, that’s what I object to, and that’s the beginning and end of the story,” case. That libertarian screed is the stuff the Brothers Koch take Viagra and dream about at night.

Now back to Wheaton, and this is why I felt it necessary to update last Friday’s post: It is truly an extraordinary act for the Supreme Court to issue an emergency temporary injunction. It’s not unheard of, but it is about as rare as a civil pleasantry being uttered by Antonin Scalia.

SotomayorWhat’s even more rare, even unheard of, is a seventeen page dissent to a four-paragraph order granting the injunction. The dissent, penned by Justice Sotomayor and joined by Justices Ginsberg and Kagan, was blistering. It centered on what we discussed last Friday, never before has the court allowed a party to determine, for itself, what constitutes a “substantial religious burden”. It is the equivalent of never questioning a three-year old who is allowed to only eat at McDonald’s and taking great pleasure when he smiles through his swollen scurvy-ridden gums.

In her dissent Sotomayor said, “Wheaton is mistaken — not as a matter of religious faith, in which it is undoubtedly sincere, but as a matter of law: Not every sincerely felt ‘burden’ is a ‘substantial’ one, and it is for courts, not litigants, to identify which are substantial.” She adopted an analogy from the Seventh Circuit:

Say a Quaker is called up for the draft and requests an exemption from service because of his religious beliefs. That’s fine, and RFRA may well dictate he can be exempted from service as a conscientious objector. But what if he then realizes some other person will be drafted to take his place? Can he object to his own exemption because that requires somebody else to take up arms?

If signing a short form is now a substantial religious burden as Wheaton College and others claim, there is little that Opinions Aheadisn’t a substantial burden under the Hobby Lobby decision. If that is the case, Sotomayor etched a nice little epitaph in her dissent, “Those who are bound by our decisions usually believe they can take us at our word. Not so today.”

Translated into the vernacular: No matter how sincere the sweet-nothings sound before you are right and royally violated, those sweet assurances never turn into calls the next day, but just the same, you remain right and royally screwed.

This is your intrepid contraceptive correspondent signing off with, “Have a nice day and this is an open thread.”

 

Good Monday, Widdershins.  Mad is traveling, so you are stuck with me today.

Hop into the Wayback Machine.  Here is a snippit of a post that Mad wrote years ago, when the Stupak Bill was pending:

This “Whisper” campaign, the brainchild of CinieMadamaB and the combined writings of feminists everywhere outraged by the horrible health “insurance” reform bill that emerged from the House, is very simple. It can be summarized in 140 characters or less:

Lysistrata: She Says No. No to Stupak. No to all but HR 676. No money, no volunteering, no votes, no support. NO!

The idea is to spread this idea of Lysistrata to every woman you know. Whether it’s by tweeting, Facebook, phone calls, email or whatever means you choose, just tell them to stand up for themselves and no longer support either political Party until they start supporting you! And if you should happen to be represented by a liberal pro-choice woman who is none too pleased with the Stupak atrocity and the way the Democrats are just expecting women to “take one for the team,” then please tell her so, in no uncertain terms.

Lysistrata, sisters!

This is a great post, and we took heart from it.  That was Lysistrata in a tweetable whisper, and it served us well at the time. Things have deteriorated, and it’s time to begin tuning our tonsils, practicing deep breathing exercises in order to fully project our lovely, rich voices and bellow forth the word “no” from the bottom of our souls.   Practice with me: No, Nyet. Nein. Nofreakinway, Noooooooooooooo. Fuhgeddaboutit. Now, how liberating is that??

Say it loud, and say it proud, Widdershins.  The time has come to let those who would represent us and those who would judge us know exactly how we feel.  No to discrimination, no to being forced to live by the commandments of religion not our own, no to those who would keep us “in our place”.  No to the famous $9.00 oral contraceptives,and there are precisely two of them, neither of which is exactly the gold standard these days.  No, no, no, dammit no.

We have earned the right to equality of treatment and equality of care.  We have earned the right to have our needs met   We have earned the right to be bound by our own religious beliefs, not someone else’s,  We have earned the right to be left alone to live our lives as we see fit.

Just say no to discrimination, and those who would discriminate against us.  We no longer forgive them their trespasses.

This is an open thread.

 

Happy 4th of July Widdershins. I hope your day and weekend is filled with egg tossing, sack races, cookouts, and oohing and aahing over fireworks commemorating the uniqueness of the American experiment. Here in the “valley of the Widdershins,” today I can offer nothing more patriotic than laying bare the most recent blemish upon an American ideal — the Hobby Lobby decision.

Amish Art

It’s funny how the mind works. When new information is introduced, there is no way to tell where that information will take your mind. That was the situation Monday morning last when I sat awaiting the Supreme Court opinion in the Hobby Lobby case.

When the decision was announced my mind didn’t focus on what the decision held. My thoughts didn’t focus on the constitutional insult of bestowing religious protection upon for-profit corporations nor did they focus on the raw ugliness of favoring the powerful over the powerless. It didn‘t even occur to me to focus on how we got to the point of relitigating contraception — an issue thought to be settled since the 1960s.

No, what occurred to me when I heard that Justice Alito had authored the Hobby Lobby decision was the art he had selected to decorate his chambers while he was on the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. His personal chambers were festooned with all matter of Amish folk art. The thing that struck me about that art was its flatness, its one-dimensionalism, and its utter lack of depth. When the findings of the Hobby Lobby opinion began to set in, my mind’s wandering to his decorating choices was strangely appropriate since art always seems to mirror the admirer.

Admittedly I am no art connoisseur and since there is only so much you can say about painted umbrella stands that began their lives as butter churns, I will leave the art review to others. What I would like to talk about today are those things upon which I didn’t immediately focus last Monday.

Alito and BushThe holding in the Hobby Lobby case was fairly forthcoming. It was couched as a statutory interpretation case focusing on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. RFRA was championed by Ted Kennedy and passed the Senate 97-0 as a remedy to the 1990 Supreme Court case of Employment Division of Oregon v. Smith, where two Native Americans were fired from their jobs due to testing positive after ingesting peyote as part of a traditional religious service.

The main thrust of RFRA was, “government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.” In applying RFRA to the Hobby Lobby set of facts, the Court held:

  1. RFRA was written to protect individuals’ religious freedoms and under RFRA, corporations count as people thereby their religious freedoms also get protection.
  2. The ACA requirement to cover contraception violated RFRA because the ACA mandated that businesses “engage in conduct that seriously violates their sincere religious belief that life begins at conception.”
  3. If the federal government wanted to increase access to birth control, the Court thinks government could do it in ways that didn’t violate religious freedom, like directly distributing contraceptives.

The Court also attempted to limit those who might benefit from this finding, saying that only “closely held” corporations can be protected under RFRA. Since about 90 percent of companies are closely-held and they employ about 52% of the workforce, this is a distinction without a real difference.

That is what the decision held, now let’s turn to the intellectual folly of bestowing religious freedom protection on for-profit corporations and the ethical revulsion associated with favoring the powerful few over the powerless many.

In writing the opinion, the first obstacle Justice Alito had to overcome were the words of former Justice John Paul Stevens, who had written, ”corporations have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires.“ In fact, RFRA referred only to a “person’s” exercise of religion — there was no mention of corporations. Admitting this, Alito opined “artificial persons” are often excluded from the definition of personhood so he went outside the RFRA and reverted to the generalized “Dictionary Act” definition of “person” which included corporations (more on the significance of this later).

After this leaky logical hole was plugged, there were myriad others with which to contend. What about the religious beliefs forbidding blood transfusions, vaccines or psychiatric care? Without any legal test, justification or precedent, Alito summarily declared, “they don’t qualify for this exception.” Why? Because he says so.

Presently, there are over seventy cases with ACA issues rolling toward the Supreme Court. Of those seventy, fifty-one have to do with religion-based challenges to contraception issues. Alito’s cursory edict of “because I say so” is not likely to hold under the onslaught of fifty-plus factual situations.

Alito is the one on the right...

Alito is the one on the right…

Another leaky hole just slightly smaller than the state of Montana: What is “sincere religious belief”? Again, not a hint of a clue in this decision — no legal test, no legal precedent. The reason is pretty simple. How do you objectively measure a religious belief premised on a patently false understanding of medicine and science? That is what is at issue here, the belief held by the Green family is untrue according to medical science, but undoubtedly they are “serious” about their baseless belief.

I would submit this is one of the largest hidden pitfalls of the Hobby Lobby case from the standpoint of organized religion and their believers. This case was sold by groups of “prophets of profit” as an abortion case. Why? Because it is easy to tap into the emotions associated with the issue and most importantly, it is easy to turn on the fundraising taps.

Without a legal test or any guidance, the Hobby Lobby decision allows the barometer for one’s sincerity of religious belief to be at the whim and circumstance of those sitting on the Supreme Court. This is a dangerous precedent. For the first time in our history, a person’s religious belief is to be measured by the fiat of the subjective judgment of those then sitting on the Court. Simply put, by a majority vote, the Supreme Court can decide a person’s or denomination’s sincerity in the depth of their religious conviction and whether or not it deserves some special dispensation.

In this particular case, the lack of inquiry as to the depth of the Green’s conviction was extraordinarily convenient. Prior to being telephoned by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, Hobby Lobby’s insurance offered the exact same contraception coverage they came to find so religiously objectionable. To paraphrase: The Green family’s religious conversion was not on the road to Damascus, but over Verizon wireless and conveyed via a sermon by the corporation’s general counsel.

Another point causing general agita is that this decision protects the rights of the powerful at the expense of the rights of the powerless. Hobby Lobby’s revenue is over $3.0 Billion a year and it is closely-held corporation (another point unaddressed and undefined in the opinion). The annual cost of these types of contraceptives equates to a month’s salary for their minimum wage workers. The inequity here is staggering — creating a previously unrecognized religious right for five members of the Green family at the expense of over thirteen-thousand Hobby Lobby employees and untold millions more.

This case will open the floodgates of every manner of religious exemption. Companies will ask for exemptions from employment law because they will want to discriminate. Companies will want to alter their health insurance to eliminate vaccinations or transfusions. Companies will want to again raise the payment of taxes for such things as wars, drones, and cruise missiles. The floodgates have been thrown open, the Court should expect to be inundated.

Those are just some of the highlights of the problems with creating a right of religious freedom in a for-profit corporation, but let’s turn to “how can this happen?” How can we be at the point of relitigating an issue that was settled over fifty years ago? This is the particularly insidious part. This is the anger-making part. This is the pitchfork and torch part. This is also the most difficult part to simplify, but I’ll try.

Read the rest of this entry »

Good Thursday, Widdershins.  Not that there has been much good news of late.  The Supremes have had a banner week serving their corporate masters, other than for their mystifying vote to uphold the bulk of the EPA regulations. Some of their decisions may prove to be the undoing of the Republican agenda, although at this point it appears that the Supreme-Industrial-Religious Complex has had a mighty good week.

Let’s start with the flipping “buffer zone” decision.  Past history of bombings a la Eric Rudolph have been clean forgotten by the Fab Five, and apparently Dr. Tiller’s murder was just happenstance.  What really, really matters above all is the First Amendment right of individuals to speaking “lovingly” to women who go to a clinic to obtain a perfectly legal procedure.  The state of Massachusetts has a few other laws in place that may help somewhat in reducing the onslaught of “affectionate” diatribe that these women will endure, and some clinics are hiring escorts to walk patients into the facility. Therefore we can assume that it will be fine and dandy for protesters to gently touch bankers, brokers, and captains of industry on the arm, and lovingly speak to them of Jesus and the moneylenders?   Can we affectionately share the teachings of Christ with regard to caring for the elderly, the young, the ill and less fortunate?   Or perhaps softly remind them that it will be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven?   I’m certain that they will be ever so grateful, and may amend their evil habits under such a withering attack of love incarnate.   The Supremes left their own buffer zone solidly in place, but the rest of the US is now a wide-open  free speech zone , so our First Amendment rights should apply as readily to financial  centers as they do to an abortion clinic.  How about gun stores?  Shall I bounce down to my local firearms emporium and sweetly advise the customers that the Lord wishes for them to beat their weapons into plowshares?  That He wants them to turn the cheek rather than stand their ground?  I can make posters of dead children, and whisper in dulcet tones that the Lord does not need any more angels blown to bits by gunfire?  I would clearly be exercising my First Amendment right to express my (and the Bible’s) unhappiness with the freewheeling use of their Second Amendment rights, would I not?   I’m only trying to be helpful,  to let them know how much I care and that I can assure the customers that Jesus loves them, despite their misguided, though legal, activities.  I now know that this is my absolute right, written in law and confirmed by SCOTUS.  The Supremes have spoken, and  the right to privacy of a pregnant woman isn’t worth a puddle of warm spit when measured against a protester’s right to free speech, so maybe we should just join them and exercise ours, ad libertarium.

Do not annoy me with Tenth Amendment drivel about business’ rights to free enterprise, because protesters are infringing the clinic gynecologist’s right as well, and apparently that does not measure up to free speech and religion.  Therefore, it is our constitutional right to share our loving opinions with perceived miscreants of all stripes, even when they are going about their perfectly legal everyday lives.  I believe that they require religious redirection, and by God, it’s my constitutional right to share my opinion, free of buffer zones.

I’m not even going to start on Hobby Lobby.  All I know is that industry has once again found a way to get the government to pay for things so corporations don;t have to, as evidenced by the decision to give parity to a “Closely held” religious corporation with a true not-for-profit group.  Do we need to make book on the number of corporate boards that will suddenly undergo a mass epiphany?  Praise the Lord, and pass the federal funding. There is plenty of excellent precedent set by Wal-Mart, McDonald’s, and more companies too numerous to mention that already have the taxpayers footing the bill for Medicaid and SNAP for their employees who are too poorly compensated to afford such luxuries  as food and health care for their children.  What do they care?  They’re already paying lower tax rates than the average person. The only good thing that may come of this will be the ability to get more Democrats voted into office.  Not that they are all that great, but they are better than this.

This is an open thread.

confused-face-200x200

Good Hump Day to you Widdershins.  So, are we going back for a do-over in Iraq?  Sure seems like it.  In a letter to the Speaker and the president of the Senate, Obama said (bolding is mine)

As I previously reported on June 16, 2014, U.S. Armed Forces personnel have deployed to Iraq to provide support and security for U.S. personnel and the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. In light of the security situation in Baghdad, I have ordered up to approximately 200 additional U.S. Armed Forces personnel to Iraq to reinforce security at the U.S. Embassy, its support facilities, and the Baghdad International Airport. This force consists of additional security forces, rotary-wing aircraft, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance support.

This force is deploying for the purpose of protecting U.S. citizens and property, if necessary, and is equipped for combat. This force will remain in Iraq until the security situation becomes such that it is no longer needed.

Now, a report from CBS News states that there are 300 more troops being sent.  The difference between the two numbers comes from 200 being sent directly there and then another 100 troops that came, according to RADM John Kirby, the Pentagon Press Secretary from troops “who had been on standby in the Middle East since mid-June…”  Now these numbers are separate and in addition to the 300 “military advisers” who were sent earlier in the month.  And further that doesn’t count the 275 special forces members who were sent to earlier to “provide support and security to Americans and the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.”  And then these numbers don’t include a contingent of 100 Marines and soldiers sent to assist with Embassy security…the embassy which is the largest diplomatic post we have and which has around 5000 personnel there.  To quote further from the last reference:

The U.S. also has a permanent group of about 100 military personnel in the Office of Security Cooperation, at the U.S. Embassy, to coordinate U.S. military sales.

Sales?  Sales of what, as if we don’t have an idea.  (snort)

Now in an article from The Guardian, some of the phrases make the troop deployment sound, shall we say, a bit more “fluid”.

Officially, the missions the US military is launching in Baghdad are static, unchanging and defined. Protect the US embassy and other American personnel in Iraq. Assess the threat from the Islamic State and the performance of the Iraqi military. Figure out what steps the Pentagon next ought to take to aid Iraq through its crisis.

Unofficially, the Pentagon is indicating that the number of troops in Iraq is likely to continue the incremental expansion that President Barack Obama launched last month after Islamic State forces overran Sunni areas of the country.

A day after the Pentagon announced an additional 300 US troops arrived in Iraq to secure the embassy, its press secretary, Rear Admiral John Kirby, contended that Obama needs “flexibility” in assessing how many army special forces, marines and other uniformed personnel are sufficient for the missions he wants executed.

“There’s no mission creep. The missions haven’t changed. Some of the numbers have been added in the security assistance realm,” Kirby said Tuesday.

Add in further that the Iraqis (the P.M. “Malarkey”) have stated they don’t want our rotary wing aircraft and drones.  Oh no, he wants fighter jets.  And he’s not too picky about who sends them in.  According to this piece from The Daily Beast:

Vladimir Putin has already delivered not only fighter jets but also the pilots needed to fly them, diplomatic sources told The Daily Beast.

Now the general in charge of the Iraqi Air Force has said the Russians will assist for a few days and then their trainers will leave.  The general said Iraq had plenty of pilots who could fly the Su-25 fighter.  As The Daily Beast article pointed out:

Neither Russia nor Iraq as explained how the Iraqi air force could possibly have pilots trained and ready to fly the Russian fighters. The Su-25 planes were used in the Iraq-Iran war but have not been employed in Iraq since at least 2002, when Iraq’s military was controlled by the Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein.

I don’t think Putin has any noble ideas of wanting to help the Iraqis especially.  It’s more like this is an opportunity for him to thumb his nose at the U.S.  If we can’t get assistance there fast enough, he’ll jump into the fray and bring what “Malarkey” wants: fighter jets (and the pilots to fly them).

Apache attack helicopter

Personally, I don’t care what the good Admiral says about there being no “mission creep”.  Look at the numbers of troops going over there and look at them increasing.  From starting out with advisers, we’re noe sending troops equipped for combat.  We’re sending helicopters and drones-some armed.  Are we sending Apache attack helos?  Who knows but I bet we are.

 

 

 

I’m sorry but I don’t want us spending any more treasure or blood supporting the Iraqis and their problems, no matter what Cheney, McCain, Wolfowitz and the other neocons say.  Those problems are of their own making.  Let “Malarkey” work out a coalition government with the Sunnis. He brought these problems on himself.

Open thread, as always.

 

 

 

Afternoon Widdershins.

Do you remember Sunday drives? For those of us of a certain age, before a gallon of gas became the better part of $4.00, Sunday drives were a mainstay of the weekend routine. We would pile in the car and just drive — no real destination, no real timetable, no real itinerary. We might see something of interest along the way, but if we didn’t it wasn’t cataclysmic. Consider this post a Sunday drive on a Tuesday afternoon.

The first thing I’ll point out for your consideration is the result of the Mississippi Republican primary runoff betweenMagnolia Thad Cochran and Chris McDaniel. Cochran, a Mississippi Senate fixture, was being challenged by McDaniel, a radio shock-jock Tea Partier. The chattering class had all but written off Sen. Cochran before Tuesday last, but the reports of his demise were premature.

Cochran’s electoral reprieve was due to his courting predominately Democratic African Americans to “crossover” and vote in the Republican runoff. Unusual — yes. So unusual, it isn’t possible in the 49 other states. The ability to crossover in a Mississippi primary election is a vestige of Reconstruction that just so happens to remain on the books of the state with the highest percentage of African Americans in the country. Coincidence?

That tells you the how, but not the why of this miraculous Cochran resurrection. It isn’t because Sen. Cochran is a closeted liberal or even a moderately progressive centrist. It had more to do with Mr. McDaniel. It could have been his flirting fascination with the Klan or the Confederacy. It could have been his campaign breaking into a nursing home and snapping pictures of Sen. Cochran’s dementia-afflicted wife. It could have been Sen. Cochran is a “bacon-bringer-homer” for Mississippi — a state depending upon 45 cents of every dollar coming from a benevolent uncle — Uncle Sam.

Cochran McDanielNone of those reasons though are why the Mississippi runoff results were of such interest. The lesson from Cochran’s upset — this tactic had been tried before in Mississippi, but was never successful — was this: The more people who vote, the better and more representative the outcome. Not quite earth-shattering, but it is the dirty little secret lost in the asterisks of virtually all accounts of Tea Party victories where voter turnout was abysmal.

Increasing voter turnout in Republican primaries is essential for good government in a policy sense, therefore, important to even us libruls. Otherwise we have Tea Partiers being elected to an institution they want to destroy by an undiluted small minority who want to stand by and watch them destroy it.

It took Democratic African American voters of the Mississippi Delta to provide an example of a workable solution to Republican voters everywhere. In and of itself, that fact is deliciously rich irony. If Republicans are serious about governing and not just obstructing, this Mississippi lesson is one that should be emulated.

The next point of interest is really a twofer.

If you are really quiet and listen closely, that whining you hear in the distance is some coal state politician lamenting State by State CO2 Emissionsthe “war on coal” and how it is killing jobs. The real killer of coal jobs is none other than free market capitalism in the form of cheaper, cleaner natural gas, but of course it is much more politically palatable to associate a black man’s face with that of a killer, ergo, it’s “Obama’s War on Coal“.

The EPA rules announced earlier this month touted a 30 percent reduction in emissions by the year 2030. That made some major headlines, but as with most things the devil is in the details. The EPA used 2005 as the base year for CO2 levels. So by turning back the clock nine years, the EPA and Obama Administration can claim reductions that look about twice as large as they actually are. Back in 2005, CO2 emissions were far higher than now. From 2005 to 2012, the power industry cut CO2 emissions by 15 percent, due in large part to switching over to cleaner-burning natural gas.

In addition to this clever math trick, the EPA rules also give the various states targets based on the state’s ability to reduce emissions. These targets take into account natural gas capacity, efficiency of coal plants, wind generation and other renewable sources of power. When you overlay these targets, you get a hodgepodge of state goals where some states have to cut pollution a lot; others not nearly as much.

Three Smokestacks and SunThe second part of this twofer is the recent Supreme Court decision reviewing the EPA’s early 2011 batch of Clean Air Act regulations. If you read the press releases of the industry groups and the whiny red-state politicians, you would think the decision eviscerated the EPA’s regulations. It didn’t.

Remarkably, Scalia, Roberts and Kennedy joined the four progressive justices in a majority ruling leaving a major portion of the regulations in place. The ruling enables regulation of sources that “account for roughly 83 percent of American stationary-source greenhouse-gas emissions,” compared with just 86 percent had all the regulations been allowed to stand.

True to form though, Scalia larded up his opinion with pages of right-wing spin to assuage the ever hungry red-meat craving conservative faithful. Scalia evidently didn’t want these conservative carnivores to believe he and his two conservative colleagues had forsaken their duty to drown any fledgling regulation in the nearest bathtub. Playing to the peanut gallery is a part of the pas de trois even if you are wearing a full-length black robe.

What makes this Sunday-drive-worthy is this: In effect, three of the five conservative justices recognized inaction on Hobby Lobbyclimate change is no longer an option. Implicitly, they recognized the inaction of Congress is unacceptable and therefore, exceptions must be read into the 1970’s era Clean Air Act to make regulation possible. Given the opinion of 97 percent of all climate scientists for once it seems conservative judicial activism coincides with the greater good.

This post was written before Monday’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case or as I prefer to call it, the “Sharia-lite corporate conversion” case.  Sharia-lite because it is adorning state theocratic recognition on the legal fiction of a corporation and corporate conversion because it is the first of many transitions of closely held corporations to new-found religiosity.  Hallelujah!

If you would like to steer our Tuesday’s Sunday drive in new directions, please feel free since this is an open thread.

 

 

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