Dinner Crashers

So, about Tuesday.

Yeah, there was definitely a security breach of some sort. Heads are going to roll. And that should be the story. Not the crashers-who-shall-not-be-named. I was walking from a parking garage on I Street to the White House – three and a half blocks, tops – and on the way there this morning I heard at least two conversations that referenced the crashers. In the briefing room, I hear their names all over. They’re instant celebrities – which is of course what they wanted. And it makes me sick that we’re letting them attain such status.

If you spend much time on internet discussion boards, you soon learn a hard and fast rule: Do Not Feed The Trolls. By “feeding the trolls”, it means giving disruptive people fuel for argument or even just paying attention to them. Ignore them, and they go away. Continue reading

Americans Overwhelmingly Oppose Pubic Option

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The current sticking point on health insurance reform is the public health insurance option, with a majority of congressional Democrats favoring it, a handful of Blue Dogs wetting themselves over it, and the Republicans hallucinating about it.  What’s being left out of the equation in Washington is how the American people feel about it.

Polling on this issue has been misleading.  After a June poll showed 76% support for a public health insurance option, pollsters simply stopped asking that question.  Instead, they’d ask overly broad questions about the overall reform effort, and the headlines were all about “slipping support.” Nowhere was it considered that the “slipping support” might have had something to do with the regular reports of the death of the public option.

When they finally did ask again, 79% of Americans said they favor a public option.

What hasn’t really changed, and what everyone acknowledges, is that almost everyone opposes the pubic option.  That’s the one where the insurance companies have you by the short ones, able to refuse you coverage for a pre-existing condition, deny your services with their own death panels, retroactively terminate you if you get sick and made a mistake on your application, and pretty much just build their profits into whatever coverage you get, because your life depends on it.

The problem is, the public option is the only real solution to the pubic option.  There’s no way to pass regulations strong enough to ensure that you don’t end up with cheap, junk insurance that’s already putting people in the poor house (Try to remember the last time your auto insurance paid for anything).  The public option will serve as that safety net, and despite even more recent rumblings that it’s been left for dead, the President can, must, and will make sure it passes.

White House, Big Pharma, We Have a Problem

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In June, I wrote a story that raised big questions about the value of the government’s $80 billion deal with Big Pharma, and wondered if the deal came with the trade-off of killing legislation that would enable the government to negotiate directly with pharmaceutical compannies for lower prices.  Such a trade-off would be indefensible.

That week, I took extraordinary steps to determine if this was the case.  I spoke personally with a White House Deputy Press Secretary twice, followed by multiple emails.  I also spoke, personally, to the press official for the Senate Finance Committee, followed by multiple emails.  There was no doubt as to what I was asking.  I never got a response from either of them.

That Thursday, I asked Gibbs about it at a daily briefing:

Q Thank you, Robert. I have two quick ones on health care. The first one, in the speeches about the $80 billion deal with the pharmaceutical companies, I haven’t heard anything about negotiating price — Medicare negotiating price with the pharmaceutical industry. I wanted to know if that was one of the tradeoffs for getting this $80 billion was that we’re not going to pursue that now.

MR. GIBBS: Well, look, again, the structure of part of that agreement was to use a portion of that $80 billion to pay up to — for the pharmaceutical industry to pay up to 50 percent of the cost for a name brand drug for a senior that falls between the point at which Medicare Part D stops providing help, and when catastrophic coverage — I think it is $6,500, a little bit more than $6,500 — level kicks in. So filling in that — what’s commonly known as — ironically, in health care — the doughnut hole, about — that up to 50 percent of the name brand — the price for that name brand drug would be paid for, and I think that provides a hefty discount that will bear appreciable benefits for seniors all over the country.

Q Has there been an agreement not to pursue a Medicare –

MR. GIBBS: I don’t know the answer.

Q I’m talking about S. 330.

MR. GIBBS: What was that?

Q Senate bill 330?

MR. GIBBS: You’re 330 bills ahead of me on that. (Laughter.) I will check on it.

Of course, now, the New York Times reports that the White House confirms that the deal did include an agreement to kill price negotiation laws:

In response, the industry successfully demanded that the White House explicitly acknowledge for the first time that it had committed to protect drug makers from bearing further costs in the overhaul. The Obama administration had never spelled out the details of the agreement….A deputy White House chief of staff, Jim Messina, confirmed Mr. Tauzin’s account of the deal in an e-mail message on Wednesday night.

“The president encouraged this approach,” Mr. Messina wrote. “He wanted to bring all the parties to the table to discuss health insurance reform.”

This is deeply disturbing on many levels.  If Gibbs didn’t know about this provision after the deal was made, then it stands to reason that the President didn’t know, either.  With the Senate Finance Committe stonewalling me about it, one could conclude that they kept the President in the dark about it until it was already a fait accompli.

The other possibility is that Robert Gibbs was left in the dark, a frightening prospect for a White House reporter, and for any American.

Beneath it all is the fact that the government dealt away our right to negotiate lower drug prices (just like any other large customer), and they did it for peanuts.  This is a disgrace.

I emailed Gibbs and his deputy for an explanation, and am awaiting a reply.

Update: Jake Tapper asked Gibbs about the discrepancy at today’s White House Press Briefing.

TAPPER:  Can I just ask a quick follow up?  In June you were asked about the deal and whether or not the deal with PhRMA implied that the White House signed off on no other legislation, such as allowing Medicare to renegotiate with PhRMA.  And you said you didn’t know the answer to that. Was it because you personally didn’t know or because the Senate Finance Committee hadn’t informed the White House of that aspect of the deal?

GIBBS:  You’re asking me to recall why I didn’t remember something in June.  I — I — that I don’t know the answer to. Obviously, the agreement that we have is — is in the confines of health insurance reform that’s being worked on right now.

Will the White House Disclose UFO Secrets?

While media interest in UFOs has recently been confined to mockery of Dennis Kucinich, the time is right for a light to be shone on this issue.  We are approaching the time of year when the media has little to report on, and stories about Chupacabras, Montauk Monsters, and shark attacks dominate.  If interest in UFOs died with “The X-Files,” perhaps it can be revived in the Age of Obama.

Let me say, first, that almost all flying objects are unidentified to some degree.  Most people can’t raise a moistened finger, sniff the air, and say, “Oh, sure, that’s a MiG-25.  Run for your lives, Wolverines!”

That’s not what I’m talking about here.  I’m talking about visitors from another planet joyriding our skies, and performing the occasional stealth medical procedure.  When White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was asked about the possible release of UFO secrets on Friday, I was skeptical about the existence of alien craft:

Still, as the day wore on, the seriousness with which Gibbs answered got me thinking.  I remembered the UFO that showed up during the President’s inauguration, and decided there would be no harm in asking Gibbs about it: (via yes-we-can-believeemail)

Robert,

I caught that UFO question on C-Span.  Have you, or will you, actually circle back with the President on that?

His response chilled me to the bone:

Probably wont bring that up with the President

We are through the looking glass here, people.  I’ve never been entirely sure what that means (aside from being really bad news for the looking glass), but it seems appropriate here.

Look at the facts, people.  Remember, in the 70’s, there was a TV show called “Project UFO,” all about investigating UFOs?  Why isn’t it on anymore?  Were they getting too close to the truth?

Then, there’s the Apollo astronaut that the caller cites, Edgar Mitchell.  Tell me this doesn’t convince you:

“On the way home from the moon, looking out at the heavens, this insight – which I now call a transcendent experience – happened. I realized that the molecules of my body had been created or prototyped in an ancient generation of stars – along with the molecules of the spacecraft and my partners and everything else we could see including the Earth out in front of us. Suddenly, it was all very personal. Those were my molecules.

This also sheds new light on the withdrawal of Bill Richardson as Commerce Secretary. That’s New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, as in Roswell, New Mexico!

Now, Gibbs is stonewalling? I don’t know about you, but I am stocking up on Reynolds Wrap.

House Republican to Demand Apology From President on Gates-Gate

While the Republicans haven’t been able to come up with a plan to reform healthcare, it seems they have found an issue that they can sink their teeth into.  The Hill reports on the House GOP’s worthy effort:

Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.) will introduce a House resolution on Monday demanding Obama retract and apologize for remarks he has made about Cambridge Police Sergeant James Crowley this past week.

If you think this resolution is a monumental waste of time, you’ll be even happier to note that the text of the resolution doesn’t even get the President’s quote right.  He didn’t say that Sgt. Crowley “acted stupidly,” but rather that the Cambridge police did.

The President delivered some carefully calibrated remarks on the subject Friday, and while he extended some of the blame for the incident to his friend, he seemed to maintain the essential part of his remark.  The police overreacted in arresting Professor Gates.  A beer-fueled summit was suggested, and agreed to by all parties.  That’s not enough for Thad McCotter, nor, I suspect, his GOP brethren.

While I doubt very much that the President will capitulate to this demand, I would suggest he consider a few things before even walking it back a little more.  A quick review of the legal issues surrounding the Gates arrest arguably supports stronger language than the President initially used.  That’s granting that the police report is entirely truthful.

If you consider the fact that Professor Gates’ account significantly contradicts Crowley’s, the President is well-justified in waiting for that beer to weigh any reversal.

White House Press Break Room Sells Freedom Toast

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When I took this picture, I had no idea it would be the sum total of content that I’d have to show for my trip to DC.  As it turns out, the briefing was canceled, and the other events were pooled press only.

See, I noted the above snack in the vending machine here, and I am a sucker for this kind of cross-branding.  You know, when one company makes something it doesn’t usually make, like Starburst candy canes, or Starbucks shotgun pellets.  I had to try them, knowing in advance that they would disappoint.

In fairness to Burger King, I do have daily access to the best french toast ever, so maybe I’m not the best judge.

Bicycle Podcast and Transcript of Yesterday’s Rose Garden Speech

alex01thumbOverall, I think I took going in on my own rather well. So now that everyone knows I ended up standing the whole time and looking like a spaz when I opted to raise my hand, we can continue.

The briefing was pretty well uneventful save for the Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy, Judith McHale, making a surprise guest appearance to tell the Press Corps about the public diplomacy and outreach efforts in Ghana and throughout the rest of Africa for President Obama’s visit. Efforts included providing microgrants to small theaters in Sierra Leone to show the speech for free, receiving 250,000 questions for the President via SMS/text message and email, and answering some of those questions in a podcast, which was dubbed into French, Swahili, Portuguese, and Arabic, and then taken to broadcast at radio stations via bicycle. I don’t know, I thought that was kind of cool. Nice to see we’re not solely relying on new technology to get the message out to the developing world.

The Rose Garden event was where the buzz of the day really lay, and ensured that at least 80% of questions during the briefing were on the subject of healthcare. I got some video of the ten-minute speech, but ended up behind people (as usual) so the video is not very good – luckily, I have the transcript. Enjoy! Continue reading