Saturday, April 13, 2013

Morning Reading -- April 13

So Friday the Thirteenth came on Saturday this month. Weekends usually offer up "long reads" that serve two purposes. Long reads give professional journalists and writers an excuse to take a day or two off,  and hopefully their readers will take time to read what has been offered and be better informed when Monday comes again. It's not a fixed rule, however, so today's post is a collection of mostly unrelated stories.


This weekend's messiest subject involves a criminal case now over two years old, the horrid revelation of one Dr. Kermit Gosnell whose medical practice ended in January, 2011. The details of his story are gruesome beyond words and his trial for multiple murders and other charges began a few weeks ago in Philadelphia.
Gosnell was charged with seven counts of first-degree murder and one count of third-degree murder, as well as multiple counts of conspiracy, criminal solicitation and violation of a state law that forbids abortions after the 24th week of pregnancy. 
Eight co-defendants have pleaded guilty, most of whom will testify against Gosnell.  Three of them pleaded guilty to third-degree murder, which carries a 20- to 40-year term.Gosnell's wife pleaded guilty to performing illegal abortions, conspiracy, criminal conspiracy and corrupt organization.  Due to spousal privilege, she will not have to testify against Gosnell, although she may still go to prison. Pearl testified to the grand jury that she alone assisted on Sundays, and that her role was to “help do the instruments” in the procedure room and to monitor patients in the recovery room. Another employee testified that Pearl assisted with late-term abortions “on Sundays or days we were closed [to] do special cases.”  Pearl Gosnell will be sentenced after the conclusion of Dr. Gosnell's trial As a result, the only employee on trial with Gosnell is Eileen O'Neill, 52, of Phoenixville, who allegedly held herself out as a doctor at the clinic when she was not licensed. Her lawyer told jurors she never did so, and only performed medical duties under Gosnell's orders. 
Gosnell faces the death penalty if convicted of first-degree murder in the infant deaths.
The case is horrid, but the trial, two years after the events, comes into the spotlight at a time when Liberal vs.  Conservative arguments are already in the Red Zone. The usual Liberal Media Cover-up conspiracy has been trotted out suggesting that Gosnell's murders were instead late-term abortion procedures, and that the pro-choice abortion argument is tacit approval for infanticide.

I admit to being unaware of the recent furor until it came bubbling up in my Twitter feed. Social media has a way of sailing past traditional tracks and the velocity seems to be increasing. Several examples come to mind:  the Arab Spring, the "Ding-Dong" flap following the death of Margaret Thatcher and now this outburst of righteous indignation. We can expect as the trial gets under way that Gosnell will become the new Benghazi as already frightened Conservatives look for more reasons to justify their fears about their Liberal opponents. More about that in Steve Hynd's link later.
Meantime here are two Gosnell links I found informative.

How Did the Gosnell Trial Bring Guns and Abortion Together Like This?
By Phillip Bump, Yesterday
Human beings, being pattern-seekers, like to mush things together no matter how well or poorly they fit. Today, those things happen to be abortion and guns. It turns out to be a bit of a stretch. 
The reason abortion is in the news is not only because it always is. The trial of Dr. Kermit Gosnell in Philadelphia has enraged political conservatives both for its horrifying content and for the perceived lack of media coverage of them. This latter argument is silly for a lot of reasons, many of which are wonderfully explicated by our own Dashiell Bennett. [Make it a point to check this link even if you skip the others.] But it is primarily silly because outlets have been covering the story for a long time, from Gosnell's initial arrest in January 2011 to the start of the trial last month. Apparently, though, it was the 24th day of the trial that was the one everyone was supposed to focus on heavily. Lesson learned. 
Gosnell's alleged crimes really are horrible: Working with an untrained staff including high school students, he performed abortions in a poor section of Philadelphia, often mishandling or ignoring the need for anesthetics. Seven of the eight counts of murder with which he's charged center on babies that had been delivered and then killed, in at least one occasion when Gosnell cut its spinal cord with scissors. It was inevitable that he should become a focus of the abortion debate. Today's the day it happened, walking through a weird back door of media critique — and right into the middle of the on-going debate over increased gun safety measures.

The gun-abortion overlap is one many found hard to resist. On the less comprehensible end of the scale was Representative Steve Stockman (previously). Stockman took advantage of the serendipitous firestorm to unveil a new campaign bumper sticker. 
"If babies had guns, they wouldn't be aborted." This is presumably trying to link two conservative arguments — that fetuses are defenseless and that guns are useful for defense — but it frankly introduces more questions than it answers. For example: Is a baby's eyesight in utero so good that it can aim a handgun through a cervix? 
CNN contributor Dana Loesch went a different direction in a column also at RedState. She quotes the president's statement at Sandy Hook ("If there’s even one thing we can do, if there’s just one life we can save, we’ve got an obligation to try"), then writing: 
We need sensible abortion control. Think of how many classrooms of children lost their lives at the hands of Gosnell. The difference between Gosnell and some other abortionists is that Gosnell was caught. Gosnell didn’t use an AR-15 to snuff out the lives of these live infants. He assaulted them with scissors. 
If Loesch is suggesting that there be criminal repercussions for Gosnell's allegedly killing a series of infants with scissors, that's hard to disagree with. In fact, the state of Pennsylvania appears to have somehow read this column and then retroactively arrested and put Gosnell on trial for seven counts of murder for doing exactly that about 24 days ago. Say what you will, but Dana Loesch gets results. 
Jim Treacher (on Twitter: @JTLOL) at the Daily Caller took another tack. "If President Barack Obama had a son, would he look like any of the babies Kermit Gosnell beheaded?" This is a tasteful allusion to the president's March 2012 comment that the shooting death of Trayvon Martin had particular resonance given the racial dynamic. And scene. 
Sometimes a horrible crime is just a horrible crime. Sometimes there is an object lesson. Sometimes there is not. If Gosnell is found guilty of the crimes with which he is charged, he deserves punishment. But those charges say little about legal abortion and say nothing at all about gun control or media bias. Sometimes there's no pattern to be found.

Why I Didn't Write About Gosnell's Trial--And Why I Should Have
Gosnell is accused of grisly crimes that I didn't want to think about.
By Megan Macardle

Macardle's article is longer than this excerpt. Photos and other links can be found there. Readers can go to the link for other details of wrinkles in the narrative. But this is the substance of what she says. I'm stopping here.
This is enough hair shirts for one Saturday morning.

To start, it makes me ill.  I haven't been able to bring myself to read the grand jury inquiry. I am someone who cringes when I hear a description of a sprained ankle. 
 But I understand why my readers suspect me, and other pro-choice mainstream journalists, of being selective—of not wanting to cover the story because it showcased the ugliest possibilities of abortion rights. The truth is that most of us tend to be less interested in sick-making stories—if the sick-making was done by "our side." 
 Of course, I'm not saying that I identify with criminal abortionists who kill infants and grievously wound their patients.  But I am pro-choice. 
What Gosnell did was not some inevitable result of legal abortion.  But while legal abortion was not sufficient to create the horrors in Philadelphia, it was necessary.  Gosnell was able to harm so many women and babies because he operated in the open. 
Moreover, as Jeffrey Goldberg points out, this has disturbing implications for late-term abortions.  It suggests that sometimes, those fetuses are delivered alive.  Worse, it hints at what we might be doing inside the womb to ensure that the other ones aren't.  I don't think that this affected my thinking, since I don't support late-term abortions of viable infants unless the mother's life is in danger.  But I understand why pro-lifers have their suspicions. 
I could also offer Kliff's defense, that this is a local crime.  But  George Tiller's murder was also a local crime. There was no "national policy issue" involved: murder is a matter for state law. And there was no real question that if Tiller's murderer was caught, he was going to be tried and convicted for the killing. Nonetheless, lots of national journalists--including Sarah Kliff, for Newsweek--covered the killing and discussed what it meant for abortion provision nationwide.   
If I think about it for a moment, there are obviously lots of policy implications of Gosnell's baby charnel house.  How the hell did this clinic operate for seventeen years without health inspectors discovering his brutal crimes?  Are there major holes in our medical regulatory system?  More to the point, are those holes created, in part, by the pressure to go easy on abortion clinics, or more charitably, the fear of getting tangled in a hot-button political issue?  These have clear implications for abortion access, and abortion politics. 
After all, when ostensibly neutral local regulations threaten to restrict abortion access--as with Virginia's recent moves to require stricter regulatory standards for abortion clinics, and ultrasounds for women seeking abortions--the national media thinks that this is worthy of remark.  If local governments are being too lax on abortion clinics, surely that is also worthy of note. 
Moreover, surely those of us who are pro-choice must worry that this will restrict access to abortion:  that a crackdown on abortion clinics will follow, with onerous white-glove inspections; that a revolted public will demand more restrictions on late-term abortions; or that women will be too afraid of Gosnell-style crimes to seek a medically necessary abortion. 
This story should have been covered much more than it was—covered as a national policy issue, not a "local crime story."  The press has literally been AWOL. 
I could defend myself by saying that I wasn't aware that the Gosnell trial was going on.  Abortion is not my beat, and the mailing lists that I am on weren't exactly blasting the news of this trial. 
But that doesn't totally let me off the hook.  I knew about the Gosnell case, and I wish I had followed it more closely, even though I'd rather not.  In fact, those of us who are pro-choice should be especially interested.  The whole point of legal abortion is to prevent what happened in Philadelphia: to make it safer and more humane.  Somehow that ideal went terribly, horribly awry.  We should demand to know why. 
What happened in Philadelphia should never happen again, and all of us—not just the Philadelphia police—should be asking how we make sure it doesn't.  I don't know the answer to that yet, because I still don't understand what happened in Pennsylvania.  But I'll be working to figure it out.
Conservatives Scared By North Korea Nuke Scary Stories
By Steve Hynd, Yesterday

My former blog host at Newshoggers put together a great commentary on US Conservatives' fears generated by North Korea's annual Threat Theater performance. Those fears are more dramatic this year thanks to it's young, third-generation tyrant as the country approaches the anniversary of his grandfather's birthday celebration.

This flap is a replay of an identical piece of theater that happened in 2005:
Actually this has happened before. In April 2005, almost exactly eight years, a senior military intelligence official told Congress that North Korea had the ability to build a nuclear warhead that could be placed on a missile. Then, as now, the Pentagon and other U.S. officials rushed to downplay the assessment. Then, as now, North Korea has not publicly demonstrated any such capability, nor has the U.S. publicly presented any such evidence.
Steve's post has more to do with Conservatives fears of military threats than actual military threats. As FDR famously said "We have nothing to fear but fear itself." And he was correct. 
However, cue reports from conservatives, usually quoting in-house experts from hawkish conservative think-tanks like Rand, Heritage and WINEP, telling us that we should be “pretty freaking scared” and “we’re in deep doo-doo“, whileciting North Korean TV propaganda rather than the obvious – that North Korea isn’t mobilizing for war. These reports play into Americans’ generally wrong but overly-fearful view of North Korea’s abilities (need I mention that terrible Red Dawn remake here?). 
Conservative politicians and media have an easy motive for their fearmongering – their base are easily scared and scared conservatives vote. 
On the tenth anniversary of 9/11 a very rightwing commenter on my old Newshoggers blog told how he’d been paralyzed with fear, according to his account literally for two whole days, watching 9/11 and its aftermath on his TV from Florida. As far as he was concerned and excess, even the lies for Iraq, were justified by his wish never to feel that scared ever again. Google 9/11 reactions and the words “paralyzed with fear” occur again and again, most often from those who profess a conservative viewpoint and agree with conservative responses in the “war on terror”. 
That’s all anecdotal evidence, of course, but studies in 2008 and just this year show that conservatives, out of a wish for things to stay the same and never change, tend to be more fearful. According to the 2008 study:

In reflex tests of 46 political partisans, psychologists found that conservatives were more likely than liberals to be shocked by sudden threats. 
Accompanying the physiological differences were deep differences on hot-button political issues: military expansion, the Iraq war, gun control, capital punishment, the Patriot act, warrantless searches, foreign aid, abortion rights, gay marriage, premarital sex and pornography. 
Hyping a North Korean nuke threat is designed to make conservatives scared, and to make them more inclined to believe and vote more conservatively on a range of issues, not just North Korea. Conservatives, being ‘fraidy-cats, are falling for the hype as always.


Problems with Health Insurance? Under the Affordable Care Act You Will No Longer Be Alone

Maggie Mahar's message yesterday explains how consumers will be subjected to less confusion about health insurance as Obamacare comes together.  The state exchanges, once in place, will standardize and clarify health insurance making coverage details more understandable. There will also be ombudsman assistance at the state level. 
If you sent in your health insurance payment on time, and paid it the way you always have (as a direct withdrawal from you checking count), but made a mistake when you put the checking account number on your payment, would you expect that your insurer would drop you?
What if your insurer sent you an email a few days after you sent in your payment saying “Your payment has been received? Wouldn’t you assume that you were still insured? 
Mike Holden did. He was wrong. 
Yesterday, he sent an email explaining his story.

“On March 16, I paid my family’s monthly health insurance bill to United Healthcare (UHC) the same way I have for almost a year now. But I was using a new bank account that we set up after a recent move. Unfortunately, I entered the account number incorrectly. It turns out I left off three digits that are part of the account number but listed separately on the checks.”
Holden had no idea that he had made a mistake. On March 20, he received an email from UHC saying “Your payment has been received.” 
Yet in April, when he went online to pay his family’s April bill, he was told his coverage had been terminated. He then talked to a customer service representative at UHC and received a letter explaining that he had until March 31 to correct his mistake. 
Unfortunately, the letter, which was postmarked March 27, went to his old address. . 
He appealed to UHC, explaining the problem and asking that his insurance be reinstated,
He then received a letter telling him that his appeal had been denied: “United Healthcare Benefit Services follows the guidelines for payments and grace periods defined by the Department of Labor. Your account has been reviewed and the termination remains, as payment was not received within the guidelines provided.” 
How the Affordable Care Act Brings Us Together 
Beginning in 2014, people like Mike Holden will no longer be alone, trying to stand up to insurance companies. Individuals and families who buy their own insurance will be able to purchase coverage in “Exchanges”—marketplaces where insures will be regulated and individuals and families who purchase their own insurance will become part of a large group. There, they will have far more clout than they do now.

The Affordable Care Act is all about overhauling a fragmented health care system and turning it into a universal system. Pooling their premiums in the Exchanges, patients will be paying for each other, and the Exchanges are designed to protect consumers. 
The ACA stipulates that Exchange establish grant programs for outreach to the public for education, enrollment information, to facilitate enrollment and referrals for grievances, complaints or questions. The Exchanges will provide ombudsman to help patients with grievances. 
Moreover, if an individual in the Exchange qualifies for a subsidy, the Secretary of Treasury will pay the subsidy directly to the insurance plan. “Individuals who fail to pay their share of the premium will have a three-month grade period before being disenrolled from their health plan.” Three months would have been enough time to sort out Mike Holden’s problem. Finally, under reform, the Individual Exchanges will provide information on reporting of “ consumer grievances, late payment experience, etc., so that consumers can identify plans that have lower costs due to efficient practices versus those that have lower costs due to inferior service, ” I would say that UHC’s response falls under the heading of “inferior service.” 
No wonder some insurers are trying to undermine the Exchanges.


Is Sri Srinivasan Our Next Supreme Court Justice?
Dashiell Bennett wrote in the Atlantic a few days ago...
The Senate Judiciary Committee is holding a confirmation hearing on Wednesday for an open spot on U.S. Court of Appeals for D.C. The nominee is Srikanth Srinivasan, whose current job is Principal Deputy Solicitor General of the United States. The hearing is a big one for both Obama and Srinivasan, because as Jeffery Toobin pointed out in a breakdown of Srinivasan's record, this is basically his audition to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg as the next Associate Justice at the highest tribunal in the land. 
But there's more at stake than just one man's possible promotion. Barack Obama's entire judicial legacy could hinge on the outcome of Srinivasan's appointment or denial. Four of the current sitting Justices at one time sat on the D.C. Circuit, but that court currently has four vacancies. The President hasn't even nominated anyone else to fill them, because Republicans in the Senate have blocked every one he's tried to put up so far. The last one withdrew her name, because the Senate wouldn't even grant her a vote.

It's a virtual certainty that President Obama will get a least one more chance to put a justice on the Supreme Court, as the 80-year-old Ginsburg is unlikely to stick around until 2016. Barring a surprise, she might be the only one to step down in next four years, and the President needs to make his next pick count.

Go to the link for details about Srinivasan. And here is more from Brown Pundits.
The politics of the appointment are as fascinating as the details of the candidate's CV. 
Bennett continues...

Basically, if Obama can't get Srinivasan approved to the Appeals Court, he can't get anyone approved. And if he does get him approved for the lower court this year, how would the Senate ever be able to turn him away from Ginsburg's spot just one or two years from now? He would be a virtual lock to slide into a Supreme vacancy when the time comes. That's why the President has pushed so hard to make this hearing a good one, and lined up big endorsements for his guy
The Catch-22, however, is that winning this fight might mean the President never gets the chance for another victory. The real danger for Obama is that he will get Srinivasan through to Appeals, and eventually the Supreme Court, but still leave office in 2017 with an empty bench of liberal judges to follow in that Justice's footsteps. A Republican rejection of Srinivasan would give the Senate Democrats a slam-dunk excuse to tear down the filibuster and spend the final two years of the Obama presidency packing the courts with liberal allies. If they let Srinivasan slide by, they'd be surrendering one battle to save the war for themselves. It would be an important battle, to be sure, but one that would allow them to continue their obstructionism on the lower court, where the Supreme Court nominees of 2017 and beyond will be made.

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