Next time Congressman John Shadegg holds a town hall meeting, remind me to clothespin my nose.
What's wafting from the Republican pol is the stench of hypocrisy.
True to what you've been seeing nonstop on the TV news lately, his August 8 town hall on healthcare was full to burstin' with alter kockers mad as hell that Barack Obama's about to shove communism down their gullets and make them give up the socialized medicine of Medicare and VA benefits for the socialized medicine of what they call "Obamacare."
In other words, it was a relatively friendly, conservative crowd for Shadegg. Never mind that there really is no such thing as Obamacare, yet. There is a House of Representatives bill 3200 (among several others) that — if you really bother to read it, as these crazed Republinuts say they have — is full of such frightening concepts as "prohibiting pre-existing condition exclusions," "requiring fair market practices by health insurers," and "timely payment of claims."
Why, who needs that hooey when we can have medical costs through the roof and close to 46 million Americans uninsured? But I digress.
One woman espoused her worry over what lowbrow job-quitter Sarah Palin calls the Obama "death panels." Of course, there are no such things. The now-infamous Section 1233 of H.R. 3200 simply provides for "advance care planning consultation." That means a conversation with a physician concerning living wills, power of attorney, orders for life-sustaining treatment, and other stuff we should all generally know about.
Such consultations have been proposed in the past by Republicans like Newt Gingrich. But now the GOP sees a benefit in scaring the bejesus out of seniors, or at least in not calming their fears.
The latter is what Shadegg did when the woman asked him about what would happen to her when she was near to croakin'.
"What is going to happen to people like me, who are retired?" she wondered, adding, "We are going to be counseled on how to end our lives because the money will be taken from us."
She went on to describe how "people with disabilities, children with disabilities, their parents will be counseled on how to end their child's life."
But Shadegg didn't lay these unnecessary worries to rest, worries based on a crude misinterpretation of one bill's provision.
"I can give you no assurance that the plan you have will continue to be in effect and applied to you as it applies now, if this bill becomes law," replied Shadegg.
That, of course, didn't answer her concern. Nor did it tell her the truth, like, "Hey, lady, no one's gonna tell you to off yourself. And no one's gonna take away your health insurance."
Rather, Shadegg said the equivalent of, "Don't ask me if the sun's gonna rise tomorrow. What do I look like, a psychic?"
Shadegg basically milked the preconceived notions of the crowd. Generally, he was rewarded with applause.
Like when he went off on a report in the media that drug companies were planning to back healthcare reform in TV ads. That much is true. But Shadegg's outrage over it is more than disingenuous.
"America's pharmaceutical industry is running," Shadegg told his audience, "I believe, somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 million — maybe $50 million — worth of advertisements this August promoting Obamacare. You're paying for it. I'm paying for it."
Dr. Shadegg's prescription for the problem? "Unload on the drug companies." That is, pepper drug companies and lobbying arms such as PhRMA (the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America) with angry e-mails and letters.
"They stand to get rich out of the government funding healthcare in America," the congressman said. "This is a conflict of interest. Those advertisements are an outrage."
Conflict of interest? How about this for a conflict of interest:
According to his filings with the Federal Election Commission, Congressman Shadegg has so far accepted about $48,500 in contributions for his 2010 re-election effort from healthcare-related PACs.
A preferred provider (PPO) PAC gave him $2,000. AFLAC slipped him $2,000. The PAC for Pfizer — one of those big drug companies that's a member of the PhRMA lobby? Shadegg scored $1,000 from it. The list goes on and on, from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons ($2,500) to a PAC for urologists ($1,000).
And the fundraising for 2010 hasn't even hit full steam. A better indicator of what Shadegg may eventually raise for 2010 are his filings for 2008, the last time he ran. The total amount given from committees related to doctors, insurance companies, and drug companies? A whopping $166,000.
Yep, in 2008, Shadegg practically took a bath in $1,000 bills from the healthcare industry. Eli Lilly, another member of PhRMA, put $1,000 in the kitty. Pfizer ponied up $4,000 in 2008. He pulled in $2,000 from CIGNA, $2,000 from Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Arizona, $5,000 from Physician Hospitals of America, $5,000 from the cataract PAC (I'm guessing they're anti-cataracts). You can see the list at the FEC's Web site, just by looking at "Other Committees Contributions" for Shadegg's file.
Asked about all the loot he's pulled in from the people he's charged with regulating, or de-regulating, Shadegg spokeswoman Katie Orme replied to me via e-mail, telling me that the congressman really has been tough on the folks writing the checks.
"Congressman Shadegg has frequently opposed the health-insurance industry," Orme said. "He worked aggressively to enact a patient's bill of rights and, in opposition to abuse by HMOs, introduce[ed] several bills to protect patients early in his congressional career."
Anything lately, Katie? Well, there's this proposed legislation he calls the Improving Health Care for All Americans Act.
"Under the congressman's bill," Orme said, "all Americans will have the choice to keep their employer-provided health plan or take a tax credit to purchase a new healthcare plan that best fits their needs. Americans who don't have employer-provided care will receive a stipend worth $2,500 for individuals and $5,000 for families for the purchase of health care."
This is great for the insurance industry. It means those who are young, in good shape, with no pre-existing conditions — those the insurance industry loves to sign up — will opt to jump ship on their employer-provided plan. Those in worse condition will be left with what their employer offers, which will be a lot more expensive because young, healthy people have left the pool.
As for the nearly 46 million uninsured . . . Fat chance they'll be able to buy coverage under Shadegg's plan. This from Bob Lord, the Democrat who lost to Shadegg in 2008 but is considering another crack at him:
"Most of the uninsured are folks who have a problem getting insurance because their insurance costs are already high," explained Lord. "The folks who have access to insurance would be able to self-select.
"Shadegg's proposal would end up creating pools of low-risk individuals," Lord said. "So the high-risk individuals, whose only pool would be their employer, would be in worse shape."
Shadegg outspent Lord by about a million dollars, with unsurprising results. Lord garnered 42 percent of the vote. Shadegg, 54 percent. Also not surprising, Lord got bupkis from healthcare fat cats, unless you count the $1,000 he got from a chiropractor's PAC.
"To be honest, they probably wouldn't have given money to me because Shadegg is carrying water for them," said Lord of such contributions.
Such is the way of the world. The incumbent pulls in big cash from special interests, and then the incumbent backs a proposal benefiting those special interests. It happens with Dems as well as Republicans. But for Shadegg to present himself as fighting for his constituents by fighting healthcare reform offered up by Dems is pretty foul.
Forget that clothespin. For the next town hall, I'll don a gas mask.
FEAR OF LEAR
For left-leaners out there who think that Homeland Security honcho Janet Napolitano is molding the department she heads, and its sub-agency Immigration and Customs Enforcement, into kinder, gentler entities, I've got a pile of alfalfa I'd like to pawn off on you as a dime bag of the good ganja.
Much has been made of the new Memorandums of Agreement ICE is forcing all its 287(g) partners sign — including our own Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who has fewer than 90 days to affix his autograph to the new rules or give up his 160-gendarme force of 287(g) men deputized by ICE to enforce federal immigration law.
Supposedly, ICE is going to start prioritizing aliens (and, no, that's not a line from the new sci-fi flick District 9). ICE is supposed to start directing its resources at the really bad aliens. You know, murderers, drug runners, gang-bangers.
ICE and DHS gave Arpaio a preview of what things might look like under the new MOA a couple of weeks ago, when, during the MCSO's sweep of the East Valley, ICE declined to take into custody 13 non-criminal aliens. That is, undocumented immigrants who don't have a criminal record.
If this is making you feel all warm and cuddly toward ICE agents, there are a few reasons to keep the saltpeter handy.
First is the MCSO raid on Royal Paper Converting Company in south Phoenix. Despite a pullback by DHS and ICE on worksite-enforcement raids nationwide, DHS gave the MCSO the go-ahead to use its 287(g) authority to collar illegal immigrants whose primary crime is wanting to work and put food on the table.
Compare this to the way ICE handled Los Angeles-based clothing company American Apparel. In July, the firm announced that it had been informed by ICE that one-third of its employees "did not appear to be authorized to work in the United States."
There were no raids. American Apparel said it was cooperating with ICE and that those employees who could not prove their right to work in the U.S. would be let go.
Other companies nationwide have been the subjects of so-called "desktop raids" by the Internal Revenue Service, after IRS audits have shown workers to be using bogus Social Security numbers. One such raid took place recently at the Overhill Farms food-processing plant in Vernon, California. More than 200 workers lost their jobs.
Losing your job is bad. But compare it to the anguish experienced by the 44 people the MCSO took into custody at Royal Paper. Women and men openly wept as they were lined up for processing by MCSO thugs.
Children have been abandoned as a result. I spoke with one 17-year-old boy whose father was caught up in the raid. He's now living with a friend of his dad's because he's afraid the MCSO will come knocking on the door of the family abode. His fear of the MCSO is real. He is also illegal, and the MCSO has announced through a press release that it has been looking for the workers that got away. If they knew the whereabouts of this kid, they'd come looking for him, too.
Local humanitarian groups such as Respect/Respeto have been scrambling to help families devastated by this latest salvo in Joe Arpaio's war on immigrants.
Why is the DHS letting Arpaio raid workplaces as ICE has shifted to less-militaristic means of dealing with undocumented workers? I called DHS spokesman Matt Chandler for a comment.
"Our worksite-enforcement protocol is on employers who knowingly hire illegal workers to circumvent the law," Chandler said. "You're referring to a criminal case in this particular case right now."
Chandler insisted ICE was still performing worksite raids as part of criminal investigations into employers, but he offered no recent examples of this.
Then there's the problem of ICE's Arizona-based LEAR program, which operates as part of ICE's Office of Detention and Removal Operations. LEAR stands for Law Enforcement Agency Response. It was set up in 2006 to address complaints by local cops that ICE was not picking up the undocumented they were arresting.
LEAR operates 24-7, and despite ICE spokesman Vinnie Picard's recent assurances to the Arizona Republic that DRO puts priority on the aliens who "pose the most danger to our community," LEAR does pick up non-criminal aliens.
All the time.
Remember the jornalero I wrote about recently, the one Phoenix Law Enforcement Association President Mark Spencer called ICE on, even though the day laborer was booked with no crime? Picard confirmed that it was the LEAR program Spencer phoned.
In an even more egregious example, the Paradise Valley Police Department called LEAR on a husband and wife after they were caught — gasp — fishing from a canal near Stanford Drive and 32nd Street.
Felipe Meza and his wife, Maricela Garcia, had parked their pickup next to the canal. Meza had a fishing permit but not a driver's license. According to Meza, when questioned by a female officer, they both admitted to being in the country illegally.
The PVPD report states that Meza and his wife were warned not to drive the vehicle and to call someone for a ride. The couple claim the cop told them to move the truck two blocks from the canal, park it, and wait for a ride. Either way, the PV police later stopped the pair and arrested Meza for not having an Arizona driver's license. His wife was in the passenger's seat but was taken into custody, too. Both were turned over to LEAR.
The couple have been in the United States for nearly two decades and they have four children who are U.S. citizens. They own a home, Meza is gainfully employed as a painter, and neither have criminal records. Meza is even a fill-in pastor at a local church.
Meza was taken straight to Florence Detention Center, where he was able to call his kids. His wife, ironically, got the worst of it. A diabetic, she says she never received medication her son dropped off at ICE's detention center in Phoenix. She was shipped first to Florence, then to Madison Jail in Phoenix, then to Estrella jail, where, inexplicably, she was put in the hole for 24 hours. Then she was removed to Eloy Detention Center.
ICE tells me this hell ride was due to a lack of bed space. In any case, both she and her husband were lucky. Mesa immigration attorney Delia Salvatierra took them on as clients. Salvatierra cajoled ICE officials, pestering them in person until they gave way and allowed her clients to go, after days in custody, on the condition of a $3,000 bond for each. If Salvatierra hadn't stepped in, both parents would've had to wait much longer to see an immigration judge, who might've set a very high bond, like $10,000 apiece.
They were also fortunate that they are beloved by their community, and those whom Señor Meza helps as a pastor — people who helped take care of their young ones while they were locked up.
Why were these people, who'll likely receive amnesty if Obama ever gets off his duff and pushes immigration reform, not cut loose as the non-criminal aliens in Arpaio's custody were during the East Valley sweep?
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Heck, if Arpaio is getting grief from ICE through 287(g), why not call LEAR every time he picks up a non-criminal alien?
Neither Vinnie Picard at the local ICE office nor DHS' Matt Chandler in Washington, D.C., could give me an explanation. Picard pinged his higher-ups numerous times, looking for what to say to me, but he never received a response.
"I know I am undocumented," Maricela Garcia told me through a translator. "I know they have the right to take me to immigration. But not to treat me like an animal."
Indeed, if this is how ICE treats "non-criminal aliens," then Napolitano's calculated attempt to soften ICE's image deserves all the disdain human rights activists and those who call themselves "liberals" can muster.