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November 30, 2005
My Spanish boyfriend is nearly perfect in every way, so why am I balking?
Worried by increasingly strident evangelical rhetoric, Jewish leaders have finally dared to criticize conservative Christians. Will an alliance held together only by a shared support for Israel survive?
Please join us for a briefing on the findings of the survey "A Generation In Transition: A Survey of Bay State Baby Boomers" and a roundtable discussion about the implications and challenges raised by the report. When: Friday, December 2, 2005 8:00 AM - 10:00 AM Where: Westin Copley Place Boston South Ballroom 10 Huntington Avenue Boston, MA RSVP:
Although Fox News hosts Bill O'Reilly and John Gibson have lambasted what they see as a "secular" "war on Christmas," Fox News' own online store advertises "Holiday" ornaments rather than "Christmas" ornaments, as apparently first noted on the weblog Daily Kos. The items are grouped under the category "Holiday Ideas."
O'Reilly, host of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, has recently waged a campaign against corporations that greet customers with "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." For his part, Gibson, the host of Fox News' The Big Story with John Gibson, has published a book titled The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought (Sentinel, October 2005).
Despite O'Reilly's specific criticism of those who use the term "holiday tree" instead of "Christmas tree," an O'Reilly Factor ornament for sale at the Fox News store features this tagline: "Put your holiday tree in 'The No Spin Zone' with this silver glass 'O'Reilly Factor' ornament."
CLIPS: Smerconish: Public prayer by Muslims "wrong" and "a game" to remind audience of terrorist attacks
On the November 23 broadcast of Fox News' The Radio Factor, guest host Michael A. Smerconish took issue with a recent decision by the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority to provide a designated prayer area at Giants Stadium. The decision was in response to a September 19 incident involving the FBI's detention and questioning of five Muslim men who were observed praying near the stadium's main air duct during a New York Giants football game. Smerconish stated: "I just think that's [the men's public praying] wrong. I just think they're playing a game of, you know, mind blank with the audience. And that they should know better four years removed from September 11."
In a November 2 article, the Associated Press reported that FBI spokesman, agent Steven Siegel, said the men had aroused suspicion because they were congregating near the main air intake duct. Also, security was on higher alert because former President George H. W. Bush was in the stadium that night as part of a fundraising campaign he and former President Clinton are leading for victims of Hurricane Katrina. The AP quoted Siegel as follows:
You had 80,000 people there, Bush 41 was there, and you had a group of gentlemen gathering in an area not normally used by the public right near the main air intake duct for the stadium, and a food preparation facility. It was where they were, not what they were doing.
The men were later released without charge and have since claimed that their detention was evidence of racial profiling. The FBI denies these charges.
Smerconish said that the Giants' designation of a new prayer area "just seems like a form of capitulation in this instance to -- well, frankly -- to the Arab community ... I think that it's fundamentally unfair that five Arab guys, Muslim men in their twenties, get together in full view of 80,000 folks and engage in prayer." Smerconish added:
SMERCONISH: Tolerance means I've gotta tolerate that -- the practitioners of the Muslim faith -- but they've gotta be tolerant of my reasonable concerns about terrorism four years post-9-11. And their tolerance of me necessitates that they not gather in prayer when there are 80,000 people in the house for a football game.
From the November 23 broadcast of Fox News' The Radio Factor with Bill O'Reilly:
SMERCONISH: September 19, the Giants hosted the New Orleans Saints. The game was also the site of a Hurricane Katrina fund-raiser. Did you hear about this? As a matter of fact, number 41 was in the house. Meaning George Herbert Walker Bush, past president and father, of course, of W [President Bush]. Eighty-thousand folks were in the house for the Giants and the Saints and the Katrina fund-raiser.
In an area near food preparation, in an area near air duct work and venting, folks saw five apparently Muslim men in their 20s praying. Let me just sort of freeze-frame right there and ask The Radio Factor audience: Had you been in Giants Stadium that day, you know that it's the Giants and the Saints, you know that it's a Hurricane Katrina fund-raiser, perhaps you know that number 41 is in the house, you certainly know that you're a stone's throw away from Ground Zero; what, if anything, would you have done if you had seen five apparently Muslim men in their 20s engaged in prayer?
Maybe you would do absolutely nothing. But you can call me on that issue as I tell you the rest of the story. It's 1-877-9-NOSPIN. Me, I'd drop the dime. And somebody in this case did drop the dime. And well, you can see, I'm sure, where this thing is headed.
Before long, it became a focal point in a civil liberties debate. The Council on American-Islamic Relations got involved -- CAIR -- C-A-I-R is their acronym. Turns out the guys were just five Giants fans, not up to anything terrorism-related, but that didn't quell the controversy.
And now, today, comes the news that at Giants Stadium, they will be setting aside an area for groups to pray. I wonder how you see this. See if you had told me -- in Philadelphia, we've got Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Eagles, home of the former, you know, National Football Conference champion Eagles, although I won't be able to say that this season. If you'd said to me in Lincoln Financial Field or in Giants Stadium, they have set aside an area -- you know, non-denominational area -- for prayer. You go in there and pray for [Eagles quarterback Donovan] McNabb and T.O. [Eagles wide receiver Terrell Owens] to patch up their wounds or whatever the case might be, I would have no problem with it.
In much the same fashion that, in just about every hospital in which I have been, there is an area set aside for prayer. My beef in this particular case is knowing the history. I mean to me it just seems like a form of capitulation in this instance to -- well, frankly -- to the Arab community. I'm not afraid to say it.
And I have another thought. And the other thought is that I think it was fundamentally unfair, you're not going to believe I'm going to say this, but this is my view. I think that it's fundamentally unfair that five Arab guys, Muslim men in their 20s, get together in full view of 80,000 folks and engage in prayer. I just think that's wrong. I just think they're playing a game of, you know, mind blank with the audience. And that they should know better four years removed from September 11.
WISSAM NASR (Council on American-Islamic Relations): Well, you know, whether it is or isn't, it's up to the individual person's perception. I live around Muslims so it's not uncommon for me -- for me to see that. And you know we just want to basically -- the moral of this story is, is that we want people to take this as an opportunity to understand that, hey, this is the Muslim way of praying. We do it five times a day. It only takes a couple of minutes, but sometimes we have to pray just about -- you know -- wherever we are. Some people are just that devout.
SMERCONISH: See, I can't buy that. I think you can be devout at home, you know, on game day. You know I think that you ask too much in a post-9-11 world to expect non-Muslims to just walk on by with 80,000 folks around if five guys are engaged in prayer. That's my view. And now, you know the end of the story. The end of the story is that at Giants Stadium they will set aside an area for prayer, prayer of any kind. It will be non-denominational in focus and so forth. And as I said, I have no problem whatsoever with a non-denominational location for prayer. Frankly, I think it would be fine in a public school, that's my view of the world.
But I just don't like the way this one came about.
CALLER: From '92 to '93, I was in Denver, Colorado. And there's a heavy Muslim community there. And I transported people back and forth to the new airport out there when it opened up. And many, many, many cab drivers of -- Muslims would stop, put their rugs out, and would stop to pray. And I don't think that there's anything wrong with that. Their religious belief says that it needs to be done at a certain time and they shouldn't be held back from doing that.
And I think that we need to think back when this whole thing started. We were told to live our lives as we normally did. And they're living their lives as they normally do. And, yes, we should be more tolerant, a little more understanding. And I guess unless they've got a bomb wrapped around them, we need to just kind of look the other way and let them perform their duty. After all, isn't that what we do when we go to our services on Sundays?
SMERCONISH: Okay, but wait a minute. Just so I'm clear, because I think tolerance is a two-way street. Tolerance means I've gotta tolerate that -- the practitioners of the Muslim faith -- but they've gotta be tolerant of my reasonable concerns about terrorism four years post-9-11. And their tolerance of me necessitates that they not gather in prayer when there are 80,000 people in the house for a football game. Or you think I'm wrong?
CALLER: They set out to raise some questions. And I can understand the motivation, because there are Arab Americans who are absolutely, you know, pointed out and it's racial profiling. And there are bad things that happen to these people on a daily basis. But situations like this do not help the cause.
SMERCONISH: Agreed. And they had -- look, what you're saying is they had to know what they were doing.
SMERCONISH: They had to know -- I can't say it on a family radio program, but they were -- they were fooling with folks, you know what I'm saying?
From the November 29 broadcast of Fox News' The Radio Factor with Bill O'Reilly:
O'REILLY: The same people -- Paul Krugman, the New York Times people, all that -- who are saying, "Oh, we need to pull out now for the good of the troops, the good of the country," as soon as we leave, they'll say, "Bush lost the war." That's what they want. They're not -- I don't believe Paul Krugman gives a fig about the troops. And he's -- I'm picking on him because I don't like him. I don't. I mean, you know, obviously if you saw me and him on CNBC last year, I took him apart.
He's a Princeton professor who writes for The New York Times. I don't believe a word he says about anything. I think he's a socialist who hates the country. And, you know, when I see his byline, I just go, "Oh, next."
NY Times downplayed Medicare drug plan's deference to private insurers in limiting choice for seniors
A November 27 New York Times editorial declared the Medicare prescription drug benefit, set to take effect in 2006, "a promising beginning." The Times' editorial board endorsed the plan when it became law in 2003, writing in a November 19, 2003, editorial: "Despite its shortcomings, the Medicare prescription drug bill heading for a vote in Congress is worthy of passage." The editorial added that "the bill is strongest when it comes to the most important target groups: elderly people with low incomes or very high drug bills." But both editorials ignored a component of the law that gives insurers the power under certain circumstances to make changes to beneficiaries' policies on 60 days' notice -- including restricting coverage and increasing co-payments and out-of-pocket costs -- while beneficiaries can switch plans only once per year during a limited period.
In the November 27 editorial, the Times also dismissed other drawbacks associated with the plan -- which its news pages have detailed -- including its complexity, limited choice due to pharmacy participation, and potentially abusive marketing by private insurers, stating that such problems, "while irksome, can be remedied later." Under Medicare's new drug benefit, beneficiaries select coverage from dozens of plans provided by private insurers with some variation by region.
In the same editorial, the Times touted the flexibility that the plan reportedly offers beneficiaries. Asserting that "no decision is irrevocable," the editorial explains that "beneficiaries can change plans once a year." What the Times didn't mention was that insurers can alter their coverage on 60 days notice, which means that beneficiaries can be stuck for several months with new terms -- including higher costs and restricted coverage -- that they had not previously agreed to.
Under Medicare guidelines, an insurer can change the cost tier placement of a drug, affecting the out-of-pocket cost to the beneficiary, if the insurer receives new information about the drug. If, for example, the Food and Drug Administration rules that one drug is preferred over another for treatment of the same condition, the insurer might opt to provide less coverage for the non-preferred drug, or the insurer might elect to cease covering the drug altogether. In addition, according to a June 15 article by New York Times reporter Robert Pear, insurers typically seek to cover fewer drugs for various conditions in order to reduce costs with large-volume discounts.
Such changes can be sought by insurers once per month beginning in March 2006. If approved, they can produce higher co-insurance costs and out-of-pocket expenses for seniors. As the Times itself reported in a January 22 article by Pear: "Beneficiaries who sign up with a drug plan are generally locked in for a year. Insurers can end coverage for a particular drug, or increase the co-payment, if they give 60 days' notice to patients and the government."
As Pear also reported in a November 13 article, a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health found that just 35 percent of seniors polled reported that they understood the plan. Moreover, the article noted that because pharmacies can refuse to participate, beneficiaries in certain areas might have very limited options for obtaining medication.
A separate Times article by Pear, published the same day as the November 27 editorial, reported that Medicare has already received more than 100 complaints concerning aggressive marketing tactics employed by insurers; enrollment in the plan began November 15, 2005, and continues through May 15, 2006. Alleged violations reported thus far include door-to-door solicitation and misrepresentations of products. According to the complaints, some companies have requested personal information, including credit card, financial institution and social security numbers, from potential beneficiaries.
Nevertheless, the Times raised but dismissed the plan's "drawbacks" at the beginning of the November 27 editorial: "Many of the critics [of the plan] are right," but the problems "can be remedied later."
From the November 27 New York Times editorial:
The enrollment period for Medicare's new prescription drug benefit opened this month amid complaints about its complexity, its drawbacks and its seemingly irrational structure. Many of the critics are right. But the new program is still an important new benefit - the largest expansion of Medicare in decades and a vital step to bringing Medicare into the modern era. The problems, while irksome, can be remedied later.
All elderly Americans can use software on the Medicare Web site to help pick the best plan for them.The Web site may be daunting to those who are inexperienced with the Internet, but it should offer their computer-savvy friends and advisers a valuable tool to sort through the options. No decision is irrevocable - beneficiaries can change plans once a year.
Beneficiaries can type in such data as the drugs and dosages they use, the pharmacies they patronize, and the premiums and deductibles they would prefer. Presto, they get a list of plans that meet their criteria, the estimated annual cost of those plans, and, with another click of the mouse, suggestions on how to cut costs further by picking cheaper drugs.
From the November 19, 2003, New York Times editorial:
Despite its shortcomings, the Medicare prescription drug bill heading for a vote in Congress is worthy of passage. Fears that the legislation contains seeds that will ultimately destroy the traditional Medicare program strike us as overblown. Our own chief qualm is that the country, with deficits looming as far as prognosticators can see, cannot afford a program that will cost, at a minimum, $400 billion over 10 years.
Millions of middle-income Americans will get only modest help from the program, and they will have to cope with a crazy-quilt pattern of benefits. But fortunately, the bill is strongest when it comes to the most important target groups: elderly people with low incomes or very high drug bills.
If the prescription drug bill is passed, Congress will have created not one but two fiscal train wrecks several years down the line. Some legislators will vote for the drug plan and figure that when the bills ratchet up after 2006, future Congresses will have to give up on some of the current tax cuts when they expire. Others will vote for the drug bill with the idea of taking the political gain now and hoping that the monster deficits over the horizon will force cutbacks on entitlements later in the decade.
Our own choice would be to rescind the Bush administration's reckless tax cuts for the wealthy to pay for drug coverage of benefit to all. But any lawmakers who voted for the tax cuts cannot in good conscience support the drug bill unless they are ready to stand up and explain what should happen when the train wrecks occur.
From Pear's November 13 New York Times article:
In a survey issued this week by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health, only 35 percent of people 65 and older said they understood the new drug benefit. Those who said they understood it were more likely to have a favorable impression of it.
The new prescription drug plans, though heavily subsidized by Medicare, are marketed and administered by private insurers like Aetna, Humana, PacifiCare and UnitedHealth Group.
The Bush administration and Republicans in Congress chose this approach for two reasons. They firmly believe that competition among private plans will hold down costs, and they do not want the government to specify which drugs will be covered.
But that does not mean that a person's local pharmacy will be in every plan.
''In some rural areas,'' Ms. [Suzi] Lenker [who coordinates insurance counseling for the Kansas Department on Aging] reported, ''beneficiaries say: 'There are 40 Medicare drug plans to choose from, but my pharmacy takes only one or two plans. How does that give me choice?' ''
From Pear's November 27 New York Times article:
Bush administration officials say they have received scores of complaints about the aggressive tactics used by some insurance companies and agents to market Medicare's new prescription drug benefit.
The officials said they would take disciplinary action if they found that the tactics had broken federal rules.
Possible violations reported to Medicare officials in the past few weeks include uninvited door-to-door solicitation of business and misrepresentation of insurance products.
Federal officials have issued rules and a 53,000-word set of guidelines for marketing the drug benefit. The guidelines allow use of insurance agents, including independent agents who represent more than one company, but stipulate that insurers are responsible for the conduct of their agents.
Christopher Eisenberg, director of health plan accountability at the federal Medicare agency, said the federal government had received ''more than 100 complaints concerning misconduct by independent agents'' marketing Medicare products.
''This is developing into a major compliance concern,'' Mr. Eisenberg said, and ''it appears to be growing.''
Part of the problem is that the federal government and the states share responsibility for regulating the sale and marketing of Medicare drug plans, and the division of labor is not always clear.
Insurance agents are generally licensed and regulated by state government agencies. But the federal government regulates prescription drug plans and managed care plans, known as Medicare Advantage plans. When insurers sign contracts with Medicare, they promise to comply with all federal standards.
In some cases, Mr. Eisenberg said, when the federal government tried to investigate complaints, insurers said they had little control over the agents. ''We are not receptive to that argument,'' he said.
From Pear's June 15 New York Times article:
Hundreds of insurers -- more than initially expected -- have filed applications with the government to provide Medicare drug coverage, which they see as a potentially profitable new line of business. With so many companies seeking a piece of this potentially vast market, Medicare officials can be more aggressive in setting terms and conditions to prevent discrimination against sick people with high drug costs.
In requiring coverage for a wide range of drugs, officials said, they are following ''best practices'' used in the private sector and for Medicaid and the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. And they noted that under the 2003 Medicare law, formularies cannot discriminate against any beneficiaries.
In reviewing prescription drug plans, federal officials have been lobbied from all sides. Beneficiaries generally want as many drugs as possible on each formulary, and the drug companies stand to benefit if more of their products are covered.
But insurers and pharmacy benefit managers typically want to limit the number and types of drugs, so they can obtain large-volume discounts from manufacturers. The challenge for Medicare officials is to balance these competing goals.
O'Reilly, guest falsely accused ACLU of supporting child's "constitutional right to have sex with adults"
Discussing the Kansas Supreme Court's recent reversal of Matthew Limon's 2000 conviction, which had resulted in Limon's being sentenced to 17 years in prison for engaging in sexual relations with a 14-year-old boy, host Bill O'Reilly falsely claimed, on the November 28 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) "filed a brief arguing that the molestation of the 14-year-old handicapped boy was not a crime because the child has a constitutional right to have sex with adults." Wendy Murphy, a frequent O'Reilly Factor guest and the former assistant district attorney for Middlesex County, Massachusetts, agreed, saying of the ACLU: "[T]hey don't want any laws on the books ... that make it a crime for a child to be abused by an adult." O'Reilly's and Murphy's comments misconstrued the charges against Limon and falsely described the ACLU's involvement, which was limited to arguing that Kansas law unconstitutionally imposed a higher penalty for sexual conduct between same-sex partners.
According to O'Reilly, the Kansas case involved "a 14-year-old handicapped boy [who] was molested by an 18-year-old boy [Matthew Limon] in a group home." In fact, at the time of the incident, both teenagers were attending a Kansas residential school for the developmentally-disabled and engaged in consensual sexual relations. Because both Limon and the 14-year-old were male, Limon was charged with criminal sodomy instead of being charged under Kansas's "Romeo and Juliet" law (KSA 21-3522). That law carries a far lighter 15-month maximum prison sentence but addresses only "[u]nlawful voluntary sexual relations" between members of the opposite sex.
One day after the U.S.. Supreme Court invalidated sodomy laws in Lawrence v. Texas, the Limon case was remanded to the Kansas courts. On October 21, the Kansas State Supreme Court reversed Limon's sodomy conviction, ruling that the "Romeo and Juliet" law's applicability only to heterosexual sex was unconstitutional under Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down a Texas sodomy law:
The Romeo and Juliet statute suffers the same faults as found by the United States Supreme Court in Romer [v. Evans] and Eisenstad [v. Baird]: adding the phrase "and are members of the opposite sex" created a broad, overreaching, and undifferentiated status-based classification which bears no rational relationship to legitimate State interests. Paraphrasing the United States Supreme Court's decision in Romer, the statute inflicts immediate, continuing, and real injuries that outrun and belie any legitimate justification that may be claimed for it. Furthermore, the State's interests fail under the holding in Lawrence that moral disapproval of a group cannot be a legitimate governmental interest.
O'Reilly falsely asserted that the ACLU "filed a brief arguing that the molestation of the 14-year-old handicapped boy was not a crime because the child has a constitutional right to engage in sex with adults." He then asked Murphy: "Is this ACLU policy?" Murphy confirmed that it "appears to be their policy" and explained the ACLU position as follows:
MURPHY: [L]et's celebrate their constitutional right to engage in sex with adults even as young as age 13. In other words, they don't want any laws on the books ... that make it a crime for a child to be abused by an adult.
However, the ACLU brief merely argued that Limon should receive the same legal treatment he would have received if the other party involved had been a 14-year-old female. The ACLU objected only to the "Romeo and Juliet" law's exclusion of same-sex activity and the resulting far higher sentence. In the brief, the ACLU argued:
The Constitution guarantees that all citizens are supposed to be treated equally, but Matthew Limon is set to be in prison until he is 36 years old, while he would have been released before turning 20 if he were heterosexual ... We're not saying the state shouldn't punish those who break the law. We are only asking that the state do the right thing and treat gay teenagers the same as it does straight teenagers.
From the November 28 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
O'REILLY: Now, a case in Kansas where a 14-year-old handicapped boy was molested by an 18-year-old boy in a group home. And the ACLU -- and correct me if I'm wrong -- filed a brief arguing that the molestation of the 14-year-old handicapped boy was not a crime because the child has a constitutional right to engage in sex with adults. Is that true?
MURPHY: Yeah, you gotta love it when they're waving the flag of constitutional rights around for kids so they can have sex with adults. They actually wrote --
O'REILLY: Yes, but I just want to know is this policy? Is this ACLU policy?
MURPHY: It appears to be their policy.
O'REILLY: -- that children -- that children of any age have a right --
MURPHY: Thirteen. As young as 13.
O'REILLY: -- have a constitutional right to have sex with adults? That's their policy?
MURPHY: That's right, and that we should -- absolutely, let's celebrate their constitutional right to engage in sex with adults even as young as age 13. In other words, they don't want any laws on the books --
MURPHY: -- that make it a crime for a child to be abused by an adult.
O'REILLY: But you're sure this is their policy? You're sure this is ACLU policy?
MURPHY: All I can tell you is that they put it in an amicus brief, which is to say that's an expression of their position on this issue, and they did it in the Kansas Supreme Court, so one has to assume that that is their position in general, not unique to Kansas.
O'REILLY: Yeah, if they made it a brief and it's in the court record in Kansas, then it is.
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