The sign-up period for Obamacare ended yesterday in much the same way it began…with massive demand resulting in website issues.  Republicans have continually pointed out the troubles with the website as an example of Obamacare’s failure.  While there have undoubtedly been some rocky times for the enrollment sites, both at the national and state level, one thing that doubters can no longer deny…that the program has been a raging success in providing access to health care to millions of Americans.

With the website issues upon rollout last fall, enrollment grew at a snail’s pace for the first few months, leading experts and detractors alike to spout that the program would never meet the goal of enrolling 7 million Americans by March 31st.  With the incredible surge in signups over the last few weeks and days, it’s now being reported that signups are likely to meet, if not significantly exceed, the original 7 million goal.  In addition to those enrolling directly, several million more have successfully enrolled in the Medicaid expansion component of the program.

Republicans, predictably, have been spouting in recent days that the White House has been “cooking the books”, seemingly unable to grasp that Americans want and NEED access to health care.  Despite the negative spin, it’s becoming incredibly difficult for detractors to bash the program.

The only losers?  Citizens in red states, where bitter, politically motivated Republican governors have refused to accept FREE Federal dollars to expand their states’ Medicaid programs.  Putting politics over the welfare of their own citizens, millions that COULD have had access to health care have been denied, all for the sake of right-wing politicians boosting their conservative “cred” for the next election.

Nonetheless, today is a day to celebrate!  Obamacare is a success.  Obamacare is here to stay.

Has CNN gone nuts?

March 8th.  23 freakin’ days ago.  That’s when Flight 370 disappeared.  It also marks the date when CNN completely lost their collective minds, and decided that the only story on the planet that anybody cares about is this flight.

The “big” headline of the day today on CNN?  That the last few words heard from the cockpit were a bit different than originally reported.  Originally, the reported last words were “All right, good night“.  Now, in a SHOCKING revelation, CNN broke the story today of how the last few words were actually “Good night, Malaysian 370“.

SHOCKING.  No, not the “story” that has been on CNN’s front page all day.  What’s shocking is that the headline story on CNN has been flight 370, for over 3 weeks straight now.  Today was ”deadline day” for ObamaCare signups, and while other news organizations have talked about the trials and tribulations of ObamaCare, CNN’s primary coverage has focused on the slight differences in words supposedly uttered by flight 370′s cockpit.

CNN has certainly seen its share of criticism in recent months.  However, evidently CNN’s prime time ratings have doubled in the last couple of weeks, going from catastrophically miserable, to merely dreadfully miserable.  Good for you CNN, you’ve discovered what it takes to become successful as a cable “news” station.  The key to success…sensationalize everything and completely ignore the news that really matters.  In other words…stop even trying to pretend you’re  serious news organization, and instead focus on the sensational and trivial.

There is SOME hope for CNN.  Their secondary story today, found in very bold headlines right below their coverage of flight 370?  A piece on the last episode of “How I Met Your Mother”, which evidently ran tonight.  Whew…thanks for that hard-hitting piece, CNN.  You’ve now restored my faith in CNN as a serious “news” organization.

New 2014 (free) Bird Calendar

As I always do, I put together a free, downloadable and printable bird calendar for 2014.

Each month’s download is a PDF, set up to be sized and printed on letter-sized paper.  It should be pretty easy to download and print.

For the first time this year, I went beyond just bird photos, and also have a few months where I have my bird artwork.

The calendar pages can be downloaded and printed from the following URL.  Enjoy!

Obamacare Lies

Sean Hannity

How can a smug POS like Sean Hannity live with himself? How can he look in a mirror and honestly believe he's providing a valuable service? How can he possibly believe he's providing "news"? In reality, all he is, is a highly-paid liar, a propoganda tool. today has a truly wonderful story about anti-Obamacare mania, and the truth behind what Fox News has been reporting lately. Recently Sean Hannity hosted three couples who supposedly represented the evils of Obamacare.  Obamacare is killing jobs!!  Obamacare is destroying the economy!  Obamacare is driving up premiums!!  Hannity’s guests told their supposedly personal stories about how Obamacare was ruining their lives.

Eric Stern of Salon decided to fact check the Hannity segment.  He personally interviewed the three couples shown on the show, and this is what he found:

- Paul and Michelle Cox – On Fox News, the couple claimed Obamacare was killing their business, and that they were forced to change employees to part-time to avoid the evils of Obamacare.  Stern’s interview revealed that the Cox’s business has a grand total of FOUR EMPLOYEES.  THERE ARE NO OBAMACARE REQUIREMENTS for employers with under 50 employees!! Stern pushed it, asking why Cox cut his employees’ hours, and if it were really related to Obamacare.  After pausing, Cox stopped the interview and said he’d call Stern back.  He never did.

- Allison Denijs – The self-employed couple said they were currently paying about $13,000 a year for coverage that didn’t even include one of their children.  Denijs told Hannity that Blue Cross, their current insurer, said their current policy was no longer compliant with Obamacare regulations, and that to get the same coverage their premiums would go way up.  Stern asked the obvious…have you checked out prices on Obamacare health exchanges?  Denijs replied that she was against Obamacare (surprise!) and hadn’t checked.  Stern himself entered the Denijs information onto the health care exchange, and found the couple could SAVE 60% on premiums, AND cover their uninsured daughter, thanks to Obamacare.

- Robbie and Tina Robison - They told Fox News that they too had received notice from Blue Cross that they’d need a new policy that was compliant with Obamacare regulations.  They claimed their prices were going up 50-75% because of Obamacare.  Again Stern asked if they’d checked the Obamacare exchanges.  They said no, they had not, and that they were against Obamacare and WOULD not check the prices.  Again, Stern entered their information and checked prices for the couple.  Stern found a plan on the Obamacare site that would save the Robinson’s over 60% from their current cost.

Republicans have reveled in the glitches in the Obamacare site, something that definitely is a black mark for the program to date.  However, they’ve also continually spouted the party lines that Obamacare is destroying the economy and driving up health care costs.  Fox News and Sean Hannity certainly tried to strengthen that storyline…even though the entire segment was incredibly dishonest.  Shouldn’t a supposed journalist, shouldn’t a supposed news organization (hah!!), know better than to purposely provide air time to these folks without checking their motivations, or even the basic truth of what they were saying?

Republicans are in a panic.  Other than the glitches with the website itself, prices for insurance on the health care exchanges are coming in LOWER than were predicted.  Massive demand for Obamacare coverage is one reason the website itself has had problems.  Couple this with the public popularity of Obamacare components such as the pre-existing condition clause and coverage for your children through age 25, and Republicans KNOW any window they have to stop Obamacare is rapidly dwindling.  As the shutdown clearly indicated, Republicans are doing everything they possibly can to stop the program before it becomes a popular, entrenched government program.

And “everything” obviously includes lying and trying to deceive people (not to mention flirting with economic disaster through the shutdown fiasco).

It’s not just Fox News, Ted Cruz, other Tea Party wackos, or right-wing talking heads who are lying through their teeth to try to destroy Obamacare.   In the last week, I’ve seen a LOT of evidence of the “e-war” being waged on Obamacare through the dissemination of false information and fake blog posts.  I have multiple blog posts on Obamacare, and in the past week have had many folks try to post blog comments about the program.  I typically will let ANYONE respond to one of my blog posts, but due to spam and the like, a poster must first have a message approved by myself.  I’ve had many attempts in the past week to post messages to my Obamacare threads, where, curiously, some of the 2 paragraph long messages are EXACTLY THE SAME, word for word, other than changes in the source email address and the name of the supposed poster.

Sickening. What’s even more pathetic than Fox News, Sean Hannity, Ted Cruz, or those waging the online war against Obamacare are the complete idiots who BELIEVE the anti-Obamacare propaganda.  The three Fox News guest couples were obviously anti-Obamacare, were obviously anti-OBAMA, so much so, that they let their ideology stop them from even LOOKING at the health care exchanges that could save them thousands of dollars a year!  Obamacare is just another liberal “lie” right wingers and Tea Party wackos can add to their growing list of supposed liberal “lies”:  Obamacare, Evolution, Climate Change…ALL evil plots by elitist liberals!!

Even with the complete ignorance of such a large chunk of the American populace, the effort to stop Obamacare is doomed.  Ideology is a strong force, but not as strong a force as basic GREED.  Upon finding out that Obamacare could save the three Fox News couples thousands of dollars a year, do you think they might change their story?  Do you think they might actually buy health insurance through the exchanges?  You bet they will.  Basic greed, the basic desire to save money, will trump ideology over time.

Keep plugging those fingers in the dike, Repubs!!  But just like the shutdown, this is a war you’ve lost before you even began.

Was it worth it, Tea Party Wackos?

Ted Cruz

Yes, Senator Cruz...the Tea Party strategy to defund Obamacare DID stink.

Bravo, Ted Cruz.  Bravo, Mike Lee.  Bravo, House o’ Nutty Tea Party Republicans.  Your (mean-) spirited stand against the tyranny of Obama and the Affordable Care Act accomplished many things.   You’ve managed to disrupt government activities, even agreeing to PAY folks like myself to sit on my butt at home while you threw your temper tantrum. Ok, sure, with the agreement today, you weren’t able to even TOUCH Obamacare, after shutting down the government for 2 1/2 weeks.  Ok, sure, you didn’t get a SINGLE concession from Democrats.  But you’ve still done the country a great service.  How, you ask?

In one fell swoop, you managed to do what Obama, Harry Reid, and Democrats could not do…trivialize and marginalize the entire Tea Party movement.  Congratulations!  With a completely meaningless 2 1/2 week government shutdown, you’ve shown that the Tea Party has NO interest in governing.  You’ve shown the Tea Party has NO interest in the welfare of the American people.  What you have made quite clear is that you stand for IDEOLOGY.  What you have made quite clear is that you are only interested in opposing a sitting, Democratic, black President, no matter the issue.

It only took about 2 days of the shutdown to show that this wasn’t even about Obamacare.  After 2 days, Obamacare became a trivial component of the shutdown, an afterthought.  Republicans moved from wanting to defund Obamacare, to wanting other concessions…ANY concessions…that would inflict harm to Democrats and to Obama.  2 1/2 weeks later, a resolute Obama and Harry Reid have made fools of you.  Not only have you not inflicted an ounce of pain on Democrats and/or Obama, but you’ve committed political hari-kari.

Ted Cruz?  Now a laughingstock, other than amongst the fringe Tea Party wing of the Republican party, who are themselves laughingstocks.  John Boehner?  Once again you’ve done a masterful job at protecting your speakership at the expense of your own party, and at the expense of the American public.

Obamacare, on the other hand, has had approval ratings go UP since the shutdown started.  Tea Party wackos were so sure that the shutdown would swing public opinion into their favor, and Democrats would have to cave.  Sure, all logical political opinion warned you it was an approach doomed to fail, but what the hell…since when have Tea Party wackos listened to polls or experts (on pretty much any subject)?

If I’m Obama or a Harry Reid right now, I’d have one hell of a time hiding my shit-eating grin as I talked about the agreement emerging today. I’d have a hell of a hard time not giving the proverbial (or literal) middle finger to Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, and House Republicans.  Thank god Democrats finally grew a backbone, and prevented the hostage taking and crisis-management style of governing that Republicans have fostered since Obama was first elected.

HELL YES (Many) Repubs are Intolerant Bigots

It’s just been too much to provide any kind of regular commentary on the ongoing shutdown. Repubs continue to insist on “negotiation”, where the only concessions are given by Democrats. It doesn’t matter whether it’s been an attack on Obamacare, or on budget issues, ANY “deal” from Republicans includes only items Republicans want, with Democrats ONLY getting an open government in return. What’s even more ridiculous is that most of the proposed deals would only kick the can down the road for a few months at most. Yeah, sure Repubs…Democrats will give you Republican-favored concessions just to keep the government open until January…all so you can throw yet ANOTHER temper tantrum and we can go through this all over again.

The hostage taking has to end. I applaud Obama and Democrats for hanging tough and trying to put an end to governance-by-crisis. While there’s an host of topics to potentially blog about regarding the politics of the shutdown, one tangential issue has simmered in the background, with occasional stories popping up that reference it. I believe it was on Politico a few days ago where someone penned an article entitled “The Race Card Gets Played”. The article was written by a Republican operative and decried Liberals for daring to suggest that racism plays any role in the anti-Obama hatred from the right.

It’s fucking laughable when those on the right periodically bash liberals for “playing the race card”, acting completely aghast that libs DARE suggest conservatives were anything but tolerant, fair-minded folks. In the meantime, these are just a very small sampling of some of the “tolerant” statements coming from the right in the last week…

- Larry Klayman, speaking for a tea-pary affiliated conservative group, called for Obama to “put the Quran down” during a shutdown rally on the National Mall today.  Prior to the election last fall, 17% of all Americans and 30% of conservatives said they believed Obama was a Muslim.    If Obama were a WHITE christian rather than a black christian, do you think those on the right would continually accuse a sitting president of being a Muslim?  At an even more basic level…WHAT THE HELL WOULD IT MATTER even if if he WERE Muslim???  The very fact that conservatives think that calling someone Muslim is an insult is one hell of a good indication of just how fair-minded and tolerant they are.

- “Joe The Plumber” from Ohio evidently needs another 15 minutes in the spotlight.  This week he says it’s time for Americans to “admit they want a white, Republican President.”

- Zeeda Andrews, the nutjob who organized the (largely failed) “Trucker Rally” in D.C., claims Obama and Osama bin Laden are the same person.  You can understand his confusion…both of them DO have skin that’s not lilly white.

- At the “Voter Values Summit” attended by Ted Cruz, Ron Paul, and a HOST of right-wing wackos, Paul stated “The truth is, a worldwide war on Christianity is being waged by a fanatical element of Islam”. Paul then goes on to blame Obama for facilitating that “war” on Christianity.

It’s rather shocking to read about the Voter Values Summit, as it almost becomes a contest to see who can make the most outrageus claims.  Another speaker, talk-show radio host Sandy Rios, gave a lengthy tirade against homosexuality, even claiming that the infamous murder of Matthew Shepard was a “fairytale”.

Hate for a black president?  Check.  Hate for any religion other than Christianity?  Check.  Hate for homosexuals?  Check.   What’s even more pathetic…I don’t even think many conservative politicians ARE bigoted by nature, but they sure as hell use bigotry for political gain.  Romney’s entire (failed) campaign was designed to capture the white vote, the “southern strategy” used by Republicans for decades now.  Especially now that the Supreme Court has struck down part of the Voting Rights Act, Republican state legislatures across the country are falling all over themselves passing laws to make voting more difficult, with voter ID and other laws designed specifically to limit the minority vote.

So…pardon me for laughing at your indignation for being called racist or bigots, Repubs.  The evidence speaks for itself.

Drawing – Golden-winged Warbler

Golden-winged Warbler - Drawing by Terry SohlA little more “feather” to get my mind off the “folly” of the shutdown.  In keeping with my usual subject matter…this is a species that I don’t have photos of.  Well, not any good photos anyway. This is a Golden-winged Warbler.  They migrate through South Dakota in May, but aren’t all that common.  I’ve seen them four or five times, with just one very bad, blurry photo…hence choosing it as a subject for drawing.

Click on the image for a larger view.

Shutdown Blues…

We’re in day 5 of the U.S. government shutdown.  God knows I’ve certainly had plenty of time this week to blog about it, given that I’ve been stuck at home while my USGS facility is shuttered.  I honestly just haven’t known where to begin, though, as there are SO many “blog-worthy” topics related to the shutdown.

John Boehner – DC Politician – John Boehner and his role in the shutdown perfectly summarize what D.C. politics has become.  It’s not about serving Americans or doing what’s “right”.  It’s not about governing.  It’s about the next election, period.  It’s definitely not a stretch to say that more than any other shutdown, more than any other manufactured political “crisis”, the majority of the blame rests on just one man’s shoulders.  In September, Harry Reid and John Boehner had an agreement that a “clean” CR would be supported by both the Senate and House, at the lower “sequester” level of spending, if no other agreement were reached.  Boehner’s completely lost ANY trust Reid may have had, as obviously Boehner reversed his position as October drew near.  On the one hand, there may be a tendency to feel a bit of sympathy for Boehner, given the hand he’s been dealt.  He’s trying to preside over a Republican caucus with an element that’s more interested in destroying government than it is in actually governing.  Any sympathy for the man is completely overwhelmed though by disgust over his priorities.  As 3rd in succession to the presidency, it’s appalling that Boehner can put his own political future over the well-being of the country.  It’s appalling that Boehner cares more about preserving his Speakership than he does about the American economy, or those that depend upon government programs.  John Boehner, you ARE the face of this shutdown.

Legitimacy of the Obama Presidency - Look at the headlines this week and you’d be rightfully confused as to the reasons Republicans have led this shutdown.  Obamacare?  That was the initial stated reason for the shutdown, that Repubs are trying “protect” America from the “harmful” effects of the Affordable Care Act (more on that in a second).  It only took a day or two though before Republicans were either quoted as saying they just want SOME seemingly random concession from Obama, or have pivoted to state the shutdown is about fiscal policy overall.  Bullshit.  The shutdown is about one issue…Republican denial of the legitimacy of the Obama presidency.  Even on election day, when polls showed Obama would win rather easily, Republican pundits, the right-wing “media”, and Romney himself were CONFIDENT in a victory.  Republicans just don’t recognize that it’s even a POSSIBILITY that Americans would favor Democrat’s ideology and political platform.   In 2012, Democrats won the presidency…Democrats defended nearly every “at-risk” Senate seat (even winning in “red” states like North Dakota…and Democrats had 1 million more votes for the House than did Republicans.  Thanks to ridiculously gerry-mandered House districts, Republicans (unfairly) maintain control of the House, but from the last election, it’s quite obvious who “won”.  It’s quite obvious whose agenda voters favored.  Despite this, Republicans STILL don’t recognize the legitimacy of a Obama presidency.  This more than ANYTHING is why Obama and Democrats need to stand firm against Republican blackmail attempts.  ELECTIONS MUST MEAN SOMETHING.  MAJORITY RULE MUST BE MAINTAINED.  Obama simply can’t allow a minority party to destroy the democratic process.  There’s one hell of a lot more at stake here than just the future of Obama, or Obamacare.

Obamacare itself -  There’s been one issue Republicans have paid little attention to this week…Obamacare itself.  Isn’t this the supposed reason for the shutdown?  However, the rollout of the Affordable Care Act “exchanges”, despite the supposed role the ACA is playing in the shutdown, Republicans have been remarkably quiet on the ACA itself, for at least 2 reasons.  First, as noted above, it’s obvious the shutdown is NOT about the ACA. Secondly…Republicans have to be dismayed about the rollout this week.  Their entire political platform seems to be based on American’s supposed hatred of the ACA.  Their political strategy behind the shutdown is based on negative poll numbers about the ACA itself, even as Americans say shuttering the government is an unacceptable way to fight ACA implementation.   However, the health care exchanges have seen incredible demand after opening this week, with servers unable to handle the load of millions of interested Americans.  Republicans are seeing their entire party platform melt away.  Yes, there have been issues with implementation this week, but there’s obviously demand for affordable health care. It’s one hell of a perilous position to be in for Republicans, seen as the party of “no”, a party without a plan for governing, a party that seems more interested in STOPPING Americans from getting affordable health care than it is in improving the health care system.

Right-wing Media Coverage – I hesitate to call it “news” or the “media”, but it’s been downright laughable how Fox News and other right-wing media have covered the shutdown.  Or, should I say “slimdown”, as Fox News refers to it.  Blaring headlines on Fox News this week either refer to it as the “Liberal Shutdown” or “Obama’s Shutdown” as they attempt to shift blame away from Boehner and Republicans.  Can you imagine ANY mainstream media site consistently blaring headlines such as “Boehner’s Shutdown” or “Republican Shutdown” when referring to this story?  MSNBC is obviously the liberal version of Fox News, but at least they TRY to maintain some semblance of neutrality.  As much as Republicans like to complain about the “liberal media”, you certainly won’t see such blatantly political headlines on CNN, the New York Times, or Washington Post. Can you imagine the outcry from the right if the New York Times preceded every shutdown-related news story with a headline containing “Republican Shutdown”?  If I were any kind of a serious journalist, I’d be damned embarrassed to be associated with Fox News, no matter my political persuasion.

Photo Op Week! – 10%.  That’s the approval rating for Congress right now, and this week makes it pretty damned easy to see why.  Republicans know they’re losing the PR battle, and their major focus this week has been to try to shift blame for the shutdown to Obama, Harry Reid, and Democrats in general.  The strategy has led to some of the most despicable “photo op” events imaginable.  Republicans have refused to even bring up a “clean” continuing resolution, even though it WOULD pass in the House and the shutdown would be over.  The GOP-led House has obviously caused the shutdown, yet Republican House members have tried to pin blame for the pain and inconvenience of the shutdown on Democrats.  The National Park Service is part of the Department of Interior, same as my U.S. Geological Survey.  We’re all shut down, which means all facilities managed by the Park Service are shut down.  Incredulously this week, Republicans have tried to play up the shutdown of Parks, Memorials, and Monuments by claiming Obama himself shut them down.  Hence scenes like the ones on the Washington Mall, where Michelle Bachman has her arm around a wheelchair-bound World War II vet, while both simultaneously talking about Republican support for re-opening monuments, and blaming Obama for the lack of access.  In another widely publicized photo-op, a Republican House member is seen loudly berating a poor National Park Ranger for blocking access…even though it’s the Republican House that is causing this shutdown and has blocked funding for National Parks.  I’m not a violent man.  Other than fights with my evil twin brother growing up, I’ve never been in a physical confrontation in my life.  However, if I were on the National Mall this week and had come across something like the staged Michelle Bachmann photo op, I would have had a hell of a hard time not going up to her and trying to slap some sense into her.

Real-world Fallout – So far, the media coverage of the fallout from the shutdown has focused on relatively minor issues, such as the National Mall access.  There have been a few stories on NIH-funded activities grinding to a halt, patients in clinical trials who have been left out in the cold, etc., but overall, coverage of the effects of shuttered government services has been pretty spotty so far.  That will obviously change as the shutdown drags on, and the negative effects become more pronounced.  What will likely NOT be covered in detail are the longer-term economic effects.  It’s easy to see the direct effects of government offices being closed, of services not being provided.  What’s more difficult to see and quantify are economic effects on those directly or indirectly dependent upon government programs and facilities.  Hotels, restaurants, and other businesses around National Parks are obviously hurting, as are businesses near large government facilities.  While there are about 800,000 Federal employees currently furloughed, there are many times that number of government contractors who are currently sidelined.  Where I work at USGS, we have about 650 total employees, with about 470 of those being contractors.  Those contractors are NOT being paid during the shutdown, and will not receive retroactive back pay.  They’re being told they can use vacation, IF they have enough, or leave-without-pay.  For a shutdown that looks like it will last a minimum of 2 weeks, that’s a damned big economic impact, particularly if you compound that impact across all Federal contractors.

The End Game – I hate to say it, given the serious repercussions for not raising the debt limit, but THANK GOD October 17th is the stated debt-limit deadline.  As hell-bent as Republicans seem to be on destroying Obama and government in general, it’s hard to see them crossing this line and letting the U.S. government default on its debt obligations.  Thanks to the October 17th deadline, it’s hard not to see government funding and the debt limit being tied together in some eventual legislation.  Seeing how entrenched both sides are, it’s also obvious though that we’re going to push right up against that deadline before government is re-opened, and before the debt-limit is raised.  My guess?  We’ll see a lot more bluster and posturing this weekend, with little to no progress.  But as we move through next week, the pressure to make some sort of deal is dramatically ratcheted up.  So…we’re going to be looking at about a 2-week shutdown.  So far, dates floated for a continuing resolution would fund the government through either November 15 or December 15.  Given Republican’s insistence on governing through blackmail…perhaps we can look forward to another round of this crap in just another month or two!

Drawing – Atlantic Puffin

Atlantic Puffin - Drawing by Terry Sohl

Click for a larger view

A lot of opportunity to post this week about the “folly” side of my blog, given that I’m sitting at home for the 3rd straight day as House Republicans continue to throw their temper tantrum.  But instead of focusing on the folly, thought I’d focus on the “feather” side to help me forget about the maddening news.

An Atlantic Puffin drawing.  First portrait I’ve tried.  Kind of looks like George Washington on a coin or something to me, so not sure if I’ll do any more closer portraits like this.

Today’s headlines…

Perfect…perfect.  Totally represents the level of engagement most folks have in politics and world events, as opposed to their level of engagement with pop culture.  The government is likely to shut down in less than 24 hours…we have historic opportunities to engage Iran diplomatically…and what story is “most read” on websites this morning? Indeed, what story is actually the HEADLINE on many websites this morning?

The “Breaking Bad” finale was evidently last night, and is being dissected in great detail.