Ethics

Death Panels: Fact and Fiction

Insurance industry insider Wendell Potter"Death panels" are back in the news and Congress is turning its attention to them once again. The problem is, lawmakers are looking in all the wrong places.

The proposed provision would have allowed Medicare to pay doctors to counsel patients about their end-of-life medical wishes. That idea originally had bipartisan support, but when the provision was brought to Sarah Palin's attention, she accused Democrats of wanting to create "death panels" that would decide when to pull the plug on granny and grandpa. The House Energy and Commerce Committee, now headed by Republicans, sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius last week demanding to know how a controversial provision that was excised from last year's health reform bill wound up -- briefly -- in a government "rule" on physician reimbursement.

Fox News' "Madison Protest" Footage Aims to Deceive

On February 28, the O'Reilly Factor aired a video news segment by Fox Channel reporter Mike Tobin, who was shown reporting from inside the state capitol building in Madison, Wisconsin. "News" footage aired during his broadcast of goings-on outside the capitol depicts an angry, out-of-control, crowd of pro-union protesters yelling and pushing people around. But the protesters in the video are wearing shirtsleeves and standing on a street lined with tall palm trees and other green, leafy foliage -- and that is absolutely not February in Madison, where no palm trees live outside of greenhouses and where temperatures have been well below freezing for most of the winter. Fox clearly used out-of-town footage to depict the "violence" it is hyping as happening in Madison. The segment is two minutes, nine seconds long, and the palm tree footage occurs at the 1:42 mark, as wording on the screen says "Union Protests."

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Officials Seek More Than Spin From Walker About "Troublemakers" Statements

Embattled Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's confession that he talked with political allies about potentially hiring "troublemakers" to disrupt the peaceful protests in Madison have drawn more questions from lawyers, police, Wisconsin state legislators and the mayor of Madison -- and a lot of spin by Walker. Through a spokesman, Walker has said that throughout the prank call he accepted with a fake "David Koch" that he "maintained his appreciation for and commitment to civil discourse." He continues to insist that the budget repair bill is about the budget, and that people other than him suggested using troublemakers to disrupt the crowd. Walker also maintains that he says the same thing in private as he does in public. But despite these responses, questions continue. Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz sent a letter to Walker asking him who made the suggestion to disrupt the protests, what was the nature of the suggestion, and asking what was Walker's immediate response to the proposal. The mayor also asked Walker why he rejected the "troublemakers" proposal due to political considerations rather than on legal and moral grounds. Walker has so far failed to publicly answer the growing number of questions about his statements, and public interest groups have been forced to file Freedom of Information Act requests to obtain the details of Walker's conversations about stirring up violence.

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Handful of Protesters Ejected from Walker’s Budget Address

At least three of the handful of protesters allowed to watch Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's budget address from the State Capitol's Assembly Gallery Tuesday evening were ejected from the Gallery, escorted out by State Patrols.

"I was one of the 20 people invited in from the general public," said David Wasserman, a Madison Metropolitan School District teacher at Sennett Middle School.

He didn't get to stay for long.

"We looked at the list of things we weren't supposed to do –- we knew we weren't supposed to clap, we knew we weren't supposed to have our cell phones on," Wasserman said of the rules posted in the Assembly Chamber, noting that all the Republicans in the Assembly Chamber were clapping and cheering for Walker's address.

CMD Submits Open Records Requests to Governor's Office

Before news broke of the prank call from a David Koch impersonator to Governor Walker's office, CMD had submitted the below open records request to the Wisconsin Department of Administration for all phone calls to-and-from the governor's office since January 1. CMD confirmed receipt of the request via telephone on February 18 and expects a reply promptly. We have also submitted open records requests directly to the governor's office for copies of all email and visitor log records.

Don't Buy Insurance Industry's "Objective Analysis"

Connecticut residents who believe their state should be the first in the nation to set up a public health insurance option to compete with private insurers should brace themselves for what will be a beautifully packaged, seemingly well-researched study from the insurance industry to convince them otherwise.

America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), a big Washington-based lobbying group, last week told Connecticut lawmakers (pdf) that -- surprise, surprise -- they would be making a very big mistake if they approved funding to get the public option, called SustiNet, up and running. AHIP said it had hired "a well-known consulting firm" to produce a study that would support the conclusions the industry had already reached about SustiNet. AHIP even had the audacity to claim that said study would be an "objective analysis."

AT&T Sued for Fraudulent Data Usage Billing

IPhone moneyA class-action lawsuit filed against AT&T alleges the company routinely overstates web-server data traffic on its monthly bills by 7 to 14 percent, most notably for IPhone users. Plaintiffs allege that AT&T "bills for phantom data traffic when there is no actual data use initiated by the customer." Independent consultants report that they bought a new IPhone and disabled every possible source of data connectivity they could possibly find on it, yet within ten days their account had logged 2,292 KB of data usage on the phone. The suit says, "This is like the rigged gas pump charging you when you never even pulled your car into the station." Plaintiffs allege breach of contract, unjust enrichment, fraudulent and unfair business practices. AT&T intends to defend itself vigorously against the suit, and that "Transparent and accurate billing is a top priority" for the company. 

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