Free Markets, Free People

Bruce McQuain

Parsing Obama on Health Care

While I’m sure the specials last night on the deaths of Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson vastly outdrew the ABC’s Obama healthcare special the other night (no I didn’t watch it – I was being disappointed by the Yankees/Braves game), there were some very telling moments apparently. And, being the curious type, I found the transcript and read the whole thing.

Let’s say Mr. Eloquent was less than convincing. But he did shed some light on what he’d like to see the final product look like.

Naturally there were some moments that were instantly reported by the media and other bloggers. For instance when he essentially said that if that he’d use his wealth if necessary to go outside any system that denied his family the healthcare he thought they needed. The obvious point is he concedes that his system will do so – i.e. ration care through denial. Of course that’s one of the big complaints he’s had about private healthcare – rationing through denial.

But there were some other things said which only a careful reading of the transcript reveal. Let’s start with this question:

DR. JOHN CORBOY, NEUROLOGIST & MEDICAL PROFESSOR: Well, I think you still have to provide the appropriate care. And I think we all know that there is a significant amount of care that actually is inappropriate and unnecessary.

And the question then is — for you, Mr. President, is, what can you convince — what can you do to convince the American public that there actually are limits to what we can pay for with our American health care system?

And if there are going to be limits, who is going to design the system and who is going to enforce the rules for a system like that?

This question is loaded with key words and phrases. The first is “appropriate”, as in “appropriate care”. Who gets to decide? If you listen to a glib Obama, he constantly says medical decisions should be left to doctors. But this question isn’t being addressed to that point, is it? If there is an “appropriate care” standard, someone is going to have to define it.

And that is precisely what Corboy asks – “who is going to design the system and who is going to enforce the rules?” In fact, who gets to decide what the rules are?

I think you know the answer, but let’s look at the President’s answer:

OBAMA: Well, you’re asking the right question. And let me say, first of all, this is not an easy problem. If it was easy, it would have been solved a long time ago, because we’ve talking about this for decades, since Harry Truman.

We’ve been talking about how do we provide care that is high-quality, gives people choices, and how can we come up with a uniquely American plan? Because one of the ideological debates that I think has prevented us from making progress is some people say this is socialized medicine, others say we need a completely free market system.

We need to come up with something that is uniquely American. Now what I’ve said is that if we are smart, we should be able to design a system in which people still have choices of doctors and choices of plans that makes sure that the necessary treatment is provided but we don’t have a huge amount of waste in the system. That we are providing adequate coverage for all people, and that we are driving down costs over the long term.

OK, let’s stop for the moment right there. We begin with Obama in stump-speech mode. That’s a time buyer. He’s fumbling for an answer and is filling time. By the third paragraph he’s beginning to formulate an answer. Of course, I had to laugh because a uniquely American solution would be to have government back off and let the market take the ball and run with it. But obviously that’s not his plan. I think what he’s saying here is he hopes for a Euro-socialist plan with an American twist.

Anyway, in the third paragraph we’re again into some key words – this time “necessary” and “adequate”. Again, who will decide what is “necessary” and what form of coverage is “adequate”? Well, trust me, it won’t be you or your doctor, because his priority is what? That’s right – “driving down costs over the long term”. So “necessary” treatment will be considered in the context of “driving down costs”. I’m sure you figure out what that means.

Then there’s the “we should be able to design a system”.  He’s not talking about you or the market here.  He’s talking about government.  He’s a part of the ‘we’ – you’re not.

Last, of course, is the overriding priority – drive costs down. He claims health care is the reason for the current deficit.  So the obvious first priority for this so-called reform is to cut costs.

But let’s add 47 million new insured while driving costs down.  Make sense to you?  And if it does, then you have to admit that lesser cost, if possible, will have to come from some part of the current health care system.  He has his ideas, and we’ll cover that in a different post.

Moving on with the answer:

If we don’t drive down costs, then we’re not going to be able to achieve all of those other things. And I think that on the issue that has already been raised by the two doctors, the issue of evidence-based care, I have great confidence that doctors are going to always want to do the right thing for their patients, if they’ve got good information, and if their payment incentives are not such that it actually costs them money to provide the appropriate care.

Here we find a very critical clue to the plan for your health care – the term “evidence-based care”. This is the new way of saying “we’ll decide for you”. Evidence based medicine claims to use the scientific method to determine optimum treatment decisions. The Centre for Evidence Based Medicine says it is “the conscientious, explicit and judicious use of current best evidence in making decisions about the care of individual patients.”

Said another way, a group somewhere doing research decides that certain diseases or conditions should be treated in certain ways.  Those treatments are then applied to individual cases without any caveat for unique situations.  The cost savings comes with uniform procedures and uniform care – no deviations.  In other words, for the most part, decisions on how to treat individual cases will most likely have to conform to EBM guidelines or be considered outside the system. So what Obama said with that simple term is “we’ll decide how you will be treated, not your doctor”.

Of course critics of EBM are many and claim that it has some utility in outlining suggested treatment for populations as a whole, but has limited utility when taken down to the individual situation since each is unique.

And then there’s the inference that medicine to this point hasn’t been based on science. As Abraham Verghese said:

“Evidence Based Medicine” is a term which makes about as much sense as “Sex-based intercourse”–Were we practicing based on zodiac signs before EBM came along?

That brings us to the bit about “doctors always want to do the right thing for their patients”. Yes, of course. But what he says next hints that “the right thing” may be what the technocrats think is right, not necessarily what the doctors might think is right. He says doctors will do that “if they’ve got good information, and if their payment incentives are not such that it actually costs them money to provide the appropriate care.”

Anyone know right now instances when “appropriate care” costs a doctor “money to provide”? Yup, Medicare and Medicaid. It’s the reason so many opt out of treating Medi patients.

How then does he plan on changing their payment incentives so it doesn’t cost them money? Well to do that you either change the reimbursement rate or you change what is “appropriate”, don’t you? EBM promises the latter.

That brings us to the final part of his answer:

And right now, what we have is a situation, because doctors are paid fee-for-service, and there are all sorts of rules governing how they operate, as a consequence often times it is harder for them, more expensive for them, to do what is appropriate.

And we should change those incentive structures.

Now this is simply a load of road apples.

Litigation is part of the problem. Obama refuses to address that as a basic health care cost problem. It drives up costs and it also induces doctors to use unnecessary tests in a CYA gambit. Want to “change incentives?” Here’s a great place to start.

The second problem is chronic underpayment by the government through Medicare and Medicaid – something Obama and Congress want to again reduce by up to 20%. That causes cost shifting to the private side of things. But insurance companies have gotten smart and now refuse, in many cases, to pay more than the Medis. That is an artificial distortion of the market introduced by government arbitrarily deciding what a medical procedure is worth.

And the rules under which doctors operate are no less stringent under the Medis than under any private insurance plan.

That’s one question from the staged ABC “town hall meeting”. There was an amazing amount of info in that one question and answer. Enough information that you should be absolutely shaking in your boots, because what he said is he plans on doing precisely what he has been telling you he wouldn’t do – design a system which will decide how your doctor will treat you. It is all there, and no one has even bothered to take the close look it deserves.

I’ll parse a few more questions from the interview as I have the time, but suffice it to say, if you look hard enough you can figure out exactly where this guy wants to take us.

~McQ

Will Waxman-Markey Inspire A Trade War?

Apparently it will according to some who have actually beaten their way through the entire bill and read the contents:

The Ways and Means Committee’s proposed bill language (pdf) would virtually require that the president impose an import tariff on any country that fails to clamp down on greenhouse gas emissions.

Of course in this full bore onslaught of major life changing legislation which the Democrats seem determined to push through the Congress as quickly as they can (citing the imminent crisis it will foment if they don’t), this issue seems to be lost in the shuffle:

“This is a sleeper issue that lawmakers have not been paying enough attention to,” said Jake Colvin, vice president for global trade issues at the National Foreign Trade Council, which represents multinational corporations like Boeing Co. and Microsoft Corp. advocating for an open international trading system.

“The danger is, you focus so much on leveling the playing field for U.S. firms, that you neglect the potentially serious consequences that this could have on the international trading system,” Colvin said.

Ya think?

Nancy Peolosi is aiming for a vote in the House this Friday, before the July 4th recess. That obviously will mean very, very limited debate, if any. As NRO notes:

Not content to tempt political fate by imposing huge carbon taxes on the American middle class, Democrats have added a provision which imposes stiff tariffs on our trading partners if they don’t adopt aggressive carbon restrictions of their own.

You heard correctly: progressives have authored a bill that earns the mortal enmity of domestic energy consumers and our most crucial trading partners at the same time. Economy-killing climate policies and a trade war — together at last!

The devil is in the details:

Leaks from Hill offices indicate that the president would now be forced to impose the carbon tariffs — and could only opt out of doing so with permission from both chambers of Congress. Carbon-intensive imports would be subject to penalties at the border unless the country of origin requires emission reduction measures at least 80 percent as costly as ours. (The original Waxman-Markey bill had a threshold of 60 percent.)

Brilliant. Of course, some are going to argue that such measures surely will not be in the Senate version and not survive the reconciliation process when the two versions are merged. With this Congress I wouldn’t bet the farm on that.

There’s some talk that the blue dogs are going to oppose this bill. Obviously you would expect the GOP to oppose it as well. Are there enough other Dems to oppose so as to defeat it? Pelosi may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer when it comes to many things, but over the years she has learned to count votes I’m sure.

Bottom line: this bill is an economy killer, plain and simple. But it is also a progressive wet-dream shared by Pelosi. She is going to do everything in her power to push it through the House.

~McQ

Government Health Care – VA’s “Shoddy Standards … Put Veterans At Risk”

We had a little dust-up this week when I mentioned Ezra Klein’s propensity for government run health care and that he held the VA up as a shining example of what that can be.

Apparently it is a no-no among the crowd that follows Klein to include the government run military hospital system with the government run VA hospital system in a general critique of government run health care. And as is typical of drive-by commenters, they ignored the gist of the post to concentrate on pretending that two government run health care systems were not at all alike (because both have major problems).

So today, we’ll just talk about VA and the latest findings that support precisely what I said in the last post – VA has major systemic problems which are dangerous and, as Rep. Harry Mitchell,(D-AZ) who chairs the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations said:

“[T]here is no question that shoddy standards — systemic across the VA — put veterans at risk and dealt a blow to their trust in the VA,”

And then there’s the growing controversy over procedures that exposed 10,000 veterans to the AIDS and hepatitis viruses.

What have those interested in veteran care found when they looked at the system?

An official with the American Legion who visits and inspects VA health centers said complacency, poor funding and little oversight led to the violations that failed the cancer patients in Philadelphia and possibly infected 53 veterans with hepatitis and HIV from unsterilized equipment at three VA health centers in Florida, Tennessee and Georgia.

“Lack of inspections, lack of transparency” were likely to blame, said Joe Wilson, deputy director of the Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Commission for the American Legion, who testified before Congress this month on transparency problems in a budgeting arm of the VA.

What’s he talking about? Well apparently the VA is discovering standards and procedures that have been commonplace in the civilian health care system for decades. Remember the problem with endoscopic procedures in multiple locations which led to contamination?

But investigations conducted by the VA last month show that systemic problems remain. Under half of VA centers given surprise inspections had proper training and guidelines in place for common endoscopic procedures.

Many believe the state of the VA is due to chronic underfunding:

Richard Dodd, a litigator who has represented veterans in lawsuits against the government, said that poor funding has lowered the quality of care and interest from some physicians.

“They’re generally under-funded … and I think the interest of the doctors suffers to some degree,” he told FOXNews.com. “Generally speaking, the physicians that work at the VA work there because they have no interest in private health care, and in some situations are unable to find jobs in private industry.”

Of course “underfunded” is always the claimed “root cause” of any problems with government run entities, isn’t it? Take education, for instance.  But underfunding has little to do with procedural failures. That’s just flat bureaucratic incompetence. It is also a persistent problem for top down, bureaucratic systems like – government run health care.

VA Secretary Gen. Eric Shinseki and senior leadership “are conducting a top to bottom review of the Department,” a VA representative told FOXNews.com. “They are implementing aggressive actions to make sure the right policies and procedures are in place to protect our veterans and provide them with the quality health care they have earned.”

But, of course, Gen. Shinseki, for all his military competence, wouldn’t know a proper endoscopic procedure from a walnut tree. And, apparently, neither to those in the system who’ve overseen the present ones. Or said another way, confidence isn’t real high that an apparently inept bureaucracy can suddenly discover competence.

For example, something as simple as drug inventory:

The Office of Inspector General (OIG) conducted an audit to determine how accurately the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) could account for inventories of non-controlled drugs at increased risk for waste and diversion in its health care facilities (facilities). VHA needs to improve its ability to account for non-controlled drugs to reduce the risk of waste and diversion. VHA cannot accurately account for its non-controlled drug inventories because it has neither implemented nor enforced sufficient controls to ensure pharmacy inventory practices are standardized and pharmacy data is accurate.

How can you tell me how “cost-effective” your pharmacy program has been when you don’t even know what your non-controlled drug inventories are and have never bothered to implement or enforce control over them?

Systemic problem.  But this is the shining example of government run health care according the Klein and others.  Underfunded, shoddy, overburdened, old facilities and equipment, a lack of transparancy and controls, insufficient training and poor procedures all driven by a top down bureaucracy.

Yeah, sign me up.

~McQ

[HT: Looker]

No Hot Dogs For Iran

It took almost two weeks of brutalizing their own people, but the invitation for Iranian diplomats to attend Fourth of July parties at U.S. Embassies around the world has finally been rescinded. Of course this was done about a day after President Obama gave this mealy-mouthed answer to a question on the subject:

Q: Are Iranian diplomats still welcome at the embassy on the Fourth of July, sir?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think as you’re aware, Major, we don’t have formal diplomatic relations with — we don’t have formal diplomatic relations with Iran. I think that we have said that if Iran chooses a path that abides by international norms and principles, then we are interested in healing some of the wounds of 30 years, in terms of U.S.-Iranian relations. But that is a choice that the Iranians are going to have to make.

For those of you who need a translator, the answer was “yes”. Today the answer is “no”.

I’m glad they’ve awakened up there to the reality of what is happening in Iran and finally made some sort of move, no matter how trivial or symbolic, to show their disapproval. But it has taken unrelenting pressure to get them to move off of their “engagement at any cost” policy.  In the case of 4th of July celebrations, it would have been a travesty to have representatives of the present brutal regime present.  Ed Morrissey asks what they’d have been present for anyway:

Besides, what Independence Day values would the Iranian regime want to celebrate with us? Freedom of speech? Freedom of religion? The freedom to peaceably assemble or petition government for a redress of grievances?

Obama rather arrogantly reminded us that “only I am President of the United States”. But as former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger reminded Obama, that means he represents the people of the United States when he speaks and in the case of the Iranian violence, he hasn’t represented them very well at all.

~McQ

Some Mullahs Join Iranian Protests

Don’t forget that the 1979 Iranian revolution took about a year to gestate after the initial protests. And it picked up support from other elements of society as it grew.

In a blatant act of defiance, a group of Mullahs took to the streets of Tehran, to protest election results that returned incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power.

Whether these clerics voted for Ahmadinejad or one of the opposition candidates is unknown. What is important here, is the decision to march against the will of Iran’s supreme leader who called the results final and declared demonstrations illegal.

This is an indicator that what happened in ’79 may be beginning to happen in ’09 as well.

In the Islamic Republic of Iran, Mullahs rule supreme. They are the country’s conservative clerics; the guardians of the Islamic revolution and its ideologies. They’re loyal only to God and Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Obviously that particular equation is under assault with these clerics physically making the point that their loyalty is elsewhere. Check out the article for the picture of these clerics among the protesters.

~McQ

Was A Question Staged at Yesterday’s Presser?

If so, in terms of presidential press conferences, that’s a real “freedom of the press” no-no. Dana Milbank of the Washington Post is pretty sure that a question from the Huffington Post was, in fact, staged:

After the obligatory first question from the Associated Press, Obama treated the overflowing White House briefing room to a surprise. “I know Nico Pitney is here from the Huffington Post,” he announced.

Milbank reports that he knew Pitney was there because Pitney had been contacted by the White House and was escorted by White House staffers to the reporters area and told he’d probably be called on. Milbank takes it from there:

Pitney asked his arranged question. Reporters looked at one another in amazement at the stagecraft they were witnessing. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel grinned at the surprised TV correspondents in the first row.

The use of planted questioners is a no-no at presidential news conferences, because it sends a message to the world — Iran included — that the American press isn’t as free as advertised.

I bring this up because while it may seem trivial to some, it points to the lengths this White House will go to stage manage even such events as press conferences. Manipulation of the press is usually much more circumspect than this and doing it as they did with a grinning Rahm Emanuel standing on the sidelines points to a certain arrogance and cavalier attitude toward the tradition of freedom of the press.

But yesterday’s daytime drama belonged primarily to Pitney, of the Huffington Post Web site. During the eight years of the Bush administration, liberal outlets such as the Huffington Post often accused the White House of planting questioners in news conferences to ask preplanned questions. But here was Obama fielding a preplanned question asked by a planted questioner — from the Huffington Post.

Pitney said the White House, though not aware of the question’s wording, asked him to come up with a question about Iran proposed by an Iranian. And, as it turned out, he was not the only prearranged questioner at yesterday’s show. Later, Obama passed over the usual suspects to call on Macarena Vidal of the Spanish-language EFE news agency. The White House called Vidal in advance to see whether she was coming and arranged for her to sit in a seat usually assigned to a financial trade publication. She asked about Chile and Colombia.

Milbank says what wasn’t discussed was Afghanistan, Iraq, or many other critical topics with the time, instead, given to those with the prearranged questions. Not good. Not healthy. But, as Milbank points out, pretty ironic.

Part 2 happens tonight with the ABC informercial for the President’s health care plan.

From watchdogs to lapdogs, the media, with the exception of those like Milbank, simply play along.

~McQ

Cap and Trade – The Plan to Raise Gasoline Prices

And apparently force you into those electric cars the government is dumping all that money into.

According to API president Jack Gerard, in a letter he sent to members of Congress, the plan included in Waxman-Markey is pretty darn clear:

The legislation will drive up individual and commercial consumer’s fuel prices because it inequitably distributes free emissions “allowances” to various sectors.  Electricity suppliers are responsible for about 40% of the emissions covered by the bill and receive approximately 44% of the allowances – specifically to protect power consumers from price increases.  However the bill holds refiners responsible for their own emissions plus the emissions from the use of petroleum products.  In total refiners are responsible for 44% of all covered emissions, yet the legislation grants them only 2% of the free allowances.

Upon reading that I assume anyone with the IQ of warm toast can see where that is headed. It is a targeted tax on oil and gas which will be passed on to the consumer in just about every conceivable way possible. Both at the pump and in the cost increases rolled into products we buy due to increased transportation costs, etc.

Electricity, however, whose coal plants are supposedly one of the primary producers of CO2 and very much responsible for the emissions problems we supposedly have get a pass. Does that even begin to hint that this legislation isn’t just about controlling CO2 emissions?

In fact, it shouts it out fairly clearly doesn’t it. Keep the proles happy by ensuring their power to the house is subsidized and stick it to them at the pump where government (who now has a stake in the game) wants consumers buying “green” cars. Don’t you just love it when a plan begins to come together?

Moving on, Gerard’s letter lays out some sobering numbers:

This places a disproportionate burden on all consumers of gasoline, diesel fuel, heating oil, jet fuel, propane and other petroleum products. An analysis of the Congressional Budget Office Report indicates that it could add as much as 77 cents to a gallon of gasoline over the next decade. And, according to the Heritage Foundation this legislation could cause gas prices to jump 74% by 2035. That means, at today’s prices, gasoline would be well over $4 a gallon.

Of course by 2035 we’ll all be riding around in vehicles powered by uincorn methane. And everyone knows that unicorn methane is nontoxic, environmentally friendly, smells good and is eco friendly.

That said, there is the cap and trade plan as it pertains to one vital segment of our economy in all its simple glory. It will force you to pay outrageous prices to use petroleum products in order to move you to the desired, but not yet available, means of conveyance. In the meantime, and until it is available, you’ll just have to suffer with the cost increases.  Also remember that government estimates of cost are notoriously conservative and the real cost of such legislation is likely to be much higher than anticipated.

And don’t laugh too hard when they try to sell that to you by saying they’re attempting to save the planet. They’re exempting coal fired power plants for heaven sake. Trust me, this isn’t about emissions. If it were, they wouldn’t treat natural gas the way they do in the legislation as the letter points out.

After all, they’re the government and they’re there to help.

~McQ

The Irony of Obama

In the wake of President Obama’s presser yesterday, Walter Shapiro makes an observation:

Now I am not going to claim that the First Amendment requires presidents always to wear smiley faces when taking questions from reporters. Nor am I going to deny that occasionally – very occasionally – the short-term mindset of the press pack can be irritating for presidents with a more transcendent view of global events.

Instead, I am bringing this up because I want to tentatively advance a larger theory about the president’s public moods. Obama tends to drop his cool veneer and sound exasperated when he knows that he is in the wrong.

When it comes to Iran, Obama has at times spoken in particularly mealy mouthed fashion because he is fearful (as he has repeatedly explained) that his words could be hijacked by the Iranian theocrats. Even during Tuesday’s press conference, Obama ducked condemning the Iranian election as totally fraudulent by carefully saying, “We didn’t have international observers on the ground. We can’t say definitely what happened at polling places throughout the country.” Obama – who more than most leaders understands the power of inspirational rhetoric – has been forced to keep his most potent weapon (his moral outrage) sheathed through most of the Iranian crisis.

It’s kind of ironic isn’t it? The man whose primary political resource is his rhetorical abilities is rendered essentially speechless when it is only speech which is required to stand strongly by Iranians fighting for their freedom and rights and condemn their oppressors.

But let a CEO get a bonus he doesn’t like and he can muster both anger and eloquence.

Truly a strange world we live in.

~McQ

TARP, Winners and Losers and the Constitution

So far my favorite (yes I’m being sarcastic here) government program to date has been the “clunkers for dollars” scam. We’re suffering from overspending and over-extended credit and the government puts together a program in which it tries to entice people with old, but probably paid off cars to go into debt for a new one by giving them $4,500 dollars of your money to buy a more fuel efficient model.

Brilliant.

But I have to say, this one is also a great (sarcasm again) program as well:

It can be difficult to keep straight all the billions going to auto companies. But today the Department of Energy is reportedly set to announce that it will begin doling out sums from a $25 billion loan program for the development of fuel-efficient cars. The money comes from a bill passed last September and signed by President Bush and is totally separate from the TARP.

Among the first recipients are Ford, Nissan and Tesla, the small electric car company. The amounts will be announced today, but Ford has requested $5 billion. Nissan is getting the money to build a battery-electric car in its Tennessee plant.

A few points – one, does anyone hear the public clamoring for electric cars out there? They may be, but I’ve sure missed it. Why in the world is my money going to these companies to build something I’m not asking for and really don’t want – especially given the stage the technology is in right now. Yup, its government picking winners and losers again and we know how that seems to always turn out.

Two – although I’m completely against this, it is obvious it is going to happen, so I have to ask, why are we subsidizing a foreign auto maker with my money?

Three – and I know this is a completely silly question, but would some Constitutional scholar out there point me to the part of said document that makes this all kosher?

Thanks.

~McQ

Mullahs Mulling New Governing Body

The political fallout within Iran of the protests against the regime and the election seems to be pretty dramatic. For the first time in 30 years, the mullahs who actually run the place are split and are looking closely at their method of ruling the country and considering what they would see as some rather drastic modifications.

One thing that some of the mullahs are unhappy with (finally) is the power concentrated in the position of “supreme leader”.

Iran’s religious clerics in Qom and members of the Assembly of Experts, headed by Ayatollah Rafsanjani, are mulling the formation of an alternative collective leadership to replace that of the supreme leader, sources in Qom told Al Arabiya on condition of anonymity.

As mentioned before, the Assembly of Experts has the power to remove both the president of the country and the “supreme leader”. Rafsanjani has been at loggerheads with the current supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. 5 members of Rafsanjani’s family were arrested (and later released) during last week’s protests.

Members of the assembly are reportedly considering forming a collective ruling body and scrapping the model of Ayatollah Khomeini as a way out of the civil crisis that has engulfed Tehran in a series of protests,

The discussions have taken place in a series of secret meetings convened in the holy city of Qom and included Jawad al-Shahristani, the supreme representative of Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who is the foremost Shiite leader in Iraq.

Serious stuff. And again, going back to what I mentioned in another post, a very large crack in the foundation of “divine authority” the regime is supposed to have.

The reformist clerics are calling for the protesters who’ve been arrested to be released as well. They claim that will help ease tensions. My guess is it will refuel the protests. No word on the clamp down on the media or the internet.

A couple of interesting quotes from protesters:

“The robocops beat us up badly,” one protestor told AFP. “Men and women were beaten up…. My whole body is bruised…. They confiscated my camera.”

Another witness said: “Lots of guards on motorbikes closed in on us and beat us brutally. “As we were running away the Basiji were waiting in side alleys with batons, but people opened their doors to us trapped in alleys.”

According to statements posted by witnesses on the social networking site Facebook, foreign embassies even opened the doors to injured protesters, among them the Danish embassy. The report was not confirmed by the Danish foreign ministry.

Meanwhile, in the US, the phrase of the day is “pass the hotdogs”.

~McQ