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Monday, June 29, 2009

The Truth Alone Will Not Set You Free

Posted on Jun 29, 2009
By Chris Hedges

The ability of the corporate state to pacify the country by extending credit and providing cheap manufactured goods to the masses is gone. The pernicious idea that democracy lies in the choice between competing brands and the freedom to accumulate vast sums of personal wealth at the expense of others has collapsed. The conflation of freedom with the free market has been exposed as a sham. The travails of the poor are rapidly becoming the travails of the middle class, especially as unemployment insurance runs out and people get a taste of Bill Clinton’s draconian welfare reform. And class warfare, once buried under the happy illusion that we were all going to enter an age of prosperity with unfettered capitalism, is returning with a vengeance.

Our economic crisis—despite the corporate media circus around the death of Michael Jackson or Gov. Mark Sanford’s marital infidelity or the outfits of Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest incarnation, Brüno—barrels forward. And this crisis will lead to a period of profound political turmoil and change. Those who care about the plight of the working class and the poor must begin to mobilize quickly or we will lose our last opportunity to save our embattled democracy. The most important struggle will be to wrest the organs of communication from corporations that use mass media to demonize movements of social change and empower proto-fascist movements such as the Christian right.

American culture—or cultures, for we once had distinct regional cultures—was systematically destroyed in the 20th century by corporations. These corporations used mass communication, as well as an understanding of the human subconscious, to turn consumption into an inner compulsion. Old values of thrift, regional identity that had its own iconography, aesthetic expression and history, diverse immigrant traditions, self-sufficiency, a press that was decentralized to provide citizens with a voice in their communities were all destroyed to create mass, corporate culture. New desires and habits were implanted by corporate advertisers to replace the old. Individual frustrations and discontents could be solved, corporate culture assured us, through the wonders of consumerism and cultural homogenization. American culture, or cultures, was replaced with junk culture and junk politics. And now, standing on the ash heap, we survey the ruins. The very slogans of advertising and mass culture have become the idiom of common expression, robbing us of the language to make sense of the destruction. We confuse the manufactured commodity culture with American culture.

How do we recover what was lost? How do we reclaim the culture that was destroyed by corporations? How do we fight back now that the consumer culture has fallen into a state of decay? What can we do to reverse the cannibalization of government and the national economy by the corporations? To read the whole article click here.


Friday, June 26, 2009

Three Hour Forum on the threats to the justice system by the Bush DOJ features these speakers: Andrew Krieg, Journalist and Attorney' Bruce Fein,Republican constitutional lawyer; Scott Horton, Hofstra University Law school & Harper's magazine writer; Eliot Mincberg, House Judiciary Committee; U.W. Clemon, U.S. District Court Judge; Charles Walker Jr., son of Georgia State Senate Majority leader; Bill Yeomans, Alliance for Justice; Cliff Arnebeck, Common Cause, Ohio; Gail Sistrunk, Project Save Justice; Oliver Diaz, former Mississippi Supreme Court Justice;Eduardo Bhatia, Puerto Senate Minority Whip

The Sarah McClendon Group holds a forum on alleged-selective prosecutions by the Justice Department during the Bush administration. Speakers include Judiciary Committee Counsel Elliot Mincberg, who substituted for Chairman Conyers and former Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz, who was twice acquitted on tax and corruption charges. Also see David Swanson's Journal article Our Political Prisoners
Washington, DC : 3 hr. 15 min.

Bush DOJ Hunted for Democrats, Panel Finds

Courthouse News Service
Friday, June 26, 2009Last Update: 4:31 PM PT

Report: 85 percent of indicted locally elected officials under the Bush administration were Dems

WASHINGTON (CN) - The Department of Justice under the George W. Bush administration took off the blindfold and aimed the sites of prosecution on Democratic officials, a panel of experts has concluded. The report announced Friday was filled with examples of a justice department that had become little more than a weapon with which to pursue political opponents and those not sufficiently on board with the right-wing policies of the administration.

Federal prosecutors "were focused on the man and not on the crime," said the Chief U.S. District Judge in Alabama, U.W. Clemens.
During a press conference at the National Press Club, Project Save Justice Executive Director Gail Sistrunk displayed a report by professors Donald Shields and John Cragan of the University of Minnesota that shows 85 percent of the indicted locally elected officials under the Bush administration were Democrats.
Of the 309 indictments of local elected officials, 262 were Democrats, 37 were Republicans, and ten were independents.
Elliot Mincberg, chief counsel for oversight investigations of the House Judiciary Committee said the chances of this happening randomly would be one in ten thousand.

However, the report shows that the number of charges brought against state and federal officials was roughly even, with 36 Democrats and 30 Republicans indicted by the Bush administration between 2001 and 2006.

Sistrunk explained the discrepancy between more important officials and local officials, and said the department pursued local officials because such indictments tend to get very little news coverage, but that replacing Democrats with Republicans at the local level in swing states could still keep Republicans in power beyond the lifetime of the Bush administration.

She also explained that Democrats were not the only ones indicted. Republicans who were not right-leaning enough were targeted, she said.

This would not be the first misconduct of the Justice Department under the Bush administration, which is under fire for its justification of  enhanced interrogation techniques on prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, among other things.

In 2007, former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales resigned after a string of controversies. In one, the Justice Department fired nine attorneys without giving any reason. Six of the eight had been given positive performance reviews, leading many to believe the dismissals were politically motivated.
Tthe Justice Department alter reported that politics had illegally influenced its hiring of prosecutors and judges.
In April, Attorney General Eric Holder effectively vacated the conviction of Alaska Republican Sen. Ted Stevens, who was indicted in 2008 for not properly reporting gifts. Holder said prosecutors had withheld evidence. Federal judge Emmet Sullivan accepted Holder s motion, and declared that the conviction had been based on the worst prosecutorial misconduct he had ever seen.
In 2005, Alabama Democratic Governor Don Siegelman was charged by federal prosecutors with bribery and mail fraud, but in November, new documents surfaced that underlined allegations of prosecutorial misconduct because of abnormal contact between the jury and the prosecution. Siegelman appealed and two of his seven charges were dropped. He will now face a new sentencing hearing.
Under the Bush administration, federal Prosecutors  were focused on the man and not on the crime Judge Clemons said. He explained that federal prosecutors indicted local officials for technicalities, and said some prosecutors brought corruption charges for legal campaign contributions.
Clemens went further, and accused the Justice Department of  shopping for a republican judge. As a personal example, he said federal prosecutors had tried to get him to recuse himself from presiding over a case by establishing a false relationship between him and the defendant.
Oliver Diaz, a former justice on the Mississippi Supreme Court, told the story of when he was indicted for corruption after he received significant campaign contributions from a prominent Mississippi trial lawyer, Paul Minor, even though Diaz had never sat before Minor as a judge. Diaz said federal prosecutors brought fifty counts against a group of five people, of which he as one. He was fully acquitted later.
Diaz s wife, Jennifer Diaz, was also indicted for her role with her husband s campaign, but Oliver Diaz said his wife ultimately pled guilty to an unrelated tax charge. He said prosecutors threatened that the couple would go away to federal prison, leaving their children without parents. He said his wife pled guilt to the lesser charge to stay with her kids.
Senator Eduardo Bhatia of Puerto told another story where federal prosecutors brought charges against the then governor of Puerto Rico, Aníbal Vilá, shortly before he was up for reelection.
Bhatia said 15 counts were dropped five days after Vilá lost the election and it was determined that if all the remaining charges were true, the governor would have owed only $193 in federal taxes. He was ultimately found  not guilty by a unanimous jury, but is reportedly still trying to raise $3 million to cover his legal fees.
The Department of Justice was invited to participate at the press conference, but did not send a representative, and it did not respond to questions.

Obama's Housing Plan Struggling In First Few Months

First Posted: 06-29-09 09:36 AM | Updated: 06-29-09 12:46 PM

Earlier this month, we reported that President Obama's "Making Home Affordable" program, a government subsidized mortgage modification plan, was mired in red tape, delays and questionable benefits for homeowners. But that's not the only area of Obama's housing recovery plan that's struggling. Despite putting a total of $275 billion on housing recovery efforts, Obama's attempts to spur housing markets have sputtered.

Today, both the New York Times and Bloomberg have focused on the kinks in Obama's plan to stabilize the real estate market.

The New York Times zeroes in on Obama's plan to offer homeowners new mortgage deals. As of June, the New York Times reported that Obama's $75 billion homeowner bailout had succeeded in modifying only 100,000 loans nationwide. Under the plan, mortgage servicing companies are offered $1,000 for each loan they modify, plus an additional $1,000 for up to three years. The NYT takes a look inside some of the call centers that are charged with offering mortgage modifications to homeowners. Unfortunately, the results are typical of many call centers. Here's the NYT's assessment:

"...in the four months since the Treasury Department announced the program, millions of new homeowners have slipped into delinquency and foreclosure. For now, progress is constrained by the limited capacities of mortgage servicing companies, said Michael S. Barr, the assistant Treasury secretary for financial institutions. He offered the first signs of the administration's impatience with the institutions that control home loans.

"They need to do a much better job on the basic management and operational side of their firms," Mr. Barr said. "What we've been pushing the servicers to do is improve their infrastructure to make sure their call centers are doing a better job. The level of training is not there yet."

Obama's larger housing recovery plan has done little to boost home-buying, Bloomberg points out today. Banks are still skittish about offering loans to real estate investors, and mortgage lending is currently at a 13-year low. Bloomberg quotes Eric Belsky, executive director of Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies as saying that Obama's $8,000 tax credit for first-time home buyers has failed to significantly help the market.

Undercutting any other signs of hope in the housing market, are some troubling fundamentals. Here's Bloomberg's round-up of the data:

"Personal bankruptcies rose 37 percent in May from a year earlier, according to the American Bankruptcy Institute, based in Alexandria, Virginia. Credit card defaults in the first quarter went to 7.79 percent from 4.83 percent a year ago, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. data show. While the share of loans entering foreclosure moved to 1.37 percent, the highest ever, the first-quarter mortgage delinquency rate climbed to a record 9.12 percent, the Washington-based Mortgage Bankers Association said.
About 20.4 million of the 93 million houses, condos and co- ops in the U.S. were worth less than their loans as of March 31, according to Seattle-based real estate data service Zillow.com."

Blue Dog Bark Backed by Insurers

Published by Lindsay Renick Mayer on June 25, 2009 5:28 PM

There's a particular breed of lawmaker on Capitol Hill that is pushing hard against a public health care plan, much to the delight of two seriously moneyed special interest groups--insurers and pharmaceuticals.
They're the Blue Dogs: moderate, vocal and funded in part by the industries trying to protect their bottom line.

The typical member* of the Blue Dog caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives has received $10,300 more from insurers than the typical non-Blue Dog Democrat in the House (including health and accident insurers, HMOs and other health services) and only $3,625 less than the typical House Republican.

Earlier this month, the Blue Dogs sent a letter to House leadership arguing that a public option should be created "only if insurance market reforms and increased competition don't lower costs on their own," according to the Politico.

The support for Blue Dogs from health care professionals is even more evident. Health pros are among the top 20 industry donors to 38 Blue Dogs since 1989 and are the No. 1 donor for five of them. Health pros have also given the typical Blue Dog $47,550 more than the typical non-Blue Dog Democrat in the House. This month the American Medical Association, which lobbies on behalf of doctors, also came out against a public health insurance plan. The AMA is among the top 20 contributors to 10 Blue Dogs since 1989.

Insurance and pharmaceutical companies fear that a public health option would allow the government to control costs and steal business. And with the Blue Dogs leading the charge against the government-funded plan, the industries might just get their way.
Without any support from the GOP, two-thirds of the coalition's members, who mostly represent Southern and Midwestern states, would have to get behind the House legislation, according to Kaiser Health News.

The health sector overall has given $62,650 more to the typical Blue Dog Democrat than to the typical non-Blue Dog Dem since 1989, while hospitals and nursing homes also favor them, giving $5,680 and $5,550 more, respectively. The typical House Republican, however, has collected more than the typical Democrat--Blue Dog or not--from insurers, health professionals and the health sector overall.

When it comes to the pharmaceutical and health products industry, the typical Blue Dog has collected more than the typical non-Blue Dog Dem, but on average, the non-Blue Dog Democrats have brought in more from the companies.

*The term "typical" refers to the median, which we are using for comparison in part because of the handful of lawmakers in leadership who have raised large amounts of money, skewing the mean.

Here's a list of the members of the Blue Dog Coalition and the total they've received to their leadership PAC and candidate committees from the employees and PACs of various health-related industries and the health sector overall since 1989: Click here for the complete chart. (compiled by Center for Responsive Politics. CRP Arizona CD-8 Rep. Gabrielle Giffords ranks 31st among Blue Dogs in overall contributions from the Health sector; CD-5 Rep. Harry Mitchell ranks 48th among Blue Dogs.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Cong. Giffords Embraces Third Way Hybrid Health Insurance Plan Favored by Industry

Say 'No Way' To Third Way's Health Care Hybrid

By Isaiah J. Poole
June 9, 2009 - 11:09am ET
Campaign For America's Future

Third Way, an organization of so-called centrist Democrats, is promoting what it calls a "hybrid" proposal for a health insurance public plan option that it says progressives should be able to support.

No, we shouldn't. It's an unacceptable attempt by people too wedded to the status quo to protect the tail ends of the health insurance industry.
The proposal is outlined in a draft document that was published first by mcjoan at Daily Kos on Monday. It is the latest effort by Democrats aligned with the insurance industry to find a way to say to progressives that they back a public health care option while rendering that option meaningless.
The "Third Way" document is filled with right-wing talking points, such as this gem:
The proponents of a public plan seek the right goals—to broaden access and lower costs. But there is a very real danger that an overly intrusive public plan can ultimately undermine these very goals and destabilize the private-sector coverage that middle-class Americans—i.e., Harry and Louise—depend on and are largely satisfied with.
What would be "overly intrusive"? While the proposal makes much of wanting "a level playing field" between public and private plans so that private plans are not "forced to compete with one hand tied behind their back," it proposes to tie at least one hand behind the back of the public plan.
It suggests that the public plan be limited to "certain market segments" such as very small businesses or to the individual market, effectively ghettoizing the public plan to segments that the private insurance industry has traditionally not been interested in serving.
It also suggests that the public plan be relegated to a regional pilot project "until its worth is demonstrated."
Third Way has effectively embraced the argument that a public plan can't be allowed to succeed in a way that threatens the hegemony of the private insurance market.
And heaven forbid that a public plan be "a gateway toward a single-payer system," to use the draft report's words.
Instead, it wants Congress to have faith in the vague promises made by the health insurance industry to cut costs and expand coverage.
In exchange for a hybrid plan, "industry should be encouraged to deliver on their pledge to reduce the annual growth rate in health care costs by 1.5 percentage points," the draft says. But it is not clear how industry would be encouraged to change its business practices without the combination of a robust public plan that operates at a sufficient scale and freedom to drive market efficiencies and better patient outcomes, and regulations designed to enable patients to get the care they need at reasonable cost.

This report surfaces as some conservative Democrats are considering a proposal to keep a public plan shelved unless some trigger mechanism goes off. The trigger, of course, would be set largely by the insurance industry. The Health Care for America Now coalition has already made it clear that such triggers are off the table.

Third Way's Senate chairs are Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, Evan Bayh of Indiana, Tom Carper of Delaware, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Claire McCaskill of Missouri.
The organization's House chairs are Jane Harman and Ellen Tauscher of California, Joseph Crowley of New York, Artur Davis of Alabama, Melissa Bean of Illinois and Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona.
Tell these members of Congress that the only acceptable way to health care reform is through an unencumbered, universally available public health insurance option.

Editorial Note:

A form letter sent by Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords to CD 8 constituents who participated in the National Day of Service Flower-in at the Congresswoman's office on June 26, listed these four points of a health care reform plan that she says she would support.

  1. Allow states the freedom to develop innovative models for universal coverage;
  2. Allow people over 50 to buy into Medicare before they retire
  3. Study state models for examples of cost-savings measures that have worked, such as reducing paperwork and allowing governments to purchase medications in bulk.
  4. Allow the importation of high-quality affordable prescription drugs from other countries.
The Gifford's plan, resembles the Third Way draft, contains weak half-measures that keeps insurance companies in the drivers seat, contains no details, does not advocate for a strong public option or cost control mandates, supports studies which delay or block timely effective action and merely allows the importation of drugs without restraints on power of pharmaceutical industry monopoly tactics.

In short this is a status quo plan that does not address these facts:

  • Failure of the Massachusetts model
  • 72 percent of the U.S. that supports the more cost-effective single-payer model, including 65% of doctors,
  • Every other industrialized nation offers non-profit comprehensive health,
  • Administrative costs balloon costs to the government, small businesses and individual policyholders,
  • Majority of bankruptcies are caused by denial of coverage or underpayment for catastrophic costs
  • Insurance and pharmaceutical companies are the cause of the failing health of the American nation.
[UPDATE: Courtesy of Open Left, you can also contact Third Way's leadership—particularly health policy senior fellow David Kendall dkendall@thirdway.org—and tell them to stop undermining support for a public insurance option.] Note: Kendall is a former consultant for the Blue Cross-Blue Shield Association, one of the most powerful insurers in the nation. He is on the board of directors for the Wye River Group on Healthcare, which is funded to the tune of a million dollars by CIGNA, a major health insurance player. Courtesy of Rootswire

Pentagon, DHS Divided On Military's Role at Border At Issue Is Who Directs Troops in Drug Mission

By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post
Saturday, June 27, 2009

A proposal to send National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border to counter drug trafficking has triggered a bureaucratic standoff between the Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security over the military's role in domestic affairs, according to officials in both departments.

The debate has engaged a pair of powerful personalities, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, in what their subordinates describe as a turf fight over who should direct the use of troops to assist in the fight against Mexican cartels and who should pay for them.

At issue is a proposal to send 1,500 additional troops to the border to analyze intelligence and to provide air support and technical assistance to border agencies. The governors of Texas, Arizona, California and New Mexico made the request in January, drawing support from Napolitano but prompting objections from the Pentagon, where officials argue that it could lead to a permanent, expanded mission for the military.

President Obama has signaled that he is open to the idea, asking Congress for $250 million to deploy the National Guard while also saying he was "not interested in militarizing the border." The issue, which has been stalled before a National Security Council policy committee, will be decided by the president.

Neither Napolitano nor Gates has made the disagreement personal, although some of their aides have privately expressed exasperation at what one called an interagency "food fight."

"It should not be that we always rely on the Department of Defense to fulfill some need," said Gen. Victor E. Renuart Jr., head of the U.S. Northern Command, which is responsible for defending the continental United States. Border law enforcement agencies should have adequate funds to do their job, he said. If the Guard is tapped, it should be for capabilities "that do not exist elsewhere in government," Renuart said. "When we send the National Guard, they go with specific missions, with specific purposes. And we put some duration on that so there is an end state." For the rest of the story click here.

Commentary: U.S. needs health care vs. 'sick care'

A UMNS Commentary
By Dr. M. Joycelyn Elders*
June 17, 2009 | LITTLE ROCK, Ark.

The United States has the best “sick care” system in the world, but our “health care” delivery system is lacking. We have the best doctors, the best hospitals, best academic health centers, best nurses, the best drugs, and we are leaders in research.

Our problem is that the system is not available to all of our citizens. In addition, our health care is not equitable, coherent, comprehensive and cost-effective, nor do we have choice.
The United States has 5 percent of the people of the world and 25 percent of the world's wealth. We are the richest country in the world and the only industrialized country that does not provide health care for its entire people.

Health care, which now consumes 17 percent of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product, or $2.4 trillion in 2007, continues to grow in its appetite for our economic resources, while the United States continues to fall in overall health care for its citizens in comparison with the remainder of the industrialized world.

We do not have the best health, ranking 46th in life expectancy, 42nd in infant mortality and 57th in overall goodness and fairness as compared to 192 other members of the Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation.

If the rest of the industrialized world can manage to serve all its citizens on less, why can we not?

Lives at risk

The lack of access to health care for so many is literally bankrupting our people and endangering all our lives.

We have depended upon employers to carry much of the burden of health insurance over the years. However, now we find in this global economy that they are at a disadvantage trying to compete with countries that have a public health care system. Health insurance expenses are the fastest-growing cost component for employers. Unless something changes dramatically, health insurance costs will overtake profits.

“We are the richest country in the world and the only industrialized country that does not provide health care for its entire people.”

President Obama’s desire for a health care plan is one that improves coverage for the 45 million to 50 million uninsured citizens, contains costs, and offers high quality, cost-effective, equitable, portable and affordable care for everyone.

We must simultaneously address, integrate and solve the three major components of health care reform: Financing, organizing the delivery system, and educating patients and community, in order to facilitate behavioral and lifestyle changes.

Quality of care would improve if every patient had access to a medical home and an accountable care organization with electronic medical records where care was patient-centered, coordinated and cost-effective.

Monitoring of many of our procedures, techniques, new technologies and drugs needs to be evaluated. We need to replace our inefficient, inequitable financing system with one that works. It needs to include everybody with subsidies for the young, poor and sick. It must require all to pay their fair share.

Physicians must have the information (electronic medical records), infrastructure and incentives they need to improve quality and control cost.

Physicians, heal this system

Physicians must become involved in population health. Health is influenced by factors in five domains, which are genetic, social circumstances, environmental exposures, and behavioral patterns and health care. The single greatest opportunity to improve health and reduce premature death lies in personal behavior.

On an individual level, we can do more to improve our own health than all the medical discoveries in the past 100 years.

We must dream big; our vision is for healthy people in healthy communities with a health care system that is right for all of our citizens. It needs to be available, affordable, accessible, patient-centered, prevention-focused, purpose-driven and solution-oriented. It must empower individuals to take care of themselves, foster responsibility and human dignity, improve health and enhance quality of life.

Any new health care system must contain a provision for a public health care policy; this is a single-payer system. People who prefer private insurance can always purchase it instead of purchasing a public health care policy. In this public health care policy, we must provide every person with access to basic health care, including physical and cultural access through transportation and language sensitivity.

We also must provide education to promote health maintenance, preventive measures in order to thwart disease, basic dental health care, mental health care, emergency services and necessary medicines.

A public option

Ask Medicare patients if they would like to give up their insurance and I think few would answer in the affirmative. Public health care is well liked in the United States.

People who do not receive Medicare may not know that each person pays almost $100 per month for the insurance, which is deducted from Social Security checks automatically.
After a yearly deductible, Medicare pays 80 percent of most medical care but not dental care. There is a prescription Medicare (Part D) that is separate from other Medicare and has a variety of plans.

“ The lack of access to health care for so many is literally bankrupting our people and endangering all our lives. ”

A public health care policy would likely be similar to purchasing Medicare.

With Medicare, about 98 cents of every dollar paid in payroll taxes are spent on actually providing health care.
When you look at the private insurance companies, it is more like 80 cents.
The rest goes to administrative expenses and profits. There are many additional costs imposed on the doctors and health care providers themselves, who have to deal with a fragmented, complex system in which they have to negotiate, amend, or cajole payment from many different insurers.

Both business and individuals are breaking under the strain of our very expensive health care system. We must overhaul our system now; its condition is beyond tweaking to make it function for our people. We have tried to tweak the way we perform health care for many decades with disastrous results. We have tried HMOs, PPOs, indemnity with an assortment of public health systems to catch some of our people who fall between the cracks. It has failed while costing us precious lives, health and money of our people along the way.

We need an overhaul of the health care system to save lives, money and American business.

*Elders, a United Methodist, served as the U.S. surgeon general under President Bill Clinton from 1993 to 1994. She received degrees from United Methodist-related Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Ark., as well as the University of Arkansas Medical School. She is currently professor of pediatrics at the University of Arkansas Medical Center in Little Rock.

News media contact: Tim Tanton or David Briggs, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Cartoon: Health Care Reform Cost

"What Can I Do?"

Robert Reich's Blog
Robert Reich was the nation's 22nd Secretary of Labor and is a professor at the University of California at Berkeley. His latest book is "Supercapitalism." This is his personal journal.

By Robert Reich
Latest book, "Supercapitalism," is now out in paperback. For copies of articles, books, and public radio commentaries, go to www.robertreich.org. This blog is available as an RSS feed. Public radio commentaries are now available as a podcast.
View my complete profile

Someone recently approached me at the cheese counter of a local supermarket, asking "what can I do?" At first I thought the person was seeking advice about a choice of cheese. But I soon realized the question was larger than that. It was: what can I do about the way things are going in Washington?

People who voted for Barack Obama tend to fall into one of two camps: Trusters, who believe he's a good man with the right values and he's doing everything he can; and cynics, who have become disillusioned with his bailouts of Wall Street, flimsy proposals for taming the Street, willingness to give away 85 percent of cap-and-trade pollution permits, seeming reversals on eavesdropping and torture, and squishiness on a public option for health care.

In my view, both positions are wrong. A new president -- even one as talented and well-motivated as Obama -- can't get a thing done in Washington unless the public is actively behind him. As FDR said in the reelection campaign of 1936 when a lady insisted that if she were to vote for him he must commit to a long list of objectives, "Maam, I want to do those things, but you must make me."

We must make Obama do the right things. Email, write, and phone the White House. Do the same with your members of Congress. Round up others to do so. Also: Find friends and family members in red states who agree with you, and get them fired up to do the same. For example, if you happen to have a good friend or family member in Montana, you might ask him or her to write Max Baucus and tell him they want a public option included in any healthcare bill.

(I'm back here July 10.)
posted by Robert Reich | 12:30 PM

Thursday, June 25, 2009

American Shoppers Misled by Greenwash, Congress Told

by Suzanne Goldenberg
Published on Tuesday, June 23, 2009 by
The Guardian/UK

98% of supposedly environmentally friendly products in US supermarkets make false or confusing claims, campaigners say

More than 98% of supposedly natural and environmentally friendly products on US supermarket shelves are making potentially false or misleading claims, Congress has been told. And 22% of products making green claims bear an environmental badge that has no inherent meaning, said Scot Case, of the environmental consulting firm TerraChoice.

(Flickr photo by Rainforest Action Network)

The study of nearly 4,000 consumer products found "greenwashing" in nearly every product category - from a lack of verifiable information to outright lies.

Even the experts are confused. Case, whose firm runs its own Ecologo certification programme, admitted he had bought a refrigerator only to find it failed to meet its claims of energy efficiency.

"My refrigerator used twice as much energy as advertised," he told members of the House of Representatives committee on commerce, trade and consumer protection. The hearing amounted to a crash course into the perils of the new green marketplace for the committee. Congress is looking at how to guide consumers through a thicket of competing claims on so-called greenness.

One problem is proliferation - both of products claiming to be green and of certification programmes purporting to back up those claims.

The interest in products that do not poison water or air, create unnecessary waste or unduly add to the effects of climate change has defied class divisions and the economic recession. In its company surveys, Wal-Mart, the chain of low-cost megastores, found that 57% of its customers professed to be concerned about the environment.

There is a constantly expanding pool of products to choose from. About 33% of all new food products launched in 2008 claimed to be "natural", Dara O'Rourke, a professor in environmental policy at the University of California, Berkeley, and founder of the GoodGuide, told the recent hearing. But with around 300 competing environmental certification programmes, shoppers are bombarded by irrelevant or deceptive labels touting the green, natural, eco-friendly, recyclable and non-toxic properties of goods.
It is virtually impossible to sort through the claims, said Urvashi Rangan, of the Consumers Union. "We've got to get rid of the green noise," she said. "Vague and misleading terms should not be allowed."

Labels do not generally say whether products contain recycled content, or how far they travelled from factory to shelf.

Rangan singled out "non-toxic", "natural", and "fragrance free" as misleading claims, because the federal government has never set a precise standard for manufacturers to meet. "Personal care products are the Wild West," she said.

Reading the fine print on labels will not necessarily help either. Companies are not required to disclose the use of some substances believed to be dangerous - such as phthalates, which can cause birth defects and hormone abnormalities and are widely used, from baby bottles to cleaners and cosmetics.

The makers of household cleaners are also not required by law to list every chemical in the bottle so long as it is below a certain level. "Almost none of these companies disclose the ingredients in these products," O'Rourke told Congress. "We don't know what is in them. We don't what the plastic is made of."And as Case eventually discovered, even the most seemingly reliable certifications cannot be trusted.

Case told the Congress hearing he bought his LG Electronics refrigerator in 2007, reassured by its Energy Star rating. The seal, from the department of energy, is supposed to be awarded to appliances that consume at least 20% less electricity than a standard appliance.

This spring, he got a letter saying that his fridge did not, after all, qualify for Energy Star status because LG, in its process of "self-certification", had strayed from the efficiency guidelines set by the department of energy.

© Guardian News and Media Limited 2009

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Sickening Influence of Campaign Contributions

Posted on Jun 24, 2009
By Joe Conason

If Congress fails to enact health care reform this year—or if it enacts a sham reform designed to bail out corporate medicine while excluding the “public option”—then the public will rightly blame Democrats, who have no excuse for failure except their own cowardice and corruption. The punishment inflicted by angry voters is likely to be reduced majorities in both the Senate and the House of Representatives—or even the restoration of Republican rule on Capitol Hill.

Many of those now talking down President Obama’s health care initiative were in Washington back in 1994 when Bill Clinton’s proposals to achieve universal coverage were killed by members of the president’s own party. The Democrats lost control of Congress that November in a historic repudiation, largely because of public disillusionment with their policy failures.

Nearly every poll now shows the American people demanding change in the health care system, with majorities favoring universal coverage and, in many surveys, a government plan that competes with private insurance. But powerful Democratic politicians, especially in the Senate, are pretending not to hear. They adopt all sorts of positions, from bluntly opposing any substantive change this year to promoting bogus alternatives. They claim to be trying to help Obama gather the votes he will need, or to assist him in attracting Republican votes. They insist that the country can’t afford universal care, or that the public option won’t pass (before debate has even begun).

Indeed, many of the most intransigent Democrats don’t bother to make actual arguments to support their position. Nor do they seem to worry that Democratic voters and the party’s main constituencies overwhelmingly support the public option and universal coverage.

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., has simply stated, through her flack, that she refuses to support a public option. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who has tried to fashion a plan that will entice Republicans, warns that the public option is a step toward single-payer health care—not much of an objection to a model that serves people in every other industrialized country with lower costs and superior outcomes. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., feebly protests that her state’s mismanagement by a Republican governor must stall the progress of the rest of the country. Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., says he has a better plan involving regional cooperatives, which would be unable to effectively compete with the insurance behemoths or bargain with pharmaceutical giants.

The excuses sound different, but all of these lawmakers have something in common—namely, their abject dependence on campaign contributions from the insurance and pharmaceutical corporations fighting against real reform.
Consider Landrieu, a senator from a very poor state whose working-class constituents badly need universal coverage (and many of whom now depend on Medicare, a popular government program). According to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan watchdog outfit, she has received nearly $1.7 million from corporate medical interests, including hospitals, insurance companies, nursing homes and drug firms, during her political career.

The same kind of depressing figures can be found in the campaign filings of many of the Democrats now posing as obstacles to reform, notably including Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, who has distinguished himself in the most appalling way. The Montana Standard, a news outlet in his home state, found that Baucus has received more campaign money from health and insurance industry donors than any other member of Congress. “In the past six years,” the Standard found, “nearly one-fourth of every dime raised by the Montana senator and his political-action committee has come from groups and individuals associated with drug companies, insurers, hospitals, medical-supply firms, health-service companies and other health professionals.”
Whenever Democratic politicians are confronted with this conflict between the public interest and their private fund-raising, they take offense at the implied insult. They protest, as a spokesman for Sen. Landrieu did, that they make policy decisions based on what is best for the people of their states, “not campaign contributions.” But when health reform fails, or turns into a trough for their contributors, who will believe them? And who will vote for them?
Joe Conason writes for The New York Observer.

© 2009 Creators Syndicate Inc.

Health Insurance Insider to Sen. Commerce Hearing: 'They Dump the Sick'

ABC News Business Unit
June 24, 2009

Editorial Note: Wendell Potter testified today before the Senate Commerce Science and Technology Committee chaired by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W VA) Karen Pollitz, a research professor at the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute, and Nancy Metcalf, a senior program editor at Consumer Reports also testified. Potter detailed how deceptive contracts and confusing "explanation of benefits" statements victimize policyholders and small businesses alike to satisfy Wall-street profit expectations. The ABC article reprises an earlier hearing about how insurers force policyholders to pay artificially inflated costs for out of network providers. Apparently "reasonable and customary costs used by 17 companies are set by an index published by a United HealthCare subsidiary.

Retired Health Insurance Executive Blows the Whistle on His Former Industry

Frustrated Americans have long complained that their insurance companies valued the all-mighty buck over their health care. Today, a retired insurance executive confirmed their suspicions, arguing that the industry that once employed him regularly rips off its policyholders.

Retired health insurance executive Wendell Potter told Congress today that insurance companies routinely rip off customers.

"[T]hey confuse their customers and dump the sick, all so they can satisfy their Wall Street investors," former Cigna senior executive Wendell Potter said during a hearing on health insurance today before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

Potter, who has more than 20 years of experience working in public relations for insurance companies Cigna and Humana, said companies routinely drop seriously ill policyholders so they can meet "Wall Street's relentless profit expectations."

"They look carefully to see if a sick policyholder may have omitted a minor illness, a pre-existing condition, when applying for coverage, and then they use that as justification to cancel the policy, even if the enrollee has never missed a premium payment," Potter said. "…(D)umping a small number of enrollees can have a big effect on the bottom line."
Small businesses, in particular, he said, have had trouble maintaining their employee health insurance coverage, he said.

"All it takes is one illness or accident among employees at a small business to prompt an insurance company to hike the next year's premiums so high that the employer has to cut benefits, shop for another carrier, or stop offering coverage altogether," he said.

Potter also faulted insurance companies for being misleading both in advertising their policies to new customers and in communicating with existing policyholders.

More and more people, he said, are falling victim to "deceptive marketing practices" that encourage them to buy "what essentially is fake insurance," policies with high costs but surprisingly limited benefits.
Insurance companies continue to mislead consumers through "explanation of benefits" documents that note what payments the insurance company made and what's left for consumers to pay out of pocket, Potter said.

The documents, he said, are "notoriously incomprehensible."
"Insurers know that policyholders are so baffled by those notices they usually just ignore them or throw them away. And that's exactly the point," he said. "If they were more understandable, more consumers might realize that they are being ripped off."

Potter did have some kind words to share about his former employer, Cigna.

"I hope that I'm not coming across as someone who's critical of my former employer. I had a good career at Cigna and was well-compensated. I was there for 15 years and lasted 15 years," he said. "My comments are directed toward an industry that is really going in the wrong direction and taking this country in the wrong direction."

In a statement released this evening, Cigna said that it "strongly disagree(s) with the suggestion that, motivated by profits, the insurance industry has deliberately attempted to confuse or unfairly treat covered individuals."

The company said it has a team dedicated to help its policyholders understand their benefits and that it is advocating for improvements to the health care system, including mandated coverage for all.

The Senate also heard from Karen Pollitz, a research professor at the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute, and Nancy Metcalf, a senior program editor at Consumer Reports.

Pollitz said that insurance companies should provide more information about how coverage works so that consumers are better equipped to compare policies as they shop for coverage.

Metcalf spoke of how many Americans have mistakenly bought lower-cost insurance policies without realizing how little the policies actually cover.
"They were no match for insurance companies who know exactly how to design and market plans whose gaping holes don't become apparent until it's much, much too late," she said.
Read the whole article here.

Former Health Industry PR Exec: Insider Exposes Wall Street Driven Health Care Industry vs. Health Reform

Submitted by Wendell Potter on June 24, 2009 - 12:12pm.
PR Watch, Center for Media and Democracy

I'm the former insurance industry insider now speaking out about how big for-profit insurers have hijacked our health care system and turned it into a giant ATM for Wall Street investors, and how the industry is using its massive wealth and influence to determine what is (and is not) included in the health care reform legislation members of Congress are now writing.

Although by most measures I had a great career in the insurance industry (four years at Humana and nearly 15 at CIGNA), in recent years I had grown increasingly uncomfortable serving as one of the industry's top PR executives. In addition to my responsibilities at CIGNA, which included serving as the company's chief spokesman to the media on all corporate and financial matters, I also served on a lot of trade association committees and industry-financed coalitions, many of which were essentially front groups for insurers. So I was in a unique position to see not only how Wall Street analysts and investors influence decisions insurance company executives make but also how the industry has carried out behind-the-scenes PR and lobbying campaigns to kill or weaken any health care reform efforts that threatened insurers' profitability.

I also have seen how the industry's practices -- especially those of the for-profit insurers that are under constant pressure from Wall Street to meet their profit expectations -- have contributed to the tragedy of nearly 50 million people being uninsured as well as to the growing number of Americans who, because insurers now require them to pay thousands of dollars out of their own pockets before their coverage kicks in -- are underinsured. An estimated 25 million of us now fall into that category.
What I saw happening over the past few years was a steady movement away from the concept of insurance and toward "individual responsibility," a term used a lot by insurers and their ideological allies. This is playing out as a continuous shifting of the financial burden of health care costs away from insurers and employers and onto the backs of individuals. As a result, more and more sick people are not going to the doctor or picking up their prescriptions because of costs. If they are unfortunate enough to become seriously ill or injured, many people enrolled in these plans find themselves on the hook for such high medical bills that they are losing their homes to foreclosure or being forced into bankruptcy.

As an industry spokesman, I was expected to put a positive spin on this trend that the industry created and euphemistically refers to as "consumerism" and to promote so-called "consumer-driven" health plans. I ultimately reached the point of feeling like a huckster.

I thought I could live with being a well-paid huckster and hang in there a few more years until I could retire. I probably would have if I hadn't made a completely spur-of-the-moment decision a couple of years ago that changed the direction of my life. While visiting my folks in northeast Tennessee where I grew up, I read in the local paper about a health "expedition" being held that weekend a few miles up U.S. 23 in Wise, Va. Doctors, nurses and other medical professionals were volunteering their time to provide free medical care to people who lived in the area. What intrigued me most was that Remote Area Medical, a non-profit group whose original mission was to provide free care to people in remote villages in South America, was organizing the expedition. I decided to check it out.

That 50-mile stretch of U.S. 23, which twists through the mountains where thousands of men have made their living working in the coalmines, turned out to be my "road to Damascus."

Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw when I reached the Wise County Fairgrounds, where the expedition was being held. Hundreds of people had camped out all night in the parking lot to be assured of seeing a doctor or dentist when the gates opened. By the time I got there, long lines of people stretched from every animal stall and tent where the volunteers were treating patients.
That scene was so visually and emotionally stunning it was all I could do to hold back tears. How could it be that citizens of the richest nation in the world were being treated this way?

For the rest of this must-read story click here.

Iran Divided & the 'October Suprise'

By Robert Parry (A Special Report)
June 24, 2009
Consortium News

Iran’s current political divisions can be traced back to a controversy nearly three decades ago when Iran faced war with Iraq and became entwined with U.S. and Israeli political maneuvers that set all three countries on a dangerous course that continues to this day.

In the election dispute now gripping the streets of Tehran, Iran is experiencing a revival of the internal rivalries born in the judgments made in 1980 and later that decade about how and whether to deal with the Little Satan (Israel) and the Great Satan (the United States).

Former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi, who claims he is the rightful winner of the June 12 presidential election, was part of the group (along with his current allies former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and former House Speaker Mehdi Karoubi) that favored secret contacts with the United States and Israel to get the military supplies needed to fight the war with Iraq.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country’s current spiritual leader and the key supporter of reelected President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was more the ideological purist in the early 1980s, apparently opposing the unorthodox strategy that involved going behind President Carter’s back to gain promises of weapons from Israel and the future Reagan administration.

Khamenei appears to have favored a more straightforward arrangement with the Carter administration for settling the dispute over 52 American hostages seized by Iranian radicals in 1979.

In 1980, the internal Iranian divisions played out against a dramatic backdrop. Iranian radicals still held the 52 hostages seized at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran; President Jimmy Carter had imposed an arms embargo while seeking the hostages’ release – and he was struggling to fend off a strong campaign challenge from Republican Ronald Reagan.

Meanwhile, Israel’s Likud Prime Minister Menachem Begin was furious at Carter for pushing him into the Camp David peace deal with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat that required Israel returning the Sinai to Egypt in exchange for normalized relations.

Begin also was upset at Carter’s perceived failure to protect the Shah of Iran, who had been an Israeli strategic ally. Begin was worried, too, about the growing influence of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq as it massed troops along the Iranian border.

Editorial Note: Top notch investigative reporter Robert Parry reconstructs the complicated recent history of United States Iran relations involving Israel and Iraq. Parry makes the point that President Obama must review this history before coming to the negotiating table with Iran's leaders (who were part of the Iranian government during the hostage crisis), whoever emerges the victor of the election.

Read the rest of the story here.

Nets ignore testimony of cancer patient denied coverage by insurer

Media Matters for America
June 22, 2009 5:37 pm ET

SUMMARY: Despite poignant testimony by people denied coverage for treatment of serious health problems, the network evening news broadcasts uniformly ignored a June 16 House hearing on the practice by insurance companies of canceling the policies of people who become ill and submit claims for expensive treatments.

According to a Media Matters for America analysis*, the evening news broadcasts on ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS have not covered a June 16 hearing by a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on the practice by insurance companies of investigating the medical histories of people who become ill and submit claims for expensive treatments, on the grounds that those individuals had pre-existing conditions. The hearing featured testimony from Robin Beaton and Jennifer Wittney Horton, former policyholders who stated they had been subject to that practice, as well as testimony from insurance company executives. Noting that Paul Begala highlighted the media's lack of coverage of the hearing and linking to video of Beaton's testimony, national political correspondent Karen Tumulty wrote on Time.com's Swampland blog: "The more I thought about it, the more I realized what a missed opportunity this had been. There's no way I could possibly tell Robin Beaton's story nearly as powerfully as she did herself. So I asked C-SPAN's omnipotent Howard Mortman to dig up the clip out of their video library. Please watch this. It could happen to you or to someone you love."

In a June 16 post to Time.com's Swampland blog, Tumulty reported of the hearing:

In May, 2008, Robin Beaton, a retired registered nurse from Waxahachie, Texas, went to her dermatologist to be treated for acne. He mistakenly wrote down something on her chart that made it appear that she might have a pre-cancerous skin condition.

Not a big deal, right? It shouldn't have been, except that soon after that, she was diagnosed with something far more serious -- invasive and agressive breast cancer. Three days before she was scheduled for a double mastectomy, her insurance company, Blue Cross, called her and told her they were launching an investigation into the last five years of her health records. It turned out that dermatologist's note had been a red flag, and the company was looking for a way to cancel her policy on the grounds that she had been hiding a serious medical condition.

What Robin went through after that was a nightmare, one she tearfully described Tuesday morning in front of the House Energy and Commerce Committee's oversight and investigations subcommittee. "The sad thing is, Blue Cross gladly took my high premiums, and the first time I filed a claim and was suspected of having cancer, they searched high and low for a reason to cancel me," said Robin, whose hair is just beginning to grow back in from chemotherapy.

The subcommittee took a look today at an immoral -- and illegal -- practice in which some health insurance companies engage. It's called post-claims underwriting, and you should know about it. Because you or someone you love could be a victim if they buy insurance on the individual insurance market. Robin got her mastectomy, but only after her congressman, Joe Barton, leaned on the head of the company. (This is constituent service, in the very best sense of why we elect these guys. But the best thing they could do is to make sure it doesn't happen to anyone's constituent.)

There were other witnesses, too. Like Peggy Raddatz, whose brother Otto Raddatz lost his insurance coverage right before he was scheduled to receive an expensive stem-cell transplant to treat his lymphoma. Why? Because Fortis Insurance Company discovered that his doctor had found gall stones and an aneurysm on a CT scan -- conditions that had nothing to do with his cancer, and that never bothered him, and that he wasn't even aware of. And Jennifer Wittney Horton of Los Angeles, whose coverage was canceled because she had been taking a drug for irregular menstruation. Now, she can't get coverage anywhere else. "Since my recission, I have had to take jobs that I do not want, and put my career goals on hold to ensure that I can find health insurance," she told the subcommittee. "Fortunately, after my husband and I got married, I was able to gain coverage through his company's group health care plan. However, if he ever loses his job, or I don't have employment with a company that offers group health insurance, I might have to go without insurance."

Here is the YouTube video of the the June 16 Insurance Rescission Hearing the networks refused to air, first panel of individuals whose insurance was cancelled after they got sick. Robin Beaton's testimony starts at 16:51

And here is the rest of it.

Obama's Bailout For Homeowners Making Shaky Progress: One Homeowner's Story

The Huffington Post  
By  Margo Irvin
First Posted: 06-24-09 01:43 PM   |   Updated: 06-24-09 04:03 PM

Last week, we invited readers to share their experiences with Obama's Making Home Affordable program, and asked you, "Is it working?"

By the numbers, the answer is "slowly." Three weeks ago, at the beginning of June, the New York Times reported that 100,000 loan modifications had been offered to struggling homeowners. This week, a Treasury Department spokesperson told the Huffington Post that participating mortgage servicers have extended 200,000 offers for trial loan modifications. How many of those have actually been approved? The Treasury is collecting data from servicers and plans to release official stats next week, but the AP reports that in excess of 50,000 loan modifications are already underway.

But the real measure of the program's success is not so easily quantifiable. We received dozens of stories of homeowners who tried for months to get approved for a Home Affordable loan -- and those who eventually navigated the bureaucratic red tape find that getting a modification doesn't necessarily mean everything's peachy.

Jeff from Salt Lake City, UT, is one of the 50,000 enrolled in the program with a trial loan modification, and it means that his family has a chance of staying in their home -- although they're waiting to see if it works for them in the long run before they celebrate. "I can't say if the Making Home Affordable plan is 'working' per se, but it isn't a total failure so far," he wrote.

Jeff and his wife Chiara bought a house in Salt Lake City in the fall of 2007. "We moved from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City partly because we could afford a home in Salt Lake where we were doomed to be perpetual renters it seemed in LA," Jeff said.

We put twenty percent down on the purchase of the home and were comfortably making the mortgage payments until December of 2008, when the company with which I was employed told me that it would no longer be able to pay me anything. I was able to start being paid at a small law firm not long after that, but I now only make about fifty percent of what I previously made at my old job. This drastic reduction in income and the simultaneous increase in many of our living expenses (utilities, fuel, health insurance, etc...) meant that, where we had been spending something like a third of our gross income on the mortgage before, now we were paying well over 70% of our gross income just to keep the house payments current.
Long story short, we were eating into our somewhat meager savings every month and could see the dark at the end of the tunnel. Plus, the market the way it was and is, we did not see much likelihood of selling our home faster than we would run out of money (not to mention the fact that our home, while not underwater, has lost significant value over the past year). We were pretty much resigned to either foreclosure or miracle when we heard the President announcing his Making Home Affordable plans on TV in March. When we looked into it further on the government website set up to explain the program, it seemed we were tailor-made for the Home Affordable Mortgage Program.

Jeff's struggle to negotiate with his lender echoes others that the Huffington Post has covered: delays and inefficiency. "Sometimes I called every day of the week to see if anything was developing - if there were any other documents they needed from me, anything. Some people who answered the phones were helpful and seemed to know what they were talking about, some were quite rude and seemed to have no idea what was going on. Sometimes I would get conflicting information in two phone calls on the same afternoon."

Read on at The Huffington Post to find out what happened to Jeff.
And here is the rest of it.

Public option is key to health reform

By: Rep. Mike Honda and Rep. Raul Grijalva
June 24, 2009 05:08 AM EST

Seventy-two percent of the American people support a robust public health insurance option that is available to everyone. A public option is good for our families, is good for the American economy and is supported by the American public. As Congress moves forward with health care reform legislation this summer, we must include in our final reform package a robust public option linked to an existing federal provider network — for example, the Medicare network.

The current system is broken. Today, skyrocketing health care costs continue to crush the pocketbooks of our families and businesses. Far too many others in our country continue to go without basic health coverage, posing public health risks and driving up costs for everyone. Finally, our current system is not comprehensive, as it fails to address the health care needs of racial, ethnic and other minorities.

The current system is not affordable for our families. Health care premiums have doubled over the past nine years, three times faster than wages have increased. A daunting 60 percent of U.S. bankruptcies were due to medical costs in 2007. The goal of President Barack Obama and our goal is the same: It is to ensure high-quality, affordable health care for all.
The two of us are supporters of the single-payer approach. However, we acknowledge the current political realities of health care reform. We praise Obama and the congressional leadership for their commitment to reduce health care costs for families, businesses and government — and a public option would do just that.

Private insurance companies would be forced to compete with an affordable, high-quality option. We would expand choice in the health insurance market, while allowing families to keep the health care plans they like. By increasing choice and competition, we would be able to lower costs for all.

The current system is inefficient, as it fails to provide health care coverage to close to 46 million people, including 8 million children. Failure to cover the uninsured further drives up our health care costs. The uninsured are less likely to visit the doctor regularly and less likely to receive quality primary-care and preventive services. These are crucial to assessing and managing major health risks. The uninsured have a 25 percent higher mortality risk and higher rates of death from preventable illness than the insured.
We must expand coverage under a strong public option, as it would increase access to primary and preventive care, which would in the long run lower costs. This is particularly critical when we look at the racial and ethnic health disparities among the uninsured population.

Follow this link to the rest of the story.

John Russell, Cong. Candidate: "Restore the Soul of a Nation...Give Us the Public Option"

John Russell 2006-2008 Democratic Nominee in Florida's 5th Congressional District, addresses the 2009 Juneteenth Celebration.

John Russell is a Nationally Certified Acute Care Nurse Practitioner with an MBA in Health Systems Management.

John Russell is both a clinical professional and an expert in health care policy. John recognizes that the ONLY solution to America's Health Care crisis is the implementation of substantial and dramatic change in how we finance our health care system. The status quo corporate dominated health care finance system has neither the motivation or the tools to compare in cost efficiency or patient access for that matter to even the current less than optimal Medicare system. For more information click on johnrussellforcongress.com

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Gordon Gekko Gets God: The Heritage Foundation of Theology

By Peter Laarman
May 13, 2009
Religion Dispatches

Even after the “revelation” that letting unregulated moneymen run the country isn't a good idea, the neoliberals at the Heritage Foundation are still churning out the message; like the latest book by “theologian” Jay W. Richards, Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism is the Solution And Not the Problem.

Please remember Frederick Douglass.

That is to say, remember the Frederick Douglass of “power concedes nothing without a struggle.” And I’m not sure that the struggle with market fundamentalism has even been joined yet, at least not at the level of principle where it most needs friends.

Like old Simeon in Luke’s gospel, I am one who hopes to live long enough to see the consolation of Israel. Only in my case that consolation would take the form of deliverance from the malignant free-market madness that US conservatives have successfully promoted for four decades.

Known (and much loathed) abroad as the “American model,” or the “Washington consensus,” this is the Friedman-Greenspan regime of total deregulation wherein the public, in effect, subsidizes big capital to work its high-growth wonders to the ostensible benefit of us all—that chimera known as the trickle-down effect.

Because Americans live in a kind of perceptual bubble—a bubble related to but not identical to financial bubbles of recent memory—we have never seen the full extent of the devastation wrought by the “Washington consensus” on the lives of others and on the life of the planet itself. We’ve never seen the effects of the global sweatshop up close; we’ve never seen what privatized water markets look like in places like Bolivia; we’ve never asked whether there might be a connection between NAFTA’s effects within Mexico and the urgent need of Mexicans to reach El Norte, even risking death by dehydration to get here.

Free market fundamentalism seemed to work out pretty well for us. To be sure, we could see the enormous wealth beginning to concentrate at the top of our own society. But as long as enough trickled down to us plebeians (and as long as we could get easy credit to keep up with those Joneses) we were okay with it. It is only now that the latest and largest financial bubble has burst that we are beginning to break through our perceptual bubble to wonder whether entrusting our fates to self-interested and unregulated moneymen was really such a great idea.

But I would not count on, say, the bad odor now adhering to the word “banker” to lead to our deliverance from the bankers’ grip. To imagine that we can escape their clutches automatically, as it were, is to pretend that they’ve not achieved a substantial ascendancy within the culture that goes well beyond mere financial ascendancy.
They still own the government, after all. Their image may be a bit tarnished, but just two weeks ago they scuttled a Senate bill that would have allowed busted homeowners to seek relief in bankruptcy court. As Sen. Dick Durbin told a hometown radio station apropos of this fight: “The banks—hard to believe in a time when we’re facing a banking crisis that many of the banks created—are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill. And they frankly own the place.”
Click here for the rest of the story.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Hoping for Audacity

By Drew Westen
Psychologist and neuroscientist; Emory University Professor
Posted: June 22, 2009 10:10 AM
Huffington Post

One of the great character strengths of Barack Obama, and one of his greatest strengths as a leader, is his ability to treat people with civility and respect and to try to inspire others to do the same. We saw that in his speech on race in Philadelphia, in his restraint throughout the campaign on personal attacks against John McCain, and again more recently in his speech to the Muslim world in Cairo.

But our strengths and our weaknesses tend to flow from the same wells. In a paradoxical sense, as daunting as the problems the President has inherited, his greatest stroke of luck as a candidate and now as President was that the prior administration had so thoroughly destroyed our economy, our strength and reputation around the world, and the security most voters had felt in their homes, their jobs, and their health care that they were ready for more than a reshuffling of the deck. They wanted a new set of cards, one that wasn't marked.

The American people were tired of a Republican Party that had nothing to offer but the rhetoric of their most influential leaders, Herbert Hoover and Joe McCarthy, whose ideology of unregulated corporate fraud masquerading as a free market and the politics of terror masquerading as patriotism were the twin pillars of Republican policies and politics during the Bush era. The American people were tired of theocrats telling them that Terri Shiavo was alive and well and living in the minds of Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and physician-turned-mind-reader Bill Frist (who believed he could tell what "Terri" was thinking without reading her scans).

Americans were even willing to tolerate a President with a nuanced intellect (okay, one who could also hit three-pointers for the troops) after the destructive, impulsive, Manichean days of "you're-either-with us-or-against-us" and "nobody ever told me there were Sunnis and Shiites in I-rack" George W. Bush.

But a pattern has emerged that is increasingly disquieting, not only because it is politically dangerous for a president who has inherited an economy that continues to shed hundreds of thousands of jobs per month, but more importantly, because it threatens to undermine not only the agenda Americans overwhelmingly endorsed in November but a moment in history that only comes around every half-century or so, when the country is ready for genuine, paradigm-busting progressive reform.

For the rest of the analysis click here.

Serving the Medical-Industrial Complex

By Robert Parry
June 22, 2009
Consortium News

The usual knock on government programs is that they’re not as efficient as the private sector, which we’re told can provide the same product for less money and with higher quality. Thus, it should be no big deal when the public and private collide because the private sector should prevail.

However, in providing health insurance, those rules clearly don’t apply, which is why congressional Republicans and so-called “centrist” Democrats are going to such lengths to deny the American people access to a public option on health insurance.

Indeed, if a public option were to be piggybacked onto the existing Medicare bureaucracy, the chances for savings could be impressive for average Americans and the overall American economy.
Insurance middlemen could be eliminated; investigators who ferret out “preexisting conditions” wouldn’t be needed; doctors could save on administrative costs; the burden on U.S. industry providing health benefits could be reduced; and more money could be freed to cover the nearly 50 million uninsured or for actual doctoring.
For a nation facing multiple fiscal crises – all complicated by the costs of health care – one might think that the most sure thing in the health care debate would be to allow a cost-saving public option, which as President Barack Obama says would help keep private health insurers “honest” regarding their promises to trim waste and control premiums.
According to a New York Times/CBS poll, that point is obvious to 72 percent of the American people who favor “offering everyone a government administered health insurance plan like Medicare that would compete with private health insurance plans.”

It’s also reflected in a study cited by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and other insurance industry defenders saying that 119 million Americans would bolt from their private insurers to the public option if they were given the chance.

To put that figure in perspective, it is about two-thirds of Americans who have private insurance through their employers or as individuals. In other words, the industry's defenders say two of every three customers want out.
Though some analysts doubt the defection rate would reach 119 million, Grassley’s argument is that Americans would so prefer a government-run plan that it would destroy the private insurance industry – and that therefore the public option simply can’t be permitted.

Grassley’s fear of 119 million Americans voting with their pocketbooks against private health insurance represents a remarkable admission of failure by the industry and its backers. It says, in effect, that the industry’s treatment of its customers has been so highhanded over the decades that the industry can only survive if Americans are left with the unappetizing choice of private coverage or no coverage.
For the rest of the story click on this link

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Health Care, a human right?

More at The Real News

The First Dad. Happy Father's Day!

What Being A Father Means To Barack Obama:
Excerpts from Interview with Men's Health
November, 2008

"I would like to think that most of the issues related to my father have been resolved." "That's part of what writing Dreams from My Father was about: understanding him, his own personal tragedy. He wasn't a presence in my life, he was an idea that I had to wrestle with for a long time."

"Somebody once said that every man is either trying to live up to his dad's expectations or makeup for his dad's mistakes. And I'm sure I was doing a little bit of both. But I feel that somewhere in my late 20s or early 30s I sort of figured out what his absence had meant. It is part of what I think has made me a pretty good dad. I don't think it would have too much of an impact on my decision-making as president. There's no doubt that it has contributed to my drive. I might not be here had it not been for that absent father prodding me early in life."

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