Monday, July 27, 2009

Another Cheney Moment

Be thankful that he is no longer the V.P.

Report: Cheney wanted to illegally deploy American troops in U.S. cities.


The New York Times reports that in 2002, Vice President Cheney and his administration allies urged President Bush to deploy American troops into the suburbs of Buffalo to apprehend a group of terrorist suspects (the “Lackawanna Six”) and declare them enemy combatants. The Times notes:

A decision to dispatch troops into the streets to make arrests has few precedents in American history, as both the Constitution and subsequent laws restrict the military from being used to conduct domestic raids and seize property.

The Fourth Amendment bans “unreasonable” searches and seizures without probable cause. And the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 generally prohibits the military from acting in a law enforcement capacity.

Cheney cited a DoJ memo co-authored by John Yoo which claimed that “the president has ample constitutional and statutory authority to deploy the military against international or foreign terrorists operating within the United States.” Siding with Condoleezza Rice, FBI Director Robert Mueller, and others, Bush rejected Cheney’s advice and “ended up ordering the F.B.I. to make the arrests.”

This is just another reason to be vigilant against daughter Liz Cheney!!!

Friday, July 24, 2009

It was a White Sox Day...

Will Bunch talks about, "The 'wow' factor!"

There are some things in life that can only make you go "wow!" Like only the 18th perfect game in the history of Major League Baseball. Or the fact that a 31-year-old journeyman outfielder made the catch of a lifetime in the 9th inning to save it. So hats off to Mark Buehrle and DeWayne Wise -- today we are all White Sox.

The Most Trusted Newscaster

I love Jon Stewart. But he is not a newscaster. He is a comedian and his show is on the comedy network. But he does discuss, in a humorous way, the relevant issues of the day.

Maybe that is why a new TIME poll is so remarkable. TIME asked the following question:
Now that Walter Cronkite has passed on, who is America's most trusted newscaster?
The resuls are as follows: [Total Votes: 9409]
Jon Sewart - 44%
Brian Williams - 29%
Charlie Gibson - 19%
Katie Couric - 7%
Joshua Holland notes the obvious:
This says a lot about the state of our media -- 44 percent of Americans trust a comedian doing a fake news show on Comedy Central over Katie Couric, Brian Williams and Charlie Gibson.

And so do I.

Not, of course, because Stewart's such an awesome journalist. It's that the bar's set so low.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

GOP's Message on Healthcare

The GOP has not offered any suggestions regarding reform to the healthcare package. The GOP has no propoasals for improvement. The GOP likes the healthcare system that we have. But they do have a plan . They want to derail Obama's health care initiative.

Here's the GOP healthcare plan in a nutshell: Delay, Obstruct, Lie, Rinse, Repeat!

GOP consultant Alex Castellanos's has sent the GOP a memo advising the following:
If we slow this sausage-making process down, we can defeat it, and advance real reform that will actually help. Key Message Point: We've got to 'SLOW DOWN the OBAMA EXPERIMENT WITH OUR HEALTH.'
The Huffington Post obtained a private memo that was distributed by the Republican National Committee. The 12-page memo calls for "like-minded advocates to help defeat President Barack Obama's health care proposals by delaying its consideration."
The Republican National Committee will engage in every activity we can to slow down this mad rush while promoting sensible alternatives that address health care costs and preserve quality.
What are the "sensible alternatives" that the Republicans are proposing?
As for a Republican alternative to the president's agenda, the RNC memo doesn't offer much in the way of details, save to make the argument that the status quo isn't as bad as it is being painted.
The Republicans don't like change. They want the status quo!

So why would the Republicans want any change? It isn't because too many people aren't insured. It isn't because too many people can't even get insurance. The only reason they have for change is because of the high cost of insurance.

The Republican Party also knows it is a system in need of reform because it is costing our families and our businesses too much.
In regard to specific talking points, the RNC Memo has nine of them:
* President Obama and Democrats are conducting a grand experiment with our economy, our country, and now our health care.

* President Obama's massive spending experiments have created more debt than at any other time in our nation's history.

* The President experimented with a $780 billion dollar budget-busting stimulus plan and unemployment is still rising. The President experimented with banks and auto companies, and now we're on the hook for tens of billions of dollars with no exit plan.

* Now the President is proposing more debt and more risk through a trillion dollar experiment with our health care.

* Democrats are proposing a government controlled health insurance system, which will control care, treatments, medicines and even what doctors a patient may see.

* This health care experiment will have consequences for generations, but President Obama and Democrats want to ram this legislation through Congress in two months.

* President Obama's health care experiment is too much, too fast, too soon. Our country cannot afford to fix health care through a rushed experiment.

* Americans want health care reform that addresses, not increases, cost or debt.

* Government takeover is the wrong way to go -- health care decisions should remain between the doctor and the patient.

The only thing the Repubicans can offer is delay and obfuscation. Nothings changed since 1993. Maybe the GOP should change its symbol from an elephant to a snail.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

From Jimmy Carter's Heart

President Jimmy Carter has made a difficult decision about religion. The following article, Losing My Religion for Equality, shows his decision is truly from his heart:

Women and girls have been discriminated against for too long in a twisted interpretation of the word of God.

I HAVE been a practising Christian all my life and a deacon and Bible teacher for many years. My faith is a source of strength and comfort to me, as religious beliefs are to hundreds of millions of people around the world. So my decision to sever my ties with the Southern Baptist Convention, after six decades, was painful and difficult. It was, however, an unavoidable decision when the convention's leaders, quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be "subservient" to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service.

This view that women are somehow inferior to men is not restricted to one religion or belief. Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths. Nor, tragically, does its influence stop at the walls of the church, mosque, synagogue or temple. This discrimination, unjustifiably attributed to a Higher Authority, has provided a reason or excuse for the deprivation of women's equal rights across the world for centuries.

At its most repugnant, the belief that women must be subjugated to the wishes of men excuses slavery, violence, forced prostitution, genital mutilation and national laws that omit rape as a crime. But it also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair access to education, health, employment and influence within their own communities.

The impact of these religious beliefs touches every aspect of our lives. They help explain why in many countries boys are educated before girls; why girls are told when and whom they must marry; and why many face enormous and unacceptable risks in pregnancy and childbirth because their basic health needs are not met.


Crooks and Liars notes that this is the "definition of a brave human being--taking a stand over what is right and moral not for any political calculation, but because it's right and moral."


Rachel Maddow Corrects the Record on Race

Rachel corrects misstatements of Pat Buchanan:

In the Words of Wendell Potter

Wendell Potter knows the insurance business. He was a former top executive of CIGNA, one of the nation’s largest health insurance companies. He has recently begun exposing the health insurance industry’s "dirty secrets." The following article by Mr. Potter is in part an explanation of why he "left his job" and why he is "speaking out."

Wendell Potter to Congress:Go Ahead, Please Make Our Day

Politico is reporting that Congressional Republicans want to force their colleagues in the House and Senate who vote for a public insurance option as part of health care reform to enroll in that public plan when it becomes available.

I think Democrats ought to call their bluff and pledge to be the first to sign up. If they do, they will have to shove me out of line. I would love to have the option of enrolling in a public plan that offers a decent standard benefit package at a more affordable price. I am sick and tired of knowing that only 80 cents of every dollar I pay in premiums to my private insurer goes to pay doctors and hospitals for care they provide. (This figure is down from 95 cents in 1993 before the industry came to be dominated by a cartel of hugh for-profit insurance companies like the two I used to work for.) I am eager not to have to donate 20 cents of every premium dollar to cover my insurer's sales, marketing and underwriting expenses and to help make the CEO and the big institutional investors and Wall Street hedge fund managers even more obscenely rich than they already are, thanks to the inflated premiums we have to pay.

Here's what Politico reported:

Rep. John Fleming (R-La.), a family physician, kicked off the quixotic bid last week, urging House members to give up their right to participate in the much-revered Federal Employees Health Benefits Program if they support a government-run program as part of the health care reform package.

Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma are pushing the same concept in the Senate, preparing separate amendments that would require members -- and maybe even their staffs -- to sign up for the public option. With Democrats firmly in control of Congress, the idea is not likely to gain traction. Proponents of the public plan say the resolution would do exactly what Republicans have warned against, undermining the private insurance system by moving people into a public plan.

But the effort has caught fire in the right-wing blogosphere and on talk radio, serving as a rallying point for conservatives opposed to one of the top priorities of Democrats... Newt Gingrich's Center for Health Transformation is promoting Fleming's resolution on its website and started an online petition titled "Good Enough for Congress."

After Democrats call their bluff, I would counter with this: Every member of Congress who votes against the public insurance option must enroll in one of the high-deductible plans like the one that CIGNA forced me into a few years ago, against my wishes. (I am a former CIGNA employee, so CIGNA was both my employer and my insurance company.)

Opponents of health care reform raise the specter of the government forcing us out of health care plans that we like. In reality, our employers and insurers are doing this to us already. While employed at CIGNA, I was in a PPO that I liked, until the company decided a few years ago to force all if its employees out of their HMOs and PPOs and Point of Service plans and into what the industry refers to, misleadingly and euphemistically, as "consumer-driven" plans. It was a take-it-or-leave-it deal. If I didn't want to enroll in the high-deductible plan that CIGNA offered, I could join the growing ranks of the uninsured or try to get coverage through the individual market. That wasn't really an option. I was in my 50s and could not find a decent plan that I could afford, because insurers are free to gouge us when we reach a certain age.

In a high-deductible plan, enrollees have to spend a lot more money out of their own pockets before their insurance coverage kicks in than they had to spend in their HMOs and PPOs. These plans are fine for people who are young, healthy, and not accident-prone. and wealthy. It also helps to have a better-than-average income. In other words, a high-deductible plan might be exactly what you're looking for if you don't really need decent insurance now and can afford to shell out thousands of dollars of your own money in the event you get hit by a bus. The rest of us, however, might want to steer clear of this sort of plan -- if we had the choice.

More and more companies are doing what CIGNA did -- forcing their employees out of the plans they like and into plans they don't. Another big insurer, United Healthcare, did the same thing to its employees a few years ago. If it hasn't happened to you yet, just wait. Insurers are eager to send HMOs and PPOs to the ash heap of insurance history, which is where they sent traditional indemnity plans several years ago.

On second thought, it might be good to give members of Congress who vote against a public insurance option the choice of enrolling in one of the limited-benefit plans being promoted these days by insurers -- including the huge for-profit insurance companies that now dominate the industry. The premiums for these plans are a little lower than plans that offer comprehensive coverage, but they often don't cover things most of us have grown to expect. Little things like hospitalization. Such a deal.

Now you see why the insurance industry insists on being able to charge older folks a lot more for coverage than younger folks and why it is insisting on "benefit design flexibility." They want to have the flexibility to "design" and force us into plans that cover less and less and cost us more and more. That, readers, is what your private insurance company has in store for you if Congress fails to pass meaningful health care reform legislation.

By the way, insurers including CIGNA are now also marketing these limited-benefit, high-deductible plans as "voluntary." This means that your employer would allow you to enroll in these type of plans at the workplace but make you pay the entire amount of the premium. That's right, employers in the future will not have to contribute one thin dime toward your coverage. Future, heck, many are already there. A growing number of employers are already "offering" these plans to their employees. CIGNA offers such coverage under the brand name Starbridge, which "enables companies to offer a limited-benefit plan that is affordable and does not require employer contribution." The underwriting guidelines for Starbridge make it available only to employers who have at least 70 percent annual employee turnover and who have fewer than 65 percent female employees. Also, the average age of the workforce has to be 40 or younger. You're right if you think the profit margins on these plans are high. How could they not be? Cha-ching!

I encourage every member of Congress, Republicans as well as Democrats, to do a little research into what Big Insurance has in store for us before voting on legislation this summer or fall.

This is why I left my job and why I am speaking out.

Wendell Potter is the Senior Fellow on Health Care for the Center for Media and Democracy in Madison, Wisconsin.

Amy Goodman Interviews Wendell Potter

Amy Goodman interviewed Wendell Potter on July 16, 2009 for Democracy Now! radio.

Wendell Potter is the former CIGNA health insurance executive who is now Senior Fellow on Health Care with the Center for Media and Democracy. He is blowing the whistle on his former industry's lobby and PR tactics. The entire interview can be viewed online. Here is a snippet:

AMY GOODMAN: What is the game plan of the health insurance industry?

WENDELL POTTER: Well, the game plan is based on scare tactics. And, of course, the thing they fear most is that the country will at some point gravitate toward a single-payer plan. That's the ultimate fear that they have. But they know that right now that is not something that's on the legislative table. And they've been very successful in making sure that it isn't. They fear even the public insurance option that's being proposed, that was part of President Obama's campaign platform, his healthcare platform. And they'll pull out all the stops they can to defeat that. And they'll be working with their ideological allies, with the business community, with conservative pundits and editorial writers, to try to scare people into thinking that embracing a public health insurance option would lead us down the slippery slope toward socialism and that you will be, in essence, putting a government bureaucrat between you and your doctor. That is—you know, they've used those talking points for years, and in years past they've always worked.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

They're Uncomfortable Being Just Democrats!

Whether we are talking about the Blue Dog Democrats in the House or the so-called "centrist" Democrats in the Senate, they all talk the same talk and walk the same walk.

They're uncomfortable being just Democrats!

The band of Democratic senators who are not supporting President Obama's health care initiative are not centrists. They are conservative, and although they are Democrats in name, they vote with the Republicans. The Republicans are not centrists, they are to the right of center. This makes the conservative Democrats more Republican then they are Democrats and to the right of center.

Rahm Emanuel courted these politicians but in the end they are no friend to the people they claim to represent. Their interests lie with the insurance companies and their corporate sponsors.

Now a group of six Republican/Democrats want to delay the vote on health care reform.

A bipartisan group of centrist and conservative senators sent a letter to the Democratic and Republican leaders on Friday urging delay in consideration of health care reform.

The letter, obtained by the Huffington Post, was drafted by Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and is also signed by Democratic Sens. Mary Landrieu (La.) and Ron Wyden (Ore.). Independent Joe Lieberman (Conn.), who caucuses with Democrats, signed on, as did Maine Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins -- moderates heavily courted by President Obama.

The organized effort to slow down the process is a blow to the reform effort. Obama has pushed hard for a final vote before the August recess, arguing that delaying until September could slow momentum and risk missing a historic opportunity.

The letter, sent to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) stresses that while the senators still want health care reform done this year, they don't feel comfortable voting for it until they've had more time to study its costs and benefits.

Read the letter here.

The Insurance Companies are Getting Rich from Health Care

A must read article by Bill Moyers and Michael Winship, "Oysters for Health Care."

This is a story of health care and two Americans; a tale of two citizens, if you will.

This week, Regina Benjamin was nominated by President Obama as our next surgeon general, charged with educating Americans on medical issues and overseeing the United States Public Health Service. She was the first African American woman to head a state medical society, a member of the board of trustees of the American Medical Association and last year was named the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation genius award.

But more important, she’s a country doctor, a family physician along the Gulf Coast of Alabama, serving the poor and uninsured – white, black and Asian. After Hurricane Katrina destroyed her clinic – the second time a hurricane had done so – she mortgaged her own home to rebuild it. The day it was to reopen, a fire burned the clinic to the ground. Moving to a trailer, Dr. Benjamin and her staff never missed a day of work.

Stan Wright, the tobacco-chewing mayor of Bayou La Batre, the small shrimp-fishing community in which Dr. Benjamin practices, told National Public Radio, “She’ll do whatever she’s gotta do to make sure everyone’s taken care of.”

Benjamin will no doubt bring that same ethic to the fight for health care reform. When President Obama announced her nomination in a Rose Garden ceremony Monday, Dr. Benjamin said, “These are trying times in the health care field, and as a nation, we have reached a sobering realization. Our health care system simply cannot continue on the path that we're on. Millions of Americans can't afford health insurance or they don't have the basic health services available where they live.”

Although the clinic has not been able to give Dr. Benjamin a salary for years – Mayor Wright says she’s owed over $300,000 – she buys medicine for her patients out of her own pocket.

In fact, many of the folks in Regina Benjamin’s bayou town are so poor that sometimes she’s paid with a pint of oysters or a couple of fish. She’s fine with that. And she makes house calls.

Now meet H. Edward Hanway, the chairman and CEO of CIGNA, the country’s fourth largest insurance company. At the beginning of the year, CIGNA blamed hard economic times when it announced the layoff of 1100 employees, but it reported first quarter profits of $208 million on revenues of nearly $5 billion. Mr. Hanway has announced his retirement at the end of the year, and the living will be easy, financially at least. He made $11.4 million in 2008, according to the Associated Press, and some years more than that.

That’s a lot of oysters, although he lags behind Ron Williams, the CEO of Aetna Insurance, who made $17.4 million last year, or John Hammergren, the head of McKesson, the biggest health care company in the world. His compensation was $29.7 million.

Here’s the difference. To Dr. Regina Benjamin, health care is a public service, helping people in need with grace and compassion. To Ed Hanway and his highly paid friends, it’s big business, a commodity to be sold to those who can afford it. And woe to anyone who gets between them and the profits they reap from sick people.

That’s what Wendell Potter, the former CIGNA executive turned health care reform advocate, told us on last week’s edition of BILL MOYERS JOURNAL.

“Just about every time there has been significant legislation before Congress, the industry has been able to kill it,” he said. “Yeah, the status quo works for them. They don't like to have any regulation forced on them or laws forced on them. They don't want to have any competition from the federal government, or any additional regulation from the federal government. They say they will accept it. But the behavior is that they will not.”

As we reported last week, that behavior includes spending nearly a million and a half a day to make sure health care reform comes out their way. Over the years they’ve lavished millions on the politicians who are writing and voting on health care reform. Now it’s payback time.

Proposed legislation finally is coming out of House and Senate committees, and Thursday’s LOS ANGELES TIMES reported “signs that the debate was moving into a more bruising phase in which insurance companies, hospitals and others fight to shape the details of legislative provisions that affect them.”

It’s going to get ugly, especially now that some Democrats, according to ABC News, are contemplating new taxes on health insurance and phamaceutical companies to help pay for reform, perhaps as much as $100 billion worth.

In other words, no more Mister Nice Guy. Those TV commericials you’ve been seeing from the health care companies about their generosity and miracles of modern medicine are about to change, as the opposition shifts gears from charm to alarm. It’s the war against the Clinton health care plan all over again.

This time, don’t let them scare you. “It should not be this hard for doctors and other health care providers to care for their patients,” Dr. Regina Benjamin said when she was nominated this week. “It shouldn’t be this expensive for Americans to get health care in this country.”

Food Not to be Eaten Raw

Dr. Gregg Miller, a board-certified emergency room physician, has the following food safety tips:
"Five Foods You Shouldn’t Eat Raw."

1. Cookie dough (and anything else containing raw eggs): In addition to the risk of E. coli discussed in the article, eating egg-containing dough prior to baking it puts you at risk for Salmonella.

2. Fish: Sushi, sashimi, and ceviche can carry multiple parasites. My favorite is Diphyllobothrium latum, an intestinal tapeworm transmitted by freshwater fish such as salmon, which can grow 30 feet long and live 20 years.

3. Sprouts: Alfalfa, bean, and other sprouts carry Salmonella, E. coli, and Bacillus bacteria due to the warm, humid environments in which they’re grown. Washing the surface of the sprouts does not eliminate the chance of illness, as the bacteria can live internally. Raw sprouts are not recommended for children, the elderly, or people with weakened immune systems.

4. Beef and pork: Avoiding raw meat is a no-brainer, until you see it on the menu with an appetizing name like tartare or carpaccio. There’s a long list of diseases you could get from raw meat, so I’ll mention only one: neurocysticercosis, a parasite from undercooked pork that crawls from your intestine up to your brain, where it can live for years and cause seizures.

…and finally, no “Everybody Panic!” list is complete without at least one way you might inadvertently kill your child:

5. Honey: Honey contains bacterial spores that cause botulism, a disease that’s usually fatal if untreated. While adults and children have high stomach acid levels that kill the spores in honey, infants do not. Children less than a year old should not eat honey.

Of course, there are benefits of eating raw foods.

The Adventures of Rawman & Green-Girl.

Affirmative Action vs. White, Male "Legacies"

Guy Saperstein calls out Pat Buchanan on his racist rant. He asks whether Buchanan, or any conservative, would "defend Bush's admission to Yale on the basis of merit."

Yesterday, on MSNBC, Pat Buchanan attacked Sonia Sotomayor, specifically, and affirmative action, in general. Included in his attack were such claims as "this has been a country built basically by white folks," that Sotomayor was purely an affirmative-action candidate who lacks real credentials and his suggestion that we need more white, male Supreme Court nominees -- like Robert Bork -- despite the fact that 108 of the 110 Supreme Court justices in our nation's history have been white.

What opponents of affirmative action like Buchanan fail to grasp is that this country was built on affirmative action -- for white males -- and you don't have to go back to the Founding Fathers to see this in action.

If you go back to the 1950s, which Buchanan apparently wants to do, and look at the major private universities, you would find that 20 to 30 percent of the admissions were "legacies" -- people who got there not on merit but because they were the sons of alumni and donors. George W. Bush, of course, is the poster child for this generation of affirmative action babies.

I'd like to see Buchanan, or any conservative, defend Bush's admission to Yale on the basis of merit. And I'd like to stack up Bush's credentials next to Sotomayor's and ask which one was more deserving of admission to a major university, or the bench, or the presidency, or anything.

The white-male affirmative action that bozos like Bush benefited from and want to protect was a monopoly of opportunities; monopolies work to undermine healthy competition and produce bad results.

The affirmative action that emerged from the 1960s civil rights movement was an effort not only to promote diversity of people and opportunities, but to democratize opportunities so that white-male hierarchies did not automatically get all the perks. This has been healthy for America, not only because society has become more diverse, but also because it now is less likely that the truly unqualified -- the frat boys like GWB with no academic credentials and problems with excessive alcohol consumption [but a connected family] -- are not automatically passed on to graduate schools, and then on to unsuccessful business careers, not to mention catastrophic political careers.

I prosecuted employment discrimination class actions for 25 years, in the process forcing many major corporations to hire and promote women, minorities, older people and the disabled. In every single case I had, when the case was over and the workforce was integrated, no matter how bitter the litigation had been, the companies would confide in me that their workforces after "affirmative action" were stronger, more competitive, more productive.

Affirmative action has been good for American business and good for America. Indeed, corporate America, which has seen the benefits of fair-employment practices firsthand, long ago abandoned opposition to it. Too bad racists like Buchanan have failed to pay attention to what really has happened in the American workforce, and in America, over the past 40 years.

Guy T. Saperstein is a past president of the Sierra Club Foundation; previously, he was one of the National Law Journal’s "100 Most Influential Lawyers in America."

The Nitty Gritty of Health Care Legislation

It is difficult for most of us to understand the important issues surrounding the debate on health care insurance. Joshua Holland tells us, "How Dennis Kucinich May Save the Health Reform Battle."

No time today for a lengthy analysis of the Tri-Committee health bill. My quick-and-dirty take is this.Those who think the bill is a wonderful progressive victory with a robust public option are wrong, and, on the flip side, the charge that it's a "bailout for the insurance industry" is totally divorced from what the bill would actually do if passed.

It is the most progressive, comprehensive and significant health care legislation to come down the pike since Medicare was passed in 1965. If it were enacted as written, it'd go a long way to solving a lot of our problems (but by no means all) and wouldn't break the bank in the process.

But it also fails some of the basic criteria that most progressives have long said is a red-line that can't be crossed. First and foremost, it doesn't have a public option that can compete with private insurers and result in significant cost savings.

It has a public plan in which -- as far as the statute goes (it can be expanded in 2015 but there's no mandate to do so) -- only 9-10 million people will be eligible to enroll by 2019. Similarly, the publicly-administered exchanges are projected to cover about 30 million by that year. (These relatively small insurance pools will be able to bargain in concert with Medicare to some degree, so their power will be magnified, but still...)

That greatly limits the potential for cost containment. What it does is bend the curve of projected cost growth downwards, and cover about 2/3 of the uninsured. But we'll still have 3-6 % of the population uninsured and being treated at the ER. And while bending the upward curve down a few notches is a very good thing, it doesn't get us where we want to go -- not when you consider that we pay $2000 more for every American than the OECD average each and every year.

But it's more than just the costs or the people left out. Crucially important is that the public plan won't be big or effective enough to serve as a living example of the kind of large-pool public exchange models federal employees now enjoy. And that means it won't be a back-door to a European-style health care system. This is really key. As I wrote last week about the divide between single-payer advocates and those pushing a public insurance option:

The divide that does exist in progressive circles is tactical, not ideological. Most of those pushing the public option would, if they had their druthers, enact a single-payer system. But they recognize that the two commercial enterprises that have spent the most on political lobbying in recent years are the "disease care" and insurance industries.

Like single-payer advocates, they believe that a large insurance pool with extensive government regulation and some subsidies afford the greatest potential for (near) universality and cost containment.

And they think that given the choice -- given a demonstration that this approach works better than having a fragmented system of private insurers -- most people will eventually opt into the public plan, and we'll end up achieving something approaching a single-payer system -- although an American-style variation -- through the back door.

Obviously, a public insurance plan for which 10 million are eligible to enroll isn't going to serve as an example of the efficiency that comes with a single-payer type system. And the fact that they designed a pretty good public option for which most of the public will be ineligible to enroll (and that wouldn't have as much potential for cost savings as one would hope) was enough to make me consider opposing it. Howard Dean told me recently that he thought a bill without a robust public option wasn't worth passing, and I agree.

And that's where Kucinich, a supporter of single-payer, comes in. He's trying to save the whole promise of this project.

On Friday, an amendment he authored was added to the House bill that allows states to create their own single-payer systems instead of adopting the federally-run exchange system. The original bill allowed states only to enact their own exchange system -- it was a nod to federalism -- with the proviso that if a state (think a deep red one in the South) refused to adopt the plan, the feds could step in and set it up.

The Kucinich amendment is really key. If it were to survive the legislative sausage-making and be enacted into law, then we could expect a progressive state to take advantage of the opportunity and enact a single-payer system in short order. And, if those of us who have been pushing such an arrangement are correct, the result will be greater access and better outcomes at a lower price tag for that state's residents.

And then we can move from an often ill-informed argument over the Canadian or British systems to a debate in which we can hold up a model in which millions of real Americans see very tangible benefits from an actual single-payer system in action.

Thanks, Dennis! Now let's see what comes out of the Senate.

The Republicans are continually insisting on state's rights for issues such as abortion to welfare reform. They should love the Kucinich amendment!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Karl Rove's Myths about Public Option Insurance

Setting the record straight on the public option for health care insurance. The Wonk Room has compiled a fact-check of common public plan myths:


Karl Rove penned an editorial in the Wall Street Journal attacking the public health care option. Rove’s ‘myths’ echo the poll-tested talking points of Frank Luntz and other conservatives determined to protect the private insurer’s monopoly over coverage and deny Americans choice. Below is a fact-check of Rove’s assertions. [Download a PDF version.]

Myth 1: A public option is unnecessary.
Myth 2: Private competition in Medicare Part D has reduced costs.
Myth 3: A public plan would shift costs to Americans with private insurance.
Myth 4: A public plan will lead to a welfare state.
Myth 5: The public option is too expensive.
Myth 6: Americans will be forced into a public option.
Myth 7: The public option would put a bureaucrat between you and your doctor.

MYTH 1: A public option is unnecessary: “It’s unnecessary. Advocates say a government-run insurance program is needed to provide competition for private health insurance. But 1,300 companies sell health insurance plans. That’s competition enough.” [WSJ, 6/11/2009]

TRUTH: Insurer and hospital markets are dominated by large insurers and provider systems. Private insurers rarely negotiate with dominant hospital systems and typically pass on the higher costs to beneficiaries in the form of higher premiums. Already, “1 in 6 metropolitan areas in a 2008 study of more than 300 U.S. markets is dominated by a single health insurer that controls at least 70% of consumers enrolled in health maintenance organizations or preferred provider organizations.” Such consolidation negates any real competition. Without it, insurers don’t negotiate prices and boost their profits. In fact, “there have been over 400 health care mergers in the last 10 years,” and premiums have risen “nearly eight times faster than average U.S. incomes.” A public plan could, in an environment of head-to-head competition, push private insurance companies to negotiate more aggressively with providers and dramatically lower health care spending.” [Urban Institute, 10/03/2008; LA Times, 4/09/2009]

MYTH 2: Private competition in Medicare Part D has reduced costs: “The results of robust private competition to provide the Medicare drug benefit underscore [the ability of private competition to lower prices]. When it was approved, the Congressional Budget Office estimated it would cost $74 billion a year by 2008. Nearly 100 providers deliver the drug benefit, competing on better benefits, more choices, and lower prices. So the actual cost was $44 billion in 2008 — nearly 41% less than predicted. No government plan was needed to guarantee competition’s benefits.” [WSJ, 6/11/2009]

TRUTH: Medicare Part D beneficiaries have experienced significant cost increases. According to a recent analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows “significant increases in premiums, costsharing amounts, use of specialty tiers, and utilization management restrictions since 2008 that could have important implications for beneficiaries’ access to needed medications and out-of-pocket expenses.” [KFF, 6/2009]

MYTH 3: A public plan would shift costs to Americans with private insurance: “Second, a public option will undercut private insurers and pass the tab to taxpayers and health providers just as it does in existing government-run programs. For example, Medicare pays hospitals 71% and doctors 81% of what private insurers pay.” [WSJ, 6/11/2009]

TRUTH: Private insurer payments promote medical inefficiency. A new public option will change the way the health care reimbursement system so that we pay for value, not volume and reward efficient providers. According to MedPAC, Medicare rates are adequate and consistent with the efficient delivery of services. In fact, over-payments by private insurers to health-care providers drives up overall costs. “Hospitals which didn’t rely on high payment rates from private insurers ‘are able, in fact, to control their costs and reduce their costs when they need to’ and ‘combine low costs with quality.’” [WSJ, 3/17/2009]

MYTH 4: A public plan will lead to a welfare state:“If Democrats enact a public-option health-insurance program, America is on the way to becoming a European-style welfare state.” [WSJ, 6/11/2009]

TRUTH: Americans will choose a public health insurance plan from a menu of different options. The private insurance market isn’t going anywhere. Private insurers will play an important role in providing more integrated coverage options than the public plan and would retain a “brand advantage” (in the same way that a lot of people rather have the branded drug than the generic) for consumers. Private insurers who “offer a superior product through high levels of efficiency, satisfaction in consumer preferences and ease of access to quality medical services” will thrive in a reformed market. [Urban Institute, 10/03/2008]

MYTH 5: The public option is too expensive: “Fourth, the public option is far too expensive. The cost of Medicare — the purest form of a government-run “public choice” for seniors — will start exceeding its payroll-tax “trust fund” in 2017. The Obama administration estimates its health reforms will cost as much as $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years. It is no coincidence the Obama budget nearly triples the national debt over that same period.” [WSJ, 6/11/2009]

TRUTH: A public option will lower family premiums. If a public plan is “far too expensive” and has higher premiums, then Americans will not enroll. But if a public plan offers lower premiums, it will motivate private insurers to lower their costs. As a result, health care costs would decrease across the board.

MYTH 6: Americans will be forced into a public option: “Government-run health insurance would crater the private insurance market, forcing most Americans onto the government plan.” [WSJ, 6/11/2009]

TRUTH: The government would not force Americans to purchase coverage from the public plan, but Rove would force everyone under 65 to enroll with a private insurer. Rove is essentially arguing that the public plan would work too well. It would use its inherent efficiencies to lower family premiums and force private insurers to aggressively negotiate on behalf of their beneficiaries.

MYTH 7: The public option would put a bureaucrat between you and your doctor: “The public option puts government firmly in the middle of the relationship between patients and their doctors.” [WSJ, 6/11/2009]

TRUTH: A public option improves the doctor-patient relationship. Existing reform legislation explicitly preserves the doctor-patient relationship. As a draft of the HELP bill notes, “a strong doctor-patient relationship is essential to the practice of medicine, and patents have a right to an effective doctor patient relationships…Doctors, nurses, and other health professional have the right to judge what is best for their patients.” Moreover, the public plan’s payment innovations would reward doctors for providing quality care and spending more time listening to their patients. [HELP Legislation, 6/09/2009]

Another Reason to Leave Afghanistan

The New Republic has a story and slideshow about Afghan warlords.

TNR Slideshow: Now That's A Warlord

This week's New York Times flagged some truly heinous war crimes allegedly committed by Afghan warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, who Hamid Karzai recently tried to appoint as his military chief of staff. Dostum is said to have systematically stacked around 1,500 Taliban prisoners inside metal shipping containers and suffocated them over the course of several days. He then ordered his troops to open fire on the containers and empty out the bodies into mass graves. (Numerous witnesses to the event were tortured or killed.)

However, the Times notes, this type of villainy is actually fairly common among Afghanistan's warlords. Click through this TNR slideshow for a look at some of the country's other major players and the dirty deeds they've committed.

Republicans who are Against the Public Option...

...should immediately relinquish their federal health insurance.

What a novel idea!

Jonathan Oberlander's article,
If Republicans Think Being Uninsured Is No Big Deal..., really hits the nail on the head regarding the current dilemma over the public insurance option for health care reform.

Politico's Carrie Budoff Brown reports that Congressional Republicans opposed to creating a new public insurance option have a novel idea. Republican John Fleming of Louisiana is sponsoring a House resolution urging Democrats who vote for the public plan to give up their current insurance coverage--through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP)--and join the new public program. According to Politico, John McCain and Tom Coburn are preparing similar amendments in the Senate "that would require members--and maybe even their staffs--to sign up for the public option."

This is, of course, a rather lame idea: the point of creating a public plan is to make it an option that exists alongside private insurance. This is about expanding choice in health insurance coverage. Nobody would be forced to join the public option.

Still if we want members of Congress to put their money--and health insurance choices--where their mouths are, I have a better (if not 100 percent original) idea.

Republicans who oppose universal health insurance should immediately relinquish their federal health insurance. After all, these members of Congress have long enjoyed taxpayer-subsidized health insurance, a privilege that they apparently believe tens of millions of working, uninsured Americans and their families don't deserve.

Congressman Fleming of Louisiana says that "Congress should lead by example."

I agree.

If Republicans don't think being uninsured is a big deal, then they should go right ahead and try it out.

And if they really believe a public plan is such a bad option, maybe they can persuade their parents to give up Medicare too.

Jonathan Oberlander, one of the nation's leading experts on health care policy, is a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and author of The Political Life of Medicare. He is an occasional contributor to The Treatment.

Harry Reid & the Anti-Heath Care Reform Dems

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) takes issue with ads supporting the president’s healthcare plan.

Senator Harry Reid slammed the Democratic National Committee (DNC) on Thursday for running ads designed to pressure centrist Democrats into supporting the president’s healthcare plan, calling the effort a “waste of money.”

Reid’s comments sent his staff into damage control mode, as they sought to clarify his remarks, but also reflect a growing frustration among those centrists who have been reluctant to back a government-run health insurance plan at the center of President Obama’s healthcare proposal.

“I think it’s a waste of money,” Reid said when asked about the ads. “Democrats running ads against Democrats?”
So where does Sen. Reid stand on this issue?
An aide to Reid sought to clarify his remarks later on, saying Reid has no problem with the ads in question.

“Sen. Reid was led to believe by the question posed to him that the DNC was attacking members of his caucus,” the aide said. “In fact, the DNC is running non-specific call-to-action ads in states with both Democratic and Republican senators, an effort he has no problem with."
John Amato has the correct perspective on this issue.
First of all they are not centrist. That's a bogus word to try and muddle the issue. Dems like Blue America's target Blanche Lincoln, Evan Bayh, Ben Nelson, Mary Landrieu and all the rest are Conservative Dems.

Health care is not a right/left issue, but an American issue.

Standing in the way of real reform makes one a republican obstructionist at this time and not a centrist.

And Harry Reid should be careful who he backs in this fight. These ads came with a blessing from the White House so is he going against the President now? You're supposed to be the majority leader so if they come whining to you again just tell them to act like Democrats.

Jon Stewart on Judge Sotomayor

White Men Can't Judge - Sotomayor: Judgment Days
Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation hearings continue, as Patrick Leahy takes pictures in the corner, and Lindsey Graham becomes her chief tormentor.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
White Men Can't Judge - Sotomayor: Judgment Days
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorJoke of the Day

Judge Sonia Sotomayor and the Intellectuals
Wyatt Cenac exposes Sonia Sotomayor's gang ties and racist affiliations by talking to her former classmates.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorJoke of the Day

The Blue Dogs are Republicans in Sheep's Clothing

The Blue Dog Democrats may actually try to block House Democrats' health care bill. They're not happy campers and they're just going to throw a hissy fit until they get what they want.
A leader of the conservative "Blue Dog" Democrats told CNN Wednesday he and other group members may vote to block House Democrats' health care bill from passing a key committee if they don't get some of the changes they want.

"We remain opposed to the current bill, and we continue to meet several times a day to decide how we're going to proceed and what amendments we will be offering as Blue Dogs on the committees," said Rep. Mike Ross, D-Arkansas.

Ross said the bill unveiled Tuesday by House Democratic leaders did not address concerns he and other conservative Democrats outlined in a letter late last week to Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The conservative Democrats don't believe the legislation contains sufficient reforms to control costs in the health care system and believe additional savings can be found. Their letter to leaders raised concerns about new mandates on small businesses. Blue Dogs also say the bill fails to fix the inequities in the current system for health care costs for rural doctors and hospitals.

Digby points out the obvious:
This is inconsistent. You cannot control costs in the health care system while demanding higher payments to rural doctors and hospitals...The same with the mandates on small businesses. House Democratic leaders actually exempted small businesses from the employer mandate with a higher amount of payroll than what was initially in their discussion draft - up to $250,000. But the Blue Dogs want larger small businesses to be exempted as well. That means less money in the system, because businesses would pay 8% of payroll for each employee if they don't provide health care. So the Blue Dogs want both cost controls, less cost controls, and more targeted health spending. It's not supposed to make any sense.
I think we should give the Blue Dog Dems a "time-out" until they can act appropriately and learn how to play on their team.

A Picture Worth a Thousand Words

Social Inequality and Climate Change

Green Compass

In a fascinating article, Hervé Kempf cites a study in the latest issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science which finds a correlation between personal wealth and personal CO2 emissions and recommends no one be allowed to exceed a personal CO2 emissions ceiling of 10.8 tons per person.
The higher one's income, the more CO2 one emits, and it is possible to establish a correlation between income level and emission level. Knowing that we are supposed to be 8.1 billion humans in 2030, calculations lead to settling on 10.8 tons per person as the maximum ceiling that would allow humanity to remain within the 30 billion ton limit. Below that ceiling a significant inequality of incomes/emissions subsists (from 1 to 10 tons per inhabitant), but that is evened out. "All emissions that exceed that level must be eliminated" an action that involves about a billion emitters.

This reasoning has the primary merit of highlighting that the fight against climate change cannot leave the issue of social inequality aside.

Another interesting aspect of the paper is that one finds many people in the United States and in Europe who emit more than ten tons of CO2 a year, but also in China and other countries of the South: it's not only North and South that are at issue, but rather, everywhere, the wealthy layers of the population and the masses.

On Point!
The social body's placidity with respect to enormous compensation packages is fascinating. The financial system has collapsed, the economy is going through its most serious crisis in decades, unemployment follows a rising curve; but, contentedly, and without any sense of shame, the elite management classes responsible for the situation continue to grant themselves exorbitant incomes. Truly fascinating.
Conclusion: low CO2 emitters everywhere, unite!
Visit article original @ Le Monde diplomatique

Celeb's Eco-Footprint

Let's stamp the stars with their giant eco-footprints for all to see!

Beyonce and her private jet: 60-planet lifestyle.

What if celebrity news carried its own version of a nutrition label? But instead of calories, or health risks, how about a label that gets at celebrities' impact on the planet?

Imagine if each time a tabloid or movie or TV show fed our celebrity addiction by running the image of Angelina, Bono or Gisele Bundschen, they also were required to put the celeb's eco-footprint in the corner of that image? If the tabs really wanted to knock themselves out, they could also run a kind of eco-ingredient list -- the number of hours the celeb spends in the air, the square feet of housing she owns, number of children he has, and so on. [...]

Flying High

This week, the top story in several tabs was that Jolie has resumed "one of her favourite hobbies...flying lessons!" without making any comment about the relative impact on the planet of flying to, say, knitting or karate.

People Magazine ran a piece about how pregnant supermodel Gisele Bundschen is "constantly traveling" (what a good earth mother). John Travolta owns his own specially outfitted 747 jet.

And the Daily Mail ran a piece about how Victoria and David Beckham were in the Seychelles one day, then Heathrow, then LA the next. How smoggy their designer footprint must be!

But these stories, and most others, tell us nothing of the impact of celebs' enviable lifestyles.

lam Carbon Gluttons

Last week, Carbon Footprint calculated the impact of U2's world tour. Ironically, U2 is outspoken about their commitment to the environment, but carbon output of their tour this year is far bigger even than Madonna's high-maintenance carbon-heavy tour. U2's carbon emissions will equal that of 90,000 people flying from Dublin to London, and are equivalent of the waste created by 6,500 average British or Irish people in an entire year (equal to leaving a standard 100 watt light bulb on for 159,000 years). "To offset this year's carbon emissions, U2 would need to plant 20,118 trees." [...]

How to Read an Eco-Footprint

People follow celebrities because "reality is scary and the surreal is not," says Dr. William Rees, the UBC professor who invented the concept of the ecological footprint. "We have made wealth and glitter and this false world of celebrity into the ideal, and people glom onto it." But, he adds, "in a sense, doing an eco-footprint of these folks might help ground us back into reality."

He said it's easy to calculate an eco-footprint: it's simply a person's consumption on an annual basis. And 85 per cent of it is made up of fuel, food, housing, and space heating.

Rees says that for the average individual, by far the biggest component is private transportation using fossil fuels: cars and plans. "Let's face it, most celebrities have half a dozen of those and travel by private aircraft."

The next item is food, because for most people, food travels long distances and therefore takes fuel, and it also consumes pesticides and so on. "Celebrities tend to have very high-end diets."

The next major category is water and space heating, and "the bigger your house and car, the larger your consumption of those." Of course, many celebrities not only have one large house, but many of them.

Rees said that there are only two hectares on the planet to support each person, but the average North American uses nine hectares, which means most North Americans need three to four times as much productive ecosystem as is available on the planet to support their needs. "The really inconvenient truth is that the current global development path is an impossibility serum."

We've got to do better!