Friday, July 31, 2009

ECONOMY - I'm Not a Crook!

"Tax Evaders Flock to IRS to Confess Their Sins" by LAURA SAUNDERS and CARRICK MOLLENKAMP, Wall Street Journal

Wealthy taxpayers have inundated the Internal Revenue Service in recent weeks with requests to come clean for past tax evasion, amid a government crackdown on undeclared income from overseas accounts.

The volume has been so great that Wednesday, the IRS issued a streamlined, three-page form for taxpayers seeking entry into its temporary voluntary-disclosure program.

"Last week we had 400 [applicants] -- four times as many as in all of last year," said IRS spokesman Frank Keith, who declined to provide more detailed figures.

Two main factors appear to be driving the clemency-seeking spree. The IRS disclosure program, which began in ...

Another oft-used phrase comes to mind, rats abounding a sinking ship. Makes you want to chuckle, don' it? Reminds you of.......

HEALTHCARE - More Opinion

"The Republicans Can't Afford for America to Succeed: That's Why They Oppose the Government Option" by Mark Karlin, BUZZFLASH

The goal of Wall Street in terms of consumers is to drive people into debt.

Given that America has been a nation that has experienced a steady decline in producing real "things," our biggest product now -- by far -- is debt and the interest consumers pay on it. As some perceptive economists have pointed out, the stagnant and disappearing wages of the American worker have been replaced with staggering debt. And on this debt, we pay interest that goes to Wall Street -- where they gamble it away -- after buying off enough senators and representatives to ensure that they, in the words of Assistant Majority Leader Senator Dick Durbin, control Capitol Hill.

Therefore, if everybody is insured for healthcare, that means there will be billions of dollars in less debt for banks to charge usurious interest rates on.

Are you beginning to get the picture?

Republicans opposed Social Security in the '30s and Medicare in the '60s. They champion government aid for banks and businesses "too big to fail," but call it welfare and a violation of "the free [really fixed] market" if aid is proposed for the broken working class.

The gilded, fantasy lifestyle enticingly portrayed in advertising for credit cards is financed by consumer debt at soaring interest rates and penalty fees. What workers and middle class managers should be getting in salary increases is now charged away and borrowed, thus making Wall Street fatter and more capable of taking on higher risk wagers at the financial gambling table.

So, if America succeeds in providing healthcare to nearly all its citizens, it cuts off one more avenue of personal debt. (True reform would also shift unnecessary profit on the part of the healthcare insurance companies into savings in the healthcare system, which is equally abhorrent a thought to the fat wallets of Capitol Hill.)

Republicans and the Blue Dog RepubliCrats need Americans to fail in order to ensure that Wall Street can continue its lavish, reckless lifestyle. And ensuring that means that the campaign contributions keep flowing into the coffers of Max Baucus and company.

It's one heck of a racket, a legalized fleecing scheme.

Unfortunately, the Obama White House has failed to drive home a compelling emotional message to pass the government option -- let alone single payer -- and Obama has appeared to be led more than to lead.

Once again, progressives are back where we were with Bill Clinton, on the defensive in supporting issues that benefit a national community.

The selfish are again triumphing and using a wedge of confusion and fear to decrease support for meaningful healthcare reform.

That's good for the GOP and the Blue Dogs; they can't afford for Americans to succeed in developing a government that can compensate for the predatory practices of the mega-corporations and financial firms that control Capitol Hill and neuter the White House.

And when the Republicans and Blue Dog RepubliCrats succeed, Americans lose.

Reminder, the GOP opposed Social Security. Even if Social Security is not perfect, would any sane American want to abandon it. The same party is all letting Big Business get away with robbery (non-regulation).

(click for larger view)

Thursday, July 30, 2009

HEALTHCARE - Opinion on Single-Payer

"What’s Wrong With a Single-Payer System?" by David Brooks and Gail Collins, New York Times

Gail Collins: David, your writing on health care has been incredibly thoughtful, so I’m going to take this opportunity to poke you a little. Then I’ll shut up so you can talk.

The other week I said I agreed with you about the critical importance of cost controls. Then I asked — O.K., I sort of demanded — that you denounce the Republican leaders in the Senate who were flinging around proposals to make it illegal to investigate cost controls at all. You basically said that was a stupid thing to do, but that the Republicans weren’t really the problem since they aren’t in charge.

But actually, they are. And so are we. The reason the country can’t solve the health care mess is because the people with the biggest bullhorns don’t speak honestly and clearly about it. Nobody understands the Democratic plan, and that scares the public. The irresponsible Republicans are just waiting to make whatever comes out sound terrible. The responsible Republicans are working to come up with a compromise that’s going to be even more incoherent than the Democratic version.

My version of reality is that:

A.) Since something like a third of the cost of health care is in administration, and the problem with reorganizing health care has to do with all the multitudinous plans and policies, a single-payer system would be far and away the most cost effective answer. We don’t talk much about it because it isn’t politically possible. But it isn’t politically possible because we don’t talk about it. The opponents of a public plan are afraid that people would all gradually migrate toward it, causing the insurance industry as we know it to wither away. Wouldn’t that be a good thing?

B.) There have to be limits on what doctors can prescribe. The president pretends the only limit will be on useless tests and drugs that have an equally good, cheaper alternative. But useless and equally good are in the eye of the beholder.

There are already limits unless you have a really, really good insurance plan, but a lot of the country either has very good coverage or imagines their coverage is good because they haven’t really tested it. They’re afraid of change. Yelling “rationing” every three seconds totally poisons the discussion. And that is no little matter.

I’ve already gone on longer than I promised, so there’s no C.

David Brooks: Gail, as you know, I begin and end my days by reciting Congressional Budget Office reports. I even put on tefillin, just to make it seem holy. So let me begin my reply with the sentence from the latest report. It’s from a section in which the C.B.O. analyzes what the House plan, with the strong public program and all the rest, would do to health care inflation:

The net cost of the coverage provisions would be growing at a rate of more than 8 percent per year in nominal terms between 2017 and 2019; we would anticipate a similar trend in the subsequent decade.

This is devastating. The plan was sold as a way to bend the cost curve, to reduce the rate of health care cost growth. Instead, the cost of the plan to the federal budget would rise by 8 percent a year, and there wouldn’t be anything close to offsetting revenues to pay for it.

This is a loud trumpet for all health care reformers. Start over. Get serious about costs. We can either pass this kind of reform and bankrupt the country or we can pass another kind of reform. End of story.

Now that I’ve got that out of my system, let me say I admire your get-serious list (though my sixth grade teacher once said that if you have an A and B, you should also have a C).

I’m not crazy about the public plan. I dislike the idea of the government competing in a marketplace it regulates. I think the temptation to subsidize the public entity will be overwhelming. But I’m not vociferously against it either. That’s because:

A.) I’m not that thrilled with the insurance companies.

B.) I think it will save money, but not that much (the C.B.O. agrees).

C.) (!) I think it will produce small administrative efficiencies.

Democratic politicians throw around statistics claiming that Medicare has much, much lower administrative costs than private insurers. I’ve been told by various economists that this claim is three-quarters trickery. It’s a lot cheaper to administer a targeted population that uses a lot of care than it is to administer a large population that uses little care per capita. Plus you can save a lot of administrative costs if you don’t actually regulate treatments that much.

As for your second point, that there should be limits on what doctors can prescribe, I say: “Amen to that.”

If I had to add a few other items to the list, I’d say putting a serious cap on the tax exemption is the way to measure the seriousness of a reform proposal. Without that, it’s not serious. And finally, I’d say that there have to be cost conscious consumers within a closely regulated market. Unless you get proper incentives for both providers and consumers, I doubt you’re going to get very far. In the current plans, all the emphasis is on the providers.

There’s a group called the Fresh Thinking Project, which has a sensible list of reform ideas.

I’d only add in closing that the health care system is as big as the entire British economy. There is no way something that big and complex and dynamic can be run out of Washington. We have to try to set up a dynamic system, not trying to establish a set of rules to be imposed by fiat. The smart reformers at the Office of Management and Budget are aware of this. I’m not sure the congressional staffs are.

I really like the paper Politics of Paying for Health Reform from Fresh Think Project.

Personally, I'm for Single-Payer because in the end it is the most cost effective method to provide all Americans healthcare. I also believe that good healthcare is an ethical and moral responsibility of ANY government to their citizens.

No citizen should be forced by a healthcare system, to put their health at risk because of money, being "affordable." That's putting a max price-tag on people's lives, and that's immoral.

My version of Single-Payer:

1) All Americans must get healthcare

2) You choose from PRIVATE healthcare providers, NOT from government

3) The government pays your healthcare bill, but only the difference between what you can afford out-of-pocket and the actual charges

Note that #3 has a dependency. Government needs a way/law that sets a realistic cost-of-living (including cost of healthcare) for where you live. This cannot be a one-shoe-fits-all approach. Let states set a cost-of-living in areas (Congressional or State Legislative Districts) and our Federal Government would use that to decide what portion of your healthcare to pay. Then the rich pay for all their healthcare, the middle-class pays a portion, the poor or month-to-month living families have their healthcare paid by the government.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

POLITICS - Guess What, If You Make LESS Than $1 Million/Yr, You're a Freeloader

"Have Average Taxpayers Become Freeloaders?" by Sam Pizzigati, Too Much


Opponents of the proposal for a 5.4 percent health care reform surtax on America’s wealthy are getting desperate. How desperate? They're turning their fire on middle-income Americans.

Friends and fans of privilege have been striking their indignant pose the last two weeks. They’re shocked, simply shocked, that House Democratic leaders would dare advance a health care reform plan that sets a 5.4 percent surtax on households making over $1 million a year.

Affluent Americans, flacks for grand fortune are fuming, already pay the bulk of the nation’s income taxes. They'll pay virtually all of it, these critics charge, if the surtax becomes law and Congress lets the George W. Bush tax cuts for the comfortable expire, as scheduled, after 2010.

Amid all this, the most indignant of fortune’s defenders now seem to believe, average Americans have become irresponsible freeloaders, ever eager, as conservative columnist Caroline Baum puts it, to “encourage their elected representatives to vote ‘yes’ on every new benefit that comes down the pike.”

Fulminates David Harsanyi, a Denver Post columnist outraged by the health surtax notion: “President Barack Obama once promised to spread the wealth. How about spreading the responsibility, as well? Let the everyday citizen feel the cost of these gazillion-dollar legislative miracles.”

In reality, of course, everyday American citizens are pulling their weight and then some. They actually pay a higher share of their incomes in taxes — total taxes, not just federal income tax — than super rich Americans.

Maverick billionaire investor Warren Buffett has been trying to make this point for some time now. He and his fellow billionaires, Buffett notes, pay taxes at a lower overall rate than their receptionists do.

Two years ago, Buffett bet a million dollars to back up that proposition. He challenged any billionaire in the Forbes 400 to prove him wrong. So far not one has.

Those Forbes 400 billionaires and their cheerleaders live in a fantasy land where average folk who work hard enough can always “succeed” and get rich. In our real world, here early in the 21st century, average people work hard and watch the rich get richer.

Just wait, I'll join the bandwagon just as soon as I win the next $10-mill lotto.

HEALTHCARE - The "Liberal" Media Bias

"Media Matters Exposes Skewed Coverage of Health Care Debate" by Paul Hogarth, Beyond Chron


While President Barack Obama pushes an August 7th deadline to get a health care bill – and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid keeps letting Republicans and right-wing Democrats run the timetable – the watchdog group Media Matters has exposed skewed media coverage of the health care debate. In two comprehensive analysis of major newspapers and television news channels, the non-partisan reports prove that setbacks to the “public option” receive disproportionate exposure to stories showing support. The AMA (American Medical Association)’s opposition to a public option, for example, received nearly twice as much exposure as the group’s endorsement of the House Democratic bill that includes a public option. Both studies are re-published beneath the fold, and raise questions about why the traditional media has let the insurance industry’s agenda frame this issue – at a time when polls show an overwhelming majority of Americans support a “public option.”

REPORT: On Health Care Reform, Networks Highlight Perceived Setbacks Far More than Progress

Following the June 10 publication of a New York Times article reporting that the AMA “will oppose creation of a government-sponsored insurance plan,” broadcast and cable news networks ran a total of 23 segments from June 11 through June 14 that mentioned or discussed the AMA's reported stance, according to a search of transcripts available in the Nexis database. By contrast, following the July 16 announcement by the AMA that it supported passage of the House Democrats' health care reform bill, the networks ran a total of 12 segments from July 16 through July 20 mentioning or discussing the AMA’s endorsement:

July 2 analysis of an updated version of the bill, the CBO concluded that the legislation would cover more of the uninsured for a lower price

The above charts say it all, headline reporting of the bad and incomplete evaluations while almost silence on the final (full) evaluation of the plan.

"Explaining the Media’s Anti-Obama Bias" by Randy Shaw, Beyond Chron


A front-page story in the July 24 New York Times (“For Public, Obama Didn’t Fill in Health Blanks”) describes how Craig Brown, a 36-year old father of four, got increasingly agitated as he watched President Obama’s July 22 press conference on health care. Brown and his wife said that Obama and the Democrats “had not convinced them of the need for radical change,” that they were not convinced the system was broken, but that even it was, they were “not sure the government is the solution.” But in highlighting the Browns, the Times selected one of the nation’s least representative families. The Browns were among only 4% of African-Americans who voted for John McCain over Barack Obama, and using them to assess public attitudes toward health reform is like interviewing Clarence Thomas to get the nation’s pulse on civil rights. The Times has been almost consistently anti-reform in its news coverage of health care reform, and cable and network television news coverage has been even worse. Despite the November election results and high ratings generated by Obama’s election and inauguration, the traditional media’s longstanding opposition to progressive change continues.

The blogosphere is now filled with stories of strong media bias against President Obama’s health care reform. In fact, even skeptical progressives seem surprised that a traditional media that was so excited about the Obama presidency has now turned so strongly against “The Change We Need.”

I am also a little surprised, mostly by the obviousness of the media’s agenda. When McCain supporters disproportionately represent public attitudes, and the media gives fifteen times the coverage to a negative CBO report on a draft health plan than it does to its positive report on the final version, then the traditional media’s hostile agenda is transparent.

There are two chief reasons for this.

  1. The Audience for News

  2. Younger voters, and those of color, strongly backed Obama, but these are not the primary viewers of cable news or subscribers to daily newspapers. This group remains disproportionately white and male, the demographic most likely to vote Republican.

  3. Corporate Media Ownership

  4. It has been decades since Noam Chomsky described the traditional media as implementing its corporate owners’ political agenda. Under this view, Obama’s success at securing newspaper endorsements reflected corporate America’s desperate desire to save capitalism, rather than as an endorsement of universal health care, immigration reform, EFCA or strong climate-change measures

Jim DeMint was Right

South Carolina Republican Senator James Demint has taken a lot of heat by saying that health care could be Obama’s “Waterloo,” and that stopping progressive change here will prevent it elsewhere. But Demint was simply openly expressing what is heard in editorial offices, and among the corporate owners of traditional media.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

POLITICS - Retrospective, Bush Total Abstinence Program

"Teen pregnancy and disease rates rose sharply during Bush years, agency finds" by Chris McGreal, Guardian UK

Teenage pregnancies and syphilis have risen sharply among a generation of American school girls who were urged to avoid sex before marriage under George Bush's evangelically-driven education policy, according to a new report by the US's major public health body.

In a report that will surprise few of Bush's critics on the issue, the Centres for Disease Control says years of falling rates of teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted disease infections under previous administrations were reversed or stalled in the Bush years. According to the CDC, birth rates among teenagers aged 15 or older had been in decline since 1991 but are up sharply in more than half of American states since 2005. The study also revealed that the number of teenage females with syphilis has risen by nearly half after a significant decrease while a two-decade fall in the gonorrhea infection rate is being reversed. The number of Aids cases in adolescent boys has nearly doubled.

The CDC says that southern states, where there is often the greatest emphasis on abstinence and religion, tend to have the highest rates of teenage pregnancy and STDs.

In addition, about 16,000 pregnancies were reported among 10- to 14-year-old girls in 2004 and a similar number of young people in the age group reported having a sexually transmitted disease.

"It is disheartening that after years of improvement with respect to teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, we now see signs that progress is stalling and many of these trends are going in the wrong direction," said Janet Collins, a CDC director.

Although the CDC does not attribute a cause, groups that support comprehensive sex education have seized on the report as evidence of the failure of religiously-driven policies that shy away from teaching about contraception in favor of emphasizing avoiding sexual contact.

Planned Parenthood said the CDC report is "alarming" and confirms that teenagers need "medically accurate, age-appropriate, comprehensive sex education".

But supporters of abstinence-based education said that the new report shows that there is too little not too much emphasis on discouraging sex before marriage.

Kristi Hamrick, a spokeswoman for American Values, which describes itself as a supporter of traditional marriage and "against liberal education and cultural forces", said the abstinence message is overwhelmed by a culture obsessed with sex.

"It is ridiculous to say that a program we nominally invest in has failed when it fails to overcome the most sexualised culture in world history. Education that emphasizes abstinence as the best option for teens makes up a minuscule part of overall sex education in the United States," she said.

"In every other area of public policy - food, drugs, alcohol - we tell children what is the best choice. It seems very bizarre that the sex education establishment rejects the idea that we should talk to kids about what is best for them. We don't take vodka to drivers education because children will drink and drive."

And the Total Cost

POLITICS - Of Healthcare Reform That Is

27 Jul 2009 from alt.politics.usa, by EarlG, Democratic Underground

Health insurance reform is a complex issue to understand, so let's just put it this way.

When it comes to the lives of the American people, the Republican Party ranks things in this order of importance:

1) High corporate profits
2) Low taxes on millionaires
3) The lives of the American people

Actually I should make a correction to that list.

1) High corporate profits
2) Low taxes on millionaires
3) Hot extramarital sex
4) The lives of the American people

That's better.

Now, back to health care...


"Since the recession began, an estimated 4 million additional Americans have lost their health insurance and 2 million have become uninsured. The recent turmoil in the job market is likely increasing the number of uninsured at the rate of 14,000 a day." -- Center For American Progress


"The challenges facing America's biggest health insurer range from the uncertain to the unknowable. ... For now, though, Minnetonka-based UnitedHealth Group has reason to celebrate ... For the quarter ended June 30, UnitedHealth said net earnings were $859 million - a 154.9 percent increase from $337 million a year earlier ... Joshua Raskin, an analyst with Barclays Capital, called it a 'very strong result' in a note to investors." -- Minneapolis Star-Tribune


"There are reports of insurers raising rates by 28 percent in California; seeking a 23 percent increase in Connecticut; proposing as much as a 56 percent increase in Michigan. If we don't act, these premium hikes will just be a preview of coming attractions. And that's a future you can't afford. That is a future that America can't afford.
... So, Ohio, that's why we seek reform." -- President Obama


"I can almost guarantee you this thing won't pass before August, and if we can hold it back until we go home for a month's break in August ... If we're able to stop Obama on this it will be his Waterloo. It will break him." -- Sen. Jim DeMint


"We can stall it. And that's going to be a huge gain for those of us who want to turn this thing over in the 2010 election." -- Sen. James Inhofe

Sure, maintaining the status quo means that Americans will die.

But who cares about that?

The GOP smells blood in the water!

And never mind whose blood it is!

Americans, be afraid. Be VERY afraid. Any loony-liberal healthcare reform is government takeover of your healthcare. It will mean damaging profits (opps) your health. We are just tying to protect you.

Monday, July 27, 2009

POLITICS - OK Corral in Central Part

Thu, 23 Jul 2009, in alt.politics.usa:

This ain't South Dakota! Sen. John Thune's whacky gun plan completely misses the mark.

Thursday, July 23rd 2009, 4:00 AM

The senator from the state that kills Wild Bill Hickok every day for tourists says we would be safer with gun-toting yahoos walking around Central Park.


Never mind that there has not been a killing in Central Park since 2002, the victim being struck from behind with a rock.

And never mind that a bullet in the back of Hickok's head proved more than a century ago that packing two six-guns is no protection against a coward.

Here is what Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said Wednesday on the Senate floor before his colleagues voted down his plan to let citizens with permits to carry a concealed weapon in one state to carry it in another, including New York:

"I say to my colleague from New York that if someone who has a concealed carry permit the State of South Dakota [who] goes to New York and is in Central Park - Central Park is a much safer place," Thune told our Sen. Chuck Schumer on the Senate floor.

Thune was responding to Schumer's observation that the measure would allow gun dealers to lug a whole backpack of weapons into the city, even into Central Park.

Thune argued that the safest park in the safest of big cities, a park where there has been not been a killing in seven years and where violent crime is down 74%, would be made safer by some wanna-be Wild Bill.

Even in our most dangerous days, Central Park was considerably safer than the Deadwood of Hickok's time, when anybody who wanted to carry a gun could and did.

This year's killings in South Dakota include the March 15 shooting of Turner County Deputy Sheriff Chad Mechels.

He was responding to the farmhouse home of 19-year-old Ethan Johns, who had been fighting with his girlfriend.

"If they come over, I'm shooting them," Johns reportedly texted his girlfriend's sister Deadwood-style after being told the police were on the way.

Mechels was shot in the arm, and he retreated back to his patrol car.

Johns then fired through the windshield, striking the officer in the throat and killing him, police say. Johns then called 911.

"A cop walked into my house and I shot him," he informed the dispatcher.

"How do you know it was an officer?" the dispatcher asked.

"'Cause he started shooting back at me," Johns replied.

Days after the slaying, Thune eulogized the 32-year-old fallen officer on the Senate floor, saying, "I wish to pay honor to Deputy Sheriff Chad Mechels. ... He is survived by his wife, Jamie Mechels, and two children, Avery, age 7, and Thomas, age 3. ... The sacrifice made by this brave officer is something we should always remember. Everyday heroes, like Chad, are those who keep us all safe."

Here in New York, we have some 34,000 everyday heroes like Chad who keep us all safe, too often at the expense of their lives.

The last thing we need here is more people packing guns.

We should be thankful the Senate voted down Thune's proposal, which the senator made while standing just where he stood while eulogizing the murdered cop.

This was the first time the Senate rejected an NRA-backed measure since 2004, nearly as long ago as the last killing in Central Park.

Our mayor has seen enough shot cops in emergency rooms to recognize Thune's suggestion to be nuts at best.

"Saying that you will bring down crime by giving people guns is just absurd," Mayor Bloomberg said.

"That's the nicest way to put it. Only somebody who plays footloose and fancy-free with the facts and has an agenda would have the nerve to say something like that."

Bloomberg noted that Central Park is about as safe as can be.

The people we have to thank for that are our everyday heroes.

If Thune is afraid to go there without a pistol, I would be glad to escort him.

Heck, we might even sit down for a friendly game of cards.

He will have no need to look over his shoulder, even if he draws aces and eights.

Another GOP Dumb and Dumber.

Monday, July 20, 2009

IN MEMORANDUM - Walter Cronkite

"Iconic Anchorman Walter Cronkite Dies at 92" by Deirdre Murphy, PBS Newshour


"Life in pictures: Walter Cronkite" & "Obituary: Walter Cronkite" BBC News

"Walter Cronkite: Remembering a News Legend" (video) ABC News

I grieve for the passing of the greatest Journalist on Television, IMHO.

The Almighty bless you Walter. I just wish that we had more like you today.

POLITICS - Inflaming Extremist, Left or Right

"Free Speech Isn't a License to Inflame Extremists" by Ann Davidow, BuzzFlash

Something very unpleasant is happening in this country. Many of us were lulled into believing that race and gender were no longer subjects for political vitriol. But the Sotomayor hearings and a black family in the White House have shown that was an overly optimistic assessment. People with loud voices and daily access to microphones, cameras and blogs have made ugly forms of expression seemingly acceptable.

Pundits of dubious intellect regale listeners with lame attempts at humor, and a host of anchors and political hacks try to convince us their observations are based on a careful distillation of facts. Pat Buchanan, still drooling over Sarah Palin, sent colleagues at MSNBC into fits of laughter when he suggested that "first dude" Todd Palin should take Levi Johnston (father of daughter Bristol's child) down to a creek and hold his head under water "until the thrashing stops." That's funny? And in a telling moment Senator Grassley on Wednesday's Morning Joe said his side was more interested in Sotomayor's speeches than her actual record. These are very troubled people.

Republicans spend their time accusing Sotomayor of racism and activism rather than focusing on her established body of work as a prosecutor and judge. Clearly the minority on the Senate Judiciary Committee planned to slow if not derail any candidate the president proposed. And they overlook the fact that racial bias often dictated the course of governmental conduct and Supreme Court decisions. It was neither noble nor just for the Court to rule that a black slave was someone's property or that "separate" was "equal." The eventual reversal of those opinions proved that court renderings are not incontrovertible but are defined according to the way justices interpret the Constitution.

As one observer declared recently, people in this country seem to engage in "collective amnesia" about injustices in our not-so-distant past. Of course a woman's presence on the bench brings another perspective to cases beyond that of an all-male panel, just as racially-balanced juries began to reach different conclusions than those of previously all-white juries in the Deep South. For Senator Sessions to accuse Judge Sotomayor of intolerance was a tortured bit of nonsense, especially in light of a well documented, racial animus that kept him from the federal bench some years back.

Contending that people are trying to "smear" firefighter Ricci, Senator Hatch got Judge Sotomayor to declare this unseemly. That might be a valid response if Ricci were actually being smeared rather than simply questioned about his history. In fact Ricci seems to be something of a serial plaintiff. Arguing that he was excluded from the department (one of some 700 applicants for 40 openings) because he was dyslexic he withdrew his lawsuit when he was eventually hired. If anything, that was an indication of New Haven's aversion to protracted litigation. Ricci later filed suit against another Fire Department over a different issue. Surely his litigious habits invite questions.

For his part Lindsey Graham shuffled through comments from lawyers, some of whom claimed that Sotomayor is a bully, and asked if she thought she had a "temperament problem." He also regurgitated her "wise Latina" remark - - asked and answered about a dozen times, Senator. Graham's insistence that his career would have ended had he touted the superiority of white man's wisdom fails to acknowledge that white men made most of the decisions for a very long time. That fact didn't need to be verbalized because, as we all know, actions speak louder than words.

The minority might do well to initiate some self examination of its own to determine if its combative approach serves a useful purpose other than to titillate the base. Everyone in the public arena should take care not to facilitate the uptick in hate speech that has surfaced recently in the media and on the web. Newscasters, as well as politicians, share responsibility for the coarsening, accusatory nature of our national discourse and should undertake to stem the surge of hateful demons unleashed by their steamy rhetoric.

There are some outrageous screeds on a number of conservative blogs and even more disturbing comments from readers - - appalling attacks on the president and his family that should be disavowed by anyone in the conservative wing of the Republican Party who hopes to preserve some measure of respect and credibility from the public at large.


POLITICS - Truth Be Told, From Inside the GOP

"Former GOP Congressmen Accuse Republicans Of Putting Party Above Constitution" by Sam Stein, Huffington Post

Two former Republican members of Congress have accused their GOP colleagues of putting party politics over the Constitution during the Bush years, arguing that they failed dramatically to check the White House's use of executive powers.

Former Reps. Mickey Edwards (R-Okla.) and Chris Shays (R-Conn.) made the argument that if the Republican-controlled Congress had exhibited greater oversight during former President George W. Bush's time in office, they could have prevented some of the most calamitous results of that administration and even saved thousands of lives.

Speaking at a panel on congressional oversight powers, Shays argued that had more members of Congress, including Republicans, gone to Iraq and visited Abu Ghraib, prisoner abuses would have come to light sooner.

"That would have alerted the administration to what was happening, the command authority to what was happening and it probably would have saved a 1,000 lives," Shays said. Shays said the Bush White House abused its powers in a way that resulted in many of the domestic and international problems that have unfolded recently.

"This past Republican Congress hurt this administration by not having some hearings," said the Connecticut Republican. "Had we had hearings it would have nipped those problems in the bud."

Edwards was even more critical. He mocked members of Congress when it came to flexing their constitutional oversight authority. In particular, he lamented the House Republican lawmakers' unified opposition to holding hearings to investigate the firing of U.S. Attorneys by the Bush White House.

"One of the most shocking things was when the House voted to hold [Counsel Harriet] Miers and [Chief of Staff Josh] Bolten in contempt because they refused to obey a congressional subpoena," said Edwards. "Every single member of my party, except for three, walked out. Members of Congress walked out of the chamber rather than stand up as members of Congress so that congressional subpoena (would) be obeyed. Party trumped Constitution."

Both Shays and Edwards were known while in office to be relatively independent political figures who were willing to criticize their own party. Edwards left office in 1993, Shays in 2008. The event at which they spoke was entitled "Congress vs. the President: The Scope and Limits of Congressional Oversight Powers." It was hosted by the Constitution Project & Project on Government Oversight.

See, there ARE ethical members of the GOP. It is too bad that such members have been marginalized by the present configuration of the GOP (hate mongers, only we know best, exclusionary, big-money above ordinary people, and doctrine before ethics).

Friday, July 17, 2009

POLITICS - And the Truth Be Told

"The right's irrational view of race is on full display in Sotomayor hearings" by David Neiwert, Crooks and Liars

"Empathy for one party is always prejudice against another."
Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama

I was struck by this key sentence in Sessions' opening remarks Monday in the Sonia Sotomayor hearings, especially because he presented it as the essential logic behind their opposition to Sotomayor -- their abiding fear that when she sits on the court, she'll be ruling against every white man who crosses her path.

We know this, according to their logic, because she is Latino -- and because she emphasizes her "empathy" for other Latinos, she will be prejudiced against any non-Latinos in her courtroom.

It is, as logic goes, about as obviously faulty as syllogisms get. Normal human empathy is not exclusive -- that is, our ability to feel empathy for one party does not necessarily exclude empathy for another party (or moreover, in Sessions' formulation, necessitate an animus to any other party). Being empathetic typically means the ability to place oneself in another person's shoes regardless of background. Identifying closely with one group at the exclusion of another typically is the antithesis of empathy.

What Sessions is describing is not empathy but rather the crude tribalism that underscores and animates most racist belief systems, and has done so since time immemorial. It is, essentially, an almost astonishing confession to being racist on Sessions' part.

And it animates not just Sessions but nearly the whole of movement conservatism and the Republican Party. If you were to poll Republican senators this week and ask them if they agreed with Sessions' "logic," I'd wager the numbers would be in the vicinity of 90 percent.

Nor is it just the senators. Look at Pat Buchanan yesterday, and Rush Limbaugh every day. The same core belief -- that empathy for Latinos, or black people, or any nonwhite, equals prejudice against whites -- indeed animates nearly the entirety of the conservative movement. I'd like to find a single conservative who would repudiate Sessions' formula. I bet I won't.

Rachel Maddow provided an ample survey of how bad it is out there last night. She was especially appalled by his column calling for Republicans to indulge in nakedly racial appeals to gain the sympathy of white voters -- though of course, for Buchanan, this is nothing particularly new. Back in 1989, he was arguing to the GOP to gradually adopt David Duke's positions at the time. And you know what? They did.

Maddow says Buchanan will be on her show to explain himself tonight. That should be entertaining. She won't need to ask Buchanan if he agrees with Sessions -- I think we already know the answer.

Humm.... never considered that view, empathy = predjudice.... NOT!

HEALTHCARE - Reform Marches On

"Right-Wing Escalates Fear-Mongering Rhetoric: Warns Americans Will Die If Health Care Reform Passes" by Faiz Shakir, Think Progress

Yesterday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee passed a health reform plan that includes a public option. Meanwhile, on the House side, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) rolled out “a bill worth fighting for.” Republican Congressman Peter Hoekstra predicted that Congress will soon pass a comprehensive health reform bill.

Fearing that health reform is getting closer to passage, the right-wing is escalating its rhetoric by issuing dire warnings of its consequences. Interviewed by the Washington Times, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) was asked if “government-run health care” will “end up killing more people than it saves?” Coburn responded, “Absolutely.”

A couple of right-wing congressman voiced similar doom-and-gloom rhetoric on the House floor yesterday:

Rep. Steve King (R-IA): “They’re going to save money by rationing care, getting you in a long line. Places like Canada, United Kingdom, and Europe. People die when they’re in line.”

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX): “One in five people have to die because they went to socialized medicine! … I would hate to think that among five women, one of ‘em is gonna die because we go to socialized care.”

“Many Americans are under the delusion that we have ‘the best health care system in the world,’” the New York Times editorial page wrote in 2007, but “the disturbing truth is that this country lags well behind other advanced nations in delivering timely and effective care.”

Compared with Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, the United States ranks last in all dimensions of a high performance health system: quality, access, efficiency, equity, and healthy lives. The United States currently ranks 50th out of 224 nations in life expectancy, with an average life span of 78.1 years, according to 2009 estimates from the CIA World Factbook.

Canada, Great Britain, and many of the other countries that the right-wing enjoys beating up on actually like their health systems and wouldn’t want to trade places with an American. Moreover, Americans don’t get a good bang for our buck. A Business Roundtable study found that compared to France, Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom, U.S. workers and employers receive 23 percent less value from our health care system than the citizens of these other nations.

And, as the chart below shows, the U.S. spends the most per person on health care, but actually has worst life expectancies than many countries which spend less.

"American Medical Association backs House health bill" by Sandra Maler, Reuters

The influential American Medical Association on Thursday said it supported the healthcare overhaul legislation moving through committees in the Democratic-led House of Representatives and urged its approval.

"This legislation includes a broad range of provisions that are key to effective, comprehensive health system reform," AMA executive vice president Michael Maves wrote to the House committee leaders.

In particular, he said, the doctors' group backs the insurance market reforms that seek to expand healthcare coverage and the proposed health insurance exchange. In this exchange consumers would choose between private insurers and a public plan.

He also cited the ban on exclusion from coverage for pre-existing conditions and an increased reliance on primary care doctors.

On federal healthcare programs, the AMA said it welcomed the changes in Medicare health care for the elderly which would include a repeal of the sustainable growth rate formula and the expansion of Medicaid for the poor.

"This year, the AMA wants the debate in Washington to conclude with real, long overdue results that will improve the health of America's patients," he wrote.

"GOP Lawmaker Admits Congress Will Pass Democratic Health Care Bill" by Sam Stein, Huffington Post

A Democratic-endorsed health care bill will pass both the House of Representatives and the Senate this month, one of the White House's main Republican critics in Congress acknowledged on Thursday morning.

In an appearance on MSNBC lamenting the type of health care legislation currently being pushed by Democrats in the House, Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.) made an admission that seems to go against the current conventional wisdom.

"We'll get [a health care bill] through the House and Senate this month," he said, defying the usual predictions heard from leading Republicans or skeptical Democrats. Hoekstra would add that it is unlikely that legislators would be able to have a bill on the president's desk before the August recess. But the White House's own timetable doesn't call for that.

"We've known for years that we were going to reach this fork in the road where we were either going to reform health care, we were going to provide more options to individuals, more affordable options for individuals to choose their health care, or we were going to create a government-run health care where the government would be making those decisions for us," Hoekstra said. "President Obama, the Democrats in the House and the Senate, have clearly chosen the government-run option. That is why they're in such a hurry to move this program through the House, through the Senate, and get it to his desk."

Hoekstra's admission that the two chambers of Congress are likely to pass their respective health care bills within the next month is one of the few times that a lawmaker has pulled back the curtain to reveal exactly where the legislative process currently stands. Passage in the House and Senate would set the stage for reconciling the separate bills in conference committee once the August recess is over.

One of the options at the president's hand is the bill recently unveiled by the House, which has become the preference for progressives. That approach won a major endorsement from The New York Times editorial page on Thursday.

While the Senate continues to struggle over its approach to health care reform, House Democratic leaders have unveiled a bill that would go a long way toward solving the nation's health insurance problems without driving up the deficit. It is already drawing fierce opposition from business groups and many Republicans. This is a bill worth fighting for.

The bill would require virtually all Americans to carry health insurance or pay a penalty. And it would require all but the smallest businesses to provide health insurance for their workers or pay a substantial fee. It would also expand Medicaid to cover many more poor people, and it would create new exchanges through which millions of middle-class Americans could buy health insurance with the help of government subsidies. The result would be near-universal coverage at a surprisingly manageable cost to the federal government.

The GOP is still promoting any healthcare reform as "government run health care" even thought (if you read the bills) if you like your current private healthcare provider you can select to keep it.

The "public option" is nothing more than another Healthcare Provider. They would operate just like any Private Healthcare Provider, but be a competitor.

It IS the competition that the private industry and the GOP fears, because in their heart-of-hearts they know the present system is committing highway robbery while at the same time keeping health care out of reach of many Americans. And you do NOT have "choice" if you cannot afford it.

TECHNOLOGY - Jolt to the System

"Electric cars poised to give auto industry a jolt" by Dan Carney, MSNBC


Ford, Nissan and Tesla gearing up production of planned electric models

In the next year or so, after only a century or so of trying, the electric car may break free of the lunatic fringe and become a mainstream transportation option for everyday drivers.

The next step forward for electric cars will come on Aug. 2, when Nissan is expected to unveil the first of three electric models in three vehicle segments that the automaker will reportedly sell en masse by 2013 in the United States, Japan and Europe.

In fact, fanatics (aka “early adopters”) have been gutting regular car cars and packing them with a thousand pounds of golf cart batteries for years. But very soon it will be possible for drivers other than those who already have a home-brewed solar array atop their home to have a chance to whir quietly to work using household electric current for propulsion.

This comes after a long history of mostly dashed hopes, unrealized dreams and no shortage of P.T. Barnum-esque wild claims unsupported by reality. But this time, mass-produced electric cars really are preparing to begin trickling into showrooms, a reality cemented by U.S. government loans to the three companies that are gearing up for production.

Ford, Nissan and Tesla have received U.S. government loans that the companies say will help them tool up to manufacture their planned electric models, with the first cars arriving in 2010 from Ford and Nissan. Tesla says production of its sleek $57,400 Model S will commence in late 2011.

Growing market

Within five years, the market for electric cars could reach between 270,000 and 335,000 units per year in the U.S., predicts Art Spinella, president of CNW Research, a market research firm in Bandon, Ore. That would certainly confirm the arrival of the electric car as a “real” product in a way that has never happened before, though it would still represent only about 2 percent of total sales, Spinella points out.

That means that the cars that are supposed to save the world will still sell in total numbers in the U.S. that are similar to those of the number three-selling pickup truck, the macho Dodge Ram pickup. So while everyone won’t be propelled by electrons anytime soon, for the first time, everyone can at least consider that as an option when the buy their next car.

These cars aren’t likely to be cheap, but Nissan at least is promising to be price-competitive in the premium compact car segment. The company won’t say whether that competitive price will be the one before or after the $7,500 federal tax credit, but it seems likely that the tax break will be needed to help make these cars reasonably competitive with gas-powered alternatives.

No sooner did consumers come to embrace the notion that hybrid-electric cars need not be plugged in than battery electrics will arrive to test drivers’ willingness to rely on plug-in-only cars.

Nissan has demonstrated its electric drive system installed in its trendy Cube compact model, but the production car will be its own model, said Mark Perry, Nissan’s director of product planning. The car will have space for five occupants and will have a driving range of 100 miles on a charge, a distance that is sufficient for the daily driving needs of 98 percent of Americans, according to the company.

Nissan will target an upmarket customer with its electric model, complete with the premium amenities and safety features expected by the kind of customers who might otherwise buy a Mini Cooper rather than say, a Toyota Yaris. Nissan will begin offering this new model in 10 to 15 markets nationwide in 2010, gradually expanding to full availability in 2012, said Perry.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

HEALTHCARE - From the Chair

"GOP Pushing Hidden Health Care Tax on All Americans, Not Reform" by Rep. George Miller, Huffington Post

Republicans and right wing commentators who oppose health care reform hope to turn our effort at lowering costs and expanding access into a debate about whether or not to tax small businesses. In opposing our reform they would instead continue the hidden health care tax on all Americans that exceeds the surcharge on the highest income taxpayers that is included in the House bill.

Before you adopt their rhetoric, remember that nearly half of the cost of the House Democrats' health plan would be paid by tight cost controls and forcing down the expense of the health care system. That's a top priority. And as for who will pay higher taxes and who won't under our plan, here are the cold facts.

Only the highest earning 1.2 percent of American households will pay a surcharge for health care reform. That leaves 98.8 percent of American households who will not pay any surcharge at all.

As for small businesses, according to the non-partisan Joint Committee on Taxation, only 4.1 percent of all small business owners will be affected by the health care surcharge. The remaining 95.9 percent of small business owners will be completely unaffected by the surcharge.

Under our bill, a family making up to $350,000 in adjusted gross income (AGI) will not owe any surcharge at all, as President Obama has promised. A family making $500,000 in AGI will contribute $1,500 to help reduce costs and provide access to affordable health care for all Americans -- 0.3 percent of their annual income. And a family making $1 million in AGI will contribute $9,000, or 0.9 percent of their annual income.

Who are the highest earning 1.2 percent of all households? They are the same households who over the past 20 years have seen a massive shift in wealth in their favor and who over the last 8 years received the lion's share of President Bush's tax cuts.

Between 2001 and 2010, the richest one percent of taxpayers alone will have received approximately $700 billion from the Bush tax cuts, according to Citizens for Tax Justice. Those tax cuts for the wealthy one percent have been the biggest contributor to the record deficits wrung up during the Bush Administration -- deficits that were passed along to President Obama in January.

The Washington Post put it another way. They pointed out that over the past 20 years, the highest earning Americans have seen their tax burden go down and their share of national wealth rise. The share of adjusted gross income claimed by the highest earning Americans doubled, from 11 percent to 22 percent.

Meanwhile, average American working families have seen their wages stagnate, their health care costs spiral out of control, and their share of national wealth reduced.

Many Republicans and right wing commentators would do nothing to reform health care and would instead leave in place the hidden $1,800 a year tax on all Americans in the form of rapidly rising health insurance premiums caused by uncontrolled health care spending and the shared cost of covering the uninsured.

Congress faces a clear choice. Our plan cuts more than $500 billion in health care spending and asks the richest 1.2 percent of all households to make a modest contribution of their income toward the remaining cost of our health care reform effort to reduce costs and strengthen our economy. The main Republican plan -- Just Do Nothing -- maintains the hidden tax on every business, large and small, and every American suffering under today's broken health care system.

George Miller (D-CA) is chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee and one of the three principal authors of the "America's Affordable Health Choices Act"

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

POLITICS - Hide Everything! What the People Don't Know Will Not Hurt Them

"Cheney Is Linked to Concealment of C.I.A. Project" by SCOTT SHANE, New York Times


The Central Intelligence Agency withheld information about a secret counterterrorism program from Congress for eight years on direct orders from former Vice President Dick Cheney, the agency’s director, Leon E. Panetta, has told the Senate and House intelligence committees, two people with direct knowledge of the matter said Saturday.

The report that Mr. Cheney was behind the decision to conceal the still-unidentified program from Congress deepened the mystery surrounding it, suggesting that the Bush administration had put a high priority on the program and its secrecy.

Mr. Panetta, who ended the program when he first learned of its existence from subordinates on June 23, briefed the two intelligence committees about it in separate closed sessions the next day.

Efforts to reach Mr. Cheney through relatives and associates were unsuccessful.

The question of how completely the C.I.A. informed Congress about sensitive programs has been hotly disputed by Democrats and Republicans since May, when Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused the agency of failing to reveal in 2002 that it was waterboarding a terrorism suspect, a claim Mr. Panetta rejected.

The law requires the president to make sure the intelligence committees “are kept fully and currently informed of the intelligence activities of the United States, including any significant anticipated intelligence activity.” But the language of the statute, the amended National Security Act of 1947, leaves some leeway for judgment, saying such briefings should be done “to the extent consistent with due regard for the protection from unauthorized disclosure of classified information relating to sensitive intelligence sources and methods or other exceptionally sensitive matters.”

In addition, for covert action programs, a particularly secret category in which the role of the United States is hidden, the law says that briefings can be limited to the so-called Gang of Eight, consisting of the Republican and Democratic leaders of both houses of Congress and of their intelligence committees.

The disclosure about Mr. Cheney’s role in the unidentified C.I.A. program comes a day after an inspector general’s report underscored the central role of the former vice president’s office in restricting to a small circle of officials knowledge of the National Security Agency’s program of eavesdropping without warrants, a degree of secrecy that the report concluded had hurt the effectiveness of the counterterrorism surveillance effort.

Of course, the title SHOULD read "People Don't Know Will Not Hurt Us."

HEALTH - Artificial Pancreas?

"Artificial Pancreas -- Coming Soon?"

For those, like me, who are Diabetic, this is interesting news.

The article contains several videos.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

ON THE LITE SIDE - Case of the Dead Cells

"Dimwitted thieves steal fake cell phones in Mexico" AP

Call it the case of the dead cells — both telephones and the ones in the brain. Employees at a Telefonica Movistar cell-phone store in Morelia, Mexico say they arrived Tuesday morning to find that the store had been broken into.

An examination of the shop revealed the only items missing were hollow replica phones for display that are completely useless for making calls.

Employees say the clueless thieves overlooked real cell phones and cash in another part of the shop.

Store owners nonetheless reported the theft to local police, who are investigating.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

TWO WARS - And War Marches On

The following is an excerpt from the transcript of PBS Newshour Political Wrap 7/3/2009

Turning points in two wars

JUDY WOODRUFF: I'm going to turn, very different subject, Iraq. We saw, Mark, I guess you could say a milestone this week, American troops continuing to pull back. Now they're saying they will only do joint missions with the Iraqis. They're lowering their presence, especially in the cities. How important is this moment, in America's presence?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think it's one of relief. It's not one of exultation, certainly, Judy, I mean, that we're withdrawing American troops from the major cities. It's not a -- I mean, it's still a long, unresolved war, and we don't know what the results are going to be.

And all we do know is that, you know, six-and-a-half years ago, the United States went to war against a nation that had never threatened us on the fraudulent charge that that nation had weapons of mass destruction and was going to represent a threat to the United States. It was neither a just nor a justified war.

And the country violated one of its great principles in that war, and that is that war demands equality of sacrifice. And this war, all the sacrifice has been borne by less than 1 percent of Americans, those who wear the uniform and their loved ones.

And the rest of us pay no price, bear no burden. It's been a terrible war. The one burden we've been asked to take a tax cut so that we didn't have to pay for the war.

And it just -- it really has been a sad, sad chapter. Great efforts of valor and courage and bravery on the part of the military, but it's been a tremendous cost individually and institutionally to the United States military, so...

MICHAEL GERSON: I understand those concerns, but there's a different story at work here, as well. One of the comparisons you can make is not necessarily to six-and-a-half years ago, but to two to three years ago, when it looked like the strategy of standing up Iraqi forces as we stand down was doomed. It looked like a total failure.

Barack Obama had proposed as a senator an almost immediate withdrawal in those circumstances. If we had withdrawn at that point, it would have been a failure for the American military and American will.

Now we're withdrawing two to three years later, and it's no longer a failure of American military. They adjusted well. It's no longer a failure of American will. They have a decent chance at success, and that's a genuine accomplishment when you see a turnover like this.

MARK SHIELDS: That is not why we went to war. I mean, six years ago, the president of the United States said, "Mission accomplished." Five years ago, we said Iraq is a sovereign country. We've remained there as an occupying power. Four years ago, the vice president, then Dick Cheney, said we're in the throes, the last throes of the insurgency.

I mean, the military, I think, has performed above and beyond. And I don't think anybody questions that. But the very fact that we are withdrawing was an agreement of the last administration forced upon by pressure at home by lack of enthusiasm for that war and pressure from Iraq. It actually gave Obama a legitimacy in the campaign of 2008 that the withdrawal was scheduled.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Final word?

MICHAEL GERSON: Yes, I think that's actually mistaken. This was not forced on the administration. It was the plan for the last three years that was interrupted by a major insurgency, by other things. But you had a readjustment of American strategy that was very, very successful, and that needs to be recognized in a moment like this.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Tough subject, 130,000 U.S. troops are still there.

HEALTHCARE - The Final CBO Score on HELP

"HELP Is on the Way" by PAUL KRUGMAN, New York Times


The Congressional Budget Office has looked at the future of American health insurance, and it works.

A few weeks ago there was a furor when the budget office “scored” two incomplete Senate health reform proposals — that is, estimated their costs and likely impacts over the next 10 years. One proposal came in more expensive than expected; the other didn’t cover enough people. Health reform, it seemed, was in trouble.

But last week the budget office scored the full proposed legislation from the Senate committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP). And the news — which got far less play in the media than the downbeat earlier analysis — was very, very good. Yes, we can reform health care.

Let me start by pointing out something serious health economists have known all along: on general principles, universal health insurance should be eminently affordable.

After all, every other advanced country offers universal coverage, while spending much less on health care than we do. For example, the French health care system covers everyone, offers excellent care and costs barely more than half as much per person as our system.

And even if we didn’t have this international evidence to reassure us, a look at the U.S. numbers makes it clear that insuring the uninsured shouldn’t cost all that much, for two reasons.

First, the uninsured are disproportionately young adults, whose medical costs tend to be relatively low. The big spending is mainly on the elderly, who are already covered by Medicare.

Second, even now the uninsured receive a considerable (though inadequate) amount of “uncompensated” care, whose costs are passed on to the rest of the population. So the net cost of giving the uninsured explicit coverage is substantially less than it might seem.

Putting these observations together, what sounds at first like a daunting prospect — extending coverage to most or all of the 45 million people in America without health insurance — should, in the end, add only a few percent to our overall national health bill. And that’s exactly what the budget office found when scoring the HELP proposal.

HEALTHCARE - Canadian Healthcare Myths

"Myths about Canadian healthcare" by Cory Doctorow, BoingBoing

Rhonda Hackett, a Canadian expat clinical psychologist living in the US, has an editorial in the Denver Post with a good round-up of myths and truths about Canadian health care. I've lived under the Canadian, US, British and Costa Rican health care systems and of the four, I believe that the Canadian one functions best (I'd rank them Canadian, British, Costa Rican and US). My experience with all four includes routine and urgent care. I've had firsthand experience of pre-and post-natal care in Canada, the US and the UK; I've also seen the Canadian, US and UK palliative care system in action.

On the other hand, I believe that the UK system of caring for elderly people is better than the others; Costa Ricans have better services for rural people; and the US has a better culture of retail service (outside of healthcare) than anywhere else I've lived.

Myth: Taxes in Canada are extremely high, mostly because of national health care.

In actuality, taxes are nearly equal on both sides of the border. Overall, Canada's taxes are slightly higher than those in the U.S. However, Canadians are afforded many benefits for their tax dollars, even beyond health care (e.g., tax credits, family allowance, cheaper higher education), so the end result is a wash. At the end of the day, the average after-tax income of Canadian workers is equal to about 82 percent of their gross pay. In the U.S., that average is 81.9 percent.

Myth: Canada's health care system is a cumbersome bureaucracy.

The U.S. has the most bureaucratic health care system in the world. More than 31 percent of every dollar spent on health care in the U.S. goes to paperwork, overhead, CEO salaries, profits, etc. The provincial single-payer system in Canada operates with just a 1 percent overhead. Think about it. It is not necessary to spend a huge amount of money to decide who gets care and who doesn't when everybody is covered.

Full Denver Post article "Debunking Canadian health care myths"

Monday, July 06, 2009

FINANCE - The New Robber Baron

"How a Loophole Benefits GE in Bank Rescue" by Jeff Gerth and Brady Dennis, Washington Post 6/29/2009


General Electric, the world's largest industrial company, has quietly become the biggest beneficiary of one of the government's key rescue programs for banks.

At the same time, GE has avoided many of the restrictions facing other financial giants getting help from the government.

The company did not initially qualify for the program, under which the government sought to unfreeze credit markets by guaranteeing debt sold by banking firms. But regulators soon loosened the eligibility requirements, in part because of behind-the-scenes appeals from GE.

As a result, GE has joined major banks collectively saving billions of dollars by raising money for their operations at lower interest rates. Public records show that GE Capital, the company's massive financing arm, has issued nearly a quarter of the $340 billion in debt backed by the program, which is known as the Temporary Liquidity Guarantee Program, or TLGP. The government's actions have been "powerful and helpful" to the company, GE chief executive Jeffrey Immelt acknowledged in December.

GE's finance arm is not classified as a bank. Rather, it worked its way into the rescue program by owning two relatively small Utah banking institutions, illustrating how the loopholes in the U.S. regulatory system are manifest in the government's historic intervention in the financial crisis.

ACT I, SCENE 5: Stage right, 30ft stack of gold bars, on top a shadowy figure, slavering and chanting, "More money, more money, MORE money" while ripping into a carcass labeled "US Taxpayer."

ECONOMICS - The Issue of Water and War

"A Bridge over Troubled (and Scarce) Water" by Ronnie Lovler, NewsDesk.ORG

"Bridging Divides for Water" is the motto of the Fifth World Water Forum, currently taking place in Istanbul, and the biggest divide of all seems to be between those who see water as business and those for whom it is a human right.

This conflict was highlighted by protesters who clashed with Turkish police, activists demanding an end to water privatization, and advocacy groups that staged their own sidebar conferences.

These include the Istanbul Water Tribunal and the Alternative Water Forum, Al Jazeera reports.

According to the United Nations, more than half of the planet's six billion people don't have adequate access to water, with climate change and population growth cited as two leading reasons why demand is outstripping water supplies.

Then there is the issue of war and water. According to, Bruno Riesen of Amnesty International claimed: "Water played a key role in 37 wars during the last 60 years."

Experts anticipate still more conflict in the years to come, especially in the arid Middle East.

When war breaks out, access to water and sanitary living conditions are among the first things to go. A Red Cross report mentioned Iraq, Gaza, Sri Lanka and Somalia as places where water supplies and public health have been impacted by conflict.

According to Reuters, one out of every six people worldwide don't have safe drinking water, while an estimated 2.5 billion live in unsanitary conditions, where open sewage pits and trenches bring a huge economic and human toll.

In an interview with Al Jazeera, U.N. officials acknowledged they are really not sure how bad the problem of access to water really is, because they don't have adequate access to water data.

The same report noted that a U.N. initiative on corporate accountability is not working because businesses are underreporting their environmental footprints.

ECONOMICS - Global Recession and Microfinance

"Cloudy Skies at the Microfinance Horizon?" by Ronnie Lovler, NewsDesk.ORG

Microfinance may be in for some rough times, as the impact of the global recession works its way down the economic food chain.

In Africa, less money for microfinance projects is coming in from Europe and the United States, the Daily Nation of Kenya reports.

Meanwhile, the demand for microfunds is up threefold, reports the Africa Microfinance Action Forum, as people lose their regular jobs and look to become entrepreneurs.

The same scenario is playing out in Europe. Although a new European Union microfinance institution is being set up to provide small-business loans for the unemployed, New Europe reports that critics are already saying it offers too little.

The Jordan Times notes that the country's royal family is making a pitch for more support from microlenders for agricultural projects, while in the Philippines, Business World Online reports that the Mindinao Microfinance Council has almost halved its goals for clients served by 2010 -- from 1 million to 600,000.

The same struggles may affect loan repayment. A recent survey predicts that soaring defaults by low-income borrowers in Africa may ruin hundreds of microfinance lenders, reports The East African.

And growth in microlending in the United States may also divert resources from the developing world, with Kiva, which defines itself as the world's first person-to-person micro-lending website, taking the lead.

Until now, Kiva has focused on developing countries; opening the door for American entrepreneurs could increase the competition for microfunding worldwide.

The guru of microfinancing -- Bangladeshi economist Muhammad Yunus, a Nobel laureate -- has also set up U.S. operations, first in New York, and now in Omaha, Nebraska, reports World Magazine.

Yunus follows a model of what he calls "trust-based banking," by lending money to women, whom he finds more reliable than men because of their concerns for their children, according to the Taipei Times.

While many still sing the praises of microfinancing, an ongoing study by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Global Development questions whether microfinancing really works.

The researchers, David Roodman and Jonathan Murdoch, say that previous studies were contradictory, producing "controversy and confusion" as to whether microfinancing, as opposed to other factors not effectively measured by the studies, has a positive impact on low-income borrowers.

"Strikingly, 30 years into the microfinance movement we have little solid evidence that it improves the lives of clients in measurable ways," they wrote.

Note my Kiva page in sidebar

POLITICS - More Powell vs Limbaugh

"Powell Whacks Limbaugh And Republicans For Calling Sotomayor Racist" by Sam Stein, Huffington Post

Colin Powell, who hails from the same Bronx neighborhood as Sonia Sotomayor, said on Sunday that the Supreme Court nominee was of a "liberal bent of mind," but not so much that it would be "disqualifying" to her confirmation prospects.

In his appearance on CNN's "State of the Union," the former Secretary of State saved his sharpest jabs for the Republicans who have painted Sotomayor as a racist.

"She ought to be asked about everything from both the left and the right," said Powell, who endorsed Barack Obama towards the end of the presidential campaign. "What we can't continue to have is to have somebody like a Judge Sotomayor, who is announced, and based on one simple, tricky, but nonetheless case that the Supreme Court has now decided, have her called a racist, a reverse racist, and she ought to withdraw her nomination because we're mad at her."

Powell expressed relief that the GOP senators who sit on the Judiciary Committee, "after a few days of this kind of nonsense," decided to drop the Sotomayor-as-racist frame. But he would go on to argue that the Republican Party still had a major problem when it came to reaching out to minority voters. In the process, Powell took what seemed clear to be a jab at radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh for some of his more inflammatory rhetoric.

"If you look at the results of the election last fall, and make a judgment on the basis of how the party did with respect to the Hispanic vote and the African-American vote, realizing that President Obama, candidate Obama had a significant advantage with those constituencies, we haven't done well enough," he said. "And when you have non-elected officials, such as we have in our party, who immediately shout racism, or somebody who is quite prominent in the media says that the only basis upon which I could possibly have supported Obama was because he was black and I was black, even though I laid out my judgment on the candidates, then we still have a problem."

Referee's decision, TKO for Powell!

IRAQ WAR - More Exposed, It WAS About Oil

"Eager to Tap Iraq's Vast Oil Reserves, Industry Execs Suggested Invasion" by Jason Leopold, The Public Record 7/1/2009


Two years before the invasion of Iraq, oil executives and foreign policy advisers told the Bush administration that the United States would remain "a prisoner of its energy dilemma" as long as Saddam Hussein was in power.

That April 2001 report, "Strategic Policy Challenges for the 21st Century," was prepared by the James A. Baker Institute for Public Policy and the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations at the request of then-Vice President Dick Cheney.

In retrospect, it appears that the report helped focus administration thinking on why it made geopolitical sense to oust Hussein, whose country sat on the world's second largest oil reserves.

"Iraq remains a de-stabilizing influence to the flow of oil to international markets from the Middle East," the report said.

"Saddam Hussein has also demonstrated a willingness to threaten to use the oil weapon and to use his own export program to manipulate oil markets. Therefore the U.S. should conduct an immediate policy review toward Iraq including military, energy, economic and political/diplomatic assessments.

"Like it or not, Iraqi reserves represent a major asset that can quickly add capacity to world oil markets and inject a more competitive tenor to oil trade."

The advisory committee that helped prepare the report included Luis Giusti, a Shell Corp. non-executive director; John Manzoni, regional president of British Petroleum; and David O'Reilly, chief executive of ChevronTexaco.

James Baker, the namesake for the public policy institute, was a prominent oil industry lawyer who also served as Secretary of State under President George H.W. Bush and was counsel to the Bush/Cheney campaign during the Florida recount in 2000.

Ken Lay, then chairman of the energy-trading Enron Corp., also made recommendations that were included in the Baker report.

At the time of the report, Cheney was leading an energy task force made up of powerful industry executives who assisted him in drafting a comprehensive "National Energy Policy" for President George W. Bush.

A Focus on Oil

It was believed then that Cheney's secretive task force was focusing on ways to reduce environmental regulations and fend off the Kyoto protocol on global warming.

But Bush's first Treasury Secretary, Paul O'Neill, later described a White House interest in invading Iraq and controlling its vast oil reserves, dating back to the first days of the Bush presidency.

POLITICS - The GOP, Behind the Scenes

"Internal GOP Memo Attacks Bush Handling Of Economy" by Greg Sargent, Who Runs GOV

An internal GOP memo prepared to brief some House Republicans as part of an ongoing probe into the Bank of America-Merrill Lynch deal takes direct aim at an unlikely target: Former President George W. Bush.

The memo directly blames Bush’s handling of the economic meltdown, and it coins a striking new phrase linking Bush and Obama and blaming both administration’s bailout policies in tandem for exacerbating the meltdown: “The Great Bush-Obama Economic Intervention.”

The memo goes considerably farther than many GOPers have been willing to go in publicly questioning Bush on the economy. It suggests that Republicans may soon begin making a public case that attacks both Bush’s and Obama’s economic policies when the next step in Obama’s overhaul of financial regulations hits.

“The financial crisis of 2008 had its roots primarily in ill-conceived government policies,” reads the memo. It was prepared by Republican staffers to advise GOP members of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on how to handle a recent hearing on the government’s role in Bank of America’s purchase of Merrill Lynch.

The memo attacks Bush’s — and Obama’s — bailout policies for exacerbating the crisis. “Given the role of government policies in creating the conditions for the housing bubble which caused the financial crisis, it is remarkable that the prescription of the Bush Administration and the Democratic Congress was more government intervention in the economy,” it says. “The Obama administration has not missed a stride.”

You can read the memo right here. Other aspects of the memo have already gotten a little press attention, but no one has focused on the attacks on Bush.

It would be pretty interesting if Republicans begin making the case that Bush’s economic policies were disastrous, and use them to tar Obama’s. If you start hearing GOP attacks on the “Bush-Obama economic intervention,” you’ll know where they came from.

As truth leaks out the GOP tailspin continues.

HEALTHCARE - The Insured and Bankruptcy

"Insured, but Bankrupted by Health Crises" by REED ABELSON, New York Times


Health insurance is supposed to offer protection — both medically and financially. But as it turns out, an estimated three-quarters of people who are pushed into personal bankruptcy by medical problems actually had insurance when they got sick or were injured.

And so, even as Washington tries to cover the tens of millions of Americans without medical insurance, many health policy experts say simply giving everyone an insurance card will not be enough to fix what is wrong with the system.

Too many other people already have coverage so meager that a medical crisis means financial calamity.

One of them is Lawrence Yurdin, a 64-year-old computer security specialist. Although the brochure on his Aetna policy seemed to indicate it covered up to $150,000 a year in hospital care, the fine print excluded nearly all of the treatment he received at an Austin, Tex., hospital.

He and his wife, Claire, filed for bankruptcy last December, as his unpaid medical bills approached $200,000.

In the House and Senate, lawmakers are grappling with the details of legislation that would set minimum standards for insurance coverage and place caps on out-of-pocket expenses. And fear of the high price tag could prompt lawmakers to settle for less than comprehensive coverage for some Americans.

But patient advocates argue it is crucial for the final legislation to guarantee a base level of coverage, if people like Mr. Yurdin are to be protected from financial ruin. They also call for a new layer of federal rules to correct the current state-by-state regulatory patchwork that allows some insurance companies to sell relatively worthless policies.

“Underinsurance is the great hidden risk of the American health care system,” said Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard law professor who has analyzed medical bankruptcies. “People do not realize they are one diagnosis away from financial collapse.”

IRAN - The Public View 6/29/2009

"Poll: Americans Don’t Want To Intervene In Iran And Approve Of Obama Comments" by JOE GANDELMAN, The Moderate Voice

A new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll provides yet another example of how the talk radio political culture is outside the country’s emerging political center: it basically finds strong support for the Obama administration’s non-intervention stand in the Iranian election as well as President Barack Obama’s comments that have been soundly blasted by conservatives and on radio and cable talk radio:

A new national poll suggests that that nearly three out of four Americans don’t want the U.S. directly intervene in the election crisis in Iran even though most Americans are upset by how the Iranian government has dealt with protests over controversial election results.

More than eight in ten questioned in the CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll, released Monday, think the election results released by the Iranian government were a fraud, with just one in ten believing the results were accurate. But only three in ten respondents say they are personally outraged by the results, with another 55 percent upset by not outraged.

Most Americans approve of how President Obama’s handled the situation. And 74 percent think the U.S. government should not directly intervene in the post-election crisis, with one out of four feeling that Washington should openly support the demonstrators who are protesting the election results.

This underscores a fact of the modern media, if you including within that definition the old mainstream media (newspapers, traditional broadcast, news magazines) and new media (cable and talk radio, blogs, etc.): anger and outrage are at a premium and it gets readerships and viewership.

But so far a steady stream of polls suggests that Obama is either reflecting or influencing the country’s political middle. His winning election coalition continues to support him. It’s basically comprised of Democrats, independent voters (who are not monolithic but more support him then don’t even thought his support from this group has suffered some erosion), and some Republicans turned off by some things about their own party. Those Republicans are often more moderate Republicans.

The group most marginalized in this? Conservative Republicans allied with the talk radio political culture. The CNN poll shows this trend again:

“Some 56 percent say that Obama’s criticism of the Iranian regime has been about right. Only a third say that he has not gone far enough in his comments about the situation in Iran,” said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. “If the number who are outraged by what’s going on Iran were higher, we would probably see a higher number of Americans who say that Obama has not been tough enough on the leaders of that country.”

“Interestingly, older Americans are more likely to be outraged. They may have bitter memories of the American hostages held by Iran for more than a year in 1979 and 1980,” said CNN Senior Political Analyst Bill Schneider.

This trend (and coalition) may not persist throughout Obama’s term, but it is relatively steady — as is Obama’s high approval rating:

A new national poll indicates that President Barack Obama’s approval rating among Americans remains steady.

Sixty-one percent of people questioned in a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Monday say they approve of how Obama’s handling his duties as president. Thirty-seven percent disapprove.

The 61 percent approval rating is down one point from May and down six points from February.

“Since March, Obama’s approval rating has gone down one percentage point each month in CNN polls,” notes CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. “In March it was 64 percent; in April it was 63 percent. Last month his approval rating stood at 62 percent and now it is at 61 percent.”

The poll suggests when it comes to opinions of Obama, gender and generation gaps continue.

Sixty-seven percent of women questioned in the survey approve of how Obama’s handling his job as president. That number drops to 54 percent among men. Two-thirds of people under 50 years old questioned in the poll approve of the president’s handling of his duties. That number drops to 54 percent among people over 50 years of age.

POLITICS - Supreme Court on State Regulation

"Scalia breaks ranks, slams Bush officials on bank regulation" by Kevin G. Hall, McClatchy News


In a rebuke of the Bush administration, the Supreme Court ruled Monday that a federal bank regulator erred in quashing efforts by New York state to combat the kind of predatory mortgage lending that triggered the nation's financial crisis.

The 5-4 ruling by the high court was unusual. Justice Antonin Scalia, arguably the most conservative jurist, wrote the majority's opinion and was joined by the court's four liberal judges.
The five justices held that contrary to what the Bush administration had argued, states can enforce their own laws on matters such as discrimination and predatory lending, even if that crosses into areas under federal regulation.

Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for the four dissenters, argued that laws dating back to the nation's founding prevent states from meddling in federal bank regulation. He was joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts and justices Anthony Kennedy and Samuel Alito.

The ruling angered many in the financial sector, who fear it'll lead to a patchwork of state laws that'll make it harder for banks and other financial firms to take a national approach to the marketplace.

What would you expect. "They" want to continue to bend the rules, and even cheat, behind closed doors without having to buy state regulators (via legislation).