July 27, 2009

Revealed: The Secret Evidence of Global Warming Bush Tried to Hide

barrow alaska ice cover 06-07

There are still people out there with their heads in the sand, claiming that global warming and climate change aren’t caused or at least exacerbated by human influence, that climate change is a “religion” instead of scientific fact. To these people, the phrase “just because you want it to be the case doesn’t make it so” applies ten-fold. Just because these people don’t want to share responsibility for the damage we’re causing to our ecosystem (ironically, these are the same people who nihilistically and stupidly claim that you can’t “harm” the Earth because there’s nothing we can do to really really damage it that it won’t recover from) doesn’t mean the damage isn’t happening, and doesn’t mean that we don’t need to do something about it now.

The Obama administration recently declassified satellite imagery that the Bush administration had kept under lock and key for years, mostly with the intent of keeping the so-called climate change “debate” alive long enough that they didn’t have to risk their pocketbooks by doing anything about it, and they didn’t want to have to present even more clear and damning evidence in front of the American people that climate change is real, is happening now, and is having a very visceral impact on the environment.

Graphic images that reveal the devastating impact of global warming in the Arctic have been released by the US military. The photographs, taken by spy satellites over the past decade, confirm that in recent years vast areas in high latitudes have lost their ice cover in summer months.

The pictures, kept secret by Washington during the presidency of George W Bush, were declassified by the White House last week. President Barack Obama is currently trying to galvanise Congress and the American public to take action to halt catastrophic climate change caused by rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

One particularly striking set of images – selected from the 1,000 photographs released – includes views of the Alaskan port of Barrow. One, taken in July 2006, shows sea ice still nestling close to the shore. A second image shows that by the following July the coastal waters were entirely ice-free.

The photographs demonstrate starkly how global warming is changing the Arctic. More than a million square kilometres of sea ice – a record loss – were missing in the summer of 2007 compared with the previous year.

Nor has this loss shown any sign of recovery. Ice cover for 2008 was almost as bad as for 2007, and this year levels look equally sparse.

When you talk to the people who live there; who make their livelihoods in those waters, they’ll tell you the same thing. Let’s be clear – weather does not climate make, and the two are not the same thing by any stretch, but there are some disturbing trends that simply can’t be ignored.

The Obama administration is already taking steps to bring science back to its proper place of investigation, observation, and limited recommendation in public life. Now comes the hard part – getting the American people and their elected representatives to garner the guts and will to do something about what the scientific community has been telling us for years.

[ Revealed: The Secret Evidence of Global Warming Bush Tried to Hide ]
Source: The Guardian UK

The Great Tax Con Job

Since I mentioned the last post the class divide and how the middle and lower classes have essentially been fooled into believing that they’re feeding off of one another while the wealthiest continue to rig economic and social systems to keep themselves wealthy and in power, let’s dive a bit more into the bold statement from that post – that the wealthiest one-percent of Americans pay the lowest tax rates they have since the 1920s.

Thom Hartmann calls it The Great Tax Con Job, essentially how the wealthiest Americans have gotten the rest of America to believe that any and all domestic spending is terrible and will essentially come out of their pockets, and to conveniently ignore the hand-over-fist spending we’re both already doing for some of these broken issues and that we spent getting into these messes.

A very small niche of America’s uber-wealthy have pulled off what may well be the biggest con job in the history of our republic, and they did it in a startlingly brief 30 or so years. True, they spent over three billion dollars to make it happen, but the reward to them was in the hundreds of billions – and will continue to be.

As my friend and colleague Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks pointed out in a Daily Kos blog recently, billionaire Rupert Murdoch loses $50 million a year on the NY Post, billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife loses $2 to $3 million a year on the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, billionaire Philip Anschutz loses around $5 million a year on The Weekly Standard, and billionaire Sun Myung Moon has lost $2 to $3 billion on The Washington Times.

Why are these guys willing to lose so much money funding “conservative” media? Why do they bulk-buy every right-wing book that comes out to throw it to the top of the NY Times Bestseller list and then give away the copies to “subscribers” to their websites and publications? Why do they fund to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars a year money-hole “think tanks” like Heritage and Cato?

The answer is pretty straightforward. They do it because it buys them respectability, and gets their con job out there. Even though William Kristol’s publication is a money-losing joke (with only 85,000 subscribers!), his association with the Standard was enough to get him on TV talk shows whenever he wants, and a column with The New York Times. The Washington Times catapulted Tony Blankley to stardom.

The message is only part of the problem – so these folks own plenty of outlets with which to get their message out, and with which to spread the misinformation they want us all to believe. So now what do they do with it?

All so they could run a tax con on the American people, thus keeping Moon and Murdoch and Scaife and Anschutz (and others) richer than you or I could ever even imagine.

All of this money was spent – invested, really, since it’s been more than saved back in low income tax rates on millionaires and billionaires – to convince Americans that up is down and black is white when it comes to income taxes. Here’s how it works:

Rich Person’s Tax Effect

If a person earns so much money that he doesn’t or can’t spend it all each year, then when his taxes go down your income after taxes goes up. This is largely because there’s little to no relationship between what he “needs to live on” and what he’s “earning.”

Somebody living on a million dollars a year but earning five million after taxes, can sock away four million in a Swiss bank. If his taxes go up enough to drop his after-tax income to only three million a year, he’s still living on a million a year, and only socks away two million in the Swiss bank. His “disposable” income goes down when his taxes go up, and vice-versa. (Technically, the word is “discretionary” income for after-tax, after-living-expenses income, but “disposable” income has become so widely used as a phrase to describe discretionary income I’ll use it here.)

The Rich Person’s Tax Effect is the one that virtually all Americans understand – and, oddly, most working class people think applies to them, too (this is the truly amazing part of the con job referred to earlier).

But it doesn’t.

Hartmann goes on to dissect, in brilliant detail to which I think it’s worth spreading around to every libertarian and conservative you may know, what the tax burden looks like to the average American. He also points out historical data that backs up the fact that when you do tax the wealthiest Americans – the government does a far better job of trickling down that money than Reagan ever believed those wealthiest people could ever do on their own. It’s the reason why Reagonomics didn’t work then, won’t work now, and will never work in the future.

To that end, Hartmann proposes eliminating this “no new taxes” catch phrase from the American political vocabulary entirely. A little education will remind the American people that so-called “new taxes” mean very little to them and their pocketbooks, and always have:

While there’s much discussion about letting the Bush tax cuts expire, if we really want our country to recover its financial footing we must do something altogether different. We need to roll back the Reagan tax cuts that took the top marginal rate from above 70% down into the 30% range.

First, though, we have to help Americans realize that “no new taxes” is a mantra that is meaningful to the very rich, but largely irrelevant to average working people.

Only when the current generation re-learns the economic and tax lessons well known by the generation (now dying off) that came of age in the 30s through the 60s, will this become politically possible. Americans need to learn what Europeans know about taxes – they only matter to the rich.

Thus today the uber-rich are spending hundreds of millions to make sure words like “burden” are always associated with the word “tax,” and to convince average working people that they should throw out of office any politicians who are willing to raise taxes on the rich.

We have a lot of education to do…and as long as the Right Wing Machine of the uber-rich continues to “lose” (e.g. “invest”) millions of dollars a year in their ongoing disinformation campaign, it’s going to require all of us reciting the mantra, “Roll back the Reagan tax cuts!”

[ The Great Tax Con Job ]
Source: OpEd News

Summing Up the Health Care Debate

This is the kind of news that cuts me deeply, and makes me fly into a rage when the libertarian sect turn out their “why do I have to pay for their health care” talking points. You know, the ones right next to the “the middle class always gets shafted just because we work for a living.”

There may be some truth to the second than the first, but that’s a whole other discussion on the class divide and how people who believe they’re scrambling for every little thing they have (and may actually be) somehow believe that those beneath them are taking something from them while the people who make more than they do both aren’t taking anything and don’t actively ensure that the monetary and economic systems in this country aren’t consistently configured to keep them wealthy. Somehow this logic makes sense to the frustrated paycheck-to-paycheck middle-class crowd with whom the conservative version of “fiscal responsibility,” which is really “I’ve got mine, you can go to hell” resonates with.

The progressive version of that same philosophy involves cutting extraneous costs and investing in future cost savings – as in, let’s spend some dough now so we don’t have to ever spend this money again, or at least for a long long time. It’s the same mentality that got us out of the Great Depression, it’s the same mentality that built our highways, our sewers, our train lines, and our cities. What’s the conservative alternative? Do nothing until it crumbles, and then complain about it and the money required to fix it while refusing to offer any alternatives.

Such is the health care debate.

From a brilliant article at The Coloradoan titled 1 Percenters Enjoy Unprecedented Protection, David Sirota makes a few points painfully clear:

But what really makes the ultra-wealthy so fortunate, what truly separates this moment from a run-of-the-mill Gilded Age, is the unprecedented protection the 1-percenters have bought for themselves on the most pressing issues.

To review: With 22,000 Americans dying each year because they lack health insurance, Congress is considering universal health care legislation financed by a surcharge on income above $280,000 — that is, a levy almost exclusively on 1-percenters. This surtax would graze just 5 percent of small businesses and would recoup only part of the $700 billion the 1-percenters received from the Bush tax cuts. In fact, it is so miniscule, those making $1 million annually would pay just $9,000 more in taxes every year — or nine-tenths of 1 percent of their 12-month haul.

Nonetheless, the 1-percenters have deployed an army to destroy the initiative before it makes progress.

Sirota goes on to describe who some of those groups are, but he really levels his sights at the media; rightfully – who have been labeling the House proposal for a tax on those 1 percenters – the folks who earn and are worth the most but pay the least amount of taxes in the United States that their income level has since the 1920s – as some kind of “punishment,” playing into the language game of the conservatives and libertarians who want desperately to believe that they’re somehow being shafted for being willing to participate in a community where everyone benefits. Somehow that amounts to socialism – the same thing that these same people are desperately afraid of when Obama took office.

That’s right – these Americans were desperately afraid that they would have to own up to the fact that they’re not alone, we’re all connected as a nation and as a community, and that heaven forbid, when you live together like we do as Americans and you’re as proud of your nation as we are as Americans, you need to be willing to make that nation strong, sustainable, and healthy. They’re intensely afraid they’ll have to look their neighbors in the eye and say “We’re in this together.” Because that, apparently, is socialism.

That fantastical fairly tale, of course, couldn’t exist without the Millionaire Media – the elite journalists and opinionmongers who represent corporate media conglomerates and/or are themselves extremely wealthy. Ignoring all the data about inequality, they legitimize the assertions of the 1 percenters’ first two battalions, while actually claiming America’s fat cats are unfairly persecuted.

Most brazenly, NBC’s Meredith Vieira asks President Barack Obama why the surtax is intent on “punishing the rich”?

For his part, Obama has responded with characteristic coolness – and a powerful counter-strike. “No, it’s not punishing the rich,” he said. “If I can afford to do a little bit more so that a whole bunch of families out there have a little more security, when I already have security, that’s part of being a community.”

If any volley can thwart this latest attack of the 1 percenters, it is that simple idea.

[ 1 Percenters Enjoy Unprecedented Protection ]
Source: The Coloradoan

The attacks don’t stop there though – the right-wing, who claims loud and clear that this plan is “too expensive” and “hurts business” and “will cost jobs” and “taxes Americans” and any other contradictory, nonsensical vomitous assault they can throw at the plan, have openly and completely refused to offer their own alternatives. All they can do is offer amendments to boost funding for pet projects and local pork, but they have flat out stated that they have no plan of their own to offer and have no alternative.

Yes folks, these are the same Republicans you voted out of office – when America was clamoring for change, these were the folks who sat back and said “you know? I’m living kind of good. I like it this way? Why change?” They’re the same folks who brazenly said that a “new direction” for America should be left to the people who got us into these problems, and for that honor earned the title “the party of No:” as in “no solutions, no change, no alternatives, no plan, no brains.”

They’ve rallied with their health care industry allies – the same ones who are making money hand over fist refusing to treat our cancers, our broken bones, our mild illnesses until they become life threatening diseases, and who refuse to do any preventative medicine in favor of sending us into bankruptcy when our illnesses become critical – to try and derail any health care reform.

As Republicans fire away on health reform, big business is stepping up attacks too, lobbying and advertising guns blazing.

Push finally came to shove in Washington this past week as the battle for health care escalated from scattered sniper fire into all-out combat. If it all seems to be getting more and more confusing, join the club. It’s hard to see what’s happening through all the gun smoke.

The Republicans have more than health care reform in their bomb sights—they want a loss for Obama so crushing it will bring the administration to its knees and restore GOP control of Congress after next year’s elections.

In the words of Republican Senator Jim DeMint, “If we’re able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him.”

The “Waterloo” of DeMint’s metaphor, of course, is not the 1974 Abba hit but the battle in 1815 that ended Napoleon Bonaparte’s rule as Emperor of France—a humiliating defeat and a turning point in European history. Right-wingers like Glenn Beck see Obama as Napoleon incarnate, a popular emperor who must be stopped.

Here’s what Beck said on his television show Monday, July 20: “I’m telling you, this guy is dangerous. He’s never lost before. He won’t understand … like, ‘Who are you to question me?’ I mean, this guy is practically an imperial President now. When he starts to lose and people start to question him and push him back against the wall, he’s not gonna know how to react.”

The Republican strategy is almost identical to the way they turned health care into Waterloo for Bill and Hillary Clinton in 1993.

That being said, while we’re working to get some fundamental reform, we have to make sure we’re doing it RIGHT – not just for the sake of doing it, as Bill Moyers goes on to explain:

President Obama rejected the Republicans’ Waterloo metaphor and mounted a massive media counteroffensive of his own. But the President has already run into booby traps of his own making and minefields laid by members of his own party, exacerbated when the Congressional Budget Office reported that reform plans, instead of controlling costs, would send the national debt further into the stratosphere.

Meanwhile, supporters who want to scrap the present system for fundamental change are staring glumly though the fog of war at a battlefield in total disarray.

They fear that in the White House’s desire to get a bill—any bill—passed by Congress, it will have been so compromised, so bent to favor the big interests, that it will be less Waterloo than watered down, a steady diluting of the change they had hoped for and that America needs.

The big drug companies are already so pleased with what they’ve been promised that they’ve brought back Harry and Louise—the make-believe couple who starred in TV ads that helped torpedo the Clinton health care plan—but this time they’re in favor of reform.

This…could be a problem, as you can tell. So keep the pressure up on your representatives in Congress, and make sure that change doesn’t just come, but it’s the right kind of change at that.

[ Dangerous Alliance of Health Industry and Right-Wingers ]
Source: Campaign for America’s Future

July 20, 2009

So Much Progress and Yet So Far to Go

The NAACP just celebrated its 100th anniversary, and with that is a time for reflection on what the NAACP has done and how far we’ve come. I can’t say I’m an NAACP member although I fully support the organization and its mission, and while I have some grievances with the way the old guard is conducting the new battle against racism, it’s clear that the NAACP has been a major figure in winning the rights that I enjoy and defend, and in fighting on to break down the barriers that still exist.

Dr. Wilmer Leon III writes for TruthOut that while there’s been so much wonderful work done, there’s much more remaining to be done:

On February 12, 2009, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) marked its 100th anniversary. The NAACP is America’s oldest, largest and most widely recognized grassroots-based civil rights organization.

The NAACP is an organization with a unique vision and mission. As stated on their web site, its vision is to ensure a society in which all individuals have equal rights and there is no racial hatred or racial discrimination. Its mission is to ensure the political, educational, social and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate racial hatred and racial discrimination.

With the election of an African-American president, there are those who are asking if the NAACP is still relevant. In a “new America,” a so-called “post racial” America, is the NAACP still needed? Since the founding of the NAACP on February 12, 1909, so much progress has been made and, yet, there is so far to go.

He’s absolutely right. It would be foolish of us to think that racism is all but gone, and yet there are many Americans who insist that racism is a figment of the imaginations of minority groups. These people look down on minorities and minority cultures that have grown out of that racism in America – they sneer at hip-hop culture and gang activity, claiming that Black Americans deserve it because they won’t fix it; they laugh at Latin Americans who have neither the resources or the opportunity to learn English for not speaking their language yet having the gall to work in their hotels and restaurants to make them more comfortable.

And when those people are wronged, these privileged folks will be the first one to stand up and claim that they’re playing the “race card,” that they’re “reverse racists,” and that they’ve somehow benefitted from affirmative action.

Dr. Leon drops the hammer and brings in one of my favorite writers and activists of all time to answer the inevitable question:

W.E.B. DuBois, founder and general secretary of the Niagara movement and among the founders of the NAACP, wrote in 1952, “The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the colour line.” He was right then and is correct today. Who would have thought that in 2009 a swim club in the City of Brotherly Love would revert to the Jim Crow practices of the 30s, 40s and 50s simply because some white parents were misguided and afraid of what some black and Latino swimmers might do to their children?

Do we need the NAACP? Is the NAACP still relevant?

As long as African-American men are incarcerated at a rate of more than six times the rate of white men and the incarceration of black women continues to grow at record numbers, the answer is yes! As long as unemployment among African-American’s is more than twice the rate of white Americans (four times in New York) and as long as studies show that a black family’s income is a little more than half that of a similar white family’s income, the answer is yes! As long as African-Americans continue to deal with “Driving While Black,” excessive high school drop out rates and imbalances in health care, the answer is yes!

Have we made racial progress in America? Yes, we have, but even with so much progress, we have yet so far to go. We still have miles to go before we sleep. Dr. Dubois, the problem of the twenty-first century is the problem of the color line.

[ So Much Progress and Yet So Far to Go ]
Source: TruthOut

Pat Buchanan Helps the GOP Lose the Latino Vote; Rachel Maddow Brings the Smackdown

Oh Pat Buchanan, we all know you, but every now and again you give us the opportunity to really know you. Remember when you ran for President and made disparaging comments about Hispanics and Black Americans? I do, and frankly, I don’t expect much else from you save the normal frothing nonsense that you tend to spew forth whenever possible, but this just takes the cake.

On the Sotomayor hearings and nomination:

Pat Buchanan, MSNBC’s Chief Racist Correspondent:

What they must do is expose Sotomayor, as they did not in the case of Ginsburg, as a political activist whose career bespeaks a lifelong resolve to discriminate against white males to the degree necessary to bring about an equality of rewards in society.

Sonia is, first and foremost, a Latina. She has not hesitated to demand, even in college and law school, ethnic and gender preferences for her own. Her concept of justice is race-based.

First of all Pat, while I’ll never deny that racism can go in any direction – and by that I mean that people can pre-judge others of any race or creed – it’s impossible for Sotomayor to discriminate against the majority group currently holding power. The next thing I expect to hear Pat say is that Sotomayor is some kind of “affirmative action appointee,” that somehow her race is what got her this position while completely ignoring her history and qualifications for the job. This is the same mentality that crops up in people that think the only reason Barack Obama was elected was because he’s Black, not because he was the best, most qualified candidate.

Sotomayor is no liberal steadfast – the only joy I take in her taking the bench is in knowing she’s a fair and even-handed judge with exceptional experience that also happens to be of a minority group that helps bring the high court more in line with the populace it serves, but to hear her sullied in the media by the likes of people like Buchanan makes me sick to my stomach.

What Pat is forgetting is this little thing called white privilege. I’ve written about the topic several times in the past, but as usual, the only time a White male is willing to call someone racist is when it’s not a White male. Pat is willing to jump on Sotomayor for being “racist,” but he won’t say a word when children in Pennsylvania are kicked out of a pool for changing its complexion.

This same privilege crops up even in intelligent, otherwise racially just individuals who have pretty reasonable outlooks on life – it really comes down to a fierce desire that’s been socialized into usually White men and women that they have to somehow protect their power and opportunity against an encroaching mob of minority groups demanding they be granted something that they deem them unworthy for. It’s not nearly that malicious, but it comes down to the attitude that everything is merit-based when it has to do with them and race-based when it has to do with someone else.

Point in case – I listened to an excellent interview where a commenter pointed out that while everyone is crying about Sotomayor’s judgment and judicial temperament (by the way, which is entirely code for “fiery latina who loses her cool on the bench,” don’t mistake that for something non-racial for a minute) they usually wonder how her ethnicity is going to affect her judgement on the critical issues that will come before the court.

At the same time, no one has ever asked the inverse question – how does being a white male influence the judgement of most of the other Justices? Why does everyone assume that a Latina will judge one way because she’s a Latin American, but no one wonders if a White male will judge one way because of that? Why in our society is White male the default for fairness and impartiality and everything else is something “other?” It doesn’t make sense.

[ Pat Buchanan Helps the GOP Lose the Latino Vote ]
Source: Alternet

Thankfully, Rachel Maddow had a few choice words for Buchanan and called him out on his blatant racism. She writes for Alternet as an introduction to the transcript of her interview:

For decades, conservatives played on the racist and sexist fears of their constituents by spinning dramatic tales of the white man’s decline in the face of advances by women, African-Americans, Hispanics and other minority groups. Conveniently putting aside their calls for personal responsibility, conservative pundits and many GOP legislators blamed the woes of working-class white men on affirmative action programs.

Uppity women and minority groups, or so the story went, were exploiting past injustice to gain an unearned leg-up over more deserving white males. White men were, allegedly, increasingly victimized by government policies that privileged women and minorities.

Needless to say, conservatives were far more concerned with rolling back the rights of women and minorities than offering policy solutions that truly helped low-income white men.

In the past few months, conservative griping about the oppression of white men has come back with a vengeance. Lacking any real material with which to attack judicial nominee Sonia Sotomayor, Republican lawmakers and media conservatives have mightily struggled to paint Sotomayor as an unqualified affirmative-action candidate — one committed to using the law to erode the rights of while males.

Sotomayor was absurdly attacked as a “reverse racist”; she was accused of gaming the system to get ahead; her temperament, educational achievements and judicial history were slimely undermined despite ample evidence that she is more than qualified to serve on the Court.

Some of the most vicious attacks have come from Pat Buchanan, a conservative extremist who for mysterious reasons still enjoys a spot on MSNBC as a “political analyst”. Recently Buchanan appeared on the Rachel Maddow show to argue that Sotomayor has made a career of discriminating against white males and that her nomination constitutes affirmative action run amok. Needless to say, Maddow easily dispatched Buchanan’s silly — and racist — arguments. By the end, the frazzled Buchanan looked like someone’s racist grandpa, as Maddow showed just how irrelevant, retrograde and blatantly racist conservative grievance-based ideology has become.

Good lord if that woman were into men I would send her love letters. I might do it anyway.

The really sad thing about the entire interview is that Pat, in true conservative form, is making points based on half-truths and stand-out examples that prove points that are the exception, not the rule. Rachel takes him to task, properly, for putting himself back in the 50s and asserting that somehow the way forward for America is to somehow address the racial grievances of empowered White men over anything and everything else. The smackdown is truly epic, and worth reading the whole thing.

[ Rachel Maddow Takes Down MSNBC’s Resident Racist, Pat Buchanan ]
Source: Alternet

House Democrats Unveil Landmark Health Care Legislation

Finally, we have a bill that’s moving around Congress that represents some real change we can believe in. The House measure likely won’t be the final version, but it’s an excellent start – and as usual, since the left and the right are both frothing at the mouth because the bill isn’t a wish list for either of them, it’s probably a really good bill – not to mention it’s a bipartisan bill; it includes dozens of Republican amendments.

The price tag – $1.5 trillion over 10 years – may look hefty, but it pales in comparison when you remember that the US economy throws far more onto the health care fire every single year – $2.4 trillion in 2007 alone. It’s not chump change by any stretch of the imagination, but if it’s money spent well towards a real goal of health care reform and coverage for every man, woman, and child in the United States, then every penny is well spent. Too many people in the United States die thanks to the status quo (seriously, die because they either don’t get preventative care to diagnose problems before they become life-threatening or just die because they can’t afford the care to heal their illnesses at all), and no matter how many ads the conservative special interests and drug companies run to try and convince us that the status quo is acceptable I think the American people have long realized that it’s not.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and top Democrats opened an all-fronts charge today to pass a $1.5 trillion, 10-year health care overhaul by August, unveiling legislation that would tax the wealthy to pay for universal coverage, create a public insurance plan and require individuals to carry insurance and businesses to offer it.

The bill would also begin wide-ranging experiments to change the way doctors and hospitals are paid in an effort to slow decades of relentless cost increases.

The legislation arrived after a strong shove from President Obama at a White House meeting Monday, when he ordered Democratic House and Senate leaders to begin moving bills that have languished for months as opponents have gathered force and polls show public skepticism on the rise.

That last part is important. If you’re concerned about health care in America and want to see everyone covered by health insurance and have access to medical care, now is the time to act and now is the time to contact your legislator and let them know they should put party loyalty and campaign contribution loyalties aside and vote for the people they’ve been elected to serve. The Senate is in negotiations to pass a similar bill to the one that’s in the House; they need to hear from you, not from the drug companies and the special interest groups who are claiming to speak for you.

[ House Democrats Unveil Landmark Health Care Legislation ]
Source: TruthOut

July 13, 2009

What’s So Scary About Offering People the Option of a Public Health Plan?

Howard Dean, the man I used to want to be President, is spot on here. It’s a travesty that in the United States our health care system is so obscenely expensive but in comparison with other first-world countries provides such poor level and quality of service.

Don’t get me wrong, American health care is some of the best in the world, but we keep fooling ourselves into thinking that any system that doesn’t look like the one we have would somehow look like a free clinic in rural Zimbabwe, and we slander our Canadian neighbors by claiming their health care system is somehow sub-standard when compared to ours. It’s worth a wake up call for these people, reminding them that in almost all regards American health care is worse than our Canadian neighbors, our British allies, or even our Scandinavian friends abroad, all of which happily pay high taxes to make sure that their citizens are covered for any illness that may befall them, and to pay for government and the private sector to enable healthy lifestyles.

Sure, we’ve all read the anecdotal experiences of a few people here and there who pull out unverifiable situations where someone had to wait for treatment here, put on a long list for a transplant there, or couldn’t get a super-expensive scan in Canada that was available in the US, but again, these things usually come down to money. By fooling people into thinking that American health care is somehow superior than anyone else’s in the world, the wealthiest Americans who can afford any treatment or procedure they choose and the preventative care that we should all have manage to convince the rest of America that they should be grateful for the scraps they get. In reality, a revamped (at the worst) and public (at best) health care system would result in more equitable health care for all Americans, which means the drastic improvement for the majority of us, and while the wealthiest may not be able to pay their way in front of everyone else on a transplant list anymore they’ll still be able to find what they need somehow.

While the rest of the world, many countries facing their own health care challenges, looks at the United States with a disappointed eye at the way we take care of ourselves, we sit and struggle with the challenge of doing something to pull this plane out of a nose dive as opposed to doing nothing and plummeting into the ground. And yet there are still people with no ideas and no plan arguing that plummeting into the ground is the way to go.

Howard Drean, interviewed by Alternet, had some choice words for the scare tactics that the right and their industry cronies (or should that be industry and their right-wing cronies?) are using to try and convince people that this is a bad idea:

Joshua Holland: Let me go back one step. You were talking about the Republicans’ scaremongering over socialized medicine. Just to be clear so my readers have a good grasp on this — private insurers would also be able to participate in this large, federally managed insurance pool as well, is that right?

Howard Dean: Yeah, they do. They absolutely — that is something that exists [for federal employees] today. The Federal Employee Benefit Health Plan is an exchange, essentially. The only thing the president wants to do is add a public option to that exchange. And you know, just while we’re talking about this, the thing that I get such a chuckle out of, all these conservatives getting so upset about socialized medicine — that’s what they have is socialized medicine. They have government-sponsored medicine.

JH: I remember a Rand study a couple of years ago that showed that vets, who have truly a single-payer, British-style system are the most satisfied with their health care.

HD: This is a ridiculous debate. We are alone, we stand alone among industrial democracies in having a health care system that is 70 percent more expensive and much less effective than every other industrial democracy. This is ridiculous. We’re 60 years behind the times. We need to fix this problem, it should be fixed now, and it should be fixed right.

He’s absolutely right. The rest of the interview is incredibly eye opening, and should be required reading for anyone studying the health care debate. Dean lays a number of these fear tactics raw, and makes note of the fact that the real fear here lies with the health care industry, worried that their profits will suffer if they’re forced to cover more people and provide quality health care and preventative health care instead of more health care to the people they can bilk the most money from.

[ Howard Dean: “This Is Ridiculous. We’re 60 Years Behind the Times” on Fixing Health Care ]
Source: AlterNet

In this same vein, there’s an excellent op-ed by Dean Baker at AlterNet that explains in very poignant language that these same people aren’t afraid of so-called “socailized health care” which sadly is language that’s gotten an unfair rap, they’re afraid of health care that covers everyone at a high level of quality:

As Congress starts to delve into the dirt of a health care reform package, the clearest point of conflict is over the existence and structure of a public health care plan. Some members of Congress have thrown down the gauntlet, insisting that they could never allow the public to have the option of buying into a government-run plan.

These members tell us that a government-run plan will be like having the post office manage our health care. While the post office actually does a pretty good job where I live, if the point is that a government-run plan is going to be bureaucratic and inefficient, then why are opponents of a public plan so worried about giving people the choice to buy into it? If the public plan is bad, then people will just stay with the options currently available in the private sector. As those of who believe in the free markets like to say: “what’s wrong with giving people a choice?”

In addition to the members who just say “no” when it comes to a public plan, there are also members who are willing to allow a public plan, but only if they can be sure that it will not provide real competition with existing private plans. This route involves crippling the public plan in various ways to make it less competitive.

It’s true – while normally I’m a proponent of incrimental progress, this is a matter of life and death for millions of Americans, and finding a way to cover most people while not forcing people to refrain from pocket-lining behaviors simply isn’t going to work.

This is truly bizarre. The United States has employer-provided health care insurance as an accident — it came about as a way to evade wage controls during World War II — it was not some grand principle.

It is almost impossible to imagine why someone would consider employer-provided insurance as an end in itself. I say this both as an economist and as an employer. I am going to waste several hours tomorrow discussing my center’s health insurance plan with an insurance broker.

It is very difficult to compare the merits of the different insurance plans that we are considering. There is an endless list of conditions that are or are not covered (which can change after the fact). There are also issues about how quickly and consistently the insurer will pay bills. We can ask people with other insurers about their experience, but there is no guarantee that our experience will be comparable.

Of course, our broker is of little use. She will only get paid if she persuades us to change insurers. How much can we trust her?

Exactly. Aside from Dean Baker’s particular issue with his Center’s insurance plans, his point shouldn’t be lost on the rest of us – the employer-based health care system is largely broken and fails to cover people whose employers simply don’t provide it, or manage to game the system so they don’t have to (either by not hiring anyone full time, making everyone hourly, cutting hours or forcing employees to not report actual time worked, or even just by being such an overbearing cost on employers) – it’s not a solution to the problem, it’s part of the problem, and a simple public solution would resolve all of these problems while simultaneously bringing costs under control and allowing the medical industry to continue doing what it does best – just without lining the pockets of the people who are all too eager to profit from the sickness of the public.

[ What’s So Scary About Offering People the Option of a Public Health Plan? ]
Source: AlterNet

July 6, 2009

Sarah Palin’s Latest Crazy Move

Okay, she said: “I can’t just sit back and go with the flow. We’re fishermen [points at husband] and we know that only dead fish go with the flow.”

Seriously, what?

Indeed, this is the woman that the GOP wanted a heartbeat away from the Presidency; the woman who still has designs on national office. Now being a DC-ist for as long as I have been, I know that when people do this kind of “Surprise! I resign!” business, they’re not doing it for family reasons or to refocus on what they think is important or any of the other nonsense they shovel at the press. They’re running from something. And that usually goes for members of either party – not just the Republicans.

The real questions now are: What is Palin running from, and will we find out before she tries to weasel her way into another public office? And how irresponsible is the GOP for putting her on the national stage in the first place? The answer to the first set will come in time, I’m absolutely certain of it, but the second is a question that I think some people already have an adequate answer to:

The Republican Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota, was a glimpse into Crazy Town, with a national party gone giddy over the folksy Sarah Palin, who we were told could “field-dress a moose.” The dominant chant of the convention — sometimes led by Palin herself — was “drill, baby, drill.”

On the campaign trail, Palin tossed out the reddest of red meat, accusing Barack Obama of “palling around with terrorists” and whipping angry white crowds into anti-Obama shouts of “kill him” and “traitor.” She seemed oblivious to the demagogic passions that she was unleashing — or she simply didn’t care about the possible consequences.

Palin finally unraveled with her simple-minded answers to simple questions during network TV interviews.

In trying to burnish her foreign policy expertise she famously declared, “you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska.” In elaborating on the point, she later said, “As Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where do they go? It’s Alaska.”

As Palin flamed out, her defenders claimed that the “liberal media” was picking on her. On one radio talk show, a caller complained to me that CBS News’ anchor Katie Couric had asked Palin unfairly tough questions. I responded by noting that one of those “tough” questions was what newspapers Palin read, to which Palin couldn’t manage a coherent answer.

As entertaining as this little side show is, if there’s anything conservatives are known for, it’s learning from their mistakes. So don’t expect the GOP to make this one again – they’ll either find someone qualified or dress someone up so they appear to be, like they did with George W Bush. Right now all signs point to the entire party self-destructing from the inside, but I highly doubt that trend will continue, especially with the 2010 elections approaching.

Even so, this makes it even more critical for progressives in all branches and angles of government to keep their noses clean (not that there aren’t examples of them not doing so) so this kind of nonsense stands out for what it is: a global and complete ineffectiveness of leadership, and a party so out of touch and off base that it would be almost irresponsible to let them continue driving the national agenda.

[ Sarah Palin’s Latest Crazy Move: Are Republicans a Danger to the Republic? ]
Source: Alternet