December 18, 2009
Once again the Democrats have shown that when put in charge of the legislative and executive branches of government – with a clear mandate from the people for change – they are incapable of leading.
The so-called health care reform bill getting ready to limp across the legislative finish line is a prime example of the Democrats inability to stand up for their core values. Stripped of all real reform, this bill represents another stunning defeat for the American people and the last chance to address this burning issue for at least another generation.
While the Democrats negotiated and gave away, piece by piece, any true reform that was in the bill, trying to reach the elusive and phony target of a filibuster proof majority, they consistently ignored the wishes of a majority of Americans. Instead, due to their fear of a filibuster, the Democratic leadership elevated one man – Sen. Joe Lieberman from Connecticut – to the position of decision maker dictating what would be in the final version of the bill. Reveling in the national spotlight, Senator Lieberman served his true constituency, not the people of Connecticut that elected him nor the people of the United States that want true health care reform but the insurance industry, his true employer of record.
While serving in the US Senate, Mr. Lieberman has taken in an astonishing $2.5 million in campaign contributions from the health care industry, including health insurance companies, pharmaceuticals, hospitals and nursing homes. All poised to continue record profits and ever-bigger bonuses for the executives if a watered-down health reform bill passes with no public option. But, being the family man that he is, Joe Lieberman’s wife was also on the payroll of these very same companies. As a paid lobbyist (now there s something truly perverse about an electoral system that allows spouses of legislators to be paid lobbyists for companies that depend upon legislative initiatives and regulations) working for a company that raked in millions in fees from companies such as Glaxco Smith Kline, Sankyo Pharmaceuticals and Pfizer, Ms. Lieberman was representing those very companies that are opposed to health care reform.
So now we have Democrats and the president supporting a bill that barely chips away at the edges of needed health care reform. Gone from the bill is a public option, even though this is supported by a majority of Americans. Also excised from the bill as Democrats ran to avoid any real debate is a Medicare buy-in for people over 55 who do not have health insurance and end of life counseling. However, the democrats in the House did manage to include a clause restricting access to abortion. So not only do the Democrats manage, as only they can, to celebrate a watered down health care bill that does little that is needed, but they allowed and then endorsed the insertion of the abortion restriction.
Where is the change? Where is the hope? Where are the Democrats?
December 17, 2009
December 16, 2009
Sickening. Saddening. Maddening. And the stuff of future determination in the political struggle for healthcare for all in the United States.
On the floor of the U.S. Senate today, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont rose to offer his single-payer, Medicare for All amendment No. 2837 and to begin debate. Then, one of the two Republican doctors in Senate, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma, demanded a full reading of the 700-page amendment.
From the Senate gallery, I watched as Sen. Max Baucus told Sanders the only way to halt the Republican delay tactic would be to withdraw the amendment. Sanders stated emphatically to Baucus, “I will offer this amendment.” But both men left the chamber as the amendment reading went on.
The Republicans seemed to be pleased with the procedural maneuver. Periodically one of the Democratic leadership would walk over to Coburn and chat. He’d smile and lean on his stack of documents—everything being very well staged for the C-SPAN cameras.
I thought how cold and callous it all looked from the gallery—healthcare is not a laughing matter for millions of us. This crisis has killed thousands of our fellow citizens and bankrupted millions more. I fail to find any of that remotely funny or something over which any Senator ought to feel pride as he or she blocks progress towards a better healthcare system.
The words of the amendment were clear and clean. And though not many were there to actually listen, I couldn’t help but hear the details of the amendment and wish people could grasp the simple beauty of knowing each of us, all of us would have the care we need when we needed it at a lower cost. Instead, we’re going to have more of the mess we have now—more insurance company influence over our lives and our bodies, and in many cases at a higher cost.
Single-payer, amendment number 2837 sounded pretty good to me. I was more than willing to wait out the Republican mischief and the Democrats’ worry about not passing something—anything—before Christmas. I was more than willing to listen to every word.
After two hours of reading page after page of the amendment, Sanders stepped back up to his desk and withdrew the amendment. The reading stopped. And the fight for single-payer, Medicare for all died for this Congressional cycle.
Senator Sanders stood proudly and defiantly at the microphone and delivered the floor speech on behalf of single-payer. By then it was all over except for getting his intelligent remarks and his passion on the record. Those who care about where we need to go with this nation’s healthcare system should listen to Senator Sanders’ floor speech from today, December 16, 2009.
The fight will go on. As surely as the deaths attributable to a lack of access to healthcare in the United States will continue to mount and as surely as the number of bankruptcies directly related to medical crisis will also continue to rise, so too will the cry for real healthcare justice. This Congress and this President are not going to get to the place we needed them to go. They are not extending healthcare as a basic human right to all of us.
It makes me wish I had purchased a little health insurance stock along the way. Because as soon as Joe Lieberman made sure that he cleared out any chance of any public insurance expansion at all from this bill, the for-profit health insurance companies saw their stocks begin to rise again.
So, how do we get through this cycle? Will there be a conference committee effort to restore a state based single-payer amendment to health reform legislation? Or will we just watch as Congress passes some messy piece of something that isn’t likely to do very much at all to mitigate the healthcare crisis in this nation just to claim they did something?
And what of the single-payer advocates and movement? Well, in the words of the brave nurses who never took “no” for an answer on other healthcare issues from the “Governator” or anyone else, “We’ll be back.” Healthcare is a human right now and it will be when we win this struggle. It’s just going to take more time and, unfortunately, more suffering to get where we need to go.
Meanwhile, many of us wait anxiously for reports out of Pennsylvania where they were having a state Senate hearing today on their state single-payer bill. We have miles to go before we sleep.
Mass-Care: The Massachusetts Campaign for Single Payer Health Care
33 Harrison Ave - 5th floor
Boston, MA 02111
December 15, 2009
Now that President Obama has taken ownership of the failed war effort in Afghanistan that he inherited from the failed Bush Presidency, it is no longer Bush’s war it is now Obama’s war. Just one week before traveling to Norway to accept the Nobel Peace Prize, Mr. Obama ordered an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan. The annual cost to maintain one soldier in Afghanistan is $1 million, totaling $30 billion a year to maintain these extra 30,000 troops.
According to a September report The Cost of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Other Global War on Terror Operations Since 9/11 published by the Congressional Research Service, the annual cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for fiscal year 2009 was $150 billion, with the total cost so far equaling a staggering $944 billion. While these numbers are beyond any individual’s ability to conceptualize, it might make it more understandable to take a look at what these staggering amounts of taxpayer dollars might have accomplished if used to improve the quality of life in America, instead of costing countless lives and adding astronomical amounts to the federal debt.
To help put things into perspective, the highest cost estimate (the one used by opponents of single payer health care) is $1.6 trillion over ten years. Although ths is a wildly inflated number, and no responsible policy or budget analyst uses this number, it is still less than the cost of running two failed wars, over a similar period. Yet the very same politicians who say we cannot afford health care reform, have voted for every allocation to support these wars.
With the added cost of the additional 30,000 troops being sent to Afghanistan, the annual cost for both wars will rise to $180 billion. This amount if directed toward human needs rather than toward destruction could pay for important improvements in the quality of life for millions of US citizens. For example, $180 billion could buy health care for more than 34 million Americans currently without health insurance, providing quality, affordable care for people to whom health care is now a luxury that is out of reach.
Looking at just the added cost of sending additional troops to Afghanistan will provide some insight into what each and every American is sacrificing every day that we continue these failed wars. Thirty billion dollars a year can provide health coverage for 5.6 million people, or it could provide full college scholarships for five million young people, making college affordable to students who are now denied this expensive opportunity.
Other examples of how these funds could have been spent include building 173,000 affordable housing units or hiring 354,000 elementary school teachers, or providing 5.7 million college Pell grants to help defray the cost of college or creating 3.4 million Head Start spaces so every child gets a head start on their education.
Remember candidate Obama talking about a green revolution and creating jobs through green industries? What ever happened to that? Well for one thing it is not affordable because of the growing deficit and shrinking tax collections. Instead of seizing the opportunity to redirect our national economy this administration chose to bail out the very people who caused the economic meltdown and who are now rewarding themselves with billions of dollars in undeserved bonuses. If President Obama were as sincere as candidate Obama, instead of bailing out the banks and instead of continuing and building the war efforts, these funds could have been dedicated to developing a green economy, creating millions of well-paying jobs and setting the Untied States in the forefront of the new worldwide economy. For example, just the $30 billion annual cost of the additional troops in Afghanistan could have paid for converting 57 million American homes to renewable forms of energy. Not only creating jobs, but also taking a giant step forward in addressing global warming.
But President Obama is a far cry from candidate Obama. Or as Jay leno said "I'm trying to sum up President Obama's first 11 months in office. He gave billions to Wall Street, cracked down on illegal immigrants getting health care, and he's sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. You know something, he may go down in history as our greatest Republican president ever."
December 7, 2009
Now that President Obama has given his pep talk on health care to Senate Democrats with apparently little impact, it brings me back to Where’s Obama the Sequel. In danger of losing his signature issue – health care reform – Mr. Obama comes out of hiding on this issue in an attempt to rescue health care from the jaws of defeat. Too little, too late.
When Mr. Obama came riding into town on his Change Express, health care reform, the economy and the wars were on the top of his list. After ten months in office, he has given billions in bailouts to banks and the auto industry, intensified the war in Afghanistan and is on the verge of watching health care reform go down for the count. If health care reform is lost this time, it will be off the public agenda for at least another decade, if it even makes its way back on. Remember what happened after the Clinton debacle on health care.
So in the spirit of the Where’s Obama series, I have constructed the speech that Mr. Obama should have given to a joint session of Congress and publicized to the American people, instead of a private “pep talk” to Senate Democrats. It, would be short and to the point, and would go something like this:
My fellow Americans, I come before you today to speak about the nation’s health. We are in the process of releasing another 10 million doses of H1N1 vaccine, getting this to the American people as quickly as possible, and doing all that is humanly possible to avoid a flu epidemic. If you desire a flu shot and have not yet had the opportunity to get one, please be patient, help is on the way.
There is another epidemic that we are facing, one with much more dire consequences and one that has been with us for generations. I come before you today because it is time that we faced this epidemic and wiped it out. I am speaking of the epidemic facing more than 50 million Americans, lack of access to health care. That’s right, today in the United States of America, 50 million of our fellow Americans live in fear of the simplest illness because they do not have health insurance. As a candidate for President I promised that if elected I would do something to address this gross inequity in our society. You elected me and now I owe it to you, my fellow Americans, to address this issue in the best way possible.
It is estimated that as many as 18,000 Americans die each year from preventable causes because they lack health insurance and cannot receive timely or preventive care. In good conscience how can we allow this to happen? Any disease that would claim that many lives annually would receive our attention and the resources in an attempt to address it. But yet, too many of us find this denial of basic health care to millions of our fellow citizens acceptable.
We live in the richest, most prosperous nation in the world, yet we are the only industrialized nation that does not offer health care to all of its citizens. The very people in this chamber, who would deny so many Americans the chance to live healthy lives, themselves enjoy free, lifetime health care. How can you, each of you seated before me today, deny American citizens the same privilege that you have as their representatives.
My friends, on both sides of the aisle who rail against a so-called public option, enjoy that public option for themselves and their families. I ask you, and I ask the American people, is this fair? The members on the Republican side of the aisle, and the so-called moderate Democrats who speak against the government’s ability to provide a quality service, also condemn a public option as “unfair competition.” Well if the government can’t provide quality health care at affordable prices, private insurers should welcome the competition to prove that they can do it better.
But you and I know the truth, and it is time to stop deceiving the American people. We already have public health care in the form of the Veterans health system and Medicare. Both of these public programs consistently receive higher satisfaction ratings than private insurers. Does anyone know any of their constituents that are satisfied with their private insurers?
Each and every one of you was elected to serve the people in your districts. The majority of Americans desire a public option while 50 million Americans wake up each morning praying not to get into an accident or to get sick. Not providing health care for so many people ends up costing the American taxpayer more in the long-run. When people do not have health insurance they forego preventive exams and put off treating an illness until it is so severe that they have to go to the emergency room, the most expensive form of primary care.
If you were truly concerned about your constituents and the cost of health care you would not only support a pubic option but you would support universal health care in the form of Medicare for all. It is time that we stopped chipping away at the edges of this very serious condition and addressed the need head on. So today, I come before you and the American people to tell you that I will not sign a health reform bill that does not include a public option, and tomorrow I will be releasing a plan for truly universal health care in the form of Medicare for all. We have a successful public option and it is time to make it universal to all who choose to enroll. I will not allow the Party of No or a few members of my own party to stand in the way of progress. It is time for the naysayers to step aside and for the rest of us to stand up for the American people. I will take my plan directly to the people and each and every one of you will be answerable to your constituents if you stand in the way of progress.
And to my colleagues in the Democratic leadership I call upon you to end this charade and mockery of the legislative process by claiming that you require sixty votes to put this bill forward. Sixty votes is the number needed to end debate and stop a filibuster. If the members of my own party had the courage of their convictions they would allow the threatened filibuster to go forward. Let each and every one of those senators who would stop progress and thwart the will of the American people stand on this podium and speak against health care. Why protect them behind the false shield of the silent filibuster? I, along with millions of Americans, would like to hear their faulty reasoning as they try to make a coherent case against true health care reform. In the name of democracy, you must put this bill forward, all that is required to pass it is a simple majority. Stop hiding behind the threat of a filibuster. Your work is cut out for you and you were elected to represent the will of the people. I call upon you to do just that and not the narrow self interest of any one industry.
Thank you and good night.
December 5, 2009
The second alternate reality that I thought I was caught up in was that perhaps I had inadvertently wandered into a Ken Follett novel, you know the one where they create a double for the president and then kidnap the President and put his double in his place. I kept watching the TV looking for a sign that this wasn't really the same Barak Obama that we had elected, that perhaps he had been replaced with a body double and this new guy was only a puppet.
If this were the Barak Obama that we elected he would have given a different speech, one that would have recognized that generals fight wars they do not create peace. General McChrystal would have been derelict in his duty as a soldier if he did not ask for more troops. That is why our Commander in Chief is a civilian. Civilians don’t fight wars and the President should have served as a check on the need of generals to fight and try to win wars, even those that are unwinnable. Unfortunately by splitting the difference, ordering only 30,000 troops instead of the 40,000 requested, President Obama convinced himself that he was providing that check on the power of the generals.
That speech that I hoped he would have given went something like this:
My fellow Americans, I come before you tonight weary as you are of endless wars that you and I have inherited. After seven years of war without end in sight and after spending almost $1 trillion it is time for a new tactic. One that will indeed guarantee our security and that of the world. One that will take us away from the path that we have followed for the last seven years. One that has helped to make Al Qaeda stronger and weakened our ally Pakistan.
Today Afghanistan, a once beautiful and verdant country is now barren and nonproductive. After three decades of endless war, the children of Afghanistan know nothing other than war, devastation and fear. No foreign power has experienced military success in this country. The Soviet Union, the world’s second strongest superpower at the time, retreated from Afghanistan in defeat after many years of war. It was this Russian invasion and our support of the opposition that gave birth to Al Qaeda. History suggests that this pattern is repeating itself as I speak to you tonight. The American people are tired of this war as are the people of Afghanistan.
It costs approximately $1 million a year to maintain a single combat ready soldier in Afghanistan. For a fraction of the cost of training, deploying and maintaining an additional 40,000 troops in Afghanistan as requested, we can have a greater and longer-lasting impact on the that country and the entire region. I ask you for one moment, to join me in envisioning a future where the children of Afghanistan and Pakistan can dream about their future. A time where they can no longer be seduced into extremist ideologies because they have an education, adequate food and the possibility of a peaceful future for themselves and their families. Isn’t this what all of us want for our children. I have met and spoken with many of the mothers and fathers in Afghanistan and Pakistan and this is all that they want for their children also.
We have the ability to help make that dream a reality, but this cannot be done by merely continuing a war without end.
I did not run for President to be the man that sends more of America’s young people to fight and die thousands of miles from home. I was elected because the American people yearned for change. Americans saw before them two failed war efforts that were primed to go on without a strategy for success or exit. The billions of dollars spent on the wars were crumbling the very foundations of the United States economy. And the people wanted change.
Next month I will be accepting one of the world’s most coveted prizes, the Nobel Peace Prize. I could not, in good conscience, accept such an honor if I were to expand the war effort. Isn’t it time that we showed our children and the children of the entire world that peace can be waged through peaceful means?
Today I am announcing that I will send no more troops to Afghanistan to wage a war without end. Instead, I pledge to spend $20 billion, half of what it would cost to deploy and maintain 40,000 troops, on rebuilding the infrastructure of Afghanistan – including schools, hospitals, roads, agriculture and economic development in the tribal areas. Today, I also call upon our allies throughout the world to match this pledge so that we can truly see peace in Afghanistan.
I end tonight by pledging to you that no American young woman or man will ever have to risk their lives or their livelihoods to fight an ill-conceived war on foreign soil while I am their Commander in Chief.
November 28, 2009
A few facts, that speak for themselves, without commentary:
According to a 2007 study by the US Conference of Mayors (prior to the housing meltdown and foreclosuremania):
12 of 13 cities surveyed turned people away due to overcrowding in homeless shelters
10 cities reported increases in households with children seeking shelters
The average length of stay n a homeless shelter was 70 days for families
Families with children comprise 23% of the US homeless population
In 2008, the Conference of Mayors reported:
19 of the 21 cities responding reported an increase in their homeless populations during the year.
16 of the 25 reported increases in the number of families becoming homeless
Of the 19 cities that collect data on employed people whoa re homeless, 11 cities reported an increase in this number
All 21 cities with available statistics reported increases in the numbers of people seeking food aid for the first time.
New York City reported an increase in the length of time of shelter stays for families to almost 12 months up from 5 months in the 1990’s.
The National Coalition for the Homeless reports that:
There are 200,00 homeless vets on any given night, and approximately 400,000 vets experience homeless during a twelve month period.
1.35 million children experience homelessness in a twelve-month period, with 200,000 homeless on any given day.
The National Alliance to End Homelessness reports:
From 1999-2006 the annual funding for pubic housing declined by 25%
From 1997-2007, as much as 170,000 units of public housing were lost due to deterioration
From 2004-2007, housing vouchers for low-income families were reduced by 150,000
There are more then 15.8 million families eligible for federal housing vouchers, but only one in nine receive these vouchers.
Between 2004-2007 federal funding for affordable housing and community development was reduced by over $14 billion
November 24, 2009
• According to a study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, in 2004 3.8 million 18-24 year olds were unemployed or not enrolled in post secondary school. In just two years that number increased to 4.3 million in 2007, totaling almost 15% of all 18-24 year olds in the United States. And that was before the reality of the Bush recession had hit.
• A 2007 study by the Harvard University Joint Center for Housing Studies found “While aggregate household net wealth grew from $25.9 trillion in 1995 to $50.1 trillion in 2004 (both in 2004 dollars) nearly 90 percent of the net gains occurred only among the top quartile (25%) of households in the wealth distribution.”
• In 2000 there were 301 billionaires in the United States, in only four years, by 2004, this number had grown to 400. That’s two new billionaires a month.
• In 2001 the percent of US families with zero or negative net worth was 17.6%, by 2007 this number had grown to 18.6%
• From 1979 (Reaganomics hit in 1980) to 2005 the top 5% of income households saw an increase in real income of 81%, while during this same period the lowest 20% of income households saw a decline in real income of 1%
• In the year 2005, ALL income gains went to the top 10% of households, while the bottom 90% of income households saw declines.
• In 2006, the bottom 20% of income households received an average of $23 from the Bush tax cuts, while the top 1% saw an average of $39,020 and the top 0.1% received a whopping $200,523.
• According to the Economic Policy Institute, from 2001 to 2007 real income of middle class families actually fell for the first time in history.
These facts speak for themselves without commentary about the impact of Bushenomics on the American family and the US economy.
November 23, 2009
As the majority leader of the Senate, the power to pass a public option is squarely in Harry Reid's hands. Fifty-one Senators have said they would vote for a bill with a public option -- no opt-outs, no triggers. That's a majority. Will Reid let three or four corrupt Senators owned by the insurance industry hold the public option hostage? Or will he use the reconciliation process to allow a simple majority vote on a public option?
Tell Harry Reid to exercise his leadership and do the right thing, sign the petition and pass it on.
November 19, 2009
A new government report released by the Department of Agriculture highlights the serious and growing problem of food insecurity in the United States. According to the New York Times, the Bush administration tried to quash this report but the Obama administration has embraced it as emblematic of the the challenges facing the country.
The report, titled Household Food Security in the United States 2008, documents the seriousness of food insecurity in the richest nation on earth, at the time that families are preparing to gorge themselves at the Thanksgiving table. To watch television during the month of November, or browse the newspaper ads, one would get the impression that the US is a land of abundance when it comes to food. But, just a cursory reading of this report should be enough to convince even the most jaded conservative otherwise.
According to this USDA study, in 2008 14.6% of all US households, or 17 million households, experienced food insecurity at least some time during the year, representing an 11.1% increase over the previous year. Included in this number are 6.7 million households classified as having experienced very low food security. These numbers of families experiencing food insecurity are the highest recorded since the government started keeping track of food insecurity in 1995.
These numbers though are not consistent throughout the country. Food insecurity was most prevalent in the South (or as Sarah Palin refers to this region, “the real America”) and least prevalent in the Northeast. The demographic groups experiencing rates higher than the national average included single-parent households, Black and Hispanic households and families living at or below the poverty level.
According to the USDA definition, food insecurity/security is “based on the respondents perception of whether the household was able to obtain enough food to meet their needs. The measure does not specifically address whether the household’s food intake was sufficient for active, healthy lives.” Therefore, a condition that could affect a larger portion of the population than food insecurity is “nutritional insecurity,” or subsisting on a diet that satisfies hunger but is not sufficient to maintain an active, healthy lifestyle. Unfortunately the newly released statistics in obesity in the US supports this concept. A recent study by Johns Hopkins University reveals that approximately 1/3 of all adults in the US are obese. Much of this is a result of the availability of cheaper, less nutritious and higher fat and caloric foods. The authors of this study predict that if current trends continue, by 2018 43% of US adults will be obese costing $344 billion annually in health related expenditures.
Another sign of the devastating impact that Bushenomics has had on poor and working Americans is the increase in homeless individuals and families. A recent report by the Center of Budget and Policy Priorities highlights the seriousness of this long neglected result of failed economic policies and gaping holes in the social safety net. Up to date statistics on homelessness do not exist. However, this January 2009 report does paint a pretty bleak picture of this serious and growing problem. The researchers found that between July and November 2008, in the waning days of the Bush administration, homeless families seeking shelter in New York City jumped by 40%. They found similar increases across the country. Massachusetts reported a 32% increase in families residing in state-funded shelters from November 2007 to November 2008. The researchers found that Connecticut had been forced to turn away 30% more homeless families due to a lack of bed space. In Minneapolis, the study found a 20% increase in families seeing shelter in the first ten months of 2008 as compared to the same period in 2007. And, Los Angeles County experienced a 12% increase in the number of families receiving welfare benefits who were known to be homeless.
Poverty and Unemployment
Based upon their findings that poverty and low income are contributing factors to homelessness among families the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities postulates a correlation between unemployment and the rising rate of homelessness. The study predicts that if unemployment were to rise to 9%, the number of people living in poverty would increase by 10 million, included in this is a projected increase of six million very poor, including an additional one million children. One result of this increase in poverty would be a resultant increase in homelessness.
But this report is already dated. The current official estimate of the unemployment rate for October is 10.2%, effecting 15.7 million workers, the highest rate in twenty-six years. And that I only the “official” rate, the true rate of unemployment has been estimated to be a high as 16%. The government’s estimate is artificially lowered by not including underemployed and part-time workers, and those who have stopped actively looking for work because they have become discouraged. It also does not include new workers just entering the workforce.
$933.5 billion wasted on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that does not even begin to take into account the numbers of dead and wounded young Americans and scores of Iraqi and Afghani civilians. Imagine what $933.5 billion could have bought in improved quality of life right here in the United States and good will around the world by helping to alleviate hunger. disease, malnutrition and illiteracy.
Failed government policy that has let hundreds of thousands of displaced families scattered across the country, or living in substandard conditions in government-run trailer parks
It is President Obama’s unenviable task to try to clean up the mess left behind by the Bush administration. While he tries to do this, the Republican right has unleashed a barrage of criticism because he ahs not solved the problems that their policies have created. It is these economic policies that have brought the country to the brink of ruin and placed us in many social-economic indicators at the level of developing countries and far behind every other western-industrialized nation.
November 14, 2009
In Part One I discussed the cost of the government bailout of failed financial giants that faced bankruptcy as a result of their own greed, and how these very same companies were now poised to pay out billions of dollars in bonuses to the executives who helped bring them to the brink of disaster. Part one also focused on the billions of dollars of tax money used to bail out GM and Chrysler to save them from bankruptcy due to their failure to produce reliable cars that the American public wanted.
While our tax dollars were used to bail out these failing private corporations that overpaid their executives even as they led them blindly over the cliff toward bankruptcy, we continue to ignore the economic disaster that is enveloping nonprofit organizations all across America. Thousands of these organizations that provide the supports that millions of Americans need to help them meet their basic needs or to achieve their goals, while stabilizing communities and providing millions of jobs, are facing economic ruin just as there is increased demand for their services.
According to the Urban Institute, in 2004 nonprofits accounted for 5.2% of total GDP, 8.3% of all wages and salaries paid in the US and almost 10% of all jobs. Despite its large role in the US economy, the government has turned a blind eye to the impact of the current economic slowdown on these nonprofits, forcing thousands of layoffs and huge service cutbacks impacting every community in all fifty states.
A recent report by the Mercadien Group of Princeton New Jersey, a private financial services company, titled 2009 Nonprofit Outlook Survey , paints a dim picture of the condition of the nonprofit community as the impact of decreased charitable and government support begins to be felt across this sector. Their survey of New Jersey nonprofits found that “nearly 67% of the respondents projected their revenues to decline or stay the same… more than a quarter of the respondents projected a decline in revenue between 3%-20%
They found that declining revenues had an immediate impact on employment rates, with one-quarter of these surveyed expecting a decline in staffing. For the most part, nonprofit employees come from the communities that they serve and they typically work for lower wages than equally skilled workers in private industry. Often, when workers are laid off in nonprofits, this reduction does not result in a proportionate reduction of the workload, rather the workload is redistributed among the remaining staff. To this end, the study found that “many organizations anticipate to reduce staff levels to cope with the current economic events and manage financial results, often at the expense of maintaining quality work/life balance for those staff that remain after the rebalancing.”
Respondents in the Mercadien study were asked to rate the most important issues for 2009 for their organizations, and the results are very telling abut the current state of nonprofits. A not so amazing 84% rated “downward pressure on contributions, grants and similar revenue streams” as their number one concern. The second highest rated concern highlighted by 67% of respondents was “costs rising faster than revenues.” Coming in a not too distant third was “lower quality of client services than desired,” and the fourth most stated concern was “unstable, insufficient or outdated technology.” While this increasingly dire picture is coming into focus, bankers who ran to Washington with their hands out are preparing to pay out record bonuses to their executives projected to be in excess of $144 billion. What does this say about the current state of our priorities in this country?
An article in the September 2009 edition of the Illinois Business Law Journal, by Zina Kiryakos reported on several recent studies including a report by the Nonprofit Finance Fund (NFF). Of the 1,100 nonprofits it surveyed, the NFF found that 93% of those providing essential services expected an increase in demand for these services, while 31% of those organizations did not have more than one month’s operating cash on hand. Kiryakos further reports on a survey of 2279 nonprofits by the National Council on Nonprofits that found while demand for services is increasing, these nonprofits are faced with higher costs and declining revenues.
According to Kiryakos the Johns Hopkins University “Listening Post Project,” found that 40% of the nonprofits it surveyed “as well as a third or more of child-serving and elderly serving nonprofits indicated their fiscal stress to be ‘severe or very severe.’” The author goes on to state that “overall, the statistics indicate that the ever growing requests for service from their patronage are weighing heavily on nonprofit resources, which are further exacerbated by the reduction in donations and government spending.”
In other words, just as more and more people are thrown out of work, or lose their homes to foreclosure, the very nonprofit organizations that they turn to for help are being forced to reduce their staff and their services due to decreasing revenues. But where is the government bailout for this sector of the economy? The answer, “you’ll just have to learn to do more with less.” Just across town, or on the other side of the tracks, government bails out the big spenders, guaranteeing record bonuses. We are told there is nothing that can be done to prevent these huge bonuses while the taxpayers subsidize these wildly extravagant lifestyles for bankers who continue feeding at the public trough. Just wait for the economy to pick up again. After all, better days are just around the corner. Better days for whom? Could it be that the financial industry contributes hundreds of millions of dollars to support political races, while nonprofits are barred by federal law from doing this? Why would a politician bite the hand that feeds it?
Perhaps the backlash is coming. Earlier this month the former CEO of Goldman Sachs, Jon Corzine, was voted out of office in New Jersey. And it seems that if the majority party in Washington does not begin to take heed of the needs of ordinary Americans, instead of rewarding their campaign contributors, they may be hanging out at the unemployment office with their constituents come next election.
November 6, 2009
We are all too familiar with the shrill criticisms of a government option for health care. It will cost too much. It will increase the federal deficit. Health care will be rationed. We have the best health care system in the world, based upon free market competition. A government option will mean unfair competition in the marketplace. SOCIALISM. And on and on. The problem is that this is yet another example of the big lie told often enough and loud enough becoming fact.
Let’s start with a brief discussion of the facts, something that does not enter into the discourse of those opposed to expanding health care. Currently the US spends a greater share of its GDP (Gross Domestic Product – the value of all goods and services produced on a country) than any other industrialized country that currently has universal health care. According to the Centers for Disease Control the Untied States spent 15.3% of GDP on health care in 2006, this number increased by 6.1% in 2007 to 16.2%, or $2.2 trillion. In spite of devoting more of our economy to health care, the US lags behind every other western industrialized nation in health indicators. It is estimated that currently in the US there are 47 million people without health care coverage, and approximately 18,000 people die each year in the US from preventable causes due to lack of health care coverage. Other countries devote significantly less of their economic resources and have better health care results. For example, in 2006 France devoted 11% of GDP while the UK devoted only 8.4% while providing coverage to all of its residents.
But what is the impact of these differences in the availability and cost of health care? A recent report released by the World Health Organization, World Health Statistics 2009, demonstrates the difference between what we get for the amount spent compared to countries with universal health care. Some of the statistics highlighted in this report are:
Infant mortality – the US has an infant (birth to five years old) mortality rate of 8 per 1,000 live births. This number is higher than every European country with universal health care. The US is behind both Canada and Cuba, two neighbors whom we love to criticize for their systems.
Maternal mortality – the rate of women dying in childbirth is 11 per 100,000 live births in the US, higher than all of western Europe, and once again we rate worse than Canada.
Teen pregnancy – the US has an average rate of 41 pregnancies per 1000 adolescent girls between the ages of 15 and 19, while the average for all European countries is 24 per 1,000.
HIV infection – compared to the rest f he developed world, the US has an astounding rate of HIV infection among adult In the US, 452 people out of every 100,000 people fifteen years old or older are infected with HIV. That is more than three times the rate of the United Kingdom, almost twice the rate in Canada, and almost seven times the rate of infection in Cuba. The average for all the countries in the Americas is 448, lower than the rate for the US, the wealthiest and most developed country in the Americas.
So there you have it, the US is the country that spends the largest share of its economic activity on health care, as compared to all other developed nations,. In spite of our spending level, the US ranks 31st in life expectancy, 37th in infant mortality and 34th in maternal mortality! This all based on a free market health insurance industry. How could the introduction of a government option make these numbers worse, when the US is lower in most health care indicators than every country that has universal or national health care?
Oh, and I almost forgot the most spurious argument of all, but perhaps the one that is shouted the loudest, now that the “death panels” have been killed: “a government option will introduce unfair competition into the health insurance market.” These are the same people who have been shouting for years that private industry is more efficient than the government, and that government programs are wasteful and costly. If this is the case, then reason would dictate that the private companies can only benefit from a government run plan, because the government’s inefficiencies would make private companies look better. However, if in their hearts, they really believed that a government run plan would be costly and inefficient, there would be nothing to be afraid of.
How can you tell which party in an argument knows their wrong, they are the one that starts shouting and name calling first. This holds true for policy debates as well.
Unfortunately facts discussed reasonable do not make as interesting news stories as exaggerations and distortions shouted loudly.
November 3, 2009
It would seem that far too many people, such as the commenter, are satisfied with replacing fact with innuendo, diatribe and shouting louder than the next guy. As if the louder one shouts, the more correct their position. We saw this aptly demonstrated when the good Republican Congressman from the south shouted out, in an unprecedented manner, that President Obama was lying. Or when Sarah Palin claimed on her Facebook page that the Obama health care plan included death panels that would decide who would live and who would die. Of course facts never entered into either of these accusations. There never were death panels, instead the health plan would reimburse for end of life counseling. In other words, if a doctor were to meet with a terminal patient’s family to explain the situation and offer options, that would be reimbursed. But we saw the impact that this misinformation had when it was shouted loudly all over the country, the exaggerators got their way because they understood that a lie told long enough and loud enough becomes the truth. Or as that quote from the movie “the Man Who Shot Liberty Valence” goes when the myth becomes fact print the myth. Why tell the truth, or bother to get the facts, when you can shout louder than your opponent?
With that said, here is the comment that I received from “anonymous.”
You are the kind that is either extremely naive or a pathetic liar. Bush actually cut taxes for everyone in the country, and he cut the largest percent (33%) for people in the lowest income bracket. Compare that to the cut that he made for the highest income bracket (less than 10%). Democrats continue to be PATHETIC LIARS on this topic, and too bad there are too many naive people in the country to believe the LIARS
So there is the myth, now let’s look at the facts.
According to the Brookings Institute, a conservative think tank, fully 67.9% of the Bush tax cuts went to the top 20% of households, with an astounding 25.9% going to the top 1% of the wealthiest families. On the other end of the income scale, a mere 5.4% of the tax cut benefits went to families in the lowest 40% of income. The full report is available at www.brookings.edu/papers/2002/06useconomics_gale.aspx
But there is more to the story, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the total cost of the Bush tax cuts over a ten year period from 2001-2010 is $2.5 trillion. This compared to the estimated cost of the Democratic health care proposal of $1.6 trillion over ten years. So, we are unable to afford health care reform, but able to afford tax cuts that target the wealthiest Americans. In order to complete the story of the Bush tax cuts we need to look at its impact on the federal budget. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, www.cbpp.org, spurred on by these tax cuts federal revenues dropped to their lowest level since 1950, with lost revenue accounting for more than one-half of the federal deficit. Let us not forget that when George Bush took over the White House in 2000, he inherited a budget surplus that was converted to record deficits before he ended his first term.
We could choose to scream misinformation at the top of our lungs and thereby prevent the facts from getting out and changing our views, as this commenter did and as so many are continuing to do, or we can engage in civil conversation that is based upon facts and not merely prejudices and ideologies. The facts speak for themselves, and if we were to allow facts to guide public policy we would all be living in a different world, one with a higher level of equality and opportunity for all. Perhaps that is what those folks who would rather shout their untruths are afraid of.
November 1, 2009
Facing financial ruin due to their own greed and reckless behaviors, taxpayers were forced to bailout the banks and investment firms that were allowed to grow, encouraged by weakened and nonexistent regulations, to the point where they were considered “too big to fail.” Now that the numbers are in, we can see the success of the Bush/Obama bailout of the failed banking and investment industries. After hundreds of billions of dollars in federal (i.e taxpayer) bailout funds, the banks have recovered to the point where they are poised to pay out record bonuses, projected to be as much as $144 billion this year.
Who are the bankers that are in line with their hands out to receive this largesse? The very same executives and vultures who led their companies to ruin while designing and selling questionable mortgages and financial instruments to the taxpayers who were told that we had no choice but to rescue these folks from their own colossal failures. That same $144 billion (the equivalent of $1,230 per taxpayer) that will be used to purchase high end products like $1,000 bottles of wine, expensive cars, real estate and jewelry could pay for health insurance for 29 million Americans for one year, contributing to the economy in a way that high end products do not.
As if that is not enough, the bailout folly gets even more interesting. When the Obama administration was faced with the imminent meltdown of General Motors ad Chrysler, they turned to the old tried and not so true response, throw more taxpayer money at corporations that are failing because of their own incompetence. Crawling to Washington with their hands out, General Motors executives were able to wrest $22.5 billion from the White House, and their compatriots at Chrysler were able to get $9 billion. The third US automaker, Ford, did not ask for nor did they receive any bailout funds.
Coincidentally, in the current Consumer Reports Annual Reliability Report, only 20 of 48 models produced by GM received a rating of average reliability or better; and, fully 1/3 of Chrysler models were rated below average. On the other hand, the one company that did not come crawling to Washington with its tail between its legs, Ford Motor Company, receive a rating of average or better on 90% of its models. So once again, we found ourselves in the position of rewarding incompetence at the expense of the already stressed American taxpayer, who was left to fend for themselves, whether or not they contributed to their own woes or were the innocent victim of another’s greed and unscrupulous activity.
In contrast to the quick bailout of Wall Street and US auto manufacturers, little has been done in Washington the stem the foreclosure crisis. The main stumbling block to providing massive government aid to help keep people in their homes, prevent increases in homeless families and stabilize communities across the country, is the fear that we may be using taxpayer dollars to help people who bought houses they could not afford. This line of thinking completely ignores the role of the very same investment bankers that created the sub-prime mortgage and other gimmicks to trick people into buying homes they could not afford or signing onto variable rate mortgages with huge interest rate increase built in. So we, as a society, can only see our way clear to help bailout companies whose failure is monumental and caused by their own greed or lack of ability, while we let families flounder forcing them to “take responsibility for their own actions.” If responsibility for one’s own actions even existed in the lexicon of Wall Street, they would not have the audacity to pay themselves huge bonuses mere months after begging for public funds.
The irony in this whole scenario is that while the government sits back and allows millions of families to lose their homes, while making it easier for new home buyers to purchase these foreclosed homes, these families who are faced with economic ruin are forced to contribute to the bailout of the same people who sold them their faulty mortgages or built their unreliable cars. The cost to each and every taxpayer to prop up GM and Chrysler so that they can continue to build unreliable cars with a made in US label is approximately $269.23. That added to the estimated cost of the $787 billion Wall street bailout of approximately $6,812 per taxpayer, totals more than $7,000 for each and every US taxpayer. That same $7,000 spread across families facing foreclosure could have prevented 100,000’s of families from losing their homes, helping to stabilize many communities that are experiencing a free fall from the spate of foreclosures in recent years. These families get nothing, their communities get the fallout of risky banking, but the Wall Street bankers get to keep their $114 billion in bonuses, laughing all the way to the bank – so to speak.
In part two of Socializing Failure – Privatizing Greed, I will look at the impact of the financial meltdown on nonprofit organizations. Just as the failing economy has resulted in vast increases in need for the services provided by these groups, the resources that they depend upon to survive are drying up, but there is no talk of a government program to help stabilize these organizations that provide stability and support for communities in every corner of this vast country, while employing millions of people.
October 25, 2009
Hiding Behind the Filibuster Threat
Why is it that the Democrats have a solid majority in both houses of Congress, but are still unable to move their agenda along? The framers of the constitution established our democracy as majority rule, and most congressional votes require a simple majority, or fifty-one votes in the senate, well within the 60-seat majority currently held by the Democrats. But yet we are told that important bills such as health care reform are being held up and watered down because the Democrats have been unable to draft a bill that can garner a full sixty votes to head off a possible filibuster. And that is the key here, “a possible filibuster.” In today’s senate, just the threat of a “possible” filibuster is enough to make the Democrats run for cover and abandon their legislative priorities.
Do the math, how does a sixty to forty seat majority in the Senate not add up to a mandate by the American people to carry out an agenda of heath care reform, tax reform and other issues that are important to improve the quality of life for millions of Americans. I find it odd that even with a legislative mandate the Democrats are unable to move forward on so many important issues.
Nine years ago then candidate George W. Bush failed to win a majority of the voters, but was awarded a majority of electoral votes by the Republican dominated Supreme Court. This did not daunt the newly appointed President. Riding into Washington with his Texas cowboy boots he acted as if his questionable election was indeed a mandate from the American people. He proceeded to ride roughshod over a cowering and some might say cowardly Democratic minority in Congress. His agenda included tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, an unjust war in Iraq and gutting the Constitution among other priorities. All with the quiet acquiescence of the Democratic minority. So, as a minority in Congress the Democrats are unable to stop regressive legislation, and as a majority they are unable to pass progressive legislation. All under the cover of the supposed threat of a filibuster. Right now Harry Reid, Senate Majority Leader, is allowing a small number of conservative Democrats to hijack effective health care reform by submitting to their threat of joining the Republicans by not blocking a filibuster, and then protecting these same Democrats by maintaining their anonymity.
If our image of a senate filibuster is Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith goes to Washington, where a single senator speaks for days until exhaustion takes over to stop legislation, or the performances of racist Southern Senators filibustering civil rights legislation, that image needs to be updated. The filibuster first came into use on the mid-1800’s when a senator or group of senators would maintain the floor of the senate, speaking for as long as they could, or until the bill that they opposed was withdrawn. It wasn’t until 1917 that the Senate adopted the cloture rule allowing for a two-thirds majority of those voting to end a filibuster. From 1949 to 1975, the number required to end a filibuster waivered back and forth between two-thirds of those voting and two-thirds of the senate. Regardless of the vote need for cloture, the filibuster proved an effective tool to block progressive legislation. One example was the record setting filibuster of Strom Thurmond in his failed attempt to block civil rights legislation. He lasted for 24 hours and 18 minutes. Then in 1964, southern Democrats attempted to block the Civil Rights Bill of 1964 by filibustering for 75 hours.
Courageous Senate Majority leaders have broken filibusters in the past utilizing procedural issues. Strom Thurmond’ filibuster was rendered futile by then Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield, who held all senate business from reaching the floor until the filibuster exhausted itself, paving the way for the civil rights bill to go to the floor for a vote and eventual passage. Too bad Harry Reid does not have that level of courage. If Mr. Reid, (Democrat from Nevada) was majority leader during the civil rights era, we would still have segregation and Jim Crow laws throughout the south.
In the modern day filibuster, all one has to do is threaten to take this action and the ruling Democrats run for cover. When Strom Thurmond or southern Democrats took to the floor of the senate to filibuster civil rights legislation we knew who the enemy was. They were forced to come forward and stand in front of the senate for all to see. Today however, Mr. Reid, and indeed the Democratic caucus in the senate are allowing a small minority of senators to hide behind anonymity and block effective health care reform by the mere threat of a filibuster. We need to ask ourselves if this is truly a democracy when the will of the electorate can be thwarted by a anonymous minority?
The filibuster does not exist in the House because in 1842 the House adopted strict rules limiting debate. Prior to that, filibusters were allowed in the House also. Could there be a better time for a democratic majority to restore democracy to the senate floor and adopt rules that would limit debate in that branch of Congress also? After 167 years, perhaps it is time for the Senate to catch up to their colleagues in the House and advance the cause of democracy.
October 16, 2009
Published on Saturday, September 26, 2009 by CommonDreams.org
More Americans die of lack of health insurance than terrorism, homicide, drunk driving and HIV combined.
Grandma could be dead from lack of health insurance before she turns 65 and gets Medicare - 80 percent of first-time grandparents are in their 40s and 50s.
America is the only country that rations the right to health care to those 65 and older.
Lack of health insurance kills 45,000 American adults a year, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Public Health. One out of three Americans under age 65 had no private or public health insurance for some or all of 2007-2008.
You can't go the emergency room for the screening that will catch cancer or heart disease early, or ongoing treatment to manage chronic kidney disease or asthma. And even emergency care is different for the insured and uninsured. Studies show uninsured car crash victims receive less care in the hospital, for example.
Even with health insurance, many Americans are a medical crisis away from bankruptcy. Research shows 62 percent of all bankruptcies in 2007 were medical, a share up 50 percent since 2001. Most of the medically bankrupt had health insurance - the kind insuring profits, not health care.
Health insurance executives don't worry about going bankrupt from getting sick. Forbes reports that CIGNA's CEO made $121 million in the last five years and Humana's CEO made $57 million.
We're harmed by health industry and political leaders following the Hypocritic Oath: Promise a lot, and deliver as little as possible.
Wendell Potter, CIGNA's chief of corporate communications until quitting in 2008, testified to Congress, "The status quo for most Americans is that health insurance bureaucrats stand between them and their doctors right now, and maximizing profit is the mandate." He said, "Every time you hear about the shortcomings of what they call 'government-run' health care, remember this: what we have now ... and what the insurers are determined to keep in place, is Wall Street-run health care."
Premiums for employer-sponsored family health insurance jumped 131 percent between 1999 and 2009 - from $5,791 to $13,375 - hurting businesses, employees and families.
Contrary to myth, the United States does not have the world's best health care. We're No. 1 in health care spending, but No. 50 in life expectancy, just before Albania, according to the CIA World Factbook. In Japan, people live four years longer than Americans. Canadians live three years longer. Forty-three countries have better infant mortality rates.
One or two health insurance companies dominate most metropolitan areas in the United States.
Health industry lobbyists and campaign contributors have gotten between you and your congressperson so they can keep getting between you and your doctor. There are 3,098 health sector lobbyists swarming Capitol Hill - nearly six for every member of Congress.
As Business Week put it in August, "Health insurers are winning." They "have succeeded in redefining the terms of the reform debate to such a degree that no matter what specifics emerge in the voluminous bill Congress may send to President Obama this fall, the insurance industry will emerge more profitable."
President Obama should listen to his doctor. Dr. David Scheiner was Obama's doctor for 22 years in Chicago. On the July 30 anniversary of Medicare, Scheiner said, "I have never encountered an instance where Medicare has prevented proper medical care ... Insurance companies frequently interfere and block appropriate care."
Scheiner belongs to Physicians for a National Health Program, which, like a majority of Americans, favors Medicare for All - 58 percent favored "Having a national health plan in which all Americans would get their insurance through an expanded, universal form of Medicare-for-all" in the July 2009 Kaiser Health Tracking Poll, for example.
Tell President Obama and Congress, Yes we can have Medicare for All. Rep. Anthony Weiner's amendment would substitute the text of the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act (HR 676), which has 86 co-sponsors, for House legislation HR 3200. Like the even worse Baucus bill in the Senate, HR 3200 would feed for-profit insurers more customers without providing the universal health care Medicare could provide at much lower cost.
It's time to stop peddling health reform snake oil.
Medicare for All won't kill Grandma, but it may save her children and grandchildren.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune News Service
© 2009 Holly Sklar
Holly Sklar is co-author of "Raise the Floor: Wages and Policies That Work for All of Us" and "A Just Minimum Wage: Good for Workers, Business and Our Future." She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Tuesday October 13th the Senate Finance committee reported out a “bi-partisan” health care bill. Bi-partisan generally means that a bill has garnered the support of two opposing political parties. The Democrats were so thirsty to claim the mantle of bi-partisanship that they relentlessly courted one Republican Senator, Olympia Snowe from Maine to win her support. However, in order to win just this one Republican vote the President was willing to abandon his campaign pledge of a pubic option, even in the face of strong public support for a government run option. Outing Senator Snowe’s tentative support President Obama stated the we have reached a “critical milestone” and that “we are now closer than ever before to passing health reform.”
Why the fear of a government option. Well according to the critics of such a plan, the government is not capable of running anything, and f there was a government option it would be unfair competition for private insurers. This spurious argument does not make sense. Firstly, if the government is not capable of running anything, then he private insurers would have nothing to fear form a poorly run public plan. On the other hand, if the government can run a health insurance program more effectively and efficiently, then the private insurers would have competition that would draw customers away. Is it really the role of government to insure the profits of private corporations? Perhaps since the massive and ill-conceived bailout of financiers who are now reaping huge bonuses for their failures, this is now an accepted government role.
So the real question is could the government run a national health care program and do it more effectively and more efficiently than private insurers, and if this can be done shouldn't this be something that all of our elected officials should support? We have vast experience with government-run health care programs. Medicare serves millions of older Americans and the Veterans Health System serves military veterans. Recent studies have shown that the users both of these systems are overwhelmingly satisfied with the service that they receive. Medicare received a 68% approval rating form its users, while private insurers only received a 48% approval rating. In a 2008 survey of the Veterans health programs, 79% of participants gave the VA a rating of excellent or very good. So, in actuality it would seem that the government is a better provider than private insurers. The real question then is why did President Obama take the public option off the table even before the debate really began, is the appearance of b-partisanship more important that ensuring that everyone has access to quality, affordable health care?
Let’s take a look at a quick overview of the Senate bill that the President has declared a “critical milestone.”
The major changes that this bill will bring to fruition include:
1. Requiring all US citizens and legal residents to have health insurance or face a tax penalty. Excluded form this mandate are American Indians, those for whom this would impose a financial hardship and individuals with a religious objection
2. Creation of State-based Health Insurance Exchanges: These would function as buying-cooperatives where small businesses and people without employer-sponsored health insurance can purchase policies of their own. The hope is that by creating these exchanges, individuals and small businesses who could not purchase affordable insurance would now have increased buying power through these exchanges. Small businesses could qualify for tax credits for providing coverage through these health exchanges, and individuals earning between 100-400% of the federal poverty level could qualify for federal subsidies to purchase insurance through these exchanges. Similar exchanges have been tried and failed in several states including Texas, California, Florida and North Carolina. These proposed sate-exchanges may just be another case of “everything old is new again.” This plan also proposes instituting penalties for employers with more than fifty employees for each of their employees who receives a tax credit for participating in the health insurance exchange.
3. Expanding Medicaid to serve people earning up to 133% of the federal poverty level. Individuals earning between 100% and 133% of the poverty level can choose to be covered through a health insurance exchange instead of Medicaid and receive a federal subsidy.
4. New regulations for insurers will prohibit denials for pre-existing conditions or to deny coverage to participants for treatments or illness. In addition new revenues will be raised through an excise tax on insurers whose premiums exceed certain limits, and an increase in taxes on pharmaceutical manufacturers, medical device manufacturers and health insurers.
5. Undocumented immigrants will be barred from participating in health exchanges even if they could purchase the insurance without government subsidy.
6. Limits abortion coverage by requiring that plans providing this coverage must segregate public subsidy funds from private premium funds, and abortion coverage cannot be required as part of a minimum benefit package.
A complete side by side comparison of the various bills curently in the House and Senate can be found at http://www.kff.org/healthreform/upload/healthreform_tri_full.pdf
October 10, 2009
This past Saturday morning, millions of people awoke early to catch a glimpse of NASA’s latest pubic relations event, the bombing of he moon. Now you may ask, “what did the moon ever do to us to deserve to be bombed?” It is not about what the moon may or may not have done to us, but it is more about the public events that NASA must continue to stage to justify it’s more than $17 billion annual budget.
Sadly for those millions who set their alarms to see the spectacular plume predicted to be created when a multi-million dollar spacecraft crashed into the moon’s surface, the show never materialized as predicted.
The purpose of this intentional lunar crash was to create a several miles high plume of lunar material that a second spacecraft would fly through sending data on the content of the material set aloft by the first crash, before self-immolating itself into the same crash site. What was the intended purpose of this spectacular and costly experiment? To determine if there is water on the moon in the form of ice below the surface. If there is water, then it would make it more feasible to colonize the moon.
This experiment and failed lunar show cost the American taxpayers approximately $604 million. I don’t recall any public debate about whether or not we could afford this amount of money during such fiscally constrained times. Nor do I recall debate about whether or not this money could have been better spent to address current needs rather than some future goal of colonizing the moon.
But while this NASA project was being implemented the public debate over whether we can afford universal health care raged on as did similar debates about the cost of extending unemployment benefits, adequately funding public education or the government’s legitimate role in funding much needed social and human services.
While we found more than $600 million to spend on determining whether or not there is water on the moon, approximately 1.1 billion people worldwide do not have access to clean, safe drinking water right here on earth. It is estimated that due to this lack of access to clean, safe water, 4,500 children die each day of preventable water-borne illnesses. Imagine how far $604 million could go to save just a few of those lives. According to Kofi Anan former United Nations Secretary General “we shall not finally defeat AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, or any other infectious diseases that plague the developing world until we have won the battle for safe drinking water, sanitation and basic health care.”
But perhaps you may say, well we have many social and health problems right here in the US affecting our people and that we should target limited dollars to these needs. Well it certainly is true that we have no shortage of issues right here at home that need to be addressed.
Let’s start with public education for example. We know that a good education is the best ticket out of poverty, we also know that fully 17% of all children under the age of 18 live in poverty (the highest child poverty rate in the developed world), yet as a result of this current fiscal crisis every state and local education budget has been cut, laying off teachers and vital support staff. If we just skipped this costly lunar experiment, the $604 million could have been used to hire 10,000 public school teachers. Imagine what impact that could have on local schools that are buckling under cutbacks that have reduced their teacher rolls.
But education is not the only factor keeping people in poverty, the cost of housing is another. Today in the US, we have learned to live with homelessness that effects more than 1 million people. While we like to cast homeless people as drunks, dope addicts and mentally ill, the fact is the single most prevalent cause of homelessness is the lack of affordable housing. That same $604 million could have been used to produce approximately 4,500 units of affordable housing. Just a small drop in the bucket and one that would not significantly reduce the number of homeless people, but imagine the impact on those 4,500 families. I am sure it would be considerably more long lasting, and more life changing, than waking up early to witness a lunar bombing.
What about health care? The debate raging in Congress is about cost and whether or not a government-run program is desirable or would be better than our current system of private insurers. Since single-payer was taken off the table at the very beginning of the current debate, we seem to have forgotten about the 47 million Americans without health coverage. One statistic that has not found its way into the public debate are the 18,000 people who die each year in the US from preventable illnesses because they do not have access to health care. If we skipped just this one NASA moon adventure, the $604 million cost could have been used to provide one year of health coverage for about 183,000 people.
I could go on with more examples of how this money might have been spent in alternative ways that provide a direct benefit to millions of people, but I think you get the point. Instead of creating a media frenzy about the wonderful pictures that will be returned of the lunar blast, we should be engage in a discussion of national priorities. When resources are limited, how do we focus them to do the most good for the largest number of people? Unless we begin to address this basic question, we will continue to fail all basic measures of a good society, which for the US now include the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world, the lowest literacy rate of all western industrialized countries, along with the highest murder rate, highest child poverty rate and the highest school drop out rate among other factors.
But we can be proud as a nation that we were the first to bomb the moon, even though we are the last in so many other measures that really count
January 24, 2009
- Overall unemployment, after peaking at about 10.2% in mid-2010, could still be as high as 7.6% four years from now
- Underemployment could reach 17.9% overall in 2010 (18.8% for women), affecting over 27 million workers.
- More than one out of every three working Americans would experience unemployment or underemployment at some point during 2010.
- Nearly one in five African Americans in the labor force would be unemployed (18.2%). More than half of all black teens would be jobless.
- Hispanic unemployment would reach 13.1% overall, and more than one-third among teens.
- Unemployment would reach a record high of 5.1% among the college-educated, 1.2 points above the previous high of 3.9% in the depths of the 1980's recession.
- All families would experience wage declines because of weakened labor market conditions and reduced hours and wages. On average, middle-income families would earn about $4,700 less per year in 2010 than in 2007 (a loss of 7.7%). Low-income families would lose an average of 9.8% or nearly $1,600, per year.