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Archive for February, 2010

21% Medicare Reimbursement Cut Scheduled To Go Into Effect March 1st. Republican Senator Jim Bunning (KY) Uses Unanimous Consent Procedure That Delays Senate Action

Retiring Republican Senator and former baseball player Jim Bunning (KY) giving the standard Republican excuses that he doesn’t want to pay for a bill that isn’t paid for (despite massive deficit spending under Bush and Republican Presidents and Cheney’s declaration that deficits don’t matter) decided to use the parliamentary maneuver of unanimous consent to hold up a bill that provided out of work Americans unemployment benefits. The bill in question also had appropriations for medicare reimbursements. The bill would increase the deficit by $10 billion from 2010 to 2020 with $7 billion of it for Americans that lost their jobs under the current recession by extending benefits. In discussing this issue, Emily Walker reports for Medpage Today in, “Medicare Pay Cut Goes Into Effect on Monday”, that

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) chastised the Hall of Fame pitcher for being the lone voice of dissent on the “extenders” package.

“Everyone acknowledges there is only one objection,” Durbin said on the Senate floor Thursday night. “Everyone in this chamber acknowledges we are a caring and compassionate country, and we will, on an emergency basis, extend a helping hand to those who have lost their jobs.”

He even used baseball to try to appeal to Bunning to stop his one-man filibuster against the bill.

“I am very proud of what you have done in your baseball career,” Durbin told him. “But let me tell you, this is a wild pitch you are throwing tonight because this is a pitch that is hitting somebody in the stands; it is hitting an unemployed worker in Illinois. That is a wild pitch that should not have been thrown, Senator.”

The problem arose from what is known as something called the sustainable growth rate formula or SGR which is a Medicare accounting scheme that ties Medicare Part B reimbursements to GDP. This formula has caused cuts in Medicare reimbursement nearly every year this decade and has been fought by the Medical industry for years. Just imagine if this formula was applied to the Military Industrial Complex or its 1000 + bases in around 135 countries and it’s spending which is more than the next 10 nations combined or if it was applied to subsidies to big oil or the tax cuts that have been implemented steadily to the top income tax rate imposed by Republican Presidents. Maybe then there would be public money to spend on the well being of the public in hard times. Imagine if the foreign and US corporations that haven’t been paying income taxes while doing business in the United States as was shown in a study by the GAO and reported in a Reuters article titled, “Study says most corporations pay no U.S. income taxes” had been doing so. Would we be so far in debt? Would we have enough to meet the basic quality of life needs for our citizens? I suppose that would interfere with someone’s ideology or some politicians campaign war chest and I guess we just can’t have that, can we? I expect the Senate will pass an appropriate extension when it returns to session. I doubt it is willing to face the heat if it didn’t.

Corporate Whore Health Care Summit Locks Out Single Payer And Medicare For All Advocates.

As the so called “Health Care Summit” got underway between the “third way” Democrats and the status quo obstructionist Republicans defining the debate, Democratic representatives that supported real reform on behalf of the American people such as Anthony Weiner (D) NY, Dennis Kucinich (D) OH, and Peter Welch of Virginia requested the inclusion of physicians that advocate single payer (but were ignored) as these groups stayed at home. This on the heels of a year that showed America’s biggest insurers combined profits rose 56% in 2009 while covering 2.7 million less Americans. In this from “Big Insurance: Recession? What recession?” by J.G. Preston,

HCAN found the insurers increased profits while simultaneously insuring 2.7 million fewer people through private insurance. The report claims that is “part of the industry’s long-term shifting of responsibility for the care of millions of sick, older or lower-income customers to taxpayer-supported government health programs…State and federal programs have increasingly been hiring big insurers to manage their care.”

In these increased desperate times for millions of Americans who have to forsake coverage to eat, those in government deciding their fate have been deluged with money from those that profit from their misery. In a report from Capital Eye Blog at OpenSecrets.org by Michael Beckel titled “Lobbyists Earn $1.3 Million Per Hour As Lawmakers Log Long Days“, it claims

Health-related lobbyists and lobbyists for business interests like the Chamber, for instance, earned more than $200,000 per hour that Congress was in session. Lobbyists for unions, meanwhile, took in $16,000 per hour that Congress was in session.

In a report from The Center for Public Integrity, it concluded that,

A Center for Public Integrity analysis of Senate lobbying disclosure forms shows that more than 1,750 companies and organizations hired about 4,525 lobbyists — eight for each member of Congress — to influence health reform bills in 2009.

Unfortunately, the Obama administration has pushed the deficient Senate version of reform without a robust public option to contain costs. Commenting on the Obama approach, Doctors that are members of Physicians for a National Health Program said,

“For example, the president’s proposal would ship hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars to the private health insurance industry in the form of subsidies,” Young said. “And to help finance this, it would impose a new tax on health benefits of workers, especially those in high-cost states.

“Its individual mandate would force millions of middle-income uninsured Americans to buy insurers’ skimpy products – insurance policies full of gaps like ever-rising co-pays, deductibles and premiums. Such policies already leave middle-class American families vulnerable to economic hardship and medical bankruptcy in the event of a serious illness like cancer,” continued Young, citing a recent study.

In the meanwhile, the health insurance industry controls both sides of the argument, those from the corporatist Democrats who want their campaign largess and the Republicans that seek to block any progress for their profitable status quo while even proposing throwing fixed income seniors to the wolves through privatizing medicare as evidenced in a piece written by Peter Stone at the National Journal’s Under the Influence titled, “Health Insurers Funded Chamber Attack Ads” which reports,

Just as dealings with the Obama administration and congressional Democrats soured last summer, six of the nation’s biggest health insurers began quietly pumping big money into third-party television ads aimed at killing or significantly modifying the major health reform bills moving through Congress.

That money, between $10 million and $20 million, came from Aetna, Cigna, Humana, Kaiser Foundation Health Plans, UnitedHealth Group and Wellpoint, according to two health care lobbyists familiar with the transactions. The companies are all members of the powerful trade group America’s Health Insurance Plans.

The funds were solicited by AHIP and funneled to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to help underwrite tens of millions of dollars of television ads by two business coalitions set up and subsidized by the chamber. Each insurer kicked in at least $1 million and some gave multimillion-dollar donations.

Representative Anthony Weiner summed up the situation on “the summit” while live blogging as it occurred by saying,

3:14 PM

The discussion has lost its mojo here. When you are saying “CBO” more than three times per speaker, they should turn off the cameras.

Let’s remember the choices here. Rep. Ryan and his party want to END Medicare completely. President Obama wants to lengthen its life.

Me? I want Medicare for all Americans. If I was in the room I’d be advocating for replacing private health insurance and its 30% overhead with Medicare’s 1.05%

Me too Rep. Weiner, but I’m just a citizen and I do not have the money to buy votes like our newest persons, corporations, do.

Team Canada Fan Mocks Americans After Team USA's hockey team defeated Canada in preliminary
Team Canada hockey fan mocks Americans after Team USA defeated Canada in a preliminary round game

The Weekend Orgy Of Ignorance And Hate That Was The Tea Party Convention.

The convention of unhinged right wing radicals called the “Tea Party” concluded its facts be damned idiocy with it’s heroine, Sarah Palin, the one who gave us a “he pals around with terrorists” description of President Obama and “death panels” to scare the intellectually incurious concerning any reform of a failed health care delivery system, reading cheat notes written on her palm. One would think a speech to a movement built on repetition of words until someone believes you wouldn’t be difficult enough to require any cheat notes. But dignity may not have been required for a convention that had the feel of a rally for John Birchers, “Know Nothings“, white supremacists, and corporate manipulated Jethro Bodine types. Matt Taibbi had it correct when he said,

These are people who’ve been gouged for years by the deregulated banking, mortgage lending, and commodities trading business, and when Obama sends down very weak, watered-down regulations to deal with those problems, they howl that he’s against “private enterprise” because that’s what they’ve been told to think by the Glenn Becks of the world.

The convention had everything an ignorant frightened bigot could dream for such as thinly veiled racism and the “birther” movement, homophobia, McCarthyism, theocratic ramblings and a total misunderstanding of both Constitution and the flawed economics behind the recession. On its opening night, it had former Rep. Tom Tancredo (R) CA., suggesting that Jim Crow type laws should be brought back such as a

a civics, literacy test before people can vote in this country

probably not realizing the irony most in the convention hall probably couldn’t pass it. Of course all this was directed towards the group’s xenophobia of Latin American immigrants while calling tolerance of the cultural differences between people

the cult of multiculturalism

.
Tancredo went on to to express a McCarthy like favorite among rightwing types that the overly corporate friendly Obama administration was

a committed socialist ideologue in the White House … Barack Hussein Obama

which is a popular unreality in the minds of the convention attendees who’s minds have lost the ability to process information in a logic based manner due to rightwing media. He continued his ramblings by saying that this country was founded on a culture based on Judeo Christian principles whether people like it or they don’t and if you don’t like it, don’t come here and if you are here, go home. Would Thomas Jefferson have to “go home”? Afterall, Jefferson’s words would make him “unAmerican” by opinion of this convention with quotes such as,

Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law.
-Thomas Jefferson, letter to Dr. Thomas Cooper, February 10, 1814

History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes.
-Thomas Jefferson to Alexander von Humboldt, Dec. 6, 1813.

Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined and imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity.
-Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, 1782

And there is this from the treaty with Tripoli of 1796 which was written under the Presidency of George Washington and signed into law by President John Adams,

the government of the United States is “in no sense founded on the Christian religion

In fact, the Constitution of the United States does not mention “Christianity”, “Judeo Christian”, “Jesus”, “the Bible”, etc. which would be strange if the country was indeed founded on its principles. It is not mentioned just as corporations are not mentioned despite the hard right Roberts Supreme Court recent decision in Citizens United v. FEC that corporations are persons entitled to the Bill of Rights and that their money is “free speech”. The Ten Commandments Judge, Judge Roy Moore was also at the Tea Party Convention and said,

“[Obama] has ignored our history and our heritage, arrogantly declaring to the world that we are no longer a Christian nation. He has elevated immorality to a new level, setting aside the entire month of June to celebrate gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender pride. He now threatens to change our law to allow homosexuality in our military … He’s apologized to the Arab world for our past, subjugated our national sovereignty by bowing down to the king of Saudi Arabia. He has pursued a socialist agenda by taking control of private companies and pushing a national health care plan with a public option. …

They must read from a different Constitution such as the one the Bush Administration and it’s Dept. of Justice made up when they were breaking our laws and treaties.

Noam Chomsky said in a November, 2009 interview with Diane Krauthamer, the following,

So take right now, for example, there is a right-wing populist uprising. It’s very common, even on the left, to just ridicule them, but that’s not the right reaction. If you look at those people and listen to them on talk radio, these are people with real grievances. I listen to talk radio a lot and it’s kind of interesting. If you can sort of suspend your knowledge of the world and just enter into the world of the people who are calling in, you can understand them. I’ve never seen a study, but my sense is that these are people who feel really aggrieved. These people think, “I’ve done everything right all my life, I’m a god-fearing Christian, I’m white, I’m male, I’ve worked hard, and I carry a gun. I do everything I’m supposed to do. And I’m getting shafted.” And in fact they are getting shafted. For 30 years their wages have stagnated or declined, the social conditions have worsened, the children are going crazy, there are no schools, there’s nothing, so somebody must be doing something to them, and they want to know who it is. Well Rush Limbaugh has answered – it’s the rich liberals who own the banks and run the government, and of course run the media, and they don’t care about you—they just want to give everything away to illegal immigrants and gays and communists and so on.

Well, you know, the reaction we should be having to them is not ridicule, but rather self-criticism. Why aren’t we organizing them? I mean, we are the ones that ought to be organizing them, not Rush Limbaugh. There are historical analogs, which are not exact, of course, but are close enough to be worrisome. This is a whiff of early Nazi Germany. Hitler was appealing to groups with similar grievances, and giving them crazy answers, but at least they were answers; these groups weren’t getting them anywhere else. It was the Jews and the Bolsheviks [that were the problem].

While I agree with Chomsky of the dangers we currently live in, especially since the U.S. enacted its own version of the Enabling Act called the “Patriot Act” and suspended habeas corpus during the Bush administration, I’m not sure these people can still be reached without first somehow exposing the fraudulent rants of Limbaugh, Hannity, Fox “News” and the like as the crazy train seems to have already left the station. I’m reminded of the reaction to Galileo’s revelations in his time and his subsequent jail sentence. But I guess people who are educated and know reality must still try or lose all which is dear to us.

More On The Supreme Court Ruling In Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission And The Road Ahead. Supreme Choice: Terminate Transparency, Accountability & Right To Know, or Enforce the Criminal Law?

Supreme Choice: Terminate Transparency, Accountability & Right to Know, or Enforce the Criminal Law?

Today’s editorial in the LA Times hits an issue on the head. It is the critical issue for self-government (or its potential restoration) in our time. As framed in the case now in the US Supreme Court, gay rights advocates are the bad guys – harassers and retaliators – and the solution proposed is to eliminate the public’s right to know who the anti-gay rights forces are, or to check and balance their power. The Court’s ruling will apply, as it must, to petitioners generally. Hitting the issue on the head, the LA Times said:

“{T}he remedy for that problem is enforcement of criminal laws, not the withholding of public documents. If a state acts on its commitment to transparency, it shouldn’t be thwarted by a fallacious 1st Amendment argument.”

What is the issue the LA Times hit on the head? It’s the claim made in the US Supreme Court in Doe v. Reed, by the very same lead attorney as in Citizens United, this time saying that the names of referendum petition signers should be SECRET – on the grounds of preventing potential retaliation or harassment of the signers.

Attorney James Bopp, Jr seeks to protect those that allegedly signed a referendum petition against gay rights. I say “allegedly” because the Supreme Court has already ordered the names and identities of signers held secret and so if anyone knows for sure what is on those petitions it would only be the Washington state’s Republican Secretary of State Sam Reed.

I should not have to point out that secret petitioner signers eliminate any and all checks and balances whenever the interests of the petitioners (Republicans, in this case) align with the interests of the official checking final numbers of signatures (another Republican operation). Moreover, even when interests do not align, secrecy causes massive structural damage to checks and balances, accountability and the public’s right to know.

The Washington state law that would otherwise say these STATE law signatures are public records was passed overwhelmingly by initiative. I’ve put key text from this public records law, mirrored in other states like California and West Virginia, in large type to make sure everyone can “hear” it, and not mistake it for an exercise of the right to remain silent. Among other very strong language, it says:

“The people of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies that serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may maintain control over the instruments that they have created.”
-RCW 42.56.030

How can the people “remain in control” when advocacy groups get laws on the ballot with secret, perhaps bogus, signatures? You can expect corporate-backed laws to be accompanied by $10 million or more unlimited spending sprees per Citizens United and other cases.

Persons who sign petitions to get things on the ballot are invoking the direct-democracy Legislative capacity of the people to pass laws. It is very much like the requirement, then, that legislators have public hearings and publish their roll call votes for voters to inspect and hold accountable.

To allow such petitions for initiatives and referenda to keep identities of signers secret means that the levers of power are allowed to operate with masks on and hoods over their head. This is not the accountability planned for self-government.

Secrecy always totally defeats any possible accountability.

The protection for those actually harassed is the same protection you and I have against murder, rape, or burglary: call 9-11 and invoke the criminal laws. If that is good enough for murder, it is good enough for anyone signing a petition, to be sure. Besides, the entire notion of checks and balances and the public’s right to know is implicated with petitions, but not with ordinary crime.

The LA Times, located in California, is in one of the few states that keeps petitioners secret in most cases. California has recently been forcing voters with political buttons on to wear hospital gowns in polling place to cover up if they do not remove the button or shirt. The LA Times sees past its own state’s regulations on petitions.

This Doe v. Reed case US Supreme Court case is the intermediate step in making all campaign contributions secret (probably by putting code numbers instead of names on “disclosures”). With voters being hushed up in polling places in California and other places, an opinion in the California Court of Appeals just two weeks ago holding that poll watchers have no right to have a camera or video to document anything, and with the cases moving up to the Supreme Court arguing for principles of secret political contributions, we need to make clear the stakes here are absolutely fundamental and non-negotiable:

“The people of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies that serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may maintain control over the instruments that they have created.” – Revised Code Washington, RCW 42.56.030

Nevertheless, by an 8-1 vote the Supreme Court has ordered the signatures held secret pending their decision, which is not yet even docketed for oral argument. Certainly, the ballot will be finalized and perhaps the election over before the Supreme Court decides. This means that the Supreme Court is erring on the side of secrecy. Besides, under Supreme Court rules a stay may not be issued at all unless it is likely the requesting party is going to win when all is said and done. Consequently, the sole vote of Clarence Thomas for no disclosure in Citizens United is not a good predictor of where the principles of Citizens United and the attorney common to both Citizens United and Doe v. Reed are taking us. It is a railroad to secret campaign money and secret petitions.

Secrecy means no accountability. Who can possibly be in favor of unaccountable government or unaccountable exercises of power over us?

Instead of having our right to remain silent read TO us, we should read OUR rights TO THEM. See the statement of democracy and self-government that is the same philosophy nationwide as it is in Washington State, that the Supreme Court is poised to strike down as applied to exercising the power to get things on the ballot. RCW 42.56.030.

“The people of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies that serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may maintain control over the instruments that they have created.”

If the Supreme Court kills the above policy of the people of the State of Washington, what has to stop lawmakers claiming fear of harassment from keeping their votes secret? What’s to stop the destruction of the right to know and all accountability? Accountability always feels like harassment or retaliation, especially when power abuses or ignores important rights. That’s exactly where they want the secrecy.

Paul Lehto, Juris Doctor

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