Monday, August 31, 2009

Op-Ed Columnist - Missing Richard Nixon -


August 31, 2009

Op-Ed Columnist

Missing Richard Nixon


Many of the retrospectives on Ted Kennedy’s life mention his regret that he didn’t accept Richard Nixon’s offer of a bipartisan health care deal. The moral some commentators take from that regret is that today’s health care reformers should do what Mr. Kennedy balked at doing back then, and reach out to the other side.

But it’s a bad analogy, because today’s political scene is nothing like that of the early 1970s. In fact, surveying current politics, I find myself missing Richard Nixon.

No, I haven’t lost my mind. Nixon was surely the worst person other than Dick Cheney ever to control the executive branch.

But the Nixon era was a time in which leading figures in both parties were capable of speaking rationally about policy, and in which policy decisions weren’t as warped by corporate cash as they are now. America is a better country in many ways than it was 35 years ago, but our political system’s ability to deal with real problems has been degraded to such an extent that I sometimes wonder whether the country is still governable.

As many people have pointed out, Nixon’s proposal for health care reform looks a lot like Democratic proposals today. In fact, in some ways it was stronger. Right now, Republicans are balking at the idea of requiring that large employers offer health insurance to their workers; Nixon proposed requiring that all employers, not just large companies, offer insurance.

Nixon also embraced tighter regulation of insurers, calling on states to “approve specific plans, oversee rates, ensure adequate disclosure, require an annual audit and take other appropriate measures.” No illusions there about how the magic of the marketplace solves all problems.

So what happened to the days when a Republican president could sound so nonideological, and offer such a reasonable proposal?

Part of the answer is that the right-wing fringe, which has always been around — as an article by the historian Rick Perlstein puts it, “crazy is a pre-existing condition” — has now, in effect, taken over one of our two major parties. Moderate Republicans, the sort of people with whom one might have been able to negotiate a health care deal, have either been driven out of the party or intimidated into silence. Whom are Democrats supposed to reach out to, when Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who was supposed to be the linchpin of any deal, helped feed the “death panel” lies?

But there’s another reason health care reform is much harder now than it would have been under Nixon: the vast expansion of corporate influence.

We tend to think of the way things are now, with a huge army of lobbyists permanently camped in the corridors of power, with corporations prepared to unleash misleading ads and organize fake grass-roots protests against any legislation that threatens their bottom line, as the way it always was. But our corporate-cash-dominated system is a relatively recent creation, dating mainly from the late 1970s.

And now that this system exists, reform of any kind has become extremely difficult. That’s especially true for health care, where growing spending has made the vested interests far more powerful than they were in Nixon’s day. The health insurance industry, in particular, saw its premiums go from 1.5 percent of G.D.P. in 1970 to 5.5 percent in 2007, so that a once minor player has become a political behemoth, one that is currently spending $1.4 million a day lobbying Congress.

That spending fuels debates that otherwise seem incomprehensible. Why are “centrist” Democrats like Senator Kent Conrad of North Dakota so opposed to letting a public plan, in which Americans can buy their insurance directly from the government, compete with private insurers? Never mind their often incoherent arguments; what it comes down to is the money.

Given the combination of G.O.P. extremism and corporate power, it’s now doubtful whether health reform, even if we get it — which is by no means certain — will be anywhere near as good as Nixon’s proposal, even though Democrats control the White House and have a large Congressional majority.

And what about other challenges? Every desperately needed reform I can think of, from controlling greenhouse gases to restoring fiscal balance, will have to run the same gantlet of lobbying and lies.

I’m not saying that reformers should give up. They do, however, have to realize what they’re up against. There was a lot of talk last year about how Barack Obama would be a “transformational” president — but true transformation, it turns out, requires a lot more than electing one telegenic leader. Actually turning this country around is going to take years of siege warfare against deeply entrenched interests, defending a deeply dysfunctional political system.

Op-Ed Columnist - Missing Richard Nixon -

Sunday, August 30, 2009



“Death Panels” For Dummies

In the world of Palin Wack-a-Mole, you need steroids to win. Facebook press releases seem to come on Fridays. Yesterday was no different. This week’s word salad had the crazy dressing on the side; a link to Michele Bachmann’s health care rant.  The crap croutons had quote marks around them; “death panel”, and “level of productivity in society.”

If you ever needed proof our current health care is deficient, or for that matter, our education system, try to make sense out of either woman’s position.  For all the fear mongering and “bearing false witness” as this is:

“The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s “death panel” so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their “level of productivity in society,” whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil.”

As weirdly elitist as this:

“I commend her for being a voice for the most precious members of our society, our children and our seniors.”

And as “grab your torches and pitch forks” this is:

“Let’s stop and think and make our voices heard before it’s too late.”

there is a much bigger problem.  Sarah Palin has a history of fudging about health care.

While being vetted by the McCain camp:

At one point, trying out a debating point that she believed showed she could empathize with uninsured Americans, Palin told McCain aides that she and Todd in the early years of their marriage had been unable to afford health insurance of any kind, and had gone without it until he got his union card and went to work for British Petroleum on the North Slope of Alaska. Checking with Todd Palin himself revealed that, no, they had had catastrophic coverage all along. She insisted that catastrophic insurance didn’t really count and need not be revealed. This sort of slipperiness—about both what the truth was and whether the truth even mattered—persisted on questions great and small.

During the vice-presidential debate, Palin stated:

About times and Todd and our marriage in our past where we didn’t have health insurance and we know what other Americans are going through as they sit around the kitchen table and try to figure out how are they going to pay out-of-pocket for health care? We’ve been there also so that connection was important.

WHAT? There are 228 federally recognized tribes in Alaska.  According to the Indian Health Services website:

IHS-funded, tribally-managed hospitals are located in Anchorage, Barrow, Bethel, Dillingham, Kotzebue, Nome and Sitka. There are 37 tribal health centers, 166 tribal community health aide clinics and five residential substance abuse treatment centers. The Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage is the state-wide referral center and gatekeeper for specialty care. Other health promotion/disease prevention programs that are state-wide in scope are operated by the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC), which is managed by representatives of all Alaska tribes.

Todd Palin’s heritage as an Alaskan Native was a curiosity to many during the 2008 campaign.

According to public disclosure forms that Sarah Palin filed with the state of Alaska, her husband and their children are BBNC (Bristol Bay Native Corporation) shareholders, meaning they would likely qualify for the health service program.

So between Todd’s union job insurance, the governor’s state coverage and the FEDERALLY FUNDED health care through Native blood, when did the Palins ever sit around the kitchen table and discuss their “out-of-pocket” health care costs?   There are millions of people who don’t have ANY options to provide for the health care needs of themselves or their children, let alone THREE!

And that’s just the personal hypocrisy.

While under contract to govern the state of Alaska, Palin’s administration failed to keep up on the state’s Medicaid obligations and were ordered to cease signing up new patients. No other state in the country had been put under such a moratorium, according to the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

July 14, 2009 ADN:

A particularly alarming finding concerns deaths of adults in the programs. In one 2 1/2 year stretch, 227 adults already getting services died while waiting for a nurse to reassess their needs. Another 27 died waiting for their initial assessment, to see if they qualified for help.

Doctors and other health care providers wrote to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid with concerns that the state wasn’t responsive. Some alleged that the lack of state controls “has resulted in the death(s) of the active clients,” the federal review said.

While the people served are frail and suffer from chronic health issues, the state never investigated to determine if any failure in service contributed to the deaths, the federal review found.

Seriously, when are we going to stop electing people who say “the government is bad”? Once elected, they do everything they can to prove it.  It can only be one of two things; incompetency or sabotage.  Either way, Alaskans have died due to a lack of health care.

The point of this post is not to point out the never ending hypocrisy of Sarah Palin.  Nor is it to point out the blatant lies of one person — but how the intention, manipulation and lies of one person can affect the lives ordinary people.

Perhaps Citizen Palin should take her own advice, “honor the American soldier”, “quit makin’ things up” and “leave the kids alone.”

smdivorcerealityAlaskan cartoonist Peter Dunlap Shohl.

Posted in Sarah Palin, Shannyn Moore, Uncategorized | Tags: "death panel", face book, health care, IHS, mccain, Michele Bachmann, palin, vice presidential debate, wack a mole


How debit cards fleece consumers

A 1,000% fee just for buying a fast-food burger? In our shift to a cashless society, the banking industry has evolved from our financial servant to our master.

[Related content: banking, financial privacy, debit cards, credit cards, credit card fees]

By Chris Pummer, MarketWatch

Born-again Democrats recently made a big to-do in reining in credit card industry abuses. To really safeguard our interests, the new U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Agency now needs to halt the banking industry's coup in progress and the means of its power grab: the debit card.

Being able to whip out a debit card for virtually any transaction is so convenient. Yet in promoting our evolution to a cashless society, banks have commandeered and privatized the nation's payment system, and they profit mightily on all types of purchases, down to buying a candy bar.

>Find more on debit cards.

Find more on debit cards.

The industry's initial aim was to reduce cash-handling, check-clearing and accounting costs via electronic transactions, including direct deposit of paychecks and automatic withdrawals for bills and expenses.

Its ultimate windfall: While reaping those savings, it now generates billions in fee-based income -- and we've all sacrificed financial privacy in ways we've not yet even begun to fathom.

Used to be debit card purchases wouldn't go through without sufficient funds in a cardholder's account. Then opportunistic banks realized that, with direct deposit, they could recoup the overdrawn funds the instant their clients' next payroll checks rolled in.

The upshot: Banks may impose a $35 fee for "overdrawing" on a $3.50 fast-food purchase -- and have vigorously fought efforts to provide electronic warning of the debit card overdraft at the point of sale. The equivalent interest rate for your $3.50 lapse: 1,000%.

Here's more to consider:

The double standard on account theft. Credit card holders aren't on the hook for fraudulent use of their card numbers and can challenge charges on goods and services not delivered as promised. Debit card holders aren't guaranteed those same protections.

The reason: It's the lenders' money on the line with a credit card transaction -- and just our hard-earned savings with debit card fraud. They'll absorb the cost of investigating and prosecuting theft of their money, but they don't want to pick up the cost of policing the theft of ours -- by identical means through their very same hands.

Credit card borrowers are never out more than $50 regardless of when they discover potential fraud. Debit card holders' liability is limited to $50 only if they report perceived fraud within two days; the liability jumps to a maximum $500 from that point to 60 days and is unlimited thereafter.

Vanishing gift-card balances. When consumers buy gift cards, they essentially give retailers an interest-free loan until the recipient uses the card, rather generous when you think about it. Yet on many cards, in small print, is the caveat that the card's value is wiped out if not used by a certain date.

What the hell? Cash value should never vanish, whether in hand or in stored electronic chits. Whoever let our payment system get boarded by Somali pirates?

(This is already illegal in some states. See your state's rules.)

Video on MSN Money

The new credit card landscape © CNBC

The new credit card landscape
CNBC's Bertha Combs looks at the shock waves the new rules will send through the card industry.

How we got snookered

The Federal Reserve under Alan Greenspan championed the banks' aims, since it cost the Fed a nickel to process checks through its transfer system versus a penny for electronic transactions. To Greenspan, the cost savings for the Fed justified the unprecedented turnover of the payment system to the banks.

The IRS, meanwhile, loved the personal record the shift to a cashless society produces because it reduces the undocumented flow of cash through the "underground economy." We've improved the likelihood the government will collect on taxes owed, but at what societal cost?

Continued: The demise of financial self-discipline

The debit card's predecessor, of course, was the ATM card, whose initial selfish aim was to eliminate the need for bank tellers and associated labor costs. We gained access to cash after banking hours in the 1980s and -- thanks to direct deposit -- never had to wait in long lines during Friday lunch hour to cash payroll checks. How great was that!

Thus began our drunkenness on electronic transactions and the demise of our financial self-discipline as we too liberally dispense with our limited savings simply because they're so readily accessible. That's just as the banks intended when they shifted from making money off how they invested our deposits, and began vigorously promoting our spending for the fees it generated.

Debit card practices now need some immediate curbs to turn the banking industry back into our financial servant rather than our master:

  • Notice of deficient funds. Realizing its debit card overdraft fees are blatantly usurious, the banking industry has been open lately to possibly letting account holders "opt out" of the ability to overdraw accounts. Consumer advocates want the policy to instead be "opt in," meaning account holders have to agree to accept overdraft levies. The simple compromise: Notify cardholders at the moment of transaction that they'll be overdrawn and let them decide whether they want to pay the fee or cancel the transaction.
  • Same theft protections as credit cards. Whether it's their money on the line or our own, banks must afford debit card transactions the same theft protection they do for credit cards.
  • An outright ban on a dangerous ''next-gen" card. When retailers ask "credit or debit," it's merely a question of how consumers want the transaction processed; the funds still come out of their bank accounts. What must be banned outright: allowing banks to offer a single, combined debit and credit card that defaults to the latter if there are insufficient funds in one's bank account. That would be the industry's Holy Grail, and we can't let them hand us that arsenic-laden cup.

Video on MSN Money

The new credit card landscape © CNBC

The new credit card landscape
CNBC's Bertha Combs looks at the shock waves the new rules will send through the card industry.

America's entire payment system needs immediate scrutiny and reform to map out where it's headed. If not, we might as well cede the future of the world to the burgeoning Chinese middle class, which isn't likely to blow banked, hard-earned yuan in an instant just because it has the ability to do so.

That effort will fall to the Consumer Financial Protection Agency, which will take over regulation of consumer-lending products and practices now overseen by various federal banking regulators, if Congress passes current legislation.

The rub: The primary focus of those banking regulators -- which are funded and lobbied hard by the banks -- is ensuring banks' safety and soundness, and we've seen what a great job they did there. It's now time for federal authorities to look out more for the safety and soundness of our modest little accounts.

Chris Pummer is a former senior editor for MarketWatch and Bloomberg News and a reporter for such papers as the Los Angeles Times and San Jose Mercury News.

Published Aug. 7, 2009

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Neantrathals have returned!

And they need to be driven back into their caves!!!!
Last night we were pleasured by some of these folks in their diatribe against sensible health care reform.  Posing as a national journalist and some weak-kneed medical professionals (?) they propagated the usual lies of the wing-nut crowd.
I think its time for the enlightened majority to shout these Luddites back into the obscurity they deserve.

Pastor Of Gun-Toter At Obama Event Prayed For Obama To Die | TPMMuckraker


Pastor Of Gun-Toter At Obama Event Prayed For Obama To Die | TPMMuckraker

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

I sure hope its the opponents to sensible national health care who are the first to enjoy the panic that comes from a medical diagnosis that their precious 'private' insurance company denies coverage for... 
Or...that they are the chosen ones who loose their jobs (and subsequently their primier coverage) about the same time they begin to get too old to find comparable employment and insurance coverage.
What greater justice would that be!

Monday, August 24, 2009