Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Obama Health Plan Features Senate's Worst Elements

WASHINGTON - President Obama's health care proposal, preserving as it does a central role for the for-profit, private health insurance industry, is incapable of achieving the kind of universal, comprehensive and affordable reform the country needs, a spokesman for a national doctors' group said Wednesday.

"Regrettably, the president's proposal is built on some of the worst aspects of the Senate bill," said Dr. Quentin Young, national coordinator of Physicians for a National Health Program, an organization of 17,000 doctors who support single-payer, Medicare-for-All approach to reform. Young's statement comes on the eve of the president's bipartisan summit in Washington.

"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.

"Even so, at least 23 million people would remain uninsured," he said. "We know that being uninsured raises your chance of dying by about 40 percent," he continued, citing another recent study. "That translates into about 23,000 unnecessary deaths each year. As physicians, we find this completely unacceptable."

"In short," Young said, "this proposal is an insurance company bonanza, not good, evidence-based health reform. The president would do better by abandoning the insurance and drug companies and instead taking up the single-payer approach." His group has estimated that such an approach could save hundreds of billions of dollars annually by simplifying health administration.

more, if you can stand it

Monday, February 22, 2010

Obama Justice Department Covers Up Bushie Torture Transgressions

Washington - Lawyers for the Bush administration who wrote the legal rationale for water boarding and other harsh interrogation methods of terrorism suspects will not face discipline, according to information sent Friday to US lawmakers by the Justice Department.

The Washington Post, which obtained a copy of the correspondence, reported that justice officials found that John Yoo and Jay Bybee had 'exercised poor judgement' but did not need to face disciplinary actions by state legal disciplinary panels.
The report was conducted by the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility, which ruled that Yoo and Bybee had not violated legal ethic rules when they wrote memos authorizing the interrogation techniques which in the eyes of many represented torture.

An earlier report from the same department had found the lawyers had committed 'professional misconduct.' But that report was overruled by David Margolis, a career lawyer in the Deputy Attorney General's office, according to the documents sent to legislators Friday.

The 'poor judgement' finding triggered calls from human rights organizations for a broader, deeper criminal investigation into the conduct of Yoo, Bybee and a third lawyer, Steven Bradbury.

'Justice Department lawyers have an obligation to uphold the law, so when they write legal opinions that were designed to provide legal cover for torture, they need to be held accountable with more than a slap on the wrist,' said Andrea Prasow, the senior counter-terrorism counsel at Human Rights Watch.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) called on the Justice Department to 'expand its criminal investigation of the torture programme.

The Senate judiciary committee is to hold a hearing on the report on February 26.


Sunday, February 21, 2010

Great Depression of 2010: Long-Term Victims

Even as the American economy shows tentative signs of a rebound, the human toll of the recession continues to mount, with millions of Americans remaining out of work, out of savings and nearing the end of their unemployment benefits.

Economists fear that the nascent recovery will leave more people behind than in past recessions, failing to create jobs in sufficient numbers to absorb the record-setting ranks of the long-term unemployed.

Call them the new poor: people long accustomed to the comforts of middle-class life who are now relying on public assistance for the first time in their lives — potentially for years to come....

Every downturn pushes some people out of the middle class before the economy resumes expanding. Most recover. Many prosper. But some economists worry that this time could be different. An unusual constellation of forces — some embedded in the modern-day economy, others unique to this wrenching recession — might make it especially difficult for those out of work to find their way back to their middle-class lives....

Some poverty experts say the broader social safety net is not up to cushioning the impact of the worst downturn since the Great Depression. Social services are less extensive than during the last period of double-digit unemployment, in the early 1980s.

On average, only two-thirds of unemployed people received state-provided unemployment checks last year, according to the Labor Department. The rest either exhausted their benefits, fell short of requirements or did not apply.

“You have very large sets of people who have no social protections,” said Randy Albelda, an economist at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. “They are landing in this netherworld.”


How The Senate Is Killing The U.S.

Challenges of historic import threaten America’s future. Action on the deficit, economy, energy, health care and much more is imperative, yet our legislative institutions fail to act. Congress must be reformed.

There are many causes for the dysfunction: strident partisanship, unyielding ideology, a corrosive system of campaign financing, gerrymandering of House districts, endless filibusters, holds on executive appointees in the Senate, dwindling social interaction between senators of opposing parties and a caucus system that promotes party unity at the expense of bipartisan consensus.

Many good people serve in Congress. They are patriotic, hard-working and devoted to the public good as they see it, but the institutional and cultural impediments to change frustrate the intentions of these well-meaning people as rarely before.


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Krugman: "We're Doomed"

President Barack Obama said he doesn’t “begrudge” the $17 million bonus awarded to JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon or the $9 million issued to Goldman Sachs Group Inc. CEO Lloyd Blankfein, noting that some athletes take home more pay.

First of all, to my knowledge, irresponsible behavior by baseball players hasn’t brought the world economy to the brink of collapse and cost millions of innocent Americans their jobs and/or houses. And more specifically, not only has the financial industry been bailed out with taxpayer commitments; it continues to rely on a taxpayer backstop for its stability.

Bank executives are not free agents who are earning big bucks in fair competition; they run companies that are essentially wards of the state. There’s good reason to feel outraged at the growing appearance that we’re running a system of lemon socialism, in which losses are public but gains are private. And at the very least, you would think that Obama would understand the importance of acknowledging public anger over what’s happening....

Oh. My. God....We're doomed."

--more Paul Krugman

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Greatest Depression Continues For The Low Income Households

What you’re not hearing from the politicians and the talking heads is that the joblessness and underemployment in America’s low-income households rival their heights in the Great Depression of the 1930s — and in some instances are worse. The same holds true for some categories of blue-collar workers. Anyone who thinks this devastating problem is going away soon, or that the economy can be put back on track without addressing it, is deluded. There has been talk about income inequality over the past several years, but what is happening now is catastrophic....

The unemployment rate of the lowest group, which had annual household incomes of $12,499 or less...during the fourth quarter of last year was a staggering 30.8 percent. That’s more than five points higher than the overall jobless rate at the height of the Depression. The next lowest group, with incomes of $12,500 to $20,000, had an unemployment rate of 19.1 percent.

These are the kinds of jobless rates that push families already struggling on meager incomes into destitution. And such gruesome gaps in the condition of groups at the top and bottom of the economic ladder are unmistakable signs of impending societal instability. This is dangerous stuff. Nothing good can come of vast armies of the unemployed just sitting out there, simmering.

When the data about underemployment is factored in — meaning individuals who are working part time but would like to work full time, and those who have stopped looking but would take a job if one were available — the picture only worsens.The people suffering the most drastic employment reversals in this recession have been those who were in the lower-income groups to begin with — the young, less well-educated workers, especially black and Hispanic high school dropouts, and certain categories of service workers, such as food preparers and building cleaners. Blue-collar workers were also hammered, especially those in the construction industry....

The point here is that those in the lower-income groups are in a much, much deeper hole than the general commentary on the recession would lead people to believe. And none of the policy prescriptions being offered by the administration or the leaders of either party in Congress would in any way substantially alleviate the plight of those groups.

--more Bob Herbert

Ongoing U.S. Downfall Exacerbated By Senate

We’ve always known that America’s reign as the world’s greatest nation would eventually end. But most of us imagined that our downfall, when it came, would be something grand and tragic.

What we’re getting instead is less a tragedy than a deadly farce. Instead of fraying under the strain of imperial overstretch, we’re paralyzed by procedure. Instead of re-enacting the decline and fall of Rome, we’re re-enacting the dissolution of 18th-century Poland.

A brief history lesson: In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Polish legislature, the Sejm, operated on the unanimity principle: any member could nullify legislation by shouting “I do not allow!” This made the nation largely ungovernable, and neighboring regimes began hacking off pieces of its territory. By 1795 Poland had disappeared, not to re-emerge for more than a century.

Today, the U.S. Senate seems determined to make the Sejm look good by comparison....The truth is that given the state of American politics, the way the Senate works is no longer consistent with a functioning government. Senators themselves should recognize this fact and push through changes in those rules, including eliminating or at least limiting the filibuster. This is something they could and should do, by majority vote, on the first day of the next Senate session.

Don’t hold your breath. As it is, Democrats don’t even seem able to score political points by highlighting their opponents’ obstructionism.

--more Paul Krugman

Friday, February 5, 2010

Obama Refuses To Lead On Health Care

“What I’d like to do is have a meeting whereby I am sitting with the Republicans, sitting with the Democrats, sitting with health care experts and let’s just go through these bills,” Mr. Obama said. “Their ideas, our ideas. Let’s walk through them in a methodical way, so that the American people can see and compare what makes the most sense. And then I think that we have got to move forward on a vote. We have got to move forward on a vote.”

"...I think it’s very important for us to have a methodical, open process over the next several weeks and then let’s go ahead and make a decision. And it may be that if Congress decides, if Congress decides we’re not going to do it, even after all the facts are laid out, all the options are clear, then the American people can make a judgment as to whether this Congress has done the right thing for them or not...."

can you stand reading more?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Obama's Just More Of The Same

Take his State of the Union Address.

Did we need Barack Obama to say “the true engine of job creation will always be America’s businesses”?

Did we need Barack Obama to give corporations, big and small, more tax breaks, when even John McCain’s top economist recognizes that such tax breaks are among the least effective ways to get the economy moving again?

Did we need Barack Obama to come out for an across-the-board spending freeze, exempting the Pentagon, of course?

Did we need Barack Obama to dwell on the “burdens facing the middle class” while barely mentioning the burdens of those in poverty?

Did we need Barack Obama to issue an Executive Order to establish a commission that will pave the way for slashing Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security?...

Did we need Barack Obama to advocate offshore oil drilling—and clean coal, as if there were such a thing?...

He talked about improving the nation’s image abroad, but he’s been disastrously ineffectual in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which lies at the heart of our sullied reputation.

In Latin America, he showed his true colors by failing to throw his weight behind restoring President Zelaya in Honduras and by signing a military base agreement with Colombia.

And for all his talk about ending torture, the United States is still disappearing people into black sites in Afghanistan—and still torturing them there. (See Anand Gopal’s horrifying report)

On civil liberties, his record is extremely mixed, and that’s being generous. The ACLU just put out a report, “America Unrestored,” that goes item by item.

Suffice it to say that he’s done nothing to prohibit the warrantless spying that was the hallmark of the Bush Administration. He’s done nothing to end the Secret Service’s use of “free speech zones.” And he continues to assert the right to hold people, indefinitely, without charge.

On the economy, he baked half a loaf of stimulus, even when he was warned by Nobel Prize winners Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman and the brilliant economist Dean Baker that a full loaf was needed to prevent 10 percent unemployment. And Obama surrounded himself with Tim Geithner, Larry Summers, and Ben Bernanke, the architects of disaster and bailouts....

And on health care, he took the best proposal—single payer—off the table at the start and never, ever even put the second best proposal on the table, which would have been Medicare for All Who Want It. The bill he favors is a giveaway to the insurance industry....

--more Matthew Rothschild

Monday, February 1, 2010

U.S Has Begun Descent Into Mediocrity

A bullet through the skull replaced Kennedy with Nixon. We shall overcome was replaced with the vicious "Southern Strategy;" the Cold War exploded in hot jungles; then came the idiot wasteland of the regimes of Ford and Carter and Reagan and Clinton and Bushes, a degenerative march as the machine of America rusted and died.

And here we are today, begging for spare parts from China and my daughter glued to YouTube videos of Lady Ga-Ga's crotch, and my son slicing off a cop's head in Grand Theft Auto and a President, telegenic and painfully hollow, playing the lost and ineffectual shepherd over an electorate divided between the terrified and the greedy. In place of prophets, we are offered a caravan of kvetching clowns piling out of the Volkswagen on MSNBC. --Greg Palast

In a federal budget filled with mind-boggling statistics, two numbers stand out as particularly stunning, for the way they may change American politics and American power.The first is the projected deficit in the coming year, nearly 11 percent of the country’s entire economic output...

But the second number, buried deeper in the budget’s projections, is the one that really commands attention: By President Obama’s own optimistic projections, American deficits will not return to what are widely considered sustainable levels over the next 10 years. In fact, in 2019 and 2020 — years after Mr. Obama has left the political scene, even if he serves two terms — they start rising again sharply, to more than 5 percent of gross domestic product. His budget draws a picture of a nation that like many American homeowners simply cannot get above water.

For Mr. Obama and his successors, the effect of those projections is clear: Unless miraculous growth, or miraculous political compromises, creates some unforeseen change over the next decade, there is virtually no room for new domestic initiatives for Mr. Obama or his successors. Beyond that lies the possibility that the United States could begin to suffer the same disease that has afflicted Japan over the past decade. As debt grew more rapidly than income, that country’s influence around the world eroded.