Thursday, October 29, 2009

We're #37

Calculating The Cost Of The War In Afghanistan (NPR Audio Post - by Mary Louise Kelley)

So you think Afghan schools or U.S. Single Payer health care are expensive? God, get a grip on this!!

"A Sudden Exit Driven By An 'Irrational' War" by Ex-Marine (NPR Audio Post)

A former Marine captain who became the first foreign service official to publicly resign in protest over the war in Afghanistan says staying in the country is not in America's interest.

"The losses of our soldiers do not merit anything that comes in line with our strategic interests or values," Matthew Hoh, who signed on as a foreign service official in Afghanistan after fighting in Iraq, tells NPR's Melissa Block.

Why the mandate plans won't work, and why single-payer "Medicare for All" is what we need

By Len Rodberg, Ph.D.

1. The health care crisis has worsened. Over 46 million Americans lack health insurance. A comparable number are underinsured. Those with insurance are paying more and more of the premiums and more out-of-pocket as well. And even the insured face bankruptcy if they get sick. Many have to choose between paying for medicine and paying for food and housing. And with the recent economic downturn, the ranks of those without insurance are growing.

2. A majority of physicians (59 percent) and an even higher proportion of Americans (62 percent or more) support single-payer national health insurance or “Medicare for All.” In spite of this, all we are hearing about today are mandate plans that would require everyone to buy the same private insurance that is already failing us. These proposals don’t regulate insurance premiums, they don’t keep the insurance companies from refusing to pay many of our bills, and they don’t improve the insurance we now have. Some offer a “public option,” but this will quickly become too expensive as the sick flee to the public sector because private
insurers avoid them, abandon them, or make it too difficult for them to get their bills paid.

3. These mandate proposals won’t work, either to expand coverage or to contain costs. Plans like these have been tried in many states over the past two decades (Massachusetts, Tennessee, Washington State, Oregon, Minnesota, Vermont, Maine). They have all failed to durably reduce the number of uninsured or to contain costs.

4. These mandate plans will add hundreds of billions of dollars to the nation’s health care costs. In this economic downturn, we need to assure health care for all without adding to the nation’s cost and the government’s deficit. The bottom line is: these proposals don’t reform our fragmented, inefficient system, they just add to its complexity and costs.

5. As long as we continue to rely on private for-profit insurers, universal coverage will be unaffordable. Their administrative costs consume nearly one-third of our health care dollar. We will never have enough money to provide everyone with decent care until we eliminate private insurance with its enormous waste and inadequate coverage. And we will never be able to keep costs down and get the care we need as long as the wasteful and unnecessary insurance companies stand between us and our doctors.

6. Every other industrialized country has some form of universal health care. None uses profit-making, investor-owned insurance companies like ours to provide health care for all their people.

7. We have an American system that works. It’s Medicare. It’s not perfect, but Americans with Medicare are far happier than those with private insurance. Doctors face fewer hassles in getting paid, and Medicare has been a leader in keeping costs down. And keep in mind that Medicare insures people with the greatest health care needs: people over 65 and the disabled. We should improve and expand Medicare to cover everyone.

8. A single-payer “Medicare for All” system is embodied in H.R. 676, sponsored by Rep. John Conyers. It would have:
Ø  Automatic enrollment for everyone
Ø   Comprehensive services covering all medically necessary care and drugs
Ø   Free choice of doctor and hospital, who remain independent and negotiate their fees and budgets with a public or nonprofit agency
Ø   Public or nonprofit agency processes and pays the bills
Ø   Entire system financed through progressive taxes
Ø   Help job growth and the entire U.S. economy by removing the burden of health costs from business
Ø   Cover everyone without spending any more than we are now.
9. The growth in health care costs must be addressed if any proposal is to succeed.
Ø  Single payer offers real tools to contain costs: budgeting, especially for hospitals, planning of capital investments, and an emphasis on primary care and coordination of care.
Ø  Mandate plans offer only hopes: competition among insurance companies, computerization and chronic disease management.
Ø  Competition among the shrinking number of insurance companies has already failed to contain costs and, in the absence of single payer and reformed primary care, computerization and chronic disease management will raise costs, not lower them.

10. Single-payer Medicare for All is the right answer:
Ø  It is right on choice. It provides free choice of doctor and hospital, the choice Americans want and value. In mandate plans, we lose those choices.
Ø   It is right on efficiency. Single payer would slash administrative costs and promote efficient primary care. It would also enhance evidence-based quality assurance.
Ø   It is right on accountability. It will be a public, nonprofit system that will respond to what doctors and their patients need, not what corporate executives and their stockholders want.
Ø  Talking Points: Why the mandate plans won't work,
Ø  Why single-payer "Medicare for All" is what we need

More Schools, Not Troops

Published: October 28, 2009, NYT
Dispatching more troops to Afghanistan would be a monumental bet and probably a bad one, most likely a waste of lives and resources that might simply empower the Taliban. In particular, one of the most compelling arguments against more troops rests on this stunning trade-off: For the cost of a single additional soldier stationed in Afghanistan for one year, we could build roughly 20 schools there.

It’s hard to do the calculation precisely, but for the cost of 40,000 troops over a few years — well, we could just about turn every Afghan into a Ph.D.

The hawks respond: It’s naïve to think that you can sprinkle a bit of education on a war-torn society. It’s impossible to build schools now because the Taliban will blow them up.
In fact, it’s still quite possible to operate schools in Afghanistan — particularly when there’s a strong “buy-in” from the local community.

Greg Mortenson, author of “Three Cups of Tea,” has now built 39 schools in Afghanistan and 92 in Pakistan — and not one has been burned down or closed. The aid organization CARE has 295 schools educating 50,000 girls in Afghanistan, and not a single one has been closed or burned by the Taliban. The Afghan Institute of Learning, another aid group, has 32 schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan, with none closed by the Taliban (although local communities have temporarily suspended three for security reasons).

In short, there is still vast scope for greater investment in education, health and agriculture in Afghanistan. These are extraordinarily cheap and have a better record at stabilizing societies than military solutions, which, in fact, have a pretty dismal record.

In Afghanistan, for example, we have already increased our troop presence by 40,000 troops since the beginning of last year, yet the result has not been the promised stability but only more casualties and a strengthened insurgency. If the last surge of 40,000 troops didn’t help, why will the next one be so different?

Matthew P. Hoh, an American military veteran who was the top civilian officer in Zabul Province, resigned over Afghan policy, as The Washington Post reported this week. Mr. Hoh argues that our military presence is feeding the insurgency, not quelling it.

Already our troops have created a backlash with Kabul University students this week burning President Obama in effigy until police dispersed them with gunshots. The heavier our military
footprint, the more resentment — and perhaps the more legitimacy for the Taliban.

Schools are not a quick fix or silver bullet any more than troops are. But we have abundant evidence that they can, over time, transform countries, and in the area near Afghanistan there’s a nice natural experiment in the comparative power of educational versus military tools.
Since 9/11, the United States has spent $15 billion in Pakistan, mostly on military support, and today Pakistan is more unstable than ever. In contrast, Bangladesh, which until 1971 was a part of Pakistan, has focused on education in a way that Pakistan never did. Bangladesh now has more girls in high school than boys. (In contrast, only 3 percent of Pakistani women in the tribal areas are literate.)

Those educated Bangladeshi women joined the labor force, laying the foundation for a garment industry and working in civil society groups like BRAC and Grameen Bank. That led to a virtuous spiral of development, jobs, lower birth rates, education and stability. That’s one reason Al Qaeda is holed up in Pakistan, not in Bangladesh, and it’s a reminder that education can transform societies.

When I travel in Pakistan, I see evidence that one group — Islamic extremists — believes in the transformative power of education. They pay for madrassas that provide free schooling and often free meals for students. They then offer scholarships for the best pupils to study abroad in Wahhabi madrassas before returning to become leaders of their communities. What I don’t see on my trips is similar numbers of American-backed schools. It breaks my heart that we don’t invest in schools as much as medieval, misogynist extremists.

For roughly the same cost as stationing 40,000 troops in Afghanistan for one year, we could educate the great majority of the 75 million children worldwide who, according to Unicef, are not getting even a primary education. We won’t turn them into graduate students, but we can help them achieve literacy. Such a vast global education campaign would reduce poverty, cut birth rates, improve America’s image in the world, promote stability and chip away at extremism.

Education isn’t a panacea, and no policy in Afghanistan is a sure bet. But all in all, the evidence suggests that education can help foster a virtuous cycle that promotes stability and moderation. So instead of sending 40,000 troops more to Afghanistan, how about opening 40,000 schools?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Whatcom Democrats Vote for Dan McShane, Ken Mann, Carl Weimer and Laurie Caskey-Schreiber!

Please take a look and pass on in your networks. These are really great folks who will work hard for all the folks of Whatcom County.

Don't Build Up

Published: October 27, 2009, NYT

It is crunch time on Afghanistan, so here’s my vote: We need to be thinking about how to reduce our footprint and our goals there in a responsible way, not dig in deeper. We simply do not have the Afghan partners, the NATO allies, the domestic support, the financial resources or the national interests to justify an enlarged and prolonged nation-building effort in Afghanistan.

I base this conclusion on three principles. First, when I think back on all the moments of progress in that part of the world — all the times when a key player in the Middle East actually did something that put a smile on my face — all of them have one thing in common: America had nothing to do with it.

America helped build out what they started, but the breakthrough didn’t start with us. We can fan the flames, but the parties themselves have to light the fires of moderation. And whenever we try to do it for them, whenever we want it more than they do, we fail and they languish.

The Camp David peace treaty was not initiated by Jimmy Carter. Rather, the Egyptian president, Anwar Sadat, went to Jerusalem in 1977 after Israel’s Moshe Dayan held secret talks in Morocco with Sadat aide Hassan Tuhami. Both countries decided that they wanted a separate peace — outside of the Geneva comprehensive framework pushed by Mr. Carter.

The Oslo peace accords started in Oslo — in secret 1992-93 talks between the P.L.O. representative, Ahmed Qurei, and the Israeli professor Yair Hirschfeld. Israelis and Palestinians alone hammered out a broad deal and unveiled it to the Americans in the summer of 1993, much to Washington’s surprise.

The U.S. surge in Iraq was militarily successful because it was preceded by an Iraqi uprising sparked by a Sunni tribal leader, Sheik Abdul Sattar Abu Risha, who, using his own forces, set out to evict the pro-Al Qaeda thugs who had taken over Sunni towns and were imposing a fundamentalist lifestyle. The U.S. surge gave that movement vital assistance to grow. But the spark was lit by the Iraqis.

The Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, the Israeli withdrawals from Gaza and Lebanon, the Green Revolution in Iran and the Pakistani decision to finally fight their own Taliban in Waziristan — because those Taliban were threatening the Pakistani middle class — were all examples of moderate, silent majorities acting on their own.

The message: “People do not change when we tell them they should,” said the Johns Hopkins University foreign policy expert Michael Mandelbaum. “They change when they tell themselves they must.”

And when the moderate silent majorities take ownership of their own futures, we win. When they won’t, when we want them to compromise more than they do, we lose. The locals sense they have us over a barrel, so they exploit our naïve goodwill and presence to loot their countries and to defeat their internal foes.

That’s how I see Afghanistan today. I see no moderate spark. I see our secretary of state pleading with President Hamid Karzai to re-do an election that he blatantly stole. I also see us begging Israelis to stop building more crazy settlements or Palestinians to come to negotiations. It is time to stop subsidizing their nonsense. Let them all start paying retail for their extremism, not wholesale. Then you’ll see movement.

What if we shrink our presence in Afghanistan? Won’t Al Qaeda return, the Taliban be energized and Pakistan collapse? Maybe. Maybe not. This gets to my second principle: In the Middle East, all politics — everything that matters — happens the morning after the morning after. Be patient. Yes, the morning after we shrink down in Afghanistan, the Taliban will celebrate, Pakistan will quake and bin Laden will issue an exultant video.

And the morning after the morning after, the Taliban factions will start fighting each other, the Pakistani Army will have to destroy their Taliban, or be destroyed by them, Afghanistan’s warlords will carve up the country, and, if bin Laden comes out of his cave, he’ll get zapped by a drone.

My last guiding principle: We are the world. A strong, healthy and self-confident America is what holds the world together and on a decent path. A weak America would be a disaster for us and the world. China, Russia and Al Qaeda all love the idea of America doing a long, slow bleed in Afghanistan. I don’t.

The U.S. military has given its assessment. It said that stabilizing Afghanistan and removing it as a threat requires rebuilding that whole country. Unfortunately, that is a 20-year project at best, and we can’t afford it. So our political leadership needs to insist on a strategy that will get the most security for less money and less presence. We simply don’t have the surplus we had when we started the war on terrorism after 9/11 — and we desperately need nation-building at home. We have to be smarter. Let’s finish Iraq, because a decent outcome there really could positively impact the whole Arab-Muslim world, and limit our exposure elsewhere. Iraq matters.

Yes, shrinking down in Afghanistan will create new threats, but expanding there will, too. I’d rather deal with the new threats with a stronger America.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Like Using Your Cell Phone & Driving? Take a Look at This!

Do you see a motorcycle?

Now do you see it?


The Honda crotch rocket rider was traveling at approximately 85 mph. The VW driver was talking on a cell phone when she pulled out from a side street, apparently not seeing the motorcycle. The riders reaction time was not sufficient enough to avoid this accident. The car had two passengers and the bike rider was found INSIDE the car with them. The Volkswagen actually flipped over from the force of impact and landed 20 feet from where the collision took place.

All three involved (two in the car and the bike rider) were killed instantly. This graphic demonstration was placed at the Motorcycle Fair by the Police and Road Safety Department.
Pass this on to car drivers or soon to be new drivers, or new motorcycle owners

Wake up people , Stop talking on Cell phones and
Texting while trying to drive. Put your Cell phone
in the back seat !!!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Small Business Faces Sharp Rise in Costs of Health Care From Insurance Company Bastards

Be sure to read to bolded, underlined sections. As you read them, remember 45K peeps die each year because they do not have health insurance. We simply need to eliminate these companies. They practice outrageous moral turpitude. (Moral turpitude is extreme immorality or wickedness; Encarta Dictionary)

October 25, 2009, NYT
Small Business Faces Sharp Rise in Costs of Health Care
As Congress nears votes on legislation that would overhaul the health care system, many small businesses say they are facing the steepest rise in insurance premiums they have seen in recent years.

Insurance brokers and benefits consultants say their small business clients are seeing premiums go up an average of about 15 percent for the coming year — double the rate of last year’s increases. That would mean an annual premium that was $4,500 per employee in 2008 and $4,800 this year would rise to $5,500 in 2010.

The higher premiums at least partly reflect the inexorable rise of medical costs, which is forcing Medicare to raise premiums, too. Health insurance bills are also rising for big employers, but because they have more negotiating clout, their increases are generally not as steep.

Higher medical costs aside, some experts say they think the insurance industry, under pressure from Wall Street, is raising premiums to get ahead of any legislative changes that might reduce their profits.
The increases come at a politically fraught time for the insurers, as they try to fight off the creation of a government-run competitor and as they push their case that they have a central role to play in controlling the nation’s health care costs.

President Obama, in his Saturday radio address, said the Democrats’ health insurance overhaul would help small businesses and stimulate the economy by providing relief from “the crushing costs of health care — costs that have forced too many small businesses to cut benefits, shed jobs, or shut their doors for good.”

The insurance industry has already been under sharp attack by Democratic lawmakers who favor creating a government-run insurance plan that would compete with private insurers. Without that competition, proponents say, insurers will continue to price coverage beyond the reach of many Americans.
Small businesses, which employ about 40 percent of the private labor force, are a big constituency for both parties.

The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi of California, said the sharp rise in premiums for small businesses offered the latest evidence that Congress must act swiftly on health care legislation.
“This underlines the urgent need for health insurance reform, including a public option,” she said in an interview. “We need to have competition for the insurance companies to keep premiums down.”
Insurers say there is no need for a government-run insurance plan and argue that their health plans are already responsible for many of the initiatives, like programs to coordinate care for chronic conditions, that ultimately lower costs.

Insurers’ “profits are not responsible for increased health care costs,” said Robert Zirkelbach, a spokesman for the industry’s trade group, America’s Health Insurance Plans.

Like the insurers, Republican lawmakers, who portray themselves as champions of small business, argue that the proposed legislation would raise premiums across the board because sick people would be more likely to enroll than healthy people.

They also say the taxes and other ways of paying for the program would be passed on to employers in higher premiums, only making matters worse for small businesses.

The Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said in a response to the president’s radio address, “We can’t support a bill that will raise premiums.” The big insurance companies declined to comment.

With negotiations over next year’s premiums still under way, data on rate increases are mostly anecdotal. Formal surveys have not yet been completed by the health benefits consultants who track the figures. And in some parts of the country, experts say rates are not overly high.

But benefits consultants say there is no doubt that premiums are soaring for many small businesses. Edward Kaplan, a consultant with the Segal Company, said his clients were seeing renewals for coverage at prices 15 to 23 percent higher this year. Last year, he said, they typically faced increases of 7 to 12 percent.

The brokers and consultants say the price jumps seem hard to justify. “Frankly, I’m mystified by the size of the increases,” said one broker, Charles J. Newman, who works with small employers in the New York area.
Some say the threat of an overhaul may be at least part of the reason. Joshua Miley, a consultant with HighRoads, which analyzes benefit information for employers, said the “undercurrent of health reform is driving part of the renewal increases.”

HighRoads projects that premiums will rise 14.4 percent for an individual in a health maintenance organization 
plan at a typical small employer.

There is no question that insurers are under pressure from Wall Street. In recent years, insurers were often not quick enough to raise their premiums well above the rising cost of medical care.
But they have heard from angry investors disappointed by the companies’ earnings.

“There’s no one out there who hasn’t had to do a mea culpa to Wall Street,” said Sheryl Skolnick, an analyst for Pali Capital who follows the companies. While the industry is particularly vulnerable now in Washington, she said, “it seems like they’re more afraid of Wall Street.”

Michael A. Turpin, a former senior executive for UnitedHealth, the insurer, and now a top official at USI Holdings, an insurance brokerage firm, said insurers were now “under so much pressure to post earnings, they’re going to make hay while the sun is shining.”

Along with many Republican lawmakers, the insurers say the current Congressional proposals do too little to address the underlying reasons for high premiums — the unabated rise in medical costs and effects of a weak economy. Hospitals, for example, have been treating greater numbers of people who have lost their jobs and their insurance, and they are passing along some of those costs by charging higher prices to private insurers.

The industry also points to low government payments to hospitals and doctors, which insurers say result in higher prices for employer-based coverage to make up for the shortfall.

In an analysis released two weeks ago by America’s Health Insurance Plans, insurers said premiums would rise even faster under the legislation under study in Congress — an assessment fiercely disputed by Democratic Congressional leaders and some health care economists but shared by many Republicans.
Small businesses, besides having less negotiating leverage than big employers, tend to pay more for the same coverage because they cannot spread the cost of expensive medical conditions or hospitalizations over large numbers of workers. Premiums can be especially high if they have sick or older workers.

Owners of small companies say the lack of options is why they have been paying increasingly higher premiums for less and less coverage — this year perhaps more than ever.

In August, when Walter Rowen, who owns Susquehanna Glass in Columbia, Pa., sought to renew his company’s coverage for two dozen employees, he said his insurer demanded a 160 percent rate increase. Mr. Rowen said he was told his work force was “getting too old and very expensive.”

Mr. Rowen said his insurance broker found that any other health plan was likely to charge 30 to 50 percent more than he paid last year. He chose a less generous plan from a different carrier for 44 percent more.

David M. Herszenhorn contributed reporting.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Where Will the Jobs Come From?

They are popping the bubbly on Wall Street. Million dollar bonuses; the Dow at 10,000; the casino is open again. Forget President Obama who says we can't go back to an economy where finance pockets 40% of the profits. We're already headed there.

The current account deficit is down as Americans have cut back spending. But the deficit with China is hitting new records; companies are still shipping manufacturing jobs over there. The dollar is down, but not against the Chinese currency. Forget about Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke who warns against going back to the unsustainable trade imbalances that led us over the cliff. The old patterns are coming back.

Bernanke has announced that the recession is over, the recovery has begun. But to date, we are looking at a reversion, not a recovery. We've stopped the free fall, but we haven't changed direction. There can be no recovery to the old economy that crashed when the housing bubble burst. That economy depended on Americans spending more then they earned, borrowing ever greater amounts, treating their homes like at ATM machine, while the Chinese lent us the money to keep interest rates down so we could buy the goods our companies made with the jobs they shipped over there.

Now that old economy didn't work very well when it was growing. We lost high wage manufacturing jobs during the supposed "recovery" under Bush. Most Americans lost ground even while the economy was expanding. Household debts reached new highs. Inequality soared to Gilded Age extremes.

But now we can't even get back to that performance. Americans have lost some $13 trillion in assets. They are tightening belts, trying to pay down debts, terrified as jobs are lost, hours cut, benefits slashed. Consumers won't drive the US economy, much less the world's. And businesses aren't investing because consumers are cutting back. They are increasing profits by laying off workers and cutting back expenses. States and localities are headed into severe layoffs of teachers and police. The economy isn't going to be buoyed by soaring exports to a world in recession. The only thing holding the economy up now is the deficit financed stimulus plan and the automatic stabilizers like food stamps and unemployment benefits.

Where will the jobs come from? Wall Street can produce another bubble, but that won't put the 15 million without jobs to work, one third of which have been out of work for at least six months.
Recovery requires fundamental reform of America's economic strategy. The old shibboleths of the conservative era - small government, cut top end taxes, free multinationals to move jobs abroad, deregulate finance, war on labor unions, trade deficits don't matter - have failed ignominiously. They must be discarded, like yesterday's rotted fruit.

Fundamental changes are needed. Trickle down should be supplanted by public investment led growth - large scale public investments in areas vital to our future like infrastructure, research and development, education and training. These investments should be deficit funded until the economy actually starts putting people back to work, and then sustained and paid for through progressive tax reform. Tax speculative security transactions, generating $100 billion a year in revenue to invest in a 21st century infrastructure that would put people to work and make the economy more productive. Raise top end taxes, reduce inequality, and invest in making college affordable or exploring the green technologies of the future.

We've pursued tax cuts, promising private investments would flourish. But much of the productive investment and lavish consumption went abroad. In reality, public investment would be far more effective. We have a staggering public investment deficit that must be met for a world efficient economy. Public investment is more likely to be invested, more likely to be spent here, more likely to create good jobs here, and far more likely to generate new technologies and productive private investments.

We need to complement this with a bold manufacturing strategy to make certain that we help lead the inevitable green industrial revolution, so the new technologies will be created and made in America. Shed the notion that we'll benefit by exporting windmills and solar cells and electric cars subsidized by China so that they are cheaper to us. We can't exchange dependence on foreign oil with dependence on foreign made windmills. Make the public commitment to transition, and then use our purchasing power to invite the companies with the best technology to bid on contracts so long as they make it here in America. Not simply a timid buy America policy satisfied with the final assembly of parts and technologies made elsewhere, but moving entire supply chains so that our workers and engineers and entrepreneurs are familiar with cutting edge technologies that our inventors can soon surpass.

Complement this with a new global trade strategy. We can't go back to current account deficits over 6% of GDP, financed by borrowing from abroad. China, now some ¾ of our manufactured goods deficit, is by far the hub of the problem. The President has wisely called on the international community to adjust cooperatively, challenging the Chinese and other mercantilist nations to expand domestic demand and reduce their reliance on exports, while the US exports more and buys less. But that isn't going to happen so long as the Chinese are free to manipulate their currency, subsidize their exports, savage their workers and environment, and mandate global corporations transfer jobs and technology to them. So we'll need to show some bite. A bold manufacturing policy around new energy will encourage companies, including Chinese companies, to make things here. But we should be debating putting a lid on our deficits, and announcing that we will move slowly to balance our trade. If all adjust, we can have more trade, not less, but we can't go back to the old imbalances no matter what they do.

These must be complemented by financial reform that curbs the gambling and forces banks to make loans to Main Street again, and by a high wage policy - empowering workers, lifting the minimum wage, extending the public social contract. Finally, our economic policy - both monetary and fiscal - must be targeted at sustaining full employment as a priority, without letting inflation get completely out of control.

These ideas - heresies in the old conservative times - are but the beginning towards defining a new course. They will face fierce resistance from entrenched interests. But perhaps the biggest obstacle is the encrusted hold of old, bad ideas that should already have been discarded. You can see that in the calls for balancing the budget and cutting spending while unemployment is reaching new heights. Or the Republican chorus about cutting taxes, as if they had learned nothing. Or conservative Democrats railing against limited buy American policies. Or the administration proclaiming its opposition to industrial policy. Or conservatives railing against excessive regulation.

Inertia and interest drive us to revert, not reform. Only it won't work. The old standards don't play anymore. Sure, Wall Street can generate another bubble or two. But there is no recovery on that old path - only stagnation, crushing long term unemployment, growing inequality, a devastated middle class and a social tinderbox increasingly ready to explode. Eventually, we'll have to change our course - the only question is how much pain we have to endure before we actually learn our lessons.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Countering the big money!

Dan McShane, Candidate for Whatcom County Council, Dist 1 

Endorsed by the Whatcom County Democrats 

Please feel free to distribute this - thanks!

Dear friends,
Late last night my opponent filed her latest campaign report admitting that she received an unprecedented amount of money from a single source in this or any Whatcom County Council campaign: $20,000 from Nicholas Kaiser. She also reported a check for $3,750 from the Realtors. You'll read about this in tomorrow morning's Bellingham Herald.
This is disturbing. Money is starting to contaminate our local politics. We don’t know where the money is really coming from, but it’s wrong. We can’t let big money interests buy the Whatcom County Council. As the Bellingham Herald editorial said in endorsing me, “electing her…would be a mistake.”
I’m fighting back and I need your help!
First: we need to raise another $5,000 in the next five days to counter this effort to buy the County Council. We can do this with your help. Please go to our website to contribute securely online. Your contribution will send a message to special interests that the Whatcom County Council is not for sale!  I firmly believe that our farmland and water resources are worth protecting for all the people.
Second: if you can spare two hours of time, we can put you to work talking to voters either on the phone or at the door. Please send us an email at or call us at 360-647-3744 to find out how to sign up.
Dan McShane
P.S.: if you haven’t given yet, please consider giving. If you’ve already donated - thank you, and I hope you’ll consider making another contribution. Together we can make Whatcom County an even better place.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Lessons From Letterman in Health Reform

Robert Reich is right on track with this blog post. The crucial cost containment measures that are lacking in the current legislative proposals. Of course he doesn't mention the very best option: single payer. but he's on the right track.
"Last January, as I understand it, the White House promised Big Pharma, big insurance, and the American Medical Association the moral equivalent of what Joel Halderman allegedly demanded of David Letterman: hush money. The groups agreed to stay silent or even be supportive of healthcare reform, as long as they were paid off.
But now that it's time to collect, the bill is larger than the White House expected, and it's going to fall like an avalanche on middle class Americans in coming years. That could mean an ugly 2012 election (read Sarah Palin).
So the President has to do what Letterman did: Refuse to pay.
Big Pharma is on the road to getting its deal: not only 25 to 30 million more paying customers, but also a continued ban on Medicare using its bargaining clout to reduce drug prices, a bar on genetic drug manufacturers introducing similar biologic drugs until the originals have been on the market at least twelve years, and no public insurance option to negotiate low drug prices. (Big Pharma did agree to $80 billion of cost cuts over the next ten years, to be sure, but its hush money payoffs far exceeded that sum.)
Big insurance is well on the way to getting what it wants: 25 to 30 million more paying customers (many of them young and healthy), a requirement that almost all businesses "pay or play," and no competition from a public option.
Doctors (that is, the American Medical Association) are on the way to getting what they want: Instead of a temporary patch on scheduled decreases in Medicare reimbursements to them, a permanent fix that would change the reimbursement formula altogether and reward them $240 billion over the next ten years.
But when they all get paid off, who will do the paying? Middle-class Americans who are already in a financial squeeze -- whose wages are lower, adjusted for inflation, than they were thirty years ago, and whose jobs are disappearing. They'll face still higher premiums, co-payments, and deductibles; and they'll pay higher drug prices, Medicare premiums, and taxes to cover the rest.
That's because these payoffs make it next to impossible to contain the wildly escalating costs of health care. And 25 to 30 million additional Americans will be covered.
The only thing in the emerging bills that's related to cost containment is a proposed excise tax on so-called "Cadillac" insurance plans, priced over a certain threshold amount (the threshold is now up for grabs). But because the costs of health care are likely to rise faster than inflation, whatever the threshold, the middle class will get socked again.
So Obama has to forcefully weigh in with Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid as the two try to cobble together passable bills for each chamber -- demanding real cost containment.
The three big means of containing costs: (1) A true public option (better yet, one that allows anyone now holding private insurance to opt into; (2) authority for Medicare to negotiate low drug prices; and (3) lower Medicare reimbursement rates to doctors (in other words, no "doctor fix").
In addition, the so-called "medical exchanges" in the emerging bills (as well as the public option, which hopefully will be included) should give preference to pre-paid heathcare plans, like Kaiser Permanente, whose doctors are on salary and have every incentive to keep people healthy rather than charge for more services and tests.
But if Obama doesn't weigh in forcefully and say "no" to the hush money for Big Pharma, big insurance, and the AMA, America's middle class will get walloped. And if the walloping starts before 2012, Sarah Palin or some other right wing-nut populist will wallop Obama. And after she or he wallops Obama, America will get walloped even worse."

Cross-posted from Robert Reich's Blog

Friday, October 16, 2009

My Afghan Problem - Stephen Schlesinger

My doubts about the US mission in Afghanistan, like those of many other Americans, have grown substantially over the past several years. While I think America was justified in toppling the Taliban government in 2001 for harboring the Al Qaeda criminals who killed 3000 US citizens and foreigners through their suicidal airplane assaults on New York and Washington, at the same time today I am wondering whether the cause we are fighting for in Afghanistan now is the same that Washington embraced eight years ago -- namely, to eliminate Al Qaeda.
First, the remnants of Al Qaeda have over the past half-decade scattered and most reside in Pakistan, so we are now mainly fighting the Taliban, a local, not a global fundamentalist insurgency, in Afghanistan.
Second, we have already about 68,000 troops in that country but we are primarily defending the nation's few big cities, and little of the countryside, making our mission, in geopolitical terms, a limited one and one no longer concerned about liberating a nation.
Third, General Stanley McChrystal's strategy, to provide security for Afghans while we build up the Afghan military and police forces, doesn't seem very workable as long as the Afghans realize the US will ultimately leave the country.
Fourth, the Karzai regime on whose behalf we are fighting, is corrupt, and, after a rigged election, also illegitimate, so we no longer are working with a truly legal government.
Fifth, in pursuing all of these policies, we are spending billions of tax dollars a day, which could be put to use in solving our vast economic problems at home.
It is time that we should be insisting on two things -- first, that major changes be carried out by the Afghan government to stamp out graft and bribery and institute democratic reforms and that our assistance be contingent on such changes being implemented.
Second, we should also demand that the burden of our Afghan undertaking now be shared more broadly than just between us and our few NATO allies. It is time that the nations in the region, including Russia, Iran, China, and the various "Stans", who are putatively supporting our fight, should now be engaged themselves in this struggle, supplying forces and resources to defeat the enemy. After all, we are safeguarding them right now them against their own bitter enemies -- religious extremists and drug smugglers but getting little thanks in return.
If this situation does not change, then President Obama's reappraisal should certainly forgo any troop increase and instead aim toward gradually pulling out US and NATO forces and handing over to the Afghans the sole responsibility for settling their own internal conflicts.