Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Media Gets It Wrong on WikiLeaks: It's About Broken Trust, Not Broken Condoms

Arianna Huffington
Posted: December 15, 2010 09:19 PM

I attend a lot of conferences on media and technology -- indeed, they might actually be the biggest growth sector of the media -- but the one I attended this past weekend was one of the most fascinating I've been to in quite a while. Entitled "A Symposium on WikiLeaks and Internet Freedom," the one-day event was sponsored by the Personal Democracy Forum and was moderated by the group's Micah Sifry and Andrew Rasiej.

The WikiLeaks story is an ever-shifting one -- witness the latest twists of the Air Force blocking its personnel from accessing more than 25 news sites that have posted material released by WikiLeaks, and the shocking treatment of Bradley Manning, the U.S. Army private accused of being the source of the leaks.

One of the problems with the WikiLeaks story is that there has been way too much conflating going on, as Katrin Verclas pointed out at the symposium. So some serious unconflating (disconflating?) is in order.

I see four main aspects to the story. The first important aspect of the revelations is... the revelations.

Too much of the coverage has been meta -- focusing on questions about whether the leaks were justified, while too little has dealt with the details of what has actually been revealed and what those revelations say about the wisdom of our ongoing effort in Afghanistan. There's a reason why the administration is so upset about these leaks.

True, there hasn't been one smoking-gun, bombshell revelation -- but that's certainly not to say the cables haven't been revealing. What there has been instead is more of the consistent drip, drip, drip of damning details we keep getting about the war. Details that belie the upbeat talk the administration wants us to believe. The effect is cumulative -- not unlike mercury poisoning.

It's notable that the latest leaks came out the same week President Obama went to Afghanistan for his surprise visit to the troops -- and made a speech about how we are "succeeding" and "making important progress" and bound to "prevail."

The WikiLeaks cables present quite a different picture. What emerges is one reality (the real one) colliding with another (the official one). We see smart, good-faith diplomats and foreign service personnel trying to make the truth on the ground match up to the one the administration has proclaimed to the public. The cables show the widening disconnect. It's like a foreign policy Ponzi scheme -- this one fueled not by the public's money, but the public's acquiescence.

The cables show that the administration has been cooking the books. And what's scandalous is not the actions of the diplomats doing their best to minimize the damage from our policies, but the policies themselves. Of course, we've known about them, but the cables provide another opportunity to see the truth behind the spin -- so it's no wonder the administration has reacted so hysterically to them.

The second aspect of the story -- the one that was the focus of the symposium -- is the changing relationship to government that technology has made possible.

Back in the year 2007, B.W. (Before WikiLeaks), Barack Obama waxed lyrical about government and the internet: "We have to use technology to open up our democracy. It's no coincidence that one of the most secretive administrations in our history has favored special interest and pursued policy that could not stand up to the sunlight."

At that moment he was, of course, busy building an internet framework that would play an important part in his becoming the head of the next administration. Not long after the election, in announcing his "Transparency and Open Government" policy, the president proclaimed: "Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their Government is doing. Information maintained by the Federal Government is a national asset."

Cut to a few years later. Now that he's defending a reality that doesn't match up to, well, reality, he's suddenly not so keen on the people having a chance to access this "national asset."

Even more wikironic are the statements by his Secretary of State who, less than a year ago, was lecturing other nations about the value of an unfettered and free internet. Given her description of the WikiLeaks as "an attack on America's foreign policy interests" that have put in danger "innocent people," her comments take on a whole different light. Some highlights:

In authoritarian countries, information networks are helping people discover new facts and making governments more accountable... technologies with the potential to open up access to government and promote transparency can also be hijacked by governments to crush dissent and deny human rights... As in the dictatorships of the past, governments are targeting independent thinkers who use these tools.

Now "making government accountable" is, as White House spokesman Robert Gibbs put it, a "reckless and dangerous action."

And the government isn't stopping at shameless demagoguery, hypocrisy, and fear-mongering -- it's putting its words into action. According to The Hill, this week the House Judiciary Committee will open hearings into whether WikiLeaks has somehow violated the Espionage Act of 1917.

What's more, ABC News reports that Assange's lawyers are hearing that U.S. indictments could be forthcoming: "The American people themselves have been put at risk by these actions that are, I believe, arrogant, misguided and ultimately not helpful in any way," said Attorney General Eric Holder. "We have a very serious, active, ongoing investigation that is criminal in nature. I authorized just last week a number of things to be done so that we can hopefully get to the bottom of this and hold people accountable... as they should be."

For the Obama administration, it appears that accountability is a one-way street. When he had the chance to bring the principle of accountability to our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and investigate how we got into them, the president passed. As John Perry Barlow tweeted, "We have reached a point in our history where lies are protected speech and the truth is criminal."

Any process of real accountability, would, of course, also include the key role the press played in bringing us the war in Iraq. Jay Rosen, one of the participants in the symposium, wrote a brilliant essay entitled "From Judith Miller to Julian Assange." He writes:

For the portion of the American press that still looks to Watergate and the Pentagon Papers for inspiration, and that considers itself a check on state power, the hour of its greatest humiliation can, I think, be located with some precision: it happened on Sunday, September 8, 2002.

That was when the New York Times published Judith Miller and Michael Gordon's breathless, spoon-fed -- and ultimately inaccurate -- account of Iraqi attempts to buy aluminum tubes to produce fuel for a nuclear bomb.

Miller's after-the-facts-proved-wrong response, as quoted in a Michael Massing piece in the New York Review of Books, was: "My job isn't to assess the government's information and be an independent intelligence analyst myself. My job is to tell readers of The New York Times what the government thought about Iraq's arsenal."

In other words, her job is to tell citizens what their government is saying, not, as Obama called for in his transparency initiative, what their government is doing. As Jay Rosen put it:

Today it is recognized at the Times and in the journalism world that Judy Miller was a bad actor who did a lot of damage and had to go. But it has never been recognized that secrecy was itself a bad actor in the events that led to the collapse, that it did a lot of damage, and parts of it might have to go. Our press has never come to terms with the ways in which it got itself on the wrong side of secrecy as the national security state swelled in size after September 11th.

And in the WikiLeaks case, much of media has again found itself on the wrong side of secrecy -- and so much of the reporting about WikiLeaks has served to obscure, to conflate, to mislead.

For instance, how many stories have you heard or read about all the cables being "dumped" in "indiscriminate" ways with no attempt to "vet" and "redact" the stories first. In truth, only just over 1,200 of the 250,000 cables have been released, and WikiLeaks is now publishing only those cables vetted and redacted by their media partners, which includes the New York Times here and the Guardian in England.

The establishment media may be part of the media, but they're also part of the establishment. And they're circling the wagons. One method they're using, as Andrew Rasiej put it after the symposium, is to conflate the secrecy that governments use to operate and the secrecy that is used to hide the truth and allow governments to mislead us.

Nobody, including WikiLeaks, is promoting the idea that government should exist in total transparency, or that, for instance, all government meetings should be live-streamed and cameras placed around the White House like a DC-based spin-off of Big Brother.

Assange himself would not disagree. "Secrecy is important for many things," he told Time's Richard Stengel. "We keep secret the identity of our sources, as an example, take great pains to do it." At the same time, however, secrecy "shouldn't be used to cover up abuses."

But the government's legitimate need for secrecy is very different from the government's desire to get away with hiding the truth. Conflating the two is dangerously unhealthy for a democracy. And this is why it's especially important to look at what WikiLeaks is actually doing, as distinct from what its critics claim it's doing.

And this is why it's also important to look at the fact that even though the cables are being published in mainstream outlets like the Times, the information first went to WikiLeaks. "You've heard of voting with your feet?" Rosen said during the symposium. "The sources are voting with their leaks. If they trusted the newspapers more, they would be going to the newspapers."

Our democracy's need for accountability transcends left and right divisions. Over at American Conservative magazine, Jack Hunter penned "The Conservative Case for WikiLeaks," writing:

Decentralizing government power, limiting it, and challenging it was the Founders' intent and these have always been core conservative principles. Conservatives should prefer an explosion of whistleblower groups like WikiLeaks to a federal government powerful enough to take them down. Government officials who now attack WikiLeaks don't fear national endangerment, they fear personal embarrassment. And while scores of conservatives have long promised to undermine or challenge the current monstrosity in Washington, D.C., it is now an organization not recognizably conservative that best undermines the political establishment and challenges its very foundations.

It is not, as Simon Jenkins put it in the Guardian, the job of the media to protect the powerful from embarrassment. As I said at the symposium, its job is to play the role of the little boy in The Emperor's New Clothes -- brave enough to point out what nobody else is willing to say.

When the press trades truth for access, it is WikiLeaks that acts like the little boy. "Power," wrote Jenkins, "loathes truth revealed. When the public interest is undermined by the lies and paranoia of power, it is disclosure that takes sanity by the scruff of its neck and sets it back on its feet."

A final aspect of the story is Julian Assange himself. Is he a visionary? Is he an anarchist? Is he a jerk? This is fun speculation, but why does it have an impact on the value of the WikiLeaks revelations?

Of course, it's not terribly surprising that those who are made uncomfortable by the discrepancy between what the leaked cables show and what our government claims would rather make this all about the psychological makeup of Assange. But doing so is a virtual admission that they have nothing tangible with which to counter the reality exposed by WikiLeaks.

Maybe Assange "often acts without completely thinking through every repercussion of his actions," writes Slate's Jack Shafer. "But if you want to dismiss him just because he's a seething jerk, there are about 2,000 journalists I'd like you to meet."

Whether Assange is a world-class jerk or not, this is bigger than Assange -- and will continue whether or not he continues to be a central player in it. In fact, there is already an offshoot site soon to be launched, called Openleaks, which will be run by veterans of WikiLeaks.

And I doubt this will be the only offshoot. So as interesting as the Assange saga is, and I'm sure there will be books and movies recounting Assange's personal tale, this is not about one man. Nor is it about one site, though the precedent of allowing the government to shut it down is very important.

It is about our future. For our democracy to survive, citizens have to be able to know what our government is really doing. We can't change course if we don't have accurate information about where we really are. Whether this comes from a website or a newspaper or both doesn't matter.

But if our government is successful in its efforts to shut down this new avenue of accountability, it will have done our country far more damage than what it claims is being done by WikiLeaks.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Tone Deaf in D.C.

Bob Herbert, The New York Times

It would be easy to misread the results of Tuesday’s elections, and it looks as if the leaders of both parties are doing exactly that.

Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans are offering voters the kind of change that they seem so desperately to want. We’re getting mind-numbing chatter about balanced budgets and smaller government and whether Mitch McConnell and his gang can chase President Obama out of the White House in 2012.

What voters want is leadership that will help them through an economic nightmare and fix a country that has been pitched into a state of sharp decline. They long for leaders with a clear and compelling vision of a better America and a road map for getting there. That leadership has long been AWOL. The hope in the tumultuous elections of 2008 was that it would come from Mr. Obama and the Democrats, but that hope, after just two years, is on life support.

Tuesday’s outcome was the result of voters, still hungry for change, who either switched in anger from the Democrats to the Republicans or, out of a deep sense of disappointment, stayed home.

It was hardly a mandate for the G.O.P.’s way of doing things. Nearly 15 million Americans are out of work. The public does not want the next two years to be a bitter period of endless Congressional investigations of the Obama administration; more tax cuts and other giveaways to the very wealthy; and attacks on programs like Social Security, Medicare and unemployment insurance that offer at least a measure of economic security for ordinary people.

It would also be a mistake for the Democrats, a terminally timid party, to cave in to their opponents and start embracing a G.O.P. agenda that would only worsen the prospects of ordinary working Americans and the poor.

The Democrats are in disarray because it’s a party that lacks a spine. The Republicans, conversely, fight like wild people whether they’re in the majority or not. What neither party is doing is offering a bold, coherent plan to get the nation’s economy in good shape and create jobs, to bring our young men and women home from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, to rebuild the education system in a way that will prepare the next generation for the great challenges of the 21st century, and to reinvigorate the can-do spirit of America in a way that makes people believe that they are working together toward grand and constructive goals.

Great challenges demand great leaders. Marian Anderson once said, “Leadership should be born out of the understanding of the needs of those who would be affected by it.”

Americans right now are riddled with fears and anxieties of many kinds. They are worried about the economic well-being of their families, the cost of securing a decent education for their children, their prospects for a comfortable retirement, the continuing threat of terrorism, and the debilitating effects of endless warfare. They worry that America’s best days may be in the past.

Neither party talked about the wars during the campaign because neither party has anything satisfactory to say about them. And there was hardly any talk about education. We know that a quality education is more important now than ever, but we are firing teachers by the scores of thousands, not because they are incompetent, but because state and local budgets have hemorrhaged.

Our leaders in Washington seem entirely out of touch with the needs, the hopes, the fears and the anxieties of the millions of Americans who are out of work, who are struggling with their mortgages or home foreclosures, who are skimping on needed medication in order to keep food on the table, and who lie awake at night worrying about what the morning will bring. No one even dares mention the poor.

What this election tells me is that real leadership will have to come from elsewhere, from outside of Washington, perhaps from elected officials in statehouses or municipal buildings that are closer to the people, from foundations and grass-roots organizations, from the labor movement and houses of worship and community centers.

The civil rights pioneers did not wait for presidential or Congressional leadership, nor did the leaders of the women’s movement. They plunged ahead with their crucial work against the longest odds and in the face of seemingly implacable hostility. Leaders of the labor movement braved guns, bombs, imprisonment and heaven knows what else to bring fair wages and dignity to working people.

America’s can-do spirit can be revived, and with it a brighter vision of a fairer, more inclusive, and more humane society. But not if we wait on Washington to do it. The loudest message from Tuesday’s election is that the people themselves need to do much more.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Really Unusually Uncertain


Over the past few weeks I’ve had a chance to speak with senior economic policy makers in America and Germany and I think I’ve figured out where we are. It’s like this: things are getting better, except where they aren’t. The bailouts are working, except where they’re not. Things will slowly get better, unless they slowly get worse. We should know soon, unless we don’t.
It is no wonder that businesses are reluctant to hire with such “unusual uncertainty,” as Fed chief Ben Bernanke put it. One reason it is so unusual is that we are not just trying to recover from a financial crisis triggered by crazy mortgage lending. We’re also having to deal with three huge structural problems that built up over several decades and have reached a point of criticality at the same time.
And as Mohamed El-Erian, the C.E.O. of Pimco, has been repeating, “Structural problems need structural solutions.” There are no quick fixes. In America and Europe, we are going to need some big structural fixes to get back on a sustained growth path — changes that will require a level of political consensus and sacrifice that has been sorely lacking in most countries up to now.
The first big structural problem is America’s. We’ve just ended more than a decade of debt-fueled growth during which we borrowed money from China to give ourselves a tax cut and more entitlements but did nothing to curtail spending or make long-term investments in new growth engines. Now our government owes more than ever and has more future obligations than ever — like expanded Medicare prescription drug benefits, expanded health care, an expanded war in Afghanistan and expanded Social Security payments (because the baby boomers are about to retire) — and less real growth to pay for it all.
America will probably need some added stimulus to kick start employment, but any stimulus right now must be in growth-enabling investments that will yield more than their costs, or they just increase debt. That means investments in skill building and infrastructure plus tax incentives for starting new businesses and export promotion. To get a stimulus through Congress it must be paired with spending cuts and/or tax increases timed for when the economy improves.
Second, America’s solvency inflection point is coinciding with a technological one. Thanks to Internet diffusion, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and the shift from laptops and desktops to hand-held iPads and iPhones, technology is destroying older, less skilled jobs that paid a decent wage at a faster pace than ever while spinning off more new skilled jobs that pay a decent wage but require more education than ever.
There is only one way to deal with this challenge: more innovation to stimulate new industries and jobs that can pay workers $40 an hour, coupled with a huge initiative to train more Americans to win these jobs over their global competitors. There is no other way.
But the global economy needs a healthy Europe as well, and the third structural challenge we face is that the European Union, a huge market, is facing what the former U.S. ambassador to Germany, John Kornblum, calls its first “existential crisis.” For the first time, he noted, the E.U. “saw the possibility of collapse.” Germany has made clear that if the eurozone is to continue, it will be on the German work ethic not the Greek one. Will its euro-partners be able to raise their games? Uncertain.
Keeping up with Germany won’t be easy. A decade ago Germany was the “sick man of Europe.” No more. The Germans pulled together. Labor gave up wage hikes and allowed businesses to improve competitiveness and worker flexibility, while the government subsidized firms to keep skilled workers on the job in the downturn. Germany is now on the rise, but also not free of structural challenges. Its growth depends on exports to China and it is the biggest financier of Greece. Still, “Germany is no longer the country with the oldest students and youngest retirees,” said Kornblum.
By contrast, America’s two big parties still cling to their core religious beliefs as if nothing has changed. Republicans try to undermine the president at every turn and offer their nostrum of tax-cuts-will-solve-everything — without ever specifying what services they’ll give up to pay for them. Mr. Obama gave us expanded health care before expanding the economic pie to sustain it.
You still don’t sense our politicians are saying, “Wait a minute; stop everything; we have got to work together.” Don’t these people have 401k plans of their own and kids worried about jobs?
The president needs to take America’s labor, business and Congressional leadership up to Camp David and not come back without a grand bargain for taxes, trade promotion, energy, stimulus and budget cutting that offers the market some certainty that we are moving together — not just on a bailout but on an economic rebirth for the 21st century. “Fat chance,” you say. Well then, I say get ready for a long phase of stubborn unemployment and anemic growth.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

No ‘Graceful Exit’


In his book, “The Promise,” about President Obama’s first year in office, Jonathan Alter describes a brief conversation between the president and Vice President Joe Biden that took place last November at the end of Mr. Obama’s long deliberation about what to do in Afghanistan.

Readers' Comments

Readers shared their thoughts on this article.
Mr. Biden asked whether the new policy of beginning a significant withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan in 2011 was a direct presidential order that could not be countermanded by the military. The president said yes.
The two men were on their way to a meeting in the Oval Office with members of the Pentagon brass who would be tasked with carrying out Mr. Obama’s orders. Among those at the meeting was Gen. David Petraeus, then the chief of the United States Central Command, which included oversight of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. According to Mr. Alter, the president said to General Petraeus:
“David, tell me now. I want you to be honest with me. You can do this in eighteen months?”
Mr. Petraeus replied: “Sir, I’m confident we can train and hand over to the A.N.A. [Afghan National Army] in that time frame.”
The president went on: “If you can’t do the things you say you can in eighteen months, then no one is going to suggest we stay, right?”
“Yes, sir, in agreement,” said General Petraeus.
Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was also at the meeting, and he added his own crisp, “Yes, sir.”
That was then. The brass was just blowing smoke, telling the commander in chief whatever it was that he wanted to hear. Over the past several days, at meetings with one news media outlet after another, General Petraeus has been singing a decidedly different song. The lead headline in The Times on Monday said: “General Opposes a Rapid Pullout in Afghanistan.”
Having taken over command of U.S. forces in Afghanistan after the ouster of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, Mr. Petraeus is now saying he did not take that job in order to preside over a “graceful exit.” His goal now appears to be to rally public opinion against the very orders that President Obama insisted, as he told Joe Biden, could not be countermanded.
Who’s in charge here?
The truth is that we have no idea how the president really feels about the deadline he imposed for beginning a troop withdrawal. It always seemed peculiar to telegraph the start of a troop pullout while fighting (in this case, escalating) a war. And Mr. Obama has always been careful to ratchet up the ambiguity quotient by saying the start of any withdrawal would depend on conditions on the ground.
Anyone who has been paying attention knows that conditions on the ground right now are awful, so it looks as though we’re going to be there for a long, long while.
This is a terrible thing to contemplate because in addition to the human toll (nearly half of all the American troop deaths in Afghanistan have occurred since Mr. Obama took office), the war is a giant roadblock in the way of efforts to deal effectively with deteriorating economic and social conditions here in the United States.
Look around at the economy, the public school system, the federal budget deficits, the fiscal conditions plaguing America’s state and local governments. We are giving short shrift to all of these problems and more while pouring staggering amounts of money (the rate is now scores of billions of dollars a year) into a treacherous, unforgiving and hopelessly corrupt sinkhole in Afghanistan.
(I stand in awe of the heights of hypocrisy scaled by conservative politicians and strategists who demand that budget deficits be brought under control while cheering the escalation in Afghanistan and calling for ever more tax cuts here at home.)
The reason you hear so little about Lyndon Johnson nowadays despite his stupendous achievements — Medicare, Medicaid, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — is that Vietnam laid his reputation low. Johnson’s war on poverty was derailed by Vietnam, and it was Vietnam that tragically split the Democratic Party and opened the door to the antiwar candidacies of Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy. The ultimate beneficiaries, of course, were Richard Nixon and the Republicans.
President Obama does not buy the comparison of Afghanistan to Vietnam, and he has a point when he says that the U.S. was not attacked from Vietnam. But Sept. 11, 2001, was nearly a decade ago, and the war in Afghanistan was hopelessly bungled by the Bush crowd. There is no upside to President Obama’s escalation of this world-class fiasco.
We are never going to build a stable, flourishing society in Afghanistan. What we desperately need is a campaign of nation-building to counteract the growing instability and deterioration in the United States.

Monday, June 28, 2010

What are these characters? What do they mean?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) - Affordable? Not!

Kaiser Family Foundation
June 21, 2010
Recent Premium Increases Imposed by Insurers Averaged 20% for People Who Buy
Their Own Health Insurance, Kaiser Survey Finds

People who buy their own insurance report that their insurers most recently
requested premium increases averaging 20 percent, according to a new Kaiser
survey examining the experiences and views of people who buy health coverage
in the non-group or individual market.

Most say they paid the increase, but 16 percent of all policyholders say
they switched plans, either buying a less expensive policy from their
current insurer or switching companies altogether. After these so-called
"buy downs" are taken into account, people who faced a premium increase
ended up paying 13 percent more than before.

Many people report being in plans with high deductibles, including one in
four (26 percent) with an annual deductible of $5,000 or more and 6 percent
with a deductible of $10,000 or more.

Overall, the average deductible reported for single coverage is $2,498,
almost four times the $634 deductible reported on average for
employer-sponsored PPO coverage.  Those with family coverage whose
deductibles must be met on a per-person basis report an average deductible
of $2,959, while those with a family deductible (the total spending required
across the entire family before coverage kicks in) report an average of

More than one in five (22 percent) say over the past year they or a family
member covered by their plan did not get needed medical care because of the
cost, and a similar share (20 percent) say they skipped filling a
prescription due to cost.

Nearly four in ten policyholders (38 percent) report at least one problem
getting their insurer to pay a bill.

"With people in the individual market being hit with average increases of
20%, the survey shows that the steep increases we have been reading about
over the last several months are not just extreme cases," Kaiser Family
Foundation President and CEO Drew Altman said.

Comment:  This survey is very important because it shows that outrageous
insurance premium increases are not limited to the anecdotes that we have
been hearing, but rather are a pervasive problem, inflicting the nation with
an average 20 percent premium increase in the individual insurance market.
Those who say that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA)
will fix this had better take a closer look.

With these increases, it is not surprising that many looked for less
expensive plans, usually opting for higher deductibles. But look at the
numbers. The average deductible for a family is now over $5000, and for
some, $10,000 or more. In spite of all of the buy-downs to higher deductible
plans, people still ended up this year paying an average of 13 percent
higher premiums - paying more and getting less.

Will PPACA provide relief from these high deductibles that are impairing
access to needed medical care? No. The plans will be required to have an
actuarial value of only 60 percent, or 70 percent for the exchange plans
eligible for premium credits. When the patients' share averages 30 to 40
percent of the costs (plus the premium), it is inevitable that the plans
will have high deductibles.

Will the cost sharing subsidies of the exchange plans adequately ameliorate
the impact of the deductibles? No. Lower income individuals do not have
adequate disposable income to meet their portion of the cost sharing, even
with the subsidies. For those with incomes over 250 percent of the federal
poverty level ($55,125 for a family of four), there are no cost sharing
subsidies beyond the equivalent of a 70 percent actuarial value. The portion
of the subsidized insurance premium that this family would still have to pay
is $4438 (8.05 percent of income), so with a $5000 deductible, they would
have to pay over 17 percent of their income before coverage begins (except
for limited preventive services), and even then they would still have
coinsurance payments plus costs for non-covered or most out-of-network
services. By any definition, that is underinsurance, which will become the
norm for the United States.

The problem is not the total cost of health care for our nation. We can
afford it, though we are nearing our collective tolerance. The problem is
the fragmented, dysfunctional financing system that results in tremendous
inequities and runaway cost increases. A single payer national health
program would fix this.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

So You Think ObamaCare is Wonderful? Think Again. I'd call it Albatrosscare

San Francisco Chronicle
June 12, 2010
Insurance premium hikes hit small business hard
By John Gonzales

California small-business owners expected to be early beneficiaries of
health care reform, with billions of dollars in federal tax relief becoming
available this month to help them purchase medical coverage for their

The credit is worth up to 35 percent of a small business' premium costs.

But many said the tax credits granted under the legislation have run up
against a new hurdle: a spate of rate increases by insurance companies,
including 58 to 75 percent hikes levied recently by Blue Shield of

The company offered other coverage without the high rate increase, but
included similar deductibles and added co-pays of about 20 percent. The Blue
Shield hikes are in line with increases from all major insurers on small
business health savings plans, said (Tom Epstein, vice president of Public
Affairs for Blue Shield of California).

"Anthem Blue Cross offered this first," he said. "Health Net followed us.
Aetna and United offered products like this. Every one of these insurers had
very substantial rate increases."

"That money is going right back to the insurance companies," said Brad Wing,
co-owner of the San Francisco Advertiser, who received notice of his 58.3
percent increase in April.

"Normally, rates go up 10 to 15 percent and you can swallow it," he said.
"But at 58 percent, there's just no way."

Comment:  The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) is supposed
to make health care affordable, primarily by subsidizing private insurance
plans. It begins immediately by offering small businesses a credit worth up
to 35 percent of premium costs. With Blue Shield of California increasing
rates by as much as 58 to 75 percent, how is the small business owner going
to find relief when the insurer takes the full subsidy and charges what
amounts to another 23 to 40 percent surcharge?

Several individuals who no longer want to hear our single payer message tell
us that PPACA is now the law of the land, that private plans are here to
stay, and that we need to quit attacking the private insurers and get on
with making PPACA work.

When non-profit Blue Shield of California is the best the industry has to
offer, how can we possibly ever make that work? We can't. We need to quit
supporting PPACA and get on with making an improved Medicare for all work!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Courage to Leave


There is no good news coming out of the depressing and endless war in Afghanistan. There once was merit to our incursion there, but that was long ago. Now we’re just going through the tragic motions, flailing at this and that, with no real strategy or decent end in sight.
The U.S. doesn’t win wars anymore. We just funnel the stressed and underpaid troops in and out of the combat zones, while all the while showering taxpayer billions on the contractors and giant corporations that view the horrors of war as a heaven-sent bonanza. BP, as we’ve been told repeatedly recently, is one of the largest suppliers of fuel to the wartime U.S. military.
Seven American soldiers were killed in Afghanistan on Monday but hardly anyone noticed. Far more concern is being expressed for the wildlife threatened by the oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico than for the G.I.’s being blown up in the wilds of Afghanistan.
Early this year, we were told that at long last the tide had turned in Afghanistan, that the biggest offensive of the war by American, British and Afghan troops was under way in Marja, a town in Helmand Province in the southern part of the country. The goal, as outlined by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, our senior military commander in Afghanistan, was to rout the Taliban and install a splendid new government that would be responsive to the people and beloved by them.
That triumph would soon be followed by another military initiative in the much larger expanse of neighboring Kandahar Province. The Times’s Rod Nordland explained what was supposed to happen in a front-page article this week:
“The goal that American planners originally outlined — often in briefings in which reporters agreed not to quote officials by name — emphasized the importance of a military offensive devised to bring all of the populous and Taliban-dominated south under effective control by the end of this summer. That would leave another year to consolidate gains before President Obama’s July 2011 deadline to begin withdrawing combat troops.”
Forget about it. Commanders can’t even point to a clear-cut success in Marja. As for Kandahar, no one will even use the word “offensive” to describe the military operations there. The talk now is of moving ahead with civilian reconstruction projects, a “civilian surge,” as Mr. Nordland noted.
What’s happening in Afghanistan is not only tragic, it’s embarrassing. The American troops will fight, but the Afghan troops who are supposed to be their allies are a lost cause. The government of President Hamid Karzai is breathtakingly corrupt and incompetent — and widely unpopular to boot. And now, as The Times’s Dexter Filkins is reporting, the erratic Mr. Karzai seems to be giving up hope that the U.S. can prevail in the war and is making nice with the Taliban.
There is no overall game plan, no real strategy or coherent goals, to guide the fighting of U.S. forces. It’s just a mind-numbing, soul-chilling, body-destroying slog, month after month, year after pointless year. The 18-year-olds fighting (and, increasingly, dying) in Afghanistan now were just 9 or 10 when the World Trade Center and Pentagon were attacked in 2001.
Americans have zoned out on this war. They don’t even want to think about it. They don’t want their taxes raised to pay for it, even as they say in poll after poll that they are worried about budget deficits. The vast majority do not want their sons or daughters anywhere near Afghanistan.
Why in the world should the small percentage of the population that has volunteered for military service shoulder the entire burden of this hapless, endless effort? The truth is that top American officials do not believe the war can be won but do not know how to end it. So we get gibberish about empowering the unempowerable Afghan forces and rebuilding a hopelessly corrupt and incompetent civil society.
Our government leaders keep mouthing platitudes about objectives that are not achievable, which is a form of deception that should be unacceptable in a free society.
In announcing, during a speech at West Point in December, that 30,000 additional troops would be sent to Afghanistan, President Obama said: “As your commander in chief, I owe you a mission that is clearly defined and worthy of your service.”
That clearly defined mission never materialized.
Ultimately, the public is at fault for this catastrophe in Afghanistan, where more than 1,000 G.I.’s have now lost their lives. If we don’t have the courage as a people to fight and share in the sacrifices when our nation is at war, if we’re unwilling to seriously think about the war and hold our leaders accountable for the way it is conducted, if we’re not even willing to pay for it, then we should at least have the courage to pull our valiant forces out of it.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Don't Listen to the Cheerleaders, the Main Street Economy Isn't Improving

Robert Reich

Posted: June 10, 2010 02:33 PM

Today's most important economic news: U.S. household debt fell for the seventh straight quarter in the first three months of 2010 as Americans continued to respond to the recession's fallout.
But like all economic news, its significance depends on where you're standing -- whether you're a typical American or someone at the top.
The common wisdom is that excessive debt-financed spending was one of the causes of the recent recession, so the news that household debt is dropping is being celebrated by business cheerleaders as reason to believe we're on the mend.
Baloney. The reason so many Americans went into such deep debt was because their wages didn't keep up. The median wage (adjusted for inflation) dropped between 2001 and 2007, the last so-called economic expansion. So the only way typical Americans could keep spending at the rate necessary to keep themselves -- and the economy -- going was to borrow, especially against the value of their homes. But that borrowing ended when the housing bubble burst.
So now Americans have no choice but to pare back their debt. That's bad news because consumer spending is 70 percent of the economy. It helps explain why we so few jobs are being created, and why we can't escape the gravitational pull of the Great Recession without far more government spending.
It's also a bad omen for the future. The cheerleaders are saying that for too long American consumers lived beyond their means, so the retrenchment in consumer spending is good for the long-term health of the economy. Wrong again. The problem wasn't that consumers lived beyond their means. It was that their means didn't keep up with what the growing economy was capable of producing at or near full-employment. A larger and larger share of total income went to people at the top.
So in the longer term, it's hard to see where the buying power will come from unless America's vast middle class has more take-home pay. Yet the economy is moving in exactly the opposite direction: Businesses continue to slash payrolls. And the hourly wage of the typical American with a job continues to drop, adjusted for inflation.
Here's more news: A Federal Reserve report Thursday showed the net worth of Americans rose a fourth straight quarter in January-March. Don't be fooled by this one either. That increase was almost entirely based on the stock market's rise in the first quarter. But the market has since fallen back to where it was at the start of the year. More to the point, most Americans don't have many assets in the stock market. To the extent they have any net worth, it's in their homes. And home prices continue to languish.
Don't be fooled by the cheerleaders. The economic news continues to be dismal.
This post originally appeared at