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Why I Am a Conscientious Objector to the ACA

By Margaret Flowers | Dissident Voice | March 28, 2014

I have been an outspoken advocate for a Medicare for all health system. During the health reform process, I did all that I could to push for single payer, including being arrested three times for civil disobedience. I was one of fifty doctors who filed a brief in the Supreme Court which expressed opposition to forcing people to buy private health insurance, a defective product. It pains me to see that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) siphons billions of public dollars to create more bureaucracy and transfers hundreds of billions of public dollars directly to the private insurance industry when I know that those dollars should be paying for the health care that so many in our country desperately need.

I am currently uninsured, so I have to make a choice. I don’t qualify for Medicaid and I’m too young for Medicare. By law, I am required to buy private insurance or pay a penalty. But I find myself in the position of not being able to do either. I can’t in good conscience give money to the health insurance industry that I am fighting to eliminate. And I can’t in good conscience pay a tax penalty that will be given to that industry. So, I am going to be a Conscientious Objector to the ACA.

I suspect that there are others who feel as I do. If you are planning to object to purchasing insurance and you support Medicare for all, you might like to join me in sending a letter to President Obama. Click on this link to do so.

The Issue is Access to Care, Not the Number Who Buy Insurance

As the March 31 deadline to purchase health insurance or face a penalty approaches, the public debate is focused solely on enrollment numbers. Great efforts are being expended to compel people to buy insurance. The “Young Invincibles,” a term created to misrepresent uninsured young adults, are being marketed heavily. And Enroll America, a coalition of advocates and health industry executives, is working overtime to encourage volunteers to be creative in the ways they locate and convince people to purchase insurance.

The mass media and politicians are constantly talking about the health care marketplace. We are being indoctrinated with market rhetoric. Patients are called consumers and health insurance plans are called products. The problem with this is that health care doesn’t belong in the marketplace whose logic dictates that care should be denied if a profit cannot be made. Health care is a public good and something that everyone needs throughout their lifetime.

Focusing solely on the number of people who are insured is what the private health insurance industry wants the public to believe is most important. The industry spent tremendous amounts of money and time to get a law that would force people to buy insurance in order to protect and enhance their assets. They want everyone to buy their products and to make people feel reckless or irresponsible if they don’t. This is a massive campaign to distract people from asking the questions that really matter, such as whether people with insurance will be able to afford health care, whether bankruptcies from medical debt will continue and whether overall health outcomes will improve.

In the United States, having health insurance does not guarantee access to necessary health care. In fact, rather than creating health security, the ACA is degrading health care coverage in the US. It is also creating the largest transfer of public dollars to a private industry ever, as UNITE HERE reports “most of the ACA’s $965 billion in subsidies will go directly to commercial insurance companies.”

The Insurance Scam

As Kevin Zeese and I wrote last fall, the ACA is one of the biggest insurance scams in history. It has made the already complex American health system, which spends over a third of health care dollars on insurance-created bureaucracy rather than care, much more complicated. It is based on principles that are the opposite of what are proven to be effective. Instead of being universal, everybody automatically enrolled as we did for seniors when Medicare started in 1965 and as most other industrialized nations do, we created a conservative, means-tested system that depends on individual income.

And instead of creating a single standard of care, so that everyone has access to the health care they need, the ACA locked into law a tiered system of coverage based on different metals: platinum, gold, silver and bronze. Though they may sound good, it turns out that the upper tier plans are not any better than the lower tier plans in terms of what services are covered or where patients can go for care. The major difference is whether a person chooses to pay more up front in higher premiums and pay less when they need health care (upper tier plans) or chooses to gamble on staying healthy and pay less up front, risking higher out-of-pocket costs if they need care (lower tier plans). This is essentially a pay-now-or-pay-later scheme.

And it is a scheme, because there are no guarantees that people who have insurance will be protected from financial ruin if they have a serious health problem. It is essential to remember that nothing about the basic business model of insurance companies has changed. They exist to make a profit and they are very good at it. While they complain about the ACA, because its regulations require more work on their end to find ways around them, it has been very lucrative for them. Health insurance stock values have doubled since the law passed in 2010.

One of their major work-arounds is the use of narrow and ultra-narrow provider networks to discourage patients with pre-existing conditions from buying their plans and leave patients footing more of the bill. Narrow networks exclude at least 30% of local hospitals and ultra-narrow networks exclude at least 70%. This means that if the local cancer center isn’t included in a plan, then people with cancer are unlikely to buy that plan. To make it worse, it’s difficult for patients to determine what providers are included in different plans because the information on the insurance exchange websites has been found to be wrong half the time.

The reason for the narrow networks is that when patients don’t go to an approved health provider, they bear most or all of the costs. The limit on how much money people can be required to spend in addition to premiums doesn’t apply when patients go out of network (and the limit was removed for 2014 anyway). In practice, if someone develops a serious health condition and the hospital or health professional that treats the condition is not in their network, they will have to go without care or find a way to pay for it. And if a person has a serious accident and is taken to a hospital that is out of network, the patient will again bear the total cost. Buying insurance is a health care crap shoot.

The Race to the Bottom in Health Care Benefits

Medical bankruptcy and self-rationing, foregoing necessary care due to cost, are two products of our market-based health system and we can expect them to continue under the ACA, even as more people become insured. Supporters of the ACA often quote the slowed rise of health care spending that has been happening since the financial crash in 2008. They claim it is a sign of the law’s positive effect; however, the slowing is actually due to fewer people using health services. In 2012, 80 million people went without necessary care because of cost.

Self-rationing will continue because there has not been an economic recovery for most of us. More than 80% of people are buying lower tier health plans that require high up-front payments for care at a time when most families are living paycheck to paycheck. The number of people who are considered poor or low income is rising. And, as Paul Bucheit writes, if we updated our standards for measuring poverty to reflect the current economic realities (the costs of food, housing, health care, education, etc), the poverty threshold would be over three times higher than it is now. He adds that half of the US population owns zero wealth because of debt. It is a sad irony that people are being forced to pay monthly premiums for health insurance that will leave them without money for actual care.

And now that lower coverage plans are legal, they are accelerating the race to the bottom in employer health benefits. Employers are shifting more of the cost of health care onto employees, reducing coverage for dependents, moving employees into private insurance exchanges (which do not qualify for subsidies) and penalizing employees for poor health habits, which places the blame for health problems on the individual without acknowledging that many drivers of poor health are out of the individual’s control. While tying health care to employment is not ideal, in the US at least the employer-based plans used to provide better benefits than those on the individual market.

The Practical Solution

The solution to the ongoing health care crisis is obvious. We need to reverse direction completely and move to a national publicly-funded health insurance for everyone. Some call this a single payer or ‘Medicare for all’ plan. We are already spending enough on health care in the US to provide high quality care to everyone. It is just wrong from a standpoint of what works to continue shifting more of our health care dollars to bureaucracy instead of to care and to the private insurance industry which is designed to keep as much for itself as it can get away with. It is immoral to protect insurance company profits instead of protecting the health and wellbeing of our people.

Putting our money into the insurance industry is a step in the wrong direction. The Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act, HR 676, in Congress, would eliminate the insurance industry and create lifelong comprehensive coverage for everyone. No matter what you choose to do about insurance, tell your Congress member to support HR 676. And if you are one of the millions who do not plan to buy insurance, join me in telling Obama why. Click here to write President Obama.

Margaret Flowers is co-director of It’s Our Economy, co-host of Clearing the FOG Radio and an organizer of the occupation of Freedom Plaza in Washington, DC. She is also with the Health Care is a Human Right campaign in Maryland.

March 29, 2014 Posted by | "Hope and Change", Deception, Economics | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Obamacare is Doomed by Its Internal Logic

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by  Glen Ford | November 20, 2013

Obamacare is unraveling, not because the administration is particularly incompetent or unlucky, and certainly not as a result of the Republicans’ unrelenting hostility to the Obama health insurance plan. Indeed, ever since the bill’s passage in early 2010, the GOP’s holy war against Obamacare has served to solidify reflexive Democratic support for what has always been a Republican-inspired bill.

The truth is, the Affordable Health Care Act is coming undone because of its own, tortured internal logic. At root, it is a fraud on the public: a scheme to subsidize and more deeply embed a private insurance system that can only make profits by denying sick and vulnerable people health care, and playing different demographics of Americans against each other. As every other industrialized country in the world has already learned, it is impossible to build a genuine, universal healthcare system on a cut-throat capitalist foundation. Private insurers make money by betting against the health interests of their customers. Obama served his corporate masters by conspiring to make tens of millions more Americans into customers of private insurers. He tried to dress up one of the greatest corporate subsidies in history as if it were a solemn national mission, a rebirth of the social compact between the American people. But of course, Obamacare is no such thing; it is a racket to prop up private insurers with public money, while allowing the profiteers to continue to run the show.

You can’t hide a truth that big. The Obamacare website has suffered from terminal complexity because white collar crime is usually quite complex. The web site attempts to reconcile the profit margins and various products of a universe of private insurance corporations, while at the same time pretending to serve the health needs of the people at an affordable cost. Obamacare claims to be in the business of serving both the public and corporate stockholders. But that’s mission impossible. If Obamacare is based on making profits for private corporations – if that is what keeps the system going – then the public’s health care needs will always be an afterthought. And, that will be obvious in the way that the website is organized as a sales platform that matches federal subsidies with corporate products, rather than matching people with the medical resources they need to survive and thrive.

Website complexity and failures aside, Obamacare can never become part of a national social compact, something of which all Americans can be proud. That’s because, by definition, corporate insurance schemes divide people into “winners” and “losers” – although, of course, the big winner is always the corporation. Young, healthy people know they are the fatted calves of the insurance business, and they are avoiding Obamacare like the plague. If this were really a national health care program, like Medicare for All, then most young people would join in the national health care mission. But this is just Obama working a scam for the insurance companies, and young folks know it. Anybody who manages to get access to the web site knows it.

The fatal flaw in Obamacare can’t be fixed. The best thing that could happen would be a quick and total collapse. Large majorities of Americans still support Medicare for All, but Obamacare stands in the way of a real national health plan – just as the Republican right-wingers that invented Obamacare back in 1989 intended.

Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.

November 20, 2013 Posted by | "Hope and Change", Corruption, Deception, Economics | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Grand Theft Health Insurance

By RUSSELL MOKHIBER | CounterPunch | October 17, 2013

Here I sit, in West Virginia, staring down at January 1, 2014.

That’s when my health insurance policy expires and I have a decision to make — renew or not renew?

Right now, I’m paying about $7,000 a year in premiums for a monster deductible and yearly out of pocket of about $15,000 for myself and my family.

My health insurance company informed me yesterday that my premium will be doubled to $14,000 on January 1.

I’ve been trying to get onto the Obamacare web site now for ten days to search for an alternative.  No luck. I made it through four pages yesterday — then got a message saying I’d have to wait because there was too much traffic. When I clicked the continue button, it wiped out the information I had typed into the first three pages.

But even if I do get onto the exchanges, it’s probably not going to matter.

read in a newspaper that Highmark is the only health insurance company on the exchange in West Virginia. Yesterday, I called Highmark and spent an hour on the phone with a nice young man — but the results were not good. The skimpiest plan is going to cost me more than I’m paying now for a higher deductible and out of pocket result.

Thank you Obamacare.

My insurance agent told me yesterday I had only one alternative — wait for six years until Medicare kicks in and keep fighting for single payer.

Obviously, the Democrats and anyone who defends them are not going to be of any help in the next round. They are irrevocably tied to President Obama and Obamacare and even those Democrats nominally in favor of single payer refuse to criticize it for the industry written law that it is.

I agree with Dr. Quentin Young of Physicians for a National Health Program when he says that Obamacare should have been defeated because it enshrines and solidifies corporate domination of the health care system.

But what to do next? Well, first thing is to watch a movie called Healthcare — The Movie. It’s a short documentary — 62 minutes — but packs a big punch. The movie was produced by a husband wife team — the wife Canadian — Laurie Simons — and the husband American — Terry Sterrenberg.

The movie toggles back and forth between the USA and Canada — with Americans struggling with bankruptcy, death from lack of health insurance and the dark cloud of health insurance armageddon menacing their lives from cradle to an often early grave.

The Canadians, by contrast, are living in a relative health care nirvana, thanks in large part to Tommy Douglas, a boxer and Premier of Saskatchewan who stood up to the red baiting being dished out at the time by the Canadian medical establishment. Douglas emerged victorious and his efforts resulted in the creation of Canada’s single payer Medicare for all. The movie is narrated by actor Kiefer Sutherland — Tommy Douglas’ grandson.

The film features great historic clips — including a remarkable scene where a CBC television show host asks the question — who is the greatest Canadian? And then, in reality show format, puts it up to a vote.

“After six weeks, ten finalists, and more than a million votes,” the CBC host says, “it ended tonight with one name. And I have the envelope here. The greatest Canadian as decided by you is — Tommy Douglas.”

Imagine that — the country says that Tommy Douglas, the father of single payer in Canada, is greater than its greatest hockey player — Wayne Gretzky.

Tommy Douglas’ courageous act — standing up for the people of Canada against the vicious attacks of the powers that be — has resulted in a system that delivers health care for all Canadians — no complex bills, no deductibles, no deaths from lack of health insurance, no medical bankruptcies — all funded by a progressive tax system.

The movie profiles Canadians with serious medical illness — who come out financially unscathed — no bills, no bankruptcy, no health related financial worries.

And then compares those Canadians to the suffering human beings south of the border.

The movie does a good job of making us Americans feel like crap compared to our cousins up north.

Check out this sequence, for example:

How many people in the United States die each year because they have no health insurance?

45,000

How many people in Canada die each year because they have no health insurance?

Zero.

How many people go bankrupt each year in the United States because of medical expenses?

922,819

How many people go bankrupt each year in Canada because of medical expenses?

Zero.

How many Americans do not have health insurance?

50 million.

How many Canadians do not have health insurance?

Zero.

How many Americans go without medical care because of costs?

115 million.

How many Canadians go without medical care because of costs?

Zero.

One of the stars of this film is a young American from Portland, Oregon named Lindsay Caron.

“I was a free-lance artist for a long time,” Caron says.  “I gave that up to go sit in an office and file papers so that I could have health care.  And it amazed me that other people in other countries never had to think about that. I kept hearing that Canada’s system was broken, and that Canadians were flocking over the border to get US care.  And so I wanted to go to Canada with a camera and ask a couple hundred people. I bought a ticket up to Vancouver, Canada. I rented camera equipment. And I took my bicycle. I thought maybe I would stay  in Vancouver for a couple of days and cycle on back to Portland. I ended staying there the whole week.  I got up in the morning, set up a camera on the street and just start asking people questions.”

Caron finds out what polls in Canada consistently confirm — that the vast majority of Canadians would never in a thousand years give up their Medicare coverage for the nightmare south of the border.

It all came about because Tommy Douglas had the guts to stand up to the political and medical establishment and do what is right for the Canadian people.

Canada did it.

There is no reason we can’t do it.

It’s simply a matter of reordering our priorities.

Let’s put aside, for a moment, our millions of copies of Grand Theft Auto 5 and start playing a new game — Grand Theft — Health Insurance.

The goal of the game is to become a boxer, like Tommy Douglas — and fight back against the insurance industry and its Frankenstein monster — Obamacare.

Repeal Obamacare.

Replace it with single payer.

Russell Mokhiber edits Single Payer Action.

October 17, 2013 Posted by | Economics, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Do Doctors Really Lose Money on Medicare Patients or Do They Lie to New York Times Reporters?

CEPR | September 24, 2013

That is undoubtedly the question that many NYT readers were asking when they read an article warning that insurance companies in the exchanges were not paying enough money to attract many doctors. At one point the piece told readers;

“Dr. Barbara L. McAneny, a cancer specialist in Albuquerque, said that insurers in the New Mexico exchange were generally paying doctors at Medicare levels, which she said were ‘often below our cost of doing business, and definitely below commercial rates.'”

The claim that Medicare payments are “below our cost of doing business” might seem rather dubious to readers since most doctors accept Medicare patients. The median earnings of physicians are well over $200,000 a year (net of malpractice insurance), which means they are heavily represented in the one percent. Given their extraordinary incomes, which they vigorously protect by excluding foreign and domestic competition, it seems implausible that many doctors are willing to lose money by treating Medicare patients.

It is more likely that doctors are getting less than their desired pay when they treat Medicare patients, but still pocketing far more money than the overwhelming majority workers for their time. It would have been useful to clarify this point for readers rather than letting Doctor McAneny’s assertion pass unchallenged.

September 25, 2013 Posted by | Deception, Economics, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , , | Leave a comment

NYT Runs Editorial Demanding Cuts in Social Security and Medicare in News Section

CEPR | May 14, 2013

The Washington Post long ago abandoned the separation between news and editorials, routinely running pieces advocating cuts in Social Security and Medicare in its news section. It now appears as though the New York Times is following the Post’s lead.

A news story on the budget made repeated assertions that Social Security and Medicare must be cut. At one point it referred to:

“the inevitable pain that comes from curbing those huge and popular programs [Social Security and Medicare].”

Of course there is nothing inevitable about curbing spending on Social Security and Medicare and there is certainly not inevitable pain. The most obvious route for curbing costs in these programs from an economic standpoint would be cutting Medicare payments to drug companies, medical equipment companies, doctors and other providers. This would not be especially painful for anyone who does not derive income from the program.

Clearly the paper was expressing its desire to see these programs cut.

It later added:

“The longer the delay, the sharper and more immediate the changes Washington must eventually make to ease the long-term fiscal squeeze.”

Again, this is an invention of the NYT. There is no evidence that the country is up against any “long-term fiscal squeeze” or that anything would be gained by making cuts now.

The NYT, unlike the Post, generally keeps these sorts of political views on the opinion page. It is unfortunate that it appears to have departed from its standard practice with this article.

May 15, 2013 Posted by | Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thomas Friedman Again Demonstrates the Skills Shortage for NYT Pundits

CEPR | April 20, 2013

The NYT has difficulty finding pundits who can write knowledgeably about economics. Thomas Friedman made this point in his Sunday column. At one point he quotes Gary Green, the president of Forsyth Technical Community College, in Winston-Salem, N.C.:

“‘We have a labor surplus in this country and a labor shortage at the same time,’ Green explained to me. Workers in North Carolina, particularly in textiles and furniture, who lost jobs either to outsourcing or the recession in 2008, often ‘do not have the skills required to get a new job today’ in the biotech, health care and manufacturing centers that are opening in the state.

“If before, he added, ‘you just needed a high school shop class or a short postsecondary certificate to work in a factory, now you need an associate degree in machining,’ a two-year program that requires higher math, I.T. and systems skills. In addition, some employers are now demanding that you not only have an associate degree but that nationally recognized skill certifications be incorporated into the curriculum to show that you have mastered the skills they want, like computer-integrated machining.”

Actually there are simple ways to identify labor shortages. First and foremost we should be seeing rapidly rising wages. If employers cannot get the workers they need then they raise the wages they offer to pull workers away from other employers. This is how markets work. (We should also see longer workweeks and increased vacancies.)

In fact there is no major sector of the economy where wages are rising rapidly. This shows rather conclusively that workers do not have skill shortages although it may be the case that many managers are so ignorant of markets that they don’t know that the way to attract better workers is to raise wages. Of course that would suggest the need to better train managers, not workers.

At one point the piece tells readers;

“We need to reform Social Security and Medicare so they can support all the baby boomers about to retire. ….

“As Bloomberg News reported on Monday: ‘Typical wage-earners retiring in 2010 will receive at least $3 for every $1 they contributed to the Medicare health-insurance program, according to an Urban Institute study.’ That’s unsustainable.”

It would have been helpful if Freidman had also mentioned that the same Urban Institute study shows workers already paying slightly more into Social Security than they get back. Yet Friedman wants to cut benefits.

The main reason that the Medicare benefits workers receive are more than they pay in taxes is we pay more than twice as much per person as people in other wealthy countries for our health care. This is due to the fact that we pay close to twice as much for our doctors, drugs, and medical equipment. It is not due to the fact that we get better care. This might suggest the need to reduce payments to health care providers rather than cut Medicare. Of course health care providers are a powerful lobby that Friedman apparently does not want to anger.

April 21, 2013 Posted by | Deception, Economics, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , , , | 1 Comment

Obama’s betrayal of social security

By  Dave Lindorff | This Can’t Be Happening! | April 13, 2013

What’s wrong with the Obama administration’s proposal to change the way Social Security checks are adjusted for inflation from using the Consumer Price Index (CPI) to instead using something called a “chained” CPI?

Let’s start with the fundamental problem: Social Security is not a cause of the federal budget deficit, and will not be for years, even if nothing is done to raise more revenue for the program.

Sure the US will eventually have to come up with more money to pay the benefits earned by retirees in the Baby Boom generation, but that problem of an eventual shortfall in Social Security tax revenues can be easily solved by simply eliminating the cap — currently $113,000 in annual income — that is subject to the FICA tax. If the cap were completely eliminated, so that all income was subject to the tax, as is the case with the Medicare tax, the shortfall would be nearly eliminated. Any remaining shortfall could be erased too, by extending some kind of FICA tax to unearned income from investments. My favorite is one that is common in Europe: a small — say 0.25% — tax on short-term stock and bond trades.

But there is a bigger problem with this Obama proposal to cut both Social Security benefits and Medicare funding: Adopting a long-time Republican proposal, it only looks at those programs in isolation, and concludes that they need to be cut. Our Nobel Peace Prize-winning president does not look at the biggest and most wasteful spending in the entire federal budget, which is the military. That bloated white elephant, which this year is sucking up close to $800 billion, not counting the interest on money borrowed to pay for past wars and armaments, could be cut in half or even by three-quarters, and it would still leave the US military budget larger than any other nation’s in the world. The US would be no less safe in that case. In fact, it would be a hell of a lot safer because we would no longer have US troops stationed expensively and provocatively in 1,000 foreign locations.

Nobody in Congress is talking about slashing military spending and spending the savings on medical care, Social Security, education and other pressing needs. The public needs to demand this.

But let’s leave those two points aside for a moment, important as they are.

What the Obama administration is calling for — a switch from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ CPI to a new chained-CPI to determine inflation adjustments in Social Security checks each year — is a brazen attempt to cut benefits for the elderly without admitting it. This is unconscionable, and as poorly reported as the story has been, the American people, regardless of age, are smart enough to be solidly opposed to the idea. People old enough to be drawing Social Security benefits, or who are close to filing for Social Security, know it’s stealing from them. But younger people, who almost all have parents or grandparents who are depending on Social Security, also know intuitively that this is a bad idea, and are opposed to it.

Chained-CPI has long been a favorite scam among Republicans and conservative Democrats, who are in thrall to business interests that want to reduce the payroll taxes they have to pay into the Social Security system. But their claim that it is a “more accurate” way to measure inflation’s impact on the cost of living is clearly a fraud and a lie.

The rationale behind a chained-CPI calculation of inflation is a theory that when the price of some good or service rises too much, people supposedly switch to a cheaper alternative, so that alternative should be substituted in the “market-basket” used to calculate the cost of living.

Now sometimes that may be true. When gasoline prices soared during the Bush invasion of Iraq, many people downsized their cars to cut their gasoline bills. That move to smaller cars also cut families’ overall transportation expenses because small cars are generally cheaper than big ones. A chained-CPI would account for this by substituting small cars in the market basket, and might also lower the allocation for gasoline, since people would be buying less.

But the theory falls down, especially when it comes to older people, who drive a lot fewer miles than those who are commuting every day to work, and who also tend not to buy new cars. The old gas-guzzler they have, which doesn’t get many miles put on it in a year, is kept on the road and repaired as needed. They continue to buy whatever gasoline it takes to drive the thing.

Old people and the disabled also spend vastly more on health care than most other people, and the cost of that health care is rising much faster than most other things. That’s a point the CPI, chained or not, doesn’t factor in. And the elderly and disabled have little choice about making substitutions on health care. They don’t — and shouldn’t — change doctors. And if you need an operation, you go where your doctor practices. If you need heart medication or cholesterol-lowering medication, you buy what is prescribed, whatever it costs. If you need Medi-gap insurance to cover your health needs, you buy it, whatever the inflated premium. Even Medicare itself has become more expensive at a pace well above the inflation rate!

Housing is another problem area. Young people, if their rent goes up, can move to cheaper digs. Old people can’t do that so easily. If they are in some kind of senior housing, it’s probably the only one in their neighborhood, and they’re not going to move to some place cheaper where they don’t know anyone, or where they are too far from their family, or to the son or daughter who lives nearest and who has been helping them out as needed. Nor should we expect them to move just to save money. If they are in their family home, it is where they are comfortable. It would take a lot to make them move, so they probably won’t.

Food is another area where the elderly have a harder time making substitutions. As people get older, they tend to get much more set in their ways. A young person can decide that buying salmon is too expensive, so they’re going to switch to mackerel or sardines, but an older person can get very fussy. They may not know how to cook a new fish, and won’t even try to switch. They may not even be doing that much cooking, and are relying on prepared foods that can be put in a microwave. There’s not much room for switching there.

All in all, this chained-CPI proposal from the White House is a disgusting betrayal by a president who swore as a candidate that he would stand firm against any cuts in Social Security or Medicare.

There are only two proper responses to this betrayal. One: we must demand that there be no cuts in Social Security or Medicare benefits, or increases in the taxes paid by those already paying taxes into the program or receiving benefits, until the military budget is first cut by at least 50 percent. Two: We must demand that no change be made in the way Social Security benefits are adjusted for inflation unless or until the government conducts an honest, unbiased and transparent academic study to develop a valid market basket for the elderly and disabled, to determine what their actual costs of living are, and how they are impacted by inflation.

April 14, 2013 Posted by | "Hope and Change", Deception, Economics, Militarism | , , , , | Leave a comment

Who Will Save Social Security and Medicare?

By Shamus Cooke | Worker’s Compass | April 7, 2013

Before Social Security and Medicare existed, the elderly were either completely dependent on their children or were left to beg in the streets. These programs thus remain sacred to the vast majority of Americans. They allow the elderly dignity and independence instead of poverty and insecurity.

Attacking these programs has always been political suicide for the assailant; not even the smoothest talking politician would squirm into an aggressive stance.

But now the gloves are off. Obama and the Democrats are aligning with Republicans to strike the first major blows against Social Security and Medicare. This long hidden agenda is finally in full view of the public. The decades-long political agreement to save these programs is dead, and the foundation of American politics is shifting beneath everyone’s feet.

The New York Times reports:

President Obama next week will take the political risk of formally proposing cuts to Social Security and Medicare in his annual budget…

Many liberals are scratching their heads in astonishment, asking “How could this happen?”

The truth is that every liberal and labor leader knew this was in the works for years; they just kept their mouths shut in the hope that Obama could successfully push the blame entirely on the Republicans.

Throughout the summer of 2011 Obama worked with Republicans in the first attempt at a ‘Grand Bargain’ that included cuts to Social Security and Medicare. The Washington Post published an article entitled “Obama’s Evolution” about that summer:

… the major elements of a [Grand] bargain seemed to be falling into place: $1.2 trillion in [national programs] agency cuts, smaller cost-of-living increases [cuts] for Social Security recipients [cuts by dollar inflation], nearly $250 billion in Medicare savings [cuts] achieved in part by raising the eligibility age [of Medicare]. And $800 billion in new taxes.

Labor and liberal leaders kept quiet about this so they could push their members to vote for Obama in 2012. They also kept quite in the fall of 2011 when Obama released his budget proposal that included hundreds of billions of dollars worth of cuts to Medicare and Medicaid.

But hiding the most recent betrayal was next to impossible, and every liberal group is now suddenly “shocked” to see Obama officially and publicly on record to pursue the cuts.

The most craven of the liberal groups will continue to spew rotten rhetoric that only blames Republicans for the cuts while making excuses for Obama’s behavior, claiming that he merely buckled under intense Republican pressure and felt the need to “compromise.”

But it’s all nonsense. No working person who votes Republican wants to cut Medicare and Social Security. Obama could have shattered the Republican Party at its kneecaps by broadly exposing their plans to cut Social Security and Medicare. Instead he insisted on co-leading the attack.

These cuts have nothing to do with Obama’s courage or backbone. It’s a matter of political and economic ideology, and the policy that flows from it.

To reverse this policy one cannot make excuses for the president or ignore his “treacherous” behavior. A criminal offensive requires a powerful counterattack. And although labor and liberal groups are reluctant to attack “their” president, the members of these groups share a different perspective.

In an attempt to connect with the rank and file, the president of the AFL-CIO, Richard Trumka, said of Obama’s Social Security cuts:

These cuts are bad policy. And the only way we’re going to stop them is if President Obama and all members of Congress hear that we’re not going to tolerate them. Sign our petition to the president NOW.

The trouble is that petitions are not capable of stopping the years-in-the-making bi-partisan attack. Trumka knows this. He is thus faking opposition to a policy that he’s partially responsible for, since his miseducating of the AFL-CIO membership led to an ignorance that Obama exploited — union members couldn’t mobilize against something they didn’t know was happening.

But now the secret is exposed, and working people will expect the leaders of their organizations to wage a serious fight against these policies.

Those in the labor movement interested in organizing against this anti-worker offensive should consider actively building the coming August 24 demonstration called by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and The King Center for Washington, D.C. where they are planning to place the demand for jobs to end poverty squarely on the Obama government. Once working people are mobilized to fight independently for their own interests, it will be far easier to add demands around Social Security and Medicare to the list, since working people overwhelmingly support these programs. The AFL-CIO has endorsed this demonstration. Now they will have to seriously mobilize for it.

If we don’t fight back now, then when?

April 8, 2013 Posted by | "Hope and Change", Economics, Solidarity and Activism | , , , , | 1 Comment

Nevermind: Headline of Correction for NYT Piece on Projected Cost of Dementia

By Dean Baker | cepr Beat the Press | April 4, 2013

The New York Times ran a front page piece warning readers that the cost of treating dementia is “soaring.” The piece tells readers of the findings of a new study by the Rand Corporation that shows the cost of dementia doubling by 2040 from its 2010 level.

Are you scared? Are you shaking in your boots? Thinking about pulling the plug on these costly old-timers?

Well our friend, Mr. Arithmetic, reminds us that the Congressional Budget Office projects that the size of the economy is projected to roughly double over this period. This means that the Rand study’s finding implies that dementia will impose pretty much the same burden on the economy in 2040 as it does today.

This story follows a common practice among the Washington elite. They continually highlight and exaggerate costs associated with an aging population. Of course as a practical matter there is little that we can do about these costs, although we can redistribute the burden. The implicit and explicit intent behind much of this discussion is that the elderly and their children should bear more of these costs, as opposed to the government.

Keeping the costs of an aging population front and center in public debate obstructs discussion of the massive upward redistribution of income over the last three decades. This upward redistribution has shifted roughly ten percentage points of GDP ($1.6 trillion annually) to the richest one percent of the population at the expense of the rest of the population. The impact of this upward redistribution on the living standards of the bulk of the population dwarfs the impact of any taxes that might be associated with caring for an aging population through Social Security, Medicare, and other government programs.

If issues were treated in proportion to their importance to the public we would be seeing daily pieces on proposals for breaking up the big banks, taxing financial speculation, ending patent monopolies for prescription drugs, free trade in health care services and other measures that would reverse the upward redistribution of income over the last three decades. However, importance to the public is apparently not a major criterion for determining news coverage. Hence we get misleading front page pieces in the NYT on the cost of dementia.

April 6, 2013 Posted by | Economics, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Crashing the 2-Party System

The Way Forward is a Single-Issue Social Security Defense Party

By Dave Lindorff | This Can’t Be Happening | April 4, 2013

The history of third parties in America is pretty dismal. The system is rigged against them, for one thing. But equally problematic is the lack of focus that leads to infighting and splits whenever a third party is created.

A great answer to this would be to create a third party that has a laser-like focus on a single issue, where there is little or no room for debate over what the party stands for.

As it happens, there is such an issue, and it has the potential to decimate the two major parties by pulling support from both their bases.

I’m talking about Social Security and its more recent offspring, Medicare, both under threat by the Democratic/Republican duopoly in Washington.

Social Security is without a doubt the most popular program ever created in Washington. Virtually every American pays into it and expects to rely on it in old age, or if he or she becomes disabled. There are currently 54 million people who are receiving Social Security benefits ( 39 million are 65 or older, and 8 million are disabled). And there are some 74 million Baby Boomers — people born between the years of 1946 and 1964, representing one-in-four of all Americans — who will be receiving it over the next several decades. Add to that number the many younger people who are ardent advocates of the program, not just because they expect to also depend upon it, but because they know it is providing already for their parents and grandparents, and you have a bloc of voters and potential voters the likes of which this nation has never seen.

The key to getting them all together is establishing a political party whose raison d’être is preserving, improving and expanding Social Security benefits.

Medicare is also an important part of this concept. Everyone who receives Social Security in retirement is also eligible for Medicare, as are those 65 and older who choose to wait a bit to earn higher Social Security benefits. Again, the number currently depending on Medicare is 50 million, but this will rise dramatically as the Baby Boom generation reaches 65. The Medicare program is under even graver threat than Social Security at the moment as Democrats and Republicans in Washington, both beholden to huge medical industry and insurance industry campaign donors who want to undermine the program, do the bidding of their paymasters.

It’s time for progressives, advocacy organizations of the elderly and the disabled, labor activists and everyone who is worried about halting and reversing the decline of American society and democratic governance to rally around defending these two critical programs created, respectively, in the 1930s and 1960s.
The Social Security Defense Movement envisioned here would organize a single-issue party with the following simple platform:

Defend Social Security benefits and ensure that they are adequate to provide for a decent retirement for all Americans!

No increase in the Social Security payroll taxes for current payers!

Eliminate the cap on income subject to Social Security payroll taxes! This would mean that all income would be subject to the tax and the wealthy would finally pay their share!

Add a tax on so-called unearned income from investment! This would mean that people who live on profits from investments, interest income, etc., would pay into the Social Security fund, too. (Note: income in retirement could be exempted, so people drawing on their tax-deferred IRA or 402(k) money would not have to pay a Social Security tax on it.)

Tax all short-term stock and bond trades at 0.25%, with the revenue generated to be designated for bolstering the Social Security and Medicare funds!

Eliminate Medicare Parts B, C and D! Roll doctor and drug coverage into Part A making it a single, simple program covering all medical costs, and just throw out Part C, which simply provides a huge profitable business to the private insurance industry to cherry pick healthier elderly people, luring them into subsidized private plans and leaving government-run Medicare to pay for the sicker, more costly beneficiaries.

Lower the age of eligibility for Medicare, gradually if necessary, but quickly, so that all Americans will be covered by one government insurance program, fully funded by taxes, and bar private insurance companies from providing health insurance, with the government negotiating reimbursement rates for hospitals, drug companies, doctors and medical device companies. (Explanation: Right now, the 10% of Medicare beneficiaries who are the oldest use 90% of Medicare’s funds. Younger Medicare users in their 60s use are much less costly. As people are younger, their health care costs are even less, so it is actually a bargain to bring them into Medicare. They would be paying in much more than they would be costing. This explains why Canada’s universal Medicare program is such a bargain. Canadians pay 11% of GDP for in total for Medicare that covers everyone, while Americans pay 18% of GDP for health care and many millions are simply left out and get none.)

Eliminate the Veterans Administration and make all veterans eligible for Medicare immediately.

* Eliminate the two-tiered health care system created by Medicaid, and enroll all Medicaid eligible people in Medicare, lifting that financial burden entirely from the states.

The pure focus of a Social Security Defense Party on the issues of Social Security and Medicare might at first appear narrow and parochial, but as one considers the implications, it becomes clear that can be the core of a whole new progressive movement.

Just a couple of examples:

Protecting, guaranteeing and improving Social Security provides long-term security to workers who then no longer have to stay in exploitative jobs simply to save for their old age. The same goes for lowering the Medicare eligibility age to 0. Nothing makes it more difficult for workers to adopt a militant stand in organizing a labor union or going on strike against intransigent management than the fear of losing a family’s health benefits. This is the whole reason that American companies have, seemingly against their own interests in reducing labor costs, consistently opposed a state-run health care system such as the one in Canada. Employers are happy to have the leverage they get by being able to withhold health benefits from strikers or union activists.

Making sure everyone has access to quality health care insures that the quality of that care stays high. Just check out the health care quality in countries like Sweden, Finland, Germany, Canada or France, where everyone has access to the same doctors and hospitals. The quality, and the outcomes, are higher than in the US, where the poor get shoddy, late and often criminally inadequate healthcare in crumbling facilities, while the wealthy get state-of-the-art care at absurdly high prices, with much of the money being wasted on marketing and amenities having nothing to do with actual care and treatment.

Besides getting millions of Americans to refocus on their common interests, such a single-issue party and movement would also inevitably lead to a mass collective rejection of the military industrial complex, with its $1.3-trillion annual expenditure on wars and war preparation. Any attempt to provide adequate funding for retirees, the disabled and for health care for all would inevitably have to confront, head-on, this massive waste of tax dollars and to see it for what it is: a vast transfer of national wealth to giant corporations and the people who own and run them, and away from human needs.

Easing the economic pressure on the elderly by strengthening Social Security and improving Medicare would also tend to make the elderly more politically progressive. People who are not scrimping in order to have enough money to pay the rent, buy enough to eat, and pay their health bills can afford to be more generous and altruistic about supporting funding for local schools, for example, whereas today, the elderly in many communities often become opponents of needed school funding because they see the local school taxes as making it impossible to pay for their prescriptions.

The best thing about a Social Security Defense Party is that it would draw heavily on the base of both the Democratic and the Republican Parties. Regardless of their political views on issues like prayer in schools, abortion, flag-burning, stem cell research, animal rights, climate change, gun ownership or the death penalty, polls show that the vast majority of Americans, left and right, support Social Security and Medicare. Most of them know that they are being betrayed on those two critical issues by their party leaders and elected representatives, Democratic and Republican. Independents, too, support both programs overwhelmingly. A party that speaks resolutely about defending and improving both programs, and that runs candidates who do the same, could potentially vacuum up supporters from both major parties, leaving them empty husks.

And that’s what they should be.

April 5, 2013 Posted by | Economics, Solidarity and Activism, Timeless or most popular | , , , , | Leave a comment

Obama’s Still Shopping for a Grand Bargain

By Shamus Cooke | Worker’s Action | March 19, 2013

President Obama’s recent closed-door sessions with Republican congressmen to reach a “grand bargain” has roused suspiciously little attention in the mainstream media. What scant reporting has occurred presents the following narrative: President Obama is a “middle ground” politician attempting to breach political divides with erstwhile Republican opponents. In reality these meetings are not between political opposites, but kindred spirits; perfectly matched ideologies that differ only in implementation, and only by degrees.

Here’s a summary of the meetings by the conservative Economist magazine:

On March 6th he [Obama] took 12 Republican senators out to dinner at a posh hotel in Washington… The [Republican] guests noted with surprise and delight that he [Obama] listened more than he talked…The next day Mr. Obama invited [Republican] Paul Ryan to lunch at the White House…This week he is paying three visits to Congress on three consecutive days, to make his pitch for a grand bargain to each party’s caucus in both chambers.

The article fails to remind us what the definition of a “Grand Bargain” is, nor its political/historical significance. Essentially the Grand Bargain is a bi-partisan plan that does two things: 1) reduces the national deficit by cutting so-called “entitlement programs” (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, education, etc.) and 2) raises revenue via taxation (not necessarily from the wealthy and corporations).

Does this make Obama a treacherous renegade of the Democratic Party? Not quite.

Many Democrats are leading the attack on popular “entitlement” programs erected under Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal (Social Security) and enhanced by Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs (Medicare). These are the bedrock social programs of the modern Democratic Party. But even bedrock turns into quicksand over time. The Democrats of today have been radically transformed, thanks to a monsoon of corporate cash that has eroded the parties affiliation to its past.

The corporate Democrats in the Senate have been so complicit in the Grand Bargaining that the pro-Democrat New York Times recently congratulated them for putting forth their own proposed budget, in an attempt to separate them from the political fallout that would come if a Grand Bargain actually came to fruition. The New York Times reports:

It’s been four years since the Democrats who control the Senate produced a budget. That has meant four missed opportunities to demonstrate what they stand for, in hard numbers and clear spending priorities. On Wednesday, the chamber’s leaders stiffened their spines and issued a 2014 budget.

In reality it’s not about stiff spines but saved faces. This Grand Bargain conversation has been happening in the media since Obama was elected in 2008, and only now, when the chapter’s final paragraph is being written, do Senate Democrats put forward an alternative ending they know won’t pass.

But what about the progressive caucus Democrats in the House of Representatives? They too are complicit in the crimes of the corporate Blue Dog Democrats. For example, you would be hard pressed to find even the most progressive Democrat publicly denounce Obama’s scheming to cut Social Security and Medicare; instead, these progressive Democrats spend their time pointing out the obvious — that Republicans would like to cut these popular programs.

This type of distraction provides vital political cover for Obama to continue his right wing policies. The progressive caucus thus minimizes or ignores the sins of its leadership, guaranteeing that the rightward drift of the Democrats will continue.

It’s true that the progressive caucus released a progressive budget as an alternative to the Republican’s — and Obama’s — budget. But this budget has no chance of being passed, and progressive caucus Democrats have no intention of building a movement that might give life to such a budget, since it would make their leadership look bad and divide their party.

At the end of the day the progressive Democrats will fall in line with the Democratic leadership, as they typically do. If Obama needs the votes, the progressives will cough them up. One of the first “progressive” Democrats to jump on the Grand Bargain bandwagon is Congressmen Sheldon Whitehouse, who, in speaking about the President’s Grand Bargain hunting said:

We will have your [Obama's] back, you will have ours, together we will give President Obama all the support he needs during these [Grand Bargain] negotiations.

This progressive caucus complicity was also noted recently by Norman Solomon, (a longtime associate of the media watch group Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting) who noticed that curiously few progressive caucus members had signed onto a letter that pledged to vote against any budget that included cuts to Social Security and Medicare. The political winds have shifted to the right, and the progressives would like to stay Democrats, which now means supporting cuts to Social Security and Medicare.

This wouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who had read the recent article by John Stauber, who traced the origins of the “Progressive Movement,” which was set up by the rich Democrats who lead the party, as a way to counteract the Republicans media savvy. The point of the Progressive Movement and progressive Democrats is not to change society, but to beat Republicans in elections by creating the appearance of a groundswell of support for Democratic Party policies.

At the end of the day a so-called progressive Democrat is still a Democrat, and the Democratic Party has re-made its image to reflect the interests of its new big donors from Wall Street, who now feel as comfortable buying Democrats as they do purchasing a Republican politician.

Both Republicans and Democrats know that a Grand Bargain comes with gigantic political risks, most notably political suicide, since the party that cuts Social Security and Medicare will earn the hatred of 99% of Americans. Their ingenious answer is to blame each other. The progressive Democrats and Tea Party Republicans who stand on the sidelines during this fiasco — without taking any real action to stop it — stand to benefit from the outcome, and will loudly denounce the treachery post-treachery, their own names remaining unbesmirched.

But the majority of people in the U.S. will see through such blatant opportunism, and will trust neither party again. The far right will thus rush to organize a new political party, while the labor and community groups supporting the Democrats will either do the same or continue hitching their fortunes to a flagship sinking to the bottom of the ocean.

March 20, 2013 Posted by | "Hope and Change", Deception | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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