Wednesday, May 13, 2009


and Maine, and New Hampshire? and ?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Health Care Industry's PR Scam: Will Obama Fall for It?

From Mother Jones comes a big spoonful of Castor Oil Reality:

— By James Ridgeway | in MoJo on Mon May 11, 2009

In a much-anticipated statement today, Barack Obama announced what is largely a public relations end-run by the health care industry, designed to trim a few scraps off of the nation’s porcine health care budget, while preserving its basic system of medicine for profit.

In a letter to Obama that was released over the weekend, executives from the Advanced Medical Technology Association (the medical device manufacturers lobbying group), the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association, America’s Health Insurance Plans, and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, as well as the Service Employees International Union, pledged to “do our part” to reduce health care costs. Their vague, pie-in-the sky promise amounts to just a 1.5 percent reduction in the growth rate of health care spending. Such is the explosion in health care costs that even this miniscule reduction represents a potential $2 trillion saving over 10 years. But there’s no guarantee this figure will be achieved. As the Washington Post points out:

The groups did not spell out yesterday how they plan to reach such a target, and…they offer only a broad pledge, not an outright commitment….In addition, White House officials said, there is no mechanism to ensure that the groups live up to their offer, only the implicit threat of public embarrassment.

“Public embarrassment”? From Big Pharma and the health insurance companies–-two of the most shameless industries in the history of corporate capitalism? In any case, even if the $2 trillion reduction is achieved, it clearly won’t come out of industry profits. The Post reports:

Signers of the letter said that large amounts could be saved by aggressive efforts to prevent obesity, coordinate care, manage chronic illnesses and curtail unnecessary tests and procedures; by standardizing insurance claim forms; and by increasing the use of information technology, like electronic medical records.

So let’s get this straight: Saving all this money depends on getting Americans to eat less? Good luck with that one. And the other brilliant cost-saving measures involve getting doctors to create computer records of all the overpriced drugs they prescribe, and giving patients easier forms to fill out before they get turned down six times by their private insurance companies?

Do you see a pattern here? None of these changes would make a dent in the industry’s bottom line--and what’s more, they could even enhance profits, by encouraging government-funded programs to help private companies streamline their bloated bureaucracy (much of which would instantly become superfluous under a public, single-payer system). The letter to Obama suggested this when it said: “We are committed to taking action in private-public partnership to create a more stable and sustainable health care system.” We all know by now that “private-public partnership” usually means public investment for private profit.

It all adds up to a brilliant move, when you think about it. It makes the private health care companies look cooperative and proactive, rather than like the greedy obstructionists they really are. It gets these companies on the inside track with the administration, and creates common cause with the unions. In particular, it establishes a solid place at the table for the health insurance industry, the blood-sucking middlemen who ought to be kicked out of the health care system altogether.

And what might the industry get in return for this generous “cooperation”? The Kaiser Daily Health Policy report today rounded up the possibilities:

The [Wall Street] Journal reports that although the groups did not ask for anything in return for the pledge, many of the factions are looking to prevent regulations that could “pose new burdens” or affect their profitability. For example, the health insurance industry is seeking to offset any reductions to their payments by obtaining new rules that would require all U.S. residents to have health coverage, according to the Journal. The Journal reports that health insurers have made several concessions intended to prevent a public option — which they fear could affect their profitability — as part of reform legislation (Wall Street Journal, 5/11). According to the AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, drugmakers are hoping to avoid a requirement that new drugs pass a cost-benefit test before receiving regulatory approval. In addition, hospitals and physicians are looking to avoid a system in which the government would dictate their payments for all patients, not just those under Medicare or Medicaid (Alonso-Zaldivar, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 5/11).

In other words, the underlying purpose of this PR stunt is to slow or block any meaningful health care reforms, which could actually improve care while reducing the price tag by a lot more than 1.5 percent. These include regulating the cost of pharmaceuticals and medical devices, curtailing or eliminating the role of the insurance companies, or introducing single-payer, which allows other developed countries to deliver superior health care for 20 to 40 percent less--all of which make $2 trillion in weight-loss programs and paperwork reduction measures look pretty pitiful by comparison.

All we can hope for is the possibility, remote as it may be, that Obama himself is also playing a PR game--making nice with the industry shills while planning some kind of genuine reform that will hit them in the only place that counts, and the only place where truly meaningful savings reside: their profit margins.

Today in Gay History

Happy 72nd Birthday
April 12th
Gerry Studs (1937-2006)


Representative Gerry Eastman Studds was the first member of the United States Congress to acknowledge that he was gay. During his twelve terms in the House of Representatives he was known for his accessibility to his constituents and his effective advocacy of their concerns, notably in matters of the environment, health care, and fishing and maritime issues.

. . .Studds attended Yale University, from which he received a bachelor's degree in history in 1959 and a master's degree in 1961.

In the 1960s Studds was a foreign service officer in the State Department in Washington, D. C., and was also an assistant at the White House, working on a Kennedy administration initiative to establish a domestic Peace Corps. Later he became a teacher of history and government at a private school in New Hampshire.

Studds made his first run for public office in 1970, but lost to the incumbent Republican representative in a close election.

In preparation for the next campaign, Studds learned to speak Portuguese, the language of a sizable community in the district, and also studied issues related to fishing, an important industry in the area.

In his second bid for Congress, Studds was successful, defeating his well-funded opponent and becoming the first Democrat in fifty years to win what was considered a safe Republican seat.

Studds made a point of being available to his constituents, visiting all the towns in his district several times a year and holding meetings at which he discussed his votes in Congress and responded to questions from the public.

. . . Studds faced controversy in 1983 when one of his former pages revealed that he had had a sexual relationship with the congressman some ten years earlier. During the course of the House Ethics Committee's investigation, Studds publicly acknowledged his homosexuality, a disclosure that, according to an article in the Washington Post, "apparently was not news to many of his constituents."

. . . The House voted to censure Studds in July 1983. Although there was some adverse reaction in his district, a poll of registered voters conducted by the Quincy, Massachusetts Patriot Ledger revealed that 65 percent favored his remaining in office while only 28 percent thought that he should resign and 7 percent expressed no opinion.

Returned to Congress by his constituents in 1984, Studds continued to champion environmental and maritime issues. He also called for a strong federal response to the AIDS crisis, with funding for medical care and research.

Studds was among the first to endorse lifting the ban on gay men and lesbians in the military. He also supported the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, designed to end discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Studds suffered a disappointment in 1995 when the Republican-controlled Congress abolished the House Merchant Marine and Fishing Committee, of which he had been chairman.

Later that year Studds announced that he would not be running for a thirteenth term, a decision that he described as "a personal one" made in consultation with his partner, Dean Hara.

After retiring from Congress, Studds continued his commitment to environmental causes. In 2001 he presided at the opening of the interpretive Visitors Center at the Gerry E. Studds Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary in Provincetown, Massachusetts.

Studds worked for two years as executive director of the New Bedford Oceanarium, a facility still under development. He then served as a lobbyist for a Massachusetts fishermen's association.

Shortly after same-sex marriage was legalized in Massachusetts in 2004, Studds and Hara wed.

On October 3, 2006, Studds collapsed while walking his dog. On October 14, he died in a Boston hospital, the victim of a blood clot in his lung.

Wiki notes: "Due to the federal ban on same-sex marriage, Hara was not eligible, upon Studds' death, to receive the pension provided to surviving spouses of former members of Congress."


Monday, May 11, 2009

Why We Risked Arrest for Single-Payer Health Care

by Margaret Flowers, M.D.

On May 5, eight health care advocates, including myself and two other physicians, stood up to Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and the Senate Finance Committee during a "public roundtable discussion" with a simple question: Will you allow an advocate for a single-payer national health plan to have a seat at the table?

The answer was a loud, "Get more police!" And we were arrested and hauled off to jail.

The fact that a national health insurance program is supported by the majority of the public, doctors and nurses apparently means nothing to Sen. Baucus. The fact that thousands of people in America are dying every year because they can't get health care means nothing. The fact that over 1 million Americans go into bankruptcy every year due to medical debt - even though most of them had insurance when they got sick - means nothing.

And so, as the May 5 meeting approached, we prepared for another one of the highly scripted, well-protected events that are supposed to make up the "health care debate" using standard tools of advocacy. We organized call-in days and faxes to the members of the committee requesting the presence of one single-payer advocate at the table of 15. Despite thousands of calls and faxes, the only reply - received on the day before the event - was, "Sorry, but no more invitations will be issued."

We knew that this couldn't be correct. We had heard Sen. Baucus say on that very same day that "all options were on the table." And so, the next day, we donned our suits and traveled to Washington. We had many knowledgeable single-payer advocates in our group. And as the meeting started, one of us, Mr. Russell Mokhiber, stood up to say that we were here and we were ready to take a seat. And he was promptly removed from the room.

In that moment, it all became so clear. We could write letters, phone staffers, and fax until the machines fell apart, but we would never get our seat at the table.

The senators understand that most people want a national health system and that an improved Medicare for All would include everybody and provide better health care at a lower cost. These facts mean nothing to most of them because they respond to only one standard tool of advocacy: money, and lots of it.

The people seated at the table represented the corporate interests: private health insurers and big business and those who support their agenda. The people whose voices were heard all represented organizations which pay huge sums of money to political campaigns. These interests profit greatly from the current health care industry and do not want changes that will hurt their large, personal pocketbooks.

And so, we have entered a new phase in the movement for health care as a human right: acts of civil disobedience. It is time to directly challenge corporate interests. History has shown that in order to gain human rights, we must be willing to speak out and risk arrest. We must engage in actions that expose corporate fraud and corruption. We must make our presence known.

And that is why the eight of us, knowledgeable health care advocates and providers, most of us parents, some of us grandparents, spoke out one-by-one at the Senate Finance Committee. And it is why we will continue to speak out and encourage others to do the same. Our voices must be strong enough to drown out the influence of corporate dollars.

Health care must become the civil rights movement of this decade. The opportunity is here. And we can create a single-payer national health care system.

Yes, we can.

Dr. Margaret Flowers is a pediatrician in the Baltimore are and co-chairs the Maryland chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP). Her statement was co-signed by Mark Dudzic, Labor Campaign for Single Payer; Russell Mokhiber, Single Payer Action; Carol Paris, M.D., PNHP; Katie Robbins, Healthcare-NOW!; Pat Salomon, M.D., PNHP; Adam Schneider, B'more Housing for All; and Kevin Zeese,


Sunday, May 10, 2009

Stand Out Story of the Week


Jim Hightower's Poplular History of Populism

Jim Hightower's brand of progressive thought and practice is of a different stripe than today's liberalism. Herewith an excerpt from a lengthier and more detailed piece he published on AlterNet this week.

Memo to Media: Populism Is a Rebellion Against Corporate Power -- It's Not Just Stupid, Raw Anger

By Jim Hightower, Hightower Lowdown. Posted May 8, 2009.

First of all, populism is not a style, nor is it a synonym for "popular outrage." It is a historically grounded political doctrine (and movement) that supports ordinary folks in their ongoing democratic fight against the moneyed elites.

The very essence of populism is its unrelenting focus on breaking the iron grip that big corporations have on our country--including on our economy, government, media, and environment. It is unabashedly a class movement. Try to squeeze Lord Limbaugh into that philosophical suit of clothes! He's just another right-wing, corporate-hugging, silk-tie elitist--an apologist for plutocracy, not a populist.

Fully embracing the egalitarian ideals and rebellious spirit of the American Revolution, populists have always been out to challenge the orthodoxy of the corporate order and to empower workaday Americans so they can control their own economic and political destinies. This approach distinguishes the movement from classic liberalism, which seeks to live in harmony with concentrated corporate power by trying to regulate its excesses.

We're seeing liberalism at work today in Washington's Wall Street bailout. Both parties tell us that AIG, Citigroup, Bank of America, and the rest are "too big to fail," so taxpayers simply "must" rescue the management, stockholders, and bondholders of the financial giants in order to save the system. Populists, on the other hand, note that it is this very system that has caused the failure-so structural reform is required. Let's reorganize the clumsy, inept, ungovernable, and corrupt financial system by ousting those who wrecked it, splitting up its component parts (banking, investment, and insurance), and establishing decentralized, manageable-sized financial institutions operating on the locally controlled models of credit unions, co-ops, and community banks.

Go H E R E to read the whole thing! It should be taught in schools!