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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The end of the Pax Americana? Doomsdayers Speak Out


Tue, Sep 29, 2009

The financial meltdown was the beginning of the end for USA #1. As reported Chemical & Engineering News, at the Detroit Economics Club, GE CEO Jeff Immelt lamented the the country's reliance on the service sector. " Many bought into the idea that the country could go from a technology based, export driven powerhouse to a services led, consumption based economy and still prosper. "That idea is just flat wrong", he said. "There's something wrong when a mortgage broker banker is making $5 million a year and a PhD chemist earning $100,000. "

In the same issue of Chemical & Engineering News there were articles about Vanishing Chemical Plants in the U.S. as Dow and DuPont pull up stakes here and move to China and ads for a seminar to discuss Outsourcing to Asia and Outsourcing of drug discovery including lead discovery by Big Pharma. We've become a marketing and distribution, Walmart economy. How will we have create real jobs for all Americans and a USA economy that benefits all Americans and not just the top oligarchs.

Prof Peter Morici, University of Maryland, Economics Professor talked about this on his appearance on CSpan. See Peter Morici, University of Maryland, Economics Professor, discusses the G20 Summit in Pittsburgh, PA, and the status of the U.S. economy.

This economist was very negative about the short and long term prospects of the U.S. economy... that this will be a jobless recovery with 6 job seekers for every job available and that the U.S. economy has permanently contracted. Free trade doesn't work with China. We need to replace jobs lost due to imports with jobs due to exports but China does not buy anything from us. This has been going on for a long time under misguided policies under Clinton, Bush and now Obama.
US companies are seeing better opportunities abroad than in USA. We are not likely to see export job growth under Obama. Very pessimistic.
Obama has the chance to end our Cold War hangover, and start an era where the U.S. is not the sole global policeman.
Interestingly, this article ties together our disastrous unilateral free trade policies, which have gifted entire industries to our trading partners, to our world policeman role which impoverishes us while our "allies" get their security on the cheap.

Will America wake up in time to realize how broke she is and realize you can't spend as much on defense, as everyone else combined, when you are hugely in debt to the people you are defending? (just ask Britian how that worked out for them after WW2)..(as well we the over 200 body bags coming home from Afghanistan this year alone).

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Which party destroyed US manufacturing? You betcha!

Who is the party of business? It sure as shootin' ain't the Republican Party. Since 1949 when war and post-war gyrations had stabilized, manufacturing employment (in absolute numbers) has increased significantly under four Democratic administrations, and declined horribly under five Republican Presidents – period, stop, end of story.

Don't believe it? Forget theory, let's look at actual numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is the number of workers employed in manufacturing from January of the start of an administration to January at the end. Numbers are rounded:

1949-1953 Truman UP 16%
1953-1961 Eisenhower DOWN 7%
1961-1969 Kennedy-Johnson UP 25%
1969-1977 Nixon-Ford DOWN 3%
1977-1981 Carter UP 4%
1981-1989 Reagan DOWN 3%
1989-1993 Geo H. W. Bush DOWN 7%
1993-2001 Clinton UP 2%
2001-2009 Geo W. Bush DOWN 26%

Compounded manufacturing jobs gain under Democrats, 1949-2001: UP 54%
Compounded manufacturing jobs loss under Republicans, 1953-2009 DOWN 45%

Had Republicans been in charge (of the Executive branch) in all years since 1949,and had been equally incompetent in management for manufacturing job growth when they actually were in charge, we would have less than one-fourth the number of jobs in manufacturing as we had in 1949. If Democrats had been in charge and had produced the same level of growth, we would have had 120% more jobs than we had then. That would be 18 million more jobs in manufacturing than we had at the start of 2009. Hmmm. Think maybe we'd be a little better off?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Excellent review of a new book on Global medical care.

During last year's Republican presidential primary season, candidate Rudy Giuliani succinctly captured what millions of Americans think about health care abroad. "These countries that say they provide universal coverage -- they pay a price for it, you know," Giuliani told his audience. "They do it by rationing care, by long waiting lines, and by limiting, or I should say eliminating a patient's choice."
T.R. Reid has done a service to his nation by showing in his latest book just how uninformed this conventional wisdom is. Based on his own experience and research, "The Healing of America" is both readable and informative.
Many decades ago, Reid suffered an accident while in the Navy that left him with a bum shoulder, a condition that, while not acutely painful, became increasingly bothersome as he aged. During his long career working as a foreign correspondent for The Washington Post, he and his family received high-quality, routine care from doctors in places like Tokyo and London. These two circumstances provided Reid with the inspiration for his book and set him off on "a quest for two cures." He traveled around the world, visiting doctors in places as diverse as Taiwan, France and India to see how their health care systems would approach treating his shoulder pain, and in the process he searched for insights to cure the U.S. health care crisis.
Reid checked himself into the famous Arya Vaidya Chikitsalayam, an institution that he describes as the Mayo Clinic of traditional Indian medicine, and was surprised when a haughty astrologer and her retinue used a collection of shells, rocks and statuettes of Hindu gods to divine whether the stars were aligned to favor his treatment. It turned out they were. Reid then underwent a regime that involved drinking "a vile assortment of herbal medicines, most of which tasted like spoiled greens or aging mud," as well as a diet of gruel and performance of poojah, or reverence, to the Hindu god of healing, Dhanwanthari. Yet perhaps more helpfully, strong, skillful therapists went to work three times a day slathering him with spiced sesame oil and messaging his whole body, with special attention to his sore shoulder. After weeks of this treatment, Reid lost nine pounds and became a very mellow man. He also discovered that the pain in his shoulder was gone and that he had much greater mobility in his arm. The cost of this therapy came to $42.85 per day -- far less than that of the invasive total-shoulder anthroplastic surgery recommended by Reid's American doctor, who couldn't say what replacing his shoulder might cost after the various insurance adjusters were done. Reid would have paid even less had he purchased Indian insurance, which typically covers the treatment that fixed his shoulder, including the cost of the astrologer.
Elsewhere on his journey, Reid discovered other curious truths about health care abroad that Americans don't know. For example, Germany and Switzerland manage to provide universal coverage while preserving a greater role for competing private-sector doctors and insurance companies than the United States does. In those countries, it is true that government regulation and price controls also play a big role. However, in Britain, a supposed bastion of "socialized medicine," most doctors are in business for themselves and are often highly entrepreneurial in seeking new patients; some even make house calls. Reid learned that Britain's National Health Service would not pay for the anthroplasty his American doctor recommended unless he was in acute pain, but as his Indian experience proved, he didn't need the operation.
Similarly, in France and Japan, consumers have quicker access to a broader range of providers than most Americans do (no cost for going "out of network"). And no one is ever denied an insurance claim or thrown into medical bankruptcy. What's more, per capita health care costs are far lower than in the United States and health care outcomes better. Canada does have long waiting lists for elective procedures, but other nations such as Germany, France, Sweden and Denmark outperform the United States in providing quick access to specialists. Reid was able to make an appointment with one of Japan's top orthopedic surgeons the same afternoon he made his first call.
Reid acknowledges that the health systems in the countries he studied have their own problems. He also admits that none has figured out how to contain the global long-term trend toward higher costs as populations age, the spread of Western lifestyle and diet causes an epidemic of chronic illness, and as expensive new medical technologies become available. But he does demonstrate that Guiliani and like-minded Americans put forward a distorted image when they contend that other industrialized countries ration health care and constrain patients' choice of doctors, deny effective care and, in essence, provide socialized medicine. Reid shows us how other advanced countries easily combine universal coverage and government regulation with entrepreneurialism and respect for market forces to produce high quality, low cost health care -- a simple empirical truth we can no longer afford to ignore.
Phillip Longman, a senior research fellow at the New America Foundation, is the author of "Best Care Anywhere: Why VA Health Care is Better than Yours."

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The definitive analysis of defensive medicine and the threat of a malpractice suit

This is a great write-up by an ER doctor explaining that there are a zillion reasons for practicing defensive medicine that having nothing to do with fear of a lawsuit. There are lots and lots of bad consequences for being wrong. The doctor has no choice but to do a fuzzy-logic calculation of probability of being wrong, the seriousness of the consequences to the patient of being wrong, and the cost of further action, be it hospitalization, a specialist or more tests.

For this reason the doctor doubts we will see any reduction in so-called defensive medicine by any efforts to reduce malpractice claims. Of course, this should be intuitively obvious, and he is no doubt correct. As definitive proof that he is correct, just consider the fact that Republicans, who these days are wrong about everything, would disagree with him. I'm sure Dr. Rush Limbaugh and Dr. Sean Hannity would disagree, and as night follows day, so would their audiences.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The private health insurance model will no longer work –for anybody.

The inevitability of an American single-payer health system is certain. Amidst the ideological back and forth that is the health care reform debate of 2009, recent studies reveal a growing reality that each of us can easily understand, no matter what our ideological point of view.

It will not be long until the private health insurance model will no longer work –for anybody.

It’s got nothing to do with public options or single payer advocates just as it will have nothing to do with those prepared to defend America from socialism at all costs.

The simple fact is that single-payer, government controlled health care is inevitable because the trajectory of the private health insurance system reveals that it is doomed to fail – and sooner than we might realize.

In 2009, health insurance premiums will grow at an annualized rate of 5%, just as it has done for the past two years. Despite the fact that the annual cost of living for 2009 is projected to decrease , this 5% premium increase is actually the good news when you consider that in the four years preceding the leveling off at 5% annual increases, the annual bumps ran between 10% to 13%.

So, how did we get so lucky in 2009? Did the private health insurance companies realize it was in their best interest to bring down profits in order to lower the costs to their customers? Did the costs of medical treatment stabilize with the downturn in the economy?

Sorry. None of the above.

The premium increase remained at 5% because the insurance companies cut a lot of meat from the bone, providing considerably less for the money they received.

According to the non-profit, non-political Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research and Educational Trust report published last week , the reduction in the annual premium increases can largely be traced to the increase of high-deductible insurance policies being offered by employers who simply can’t keep up with the out-of-control cost of providing their employees with health insurance benefits.

In 2009, the number of insured with high deductible plans will grow from 18% to 22%.

Let that sink into your brain for a moment.

Over 20% of all employees receiving health care coverage through employment now face out-of-pocket payments of at least $1,000 annually before their health insurance begins to pay their share of the medical bills. Of course, in addition to the deductible, there is the roughly $3,500 – 4,000 the average employee will contribute towards coverage for his or her family, plus the co-pays and other charges that come with American health insurance coverage.

The move to high deductible programs was most prevalent in small businesses where one in three covered workers have a deductible of $1,000 or more.

Let me be quick to point out that some might attribute this growth in high deductible policies to the institution of Health Savings Account programs that permit employees to contribute to tax advantaged savings accounts, usually with matched contributions from employers, and come with a legal requirement to maintain a high deductible , ‘catastrophic’ insurance policy . The purpose of these programs is to allow employees to save the money that they can use to fill in the costs incurred before reaching the high deductible. The money can be carried over each year, allowing younger savers to build a substantial savings account for their health costs and, arguably, give them more control over how they spend their healh care dollars.

This would certainly provide an argument for how the high deductible policies are a step in the direction of consumer driven health care, an approach some believe will serve to control the costs of health care in the long run.

And these consumer driven health care proponents might be right if it weren’t for the fact that the greatest growth in high deductible policies do not come with health insurance savings account programs – they are just high deductible insurance policies, period.

According to Drew Altman, president and CEO of the Kaiser Family Foundation,

We may be seeing the tip of the iceberg of a trend towards less comprehensive, skimpier health insurance coverage for many working people.

Via Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research and Educational Trust

Altman also pointed out that the slower growth in premium costs we’ve experienced over the past three years is not likely to last, predicting a return to more typical growth of 7% to 9% increases per year over the next decade. “We’ve historically seen these peaks and valleys before, and we always have a bounce back effect.”

So, if annual premiums for family coverage grows, as expected, by an average of 8.7 percent per year over the next decade – as they did from 1999 to 2009 – premium costs will increase from the current average of $13,000 for the average family to more than $30,000 for the average family. As employees pay, on average, 28% of their premium costs with their employer paying the rest, that means that employee costs will go from $3,640.00 per year to $8,400.00 per year.

How many families do you imagine can afford $8,500 per year in health insurance premium costs, plus the large out-of-pocket costs for high deductible insurance plans? And how many companies do you imagine will be able to afford $21,600 per year in employee health insurance for each of their employees with a family?

Clearly, the employer health insurance model that accounts for 60% of health insurance coverage in this country is completely and unarguably unsustainable.

The next question is where it gets weird. If the above is true – and the numbers make it pretty clear as to where this is going – wouldn’t the private health insurance companies adjust their model rather than commit suicide by pricing themselves out of business?

As counter-intuitive as it may seem, the answer is likely to be ‘no.’

Virtually all large health insurance companies are publicly held and public companies have a life force that is unlike any other. They are driven by the desire of current management to show improved profits of about 10% each year so as to sustain share price increases for the shareholders and compensation increases for management. Also understand that while public companies like to talk about the “long term”, the phrase has no true meaning to them.

Management and shareholders worry about this year’s numbers with an eye towards next year’s – and that is as far as it goes. Most shareholders and managers have no expectation of being around in the ‘long term.’

Thus, while current management of the large health insurance companies may very well realize that they cannot sustain their business model for the longer term, this is not something they can afford to worry about. Their shareholders want returns on their investment as management wants boosts to their compensation and they are looking for it now. The future will be someone else’s problem.

Take virtually any failed industry in America and you will see that the dynamic set forth above is inevitably true. Whoever ran General Motors before the CEO in charge when the industry fell apart probably knew what was down the road for the company. But it wasn’t his problem. An adept shareholder in GM who got out five years ago, really didn’t care where the industry was headed nor did a CEO who had no plans to be around when the balls in the air crashed to the ground.

So, when the price of health insurance reaches the point where most Americans truly cannot afford it – and the numbers make it more than clear that the point will be reached and reasonably soon – what then?

Will ‘free marketers’ be out there arguing that we should just let the health insurers fail? After all,that’s how a pure, capitalist system is designed to work, right?

This might be an argument they can make when it comes to the automobile companies because none of us really have to buy a car this year. And if we do, we all know that a devastated car industry means better prices for us when we appear in the showroom. As for the lost jobs? Very sad – but not our immediate problem.

Free marketers don’t care much for bank bailouts so long as they’ve gotten their money out the bank before it fails.

But when it’s health care? I think you will find that teabaggers everywhere will have a very different perspective when they find themselves out there alone with no way to pay for their family’s medical costs.

Who will need the save the day when this happens? The government will – and that means a single-payer system.

Whether the result fits your ideology or not, the numbers would seem to make clear that it is only a matter of time before private health insurance prices itself out of the market, leaving only the government with the capability to insure the nation’s health.

Given what appears to be a very dim future for the health insurance business model, one cannot help but conclude that the battle in Congress, while framed in ideological terms for public consumption, is really more about helping the insurance companies to earn as much money as they can before their inevitable collapse. After all, Congress is not unlike public companies in that elected officials tend not to worry beyond the next election cycle. When the insurance companies ultimately are priced out of the health business, and the government must take over, it will either be the next Congressman’s problem or enough time will have passed to allow constituents to forget the past ideologies of their representatives.

Baucus in the pockets of Big Insurance and Big Pharma

Buying insurance in the Baucus for- profit exchange plan would cost by CBO $14,400 for family coverage with no government subsidies. Compare this to the $8300 for the federal employee family Blue Cross Basic plan with employee and government premiums totaled. So the exchange option will cost over $6000 more for for-profit insurance with no government negotiation. This now on top of his double-dealing with Big Pharma! Talk about waste, fraud and abuse, Baucus is guilty on all accounts.

Democrats Question Baucus's $80B Deal With Drug Makers

By Ceci Connolly, Shailagh Murray and Lori Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, September 23, 2009 12:35 PM

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) faced an early test of his leadership Wednesday after fellow Democrats challenged the $80 billion deal he struck with drug makers to help pay for health-care reform.
Nearing the end of a 13-hour opening day of work on Baucus's bill to overhaul the nation's health-care system, several committee members pressed Tuesday night for an amendment extracting larger company rebates on medications the government purchases for low-income senior citizens.
The proposal jeopardizes an agreement that Baucus and the Obama White House struck to limit the drug industry's exposure over the next 10 years to $80 billion. Proponents said it would produce an additional $86 billion in revenue for federal coffers, money that could be dedicated to expanding the health bill in other areas. The money also would help efforts by the chief sponsor of the drug company amendment, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), to reduce cuts to the Medicare Advantage private insurance program, which is popular with seniors in his state.
"This is a metaphor for where this bill is headed," said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), who supports the amendment and described it as a measure of "whose side you are on."

The lone committee Democrat to speak against the amendment was Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.), who said it "doesn't seem fair" to renege on an agreement struck many months ago. The pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca is one of the top 10 employers in Carper's home state. Baucus, who remained silent during the drug debate, postponed a vote on the amendment at least until Wednesday.

After the committee convened Wednesday, members spent the better part of the morning wrangling over an amendment offered by Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) stipulating that the "legislative language" of the bill and a final cost analysis by the Congressional Budget Office be posted online 72 hours before the committee votes on the package. Democrats called the amendment a delaying tactic that would force the committee to wait an additional two to three weeks before voting, and they argued that the panel traditionally has acted on the basis of "conceptual language," or plain English, about what proposed legislation means rather than the highly esoteric legislative language, with its numerous references to different parts of the U.S. code.
"It is gobbledygook to most people," said Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.). "Anybody who thinks that would be transparent to the American people is really not telling it like it is."
Republicans insisted that the CBO needs final legislative language to determine precisely what provisions cost, and they complained that they were being rushed toward a vote. "What is the rush?" Bunning demanded. "Taking a few extra weeks will not kill me, I hope, or anyone else on this committee."
The Bunning amendment ultimately was voted down, mainly along party lines. A competing amendment offered by Baucus passed on a party-line vote. It required that "conceptual language in plain English" and a complete CBO cost analysis be publicly available on the Finance Committee's Web site ahead of a final vote to send the health-care reform bill to the full Senate.
Tuesday's debate over the deal with drug manufacturers capped a day that opened with battle lines clearly drawn. Democrats and Republicans both found plenty to criticize in the legislation, particularly its requirement that all U.S. citizens and legal residents must buy health insurance at potentially high costs.
Sen. Jon Kyl (Ariz.), a member of the panel and the Senate's No. 2 Republican, called the measure "a stunning assault on liberty" that would lead to higher taxes and less consumer choice.

But Baucus defended his work and urged his colleagues to "do our part to make quality, affordable health care available to all Americans."
Republicans outlined specific provisions they will seek to change or eliminate as the committee debates hundreds of amendments, a discussion that could stretch into next week. One target-rich area: the more than $500 billion in Medicare changes that the bill proposes, to squeeze waste from the insurance program for seniors. Another is the fine that the measure would impose on Americans who do not buy health insurance, which the GOP describes as a tax on the middle class. And they warn that the legislation's hefty new industry fees would be passed on to consumers.
Some Democrats, meanwhile, said they would press to further reduce costs for the millions of Americans who would be required to buy coverage.
Baucus revised his bill even before submitting it to the committee Tuesday morning, adding more aid for middle-class families and watering down a tax provision that could target a small number of union households.

The bill would help extend health insurance to an estimated 94 percent of Americans, including 29 million who currently have none. An estimated 11 million people would join Medicaid under the legislation, and 25 million others would gain access to a new private-insurance exchange, including 7 million people who currently buy their own plans or pay for expensive coverage through their employers.
Democrats' primary concern with the Baucus plan is that it would not adequately subsidize working-class and middle-class households, which could be required to pay 2percent to 12 percent of their income toward insurance premiums. After Baucus's revisions, no person who receives coverage through the insurance exchange would pay more than $3,987 a year for deductibles and co-payments; families' out-of-pocket costs would be limited to $7,973.
His changes would also make it easier for people whose employers offer unaffordable coverage to join the exchanges. And he would lower premium costs for older policyholders: While his original proposal would have allowed insurance companies to charge people in their early 60s up to seven times as much as younger customers, his modified bill would bar them from making seniors pay more than four times the lowest policy cost.

Facing complaints about his primary source of revenue for the package -- a tax on expensive insurance policies -- Baucus has proposed adjustments. He would raise the tax from 35 percent to 40 percent but apply it to fewer policies, making exceptions for non-Medicare retirees, people with high-risk jobs, and others who pay higher premiums because of their age or occupation, not because their benefits are particularly generous.

To cover the cost of the new provisions, Baucus proposes reducing the surplus the bill would generate over the next decade from $49 billion to $21 billion. He would also change the tax treatment of medical expenses, barring people from claiming them as itemized deductions unless they exceed 10 percent of income, rather than the 7.5 percent of income in current law.

After an outcry by manufacturers of medical devices, Baucus said he would exempt low-priced consumer products such as cotton swabs from a $4 billion tax on that industry. He also would increase a fee on insurance companies. And he accepted a new provision offered by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) that would change the way Medicare reimburses doctors, to reward the quality of care in addition to quantity.
But some committee Democrats said they would offer further amendments aimed at making coverage more affordable. "I believe we need to continue to work on it," said Sen. Debbie Stabenow (Mich.). "We all have lists, and that's what this process will be about in the next few days."

Frenchcare not Freedomfries

US spending percapita on health spending was twice that of France( $7290 vs $3602). The French live 4 years longer than us, don't have healthcare rationing, have universal coverage of all, and don't go bankrupt because of health problems as in the USA. Where does the extra $3600 percapita the USA spends on healthcare go?

The table that accompanied a CBO analysis of buying insurance in the the Baucus for- profit exchange plan gives you a clue. It would cost $14,400 for family coverage with no government subsidies. Compare this to the $8300 for the federal employee Blue Cross Basic plan with employee and government premiums totaled. So the exchange option will cost over $6000 more. WHY?

For French, U.S. Health Debate Hard To Imagine
But National Insurance Faces New Challenges

By Edward Cody
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, September 23, 2009

MARSEILLE, France -- When Jean-Louis Aloy could no longer walk comfortably among his olive trees in the hills above Marseille, he knew the time had come. Bowing to doctor's orders, he checked in to a hospital for a long-delayed back operation.
Despite the prospect of an expensive two-week hospital stay, Aloy, 58, did not worry. France's national health insurance, supplemented by a private policy for co-payments, covered the entire bill -- from doctor's fees to medication to a private room with a view -- and Aloy would not even know the total.
"All I have to do is fill out some papers and send them off to the insurance company," he said during a smoke break on a sunny terrace in front of the hospital two days after the surgery.
France has long been proud of its national health insurance, part of a many-tentacled and costly social protection system designed to embrace almost everyone who is legally in the country. Most French people have grown up with the idea that the government is the ultimate guarantor of health care, even for people who cannot afford to pay. The concept has become so ingrained over the past half-century that it is an untouchable part of the political landscape, making the debate over President Obama's proposals in Washington and the fading chances for a public option seem, in the words of the newspaper Le Monde, "altogether surreal."
But the fast-rising cost of drugs and medical care, particularly for the elderly in their final days, has raised the question of how long France can afford the health care it has come to expect. Seeking to beat back rising deficits, the government has reduced the reimbursement rate for many medicines and routine medical services, opening a growing market for private insurance policies, called mutuals, to cover the steadily increasing co-payments.
Without abandoning the bedrock of health care for all, therefore, the French system has begun to evolve toward something resembling Medicare, the health insurance for older people in the United States, except that it covers people of all ages. The shift is regarded as inevitable, specialists said, but increasingly it is raising the delicate question of how much the government will be forced to resort to even higher co-payments in the years ahead.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Government of the corporations, by the corporations and for the corporations

Appeals court overturns campaign finance restrictions.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

AP would never report something like this

It takes an anonymous blogger on a European magazine's website to get information about our own country like this. [Courtesy of Kevin Drum] The bottom line is that in a Bush rally, besides being carefully-selected to include only ardent supporters, a handful of Young Republicans made all the audience signs for TV exposure according to a plan to simulate spontaneous affection. Signs actually made by crowd members (contrary to instructions) were confiscated. I suppose there's a degree of bipartisan insight here, but somehow I doubt Democrats could ever match the organization of a Republican political operation:

The Bavarian event [an Angela Merkel rally] was genuine, in a way that stage-managed American politics cannot match. There is a lot that is creepy about an American campaign event. Arriving early at Bush rallies, I would watch aggressive and chilly young Republican aides in smart suits kneeling on gymnasium floors with fistfuls of different felt tip marker pens, and large rectangles of white card. Frowning with concentration, they would then write things like “South Dakota Loves W” in deliberately babyish writing, or pick out the words “Hello Mr President” in red, white and blue lettering. The styles and slogans would be carefully varied, and the end results were impressive: a stack of signs that looked as though supporters of all ages had lovingly written them out on homely kitchen tables. Then, when the crowd arrived (all of them invited and vetted as bona fide Bush supporters) any of them who had forgotten instructions not to bring signs of their own would have them politely confiscated. Then they would be handed one of the ersatz home-made signs by one of the chilly, bossy young munchkins from campaign HQ. On television, it all looked very sweet.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Thoughts on the speech

It was certainly an excellent speech, did some important things, certainly with its feistiness helped galvanize and buck up Democrats, but I thought some opportunities to put Republicans and Blue Dogs on a hotter seat may have been missed:

*Though many disagree, I thought he handled the public option just about right. He did not draw a line in the sand on the “public option” per se -- however it might be defined, although Obama clarified his concept as a non-profit that would have to compete operating solely from premiums and not from general tax revenue. However, in signaling openness to other approaches – some would call it “caving” but I disagree -- he explained its purpose to restrain costs very clearly, expressed the general idea that it is unfair to mandate a universal obligation to obtain coverage without a guarantee of the most affordable coverage possible by way of a Federally-sponsored non-profit entity -- i.e., not leaving those who need to get insurance through the "exchange" absolutely to the mercy of private insurers -- and he did draw the line in the sand in demanding something that will perform that function as well as the public option. That also left himself cover for reverting to an outright demand for a public option later, when other alternatives are discussed and found not to meet the target he laid out. I'm sure, too, that by focusing on the objective and explaining it carefully, he moved moderate opinion of the public option somewhat more favorably.

*I was somewhat disappointed that he did not explicitly demand that opponents justify their opposition to a choice Americans say they would like (when they understand it's only a choice among many plans). That is a powerful hurdle that the Blue Dogs and the tiny sane contingent of the GOP have been spared so far. Only the proponents of the public option have been on the defensive to say how unfair it is to describe it as a "government takeover" and to explain why it is important.

However, by laying down the marker for what must be accomplished, he established the groundwork for shifting that burden of persuasion. So far, the Blue Dogs have been allowed to rely on the circular argument that they are against it because it won't pass. When the opponents start stammering to explain why they are siding with insurance company demands for maximum profits and CEO salaries at the expense of Americans who may be out of work and need the most affordable choices possible, public opinion will start to shift and provide cover for the Blue Dogs. But our side must articulate and pound on the media to demand those justifications.

*Stronger wording in the bill against use of tax revenues and reinforcement of the need to operate independently like any other non-profit will provide the Blue Dogs with the fig-leaf they need to claim that their adherence to principle made an acceptable solution possible. After all, they do not oppose it on policy grounds, but only on political grounds arising from their conservative electorates that to a great extent have been brainwashed against a “government takeover.” Over time for a debate, with opponents unable to justify their opposition on policy grounds, some of that brainwashing will wear off.

*I would like to have seen him try to shift the ground on the real liars by putting them on the spot to do something constructive. Simply saying that certain things are lies would not undercut those, like Rep. Wilson, who think he's lying about that. It leaves the conflict where it was: "You're lying." No, you're the one who's lying." It has been widely observed that when you start winning the arguments on the facts, the opponents refuse to concede and simply shift to another outrage. People in the middle are caught watching a tennis match with no end in sight.

*I think a clever strategem could have broken the logjam a bit with independents. Roughly, this is how it would go, possibly using one of the outbursts (including Wilson's “You lie!” exclamation) for a statement like this:

[Long pause after shout, with several second stare-down at the shouter] “Let me go at this another way. I have been accused of lying about the bills when I say there are no “death panels” or assistance to illegal aliens or reduction in Medicare benefits or forced end-of-life consultations. Those who are making such claims, or others, are pulling out words from the various bills and saying certain words contradict what I am saying – like that lady who keeps saying seniors would be forced into making end-of-life declarations no matter how much people who understand the language explain carefully why the language does not mean that. In fact, it is merely a way of defining what kind of consultation will qualify for payment by Medicare. Or the Representative here who accuses me of lying because I say the reform I am proposing will not be used to assist illegal immigrants. [See him squirm in front of all the cameras.]

But here is what I can say absolutely. We are trying to solve some problems that everyone – everyone, Democrats, Republicans, independents and the medical community alike – agrees exist. In the reform I am trying to accomplish, I have no intention whatsoever – let me repeat that, I – I have no intention -- to create “death panels,” or to force seniors to make living wills when they don't want to, or to allow any assistance for purchasing insurance to go to illegal immigrants. I am certain nobody else favoring reform has any of these intentions, either. There is no reduction whatsoever intended in Medicare benefits, but only ways to save money so that it will be easier in the future to assure we can keep paying adequate benefits. The people who are trying to scare people by calling the “non-profit public choice plan” a “government takeover of healthcare,” or “socialism” or “Nazism,” are being incredibly cynical because they know perfectly well this very modest proposal simply to assure that people who need it have an affordable choice is none of those things. But we can always argue over language – whether it seems to say something we don't intend it to say. If you think there are words in any bill that does any of those things, or anything else that almost anyone would find objectionable, we welcome your proposals to revise the language to avoid such an interpretation. Please explain to us how you would like to change the bill without taking the benefits for the American people that we are trying to build into it.”

*I wish I had seen a challenge to the mainstream media to follow up on all the charges and keep tabs on who has actually suggested constructive changes to avoid the interpretations we all agree we don't want. Sometime, this administration is going to have to start moving the goalposts in the mainstream media to reduce the indefensible deference given to the extreme right-wing.

*I would like to see all liberal politicians connect the dots between the deficiency of confidence in the future arising from the danger of complete financial disaster if a job is lost and the need for people to feel such confidence for the economy to reach its potential no matter how much better "mechanics" of economic analysis -- like more tax revenue, deficit reduction, etc. -- are put into place.

*I wish I had seen the Republicans squirm by being told something they never would have bothered to know on their own -- that the truly socialistic UK National Health Service, which nobody is proposing, was championed by their No. 2 hero behind Reagan, the ardent Tory Winston Churchill. Or that Conservative Margaret Thatcher made it into office by promising not to touch the NHS.

* * * * *

Of course, there is the unmovable 25%. None of this is aimed at them. You just want to isolate them as much as possible by letting independents and moderates see how truly crazy they are. Wilson and the other Republicans sitting sullenly having nothing to offer to the debate themselves by their demeanor did quite a bit of isolating of the GOP. We need to keep whittling it down to 15%, and then to 5%, and then to remote camps in the mountains of Idaho.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Health Care Issues Close to Home

From the Readers' Files:
1. An insurance company KILLED a mother. A healthy mother went into hospital for a broken femur that required a wire mesh around the bone. Couple days after surgery a mid-20s girl insurance agent from Orange County told my parents that mother would have to leave the hospital. Dad was livid. He paid his whole life into one of education's "best" insurance companies. When I went to all the doctors & surgeons involved in mother's surgery & asked if they checked mother out, they were all surprised she was leaving. And, to a man, they all said that it was NOT the time to release mother. When the mother went home, she wasted away & died within a few months.

2. Every rightard rant about the "evils" of socialized medicine is something that is happening right now under the current system. If your personal physician is "out of network", you will pay through the nose to see him and may not even be covered under some HMOs. I also had ridiculous wait times to get an appointment with a Dr, had my insurance yanked from under me when my employer decided to eliminate coverage and had to wait for some insurance bureaucrat decide whether or not I could see a specialist. I'm glad I never had a medical emergency that could of messup up my coverage because I did not notify my insurer that I was going to the emergency room.

3. We'd save $465,000,000 under the bill by removing the excess paid to Private Insurance Companies in the Medicare Advantage program (this would not effect providers or patients, only excess Insurance profits) and by imposing a very small tax (maybe 1%) on income over $350,000 family, or over $280,000 single - since those folks pay a much lower % of income in payroll taxes, this small tax is estimated to generate $544,000,000 needed to keep the expanded program solvent - Medicare has over-head of 3% - a fraction of Private Insurers who keep $205,000,000 a year ceo's , corporate jets, etc on their books -

Who Will Be Hurt if the Democrats Pass Health Care Alone

Lincoln Mitchell
Assistant Professor in the Practice of International Politics, Columbia University
Huffington Post. Posted: September 2, 2009 09:04 AM

Eight months or so into the Obama presidency, it is pretty clear that Obama's bipartisan efforts have not been, and will almost certainly not be, fruitful. Critics of Obama might claim this is because Obama has already been captured by the far left of his party, while people more sympathetic to the president might point out that the Republican Party has been captured by an angry and out of touch right wing that has driven the party to irrelevancy. The question this raises for the Obama administration is whether or not it is now prudent to abandon efforts at bipartisanship and seek to pass major legislation, most obviously health care, alone.

Critics of this idea point out that previous legislation of such great significance was passed with bipartisan support. This is true, but a little misleading. For most of the twentieth century partisanship while strong, was often not closely tied to ideology the way it is today. Liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats were far bigger and more important political forces 50, or even 25, years ago, than they are today. So, while, for example, Lyndon Johnson passed both civil rights and Great Society legislation with support from Republicans, those Republicans were northern liberals who had political views and ideology which today would make them far closer to the Democratic than the Republican Party. Similarly, a fair amount of the Democrats who backed much of Ronald Reagan's legislative proposals were conservative Democrats who today would likely be Republicans.

Obama does not have a liberal, or even moderate wing of the Republican Party with which to work, so bipartisan policy making is substantially more difficult for him. The Democratic Party, while far from unified behind any health care plan, is far more ideologically cohesive than in the 1930s or 1960s, making the possibility of passing legislation without the Republicans possible in a way that was not the case for previous Democratic presidents.

David Brooks, among others, has argued that for Obama to pass health care legislation without any Republican support would be a big mistake and ultimately even destroy his Democratic majority. This argument raises two important questions. The first question is: so what? Clearly it is worth trading off this temporary Democratic majority for health care reform. The reason millions of Americans voted Democratic last fall was to pass progressive legislation such as health care reform. There is little point in having a Democratic majority if the party is afraid to use its majority to actually do anything. Inevitably the Democratic majority will be reduced and eventually the Republicans will come back in power. It would be a mistake to let this time go by without passing progressive legislation and get nothing out of this period of Democratic dominance, however long or brief it may be.

Second, this argument is at its core, a bluff. Republicans who argue that Democrats would be hurting themselves by passing a good health care bill without Republican support should not be taken all that seriously. These people generally are not in the business of warning the Democratic Party about making mistakes. These people are more concerned about what will happen to the Republicans if Democrats back Health Care reform without any support from any Republicans. Brooks and others are half right. Health care reform which is pushed through only by one party will hurt one of the parties, but the party it will hurt will be the Republicans.

If the Democrats pass this bill alone, and are able to do it with a public option, not only will the Republican Party have been proven beyond a doubt to be irrelevant in Washington today, but they will have once again put themselves on the opposing side of groundbreaking legislation. A good health care program which provides a way for millions of currently uninsured Americans to get health insurance will become popular, much like Social Security and Medicare have. Republican talk about death panels, socialism, Nazi policies and the like will quickly seem like the overheated rhetoric that it is as this new program will rapidly get integrated into the broader fabric of American politics and American life. It is immeasurably more likely that a few decades from now Americans will wonder why the US waited so long to pass this legislation, than that those same Americans will be living under some kind of socialist dictatorship, as the right wing suggests.

It should not be forgotten, even though the Republican Party would like you to forget, that the majority of Republicans opposed Social Security and Medicare as well. It is likely that a new health care program will be similarly popular and Republican opposition to it will be similarly downplayed by that party as the years go by. It might be better for America, and would certainly be better for the Republicans, if this program were passed with bipartisan support, but passing it alone won't hurt the Democrats. Failing to take advantage of this opportunity will, on the other hand, hurt both the Democratic Party and the country which it governs.

A reader's coment:
If Democrats pass HR 676,
A 0.25% tax on purchase and sale of all shares of stock, a $1.00/pack tax on cigarettes, an end to corporate welfare, getting out of Afghanistan and Iraq and cutting military budget by 10%, and three new tax brackets (40% from $250,000/year, 45% from $500,000/year, and 50% from $1 million/year), plus progressive tax brackets for capital gains),

the casualties will include:

1. The private health insurance cartel (destroyed at last!).
2. the pharmaceuticals cartel (profit-taking and marketing gaming over!)
3. The HMOs (destroyed, as they should be) and for profit hospitals (good riddance).
4. The GOP.
5. The rich, who would pay more in taxes.

1. 50 million uninsured
2. All insured Americans who currently pay copays, employee contributions, and deductibles (this is almost everyone)
3. The middle class
4. The poor
5. Providers, who would be free to practice medicine without the interference of the cartels
6. The Democratic Party
7. The republic, which would have a more promising future
8. Fiscal responsibility, because with the revenue raising measures outlined above we would have more than enough money for single payer.

Unhappy Labor Day

By Harold Meyerson, Washington Post
Monday, September 7, 2009

Labor Day 2009 is a terrible time to be an American worker.
Official unemployment hovers just under 10 percent, its highest level since the early 1980s. Add in the partly employed and those who have given up on hunting for jobs because there are so few jobs to be had, and the unemployed and underemployed total 16.8 percent of the labor force -- one out of six American workers.
The problems facing workers predate, and are more profound than, the recession, as three important surveys released last week show. Young workers are unemployed in record numbers -- 25 percent of teenagers, or about 1.6 million, are without work, the highest since 1948, when tracking data by age began. But the lot of employed workers under age 35 is dismal, too, as a survey conducted by Peter Hart Research for the AFL-CIO makes clear. Thirty-one percent are uninsured -- up from 24 percent a decade ago. Just 31 percent say that they make enough money to put some aside, down from 52 percent in 1999. With private-sector unionization at a mere 8 percent, and with Chinese competition dragging down wages and benefits across the United States, the living standards of non-professional young Americans are spiraling lower.
Things don't look any better for older workers. The Pew Research Center found that nearly two out of five Americans over 62 who are still working say that they've delayed their retirement because of the recession, and a stunning 63 percent of workers ages 50 to 61 say that they might have to push back their retirement dates because of economic conditions. Those conditions reflect not just the recession but also the massive shift away from defined-benefit pensions to the 401(k) plans that employers have imposed over the past few decades. Even before the recession, it was clear that Americans reliant on 401(k)s hadn't saved nearly enough to guarantee a secure retirement, and many of those who thought they'd put aside enough saw their savings plunge dramatically with the stock market in the past two years.
In the days when defined-benefit pensions were the norm, older Americans actually retired: From 1950 through the mid-80s, the participation of American seniors in the labor force steadily decreased. Since then, though, it has steadily risen. In European nations, where governmental pensions for seniors are more generous and where a stronger union movement has preserved defined-benefit pensions, seniors' participation in the workforce has continued to decrease. Last year, the New York Times reports, almost a third of Americans in their later 60s were still working. In France, just 4 percent of people that age were either employed or looking for work.
The problems of the old become the problems of the young, of course: When fewer older workers retire, fewer younger workers get hired.
The third of last week's trifecta of troubling economic surveys, put together by the National Employment Law Project and a slew of universities and foundations, interviewed 4,387 low-wage workers in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles in the first half of 2008 -- before the full force of the recession took hold -- and found that 26 percent were illegally paid less than the minimum wage in the preceding week. Of the quarter of respondents who worked extra hours, fully 70 percent not only didn't receive overtime pay but received no pay at all for their additional work.
Gather all these mournful numbers -- the millions of Americans unable to find work, the 70 percent of workers under 35 who are unable to set aside any money, the nearly two out of three Americans approaching retirement age who fear they won't be able to retire, and the sub-nation of low-wage Americans routinely cheated on the job -- and what emerges is a picture of a country in decline. The first nation in human history to create a middle-class majority looks increasingly to be losing it. The economic security that was common, though by no means universal, in this country when the institutions created by the New Deal were strong, often provided by unionized corporations that felt compelled to offer insurance and pensions to their workers, is as dead as the dodo.
The Reaganite ideology of the past 30 years insisted that if Americans were freed from the constraints of government and unions and made responsible for their own economic security, a golden age would come. Sure enough, American businesses have eluded regulation and cast off their unions -- but they've left their workers in the lurch. If we fail to enact universal health care and laws that truly make it possible for workers to form unions again, each of our Labor Days will be grimmer than the last.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Required reading

Here's your required reading assignment.

Letter to the White House: it's time to shift the burden

With a few minor revisions from what was actually sent:

Dear President Obama:

I fully understand the logic of how the healthcare legislation in theory does not require the "public option," but, pardon me, dammit, it is long past time to stop negotiating with yourselves and make the opponents defend themselves. Here is the question that anyone who has pondered this issue wants to see answered: since their objection is an outright admission that the competition of a public option would create lower cost for Americans, how in the world can they justify favoring the highest possible profits (yes, and CEO salaries) and asking the American people to pay more in order to fund those extra profits and salaries?

When they understand it as a choice and not a “government takeover,” almost 80% of Americans have said (Survey USA) they would like to have that choice. If they were made to understand further that the public plan is intended mainly for Americans who cannot get insurance through their employer, and that in order to allow private insurers to compete for that business the plan must rely solely on its premium revenue and cannot draw upon general revenues, that support would become even stronger. How can people claim to be Democrats and deny the overwhelming majority of Americans what they want when they understand the facts?

These are the points that need to be made. The gauntlet must be laid down for the opponents to convince the American people that the public option is not in their best interests. It's time for the White House hand-wringing and wussiness to end. The circular "argument" by some legislators that their opposition is based on the fact that "it doesn't have enough votes," a position that in its lack of substance is really a gross insult to the American people, is no longer sufficient. It is time for that debate. Let the opponents make the highly speculative argument that the public option will drive private insurers out and work to our disadvantage "in the long run." If the opponents cannot convince the majority of the American people that they should not have that right to choose between plans, then we will have a public option.

The recent loss of support comes from not looking strong. If you want to look strong, you have to be strong. Demanding answers to that challenge – even from some of your own party members who will be angry but in the end with some face-saving device will find a way to side with the American people – is strong. Letting them off the hook again is not.

I have suggested possible tactical moves, such as separating the public option for focused debate in its own bill -- and effectively forcing all Democrats and a couple of moderate Republicans to vote in favor of the remaining (and extremely important) insurance reforms and financial assistance needed to achieve universality -- or adding a provision that would allow any state to opt out of allowing its residents to be offered the Federal public option. (As if any of them after local debates would do that!) But the common thread in those moves is this: the opponents of the public option must be forced to defend taking the side of insurance companies over the American people. So far, Obama and his people, including Mr. Tough Guy Rahm Emanuel, have wimped out and let the Blue Dogs avoid that challenge. One way or another, we must demand it. If they do not, the damage to the Administration will be severe.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

New Taxes on the Wealthy Unfair?

Are higher taxes for the nations top 5% a clear example of governmental overreach?

Anyone who followed the presidential campaign could see this battle coming for months. President Obama recently announced his budget, which includes plans to expire the tax cut for Americans that make over $250,000 annually. As soon as it was announced, the debate began -- just on time -- about whether or not this is fair.

In a recent LA Times article, Brian Riedl of the Heritage Foundation, a think tank, said that under Obama's plan, the top 20% of taxpayers in the US will pay 90% of all taxes. I had a hard time finding information that verified this claim. But let's suppose that Riedl's numbers are accurate. Initially, this may sound like a crime. Yet a look at reality would tell you that such a tax burden is actually in line with the distribution of resources in America.

In 2001, the top 20% of the richest in America owned 91% of financial wealth and 84% of net worth. The top 10% also had about 85% of all investments (stocks, bonds, trust funds, etc.) and 71% of net worth. This book (see pp. 28-34) and this study (chapter 5) -- among many others -- find the same results. And all of this was before the Bush tax cuts had a chance to accelerate the rate of inequality.

In reality, then, the new taxes match the reality quite well. On principle, it is simply fair. But there are other concerns.

One complaint is that these taxes are simply meant to redistribute wealth and make everyone economically equal. But this is not even a possibility. Just because the wealthiest pay most of the taxes doesn't mean that it reduces their wealth. To the contrary, the richest Americans' wealth is increasing far faster than taxes can reduce their wealth. According to Congressional Budget Office data, from 1979-2004, the top 1% saw their annual income rise 176%. The top fifth gained a 69% rise in their income. The middle 3/5 saw a 20-30% increase, and the poorest 20% saw only a 6% increase in their income. Compared to the median income increase over the same time period (about 10%), the poorest fifth in the country are actually more poor than 30 years ago! (And the top 1% made out like gangbusters.)

So the wealthiest in America have nothing to worry about if they think that they'll be taxed out of prosperity. Their huge income advantage and almost total ownership of investments will prevent higher taxes from regressing their wealth.

Another complaint goes something like this: rich people work harder for their wealth and should not have to give any more of it back to society. This is essentially saying that 20% of people in the United States work four times harder than the other 80%. Please! I won't even dignify that with a response.

Then there is the pragmatic side of this whole issue. The bottom 80% of American wealth-owners, and especially the bottom 60%, are struggling. The bottom 90% of wealth-owners have 74% of the nation's debt. True, some blame can be relegated to irresponsbility of borrowers and lenders -- living beyond means and trying to make money off of predatory lending. But many people are in debt simply because they have to be. Very few Americans can attend a university, own a home (no matter what size), or start a business without significant debt.

And these debts were already a problem before the recession. Now they are breaking people's back.

The point here: the government needs revenue to provide the services, projects, and credits (for school, homes, and businesses) that the far majority of Americans require. That money must come from somewhere (other than borrowing abroad). Some of it will come from cuts in ineffective programs; some of it will come from taxing the wealthy. It's dollars and sense (pun intended).

Therefore, these tax measures are both principled and pragmatic. The wealthiest are going to be just fine.

Posted by Kevin Slaten at 12:03 PM
Labels: economics, US, US politics

Comment: Besides the inequities pointed out in distribution of wealth in the USA, we hould remember that W in his 2001-3 tax cuts gave the top 1% oligarchs 50% more of a tax cut in reducing the top bracket from 39.5% to 35% while the rest of us got just 3 percentage point decrease. Guess they were the deserving rich.

Study: Warming Arctic should be cooling

Sediment samples, computer simulations track temps back 2,000 years
The Associated Press
updated 2:23 p.m. ET, Thurs., Sept . 3, 2009

WASHINGTON - The Arctic is warmer than it's been in 2,000 years, according to a new study, even though it should be cooling because of changes in the Earth's orbit that cause the region to get less direct sunlight.

Indeed, the Arctic had been cooling for nearly two millennia before reversing course in the last century and starting to warm as human activities added greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

"If it hadn't been for the increase in human-produced greenhouse gases, summer temperatures in the Arctic should have cooled gradually over the last century," said Bette Otto-Bliesner, a National Center for Atmospheric Research scientist and co-author of the study on Arctic temperatures that was being published in Friday's edition of the journal Science.

The most recent 10-year interval, 1999-2008, was the warmest of the last 2,000 years in the Arctic, according to the researchers led by Darrell Kaufman, a professor of geology and environmental science at Northern Arizona University.

Study: 2.5 degrees warmer
Summer temperatures in the Arctic averaged 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than would have been expected if the cooling had continued, the researchers said.

The finding adds fuel to the debate over a House-passed climate bill now pending in the Senate. The administration-backed measure would impose the first limits on greenhouse gases and eventually would lead to an 80 percent reduction by putting a price on each ton of climate-altering pollution.

It is the latest in a drumbeat of reports on warming conditions in the Arctic, including:

A marine scientist reports that Alaskan waters are turning acidic from absorbing greenhouse gases faster than tropical waters, potentially endangering the state's $4.6 billion fishing industry.
NASA satellite measurements show that sea ice in the Arctic is more than just shrinking in area, it is dramatically thinning. The volume of older crucial sea ice in the Arctic has shrunk by 57 percent from the winter of 2004 to 2008.
Global warming effects in Alaska also include shrinking glaciers, coastal erosion and the march north of destructive forest beetles formerly held in check by cold winters.
And with the melting of land-based ice, such as the massive Greenland ice cap, sea levels could rise across the world, threatening millions who live in coastal cities.

The new report is based on a decade-by-decade reconstruction of temperatures over the past 2,000 years developed using information from ancient lake sediments, ice cores, tree rings and other samples. The findings were then compared with complex computer climate model simulations.

Expert: Gases 'overwhelming' system
"This study provides us with a long-term record that reveals how greenhouse gases from human activities are overwhelming the Arctic's natural climate system," commented NCAR scientist David Schneider, a co-author on the study.

"This result is particularly important because the Arctic, perhaps more than any other region on Earth, is facing dramatic impacts from climate change," he added.

Added Jonathan Overpeck, a University of Arizona professor of geosciences: "The Arctic should be very sensitive to human-caused climate change, and our results suggest that indeed it is."

In addition, he pointed out, as the Arctic warms there is less snow and ice to reflect solar energy back into space and the newly exposed dark soil and dark ocean surfaces absorb solar energy and warm further, accelerating the warming process.

The Arctic cooling had been the result of a 21,000-year cycle in the Earth's movement that caused the far north to get progressively less summertime energy from the sun for the last 8,000 years. That process won't reverse for another several thousand years.

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation.

The experts said their research added 1,600 years to the Arctic temperature record, far beyond the 400 years previously available at that level of detail.

© 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Big HC Lie Shifts from Seniors to Women

Perhaps it’s a sign of progress that the right’s latest line of attack against health-care reform is far subtler than the “death panel” smear. The new conservative talking point is aimed at women rather than seniors, and it has a kind of surface plausibility that may make it particularly effective. Put simply, the right is claiming that Democratic plans to reform health care will lead to more women dying from breast cancer.

This meme has been around for a while; back in June, Sean Hannity claimed that, should health-care reform succeed, “we’re going to have a government rationing body that tells women with breast cancer, ‘you’re dead.’” Now, though, there’s a systematic effort to publicize the argument. The Independent Women’s Forum, a conservative group, is spending over $2 million to broadcast a commercial in eight battleground states, including Colorado, Indiana and Nevada, in which breast-cancer survivor Tracy Walsh warns that health-care reform could kill women like her. Speaking over melancholy piano music, she says, “If you find a lump, you could wait months for treatment, and potentially life-saving drugs could be restricted. Government control of health care here could have meant that 300,000 women with breast cancer here might have died.” In a fundraising email with the subject line “More American Women Are Going to Die,” the IWF invoked “real people who might not make it if President Obama inflicts his nationalized healthcare on America.”

The effort to link health-care reform to breast cancer death is coming from the same people who’ve previously compared health care reform to the Holocaust.

The Independent Women’s Forum is closely linked to Americans for Prosperity, a major organizer of anti-Obama tea parties and town hall protests. (According to, the two groups shared the same address and most of the same operations staff until last year). So the effort to link health-care reform to breast cancer death is coming from the same people who’ve previously compared health care reform to the Holocaust. The new tack sounds slightly more reasonable, and it’s developing legs.

A week ago, The New York Times ran a long, page-one feature about Bob Collier, a Georgia man described as one of the “calmer, more reasoned” opponents of the Democrats’ plans. At a town hall, Collier told Cong. Stanford Bishop that his wife had survived breast cancer through early detection and treatment, but he feared she could be put on a waiting list for care if Obama got his way. The Times story presents the Colliers as rational, ordinary people with “legitimate concerns” about health- care reform. It waits until after the jump from Page One to note that they are committed conservatives who “receive much of their information from Fox News, Rush Limbaugh’s radio program, and Matt Drudge’s website.”

John McCain, another conservative with a reputation for reasonableness, brought up the breast-cancer argument at a town hall last Tuesday. England, he said, has “repeatedly blocked breast cancer patients from receiving breakthrough drugs. … That's what they do there. But obviously we don't want that in this country.”

The entire argument about breast cancer and health care reform is based on a comparison of survival rates in the United States and England. There’s little question that breast cancer treatment is better in the U.S. Last summer, The Lancet Oncology Magazine published a comprehensive international comparison on cancer survival. It found that five years after being diagnosed with breast cancer, American women had an 83.7 percent chance of survival, while those in England had only a 69.8 percent chance. England, which lags behind the U.S. in screening, has a government-run health program, while the United States does not. This is being interpreted as proof that government-run health care leads to more cancer deaths. And that is a dishonest distortion.

Leave aside, for a moment, the fact that no one is proposing single-payer health care in the United States—much to the despair of many liberals. Several countries with socialized medicine have breast-cancer survival rates that are barely distinguishable from our own. According to the Lancet study, Canada’s five-year survival rate is 82.5 percent, and France’s is 79.8 percent. (Both countries also have less breast cancer overall -- indeed, for reasons no one quite understands, the United States has among the highest breast cancer incidence in the world. French women are more likely to survive colon and rectal cancers than American women, though again, the differences are quite small. Meanwhile, the Lancet study shows, one country has a higher breast-cancer survival rate than the United States—Cuba. The study’s authors point out that this could be due to faulty Cuban record keeping. But overall, there’s nothing in the study to suggest that government involvement in health care harms women.

Quite the opposite, in fact. As should be well known by now, American women have a lower life expectancy than those in England, France, Japan, Canada, and several other developed countries. Meanwhile, horror stories about the rationing of cancer care by the American insurance industry abound. In an almost grotesque irony, it turns out that Mr. Collier’s wife endured one of them. Their insurance refused to cover Ms. Collier’s radiation treatments, leaving them owing $63,000 that their hospital eventually wrote off.

This is not uncommon—breast cancer survivors, including those with insurance, are regularly bankrupted by the cost of their treatment. That’s one reason the major breast cancer advocacy organizations strongly support health care reform.

Dara Richardson-Heron is a physician and breast cancer survivor who now heads the greater New York affiliate of the Susan G. Komen Foundation. After watching the IWF’s ad, she says, “I just think it sends the wrong message. Clearly as [a leader of] an organization that is a strong advocate for the health and well-being of women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, I really want to promote health reform because I feel that it will be beneficial to cancer survivors as well as the 46 million plus Americans who currently lack health insurance.”

Richardson-Heron hopes that if health care reform does pass, it will include new funding for early detection, which is the key to beating breast cancer. Should we get to that point, it will be instructive to see whether conservatives retain their newfound passion for women’s health.

Michelle Goldberg is the author of The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power and the Future of the World and Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism. She is a senior correspondent for The American Prospect, and her work has appeared in The New Republic, The Nation, the Los Angeles Times, Glamour, and many other publications.