Mind and Destiny

“I make no pretension to patriotism. So long as my voice can be heard ... I will hold up America to the lightning scorn of moral indignation. In doing this, I shall feel myself discharging the duty of a true patriot; for he is a lover of his country who rebukes and does not excuse its sins. It is righteousness that exalteth a nation while sin is a reproach to any people.”- Frederick Douglass

Location: Delhi, N.Y., United States

The author and his webmaster, summer of 1965.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Supplemental Nutrition

Nearly 48 million people participate in SNAP which stands for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program at a cost of almost $80 billion a year.

The program has become the biggest hurdle for congressional negotiations on a new Farm Bill.  House Republicans want to cut the food stamp program by almost $40 billion over the next 10 years.

In order to qualify from food stamps an individual has to make less than $15,000 a year.  Most of the people who are receiving food stamps are below 130 percent of the poverty line, but large percentage of those families live at less than half the poverty level.

House Republicans have decide not to look at ways to trim the cost of our defense programs, but instead want to cut programs that take food out of the mouths of the hungriest people in America.

Many congressional Republicans simply don’t support provisions that help those who need food assistance, or help the growers.  The Farm Bill supports many of the growers that produce the products that are made available to our economy and also supports the tens of millions of people who are at poverty, who without the kind of help that the food stamp or the SNAP program provides them would actually be going hungry .

In the richest country in the world, about 87 percent of the people on the stamp program are households with children, seniors or people with disabilities or veterans.

Congressional Republican don’t seem to understand what it’s like to be poor, and many are basically free market ideologues that genuinely believe that we are all on our own. 

Hopefully, voters won’t sit idly by and watch House Republicans, take food out of the mouths of 4 million people, by cutting food stamps by $40 billion.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Right Wing Hysteria

According to Mark Potak of the Southern Poverty Law Center, the intense dislike of Obama has a lot to do with his color.  Potak insists: “It’s not visceral, Klan-like racism. It’s not, we want to send black people back to Africa.  It’s more like, I look at the White House, I see a black man there, I feel the culture is changing around me.

“By the way, the economy is terrible.  I can’t get a job or I’m afraid I’m going to lose the one I do have.  And it melds together in a feeling  I’ve lost my country.  Somehow this is not the country that my forefathers created.”

There’s ethnic change going on in more places than most of us think.  Alabama used to be a state of white people and black people, but now there’s a very substantial Hispanic, Latino population.

There’s also concern regarding cultural changes, such as, same-sex marriage, and the increasing majorities of Americans, who favor it.  Things are changing too quickly, for a lot of people, same sex marriage is a very tough pill to swallow. 

Brian Levin, who is with the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University points out: “We have to put it into context.  The folklore of the far right and I’m not talking about Mitt Romney supporters.  I’m talking about people who have opted out of our political process.  And that’s what problematic.

“These people see the terra firma under them shifting.  Something that anchored them before, they no longer see them as anchoring them. Now, we’re hearing secession.”

Consequently, we’ve got all kinds of conspiracies. The government is no good.  It’s out to get you.  It’s out to grab your guns.  America is turning brown and black and you’re becoming irrelevant.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Pope Francis

On 11/26/13, Pope Francis again called for significant changes in the Roman Catholic Church.  He believes the Catholic Church needs to rethink its rules and customs that are no longer widely understood or effective for evangelizing.  
He insists: "I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security." 
Francis added: "I do not want a Church concerned with being at the center and then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures."
His address, called an "apostolic exhortation," is a mission statement to the world's 1.5 billion Catholics.  The Pope insisted: "I want to emphasize that what I am trying to express here has a programmatic significance and important consequences.”  This sweeping call for change is likely to surprise even those who've grown accustomed to his unconventional papacy.
Reportedly, Rev. James Martin is a Jesuit priest and author in New York admits: "Not everyone will like this document.  For it poses a fierce challenge to the status quo."
Since his election last March, Pope Francis, who is the first pontiff to hail from Latin America, has made headlines by denouncing the iniquities of modern capitalism, embracing the poor and people with disabilities and reaching out to gays and lesbians.
At the same time, this 77-year-old pontiff has sought to to awaken a spirit of joy and compassion in the church, by publicly scolding Catholic "sourpusses" who hunt down rule-breakers and calling out a "tomb psychology" that "slowly transforms Christians into mummies in a museum."
Apparently, this Catholic Pope firmly believes that: "An evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral."

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Reasonable People

In May of 2012, our Catholic Vice President Joe Biden publicly announced his support for same-sex marriage on "Meet the Press."  He was out front on the issue, and his support of the issue prompted President Obama to do the same just a few days later.  The next day, Nevada Senate Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid announced, that he thought gays should be able to marry legally.

An incredible swell of support for same-sex marriage started when Ohio Republican Senator Rob Portman cited his gay son as the reason he had reevaluate his position.  Three days later, Hillary Clinton in a taped video for the Human Rights Campaign endorsed same-sex marriage.

We should all be thankful that America is slowly changing for the better.

President Obama said: “And I believe that spirit is there, that truth force inside each of us.  I see it when a white mother recognizes her own daughter in the face of a poor black child.  I see it when the black youth thinks of his own grandfather in the dignified steps of an elderly white man.  It’s there when the native-born recognizing that striving spirit of the new immigrant; when the interracial couple connects the pain of a gay couple who are discriminated against and understands it as their own.

“That’s where courage comes from -- when we turn not from each other, or on each other, but towards one another, and we find that we do not walk alone.  That’s where courage comes from.”

In my opinion religious zealots are incapable of being intellectually honest, because they can’t admit that when it comes to the existence of a Supreme Being they don’t “know.”  Reasonable people recognize that no amount of scientific evidence can prove or disprove the existence of a “Creator.”

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A Comprehensive Solution

Recently, President Obama pointed out:
“Now, some of you may recall that when I first ran for President, I said it was time for a new era of American leadership in the world -- one that turned the page on a decade of war, and began a new era of our engagement with the world.  And as President and as Commander-in-Chief, I’ve done what I said.  We ended the war in Iraq; we brought our troops home.  Osama bin Laden met justice; the war in Afghanistan will end next year. 
“And as the strongest, most powerful nation on the face of the Earth, we’ve engaged in clear-eyed and principled diplomacy  -- even with our adversaries -- in order to begin to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons and to place the first real constraints in a decade on Iran’s nuclear program.  Because I firmly believe in what President Kennedy once said:  He said, ‘Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.’  I believe that.  And this diplomacy, backed by the unprecedented sanctions we brought on Iran, has brought us the progress that was achieved this weekend. 
“For the first time in a decade, we’ve halted the progress on Iran’s nuclear program.  Key parts of the program will be rolled back.  International inspectors will have unprecedented access to Iran’s nuclear-related facilities.  So this will help Iran from building a nuclear weapon.  And over the coming months, we’re going to continue our diplomacy, with the goal of achieving a comprehensive solution that deals with the threat of Iran’s nuclear program once and for all. 
“And if Iran seizes this opportunity and chooses to join the global community, then we can begin to chip away at the mistrust that’s existed for many, many years between our two nations.

“None of that is going to be easy.  Huge challenges remain.  But we cannot close the door on diplomacy.  And we cannot rule out peaceful solutions to the world’s problems.  We cannot commit ourselves to an endless cycle of conflict.  And tough talk and bluster may be the easy thing to do politically, but it’s not the right thing for our security.  It is not the right thing for our security.  
“Now, this progress, and the potential it offers, reminds us of what is possible when the United States has the courage to lead -- not just with the force of arms, but with the strength of our diplomacy and our commitment to peace.  That’s what keeps us strong.  That’s what makes us a beacon to the world.  That’s how I’ll continue to lead so long as I’m President of the United States.”

Monday, November 25, 2013

Governor Chris Christie

A few weeks ago, Gov. Christie got a new job, when he was re-elected to another term as governor of New Jersey.  Now, he has a second job, since he’s been elected chairman of the Republican Governor’s Association.  As the head of the RGA, he has increased his national profile.  Ronald Reagan was the RGA chairman back in the late 1960s when he was governor of California, and it worked very well for him. 

Christie is excited about his new job, but seems to have ignored the lack of jobs in his state.  While the nation sits at a 7.3 percent unemployment rate, New Jersey has an unemployment rate near 8 percent.

A recent report regarding weekly unemployment claims revealed that New Jersey had the fourth highest increase.  Christie isn’t alone, because congressional Republicans don’t seem to care about jobs.  They’re ignoring the single biggest issue that working Americans care about.  The Republican party doesn’t have much of an economic record, and they certainly don’t have a jobs plan.  

An unemployment rate of about about 4 percent would make a world of difference compared to today’s 7.3 percent.  But, Republicans claim: “all government can do is cut taxes and remove regulations and let the private sector do its thing, government can’t actually create jobs.”

There are over 20 million people working for the government, and economist Paul Krugman insists: “there are approximately 600,000 fewer government employees under President Obama than there were under George W. Bush.  Public sector employment is at the lowest that it’s been in 30 years.  If government employment rates had remained steady, about 1.7 million more Americans would currently be employed in this country.”

Governor Christie is beginning to understand, that left to its own devices, the private sector actually wouldn’t take us to full employment.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Majority Rule

Although, it has taken more than 200 years to accomplish, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid took a first step in asserting majority rule in the Senate. 

In our Constitution, there are five specific instances where a Senate supermajority is required.  A two- thirds majority vote is required to impeach a president, to ratify a treaty, to expel a senator, to overcome a veto, and to amend the Constitution.

The word ‘‘filibuster” doesn’t exist in the Constitution.  The term was introduced by Vice President Aaron Burr, who changed the Senate rules to allow endless debate, which is currently known as a talking filibuster. 

The talking filibuster was rarely used until 1917, when during World War I, a small group of Republican anti-war senators killed a bill to arm merchant ships.  Consequently, President Woodrow Wilson unilaterally armed the ships and push the Senate to change it’s rules, so that a two-thirds majority could overcome a talking filibuster, thereby creating cloture, which is the vote taken to overcome a filibuster.

In 1975, Democrat Majority Leader Mike Mansfield oversaw a change to the rules making it easier to defeat a filibuster by lowering the threshold to 60 votes.  And, a change making it easier to launch a filibuster, by allowing senators simply to announce their intention to filibuster rather than actually delivering a speaking filibuster.  Thus, the procedural filibuster was born.

Republicans have embarked on an unprecedented obstruction campaign against President Obama’s agenda, particularly against his executive and judicial nominees.

In the 230 plus year history of our country, there have been 168 filibusters of executive and judicial nominations.  Half of them have occurred during the Obama administration.

Recently, Senate Republicans blocked all three of Obama’s most recent judicial nominations.  They dared Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to act, so he did.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Inadequate Insurance

Regarding President Obama’s recent apology, Independent Senator Bernie Sanders noted: “Well, my reaction is that the president did the right thing politically in saying that, look, I made a promise to you, I should have phrased it in a different way.  But I made that promise and I’m going to keep that promise.  You can keep your health care plan.

“What he should have said is that many people on the individual market have totally disastrous and inadequate health care plans.  And as a nation, we should not be proud that people have health insurance, think they’re covered, and then when they end up in the hospital, they find that they have at most, a few thousand dollars in coverage.

“So, what he is saying now is, I should have been more nuanced.  You can keep that.  But I am demanding that the insurance companies now tell you that in many instances, if you go to the exchange, you’re going to be able to find a more comprehensive, better health care program, and perhaps at lower costs.  That’s a step forward.

“I get very tired of the harping of our Republican friends, who have completely, forever, ignored the health care crisis in this country, 48 million people uninsured.  We as a nation are the only country in the industrialized world not to guarantee health care, 45,000 people die each year, because they don’t get to a doctor on time.  And at the end of all of that, we end up spending almost twice as much as any country for health care, which is why, by the way, I’m a strong advocate of Medicare for all single payer program.

“But what the president did today, I think, was politically right.  But in the long run, we have got to get away from these junk, inadequate insurance programs and provide real coverage to the American people.”

Friday, November 22, 2013

Picking Up Steam

Obamacare had a slow start but it's picking up steam especially in states that aren’t using the HealthCare.gov website.  Obamacare is outperforming enrollment estimates in states, that have Democratic governors, who are trying to make it work.  

In Connecticut, a survey of those who used the state exchange showed a satisfaction level of 96.5 percent.  State health care exchanges are how the Affordable Care Act was supposed to work, rather than rely on a federal exchange. 

Connecticut’s Democratic Senator Chris Murphy noted: “So, we made a decision early on to actually implement this law and try to make sure that residents could use it.  So we hired a topnotch administrator to run the program.  We got the Web site up and running early.  We set up storefronts that are open so that people can come in off the street and see people who can assist them in enrollment.

“And we actually went about the business of connecting people with a valuable resource.  And guess what?  People are lining up in the streets to sign up for this new law.  I went to one of these enrollment centers on Monday morning.  And at 10:00, when it opened, there was a line out the door.

“It’s why Connecticut is way ahead of our initial enrollment estimates.  We have signed up about 15 percent of the people that we want to sign up over the entire scope of the program.  And it’s not a coincidence that, when you don’t undermine the law, when you actually try to make it work, the product sells. 

“And the question is on the states that use the federal exchange, once the technology is up to snuff, are people going to buy the product?  And I think the answer to that is unequivocally yes, because when you can access it in places like California and Kentucky and Connecticut, people are buying it.  And even in Connecticut, some of the people who have had their policies canceled and were legitimately angry about that are coming in and finding out that they have a lot more affordable options.

“I’m not as apoplectic about the technology mishaps, because I know that once it’s up and running, people in those states are going to have the same experience that people in Connecticut have had, notwithstanding a lot of the efforts to try to undermine it in those red states.”

Thursday, November 21, 2013

It’s On You

President Obama announced: “I hear you loud and clear.  I said that I would do everything we can to fix this problem, and today, I’m offering an idea that will help do it.  The state insurance commissioner still has the power to decide what plans can and can’t be sold in their states.  But the bottom line is, insurers can extend current plans that would otherwise be canceled into 2014 and Americans whose plans that have been canceled can choose to reenroll in the same kind of plan.

“Those who got cancellation notices do deserve and have received an apology from me.  But they don’t want just words.  What they want is whether we can make sure that they are in a better place and that we meet that commitment.”

In my opinion, Obama was saying: “Fine, insurance companies, that’s how you want to play the game?  Now it is on you.  If the consumer wants to keep their old plan, it is not Obamacare that’s preventing that anymore, it’s not the White House, it’s the insurance companies.”

From the very beginning of the creation of the Affordable Care Act, the insurance companies claimed they were on board with reform.  But, they were simultaneously funding the opposition.  The largest health care lobbying group in the country spent a total of $102.4 million in just 15 months to prevent Obamacare from becoming law in the first place.

The Obama administration and the health insurance companies viewed each other with skepticism, because they have different priorities.  Nevertheless, they still needed each other.  The rollout of the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act has allowed the insurance companies to used the transition to the individual marketplace to test just how much they can get away with by pinning it on Obamacare. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Matt D’Angelo

Matt D’Angelo of Unadilla is another senior at Franklin Central School, who has had a letter published in The Oneonta Daily Star.
“The raising of minimum wages would benefit this economy we are living in today. There have been many strikes, from Walmart to many fast-food places that want more money so they can make a living.  President Barack Obama has stated plans to raise minimum wages to around $9 an hour.  This has sparked a lot of debate on whether it would not only help individuals but also help our economy or not.
“I think that if we raise minimum wages, it would help this economy.  A 2011 study by the Chicago Federal Reserve Bank found that for every dollar increase to the hourly pay of a minimum-wage worker, the result is $2,800 in new consumer spending from that worker’s household over the year.
“The $2,800 in new consumer spending would boost the economy.  Workers would have more money in their pockets to put back into the economy.  If people are working two jobs to support themselves, or their families, we could open up job opportunities by raising minimum wage.  If we increase the consumer’s demands, businesses will hire additional workers. 
“According to a poll in October 2011 from the National Employment Law Project, 67 percent of Americans support gradually raising the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to at least $10 an hour.  So with the increase of minimum wage we could benefit this country by supplying more money into workers’ pockets, and boosting this economy! People who work so hard and put in 40 hours of work a week should at least be able to live above the poverty line.”

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Mara Stalter

Yesterday, the following letter submitted by Mara Stalter, who is a senior at Franklin Central School was published in The Oneonta Daily Star. 
“The recent government shutdown has led to frustration and outrage throughout the United States.  Support for Congress has reached an all-time low.  Perhaps rightly so; the shutdown was caused by an inefficient and highly polarized government.  The only thing the government can agree upon is that it cannot agree upon anything. 
“Without a will on either side to compromise, Congress comes to a standstill.  From both the government and the media, one hears the blame for this being pointed at someone else.  Everyone seems to want to prove this inefficiency and polarization was caused by someone else.  It is impossible to follow television news without encountering complaints attempting to persuade the viewer in one direction or another.
“Some of the accusations are true; Congress is currently inefficient and highly polarized  However, it can’t be forgotten who elected these current officials.  Many tend to vote based on campaign promises made by politicians, and by party affiliation.  Or Americans choose not to vote at all.  People will not vote, and then complain about issues, candidates, and those elected.  How can people complain about something when they have chosen not to take part in the decision being made? 
“Those who do vote are often, but not always, extreme on the right or left side. Candidates will appeal to these extreme views.  There is no moderation left.  There is only a polarized Congress that is unable to compromise.  This problem has a fairly simple solution.  Voters need to make informed decisions.  Vote based on facts rather than campaign promises or party loyalty, and appreciate the value that voting holds.”

Monday, November 18, 2013

Not Apologizing

President Obama pointed out: “We always knew this is going to be hard.  There’s a reason why folks have tried to do it for 100 years and hadn’t done it.  Now, I want everyone here to understand, I am going to see this through.  I want millions of Americans to make sure that they’re not going broke when they get sick and they can go to a doctor when their kid get sick, and were not apologizing for that.  We are going to get this done.  We are not going to gut this law, we will fix what needs to be fixed but we’re going to make the Affordable Care Act work and those who say they’re oppose to it and can’t offer a solution, we’ll push back.”

Long before Obamacare was even considered an option, the health insurance industry was canceling policies.  The Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act was designed to get rid of junk insurance policies, and protect consumers.  Most insurance companies promote bogus policies, because they can rake in greater profits.  If you decide to keep your junk insurance, you had better hope, that you don’t get sick.  

The median income in our country is $27,519.  It’s not easy to live on $27,000 a year, and many people are working two jobs trying to make ends meet.  They simply don’t have the money to buy health insurance.

One out of 72 women in our country will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in their lifetime.  If you are an average worker making $27,000 a year, and don’t have a great insurance policy, you’re in trouble.

Reportedly, North Dakota has had the fewest sign-ups for Obamacare, with 42.  Without government subsidies a North Dakota couple would pay Blue Cross and Blue Shield about $1,100 a month in premiums, for a policy that would pay out $179,000 in benefits for cancer treatment, with out complications.

However surgery at Sloane-Kettering in New York City, with all the chemo treatments, doctor visits, and medications, they can expect to pay out of pocket deductible of over 200 thousand dollars. 

Congressional Republicans don’t care if that couple gets a medical bill for $179,000, and has to file for bankruptcy, or that everybody else’s costs will go through the roof, because those of us that are insured are going to end up paying for it.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Elderly Veterans and Children

Last July, House Republicans broke a 40 year congressional tradition by splitting the food stamp funding from the farm bill.  Next, these same House Republicans voted to deny nearly 4 million people food stamps in 2014, and nearly 3 million more each year for the next decade.  The bill passed 217 votes in favor and 210 against.

Republicans are attempting to slash almost $40 billion from the food stamp program over 10 years, at a time when nearly 47 million Americans are living in poverty.  In 2011, food stamps kept almost 5 million people above the poverty line.  Furthermore 900,000 veterans depend on food stamps.

Senator Bernie Sanders, who is Chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee noted: “The average veteran is elderly.  And the average veteran is struggling.  The reality is that 76 percent of the people who receive food stamps are either elderly, it’s they’re either disabled of they’re in families where there are low-income kids.  And to cut those programs is to simply make people in this country go hungry. 

“What the Republicans are trying to do is balance the budget on the backs of the most vulnerable people in this country and meanwhile at the same time, they’re working as hard as they can to provide huge tax breaks or maintain huge tax breaks for large corporations one out of four cooperation to this country does not pay a nickel in federal taxes.

“I hope that the American people can talk sense to them.  We need a fair budget and we cannot continue at a time when poverty and more people living in poverty today than at any time in the history of this country.  You can’t keep beating down on people who are already hurting, that’s veterans, that’s the kids, that’s the elderly.”

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Obamacare Enrollment

The enrollment numbers for the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act are significantly short of projections. 

Overall Obamacare enrollment numbers for the first month saw only 106,185 people signing up for a health insurance plan.  However, the first month of “Romneycare,” in Massachusetts saw only 123 people sign up for health insurance coverage. 

Although, states were given the option to set up their own marketplaces most refused.  The site our government set up for them is HealthCare.gov .  Those states added only about 27,000 new people, but many of the individual states are doing better.  New York State and 14 other states, plus the District of Columbia, who are running their own sign-up sites, and have added over 79,000 new people on their exchanges.  New York’s site can be accessed at nystateofhealth.ny.gov/ or 1-855-355-5777.

Republicans are gleefully pointing to those numbers as proof Obamacare needs to be scrapped entirely.  However, they might want to consider the additional statistics determined by the sign-ups on the exchange, that handled enrollment for 36 states, and 11 state sites.

Reportedly, nearly 400,000 people were determined eligible for Medicaid.  Thus, a total of over 500,000 people signed up for insurance.  Some politicians are making a distinction between the marketplace and Medicaid, but they are both elements of the Affordable Care Act, and both are mechanisms to get people insured.

Actually, a total of 1,477,853 people registered on an exchange and were determined eligible to enroll in a health insurance plan or Medicaid.  Of those 975,407 have not yet picked an insurance plan, 396,261 have been deemed eligible for Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program, and 326,130 are eligible for federal subsidies.

The state of California had the most people sign-up with 35,364, and North Dakota had the fewest sign-ups, with 42.

Enrollment in Medicaid has been expanded in 25 states under Obamacare, with half a million people signing up for benefits under the federal health insurance program for the poor.

Republican repeal of Obamacare would mean taking health coverage away from hundreds of thousands of people.

The Obama administration promises that the federal site, healthcare.gov, will be running smoothly for the vast majority of visitors by the end of this month.  The open enrollment period ends March 31.  People must sign up and pay for insurance plans by Dec. 15 if they want coverage to start Jan. 1.

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Biggest Change

The single biggest determiner of success in an election is the demographic make up of the electorate, or who comes out to vote.  It's just a fact, that going forward there will be fewer and fewer white men in the electorate.  

In 2012, President Obama beat Mitt Romney in Virginia by 3 points.  A year later, under very different circumstances, and for a totally different office, we saw the same results.  The Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe won by three percentage points.

This occurred despite the fact the candidates were in no way similar.  We should ignore the political spin, that we might have heard, because the most important lessons learned from the 2013 elections are not about Obama Care or the candidates themselves.  They are about who came out to vote.  And, the most important question for progressives will be whether, or not the Obama coalition remain intact when Barack Obama is no longer on the ballot. 

In Virginia, married women voted for the Republican candidate Cuccinelli 51-42, but he lost unmarried women 67-25, and unmarried men 58-33.   The single person/married person divide in electoral politics is emerging as the demographic category, that trumps almost any other divide.  This is one of the biggest changes in modern American history.  

About half of all adults are single people.  Those 100 million people, have a strong preference for Democratic candidates, because they’re interested in gun control, funding for public education, and reproductive rights.  Single people are more exposed to risks, than those living with someone else, simply because they don’t have the insurance of a double income.

The category of single people is growing.  You can’t lose a category that is a growing, but unfortunately it’s actually under-represented at the polls, with some of the lowest turnouts.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Wendell Potter

Wendell Potter was the former head of the communications at the insurance company Cigna.  Presently, he’s a senior analyst at the Center for Public Integrity.

Potter was asked: “How common was it for insurance companies to cancel policies in the individual market in a given year?”  

He answered: “Well, it’s very, very common.  In fact, it’s one of the reasons I left the industry just because of that practice.  In fact, my own son was a victim of that.  In 2009, before the Affordable Care Act was passed, he got a letter from his Blue Cross plan in Pennsylvania telling him that his plan was being cancelled.  And his options were to go into a plan that was somewhat comparable, but his premiums would increase 65 percent or he could shift into a very high deductible plan, shifting from one that had a $500 deductible, to one that had $5,000 deductible plan.  It was 10 time increase in deductibles.  And that’s what he was able to do.”

“This has been going on for many years, and just is now coming to light.  Reporter’s really have not focused on this in years past, so insurance companies have been able to get away with this.  

“It is a classic example of what I used to do for a living.  That is, obscure the facts and use selective disclosure of facts to present something and make people think that they will not be able to get something that is better, and probably for less money on the exchange.  They don’t want you to know that.”

According to Potter the number of people, who don’t have their insurance plans grandfathered in is small for two reasons: “One, because insurance companies have been able to engage in practices of black balling people because of pre-existing conditions.  People can’t buy policies at any price, in many cases on the individual market because of being sick in the past.

“And also, because they’re able to cancel policies when they want to, or price them so high that people can’t afford them.  And so, we’re talking about a very small percentage of the population.

“People who are currently in the individual market probably can get coverage that is better than what they have now.  Because a lot of these people are enrolled in junk policies that companies that I used to work with where I absolutely have sold in the past several years.  And they can probably, many of them will, in fact, the majority will quality for tax credits or subsidies to bring the cost of premiums down.  So they’ll be paying less for better coverage.”

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

It’s A Bargin

Part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act, also known as “Obamacare,” is providing a Patient’s Bill of Rights, that prohibited insurance companies from imposing lifetime limits, and your insurer has to use at least 80 percent of your premiums on the actual health care that you’re receiving, not on administrative costs and CEO bonuses.  Millions of Americans have already received rebates.

The Health Care Act sets minimum standard that all health insurance plans must provide.  And, there are plans out there that don’t, so insurance companies are required to come up with a new product.  The people who have those plans will eventually have to give them up, but it’s a very small number of Americans who will have to give them up.

Marketplaces have been created in every state, so that consumers are able to be part of a large pool.  Insurers bid, to compete for the business of those large pools.  These marketplaces provide high quality health care at affordable prices, thereby giving people choices so they can get the health insurance that they need.  Premiums are significantly lower than what they were able to purchase previously. 

A young person who doesn’t have health insurance can stay on their parent’s health insurance until they’re 26 years old.  That stipulation provides security until young people can get more firmly established in the labor market.

Risk pooling and creating competition are lowering premiums.  In New York State, insurers have put in their bids to participate in marketplaces.  It turns out that their rates are 50 percent lower than what was available previously, if you went on the open market and tried to purchase health insurance.  California premiums are about 33 percent lower.

Under the Medicare program, senior citizens have saved billions of dollars on prescription drug discounts.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Growing the Economy

For too many Americans, the sense that they can make if they try has been slipping away.  Every elected official in Washington D.C. regardless of political party should be thinking about growing our economy, creating new jobs, and enabling poor and middle-class families to regain a sense of security so that their children will do better than they did.  
The good news is that over the past 44 months our businesses have created 7.8 million new jobs, our deficits have been cut in half.  Our auto industry is back, and both exports and the housing market are up.  And, over the past three years, health care costs have risen at the slowest pace on record.
We’ve witnessed a lot of good things to build on, but the first thing we should do is stop doing things that undermine our economy.  We need to discourage the manufactured crises and that have been coming out of Washington. 
Yesterday, the DOW reached an all time high for the third time this month and we’ve learned that over the summer, our economy grew at its fastest pace in a year.  
The bad news is that the same day that the economic quarter ended, some congressional Republicans decided to shut down the government and threatened to default on America’s obligations for the first time in more than 200 years. Nevertheless, we added approximately 200,000 new jobs last month.  
Instead of injuring our economy every few months, by refighting the same old political battles over and over, we must focus on making sure everybody who works hard has an opportunity to get ahead.
One of the things we should be focused on is helping businesses sell more products to the rest of the world.  Last year, every $1 billion in exports supports 5,000 jobs, 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Increasing the Minimum Wage

President Obama has thrown his support behind congressional Democrats' proposal to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 and link it to inflation.  That’s more than a dollar higher than the $9 proposal he made in his State of the Union address last February.

Governor Chris Christie vetoed a bill earlier this year, that would have raised New Jersey’s minimum wage, but on election day, voters undid his minimum wage veto, by approving a statewide increase in the minimum wage by a margin of 61 to 39 percent.

In SeaTac, Washington over 12,000 registered voters voted to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, which will be the highest in the country.  Outside groups opposing that measure spent more than $1 million trying to defeat it.

Put the minimum wage on the ballot anywhere and it wins.  In 2006, Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, challenged incumbent Republican Senator Jim Talent, in a race that he should have won.  However, there was the initiative to raise the minimum wage on the Missouri state ballot.  McCaskill was in favor of a minimum wage increase, buy Talent didn’t want to talk about it.  Raising the minimum wage passed by a 52 point margin and McCaskill won the election.

That same year, the minimum wage was raised in Montana.  Incumbent Republican Senator Conrad Burns had voted repeatedly against raising the minimum wage.  His Democratic challenger Jon Tester was in favor of raising the minimum wage.  The minimum wage increase passed by nearly 50 points and Montana got a new Democratic senator.

In 2006, Ohio congressman Sherrod Brown decides to run against the Republican incumbent, who had voted to delay, raising the federal minimum wage nine times.  Ohio voters approved a raise in the minimum wage, and Sherrod Brown became a senator.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

A Different Story

CBS correspondent Lara Logan admitted the network was wrong for a "60 Minutes" report that raised questions about the Obama administration's response to last year's attack on our diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya.  The assault left four Americans dead, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens.

The primary source for the "60 Minutes" report was a security contractor using the pseudonym "Morgan Jones," who was later identified as Dylan Davies.  He told CBS, that he was able to reach the Benghazi compound on September 11, 2012, by scaling a wall and fighting off a militant.

That "60 Minutes" story cast doubt on whether the Obama administration sent all possible help to try to save Stevens and his three colleagues.  The story was then cited by congressional Republicans who demanded to know why a military rescue wasn’t attempted.

In response to questions Lara Logan said: "What we know now is, he told the FBI a different story to what he told us.  That was the moment for us when we realized that we no longer had confidence in our source and we were wrong to put him on air, and we apologize to our viewers."

Since the revelations about problems with the story, Logan said CBS has tried to contact Dylan Davies but hasn’t heard from him.

U.S. official said there were discrepancies between the contractor's accounts to the FBI and CBS, although the official did not specify them.  Citing two senior government officials, The New York Times reported that Davies told the FBI he didn’t go the Benghazi compound on the night of the attack.

The CBS story came into question because of an incident report filed by the contractor's employer, the Blue Mountain security company.  The information, that the contractor never reached the Benghazi compound was first reported in The Washington Post.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Employment Non-Discrimination

After Democrat Terry McAuliffe became the governor of Virginia, he announced that his first action would be to undo an executive order that former governor Bob McDonnell had signed.  That order had made it legal to fire public employees in Virginia for being gay.  It had been illegal to fire someone from a public sector job in Virginia, because they were gay, but as soon as McDonnell was sworn in, he went out of his way to make it legal to fire any public employee for being gay in the state of Virginia.

In Washington, D.C. just down the hall from one another, Senate Republicans held their press conference to announce new anti-abortion legislation.  Thirty minutes later, Senate Democrats held their press conference to announce their gay rights legislation, and that same afternoon, the Senate took a vote on the Democrats’ Employment Non-Discrimination bill.

The bill announced, that nobody can be fired just because their gay.  The employment nondiscrimination act was first introduced 40 years ago, by Senator Ted Kennedy.  After 40 years, it passed with 100 percent of the Democratic caucus voting for it.  That included socially conservative Democrats like Joe Manchin from West Virginia and Mark Pryor from Arkansas.  The Democratic Party on discrimination issues are unanimous, and voters know who they are and what they stand for.

Ten Senate Republicans crossed over to vote with the Democrats in favor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

The Republican leadership in the House insists that not only are they opposed to the legislation, but they’re not going to allow it to come up for a vote.  Speaker John Boehner claims that he is personally opposed to the legislation, but claimed it was already illegal to fire somebody for being gay, which isn’t the case in 29 states.

Friday, November 08, 2013

The Poor and Sick

Prior to the Affordable Health Care Act, desperately sick people who didn’t have health insurance would go to an emergency room.  Now, for the first time, they’ll be able to have access to health care that they can afford, and that is a step in the right direction.

Congressional Republicans, who hate the Affordable Care Act are please to learn that insurance policies are being canceled and that people are having trouble buying health insurance through the marketplace website.  But, in the long run, the truth will not be out spun.

The fact of the matter is that seldom do people take the time to look beyond the sticker price.  The marketplace sticker price may seem unaffordable, but there’s a lot of subsidies that go along with those sticker prices.  Prior to the Affordable Care Act, let’s not forget that insurance companies were not regulated.  They were not held accountable for giving people proper health care access.

Government subsides are not new.  Oil industry subsidies were originally meant to bolster an emerging industry a 100 years ago.  Cumulatively, oil companies have benefitted from trillions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies over the last century. Presently, $4 billion of our tax dollars goes to subsidizes the oil industry every year.  These companies are making record profits of tens of billions of dollars a year.

House Republicans broke a 40 year congressional tradition by splitting the food stamp funding from the farm bill, because that bill would have only cut $20 billion from the program, half as much as they wanted to cut.  Then, they voted to deny nearly 4 million people food stamps next year and nearly 3 million more each year for the next decade. 

They wanted to make sure they got the farm bill passed because they wanted to give money to the recipients of farm subsidies, which is between $15 billion and $35 annually.  Some of those subsidized recipients are members of Congress, for example, Republican Rep. Stephen Fincher received almost $3.5 million in farm subsidies between 1995 and 2012.

We have a responsibility to treat others as we would like to be treated.  Thereby, living by the principle that we are our brother’s keeper.  Caring for the poor and sick has always been Christian a value.  There was a time when I believed that Christian values made America great, but I was wrong. 

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Consumer Reports

Those people, who presently have stable insurance are predominantly those with insurance from a large employer or from Medicare or Medicaid.  In fact, that the vast majority of Americans, and for them Obamacare has changed very little.  However, the people who are buying insurance on their own is where you have all the plans that don’t cover things.  People can buy a plan on the individual market, and it might be really cheap, but many won’t cover prescription drugs, maternity, mental health, or it will have huge deductibles.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act sets minimum standard that all plans must provide.  And, there are plans out there that don’t, so insurance companies are required to come up with a new product.  The people who have those plans will eventually have to give them up, but it’s a very small number of Americans who will have to give them up.

Nancy Metcalf, senior editor at "Consumer Reports" insists: “It’s been a nightmare for consumers, and they don’t understand it.  It’s been tremendously easy for them to end up with horrendous insurance that doesn’t talk about not covering prescription drugs, not covering hospitalization, not covering doctor visits, not covering x-rays.  It’s just been horrendous, and it’s been very difficult for people to navigate.

“The Affordable Care Act is going to change that.  You’re not going to be able to buy a junk plan anymore.  They’re against the law, because it’s doing for people on the individual market what big, huge human resources departments have been doing for years for people who get insurance through their jobs.”

"Consumer Reports" created an online interactive tool called healthlawhelper.org.  On that site you’ll find out whether you have subsidies coming to you, or if your children are eligible for CHIP, or Medicaid.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Junk Plans

In California, Kaiser Permanente terminated policies for 160,000 people, and in Florida at least 300,000 people lost coverage.  Last month, 56 year-old Diane Barrett received a letter from Blue Cross/Blue Shield informing her that, she would lose her insurance plan.  Presently, she pays $54 a month, but the new plan she’s been offered will cost $591 a month.

The $54 insurance plan, that Diane has lost is what consumer reports call a junk health insurance plan.  Those plans have huge deductibles, while providing bare bones coverage and leaves the consumer with huge out of pocket expenses if they ever actually get sick.

The price difference between Diane’s $54 plan and a new Obamacare plan fails to take into account the possibility of available subsidies designed to help people pay for the cost of health insurance.  The insurance plans, that are being canceled, don’t cover ten essential benefits required under the new Affordable Care Act, such as prescription drugs, maternity care and mental health care.  If the policy was sold after the law went into effect in March of 2010, that policy could end January 1st of next year.  

People need to understand two basic truths about American health care that guided the entire design of the Affordable Care Act.  Number one, the American health care system is too expensive and leaves too many people uninsured.  It delivers the worst value of any system among developed countries.  Number two, the majority of people don’t want to change their health care.

The design of Obamacare was to leave as much as possible our existing health care system in place while also covering the uninsured and bringing down costs.  Under the Affordable Care Act, you will no longer be permitted to buy a junk health insurance policy.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

The Violence Continues

Last February, in a speech on preventing gun violence, President Obama pointed out: “We don’t have to agree on everything to agree it’s time to do something.                                                                                                                                                     

“And each of us has a role to play.  A few weeks ago, I took action on my own to strengthen background checks, to help schools get more resource officers if they want them, and to direct the Centers for Disease Control to study the causes of violence.  Because for a long time, even looking at the evidence was considered somehow tough politics.  And so Congress had taken the approach that, we don't want to know.  Well, that's never the answer to a problem -- is not wanting to know what is going on.

“So we've been able to take some steps through administrative action.  But while these steps are important, real and lasting change also requires Congress to do its part and to do it soon, not to wait.  The good news is that we’re starting to see a consensus emerge about the action Congress needs to take.

“The vast majority of Americans -- including a majority of gun owners -- support requiring criminal background checks for anyone trying to buy a gun.  So right now, Democrats and Republicans in the Senate are working on a bill that would ban anyone from selling a gun to somebody legally prohibited from owning one.  That’s common sense.  There’s no reason we can’t get that done.  That is not a liberal idea or a conservative idea; it's not a Democratic or Republican idea -- that is a smart idea.  We want to keep those guns out of hands of folks who shouldn’t have them.

“Senators from both parties have also come together and proposed a bill that would crack down on people who buy guns only to turn them around and sell them to criminals.  It’s a bill that would keep more guns off the street and out of the hands of people with the intent of doing harm.

“And, by the way, in addition to reducing violence on the streets, it would also make life a lot easier and a lot safer for the people standing behind me here today.

“We shouldn’t stop there.  We should restore the ban on military-style assault weapons and a 10-round limit for magazines.  And that deserves a vote in Congress -- because weapons of war have no place on our streets, or in our schools, or threatening our law enforcement officers.  Our law enforcement officers should never be out-gunned on the streets.” 

Monday, November 04, 2013

Time to Apply

For most people without health insurance, the easiest way to buy insurance will be the  Marketplace website, HealthCare.gov , but the site isn’t presently working the way it’s supposed to.  However, the site has been visited more than 20 million times, and over 700,000 people have applied for coverage.  
Yet, that the website isn’t the only way to apply for coverage.  They’ve updated HealthCare.gov to offer information about enrolling over the phone, by mail, or in person with a specially-trained navigator who can help answer your questions, by calling 1-800-318-2596 or visiting LocalHelp.HealthCare.gov.  There is a six-month open enrollment period, and everyone who wants insurance through the Marketplace will have that opportunity.
It’s surprising to see congressional Republicans expressing great concern that people are having trouble buying health insurance through the new website, especially since they’ve spent several years obsessed with denying people access to health insurance and shut down the government and threatened default over it.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act gives people who’ve been stuck with sky-high premiums because of preexisting conditions the chance to get affordable insurance for the first time.  The law means that women can finally buy coverage that doesn’t charge them higher premiums than men for the same care.  
Three million more young adults have health insurance on their parents’ plans because of the Affordable Care Act.  More than six million people on Medicare have saved an average of $1,000 on their prescription medicine because of the Affordable Care Act.  Last year, more than 8 million Americans received half a billion dollars in refunds from their insurers because of the Affordable Care Act.  And for tens of millions of women, preventive care like mammograms and birth control are free because of the Affordable Care Act.  

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Unlimited, Undisclosed Funding

Senator Ted Cruz is blocking President Obama’s nomination of Tom Wheeler for Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.  

There are five seats on the Federal Communication Commission and three of them are vacant.  As Chairman, Obama anticipates that Wheeler would push for some disclosure from social welfare nonprofits.  Thereby enforcing the provisions of the Disclose Act, that requires independent groups to disclose names of contributors who give more than $10,000 to independent groups for use in political campaigns.

Senator Bernie Sanders has been very critical of dark money in politics.  He points out that what Cruz is threatening has huge consequences.  Sanders insists: “At the end of the day, these guys have gotten Citizens United.  And that means that the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson and all of these guys can spend hundreds and hundreds of hundreds of millions of dollars on political campaigns opted without any disclosure.

“They want to go further.  What they want to do is to make sure that individuals will be able to spend as much money as they want on campaigns, giving money to individuals without any disclosure, whatsoever.

“So, ultimately, what they are about is creating a campaign finance system where billionaires can spend unlimited sums of money on campaigns and candidates electing the people they want.  That is not, in my view, a democracy.  That is called oligarchy, where a nation is run by a handful of billionaires and the democratic foundations of this country are totally invalidated.

“Now, what Senator Cruz is here talking about, he is really outraged by the fact that the FCC is supporting a rule where it says that if you are putting ads on television in the 50 largest media markets in this country, that they are going to put that information on their websites so that the American people will know, who is in fact funding these ads.

“In my view, we should see that not only in the 50 largest markets but all over this country, not only on television but on radio.  But bottom line here is what Senator Cruz and his friends want is a campaign system where a few billionaires can spend unlimited sums of money without any disclosure at all.  That is what they want.  And we not only to need the alternative which is overturning Citizens United, but also moving forward to a public funding of elections.”

Saturday, November 02, 2013

God Told Her

Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann announced that she decided not to seek reelection in 2014 because God wants her to earn millions of dollars working for a high-powered lobbying firm.                                                                                                                                                                            

According to Bachmann, God spoke to her directly after many days of intense prayer and told the Congresswoman that there is no reason she should only make $174,000 per year when she could easily earn up to eight times that amount in the private sector.

Scripture can be manipulated to serve anyone’s cause.  Keep in mind, that the bible has been used to defend homophobia, slavery, racism and segregation.  You can manipulate Christian principles to say whatever it is you want to say but when you think about the core of Christian principles, and what the Affordable Care Act does it’s a very Christian law.

The Affordable Care Act is a program that extends healthcare to young people, and keep people out of emergency rooms, who weren’t able to get insurance because of preexisting health.  Providing healthcare to people who can’t afford it is consistent with the teachings of the Bible.  

Republicans are constantly using the bible to justify cuts to programs that people need in this country.  They’re hypocrites, who can’t call themselves the jobs party by laying people off.

Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council insists: "It’s not the government’s job to take responsibility for the poor.  The scripture handed that responsibility to you and I as members of the faith of followers of Jesus Christ.”  

We’re the government.  Perkins is changing the principles of Christianity in the comments that he’s making.  Christians are supposed to help the poor, but Perkins believe that wealthy people or churches can feed all the poor.  They claim that will solve the many challenges facing the poor, but it can’t.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Olympia Snowe

Some people see an analogy between Medicare part "D" and Obamacare.  In 2003, most congressional Democrats had opposed that legislation, but once it was passed they attempt to fix the program.  Former Republican Senator Olympia Snowe was asked: “Do you think we will see that from Republican lawmakers as we go forward?”

Olympia Snowe answered: “Well, you know, I hope so, because in the final analysis, we have to make the law work.  And that, obviously, is going to be the responsibility and the obligation of members of Congress, as it is to conduct obviously this oversight, to get to the heart of the matter in terms of what was underlined the implementation of this program, because of the enormity of it.

“But I do recall Medicare part "D," because I worked on that initiative when I served in the Senate Finance Committee.  Yes, there were problems with it in the original rollout, but everybody worked to identify and to address the problems.  And the same should be true in this instance in the final analysis.”

She added: “Well, it’s important, as a lawmaker, obviously, to respond to your constituents.  And once a law becomes a law, you really do have, I think, an obligation to make it work. I can’t obviously speak for our Republicans and how they intend to move forward.  But I do know this, that tying the strategy of delaying or defunding Obamacare was not the right strategy.
“Obviously, was not a winning strategy, and it certainly wasn’t an achievable one.  And what’s more, what is bothersome as well is that when one party adopts the tactic, unfortunately, the next, you know, in the next term, the other party could adopt a similar tactic.  Depending on which position they’re in.

“If the majority becomes the minority or vice versa, they each employ the other’s old tactics.  So, we could see this ad infinitum.  That’s why I think we got to put an end to these types of, you know, warfare strategy, holding legislation hostage, and in this instance, bring the government to a shutdown and near default.  I think it’s a sad state of affairs and it really was a mega-overreach in the final analysis.”