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.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Concentration of Wealth

According to Robert Draper’s book, “GOP’s Anti-Obama Campaign Started Night Of Inauguration,” while Obama was celebrating his inauguration, top Republican lawmakers and strategists were conjuring up ways to submarine his presidency at a private dinner in Washington.

They decided on day one they weren’t going to negotiate on anything.  Republicans decide to make it Obama’s economy and they wouldn’t have their fingerprints on it.

In 2010, Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell insisted that his number one goal was to make Obama a one-term president. 

Republicans still don’t have any interest in improving the lives of the average American.  They’re acting as if the 2012 election vindicated the Republican strategy of obstruction.  

Post FDR and preceding Reagan, most Americans experienced prosperity.  Today, we are the country with the highest level of income inequality.  The growing concentration of wealth at the top is very disturbing.

Congressional Democrats must not accept the Republican vision of government.  They must never consent to policies that pander to the super-wealthy while hurting the rest of us.  

Citizens United is about giving billionaires the power to tell members of Congress what they can and cannot do.  Voters must reject lawmakers who believe that corporations are people in order to allow unlimited anonymous money to flood our elections and drown out compassionate voices.

The Tea Party and Republican Party share the same political playbook.  They demonize the poor, while protecting profitable oil corporations, who cost taxpayers $21 billion a year in subsidies.

After the Supreme Court struck down a key portion of the Voting Rights Act, Republican controlled state legislators passed laws, to suppress the minority vote.  There exists no evidence of widespread voter fraud, and Colin Powell warned Republicans that the strict voter identification laws they’re pursuing will damage that party’s standing.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Vermont’s Plan

The following excerpt entitled “Can Vermont's Single-Payer System Fix What Ails American Healthcare?” was written by Sean McElwee, and published in “The Atlantic.” 
“The Affordable Care Act's turbulent implementation has ruled the news cycle, but across the country states like Vermont are experimenting with their own plans.
“Governor Peter Shumlin signed a revolutionary single-payer plan, Green Mountain Healthcare—the culmination of decades of work by progressive politicians in the state—into law in May 2011.  The new system aims to guarantee universal insurance coverage, improve benefits for those who are currently underinsured, include universal dental care and vision care, and increase the Medicaid reimbursement rate to doctors in order to avoid cost shifting.
“In some ways, the system resembles the ACA, but the the most consequential difference is that Vermont’s law will end employer-provided insurance.  "God didn’t create the fact that employers are responsible for healthcare for their employees," says Bernie Sanders, the state’s stalwart socialist senator. 
“Yet that change has resulted in an echo of the problems Obamacare has faced in remaking the individual insurance market: Plenty of people aren’t happy about giving up existing insurance that they like.
“Meanwhile, there are still major question marks about how Vermont will pay for the plan, whether it can achieve the projected savings, and what might happen when an American state tries to import a European-style insurance program.  If the ambitious Green Mountain Healthcare is a success, its backers say it will serve as a model for the rest of the nation—especially if the ACA doesn’t achieve full coverage and help bring costs down.  Then, they say, statehouses around the nation will look to Montpelier for guidance.  But first Vermont has to figure out how the plan is going to work.”

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Preventive Services

In 2011, more than 20 million women received expanded access to preventive services like mammograms and cervical cancer screenings at no additional cost.  Nearly 2 million women enrolled in Medicare received a 50% discount on the medicine they need.
Insurers are now required to cover a number of recommended preventive services, such as cancer, diabetes and blood pressure screenings, without additional cost sharing such as copays or deductibles.  Already, 54 million Americans with private health coverage have gotten better preventive services coverage as a result.
Under the law, most young adults who can’t get coverage through their jobs can stay on their parents’ plans until age 26.  That is a change that has already allowed 3.1 million young adults to get health coverage and given their families peace of mind.
Before the law, many Americans with pre-existing conditions were locked or priced out of the health insurance market.  More than 50,000 Americans with pre-existing conditions have gained coverage through the new Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan.  This temporary program makes health coverage available and more affordable for individuals who are uninsured and have been denied health insurance because of a pre-existing condition.  In 2014, insurance discriminating against anyone with a pre-existing condition will be illegal.
Affordable Insurance Exchanges are one-stop marketplaces where consumers can choose a private health insurance plan that fits their health needs.  Starting in 2014, they will offer to the public the same kinds of insurance choices members of Congress will have.  Exchanges will select health plans qualified to offer coverage; facilitate consumer assistance, shopping and enrollment; and coordinate eligibility for the Exchange and potential premium assistance.  Already, 33 States and the District of Columbia are on their way to building Exchanges, having received at total of nearly $670 million in Exchange Establishment Grants.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Surveillance Programs

A presidential advisory panel has recommended sweeping limits on the government's surveillance programs, including requiring a court to sign off on individual searches of phone records and stripping the National Security Agency of its ability to store that data. 

The panel suggested that the agency should be able to have access to some records, but it shouldn’t be able to store them and obtain court approval to search individual data.

The report, by the Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technology contains more than 300 pages, and President Obama isn’t obligated to accept the panel's recommendations.

The report was released after U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon ruled that the NSA’s secret collection of telephone records was unconstitutional and that it violated privacy rights. 

The panel's recommendations include tightening federal law enforcement's use of so-called national security letters, which give the government sweeping authority to demand financial and phone records without prior court approval in national security cases.  The task force recommended that authorities should be required to obtain a prior "judicial finding" showing "reasonable grounds" that the information sought is relevant to terrorism or other intelligence activities.

Furthermore, the panel proposed terminating the NSA's ability to store telephone data and instead require it to be held by the phone companies or a third party.  Access to the data would then be permitted only through an order from a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

If both recommendations were enacted, it's likely they would slow down the intelligence collection process.  The panel recommendations do allow for exceptions "in emergencies," leaving open the possibility of intelligence agencies scanning the information quickly and asking for permission later if they suspect imminent attack.

Greg Nojeim a senior counsel with the Center for Democracy and Technology said if Obama accepts them in bulk, the recommendations "will fuel the NSA reform effort both within the administration and in Congress."

Friday, December 20, 2013

Budget Deal Passed

On 12/18/13, the Senate voted 64-36 to send the compromise federal budget framework to President Obama, who is expected to sign it.  The budget plan had passed the House on a 332-94 vote, with solid majorities of both parties supporting it.

The Senate vote was closer, with nine Republicans joining a majority of Democrats to provide a simple majority of 51 votes to pass the bill.  The plan outlines government spending into 2015, thereby defusing the chances of another shutdown like the one in October that generated public anger against Congress, particularly conservative Republicans blamed for the impasse.

Budget committee leaders, Republican Rep. Ryan and Democratic Sen. Murray negotiated the deal that eliminates some mandated spending cuts known as sequestration that both sides disliked while reducing the deficit by more than $20 billion in coming years.

An ABC News/Washington Post poll showed that 50% of respondents supported the budget plan while 35% opposed it.  The survey showed a majority of Democrats and independents backed the proposal, but only 39% of Republicans liked it.

Several Senate Republicans said the most important issue was to lower the budget deficit, even if only by a small percentage, and avoid another damaging scenario like the 16-day government shutdown in October.

The Republicans who voted in favor of the deal were Orrin Hatch of Utah, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, John McCain of Arizona, Susan Collins of Maine, John Hoeven of North Dakota, Johnny Isakson of Georgia, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Rob Portman of Ohio.

The budget agreement sets overall spending figures through fiscal year 2014, which started on October 1, as well as fiscal year 2015, with the intent of putting off any further congressional budget stalemate until after the November 2015 election.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Newtown Remembered

On 12/14/13, President Obama made the following remarks remembering the Newtown, Connecticut murders. 
“One year ago today, a quiet, peaceful town was shattered by unspeakable violence.
“Six dedicated school workers and 20 beautiful children were taken from our lives forever.
“As parents, as Americans, the news filled us with grief.  Newtown is a town like so many of our hometowns.  The victims were educators and kids that could have been any of our own.  And our hearts were broken for the families that lost a piece of their heart; for the communities changed forever; for the survivors, so young, whose innocence was torn away far too soon. 
“But beneath the sadness, we also felt a sense of resolve – that these tragedies must end, and that to end them, we must change.
“From the very beginning, our efforts were led by the parents of Newtown – men and women, impossibly brave, who stepped forward in the hopes that they might spare others their heartbreak.  And they were joined by millions of Americans – mothers and fathers; sisters and brothers – who refused to accept these acts of violence as somehow inevitable.
“Over the past year, their voices have sustained us.  And their example has inspired us – to be better parents and better neighbors; to give our children everything they need to face the world without fear; to meet our responsibilities not just to our own families, but to our communities.  More than the tragedy itself, that’s how Newtown will be remembered. 
“And on this anniversary of a day we will never forget, that’s the example we should continue to follow.  Because we haven’t yet done enough to make our communities and our country safer.  We have to do more to keep dangerous people from getting their hands on a gun so easily.  We have to do more to heal troubled minds.  We have to do everything we can to protect our children from harm and make them feel loved, and valued, and cared for.
“And as we do, we can’t lose sight of the fact that real change won’t come from Washington.  It will come the way it’s always come- from you.  From the American people. 
“As a nation, we can’t stop every act of violence.  We can’t heal every troubled mind.  But if we want to live in a country where we can go to work, send our kids to school, and walk our streets free from fear, we have to keep trying.  We have to keep caring.  We have to treat every child like they’re our child.  Like those in Sandy Hook, we must choose love.  And together, we must make a change.  Thank you.”

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Improved Medicare

Nearly 50 million older Americans and people with disabilities rely on Medicare each year, and Obamacare makes Medicare stronger.  The life of the Medicare Trust Fund will be extended to 2024 as a result of reducing waste, fraud, and abuse, and slowing cost growth in Medicare.  Over the next ten years, the law will save the average person in Medicare $4,200.  People with Medicare who have the prescription drug costs that hit the so-called donut hole will save an average of over $16,000.
In the past, as many as one in four seniors went without a prescription every year because they couldn’t afford it.  To help these seniors, the law provides relief for the ones with the highest prescription drug costs.  In 2010, nearly four million people in the donut hole received a $250 check to help with their costs.  In 2011, 3.6 million people with Medicare received a 50 percent discount worth a total of $2.1 billion on their brand name prescription drugs when they hit the donut hole.  Seniors will see additional savings on covered brand-name and generic drugs while in the coverage gap until the gap is closed in 2020.
Under the new law, seniors can receive recommended preventive services such as flu shots, diabetes screenings, as well as a new Annual Wellness Visit, free of charge.  So far, more than 32.5 million seniors have already received one or more free preventive services, including the new Annual Wellness Visit.
The health care law helps stop fraud with tougher screening procedures, stronger penalties, and new technology.  These efforts have resulted in our government recovering $4.1 billion in taxpayer dollars in 2011.  Total recoveries over the last three years were $10.7 billion.  Prosecutions are up, and the number of individuals charged with fraud increased from 821 in fiscal year 2008 to 1,430 in fiscal year 2011.
Through the newly established Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation, the Obama Administration is testing and supporting innovative new health care models that can reduce costs and strengthen the quality of health care.  It has introduced 16 initiatives involving over 50,000 health care providers that will touch the lives of Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries in all 50 states.
The number of seniors who joined Medicare Advantage plans increased by 17 percent between 2010 and 2012, while the premiums for such plans dropped by 16 percent.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Dean Baker

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic Policy Research.  The following excerpt is his informed opinion on the budget deal passed by the House.

“The 2-year budget agreement crafted by Senator Patty Murray and Representative Paul Ryan can best be understood as a deal that is convenient for members of Congress.  It is pretty bad news for the rest of the country.

“The convenience for members of Congress is straightforward.  We have seen several dramatic standoffs over the budget and extensions of the debt ceiling since the Republicans took control of the House in 2010.  This has led to one government shutdown and twice brought us to within a week of the point where the government might have had to default on its debt.

“While these standoffs have been bad news for the country, especially the shutdown which meant services were not provided and workers were not paid, they were probably worse news for members of Congress.  They had to spend many late nights haggling over deals.  And their approval ratings tumbled in opinion polls.

“In this way, the 2-year budget deal is good news for Congress since it means that it won’t have any major budget standoffs until at least 2015.  This gets them at least through the election year.

“The story for the rest of the country is not as good.  First, it is important to note one of the items not included in the deal.  There was no extension of unemployment benefits. As a result, more than 1 million laid off workers will see their benefits cut off in 2014. According to the Congressional Budget Office this will slow growth by 0.2 percentage points and reduce the number of jobs by around 300,000.

“Of course Congress could still vote to extend benefits when it comes back in January. However even if this is the case, many unemployed workers will still up ending missing one or two checks.

“While Congress did do some reshuffling of funds to make the sequester cuts less painful, one item on the reshuffling list deserves special attention.  It is requiring that federal employees increase their contributions to their retirement, effectively cutting their pay by another 1.0 percent.  This cut comes on top of pay freezes that effectively cut real wages by more than 5.0 percent over the last three years.  Apparently, Congress has not yet tired of beating on air traffic controllers, food inspectors and other members of the federal work force.

“But the biggest issue for most of the public is that this is a federal budget that will continue to impose a drag on the economy by preventing the sort of growth that we need to return to full employment.  While the stimulus approved by Congress boosted growth and added between 2-3 million jobs, the steep deficit reduction of the last three years has slowed the economy, costing millions of jobs.” 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Unemployment Benefits

The budget deal passed by the House doesn’t mention, the long-term unemployed benefits for 1.3 million unemployed Americans, that are set to expire on 12/28/13.  Apparently, Republicans want to hurt the unemployed, while corporate profits are going through the roof.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi assert: “It’s absolutely unconscionable that we could possibly even consider leaving Washington D.C. without extending those benefits.  And work ethic is strong and respected in our country.  And if the people losing jobs through no fault of their own and an economy that has people with master’s degrees going to entry level jobs just to be able to have some incomes so they can stay in their homes.  It’s a remarkable thing why would the Republican not just automatically do this.  It’s our responsibility to do this.”

People on unemployment are there through no fault of their own.  For every job opening, there are three applicants, and that’s the job market, many Republicans want.  

Historically, when the unemployment rate is at 7 percent, Congress never discussed offsets.  Congressional Republicans seem to only care about money, not unemployed Americans.  The cost of extending these benefits for one year would be about $25 billion, but that money is already gone, because of the Republican shutdown cost the economy $25 billion. 

Sen. Rand Paul claimed: “When you allow people to be on unemployment insurance for 99 weeks, you’re causing them to become part of this perpetual unemployed.”  

Someone should point out to Rand Paul, that the nonpartisan congressional budget office reported, that extending unemployment benefits would help the economy.  And a report shows 240,000 jobs will be lost if Congress fails to extend unemployment benefits, because that’s money that goes right back into our economy.  Extending unemployment insurance should be a no brainer for Congress.

Sunday, December 15, 2013


Although, it’s legal for needy people to get food stamps, Republicans continue to claim, that people on food stamps are takers.

Companies like Walmart pay a subminimum wage, that is essentially worth what the minimum wage was in 1968.  The cost for taxpayers amounts to $7 billion in food stamps, because those people don’t earn enough money to stay out of poverty.  Those companies are against increasing the minimum wage and against their employees having enough money to feed their family.

Republicans attempt to persuade voters that people, who depend on food stamp are lazy freeloaders, and it’s their own fault that they can’t find work.  They’ve played that political card of demonizing the poor for decades, and suggest the budget deficits are created by the poor.

Studies have shown, that many people on food stamps run out of food by the third week every month.  Food stamps provide $1.40 per person per meal, but the Republican political agenda is to demonize them.

Tennessee’s Republican Congressman, Steven Fincher has received over $3.5 million directly from the government in socialistic agriculture subsidies.  He insists that he hates socialism, but he and his family have been living off millions of agricultural subsidy dollars for generations.

Agriculture is a global market, and we subsidize corporate farmers at the expense of farmers in Mexico, and then complain that Mexicans are crossing our border illegally to find work.

Senate Democrats failed in an effort to discontinue giving subsidies to oil corporations, that have been costing taxpayers $21 billion a year.

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. 

Shouldn’t the recipients of those subsidies also be considered takers?   

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Budget Deal

Republicans hoped the budget deal would provide an opportunity to make changes to Medicare and Social Security, that they’ve advocated.

Republican Congressman Paul Ryan is facing criticism from Heritage Action, who had embraced him in the past.  Before, the controversial deal was announced Heritage Action threatened to score the vote and attack congressional Republicans, who votes for it.  The deal seems to be a compromise to avoid controversial issues.  It avoids Social Security cut which Democrats don’t want to see, and raising taxes, which Republicans don’t want.  

Paul Ryan made the argument that while they haven’t tackled major entitlement reform, the way that some of his previous budgets have addressed it, it’s making a down payment.  They’re making small changes to things like pensions for federal workers, however at least from the perspective of debt and deficit hawks it’s not enough.

The most outrageous failure is that the budget doesn’t deal with long-term unemployed benefits for 1.3 million unemployed Americans, that are set to expire three days after Christmas.

The bipartisan deal announced by Democratic Senator Patti Murray and Paul Ryan is much closer to Ryan’s budget than Obama’s proposed budget.

Ryan pointed out: “This is the first divided government budget agreement since 1986.  The key here is, nobody had to sacrifice their core principles.  Our principles do not waste taxes, and reduce the deficit.”

The deal sets overall spending limits about halfway between what the Senate wanted and what the House called for. 

The budget deal substitutes some of the sequestration cuts with about half of the cuts planned for next year, and about a quarter for the cuts planned for 2015.  Those cuts will be offset by other spending cuts, and increased revenues, from fees on airline tickets and increased contributions for federal workers to their pensions.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Economic Security

President Obama will never stop fighting to help more hardworking Americans to know the economic security of health care.
It has been interesting to see Republicans in Congress expressing so much concern that people were having trouble buying health insurance through the website, especially considering, that they spent the last few years obsessed with denying people access to health insurance that they shut down the government and threatened to default over it. 
Although, it’s past the time for Congressional Republicans to stop rooting for the Affordable Care Act to fail, they’re not willing to sit down with our President and Democratic members of Congress to make perform better, even though millions of hardworking, middle-class families are rooting for it to succeed.
The Affordable 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.  This law means that women can finally buy coverage that doesn’t charge them higher premiums than men for the same care.  
Everyone who already has health insurance, whether through their employer, Medicare, or Medicaid, will keep the benefits and protections the law has already put in place.  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 already saved more than a $1,000 on their prescription medicine because of the Affordable Care Act, and more than eight million Americans have received half a billion dollars in refunds from their insurers.  And, tens of millions of women, have received preventive care like mammograms and birth control are free because of this law.  It’s here to stay.  
President Obama and congressional Democrats didn’t fight so hard for this reform just to build a website.  They did it to free millions of American families from the fear that one illness or injury to a member of their family could cost them everything they had worked so hard to build.  They did it to cement the principle that in this country, the security of health care isn’t a privilege for a fortunate few, but a right that every one should be able to enjoy.  That promise has been delivered, and progressive Democrats will not rest until the work has been completed.
Comprehensive healthcare has been talked about, since Teddy Roosevelt, but Obama, Pelosi, and Harry Reid got it done.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Nelson Mandela

In the 1960s when Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life in prison "The National Review" wrote: "The South African court have sentenced a batch of admitted terrorists to life in the penitentiary.  And you would think the court had just finished barbecuing St. Joan, to hear the house and the liberal press.”

In the 1970s, "The Wall Street Journal" argued against sanctioning the apartheid South African government on economic grounds. 

In the 1980s, the late Jerry Falwell urged his supporters to write their congressmen and senators and tell them to oppose sanctions against the apartheid regime, telling them: "Sanctions against South Africa will hurt the blacks much more than the government or anyone else."

The modern conservative movement’s hero, Ronald Reagan, took that same right wing view of apartheid and made it our government’s policy.  He did it even as outrage over the crimes of apartheid grew around the world and at home.

Clearly, President Reagan knew what it was like to live under apartheid rule, but he resisted demands by Congress to join Europe and the rest of the world to take sanctions that would pressure South Africa to end apartheid and release Nelson Mandela from prison.

Reagan warned: “If Congress imposes sanctions, it would destroy America’s flexibility, discard our diplomatic leverage and deepen the crisis.  We must stay and work, not cut and run.”

Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina supported Reagan.  He claimed: “By intruding into the affairs of the South African government, we are shooting the farmers of America in the foot.  And I will have no part of it.”

In the end, both houses of Congress voted to impose the sanctions. And even after Reagan vetoed the measure, both the House and Senate voted to override his veto.

At the time the Senate was controlled by Republicans.  Nevertheless, Indiana Republican Senator Richard Lugar argued: “We are against tyranny, and tyranny is in South Africa.  And we must be vigorous in that fight.”

Connecticut Republican Senator Lowell Weicker reasoned: “Today’s vote is today’s generation saying no to the incipient Holocaust of our times.”

Thirty-one Senate Republicans voted to override their president’s veto.  Among them was a young senator from Kentucky named Mitch McConnell.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Born into Poverty

Lincoln said: “While we do not propose any war upon capital, we do wish to allow the humblest man an equal chance to get rich with everybody else.”

Recently, Pope Francis wrote: “How can it be, that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?”

Increasing national inequality is most pronounced in our country, and it challenges the very essence of who we are as a people.  President Obama and most congressional Democrats have never begrudged success.  In fact, we admire people, who start new businesses, create jobs, and invent products that enrich our lives.  They should be rewarded.

Consequently, we’ve accepted more income inequality than other nations, because we were convinced that America was a place where even if you’re born with nothing, hard work would improve your own situation over time.

In America, for generations our underlying national aspiration was that no matter who you are, no matter what your color, how you choose to pray, who you love, you should be able to retire with dignity and respect.  And, you should be able to give your children the kind of education that allows them to accomplish more than you could ever imagine.

Education is directly related to more earning power later in life.  The average employed young person with a bachelor's degree earned 81% more in 2011 than his or counterpart with a high school diploma.  A recent study found the median income for workers with a high school degree was $32,000, with a four-year college degree $54,000 a year, and the median salary for those with a master's degree or higher was $72,000.  The earnings premium of individuals with college degrees continues over their lifetime.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Growing Inequality

After World War II, our country’s economic future began to looked brighter.  A blue-collar job could enable a worker to buy a home, car, and have a reliable pension.  For some, it meant being the first in their family to go to college, and not graduating with a lot of debt.  

Although, the top 10 percent of Americans consistently took home about one-third of our national income.  That inequality took place in a dynamic economy where everyone’s incomes were growing.

By the late ‘70s, technology made it easier for companies to eliminate certain occupations.  A more competitive world allowed companies to ship jobs overseas.  Manufacturing workers lost their leverage, jobs paid less and offered fewer benefits.  

Businesses lobbied Congress to weaken unions and the minimum wage.  As a trickle-down ideology became more prominent, taxes were slashed for the wealthy, and investments in schools and infrastructure were allowed to shrink.  More families began to relying on two earners as women entered the workforce. 

Subsequently, our economy has become more unequal.  Since 1979, our productivity is up by more than 90 percent, but the income of the typical family has increased by less than eight percent.  Our economy has more than doubled in size, but most of that growth has flowed to a fortunate few. 

The top 10 percent take half of our national income.  In the past, the average CEO made about 20 to 30 times the income of the average worker, but today the average CEO makes 273 times more.  A family in the top 1 percent has a net worth 288 times higher than the typical family.

Today, we have the most unequal distribution of wealth and income of any major country on earth.  It’s worse than at any time since 1928 before the Great Depression.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Lower Premiums

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.

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.

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

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. 

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.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Bureau of Labor Statistics

The following is an excerpt from the Bureau of Labor Statistics report for November: 

“The unemployment rate declined from 7.3 percent to 7.0 percent, and total non-farm payroll employment rose by 203,000.  Employment increased in transportation, warehousing, health care, and manufacturing.

“Both the number of unemployed persons, at 10.9 million, and the unemployment rate, at 7.0 percent, declined.  Among the unemployed, the number who reported being on temporary layoff decreased by 377,000.  This largely reflects the return to work of federal employees who were furloughed in October due to the partial government shutdown.

“Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rates for adult men was 6.7 percent, adult women 6.2 percent, teenagers 20.8 percent, whites 6.2 percent, blacks 12.5 percent, and Hispanics 8.7 percent changed little in November.

“The number of persons unemployed less than 5 weeks declined by 300,000, partially reflecting the return to work of federal employees on furlough in October.  The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) was essentially unchanged at 4.1 million.  These individuals accounted for 37.3 percent of the unemployed.  The number of long-term unemployed has declined by 718,000 over the past 12 months.

“The number of persons employed part time for economic reasons (sometimes referred to as involuntary part-time workers) fell by 331,000 to 7.7 million in November.  These individuals were working part time because their hours had been cut back or because they were unable to find a full-time job.

“In November, 2.1 million persons were marginally attached to the labor force, down by 409,000 from a year earlier.  These individuals were not in the labor force, wanted and were available for work, and had looked for a job sometime in the prior 12 months. They were not counted as unemployed because they had not searched for work in the 4 weeks preceding the survey.

“Among the marginally attached, there were 762,000 discouraged workers in November, down by 217,000 from a year ago.  Discouraged workers are persons not currently looking for work because they believe no jobs are available for them.  The remaining 1.3 million persons marginally attached to the labor force in November had not searched for work for reasons such as school attendance or family responsibilities.”

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Rising at Slowest Rate

The Affordable Care Act has saved more than 7 million seniors and Americans with disabilities an average of $1,200 on their prescription medicine.  In 2013 alone, 8.5 million families have gotten an average of $100 back from their insurance company because it spent too much on things like overhead, and not enough on their care.  Health care costs are rising at the slowest rate in 50 years. 
Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell was asked what benefits people without health care might see from this law.  He refused to answer, even though there are tens of thousands in his own state who are already on track to benefit from it.
President Obama has repeatedly pledged: “I’ve always said I will work with anybody to implement and improve this law effectively.  If you’ve got good ideas, bring them to me.  Let’s go.  But we’re not repealing it as long as I’m President and I want everybody to be clear about that.”  
Despite the millions of people who are benefitting from the Affordable Healthcare Act, congressional Republicans claim the law is a bad idea.  However, they refuse to specifically tell anyone what they’d do differently to cut costs, cover more people, or make insurance more secure.  Republicans insist:“Repeal Obamacare” when we had people, who thought they had decent insurance, but when they got sick, it turned out it wasn’t there for them or they were left with tens of thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket costs that were impossible for them to pay.
The marketplace exchanges have the capacity to help individual and families experience the security of decent health insurance at a reasonable cost through competition.  Some shoppers could be eligible for tax credits that would potentially save them hundreds of dollars in premium costs every month.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Patient’s Bill of Rights

Insurance companies could deny coverage to children who had asthma or were born with a heart defect, put a lifetime cap on the amount of care they would pay for, or cancel coverage when you got sick just by finding an accidental mistake in your paperwork.  Obamacare creates a new patient’s bill of rights that protects us from these and other abusive practices.
Insurance companies can no longer deny coverage to children because of a pre-existing condition like asthma and diabetes, providing peace of mind for parents of the more than 17.6 million children with pre-existing conditions.  Starting in 2014, no American can be discriminated against due to a pre-existing condition.  People with cancer or other chronic illnesses ran out of insurance coverage because their health care expenses reached a dollar limit imposed by their insurance company.  Under the Affordable Care  Act insurers can no longer impose lifetime dollar limits on essential health benefits and annual limits are being phased out by 2014. More than 105 million Americans no longer have lifetime limits thanks to the new law.  Insurance companies can no longer drop your coverage when you get sick due to a mistake you made on your application. 

The law helps you by bringing down health care costs and making sure your health care dollars are spent wisely. Insurance companies will now be accountable to their customers for how they are spending premium dollars, and how much they are raising rates. Plus, the new law will help lower costs through new tax credits and new marketplaces where insurers will have to compete for your business.
Thanks to the Affordable Care Act’s 80/20 rule, if insurance companies don’t spend at least 80 percent of your premium dollar on medical care and quality improvements rather than advertising, overhead and bonuses for executives, they will have to provide you a rebate.  In 2012, 8.5 million people received half a billion dollars in refunds.
In every State and for the first time ever, insurance companies are required to publicly justify their actions if they want to raise rates by 10 percent or more.
Small businesses have long paid a premium price for health insurance, often 18 percent more than larger employers.  The tax credit will benefit an estimated 2 million workers who get their insurance from an estimated 360,000 small employers who will receive the credit in 2011 alone.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

A Defining Challenge

The American people’s frustrations with Washington is at an all-time high.  That frustration seems to be rooted in their daily battles to make ends meet, pay for college, buy a home, or save for retirement.  It’s rooted in the feeling that no matter how hard they work, the deck is stacked against them.  For decades, many people have witnessed a growing inequality and a lack of upward mobility that has jeopardized middle-class America’s basic bargain, that if you work hard, you’ll have a chance to get ahead.  Making sure our economy works for everyone is the defining challenge of our time.  

President Obama has again raised this issue, because the outcomes of the debates that Congress is having right now; on health care, the budget, and reforming our financial system will have practical implications for every American.  The decisions we make on those issues over the next few years will determine whether or not our children will grow up in an America where opportunity is real.

Abraham Lincoln, who described himself as a “poor man’s son,” started a system of land grant colleges, so that any poor man’s son could attend and learn.  

Teddy Roosevelt was a rich man’s son, who fought for an eight hour workday, protections for workers, and busted monopolies that kept prices high and wages low.  

During the Great Depression, FDR fought for Social Security, and insurance for the unemployed, and a minimum wage.  

LBJ fought for Medicare and Medicaid, and we forged a New Deal, that declared a War on Poverty.  A ladder of opportunity was built, and a safety net stretched beneath our fellow Americans so that if they fell, it wouldn’t be too far, and they could bounce back.  Accordingly, America built the largest middle class the world has ever known.  

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Ignoring the Evidence

For decades, our broken health care system has left working families vulnerable to the insecurities of today’s economy.  The Obama administration and congressional Democrats believe that nobody should have to worry about going broke because somebody in their family got sick.  And, nobody should have to choose between putting food on the table or taking their child to see a doctor.  Every day, our country was allowing 14,000 Americans to lose their health coverage.  Every year, the wealthiest nation on earth did nothing, while tens of thousands of Americans died because they didn’t have health care.  Democrats took on healthcare reform, because they believed, that America is a better country.
The website, healthcare.gov, is working well for the vast majority of users, and people are buying affordable insurance plans.  Despite all the problems in the rollout, about half a million people across America are prepared to gain health care coverage through marketplaces and Medicaid beginning on 1/1/14.  That number is going to keep growing, because there are 41 million people without health insurance.  The demand is there and the product on those marketplaces provides choice and competition for people.  It allows them to have the security that health insurance can provide. 
The Patient Protection and Affordable Healthcare law is working and will continue to work in the future.  People want the financial stability of health insurance, and Obama is committed to making sure that people have a secure foundation for the health care that they need.  This law is working and will continue to work in the future.
The law’s opponents have ignored the evidence, and convinced themselves that the Affordable Care Act has failed.  They would be wise to check with those people across our country whose lives have been changed for the better by this law.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Limbaugh Criticizes Pope

Catholics believe that Pope Francis is the most recent successor to St. Peter, but Rush Limbaugh considers him to be a Marxist.
With 78.2 million self-identified members, the Catholic Church is the largest single religious denomination in America, comprising 25 percent of the population.
Limbaugh blasted the pontiff, the day after Francis released "Evangelii Gaudium" (The Joy of the Gospel), a 50,000 word statement that calls for church reform and castigates elements of modern capitalism.  The radio talk show host referred to the Pope's apostolic exhortation to the faithful, as "pure Marxism."
In his native Argentina, Pope Francis worked on behalf of the poor.  In "Evangelii Gaudium," he warned that the "idolatry of money" would lead to a "new tyranny."  He also strongly criticized "trickle-down economics," by insisting, that the theory "expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power."
Liberal Catholics have long called on church leaders to spend more time and energy on protecting the poor from economic inequalities.
It’s estimated that Limbaugh’s program reaches 15 million listeners.  He claimed: "It's sad because this pope makes it very clear he doesn't know what he's talking about when it comes to capitalism and socialism and so forth."
Actually, Argentina was a battlefield between leftist socialists and right-wing security forces during much of Francis' early career, where he was a Jesuit priest and later archbishop of Buenos Aires.
Pope Francis said: "I encourage financial experts and political leaders to ponder the words of one of the sages of antiquity.”  He then quoted a fifth-century saint.  St. John Chrysostom long ago proclaimed: “Not to share one’s wealth with the poor is to steal from them and to take away their livelihood.  It is not our own goods which we hold, but theirs.”

Monday, December 02, 2013

A Case of Inequality

Yesterday, I received an e-mailed containing the following quote by Pope Francis.

"Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality.  Such an economy kills.  How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?  This is a case of exclusion.  Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving?  This is a case of inequality.  Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless.  As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape. In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world.  This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system.  Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting….  This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation.  Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control.  A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules."

It will be interesting to see, whether these words by Pope Francis will have a significant impact on the way millions of Catholics in America vote.  

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Partisan Hearings

Darrell Issa the Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is worth $303 million, which makes him the wealthiest member of Congress. He recently claimed: “This is not a partisan hearing. I will not have it accused of being a partisan hearing.”

If you run a company, that has got something really big coming, you hire a PR firm.  The PR firm is suppose to make sure that there is as much positive information as possible, but Darrell Issa is on the road trying to manufacture negative news to undermine Obamacare.  As the Chairman of the House Oversight Committee, he has done everything in his power to tarnish the president’s healthcare law.

The Oversight Committee is doing a series of field hearings called ObamaCare Implementation.  These hearings are going to be held in North Carolina, Georgia, Texas, and Arizona.  None of these states have set up a state exchange and the challenges facing those states that haven’t bought into Obamacare are significant. 

These hearings won’t be fair or balanced.  The committee will hear from people who have received cancellation notices and have seen their insurance cost go up.  Issa held his first hearing in Gastonia, Georgia and was greeted by a group of protesters who knew exactly what was going on.

Those protesters have the right to be heard at congressional hearing in their district, but  Issa hand picked all five witnesses, and people were told if they spoke out in turn, they would be escorted out of the building.

Two women who have Obamacare wanted to tell their side of the story and asked to testify, but Issa ignored them, so the women had no other option but to turn to the local news reporters.

Allison Ward, who is proponent of the Affordable Healthcare Act wrote a letter to Issa saying: "I want to testify for one reason.  I cannot do this by myself.  I cannot afford healthcare"  The ACA offered her insurance, that she can afford for the first time in years.

Dina Wilson wanted to speak didn’t get  a response to her request.  As a teenager, she was diagnosed with MS, and no one would insure, but the ACA change that.  Wilson pointed out: “I think if it’s a true hearing, then both sides, all sides should be heard and they don’t want to hear us.”