"It is the death of humanity to know the price of everything but the value of nothing." ~Unknown

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Ending Private Insurers' Chokehold on Health Care

by Pierre Tristam

For once, I agree with Republicans on health care reform. We should scrap it all and start over. Thursday's encounter between the two parties was good talking-point theater but awfully runny with repeats of the past year's parroting of a "government takeover of health care" and other dim-witted fabrications. (Don't talk to me about a government takeover of health care when the biggest fort you're defending is Medicare.)
Instead of acting like the grown-up majority they are, Democrats, led by their chief appeaser, deferred to a minority of cranks and shills, each one of them better insured than most of us, as if the Republic's future depends on them. It doesn't. Quite the contrary.
The Republican minority, by its calculated prevention of progress on any issue of importance since March -- health care, jobs, taxes, global warming -- is ensuring that America's appointment with has-been status will be moved up a few decades, to China's delight. Democrats are complicit. So go ahead. Make the Republicans' day, and scrap it all.
But scrapping the Democrats' proposal isn't enough. A few details aside, even the best of the Democrats' idea of reform is not significantly different from what's in place now, which is to say that it isn't that different from the do-nothing approach Republicans favor. It builds on an existing system dominated by private insurers whose twin goals are to cover as few of the sick as possible while making as much money as possible when covering the healthy.
That's not an insurance system. It's a predatory swindle. And it's certainly not a health care system.
Care isn't defined by what you can afford, but by what you need. Anything short of that is health care's equivalent of segregation, which is what we have now. Sure, some of the best care in the world is in the United States. But aside from the elderly, who have it all, most of us are barred from it. We're either slaves to insurers' orders or priced out of the swindle altogether, as some 50 million Americans are.
I'd be all for reforming the system by building on what works. We know what does. Build on Medicare, goddess of 45 million Americans. That works. Insurance for all, universal choice of providers, no interference between govern- ment and doctors, cheapest overhead, and no permission required for any procedure from some pinhead adjuster in a call center who doesn't know care from crap. Instead, by deferring to the private insurance industry, what we've done so far is attempt to build on what kills. It hasn't been working. Why should it work any better by subsidizing it with tax dollars?
The problem isn't "socialized medicine." That doesn't even exist in France or Germany, two countries with far better health systems than the United States. The problem isn't defensive medicine either, or rich doctors, or Taj Mahal hospitals.
The problem is the for-profit insurance industry. A system designed first and last to make money is posing as a guardian and underwriter of care.
The two are fundamentally incompatible in principle. A patient's needs should never depend on an adjuster's rules as opposed to a doctor's judgments. Yet they do every day. The same people who claim to fear government interfering with their care seem to have no problem with those adjusters denying them care. That's where ignorance meets ideology.
If relying on private insurers to arbitrate care is incompatible in principle, it's even more so in economic terms. Why should 20 cents of every health care dollar I spend line the pocket of a shareholder or sustain the redundant bureaucracies of hundreds of insurance companies when hundreds of billions of dollars a year could be saved by eliminating profits and redundancies? That's what government insurance does. And no, Medicare fraud, salacious stories aside, doesn't come near the cost of private-insurance frauds, swindles and the immeasurable cost in dollars and dignity of care denied. It's fraud every time a private insurer drops an individual who gets sick. It's a swindle every time a private insurer denies coverage for a procedure recommended by a doctor, since that insurer is still pocketing premiums.
Health care is more than a right. It's an entitlement. What should be mandatory isn't for every American to carry insurance, but to have every opportunity to access the best care possible without risk of bankruptcy, without making choices between care and other necessities, without submitting to an insurer's actuarial lotteries. That's how civilized nations treat their citizens. The elderly aside, it's not how America treats its own. The best care in the world means nothing when it's leashed by the worst private-insurance system in the world. That system doesn't bear reforming. It bears eliminating. Until then, mark your calendar for that appointment with the America formerly known as a great nation.

Edgemication In America

The mere thought of this proposal is astonishing.  To allow that thought to pass one's lips and form  into words is stupefying, yet it happened. But wait! It gets more egregious.  Not only did that thought to pass one's lips and form into words it happened in front of a group of other people who actually entertained this horrid notion.  My Friends.....we as a country are not moving forward. In fact, we are regressing.  Keep your eyes open for the new real estate boom...... mud huts,  soon to be popping up in a neighborhood near you!  But that's just me....You Decide.
One way to save money – eliminate 12th grade «
One way to save money – eliminate 12th grade
by Jeff Rosenberg 

Good grief. At least this hasn’t been proposed here in Minnesota… yet.

This is what happens when you have a completely unbalanced “solution” to your state’s budget crisis that involves all cuts and no new revenues: Conservatives with nothing left to cut start moving on to cutting core state services.

The sudden buzz over the relative value of senior year stems from a recent proposal by state Sen. Chris Buttars that Utah make a dent in its budget gap by eliminating the 12th grade. The notion quickly gained some traction among supporters who agreed with the Republican’s assessment that many seniors frittered away their final year of high school, but faced vehement opposition from other quarters, including in his hometown of West Jordan.

Think it won’t happen here? Just wait.
February 17, 2010, 3:00 pm

-and now for the hard facts-



UNITED STATES                <-------------------------

Saturday, February 27, 2010

What Happened To The Separation of Church And State ?

I deeply resent that my tax dollars pay him a hefty wage and for his healthcare.

GOP Wages War Against The Poor

Cold-hearted Missouri GOP House members hurt the poor

By Barb Shelly, Kansas City Star Editorial Page columnist

This is an expansion of a post below. It is running as my weekly opinion column in the Kansas City Star.

Say you’re a single mom who’s having a hard time. Maybe you lost a decent job and you’re waiting tables or working at a convenience store. Maybe you have headaches, or something worse. You think you should see a doctor, but you can’t pay.

Guess what? Republicans in the Missouri House this week killed a plan that would have provided health insurance for 35,000 people like you — parents who make up to 50 percent of the poverty level. We’re talking about an annual income of $11,025 for a family of four.

Guess what else? According to one of these Republicans, Tim Jones of Eureka, Mo., you are “plundering” the taxpayers.

According to Bryan Pratt of Lee’s Summit, you’re looking for “welfare,” not health care.

Confused? Perfectly understandable. The House vote defied logic.

The proposal would not have cost Missouri taxpayers a dime. Hospitals had offered to pay $52.5 million a year out of federal funds they receive for treating uninsured patients. Missouri could use that money to draw down an additional $93 million in federal money available for health care.

Hospitals liked the idea because it would have relieved pressure on their emergency rooms, where health care is costliest.

Business groups supported the proposal because it would have brought money into the state health care network, and because healthy employees are productive employees.

The Missouri Senate supported the plan because it would be good for the state.

Everyone liked the idea, except for 85 House Republicans, who outnumbered by 10 votes the House Democrats and a handful of GOP lawmakers who broke from their caucus.

With one week left in the legislative session, any hope of expanding access to health care in Missouri rests with lawmakers’ dubious ability to agree on a new way to use the funds that hospitals had offered, and the matching federal dollars.

Whatever plan they come up with will be more cumbersome and less accessible than a straightforward Medicaid expansion.

“The only possible reason not to do this is if you don’t like the governor,” said Democrat Jake Zimmerman, from St. Louis County, before Republicans rejected that expansion Thursday.

Well, there’s something to that. Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon crafted the deal with the Missouri Hospital Association, and passage of the health care expansion would have given him bragging rights.

The heated debate on the House floor was made livelier by Pratt’s accusation that members of Nixon’s staff had attempted to bribe House members with hints of favors if they would vote for the bill.

Nixon’s office has denied the allegation.

At least two House members say a Nixon staffer told them “the governor likes to reward people who share his views.”

Pratt’s accusation should be investigated. Offering a favor in exchange for a vote, if that’s what happened, is improper and possibly illegal.

But the central issue is that the Missouri House is controlled by lawmakers who show open disdain for the poor. Even in today’s economy, they fault people for not securing good-paying jobs that offer health insurance. They falsely equate poverty with lack of initiative.

These Republicans have been in charge in Jefferson City for years, but they have not enacted a single measure to make health care more affordable and accessible for Missourians.

They haven’t passed a law to curb fraud and abuse in the state’s Medicaid system. They haven’t encouraged healthier habits, or transparency in health care pricing.
They are long on ideology, bereft of accomplishments.

So sorry, Ms. Single Mom. Still nursing a headache? Maybe you can skip work for a day and stand in line at a free health clinic, or wait in your local hospital’s emergency room.

Don’t expect to run into any of your state legislators there. They all get health insurance. Paid for by the state of Missouri, at taxpayers’ expense.

Barbara Shelly is a member of the editorial board. She can be reached at or 816-234-4594. She blogs at


My opinion for what it's worth: 
Rep. Trent Franks (R) of Arizona obviously has never cracked open a book on the history of slavery.  I think it would be safe to assume Rep. Trent Franks has not read The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. Trent's argument that African Americans were better off under slavery than they are now because African American women are now free to choose weather or not they carry a pregnancy to term opposed to being forced to be a 'breeder' for her white master. I find this to be mind boggling. And that's not even skimming the surface of the brutal atrocities African Americans suffered under slavery. I am dismayed that bigots like Trent Franks get voted into office and further amazed that they are permitted to remain in office.  But that's just me....You Decide.

The Washington Monthly

By Steve Benen
February 27, 2010
GOP REP: BLACKS BETTER OFF UNDER SLAVERY.... Rep. Trent Franks (R) of Arizona has long been one of Congress's most embarrassing members. But this week, the right-wing lawmaker may have reached a new depth.
Franks was speaking with blogger Mike Stark about civility and the public discourse. Unprompted, the congressman started reflecting on the African-American community, and his belief that African Americans may have been better off under slavery than in a legal system that allows legal abortions.
"[I]n this country, we had slavery for God knows how long. And now we look back on it and we say 'How brave were they? What was the matter with them? You know, I can't believe, you know, four million slaves. This is incredible.' And we're right, we're right. We should look back on that with criticism. It is a crushing mark on America's soul.
"And yet today, half of all black children are aborted. Half of all black children are aborted. Far more of the African American community is being devastated by the policies of today than were being devastated by the policies of slavery."
Franks added that he can sometimes say things that are "intemperate," but added, "I don't want to hide from the truth."
Let's consider this the latest in a long line of setbacks for the Republican Party's outreach to minority voters.
As far as the substance of the claim is concerned, Franks significantly exaggerated the rate at which black women terminate their pregnancies. But substance aside, hearing a Republican lawmaker argue, out loud, on camera, in the 21st century, that today's policies are worse for African Americans than the policies of slavery is just mind-numbing.
If Franks's name seems familiar, he's the same right-wing lawmaker who recently described President Obama as an "enemy of humanity," who "acts un-American," and "doesn't want people to see" his birth certificate.
In October, relying on a strange book published by a fringe website, Franks also asked the House Sergeant at Arms to start looking for Muslim "spies" on congressional committees.
A spokesperson for the DCCC responded yesterday, "To compare the horrors and inhumane treatment of millions of African Americans during slavery as a better way of life for African Americans today is beyond repulsive. In 2010, during the second year of our first African American President, it is astonishing that a thought such as this would come to mind, let alone be shared."
I do wonder, though, what kind of leadership post Trent Franks would get if House Republicans reclaim the majority next year.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Afflicting the Afflicted


If we’re lucky, Thursday’s summit will turn out to have been the last act in the great health reform debate, the prologue to passage of an imperfect but nonetheless history-making bill.

If so, the debate will have ended as it began: with Democrats offering moderate plans that draw heavily on past Republican ideas, and Republicans responding with slander and misdirection.

Nobody really expected anything different. But what was nonetheless revealing about the meeting was the fact that Republicans — who had weeks to prepare for this particular event, and have been campaigning against reform for a year — didn’t bother making a case that could withstand even minimal fact-checking.

It was obvious how things would go as soon as the first Republican speaker, Senator Lamar Alexander, delivered his remarks. He was presumably chosen because he’s folksy and likable and could make his party’s position sound reasonable.

But right off the bat he delivered a whopper, asserting that under the Democratic plan, “for millions of Americans, premiums will go up.”

Wow. I guess you could say that he wasn’t technically lying, since the Congressional Budget Office analysis of the Senate Democrats’ plan does say that average payments for insurance would go up.

But it also makes it clear that this would happen only because people would buy more and better coverage.

The “price of a given amount of insurance coverage” would fall, not rise — and the actual cost to many Americans would fall sharply thanks to federal aid.

His fib on premiums was quickly followed by a fib on process. Democrats, having already passed a health bill with 60 votes in the Senate, now plan to use a simple majority vote to modify some of the numbers, a process known as reconciliation.

Mr. Alexander declared that reconciliation has “never been used for something like this.” Well, I don’t know what “like this” means, but reconciliation has, in fact, been used for previous health reforms — and was used to push through both of the Bush tax cuts at a budget cost of $1.8 trillion, twice the bill for health reform.

What really struck me about the meeting, however, was the inability of Republicans to explain how they propose dealing with the issue that, rightly, is at the emotional center of much health care debate: the plight of Americans who suffer from pre-existing medical conditions. In other advanced countries, everyone gets essential care whatever their medical history.

But in America, a bout of cancer, an inherited genetic disorder, or even, in some states, having been a victim of domestic violence can make you uninsurable, and thus make adequate health care unaffordable.

One of the great virtues of the Democratic plan is that it would finally put an end to this unacceptable case of American exceptionalism. But what’s the Republican answer? Mr. Alexander was strangely inarticulate on the matter, saying only that “House Republicans have some ideas about how my friend in Tullahoma can continue to afford insurance for his wife who has had breast cancer.” He offered no clue about what those ideas might be.

In reality, House Republicans don’t have anything to offer to Americans with troubled medical histories. On the contrary, their big idea — allowing unrestricted competition across state lines — would lead to a race to the bottom. The states with the weakest regulations — for example, those that allow insurance companies to deny coverage to victims of domestic violence — would set the standards for the nation as a whole. The result would be to afflict the afflicted, to make the lives of Americans with pre-existing conditions even harder.

Don’t take my word for it. Look at the Congressional Budget Office analysis of the House G.O.P. plan. That analysis is discreetly worded, with the budget office declaring somewhat obscurely that while the number of uninsured Americans wouldn’t change much, “the pool of people without health insurance would end up being less healthy, on average, than under current law.” But here’s the translation: While some people would gain insurance, the people losing insurance would be those who need it most. Under the Republican plan, the American health care system would become even more brutal than it is now.

So what did we learn from the summit? What I took away was the arrogance that the success of things like the death-panel smear has obviously engendered in Republican politicians. At this point they obviously believe that they can blandly make utterly misleading assertions, saying things that can be easily refuted, and pay no price. And they may well be right.

But Democrats can have the last laugh. All they have to do — and they have the power to do it — is finish the job, and enact health reform.

Copyright 2010 The New York Times Company

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Part V: Overcoming the Divide and Conquer Strategy — The Economic Elite Vs. The People of the USA

By David DeGraw

Parts I, II, III and IV of David DeGraw’s six-part series can be found here, here, here, and here.

-I: Casualties of Economic Terrorism, Surveying the Damage
——-II: The Rise of the Economic Elite
——-III: Exposing Our Enemy – Meet the Economic Elite
——-IV: The Financial Coup d’Etat
——-V: Overcoming the Divide and Conquer Strategy
——-VI: How to Fight Back and Win: Common Ground Issues That Must Be Won

V: Overcoming the Divide and Conquer Strategy
“The conflicting propaganda of opposing parties is essentially what leads to political abstention. But this is not the abstention of the free spirit which asserts itself; it is the result of resignation, the external symptom of a series of inhibitions. Such a man has not decided to abstain; under diverse pressures, subjected to shocks and distortions, he can no longer (even if he wanted to) perform a political act. What is even more serious is that this inhibition not only is political, but also progressively takes over the whole of his being and leads to a general attitude of surrender.” — Jacques Ellul, Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes

The primary reason why the Economic Elite have gained such dominance is their commitment to psychological operations that divide-and-conquer the US public. They use their overwhelming influence over mainstream media outlets and political candidates in very clever ways to divide us.

It is known among political scientists that powerful forces always seek to gain control of pre-existing social and political institutions so they can usurp their powers.

The Economic Elite gained control of both the Democratic and Republican political parties because they knew that hardworking Americans loyally followed these parties, and we believed these parties were looking out for our best interests. We have, for the most part, been lifelong Republicans or lifelong Democrats, but until we see that our favored party has been seized by power and greed addicted interests, we will all continue to lose. These are extremely hard truths to face, but until we face them, we will continue our decline.

With half the US population loyal to Democrats and the other half loyal to Republicans, gaining control of both these parties meant total control for them.

The past decade is testament to their total control of both parties.

In manufactured public opinion, Obama represented a far left swing in US politics, and Bush represented a far right swing, and these two supposed polar opposites also had a Congress overwhelmingly run by members of their own party. Did we get drastically different policies? In what matters most, in both cases, the results were the same: more money and power for the Economic Elite and the continued decline of the US middle class. This fact is now undeniable.

Yes, there are definite differences in their rhetoric and on some social issues, but this is the key to the psychological operations, to the divide-and-conquer strategy that they use so effectively.

To distract and divide us, they use rhetoric on social issues like religion, gay marriage, abortion, etc., all serious and significant issues that we bitterly disagree on, but in the overall picture, these issues are secondary to the larger, more fundamental political and economic issues that lead to our wealth being stolen from us, and ultimately, our lives being increasingly dominated by a small few.

Bush appealed to conservative Republicans and then ran up the deficit to record levels. Obama appealed to liberal Democrats, but increased war spending and support for Wall Street billionaires. In both cases, the candidates severely divided the US middle class, but in the policy decisions that mattered most, they both sided with the economic top one percent at the expense of hardworking Americans.

Just look at the last few election cycles. In 2006 and 2008 US citizens rose up in record-breaking numbers to kick out the Republicans in power, whom they felt had betrayed them. Now, with the Democrats in power, the consensus seems to be that in the 2010 mid-term elections we will vote for Republicans and kick out the Democrats who have failed to deliver on the much needed and promised changes.

Do you not see the ridiculous nature of this divide-and-conquer strategy?

This is a vicious cycle that will continue to lead to our destruction.

Psychological Operations 101: Obama Vs. Fox News
Part V: Overcoming the Divide and Conquer Strategy -- Economic Elite Vs. The People
For those of us who are strong enough to see beyond our propaganda-induced preconceptions and prejudices, the insidious nature of the Economic Elite’s divide-and-conquer strategy is on full display in the feud between Obama and Fox News.

About half of the country loves Obama and hates Fox News, and the other half loves Fox News but hates Obama. They both use very effective propaganda to seduce their followers. However, as hard as it is for people who love one of them to admit, they both serve the same masters.

Once again, let’s look at Goldman Sachs. They financed Obama’s campaign and he has rewarded them with policies that have led to them making record-breaking profits, instead of investigating them for the many illegal activities they participated in and continue to take part in.

On the other side of this psychological operation, you have Fox News. When was the last time you saw Fox News doing an investigation into the illegal practices of Goldman Sachs? Even the Obama-appointed Tim Geithner, the Economic Elite’s main man on the economy, escapes the significant focus of Fox News’ powerful attack force.

Looking at the Business Roundtable, a significant majority of Obama’s campaign funding came from Roundtable members and, as mentioned earlier, he frequently meets with Roundtable members. On the other hand, Fox News is owned by Roundtable member Rupert Murdoch, and Fox relies heavily on advertising money from Roundtable members. Rupert Murdoch even supported Obama over McCain.

As someone who monitors Fox News, I can’t recall the last time I heard Fox reporting on the activities of the Business Roundtable, not that any mainstream “news” companies do.

The list of similarities between the two, when it comes to exposing and holding the Economic Elite accountable, is extensive. So here you have an excellent divide-and-conquer psychological operation.

Fox News declares Obama the enemy, and Obama declares Fox the enemy, yet the Economic Elite remain in the shadows, behind the scenes, untouched and continuing their plunder.

Just think of all the misplaced outraged spent on these two puppets. Sure, people have many reasons to like and dislike both, but imagine if all the diehard Obama-haters focused their rage on the people who put Obama in power, and if the diehard Fox-haters stopped criticizing everything Fox says and focused on the Economic Elite who control the media environment in which Fox News operates.

If the Fox-haters and the Obama-haters united and focused their combined outrage on the common forces behind the both of them, we would all be much better off.

The most significant bias in the mainstream media is not the liberal or conservative views propagated to divide, distract, confuse and create apathy among the populace; the ultimate bias is in what is missing from the coverage. The investigative reporting on the most powerful forces within our society is left out of the discussion.

McClatchy, one of the few real journalism news organizations, has repeatedly reported on the illegal activities of Goldman Sachs and the crime syndicate they operate in. Yet, an overwhelming majority of mainstream news outlets ignore these reports and nothing is done to hold Goldman Sachs accountable. In fact, two of the leading figures in the outright theft of our money have recently been lauded in their propaganda press. When you see Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke become the Person of the Year in Time Magazine and Goldman Sachs CEO Llyod Blankfein become the Financial Times Man of the Year, you begin to see where the real media bias lies.

The main bias is in favor of the thieves who stole our country and economy, and own the mainstream media companies. The omni-present mainstream media is the greatest weapon of oppression humanity has ever known.

Although the Internet has had an impact, television news is still by far the most influential news medium. Despite all the new information platforms, this year we have set a new record by watching an average of four hours and 49 minutes of TV per day. We have been subjected to heavy doses of propaganda on a daily basis, for hours a day, every day of our lives.

The mainstream media creates what is known in mass psychology as the “spectrum of thinkable thought.” By constantly discussing and debating surface issues, they limit the range of debate. Having the Republican vs. Democrat paradigm leads us to never debating the underlying Economic Elite who control both of the parties, not to mention their ownership of the media platform on which this debate is taking shape. The more important underlying issues are never discussed, and therefore never enter public consciousness.

The censorship that is most prevalent today is the most dangerous form. Not the censorship of explicit words, sex, or violence, but the censorship of any thoughts outside of elite corporate ideology. Any debate that leads to critical thought on prevailing elite economic dominance is not allowed to enter into the mass media or mainstream public consciousness.

“We must conclude that a changeover is imminent and ineluctable in the co-opted caste who serve the interests of domination, and above all manage the protection of that domination. In such an affair, innovation will surely not be displayed [in the mainstream media]. It appears instead like lightning, which we know only when it strikes.” — Guy Debord Comments on the Society of the Spectacle

This report was originally published on Amped Status. To be notified via email, subscribe to the Amped Status newsletter here.

David DeGraw is the founder and editor of and director of You can reach him at

Reality Check (Part 1 of 3): The Scam

Feb 9th, 2010 | By Michael Hinckley | Read more in: Fearless History

Welcome to the first part of a three part series (The Scam, The Myth, and The Truth) on life in America. This episode will cover some of the scams, or misleading information, used to disseminate fraud or deception, which is being perpetrated upon the American people as a whole.

I will examine the “conventional wisdom” of some major issues and reveal the reality behind them as supported by fact. I am not a financial expert, nor would I ever want to be, but here are some realities and cons you should be aware of.
Scam: Credit scores are a reflection of your worthiness as a credit holder and losses to that score will forever adversely affect you.

Why it’s a scam: Your credit score, and increasingly including your criminal record (including moving violations), are controlled by three credit agencies all of which use an algorithm to determine your “credit score.”

This score is given an arbitrary number in an arbitrary scale, thus “entitling” you to better credit terms.

You, as a consumer, often have very little influence over the number you are assigned, as witnessed by the “credit crunch” of 2008.

Consumers who enjoyed high credit scores and who behaved in the predictable way that markets and lenders like had their credit risk “reassessed” and those who had high balance credit lines (in use and not in use) saw their credit line reduced dramatically. This reflects in the credit reports, and credit agencies lowered their risk rating, resulting in a cascade of credit limitations. Certainly, high-risk credit card users were being squeezed, but that is part of the risk/reward analysis for companies like Capital One and Providian. But, according to “conventional wisdom,” so-called good credit risks should be immune to such problems. Only they weren’t.

The Reality: Credit scores, and credit rating in general, do not accurately reflect your worthiness or honor as a person, but there is an artificial stigma attached to “bad credit” holders. In reality, there are few times in a person’s life that credit is actually necessary for the average American — purchasing a house, for instance or (in some cases) purchasing a car — otherwise, it is a superfluous practice to keep a credit card or other line of credit at all. Credit is, however, good for lenders, speculators and banks because they are essentially recouping money without having to work for it — they get something for nothing as any good scam artist would.
The Scam: Automatic overdraft protection prevents embarrassing collection fees.

Why it’s a scam: Banks automatically apply this “protection service” to all account holders and there is no way to opt out. According to Payment News citing a report by Consumers Union (a branch of Consumer Reports), the average charge for overdraft fees is $27 and banks collect some $7.8 billion in fees each year. Comparatively, “returned check fees” or fees incurred by check-writers who “bounce” checks average just $17 a check, with criminal consequences for consistently writing bad checks (called “kiting”).

To make matters worse, banks often re-arrange either deposits or credits to an account in order to recoup more money from their account holders. In some cases, banks’ “policy” prevents credits to an account from being counted until close of business on the day they arrive — despite the fact that banks technically already have the money in their ledgers. In other cases, rather than processing checks as they come in, or in order from smallest to largest, banks do the opposite: largest to smallest. The idea, they claim, is to ensure that big ticket items such as mortgage, rent and car payments are made without any hassle while the small debits are probably just incidentals. What they omit from that statement, however, is that it is in their interest to get two, three, four or five overdrafts by banks’ “reordering” of debits than if they were processed differently.

The Reality: Congress is now wrangling over a bill to prevent such outrages (such as the 1000 percent fee on a $3 McDonald’s transaction) by allowing consumers to opt out of such “overdraft protection” schemes. Meanwhile you can protect yourself by joining a credit union or similar collective. Also, paying cash for most purposes can prevent much of these headaches — the debit card was a huge boon to the banking industry in the arena of overdraft protection fees — and writing checks for the rest of your obligations. Similarly, if you put 5 to 10 percent aside PER PAYCHECK into a savings account, you will not only build up your own, interest-bearing “overdraft protection” but will quickly adjust your spending habits to make do with the slightly smaller paycheck.
The Scam: Homeowners are “real” Americans/Citizens/People.

Why it’s a scam: Ever since the end of WWII, the “dream” of owning a home has persisted as part of the American way. While this was true for most of the 20th century, in reality, the market crash, housing bust and credit crunch of 2008 have revealed serious flaws in the house-owning myth. First, compared to the average price of a home in 1947, the cost of homes has sky-rocketed. According to the Department of Defense analysis in 1950, the average GI Bill recipient should purchase a home that is no more than 3x their annual salary. According to the Department of Labor Statistics, the average salary in 1950 was $10,000. 3 x $10,000 = $30,000. By comparison, the average salary of an American worker in 2008, according to the IRS, was $40,000 per year. The median cost of a home in America that same year was $215,000.  $215,000/ $40,000 = 5.035x the average salary.

On top of the higher salary-to-cost ratio, property taxes and increasingly unstable market values make owning a house a difficult prospect. Add to that the possibility of foreclosure or balloon payments on ARM mortgages as well as many banks’ reticence to negotiate on the contract and you have a recipe for disaster.

The Reality: Meanwhile, renters have never been in a better position. Many former home owners who can’t afford to live in their houses and are having difficulty selling the property in a leaden market are more open to renting at “cost” versus at a profit. For those owners who are “upside down” on their house, more and more financial analysts are advising — or perhaps encouraging — owners to sign the house over to the bank and to rent.

Certainly it will impact your credit score, but in five or so years when you are ready to purchase a new home, your credit score will be miraculously healed (see above). Some analysts do, however, help perpetuate the myth that walking away from a house you can’t afford — especially if you are unemployed — makes you a loser. In my book, going into debt for property you’re going to lose anyway is a losing move, but there you have it.
Con: Discuss your situation with credit card companies and they can work with you to reduce your payments.

Why its a con: Credit card companies, particularly ones that send out mailers, are not interested in helping you out anymore. They feel that the ship of credit is sinking and they should get as much as they can before you finally default — they’re working on the assumption that you will default eventually, by the way. In the mean time, they set up a cascading system by which they can a) increase your interest, b) lower your credit limitand/or c) assess fees upon your outstanding balance to ensure you default. In short, the credit card companies re-negotiate the terms of your contract while you retain almost no rights whatsoever.

The Reality: The reality is you can stop payment on your cards if it means the difference between negotiating in good faith or being stuck on a never-ending hamster wheel of debt. If you can make more than the minimum payment, ask the company to close the card, freeze the debt’s amount and enter you into a repayment plan. If they won’t, you can let the phone ring and ignore the calls until the credit card company sells off the debt to a collection agency. The collection agency buys your debt for a fraction of its value and is more than willing to negotiate, often saving you 33 percent or more. The upshot — you save money and you stop receiving calls. It will hurt your credit score, but that might not be a bad thing.

Ed. note: If you do negotiate a settlement with either the credit card company or a collections agency, get from them in writing that when you’ve paid per your agreement, the debt is paid in full.

Many financial “experts” engage in emotional, not rational, arguments in regards to your finances, especially if you’re defaulting. They use emotionally-loaded words such as “obligation” and “duty” while completely absolving money lenders, banks and the groups in power of any responsibility in the financial mess we’re in. To make matters worse, corporations which hold your debt can write off your account as a loss up to five years later. They get their money back from you the taxpayer.

And to make matters worse, those same banks whose credit roulette caused the 2008 financial recession got taxpayer “bailout” loans AND are rewarding their top players (who engineered the economic debacle) with multi-million dollar bonuses.
Who is really the victim here and who has the “obligation” to whom?

Bankers ~They do have a license to steal

No Banker Left Behind |
Published on Wednesday, February 24, 2010 by
No Banker Left Behind

by Robert Scheer

They do have a license to steal. There is no other way to read Tuesday’s report from the New York state comptroller that bonuses for Wall Street financiers rose 17 percent to $20.3 billion in 2009. Of course that is less than the $32.9 billion for bonus rewards back in 2007, when those hotshots could still pretend that they were running sound businesses.

The economy is anything but sound, but you would hardly know that from looking at the balance sheets of the big investment banks. The broker-dealer firms on Wall Street made a record profit, estimated at greater than $55 billion by the comptroller, and the only thing holding back even more grotesque bonuses was concern over criticism from a public that was hardly doing as well.

The enormous rewards last year come not from their having righted the ship of finance by lowering the rate of mortgage foreclosures for ordinary folks, one of four who are now “underwater” on their loans. Consumer confidence this month is the lowest in 27 years, and unemployment is expected to hover near 10 percent for the next two years. No, they get bonuses because the Federal Reserve, backed by the Treasury, bought the toxic mortgage securitization packages that Wall Street banks were left holding. They, and they alone, were made whole.

The way the scam worked is that the Treasury deposited taxpayer dollars with the Federal Reserve, which in turn purchased a whopping $1.25 trillion in toxic mortgages. That’s the figure after the Treasury on Tuesday committed to depositing $200 billion more with the Fed to increase spending on this program—one that was ostensibly designed to increase credit availability to small businesses and others but has hardly accomplished that goal. Credit is still very tight because the big financiers have used the low-cost cash they received from those charitable government programs to solidify their own positions through acquisitions and the like.

Call it the “no banker left behind” program. While this plan didn’t keep people in their homes, it did wonders for Wall Street profits. To be accurate, it’s mostly the big bankers who reaped the rewards, for, as the FDIC reported Tuesday, the list of smaller banks throughout the country faced with default is growing longer. The big financial conglomerates, which have come to be covered by the FDIC under questionable circumstances, benefit from that arrangement, but they are hardly the ones hurting. The victims are primarily the smaller traditional banks that played by the rules but were overwhelmed after the housing market became dreadfully corrupted.

The number of banks on the FDIC’s “problem list” soared from 252 at the end of 2008 to 702 last month, and the government’s fund to insure depositors fell to minus $20.9 billion. The source of the problems for those banks is the sorry state of the housing market, with the number of loans that are more than three months overdue at the highest level in the 26 years that such records have been collected. Those hurting are mostly smaller banks, which are paying for the havoc in the housing market that the Wall Street giants created with their collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) and credit default swaps (CDSs). Those mysterious financial innovations meant turning the housing market into a grand casino using people’s homes as chips, with the Wall Street crowd holding all the high cards.

Yet when the crash occurred, it was not those who designed and sold the toxic packages that suffered but rather the individual homeowners whose mortgages had been put into play. They and the smaller banks were still playing by the old rules, which meant that houses were presumed to be worth the money loaned on them. But there was no such disadvantage for the brokers, who would convert those mortgages into stock bundles. They had succeeded in getting the U.S. Congress, at the end of 2000, to exempt those CDOs and CDSs from any regulation.

This debacle was the accomplishment of the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, pushed through Congress during the last years of the Clinton administration by former Goldman Sachs honcho and onetime Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and his protégé and successor, Lawrence Summers, now the top economic adviser in the Obama White House. The intent was, in Summers’ words, to provide “legal certainty” for those CDO investment gimmicks, meaning no regulator could look to see what was inside the packages. We still don’t know, although we taxpayers now are on the hook for 1.25 trillion dollars’ worth of them.

Can’t say it didn’t work out for the folks at Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase, where total average compensation was up last year by 31 percent. How did you make out?
Copyright © 2010 Truthdig, L.L.C.

Robert Scheer is editor of and a regular columnist for The San Francisco

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Marijuana use up among boomers


Associated Press

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

MIAMI -- In her 88 years, Florence Siegel has learned how to relax: A glass of red wine. A crisp copy of The New York Times, if she can wrest it from her husband. Some classical music, preferably Bach. And every night like clockwork, she lifts a pipe to her lips and smokes marijuana.

Long a fixture among young people, use of the country's most popular illicit drug is now growing among the AARP set, as the massive generation of baby boomers who came of age in the 1960s and '70s grows older.

Perry Parks, 67, puffs marijuana at his home in Rockingham, N.C. The retired Army pilot suffered crippling pain from degenerative disc disease and arthritis before turning to marijuana, which he first had tried in college.

The number of people aged 50 and older reporting marijuana use in the prior year went up from 1.9 percent to 2.9 percent from 2002 to 2008, according to surveys from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

The rise was most dramatic among 55- to 59-year-olds, whose reported marijuana use more than tripled from 1.6 percent in 2002 to 5.1 percent.

Observers expect further increases as 78 million boomers born between 1945 and 1964 age. For many boomers, the drug never held the stigma it did for previous generations, and they tried it decades ago.

Some have used it ever since, while others are revisiting the habit in retirement, either for recreation or as a way to cope with the aches and pains of aging.

Siegel walks with a cane and has arthritis in her back and legs. She finds marijuana has helped her sleep better than pills ever did. And she can't figure out why everyone her age isn't sharing a joint, too.

"They're missing a lot of fun and a lot of relief," she said.

Politically, advocates for legalizing marijuana say the number of older users could represent an important shift in their decades-long push to change the laws.

"For the longest time, our political opponents were older Americans who were not familiar with marijuana and had lived through the 'Reefer Madness' mentality and they considered marijuana a very dangerous drug," said Keith Stroup, the founder and lawyer of NORML, a marijuana advocacy group.

"Now, whether they resume the habit of smoking or whether they simply understand that it's no big deal and that it shouldn't be a crime, in large numbers they're on our side of the issue."

Each night, 66-year-old Stroup says he sits down to the evening news, pours himself a glass of wine and rolls a joint. He's used the drug since he was a freshman at Georgetown, but many older adults are revisiting marijuana after years away.

Marijuana and smoking paraphernalia is shown in Perry Parks' home in Rockingham, N.C. The retired Army pilot said he was amazed how well the drug worked to ease the pain caused by his degenerative disc disease and arthritis.

"The kids are grown, they're out of school, you've got time on your hands and frankly it's a time when you can really enjoy marijuana," Stroup said. "Food tastes better, music sounds better, sex is more enjoyable."

The drug is credited with relieving many problems of aging: aches and pains, glaucoma, macular degeneration, and so on. Patients in 14 states enjoy medical marijuana laws, but those elsewhere buy or grow the drug illegally to ease their conditions.

Among them is Perry Parks, 67, of Rockingham, N.C., a retired Army pilot who suffered crippling pain from degenerative disc disease and arthritis. He had tried all sorts of drugs, from Vioxx to epidural steroids, but found little success.

About two years ago he turned to marijuana, which he first had tried in college, and was amazed how well it worked for the pain.

"I realized I could get by without the narcotics," Parks said, referring to prescription painkillers. "I am essentially pain free."

But there's also the risk that health problems already faced by older people can be exacerbated by regular marijuana use.

Older users could be at risk for falls if they become dizzy, smoking it increases the risk of heart disease and it can cause cognitive impairment, said Dr. William Dale, chief of geriatrics and palliative medicine at the University of Chicago Medical Center.

He said he'd caution against using it even if a patient cites benefits.

"There are other better ways to achieve the same effects," he said.

Pete Delany, director of applied studies at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, said boomers' drug use defied stereotypes, but is important to address.

"When you think about people who are 50 and older you don't generally think of them as using illicit drugs -- the occasional Hunter Thompson or the kind of hippie dippie guy that gets a lot of press maybe," he said. "As a nation, it's important to us to say, 'It's not just young people using drugs it's older people using drugs.' "

In conversations, older marijuana users often say they smoke in less social settings than when they were younger, frequently preferring to enjoy the drug privately. They say the quality -- and price -- of the drug has increased substantially since their youth and they aren't as paranoid about using it.

Dennis Day, a 61-year-old attorney in Columbus, Ohio, said when he used to get high, he wore dark glasses to disguise his red eyes, feared talking to people on the street and worried about encountering police.

With age, he says, any drawbacks to the drug have disappeared.

"My eyes no longer turn red, I no longer get the munchies," Day said. "The primary drawbacks to me now are legal."

Siegel bucks the trend as someone who was well into her 50s before she tried pot for the first time.

She can muster only one frustration with the drug.

"I never learned how to roll a joint," she said. "It's just a big nuisance.

It's much easier to fill a pipe."

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Health Means Life; Health Means Freedom

by George Lakoff

Life and Freedom are moral issues. It is time for Democrats to talk about health in those terms, beyond just policy terms like health insurance reform, bending the cost curve, types of exchanges, etc.

Health means life. If you get a major illness or injury and cannot get it treated adequately, you could die. And tens of thousands do.

Health means freedom. If you have a serious illness or injury and cannot get it treated, your freedom will be limited in many ways. Your physical freedom: you may no longer have the freedom to move around. Your economic freedom: you may not be able to work or your medical bills may impoverish you. Your emotional freedom: you will not be free to live a happy life.

Health is therefore a moral issue of the highest order. And it is a patriotic issue. Health security is a problem for far more Americans than military security. Your security is far more likely to be threatened by the lack of treatment for illness and injury than by any likely terrorist attack.

Real terror is seen in the thousands of letters sent to the White House and Congress by people whose lives have been shattered or threatened by the behavior of the health insurance corporations. Wellpoint, which made $2.7 billion in fourth quarter profits in 2009, tried to raise its Anthem/Blue Cross premiums 39% in California. Wellpoint made its profits by NOT giving health care. It treated 2.2million fewer people. It found a way NOT to treat people who needed treatment, either by refusing to insure them, or dropping them as clients, or denying authorizations. If you are sick or injured and that happens to you, you face terror — very real terror.

That’s when “health maintenance organizations” (HMOs) become health terror organizations.

The Obama administration has been missing the moral arguments in the health care debate, while conservatives always hit their moral targets. Where the conservatives argue loss of freedom (“government takeover”) and life (“death panels” and abortion), the administration has been giving policy wonk arguments about economic and pragmatic policy details that the public cannot understand: health exchanges, percentages of the poverty line (133% vs. 150%), and so on. They are real enough. But they do not communicate the moral issues.

Morality and Policy

Why should Congress move to reconciliation? Because it is moral. It is the right thing to do, because it will enhance life and freedom.

Why should the public option be in the reconciliation bill? Because it is right and practical: it allows the market to police the insurance companies — to keep their greed from overwhelming the life and freedom of tens of millions of Americans. And a public plan— an American Plan!— gives you an your doctor much more freedom to determine your treatment, with no profit incentives for insurance companies to deny you care.

Why should national exchanges, not state exchanges, be in the reconciliation bill? Because they provides greater economic freedom — through bigger pools, which means much more affordable insurance for all. Affordability means economic freedom!

Why cover folks up to 150%, not just 133%, of the poverty line. To offer life and freedom to many more of our fellow Americans.

Why should anti-trust exemptions be ended for health insurance companies? Economic freedom! Anti-trust exemptions function like corporate bailouts. They transfer the money from ordinary people into corporate coffers. By reducing or eliminating competition, corporations can charge more for less treatment to fewer people. Those extra charges, plus out of pocket costs when we are denied care under the plans, come out of our pockets. Anti-trust exemptions take money out our pockets and put it into corporate profits. They threaten our economic freedom.

And how should we be thinking about the passage of a health plan that makes progress but falls short of what is needed? We should be taking it as a national commitment — a moral commitment — to health for Americans. It is a commitment to doing what is right, to life, freedom, and health security, a first step of many steps to come.

It is time to return to the moral fundamentals. Health security is deeply patriotic — perhaps our most important form of security. Health means life. Health means freedom. Everyone can understand that.

George Lakoff is Goldman Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley.

Republicans v secular America

Republicans v secular America

With blatant disregard for the first amendment, Republicans' intolerance of US secularism means things are turning ugly
If you're part of secular America – that is, if you're an atheist, an agnostic, a religious liberal or even a mainstream believer who thinks religion should be kept out of politics and vice-versa – then you should be very afraid of what the Republican party has in store for you in 2012.
No news there, you might say. The Republicans, as we all know, have been in thrall to the Christian right since the Reagan era. But there's something new, something more intolerant, something truly ugly in the works. And if you don't believe me, let's start with Tim Pawlenty, unassuming governor of Minnesota in his day job, fire-breathing Christian warrior and aspiring presidential candidate in his spare time.
"I want to share with you four ideas that I think should carry us forward," Pawlenty said on Friday at the annual gathering of the Conservative Political Action Committee, or CPAC. After invoking "basic constitutional principle and basic common sense," he continued:
"The first one is this: God's in charge. God is in charge ... In the Declaration of Independence it says we are endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights. It doesn't say we're endowed by Washington, DC, or endowed by the bureaucrats or endowed by state government. It's by our creator that we are given these rights."
Never mind Pawlenty's fundamental and no doubt deliberate misreading of the founders' intent. (Thomas Jefferson, the primary author of the Declaration of Independence, is well-known for having cut up a Bible to remove all supernatural references to Jesus.) How, in practice, does Pawlenty envision "God's in charge" as a governing principle?
Pawlenty didn't say. But he oozed mild-mannered hatred for anyone who doesn't share his beliefs. In a bizarre closing in which he invoked the civil war general (and future president) Ulysses S Grant as some sort of rough-around-the-edges, proto-Tea Party role model, Pawlenty trashed anyone who attended "Ivy League schools" or who go to "chablis-drinking, brie-eating parties in San Francisco". (You can watch Pawlenty's address at, starting at the 1:38:30 mark.) It sounded like a parody of Pat Buchanan's famous 1992 "culture war" speech. Except that Pawlenty is one of the Republicans' two most plausible candidates for president in 2012.
The other would be former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who fell far short of the prize in 2008, but whose legendary self-discipline has put him in a strong position for 2012.
The trouble is that Romney has already declared war on secular America. In December 2007, you may recall, he delivered a speech in which he defended his Mormon religion at a time when he was under assault from evangelical Christians. It was, in many respects, a sensible plea for religious tolerance.
Except that Romney called for tolerance only among believers, explicitly omitting non-believers. "Any believer in religious freedom, any person who has knelt in prayer to the Almighty, has a friend and ally in me," Romney said. "And so it is for hundreds of millions of our countrymen: we do not insist on a single strain of religion – rather, we welcome our nation's symphony of faith."

As New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote the next day, "Romney described a community yesterday. Observant Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, Jews and Muslims are inside that community. The nonobservant are not. There was not even a perfunctory sentence showing respect for the nonreligious." Brooks – a conservative, though a secular one – warned that Romney was calling for "a culture war without end".

Romney and Pawlenty are the early front-runners for the Republican presidential nomination, and it's a good thing: the most frequently mentioned potential fringe candidates are even worse. If you have not seen Sarah Palin asking God to build a natural-gas pipeline in Alaska, well, do yourself a favour right now (see also her recent speech at the Tea Party convention). Mike Huckabee, a Baptist minister, personifies the Christian right in its purest form. "I hope we answer the alarm clock and take this nation back for Christ," Huckabee said in 1998. There is no reason to think he's changed his mind.
(I realise that I am leaving out Ron Paul right after he won the CPAC straw poll. As best as I can tell, Paul actually does believe in a secular government. But Paul is a libertarian who's entirely out of step with the Republican party, regardless of how adept he is at mobilising his devoted followers to pack events like straw polls. He was unable to establish himself as a serious candidate in 2008, and there's no reason to think he'll do any better in 2012.)
Barack Obama, in his inaugural address, said that "our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus – and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth."
It is that simple, inclusive vision that we're in danger of losing if Romney or Pawlenty – or, God help us (so to speak), Palin or Huckabee – is elected president in 2012. In truth, the founders made it clear in the first amendment that we need not just freedom of religion, but freedom from religion, especially given that 79% of Americans believe in miracles.

"While we assert for ourselves a freedom to embrace, to profess, and to observe, the religion which we believe to be of divine origin, we cannot deny an equal freedom to them whose minds have not yielded to the evidence which has convinced us," wrote James Madison.

In contrast to Madison, the Republicans propose a theocracy of believers. It is an assault not just on anyone who isn't one of them, but on the American idea, and on liberal democracies everywhere.

Chase Bank: When Customer Service Fails, There's Always YouTube (VIDEO)

When Customer Service Fails, There's Always YouTube (VIDEO)
Victoria Swindell, 19, stands outside a Chase branch in San Diego on a sunny day in November.

"I want my money back," she yells at the branch's facade. "I thought I could trust you. I thought this was America."

The scene is memorialized in a video by Seth  Aronson, who was close to Swindell's mother when she died of breast cancer in 2007. Now Aronson, who said he looks after Swindell, is waging a YouTube war against Chase in an effort to get the bank to return hundreds of dollars in overdraft and insufficient funds fees.

The videos document the indignity of dealing with a megabank's call center. Aside from the field trip to the bank branch, they show Aronson, 37, sitting in front of his computer, trying to get through to a Chase call center supervisor in Texas to maybe show some humanity and refund some of the fees. The people on the other end of the line can't help him. They're functionaries in a massive system, they've got protocols to follow and Swindell signed up for the service she's receiving, after all.

"She's on Social Security for developmental disability," Aronson explains in his first video. "She's been with your bank since March 6th, and since March 6th, you guys have taken $858 in fees from her. For the past few months she'd been getting $400 a month in death benefits from when her mother passed. Since she's been an account holder with WaMu/Chase, you've taken a full half of her income in $33 fees."

The person on the other end of the line surely would like to help. She says she's sorry, but there's nothing she can do. Aronson repeats his request to speak with a supervisor. "I am going to keep calling," he said, threatening to make the supervisor "famous" via YouTube.

Finally, he is put through to the supervisor's voicemail and makes his offer: "I'm trying to broker a settlement where you give half of the money back and you only get to keep $429 in fees from a teenager." He said he has not heard back.
Story continues below

Chase generally declines to comment on individual customers. In response to a query from HuffPost, a spokesman said, "When we're aware of special needs for an account, we work with the customer."

Aronson and Swindell told HuffPost she suffered brain damage from medication she was given while in juvenile hall after being arrested for taking her mother's car for an unauthorized (and disastrous) spin at age 12.

"They didn't listen to her when she said, 'I can't feel half my face,'" Aronson said. "For days it went on -- by the time they realized something was wrong, she was having difficulty breathing. From that point on, her brain has never been the same. They found there was significant developmental brain damage."

Aronson said that even after opting out of overdraft protection, Swindell had a hard time avoiding fees -- her January statement shows fees even though the balance never went negative. The new problem: pending charges.

Aronson hopes the YouTube approach bears fruit. He knows it's possible -- it certainly worked for Ann Minch, who had her credit card interest rate reduced after declaring a YouTube "Debtors' Revolt." But while Minch succeeded with Bank of America, she failed with Chase.
Here's why it might be less effective with this particular bank: Chase employees aren't allowed to watch YouTube at work, according to the bank's spokespeople. Oh well.

For everyone else, here's the most recent video:

Overview of the President's Healthcare Proposal

The President's Proposal puts American families and small business owners in control of their own health care.

-- It makes insurance more affordable by providing the largest middle class tax cut for health care in history, reducing premium costs for tens of millions of families and small business owners who are priced out of coverage today. This helps over 31 million Americans afford health care who do not get it today -- and makes coverage more affordable for many more.

-- It sets up a new competitive health insurance market giving tens of millions of Americans the exact same insurance choices that members of Congress will have.

-- It brings greater accountability to health care by laying out commonsense rules of the road to keep premiums down and prevent insurance industry abuses and denial of care.

-- It will end discrimination against Americans with pre-existing conditions.

-- It puts our budget and economy on a more stable path by reducing the deficit by $100 billion over the next ten years -- and about $1 trillion over the second decade -- by cutting government overspending and reining in waste, fraud and abuse.

It includes a targeted set of changes to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the Senate-passed health insurance reform bill. Key changes include:

-- Closing the Medicare prescription drug "donut hole" coverage gap;

-- Strengthening the Senate bill's provisions that make insurance affordable for individuals and families;

-- Strengthening the provisions to fight fraud, waste, and abuse in Medicare and Medicaid;

-- Increasing the threshold for the excise tax on the most expensive health plans from $23,000 for a family plan to $27,500 and starting it in 2018 for all plans;

-- Improving insurance protections for consumers and creating a new Health Insurance Rate Authority to provide federal assistance and oversight to states in conducting reviews of unreasonable rate increases and other unfair practices of insurance plans.

For more information, check out:

Monday, February 22, 2010

Bob Marshall, R-13th, says disabled children are God’s punishment to women who have aborted their first pregnancy.

February 22, 2010 - 7:38pm
by Kelsey Radcliffe @ The Gainesville Times RICHMOND – Western Prince William Del. Bob Marshall, R-13th, says disabled children are God’s punishment to women who have aborted their first pregnancy.
He made that statement last Thursday at a press conference to oppose state funding for Planned Parenthood.
“The number of children who are born subsequent to a first abortion with handicaps has increased dramatically. Why? Because when you abort the first born of any, nature takes its vengeance on the subsequent children,” said Marshall, a Republican.
“In the Old Testament, the first born of every being, animal and man, was dedicated to the Lord. There’s a special punishment Christians would suggest.”
Marshall was among more than 20 people, mostly Christian pastors and clergy, who gathered for the press conference in the General Assembly Building.
They called on Virginia officials to eliminate state funding for Planned Parenthood because the organization provides abortions.
“We are gathered this afternoon to draw attention to the unethical, immoral and racist practices of the largest abortion provider in America,” said Dean Nelson, executive director of the Network of Politically Active Christians.
Delegate Brenda Pogge, R-Williamsburg, has joined Marshall in co-sponsoring a budget amendment to eliminate state funding for Planned Parenthood.
“I think that the reason it’s gone on so long is that most people don’t have a clue what’s being paid for by taxpayer dollars,” Pogge said.
The press conference was held by a group called Virginia Christian Action. Its members presented a petition calling on Gov. Bob McDonnell, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to stop funding for Planned Parenthood. All three top officials are Republican.
The petition was signed by a number of prominent Christian leaders, including the Rev. Jonathan Falwell of Lynchburg and the Rev. Pat Robertson of Virginia Beach.
McDonnell has publicly supported calls to cut off funding for Planned Parenthood. His predecessor, Democrat Tim Kaine, supported funding for Planned Parenthood.
“Looking at it from a cultural, historical perspective, this organization should be called ‘Planned Barrenhood’ because they have nothing to do with families, they have nothing to do with responsibility,” Marshall said.
Nelson suggested that the organization be called “Klan Parenthood,” saying that the group’s founder, Margaret Sanger, made racist comments in the 1930s and that the organization has shown a “willingness to take donations from people who are racist.”
According to Marshall, Planned Parenthood receives “about $500,000 a year” from the state.
But Jessica Honke, director of public policy for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia, said the only state funding Planned Parenthood receives is from Medicaid reimbursements. That amount was about $35,000 in the 2009 fiscal year, according to the Department of Medical Assistance Services.
Planned Parenthood provides a wide range of gynecological and other health services, from cancer screening and HIV prevention to birth control for low-income women. Honke pointed out that abortions represent a minority of the group’s services.
At the press conference, the Rev. Joe Ellison, vice president of the Council on Biblical Principles, said that when he was in college, he paid for girlfriends to get abortions. He said he still feels guilty about that today.
Ellison said he was “declaring war against Planned Parenthood.”
“We’re asking pastors to shut them down in the community. We’re asking pastors to pray them out. And we’re asking Planned Parenthood to leave our children alone,” Ellison said.
In 2008, the Senate approved a budget amendment to eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood. However, that proposal was not included in the final state budget.
Copyright 2010 The Gainesville Times. All rights reserved.

Part III: Exposing Our Enemy – Meet the Economic Elite

Posted By David DeGraw On February 19, 2010 @ 12:58 pm In Special to 
 ThePublic Record 

Part I and II of David DeGraw’s six-part series can be found here and here.

-I: Casualties of Economic Terrorism, Surveying the Damage
——-II: The Rise of the Economic Elite
——-III: Exposing Our Enemy – Meet the Economic Elite
——-IV: The Financial Coup d’Etat
——-V: Overcoming the Divide and Conquer Strategy
——-VI: How to Fight Back and Win: Common Ground Issues That Must Be Won

III: Exposing Our Enemy – Meet the Economic Elite
“The money powers prey upon the nation in times of peace and conspire against it in times of adversity. It is more despotic than a monarchy, more insolent than autocracy, and more selfish than bureaucracy. It denounces as public enemies, all who question its methods or throw light upon its crimes… As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money powers of the country will endeavor to prolong it’s reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.” Abraham Lincoln
The Economic Elite Vs. The People of the United States of America: Part III: Exposing Our Enemy - Meet the Economic Elite
U.S. Elite
Federal Reserve
Business Council
Bilderberg Group
Conference Board
Brookings Institute
Advertising Council
Heritage Foundation
Trilateral Commission
Business Round Table
Chamber of Commerce
Federal Trade Commission
Council on Foreign Relations
American Petroleum Institute
American Enterprise Institute
American Bankers Association
Pharm Research & Manufacturers
Public Relations Society of America
American Psychological Association
Project for a New American Century
Securities and Exchange Commission
Committee for Economic Development
National Association of Manufacturers
Carnegie / Ford / Rockefeller foundations
Military / Media / Prison Industrial Complex

I don’t view the Economic Elite as a small group of men who meet in secrecy to control the world. They do feature elements of conspiracy and are clearly composed of secretive organizations like the Bilderberg Group – this is not a conspiracy theory, this is a conspiracy fact – but as a whole the Economic Elite are primarily united by ideology. They’re made up of thousands of individuals who subscribe to an ideology of exploitation and the belief that wealth and resources need to be concentrated into the fewest hands possible (theirs), at the expense of the many.

That being said, there are some definite lead players in this group and it is important that we are not too vague and expose the individuals who publicly lead them.

Focusing on the fundamental structure of the US economy, we have people like Hank Paulson, Tim Geithner, Ben Bernanke, Robert Rubin, Larry Summers, Alan Greenspan, Lloyd Blankfein, Jamie Dimon, John Mack, Vikram Pandit, John Thain, Hank Greenberg, Ken Lewis, John J. Castellani, Edward Yingling and Tom Donohue.

In total, the Economic Elite are made up of about 0.5 percent of the US population.

At the center of this group is the Business Roundtable, an organization representing Fortune 500 CEOs that is also interlocked with several lead elite organizations. Most Americans have never heard of the Business Roundtable.

However, in my analysis, it is the most influential and powerful Economic Elite organization.

“The Business Roundtable joined the Business Council at the heart of both the corporate community and the policy-formation network and now has the most powerful role…. The Roundtable’s interlocks with other policy groups and with think tanks are presented [below].” -– G. William Domhoff, Who Rules America?
The Economic Elite Vs. The People of the United States of America: Part III: Exposing Our Enemy - Meet the Economic Elite
The Roundtable’s first year of operation was 1972, which coincided with the beginning of the CEO salary explosion, and has been the driving force behind the unprecedented concentration of wealth since their inception. Their dominance over the US economy and government is unparalleled. Their members are a Who’s Who of everything that is wrong with our economy. Here is a partial list of some of their lead members:
——-Lloyd C. Blankfein, Goldman Sachs
——-James Dimon, JPMorgan Chase & Co.
——-James P. Gorman, Morgan Stanley
——-Vikram S. Pandit, Citigroup, Inc.
——-Brian T. Moynihan, Bank of America
——-Brendan McDonagh, HSBC
——-Robert W. Selander, MasterCard Incorporated
——-Kenneth I. Chenault, American Express Company
——-Rupert Murdoch, News Corporation
——-Glenn A. Britt, Time Warner Cable Inc.
——-Philippe Dauman, Viacom, Inc.
——-Jeffrey R. Immelt, General Electric Company
——-Brian L. Roberts, Comcast Corporation
——-Steven A. Ballmer, Microsoft Corporation
——-John T. Chambers, Cisco Systems, Inc.
——-Randall L. Stephenson, AT&T Inc.
——-Ivan G. Seidenberg, Verizon Communications
——-David G. DeWalt, McAfee, Inc.
——-Steven R. Loranger, ITT Corporation
——-Paul T. Hanrahan, AES Corporation, The
——-Riley P. Bechtel, Bechtel Group, Inc.
——-W. James McNerney , Boeing Company, The
——-Rex W. Tillerson, Exxon Mobil Corporation
——-Marvin E. Odum, Shell Oil Company
——-John S. Watson, Chevron Corporation
——-James J. Mulva, ConocoPhillips
——-John B. Hess, Hess Corporation
——-James E. Rogers Duke Energy Corporation
——-J. Larry Nichols, Devon Energy Corporation
——-Ronald A. Williams, Aetna Inc.
——-David Cordani, CIGNA
——-Jeffrey B. Kindler , Pfizer Inc.
——-Angela F. Braly, WellPoint, Inc.
——-John C. Lechleiter, Eli Lilly and Company
——-Edward B. Rust, Jr., State Farm
——-Andrew N. Liveris, Dow Chemical
——-James W. Owens, Caterpillar Inc.
——-Ellen J. Kullman, DuPont
——-Edward E. Whitacre Jr., General Motors Company
——-Michael T. Duke, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

The Business Roundtable is the most powerful activist organization in the United States. Their leaders regularly lobby members of Congress behind closed doors and often meet privately with the President and his administration. Any legislation that affects Roundtable members has almost zero possibility of passing without their support.

For three major examples, look at healthcare and financial reform, along with the military budget. The healthcare reform bill devolved into what amounts to an insurance industry bailout and was drastically altered by Roundtable lobbyists representing interests like WellPoint, Aetna, Cigna, Pfizer, Eli Lilly and Johnson & Johnson. Obama and Congress are trying to please the Roundtable with a bill that supports their interests. This led to the dropping of the public-option put forth in the House bill. However, when it came to finishing the bill, Roundtable members began to walk away from the process. That’s the real reason why the reform bill has stalled. Obama will be meeting with the Roundtable on February 24th, in hopes of getting healthcare reform back on track. After that meeting, he will then hold a bipartisan healthcare meeting with members of congress.

Also being addressed in Obama’s upcoming meeting with the Roundtable are issues concerning financial reform. Almost every aspect of financial reform has been D.O.A. thanks to Roundtable lobbyists representing the interests of Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley, Citigroup, Bank of America, HSBC, Master Card and American Express. They even pushed to make sure Ben Bernanke was reconfirmed as the head of the Federal Reserve and they have also guided Obama into focusing on deficit reduction, now that their member companies are healthy again and making record profits after receiving trillions in government subsidies.

The Roundtable played a pivotal role in the appointment of Hank Paulson, formerly the CEO of Roundtable member Goldman Sachs, who replaced Roundtable member John Snow as US Treasury Secretary. The Roundtable also strongly lobbied on behalf of current Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and White House National Economic Council Director Larry Summers. Although there has been recent talk of Geithner being replaced at the Treasury, the lead choice to replace him is Jamie Dimon, Roundtable member and CEO of JP Morgan Chase.

The drastic rise in military spending is also a result of Roundtable lobbyists pushing the interests of large military companies like Boeing and Bechtel, along with the largest oil companies like ExxonMobil, Shell, Hess and Chevron.

The Roundtable tells politicians what they want done, and the politicians do it.

At times, Roundtable members even write the laws themselves. On financial reform alone, those representing Wall Street firms gave “$42 million to lawmakers, mostly to members of the House and Senate banking committees and House and Senate leaders.” During the 2008 election cycle, they gave $155 million: $88 million to Democrats and $67 million to Republicans. Keep in mind, this is the spending on just their financial reform initiative. When it came to health reform, they gave even more.

When it comes to getting elected, over 90 percent of the time the candidate who simply spends more money on their campaign wins the election. The Roundtable and politicians recognize this fact, so the overwhelming majority of current elected officials relied heavily on campaign funding from Roundtable members, including President Obama.

Shortly after Obama’s inauguration he held a meeting with Roundtable members at the St. Regis Hotel. The president of the Business Roundtable is John J. Castellani. Throughout the first nine months of Obama’s presidency, Castellani met with him at the White House more than any other person, with the exception of Chamber of Commerce CEO Tom Donohue. If you look at the records of people who have spent the most time with Obama in the White House, other than these two, another frequent visitor is Edward Yingling, the president of the American Bankers Association.

These organizations – the Business Roundtable, Chamber of Commerce and the American Bankers Association – along with the Federal Reserve, a secretive quasi-government private institution, form the center of the Economic Elite’s power structure. Since the bailout, the Federal Reserve has been working closely with private firm BlackRock. Due to this relationship, BlackRock has emerged as the world’s largest money manager and now manages more assets than the Federal Reserve. They also “manage many of the Treasury Department’s big investments.”

On a global level, you have economic institutions like the World Trade Organization (WTO), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, and international treaties like NAFTA. These organizations already form a de facto world government that has rights beyond our constitutional rights and national sovereignty. If the WTO makes a ruling that goes against US law, the WTO ruling supersedes US law and wins out.

Here is how Global Exchange explains these global institutions:
“The World Trade Organization is the most powerful legislative and judicial body in the world. By promoting the ‘free trade’ agenda of multinational corporations above the interests of local communities, working families, and the environment, the WTO has systematically undermined democracy around the world…. Unlike United Nations treaties, the International Labor Organization conventions, or multilateral environmental agreements, WTO rules can be enforced through sanctions. This gives the WTO more power than any other international body. The WTO’s authority even eclipses national governments.
 [World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF)]
When the Bank and the Fund lend money to debtor countries, the money comes with strings attached. These strings come in the form of policy prescriptions called ’structural adjustment policies.’ These policies—or SAPs, as they are sometimes called—require debtor governments to open their economies to penetration by foreign corporations, allowing access to the country’s workers and environment at bargain basement prices. Structural adjustment policies mean across-the-board privatization of public utilities and publicly owned industries. They mean the slashing of government budgets, leading to cutbacks in spending on health care and education…. And, as their imposition in country after country in Latin America, Africa, and Asia has shown, they lead to deeper inequality and environmental destruction.”
In addition to dominating our political and economic system, the Economic Elite have already created their own private military. Their private military is now more powerful than the US military. As mentioned earlier, private mercenaries now outnumber US soldiers and receive the lion’s share of military spending.

Corporations like SAIC, Blackwater, Bechtel, Raytheon and Halliburton are composed of the most elite worldwide intelligence and military officers. These are the highly profitable and powerful entities that the Economic Elite turn to when national militaries and intelligence agencies – like the CIA, FBI or other government run entities – can’t get the job done.

For instance, SAIC, a “stealth company” that most people have never heard of, is considered to be the brains of the entire US intelligence apparatus, more powerful than the much more popularly known CIA, NSA and FBI – all agencies that SAIC is deeply intertwined with. I urge you to research SAIC to get a crash course in how the true power structure functions. You can start by reading an excellent investigative report by Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele titled, “Washington’s $8 billion shadow.”

The Economic Elite dominate US intelligence and military operations. Other than the obvious geo-strategic reasons, the never-ending and ever-expanding War on Terror’s objective is to drain the US population of more resources and further rob US taxpayers, while using our tax money to create a private military that is more powerful than the US military.

I think any logical person can see the ominous implications of having such a vast and powerful private military and intelligence complex, created for and used, in secrecy, by the Economic Elite. Outside of the blatant economic policy attacks, heavily armed and sophisticated covert powers led by small groups of Economic Elite are now a serious risk and present danger.

In conclusion, these economic and government policy forming organizations, along with their private military and intelligence corporations, form the core of the Economic Elite power structure.

“I think one has to say it’s not just simply a matter of capturing people and holding them accountable, but removing the sanctuaries, removing the support systems.” Paul Wolfowitz

This report was originally published on Amped Status.

Part IV: “The Financial Coup d’Etat” will be posted on Sunday. To be notified via email, subscribe to the Amped Status newsletter here.

David DeGraw is the founder and editor of and director of You can reach him at

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