Wednesday, August 26, 2009



Robert Scheer on Ted Kennedy
"Remembering the Real Deal" -- The light has gone out and with it that infectious warm laugh and intensely progressive commitment of the best of the Kennedys. Not, at this point, to take anything away from the memory of his siblings—Bobby, whom I also got to know, was pretty terrific in his last years—but Senator Ted Kennedy was the real deal.


Ted Kennedy in Pictures
"Ted Kennedy in Pictures" There’s a lot missing in this hastily constructed array of Ted Kennedy’s life. His run for the presidency, for instance, and the scandal that never quite left him. We also leave out his many legislative accomplishments to focus on his family and the extraordinary swan song that might have been.


Truthdig on Kennedy's Passing
"Ted Kennedy Dies at 77" -- Having beaten his doctors’ previous prognosis and living to help usher in a new American administration, Sen. Ted Kennedy succumbed to brain cancer late Tuesday night at his home in Hyannis Port, Mass., at age 77.

Ted KennedyTed Took a Stand
"Classic: Truthdigger of the Week: Ted Kennedy" -- In honor of Sen. Ted Kennedy’s passing, we’re re-posting one of his classic moral stands. This 2007 speech against the escalation of the Iraq war was so good we had to give him an award.

Saturday, August 22, 2009


Dear Mr. Wrede:

Thank you for contacting me to express your thoughts regarding H.R. 3200, the America's Affordable Health Choices Act. I appreciate hearing from you regarding this important issue.

Our health care system is suffering. The United States spends twice as much on health care as any other nation, and yet is the only industrialized nation in the world that does not guarantee access to health care for all of its citizens. Overall, the U.S. spends more than twice as much per person on health care as any other Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) country. Nearly 50 million Americans are without health care coverage of any kind, and millions more are underinsured.

In Oregon, 270 people are losing their health care every day. Comprehensive reform is our best shot at controlling health care costs, which we all know are currently spiraling out of control. Oregonians and all Americans deserve better than the health care status quo. They deserve quality health care that they can afford, that does not deny them for pre-existing conditions, and that they can keep their coverage if they lose their job.

H.R. 3200, the America's Affordable Health Choices Act, while not perfect, provides quality affordable health care for all Americans and helps controls health care costs. I have worked hard to improve the bill, and I will continue to work with my colleagues to make sure H.R. 3200 meets the health care needs of all Americans.

H.R. 3200 builds on what works in our current health care system and fixes many of the parts that are broken. It protects current coverage - allowing individuals to keep the insurance they have if they like it - and preserves choice of doctors, hospitals, and health plans. The legislation also creates a new health insurance exchange - a transparent marketplace for individuals and small employers to comparison shop among private and public insurers. The health insurance exchange works with state insurance departments to set and enforce insurance reforms and consumer protections, facilitates enrollment, and administers affordability credits to help low- and middle-income individuals and families purchase insurance.

The America's Affordable Health Choices Act also creates a public health insurance option. The public option will operate on a level playing field, and will be subject to the same market reforms and consumer protections as private plans in the exchange. And, the public option will be self-sustaining - financed only by its premiums.

H.R. 3200 will also reform the practices of health insurance companies so that they will no longer be able to engage in discriminatory practices like refusing to sell or renew policies due to an individual's health status, or exclude coverage of treatments for pre-existing health conditions. The legislation also protects consumers by prohibiting lifetime and annual limits on benefits, and limits the ability of insurance companies to charge higher rates due to health status, gender, or other factors. Under the America's Affordable Health Choices Act premiums can vary based only on age, geography and family size, and a new essential benefit package will serve as the basic benefit package for coverage in the health exchange. The basic package will include preventive services with no cost-sharing, mental health services, oral health and vision for children, and caps the amount of money a person or family spends on covered services in a year.

Under the America's Affordable Health Choices Act, affordability credits will be available to low- and moderate- income individuals and families. The credits are most generous for those who are just above the proposed new Medicaid eligibility levels and decline with income. The affordability credits will not only make insurance premiums affordable, they will also reduce cost-sharing to levels that ensure access to care.

H.R. 3200 also makes important improvements to Medicaid and Medicare. Under the legislation individuals and families with incomes at or below 133 percent of the federal poverty level will be eligible for an expanded and improved Medicaid program. To improve provider participation in this vital safety net - particularly for low-income children, individuals with disabilities and people with mental illnesses - reimbursement rates for primary care services will be increased with new federal funding.

Oregon is one of a number of states that receive Medicare reimbursements at rates far below the national average, despite delivering excellent and efficient care. Physicians across the state are suffering under these low rates, being paid for only a fraction of their comprehensive costs every time they see a Medicare patient. Because of this ongoing problem, I recently signed on to a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi expressing my serious concern that H.R. 3200 does not sufficiently address the geographic variation that exists in the flawed way Medicare reimburses physicians under the fee-for-service model, and calls for specific changes in the legislation to address these variations. I believe that Congress must take significant steps to address the inequities and inefficiencies in the system if we are to control costs and achieve meaningful health care reform. In past years I have sponsored legislation to address this problem and as Congress continues to work on health care reform I will continue to work to hard to ensure that legislation addresses geographic disparities in reimbursement and that Oregon health care providers are adequately reimbursed.

The America's Affordable Health Choices Act also expands and improves Medicare by closing coverage gaps in the Part D prescription drug program, eliminating cost-sharing for preventive services, enhancing the low-income subsidy programs, improving payment accuracy, encouraging delivery system reforms and extending solvency of the Medicare Trust Fund. The legislation also implements major delivery system reform in Medicare to reward efficient provision of health care, rolling out innovative concepts such as accountable care organizations, medical homes, and bundling of acute and post-acute provider payments.

H.R. 3200 creates a shared responsibility among individuals, employers and government to ensure that all Americans have affordable coverage of essential health benefits. The legislation builds on the employer-sponsored coverage that exists today, and employers will have the option of providing health insurance coverage for their workers or contributing funds on their behalf. Employers that choose to contribute will pay an amount based on eight percent of their payroll. Employers that choose to offer coverage must meet minimum benefit and contribution requirements. The smallest businesses, with payrolls that do not exceed $250,000, are exempt from the employer responsibility requirement. In addition, a new small business tax credit will be available for those firms that want to provide health coverage to their workers.

H.R. 3200 will also reduce the growth in health care spending by investing in stronger prevention and wellness measures, increasing access to primary care, reforming the health care delivery system, and improving payment accuracy. These measures will help slow the growth of health care costs over time and provide savings to families, employers, and taxpayers.

Additionally, in committee I amended the legislation to encourage adoption of electronic health records by remedying the current financial inequity between insurers, who will benefit from health information technology, and the providers, who must pay to install the new record systems. I also amended the bill to provide training opportunities for our current health care workforce. My amendment promotes training for low-income, entry-level employees, such as lab assistants, nurse assistants, floor or ward secretaries, and health education aides, so that they can fill higher-skilled gaps in our health care workforce.

While the quality of medical care in the United States is the best in the world, our health care system needs improvement, including providing access to health care to the millions of Americans who currently lack health care coverage. We can make our health care system much more efficient, affordable, and accessible and the America's Affordable Health Choices Act helps begin to move us toward meeting these important goals.

I believe that all Americans should have access to health care, and the America's Affordable Health Choices Act, while not perfect, does help move us toward providing health care for all Americans. I appreciate hearing from you and value your opinion. Again, thank you for sharing your views. If you have any questions or concerns in the future, please contact me at my Oregon office at 503-326-2901 or 800-422-4003.

With warm regards,

David Wu
Member of Congress

Friday, August 21, 2009

Health Insurance Whistle-Blower Knows Where the Bodies Are Buried

Wendell Potter is the health insurance industry’s worst nightmare. He’s a whistle-blower. Potter, the former chief spokesperson for insurance giant CIGNA, recently testified before Congress, “I saw how they confuse their customers and dump the sick—all so they can satisfy their Wall Street investors.”

Potter was deeply involved in CIGNA and industrywide strategies for maintaining their profitable grip on U.S. health care. He told me: “The thing they fear most is a single-payer plan. They fear even the public insurance option being proposed; they’ll pull out all the stops they can to defeat that to try to scare people into thinking that embracing a public health insurance option would lead down the slippery slope toward socialism ... putting a government bureaucrat between you and your doctor. They’ve used those talking points for years, and they’ve always worked.”

In 2007, CIGNA denied a California teenager, Nataline Sarkisyan, coverage for a liver transplant. Her family went to the media. The California Nurses Association joined in. Under mounting pressure, CIGNA finally granted coverage for the procedure. But it was too late. Two hours later, Nataline died.

While visiting family in Tennessee, Potter stopped at a “medical expedition” in Wise, Va. People drove hours for free care from temporary clinics set up in animal stalls at the local fairground. Potter told me that weeks later, flying on a CIGNA corporate jet with the CEO: “I realized that someone’s premiums were helping me to travel that way ... paying for my lunch on gold-trimmed china. I thought about those men and women I had seen in Wise County ... not having any idea [how] insurance executives lived.” He decided he couldn’t be an industry PR hack anymore.

Insurance executives and their Wall Street investors are addicted to massive profits and double-digit annual rate increases. To squeeze more profit, Potter says, if a person makes a major claim for coverage, the insurer will often scrutinize the person’s original application, looking for any error that would allow it to cancel the policy. Likewise, if a small company’s employees make too many claims, the insurer, Potter says, “very likely will jack up the rates so much that your employer has no alternative but to leave you and your co-workers without insurance.”

This week, as the House and Senate introduce their health care bills, Potter warns, “One thing to remember is that the health insurance industry has been anticipating this debate on health care for many years ... they’ve been positioning themselves to get very close to influential members of Congress in both parties.” Montana Sen. Max Baucus chairs the Senate Finance Committee, key for health care reform. Potter went on, “[T]he insurance industry, the pharmaceutical industry and others in health care have donated ... millions of dollars to his campaigns over the past few years. But aside from money, it’s relationships that count ... the insurance industry has hired scores and scores of lobbyists, many of whom have worked for members of Congress, and some who are former members of Congress.”

The insurance industry and other health care interests are lobbying hard against a government-sponsored, nonprofit, public health insurance option, and are spending, according to The Washington Post, up to $1.4 million per day to sway Congress and public opinion.

Don’t be fooled. Profit-driven insurance claim denials actually kill people, and Wendell Potter knows where the bodies are buried. His whistle-blowing may be just what’s needed to dump what’s sick in our health care system.


The Internet as a Media-Altering Force and the Facebook Addiction

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Posted on Jul 13, 2009

We talk with UC Santa Cruz history professor Matthew Lassar about the FCC, how Internet has altered the media, and why college kids can’t stop checking their Facebook accounts during classroom lectures.

The Man in the Mirror

In celebrity culture we destroy what we worship. The commercial exploitation of Michael Jackson’s death was orchestrated by the corporate forces that rendered Jackson insane. Jackson, robbed of his childhood and surrounded by vultures that preyed on his fears and weaknesses, was so consumed by self-loathing he carved his African-American face into an ever-changing Caucasian death mask and hid his apparent pedophilia behind a Peter Pan illusion of eternal childhood. He could not disentangle his public and his private self. He became a commodity, a product, one to be sold, used and manipulated. He was infected by the moral nihilism and personal disintegration that are at the core of our corporate culture. And his fantasies of eternal youth, delusions of majesty, and desperate, disfiguring quests for physical transformation were expressions of our own yearning. He was a reflection of us in the extreme.

His memorial service—a variety show with a coffin—had an estimated 31.1 million television viewers. The ceremony, which featured performances or tributes from Stevie Wonder, Brooke Shields and other celebrities, was carried live on 19 networks, including the major broadcast and cable news outlets. It was the final episode of the long-running Michael Jackson series. And it concluded with Jackson’s daughter, Paris, being prodded to stand in front of a microphone to speak about her father. Janet Jackson, before the girl could get a few words out, told Paris to “speak up.” As the child broke down, the adults around her adjusted the microphone so we could hear the sobs. The crowd clapped. It was a haunting echo of what destroyed her father.

The stories we like best are “real life” stories—early fame, wild success and then a long, bizarre and macabre emotional train wreck. O.J Simpson offered a tamer version of the same plot. So does Britney Spears. Jackson, by the end, was heavily in debt and had weathered a $22 million out-of-court settlement payment to Jordy Chandler, as well as seven counts of child sexual abuse and two counts of administering an intoxicating agent in order to commit a felony. We fed on his physical and psychological disintegration, especially since many Americans are struggling with their own descent into overwhelming debt, loss of status and personal disintegration.

The lurid drama of Jackson’s personal life meshed perfectly with the ongoing dramas on television, in movies and in the news. News thrives on “real life” stories, especially those involving celebrities. News reports on television are mini-dramas complete with a star, a villain, a supporting cast, a good-looking host and a dramatic, if often unexpected, ending. The public greedily consumed “news” about Jackson, especially in his exile and decline, which often outdid most works of fiction. In “Fahrenheit 451,” Ray Bradbury’s novel about a future dystopia, people spend most of the day watching giant television screens that show endless scenes of police chases and criminal apprehensions. Life, Bradbury understood, once it was packaged, scripted, given a narrative and filmed, became the most compelling form of entertainment. And Jackson was a great show. He deserved a great finale.

Those who created Jackson’s public persona and turned him into a piece of property, first as a child and finally as a corpse encased in a $15,000 gold-plated casket, are the agents, publicists, marketing people, promoters, script writers, television and movie producers, advertisers, video technicians, photographers, bodyguards, recording executives, wardrobe consultants, fitness trainers, pollsters, public announcers and television news personalities who create the vast stage of celebrity for profit. They are the puppet masters. No one achieves celebrity status, no cultural illusion is swallowed as reality, without these armies of cultural enablers and intermediaries. The producers at the Staples Center in Los Angeles made sure the 18,000 attendees and the television audience (even the BBC devoted three hours to the tribute) watched a funeral that was turned into another maudlin form of uplifting popular entertainment.

The memorial service for Jackson was a celebration of celebrity. There was the queasy sight of groups of children, including his own, singing over the coffin. Magic Johnson put in a plug for Kentucky Fried Chicken. Shields, fighting back tears, recalled how she and a 33-year-old Jackson—who always maintained that he was straight—broke into Elizabeth Taylor’s room the night before her last wedding to “get the first peek of the [wedding] dress.” Shields and Jackson, at Taylor’s wedding, then joked that they were “the mother and father of the bride.”

“Yes, it may have seemed very odd to the outside,” Shields said, “but we made it fun and we made it real.”

There were photo montages in which a shot of Jackson shaking hands with Nelson Mandela was immediately followed by one of him with Kermit the Frog. Fame reduces all of the famous to the same level. Fame is its own denominator. And every anecdote seemed to confirm that when you spend your life as a celebrity, you have no idea who you are.

‘Government Sachs’ Strikes Gold ... Again

Connect the dots: Goldman Sachs made $3.44 billion in profit this past quarter, while the U.S deficit topped $1 trillion for the first time in the nation’s history and appeared to be headed toward doubling that figure before the budget year is out. Since most of the increase in the federal deficit is due to bailing out the banks and salvaging the greater economy they helped destroy, why is the top investment bank doing so well?

Well, because that was the plan, as devised by Bush Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, a former CEO of Goldman Sachs. Remember that Lehman Brothers, Goldman’s competitor, was allowed to go bankrupt. The Paulson crowd wouldn’t let Lehman change its status to that of a bank holding company and thus qualify for federal funds; soon afterward, Goldman was granted just such a deal, worth a quick $10 billion. Much is now made of Goldman paying back part of its bailout money, but forgotten is the $12.9 billion that Goldman got as its cut of the $180 billion AIG payoff. That is money that will not be paid back.

Goldman is considered a very smart bank because it was early in reducing its exposure to the mortgage derivatives that in large part caused the meltdown. However, it had done much to expand the market and continued to sell suspect derivatives to unwary buyers as sound investments, even as Goldman divested. The firm still holds $1.85 billion in real estate and lost $499 million in the previous quarter on bad loans, but made up for it by playing the vulture role and issuing high-interest debt to governments and companies made desperate by the recession that the financial gimmicks of the banks brought on in the first place.

And Goldman was not just another bank. Before Paulson ran the Treasury Department, another former Goldman head, Robert Rubin, pushed through the repeal of the Glass-Steagall controls on banking activity. While some now play down the significance of this radical deregulation, not so Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd C. Blankfein—at least not back in June 2007, when the markets were still doing well. “If you take an historical perspective,” Blankfein told The New York Times by way of explaining his company’s spectacular success at the time, “we’ve come full circle, because that is exactly what the Rothschilds or J.P. Morgan the banker were doing in their heyday. What caused an aberration was the Glass-Steagall Act.”

That 1933 act was repealed in a law signed by President Bill Clinton at Rubin’s urging, and in the following eight years Goldman Sachs recorded a 265 percent growth in its balance sheet. “Back then,” The Wall Street Journal reports, “Goldman was churning out profits by trading credit derivatives, speculating on currencies and oil and placing big bets [on] the roaring stock market.”

Big bets made in a casino designed by Goldman, which now makes money off loans to the victims. High on the list of victims are state governments that have to turn to Goldman for money because the federal government that saved the banks won’t do the same for the states, which have watched their tax bases shrink because of the banking meltdown. As the WSJ noted, “issuing debt to ailing governments” is now a growth industry for Goldman.

Why didn’t the federal government just lend the money to the states? Why was all the money thrown at Wall Street instead of needy homeowners or struggling school systems? Because the federal government works for Goldman and not for us. Indeed, when it comes to the banking bailout, Goldman Sachs is the government.

So much so that last fall The New York Times ran a story, headlined “The Guys From `Government Sachs,’ ” that stated: “Goldman’s presence in the [Treasury] department and around the federal response to the financial bailout is so ubiquitous that other bankers and competitors have given the star-studded firm a new nickname: Government Sachs.”

One of those stars was Stephen Friedman, another former head of Goldman. Friedman was both a director of the company and chairman of the New York Federal Reserve Bank when he helped work out the details of the Wall Street bailout. The president of the N.Y. Fed at the time, Timothy Geithner, now secretary of the treasury, requested a conflict-of-interest waiver that allowed Friedman to buy more Goldman Sachs stock, and Friedman ended up with 98,600 shares. At market close on Tuesday that was worth $14,756,476. That’s nothing – three years ago, the 50 top Goldman execs made $20 million each, and this year could be better.

They’re not hurting.

China Is Here

GUIYANG, China—Before planning for and making the transglobal trek to the most populous country on Earth, I knew mainland China mostly through television and movie screens. My sinologists were Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and Egg Shen, the crotchety shaman from “Big Trouble in Little China”—a Cabinet of advisers who left me, ahem, unprepared for my voyage east.

Thus I was thrilled when, upon arriving here, a Peace Corps volunteer handed me a 1997 tome called “Red China Blues.” Written by Chinese-Canadian journalist Jan Wong, the book tours a nation on the verge of superpowerdom, and it ends by suggesting the country’s industrialization may mean “the future of China may be the West’s past.”

One excursion does not make me a China guru, but I can report with some confidence that when it comes to economic growth, Wong is right. China is walking in our shoes—and that’s not necessarily a good thing.

On my trip (which you can read more about at, I’ve seen America circa 1900: coastal metropolises of towering wealth hemming in a polluted and destitute heartland. Two Chinas, as John Edwards might say—one you constantly hear about and another hidden from view.

In Hong Kong, I gaped at the sleek office towers, fine restaurants and nouveau riche—the “miracle” endlessly celebrated by The New York Times’ Tom Friedman (China is a place of “wide avenues, skyscrapers, green spaces, software parks and universities”), Newsweek’s Fareed Zakaria (“China’s growth has obvious and amazing benefits for the world”) and most of America’s Very Serious Commentators. Indeed, according to MIT’s Yasheng Huang, China’s best-known cities are known for tricking incurious observers into portraying the entire country as “sanitary … largely free of grotesque manifestations of poverty [and] one of the most successful countries in tackling income inequality.”

Of course, in Guiyang, a coal-mining town of 3 million in China’s poorest province, I found exactly the opposite—the darker side of the “miracle.”

Here in the countryside is the soundstage of a post-apocalyptic sci-fi flick—filth-covered tenements slapped together with crumbling cement and kitchen tile; limbless paupers with burned faces begging for food; an atmosphere choked by soot, exhaust and the stench of human excrement.

Scholars insist this is the unavoidable consequence of a country being run by the Chinese Communist Party—an extreme version of the Republican Party that couples Genghis Khan’s intolerance with Hank Paulson’s authoritarian capitalism. Pundits assert that China’s inequality, which according to World Bank data now rivals our own Gilded Age, is just a necessary evil—the obligatory pitfall of nonetheless positive Western-style development. And while some Americans may lament international poverty, many are too distracted or unsympathetic to care about seemingly far-flung tragedies.

But, then, the challenges China poses aren’t about Save-the-Children altruism, and they aren’t distant triflings. As none other than “Big Trouble in Little China” presciently warned, China is here—and we cannot simply cite inevitability as reason to ignore its metastasizing problems.

We’re not talking about the United States in 1900—a country of only 76 million people pigheadedly despoiling its way into the 20th century. It’s 2009, the planet’s already on the brink of resource exhaustion and climate catastrophe, and China is 17 times more populous than America was during our industrial era.

If we just sit back and listen to those who pooh-pooh the complaints and celebrate supposed “miracles”; if governments refuse to strengthen international environmental policies; if the world merely hopes for the best as 1.3 billion Chinese pursue old-school smokestack industrialization, then there’s not going to be much of a world left.

Our future won’t be that gleaming Hong Kong skyline we keep being told about—it will be downtown Guiyang.

David Sirota is the best-selling author of the books “Hostile Takeover” (2006) and “The Uprising” (2008). Find his blog at or e-mail him at

Rep. Dennis Kucinich

In mid-May, in an effort to reach consensus, President Obama secured a deal with the health insurance companies to trim 1.5 percent of their costs each year for 10 years, saving a total of $2 trillion, which would be reprogrammed into health care. Just two days after the announcement at the White House, the insurance companies reneged on the deal that was designed to protect and increase their revenue at least 35 percent.

The insurance companies reneged on the deal because they refuse any restraint on increasing premiums, co-pays and deductibles—core to their profits. No wonder a recent USA Today poll found that only 4 percent of Americans trust insurance companies. This is within the margin of error, which means it is possible that no one trusts insurance companies.

Then why does Congress trust the insurance companies? Recently, HR 3200 “America’s Affordable Health Choices Act,” a 1,000-page bill, was delivered to members. The title of the bill raises a question: “Affordable” for whom?

Of $2.4 trillion spent annually for health care in America, fully $800 billion goes for the activities of the for-profit insurer-based system. This means one of every three health care dollars is siphoned off for corporate profits, stock options, executive salaries, advertising, marketing and the cost of paperwork (which can be anywhere between 15 and 35 percent in the private sector as compared to Medicare, the single payer plan which has only 3 percent administrative costs).

Fifty million Americans are uninsured and another 50 million are underinsured while for-profit insurance companies divert precious health care dollars to non-health care purposes. Eliminate the for-profit health care system and its extraordinary overhead, put the money into health care and everyone will be covered, everyone will be able to afford health care.

On Monday, three committees will begin marking up and amending HR 3200. In this, one of the most momentous public policy debates in the past 70 years, single payer—the only viable “public option,” the one that makes sound business sense, controls costs and covers everyone—was taken off the table.

In contrast to HR 3200, HR 676 calls for a universal single-payer health care system in the United States, Medicare for All. It has over 85 co-sponsors in Congress with the support of millions of Americans and countless physicians and nurses. How does HR 676 control costs and cover everyone? It cuts out the for-profit middle men and delivers care directly to consumers, while Medicare acts as the single payer of bills. It also recognizes that under the current system, for-profit insurance companies make money by not providing health care.

This week is the time to break the hold that the insurance companies have on our political process. Tell Congress to stand up to the insurance companies. Ask members to sign on to the only real public option, HR 676, a single-payer health care system.

Hundreds of local labor unions, thousands of physicians and millions of Americans are standing behind us. With a draft of HR 3200 now circulating, it is up to each and every one of us to organize and rally for the cause of single-payer health care. Change the debate. Now is the time.

Suddenly, a Trillion Dollars Is Too Expensive?

If Americans hope to discuss health care, climate change, green economics or public infrastructure with any degree of realism, then the time has come to acknowledge that hearing someone say “a trillion dollars” is no reason to panic. Politicians and pundits cite that figure to argue that we cannot afford health care reform, following recent cost estimates by the Congressional Budget Office, but the plain truth is that we spend (and squander) more than that on purposes not nearly so wise and humane as universal quality health care.

As a matter of fact, America’s current health care system wastes considerably more than a trillion dollars every year. We know that because countries such as France, Germany, Japan and Finland, with standards of living comparable to ours, spend roughly half what the United States spends annually on health care per citizen, while they cover everyone and achieve better results. So if the total cost of American health care over the coming decade reaches $40 trillion, as economists expect, then we will be “wasting” approximately $20 trillion, or $2 trillion a year.

Compared with figures such as those, the CBO scoring estimate of $1.6 trillion over 10 years to reform the U.S. health care system is so small as to be almost negligible. Constantly hearing numbers that sound so large makes perspective even more important. When Princeton health economist Uwe Reinhardt actually did the simple calculations, he found that the price of reform amounted to only 4 percent of the country’s cumulative health care budget between next year and 2020. He noted that this amount is much less than the annual increase in health care spending over the past 10 years. And he also pointed out that on the broader economic horizon, $1.6 trillion represents only about 1 percent of the $170 trillion in gross domestic product that Americans will produce over the same period.

Investing a trillion dollars or so in modernizing and improving our health care system is a good bargain—especially when contrasted with the maddening way that we have thrown away tax dollars over the past several years. Undoubtedly the worst example of wasteful spending in recent memory is the war in Iraq, that imperial misadventure so beloved by the same conservative thinkers who incessantly bemoan the supposedly unaffordable price of health reform.

Touted early on by its eager promoters as free, cheap or self-financing, the war’s ultimate cost is currently expected to run as high as $3 trillion, according to Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel laureate economist who wrote a book on the subject last year with his colleague Linda Bilmes. Even as the Obama administration is pulling U.S. troops out of Iraqi cities in preparation for eventual withdrawal, the Iraq war will remain a financial black hole in the federal budget for many years to come as we continue to support the injured veterans and to rebuild the damaged American military.

Yes, a trillion dollars is a significant amount of money, even on a scale as large as the American economy. Had we avoided the stupid waste of $2 trillion or $3 trillion on the war, we could have paid for a long list of social goods that would have improved the lives of the American people, enhanced their productivity and secured their future. To name only a few of many better choices, we could have moved rapidly toward alternative energy sources and reduced our dependence on foreign sources of oil for about $500 billion, achieved universal literacy in the United States for about $5 billion, rebuilt the Gulf Coast damaged by Hurricane Katrina for about $200 billion, ended hunger and all the diseases caused by poverty for another $200 billion—and still have a substantial sum remaining to build new schools, roads, bridges, railways and other badly needed infrastructure.

The senators who now claim that we cannot afford to spend a trillion dollars to make long overdue changes in health care know exactly what that amount can buy. They know because they have spent it, year after year, on military misadventures and subsidies to big banks and corporations, without stinting or whining. Why can we always afford those trillion-dollar boondoggles, but never decent health care for all Americans?

Chris Hedges

Tearyan Brown became a father when he was 16. He did what a lot of inner-city kids desperate to make money do. He sold drugs. He was arrested and sent to jail three years later for dealing marijuana and PCP on the streets of Trenton, N.J., mostly to white kids driving in from the suburbs. It was a job which saw him robbed at gunpoint and stabbed in the chest. But it made him about $1,400 a week.

Brown, when he got out after three and a half years, was done with street life. He got a job as a security guard and then as a fork lift operator. He eventually made about $30,000 a year. He shepherded his son through high school, then college and a master’s degree. His boy, now 24, is a high school teacher in Texas. Brown would not leave the streets of Trenton but his son would. It made him proud. It gave him hope.

And then one morning in 2005 when he was visiting his mother’s house the cops showed up. He saw the cruiser and the officers standing on his mother’s porch. He hurried down the block toward the home to see what was wrong. What was wrong was him. On the basis of a police photograph, he had been identified by an 82-year-old woman as the man who had robbed her of $9 at gunpoint a few hours earlier. The only other witness to the crime insisted the elderly victim was confused. The witness told the police Brown was innocent. Brown’s friends said Brown was with them when the robbery took place.

“Why would I rob a woman for $9,” he asks me. “I had been paid the day before. I had not committed a crime in 20 years. It didn’t make any sense.”

He was again sent to jail. But this time he was charged with armed robbery. If convicted, he would be locked away for many years. His grown son and his three young boys would live, as he had, without the presence of a father. The little ones—11-year-old twins and a 10-year-old—would be adults when he got out. When he met with his state-appointed attorney, the lawyer, like most state-appointed attorneys, pushed for accepting a plea bargain, one that would see him behind bars for at least the next decade. Brown pulled the pictures of his children out of his wallet, laid the pictures carefully on the table in front of the lawyer, looked at the faces of his children and broke down in tears. He shook and sobbed. It was a hard thing to do for a man who stands nearly 6 feet tall and weights 210 pounds and has coped with a lot in his life.

“I didn’t do nothing,” he choked out to the lawyer.

He refused the plea bargain offer. He sat in jail for the next two years before getting a trial. It was a time of deep despair. Jail had changed since he had last been incarcerated. The facilities were overcrowded, with inmates sleeping in corridors and on the floor. The gangs taunted those who, like Brown, were not affiliated with a gang. Gang members knocked trays of food to the floor. They pissed on mattresses. They stole canteen items and commissary orders. And there was nothing the victims could do about it.

“See this,” he says to me in a dimly lit coffee shop in downtown Trenton as he rolls up the right sleeve of his T-shirt. “It’s the grim reaper. I got it in jail. I was so scared. I was scared I wouldn’t get out this time. I was scared I would not see my kids grow up. They make their own tattoo guns in jail with a toothbrush, a staple and the motor of a Walkman. It cost me $15, well, not really dollars. I had to give him about 10 soups and a package of cigarettes. On the street this would be three or four hundred dollars.”

Under the tattoo of the scythe-wielding, hooded figure are the words “Death Awaits.”

He had a trial after two years in jail and was found not guilty. The sheriff’s deputies in the courtroom said as he was walking out that they “had never seen anything like this.” He reaches into his baggy jeans and pulls out his thin brown wallet. He opens it to show me a folded piece of paper. The paper says, “Verdict: Defendant found not guilty on all charges.” It is dated Jan. 31, 2008.

But innocence and guilt are funny things in America. If you are rich and guilty, if you have defrauded banks and customers and investment firms of billions of dollars, as AIG or Citibank has, if you wear fancy suits and have degrees from elite universities that cost more per year than Brown used to make, you get taxpayer money. You get lots of it. You maintain the lavish lifestyle of jets and spas and million-dollar bonuses. You live a life of unchecked greed and have too much in a world where most have too little. If you are moral scum in America we take care of you. But if you are poor, if you are, say, Tearyan Brown and African-American and 39 years old with four kids and no job and you live in the inner city, you are in trouble. No one comes to help you. You don’t get a second chance. This is what being poor means.

Brown found that life had changed when he got out. He had lost his job as a fork lift operator. And there were no new jobs to be found. He had faithfully paid child support until his arrest but, with no income, he could not pay from jail and now he was being hauled into court by the state every few weeks for being in arrears for $13,000. The mother of his three youngest boys goes to court with him. She explains that he paid regularly while he had work. She explains that when she works on the weekends Brown takes the kids. She asks that he be forgiven until he can get a job and begin paying again. But there are no jobs.

“I would not be in arrears in child support if I had not been incarcerated for something I didn’t do,” he says. “I will never get above ground owing $13,000. How can I pay $120 a week when I don’t have a job?”

Brown lives on $200 a month in food stamps and $40 in cash. Welfare will pay his apartment for another four months. He is barely making it. I ask him what he will do when he loses the rent subsidy.

“I’ll be homeless,” he says.

“My son says come down to Texas,” he adds. “Start a new life with me. But what about my three little boys? I can’t leave them. I can’t leave them in Trenton. They need a father.”

Brown works out every day. He does calisthenics. He is a vegetarian. He volunteers at a food pantry. He attends the Jerusalem Baptist Church with his little boys. “They are church kids,” he tells me proudly. “They are pretty much raised by the church.”

He is trying to keep himself together. But he lives in a world that is falling apart. The gangs on the streets of Trenton carry Glock 9-millimeter pistols and AK-47 assault rifles. When the Trenton police stop a car or raid a house filled with suspected gang members, they approach with loaded M-16s. A local newspaper, The Trentonian, reports the daily chronicle of crime, decay and neglect. The lead story in the day’s paper, which Brown has with him, is about a young man named James Deonte James, whose street name is “Lurch.” James was charged in the death of a 13-year-old girl during a gang shooting. He is reputed to be a “five star general in the Sex Money Murder set of the Bloods street gang.”

In another story, an ex-con and reputed mobster, Michael “Mickey Rome” Dimattia, was arrested in his car after a woman behind the wheel was seen driving erratically. “Mickey Rome,” dressed in a black bathrobe with a red scarf around his neck, was found to be wearing a bulletproof vest, with three guns stuck in his waistband, and had a crack pipe, crack cocaine and prescription pills in his pockets. He had been convicted in 1990 of killing a 17-year-old boy with a shotgun blast to the head. He served less than three years for the murder.

A feature story on Page 4 of the paper is about a man with AIDS who raped his girlfriend’s son 55 times and infected the boy with the virus. The boy was 9 when the rapes took place.

“There are thousands more guns out there than when I was on the street,” Brown says. “It is easier to buy a gun than get liquor from a liquor store.”

He says he rarely goes out at night, even to the corner store. It is too dangerous.

The desperation is palpable. People don’t know where to turn. Benefits are running out. More and more people are out of work.

“You see things getting worse and worse,” he says. “You see people who wonder how they are going to eat and take care of themselves and their kids. You see people starting to do anything to get food, to hustle or rob, to go back to doing things they do not want to do. Good people start doin’ bad things. People are getting eviler.”

He pauses.

“All things are better with God,” he says softly, looking down at the tabletop.

He is reading a book about the Bible. It is about Jesus and God. It is about learning to trust in God’s help. In America that is about all the poor have left. And when God fails them, they are on their own.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Man pleads not guilty to setting couch on fire

by Maxine Bernstein, The Oregonian
Tuesday August 18, 2009, 5:08 PM

A 40-year-old man accused of setting fire to a couch in the lobby of a Northwest Portland building on Aug. 9 pleaded not guilty today to first-degree arson.

Raymond Wayne Aguilera was seen on videotape striking matches to a couch on the first floor of an apartment building at 2284 N.W. Everett St. Earlier, two witnesses had told Aguilera, who is homeless, to leave the building, and he refused, according to court documents.

They told authorities that Aguilera then said, "Hey, you guys wanna see a magic trick," and started a fire, which one of the witnesses tried to put out with a glass of water.

Monday, August 17, 2009

IGNORANCE+ $$$ WINS AGAIN-health care reform DOA-Obama big dissapointment

The Obama administration signaled Sunday that it was on the verge of abandoning plans to create a government-run insurance option as part of its program to reform the nation’s healthcare system. The move away from a pubic option is seen as a major victory for the health insurance industry. In an interview on CNN, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said that a public option is “not the essential element” of healthcare overhaul.

Kathleen Sebelius: “I think the President is just continuing to say, let’s not have this be the only focus of the conversation. Coverage for all Americans, lowering the crushing cost for everyone, making sure that we have new rules for insurance companies, that they can’t dump people out of the marketplace if you get sick, that they can’t drop your coverage based on a preexisting condition, that you can’t be priced out because you’re a woman instead of a man, and gender discrimination won’t be allowed to continue anymore—those are really essential parts of the program, along with choice and competition, which I think we’ll have at the end of the day.”

Kathleen Sebelius’s comment came one day after President Obama told a healthcare forum in Colorado that “the public option, whether we have it or don’t have it, is not the entirety of healthcare reform.” Instead of a public insurance option, the Obama administration suggested it will back the formation of private-sector options such as insurance exchanges or cooperatives. Analysts say it is unlikely that the co-ops would bring healthcare prices down as significantly as the government could.

Monday, August 3, 2009

HISTORICAL ARTICLES LOCATED BY JASON MCHUFF,5348315,169532,550275,4697495,807531,3883552,7179959,3445339,3648532,6676397,2716209,1530111,4098953,405088,145043,344949,4969083,6580464


If I haven't told you, the entire Eugene and other newspaper archives are on Google. See

Some specific articles:,5348315,169532,550275,4697495,807531,3883552,7179959,3445339,3648532,6676397,2716209,1530111,4098953,405088,145043,344949,4969083,6580464

Lynn Lehrbach appointed to TriMet board - Portland Business Journal: -

Sustainable Industries | Commentary | TriMet's branding coup -

Sunday, August 2, 2009


me: U THER?
Adron: zup?
...and yeah I'm here... kind of just pissing of Joseph Rose at the moment .
me: hehe...howz and u hving quite the little spat
wat about rose?
Adron: eh... it's all fun. we do what we can.
me: hehe
its good blogging!
Adron: I shouldn't have brought the union stuff up... but I love arguing/debating it none the less.
yeah true.
I'm railling Joseph Rose about that speeding article now.
Got people from across the country railling on him via Twitter.
me: got a link on the article?
Adron: not sure ... it's on his hard drive blog I think....
Also on the front page - I think - of the Friday Oregonian.
me: ill look for it
wats wrong with that?
hes right!
Adron: About the speed.
No he isn't. It's false statistics usage.
If speed was what killed then high speed rail would wreck, buses would hit 55 and everyone would die... etc.,
oh yeah. that's it.
The biggest problem I have with it is this.
When they publish shit like that they get a bunch of cops to start writing tickets... which is all fine...
but then some people say - well the speed limits should be decreased...
so we end up with something dumb like 55 mph speed limits in the entire state...
me: ok that point i can agree with
Adron: meanwhile, the REAL cause of these incidents is NEVER resolved. Which is lack of training and inattention to the road.
me: i drive the sunset everyday and see people endangering mine and everybody elses life!
Adron: exactly.
Adron: In a lot of cases people can go a LOT faster and in a lot of cases people should go a LOT slower... but people just don't know nor realize what they're doing here.
They aren't trained nor certified to even be driving half the time.
me: lol
Adron: Germany & France have tons of people driving 100+ mph and they have many less fatal incidents than us here in the US.
me: wel, ya, this is america..gotta get there ahead of everybody else
Adron: But hey... on another note... and maybe you can help me with this...
We gotta get Joseph to come out to the next transit beer meetup thing.
I'll publish something on it soon.
me: ok
Adron: I gotta take a trip to Thief River falls this next week and wehen I return I'll put something up...
me: ill help....i can send him a note telling him to show up
Adron: yeah. Cuz I think he's taking shit I'm saying to him way more personal then he needs to.
me: we got to get chris smith to go to one too!
Adron: Oh jeez. I wish. He doesn't seem to get out for anybody.
I see him every once in a while on the streetcar...
me: i know....he stays out of the lime light..\
Adron: He's probably got a ton of tidbits about stuff.
me: i bet i can pressure him to go to one
Adron: btw - U see LA is trying to jump on the streetcar bandwagon?
me: he lives near me
streetcars are GREAT for develpment...\
Adron: I'm pro-light rail - in certain places - but the streetcar I'm not gonna be happy with till we get it down in cost that is comparable to bus service or something.
me: developers love me
Adron: But LA is looking at getting streetcars from us... I think they're smoking crack.
me: they can sell condos when there is a street car
Adron: Yeah, we all used to live right up there in the same area.
me: kickback?
light rail is great to connect cities..
Adron: Not sure what the dealio is yet. I think more people are jumping on the bandwagon because of LaHood & Obama.
me: stupid for intracity
Adron: Light rail is for primary arterials that don't need heavy rail - everything else should be buses pretty much.
me: the green line is STUPID
Adron: I don't get the green line either.
me: they didnt even cut back service on the 72 bus
Adron: The #72 needs bumped up capacity badly, but I don't think anyone that uses it will be able to use the green line.
me: correct
Adron: Yeah, they serve totally different people.
me: yea but who is the green line gonna actually serve?
Adron: I think the green line will get ridership - probably good ridership - but I don't think it is going to help the #72, #9, or any of the other primary corridors that actually NEED help now.
me: well then who will the green line help? they will all not be new riders!
Adron: I honestly thing they could turn the #72 & #9 into BRT tomorrow and STILL have capacity problems because it would see a jump in ridership.
But I think that's about the only thing they can do on both lines...
me: id like to be a fly on the wall of the planner meetings
Adron: Green line will serve people primarily from west of I-205 - car commuters that drive part way in and then jump the train.
me: jump on the train to go where?
Adron: There will be some punkers and shit that rider from Clackamas up to I-205 mall maybe some points in between...
I don't think they'll see as many people traveling in the I-205 corridor as they've been estimating though.
There isn't shit out there.
me: trimet never gets new riders....its ridership is declining...wes is a failure
Adron: Kids & people will get on the green line to come downtown... some will stay in corridor...
....but I'm estimating that the largest percentile of riders initially will be morning and afternoon commuters.
me: well well see...i think its dumb
Adron: TriMet has only had minmal declines in ridership this year.
It'll pick back up.
me: empire building is what it is
Adron: Well yeah, that's what america does.
If people where actually concerned with building history and neighborhoods they would have never got rid of the streetcar system we had 100+ years ago.
Nor trashed the trolley bus extensions, or the interurbans.
me: hey....that was all about profit..the thing you like!
Adron: I thought we already had this discussion.
It was about development, profit, and mitigating electrical line costs...
Erik sent you that link.
FDR ran most of that shit clean out of business though during the 30s.
I'm gonna draw up a timeloine of all this shit sometime.
I'll tell ya honestly...
me: yea....i dunno...nobody knows whats gonna happen int the future
Adron: If they quit subsidizing auto users & roads... transit would easily cover its cost - but they gotta give us our tax monies back.
if we operated transit as a non-profit corp it'd be awesome.
We the citizens could have and create the board... vote em' in or whatever...
me: our tax monies get wasted on the militarly industrial complex and bailout out banks
Adron: leaders of the agency would be based on what we say then...
instead of the politicians.
well yeah... I'm not gonna disagree with that.
the bank problem is because the banks work as part of the Government...
me: transit should be free...period
Adron: It's the whole fractional reserve bullshit with the Federal Reserve.
Free? Well somebody, somewhere, somehow has to pay for it.
me: thats correct...the banks are screwing the whole world
Adron: Yup.
Again, not gonna disagree with ya on that.
me: yea our tax money pays for the fire dept
Adron: Well, that's the point.
Sombody is paying for the police, fire, etc.
me: hey im gonna quote you on the non profit idea
Adron: If people pay fares, we get service to where we live.
If taxes pay for it then people that have political pull get service.
It's basically what we have now.
Except it would be magnified. The only people that got a say where transit is or goes would be politicians.
me: pubic transit is never gonna make profit adron
Adron: Seriously. Even in the past a few agencies in some cities operated that way.
It did in the past. It won't now, not with funding structures. But it IS valuable enough to a city to be a profit - i.e. value to the city.
That's why it still exists at all. Cities & politicians know damn well it is valuable.
me: this is not THE AMERICA OF THE PAST
the world has completely changed over the last 50 years
Adron: Well yeah.
me: it has to be a public service....
paid for by tax dollars free for everyone
Adron: Transit has gotten really really crappy over the last 50 years.
That's fine.
Adron: But we'll get what we pay for and it'll perform as the system we let operate it.
You know damn well the Government sucks at operations and management of this sort of thing.
How much progress has transit made since under Government Authorities?
How much did it make the 50 years before?
me: I dont buy the govt sucks argument
Adron: Massive difference.
Fine - you don't have to.
me: not all govt sucks
Adron: Just look at the costs and how much we had then.
We paid ZERO taxes for it.
me: pure profit motive is not the way to go.
Adron: Look at what we got now and how much we actually pay for it.
I said non-profit.
But just get it back in our control the citizens.
me: ADRON...there were a hell of alot FEWER PEOPLE HERE THEN
Adron: Take it away from the Government.
Fewer people in Portland?
Not really.
Not in the core where the transit served. Look at the numbers.
me: 50 years agio?
Adron: Portlan is still about 400k people in the core.
Point being we had 150 miles of transit... mixed modes, cars, jitneys, etc.
me: r u saying portland had better transit 50 years ago?
Adron: We didn't pay anything for them unless you got on board.
me: can u illustrate that point somehow?
Adron: It was cleaner, more efficiently operated, ate up less city income, cost a lower percentage of individuals income...
In 1910 a streetcar fare was 5 cents. With incomes of that day and incomes of this day, when you calculate it out it was about 50% of what we pay based on income today.
The average speed of the streetcars where 12-15mph vs today's 6 mph.
Our interurbans averaged about 28-30 mph - faster than ANYTHING we have today including the private automobile.
The first trolley buses averaged about 15-18mph just like today's buses.
I could go on.
me: sooooo...wats the point then?
Adron: Same with Seattle, New Orleans, LA, San Francisco, and pretty much every city in the USA.
We had more, for less, at a better quality.
me: so wat happened?
Adron: We have less, for more money, hidden by politics now that we don't control any longer.
Good question. Dogooders, politicans, short sited planning, socialistic ideals...
depends on which city and what area you're talking about.
The largest thing was that the Government started heavily subsidizing automobile travel modes by building tons and tons of roads...
transit agencie couldn't compete with the faux "free" roads.
Because transit had to cover all its costs. The Government reduced auto costs by about 50% by taking over the roads.
me: thats a good point
Adron: Once they bankrupted the transit agencies by that meddling they took them over and formed authorities.
me: on the roads
Adron: yeah.
I mean shit... I can't blame people for driving when the Government all of a sudden pays for half the costs. It's a use it or lose it philosophy then.
me: the driving theing is all about suburubia though
Adron: Either which way... the Govenrment decides for us now. These days transit is popular again but the Government pushed us so heavily toward auto usage they're having a hard time undoing the fuck up they committed in the past 50 years.
sort of.
There are different types of suburbia.
There is streetcar based - and auto based.
The auto based suburbia uses about 3x as much land and is much less efficient.
very very expensive for a city to maintain too.
me: streetcar based? where is that?
Adron: It requires continuing subsidies just for it to exist.
All of eastern Portland... all streetcar based suburbs.
me: if you look at the tax pie chart...transit is unobservable
Adron: In Seattle too. Queen Ann hill, etc.
Those where all streetcar suburbs.
me: most of our taxes go to the military
Adron: That's not true. In Portland it is several hundred million per year.
I'm not sure what else in PDX has that big of a slice.
aside from roads.
Adron: Oh yean.
naw you're right about that.
me: a tax is a tax is a tax
Adron: When looking at federal budget then transit/transportation is really really really small.
We pay more on our national debt than we pay into transit by a multiple of 100x almost.
me: i dont care what level of govt is doing the taxing..its one TAX
Adron: It's disturbing.
Well yeah, I look at it this way too.
But the city has a budget and the feds do.
me: WELL YA know that some people are predicting a future that looks pretty bad ahead of us
Adron: The feds basically take a shit ton of money and leave the cities and states to handle almost ALL of transit and school funding.
me: yea...there are many levels of govt...THATS THE PROBLEM
Adron: Very aware of that.
Sent at 10:50 PM on Sunday
me: i want my fuking health care
Adron: hahaa.
That'll probably be the death knell.
health care is the bane of our existence these days.
Most people that have studied it, say we should be able to have universal coverage for about 2x what Medicare costs us now...
Problem is...
Nobody seems to be able to do anything to make that happen.
me: THE INsurance companies and the fuking drug companies etc
alot of people making alot of money of our getting sick
Adron: It's the whole mess, not just them.
It's the peoples fault too for expecting from insurance a "payment plan" mentality vs an actual "stay healthy" plan.
me: yea..well thats a point
Adron: Europe behaves totally different than us in that sense. They tend to work at staying healthy... we Americans get fat...
me: hey we like MEAT AND POTOTOES
Adron: Then of course European countries are notorious for just cutting off care for millions whenever they need to also... they have tons of budget problems around it.
hahaa. yeah. meat and potatoes.
I gotta write some code... I'll be bacck later.
me: ahh....mankind is a mess.....forever and ever
Adron: good talking with ya... I'll get that transit meetup posted soon.
me: c ya
ill keep bashing ya as hard as i can!
Adron: Oh yea. We ought to get streetcar Fred out for a beer too.
You talked ot him lately?
hahaa. yeah you do that.
me: no...i used to have his number
i dont know if i got it anymore
Adron: I'll see if I do. Iknow Jo or I do somewhere.
me: ok....cya then