Congress and George W. Bush might be more receptive to health care reform now that large employers such as General Motors are looking for help to close a gap with foreign competitors, Ronald Brownstein wrote in the 6/19/05 Los Angeles Times.

"Self-preservation alone might encourage a president and a Congress with sinking approval ratings to confront the underlying health-care problems fueling this dispute with even a fraction of the concern that they mustered for the treatment of a single Florida woman, Terri Schiavo," Brownstein wrote. "To put it mildly, exploding health-care costs present a more tangible problem for many more Americans than right-to-die cases. Since 2000, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation's authoritative survey, healthcare premiums for family coverage have increased by 59%, six times faster than inflation."

General Motors is looking to cut the $5.6 billion it will spend on health care this year, which at $5,100 a worker is more than double the $2,500 it spent in 1996. GM wants workers to pay a greater share of health costs, but United Auto Workers leaders say they won't change the contract, which expires in 2007. GM spends $1,500 on health care for each car it makes -- that's more than it spends on steel. Toyota spends about one-fourth as much for health care, because the Japanese government pays most of the health tab.

Health costs triggered the bitter four-month grocery strike settled last winter in Southern California, as unionized grocery chains argued that they needed concessions to compete with chains such as Wal-Mart that provide limited coverage or no benefits for many of their employees.

Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) last year proposed that Washington assume 75% of the cost for any patient whose annual health expense reaches $50,000. That change alone could reduce health insurance premiums by 10%, Brownstein reported.

Congress also could reverse itself and allow Medicare to bargain directly for prescription drugs, which would establish benchmarks that could lower the massive pharmaceutical costs now inflating health costs. (Congress prohibited Medicare from negotiating for lower drug costs when it passed the limited drug benefit in 2003.)

Finally, Brownstein noted that covering more of the nearly 45 million uninsured Americans would shrink the huge bill for uncompensated care (recently estimated at $43 billion annually) that the insured pay through higher premiums.

"Each of these steps would require more federal spending or intervention in the market. Big employers like GM contributed to their problems by allowing their ideological resistance to such activism to mute their support for innovative ideas like Kerry's. But [GM CEO Rick] Wagoner now talks urgently about the need for national action, and Washington should respond. When it comes to controlling healthcare costs, an old diagnosis applies: What is good for GM actually would be good for America."


PUBLIC DECEPTION CAMPAIGN: On May 1, 2003, President Bush, standing in front of a banner that proclaimed "Mission Accomplished," declared that "major combat operations in Iraq have ended." Eight hundred and twenty-five days and $230 billion later, how's the administration's Iraq policy going? Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) says: "Things aren't getting better; they're getting worse. The White House is completely disconnected from reality. It's like they're just making it up as they go along. The reality is that we're losing in Iraq." Hagel has a point. In June, for example, 47 US troops were killed in the first 15 days. That's already five more than the toll for the entire month of June last year, US News reported (6/27/05). Instead of a strategy for success, the Bush administration has launched a renewed public-relations push. But Bush's new PR campaign on Iraq seems remarkably similar to one he launched almost two years ago.


FEDS ILLEGALLY COLLECT DATA: Transportation Security Administration collected extensive personal information about airline passengers although Congress told it not to and it said it wouldn't, the Associated Press reported 6/20/05. A TSA contractor used three data brokers to collect detailed information about US citizens who flew on commercial airlines in June 2004 in order to test a terrorist screening program called Secure Flight, according to documents that were to be published in the Federal Register. The TSA ordered airlines to turn over data on those passengers in November. TSA had said it would not store commercial data about airline passengers. The Privacy Act of 1974 prohibits the government from keeping a secret database.


WHITE HOUSE'S WHITE-OUT PROBLEM: ThinkProgress.org noted (6/20/05) that the Bush administration has doctored reports whenever the acts don't match its preconceived agenda in numerous occasions, including reports on cattle grazing, hog farming, climate chance, air quality at Ground Zero of the 9/11 attack; toxicology of mercury, effectiveness of condoms, effects of oil drilling on the Arctic Refuge, abortion, HIV/AIDS, cancer, stem cell research and ground water pollution, to cite a few.


HOUSE FOR SALE: Rep. Randy (Duke) Cunningham, R-Calif., sold his San Diego home for $1.675 million to defense contractor Mitchell Wade, who ended up selling the house for $700,000 less a year later. But Wade's company picked up tens of millions of dollars in defense and intelligence contracts, the San Diego Union-Tribune noted. Coincidentally, Cunningham is a member of the defense appropriations subcommittee and intelligence committee. And while in D.C., Cunningham resides on the "Duke Stir", a 42-foot, 34-ton yacht docked at the Capital Yacht Club down on the Potomac River. And it turns out the "Duke Stir" is owned by Mitchell Wade.

The congressman says he has done nothing wrong, did not sell his house at an inflated price and would disclose additional details about paying for his stay on the yacht as soon as he compiled them.

The LA Times also reported that Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) made $822,000 last year from the sale of a controversial real estate investment with an Anchorage developer who had obtained a huge federal contract with his help. That led a TalkingPointsMemo.com reader to suggest that "it may not be low interest rates so much as high-rolling Republican members of Congress who are responsible for the nation's real estate boom.

Rep. Fortney (Pete) Stark, D-Calif., bought ads on websites of CongressDaily and Hotline, targeting Cunningham. Stark paid personally for the $500 ad buy, a mock real estate ad for Stark's own home whose headline reads: "Attention Powerful Lobbyists! House for Sale by Influential Member of Congress." The ad continues, "From recent practices by defense contractor lobbyists, it appears that you may be able to slip a cool million to a member of Congress with little fear of ethics violations!"


RITTER: IRAN WAR 'ON': Former UN arms inspector Scott Ritter writes that the Pentagon and CIA have already begun planning the bombing of Iranian sites, targeting nuclear power projects, as well as the occupation of Tehran. US pilotless drones and other, more sophisticated capabilities already are probing Iranian airspace. He also charged that the Mujahadeen el-Khalq, or MEK, an Iranian opposition group once run by Saddam Hussein's dreaded intelligence services, is now working for the CIA's Directorate of Operations to destabilize Iran. "It is bitter irony that the CIA is using a group still labeled as a terrorist organization, a group trained in the art of explosive assassination by the same intelligence units of the former regime of Saddam Hussein, who are slaughtering American soldiers in Iraq today, to carry out remote bombings in Iran of the sort that the Bush administration condemns on a daily basis inside Iraq," wrote Ritter, a former marine intel officer, at english.aljazeera.net (6/20/05). He wrote that the US military is preparing a base of operations for a massive military presence in neighboring Azerbaijan that will enable a major land-based campaign to capture the Iranian capital.

"Most Americans, together with the mainstream American media, are blind to the tell-tale signs of war, waiting, instead, for some formal declaration of hostility, a made-for-TV moment such as was witnessed on 19 March 2003," he wrote. "We now know that the war [with Iraq] had started much earlier. Likewise, history will show that the US-led war with Iran will not have begun once a similar formal statement is offered by the Bush administration, but, rather, had already been under way since June 2005, when the CIA began its program of MEK-executed terror bombings in Iran."


PROGS HAVE PLAN: A new national group based in Helena, Mont., the Progressive Legislative Action Network, or PLAN, will provide policy, communication and resources to "forward-thinking, progressive state legislators," its leaders said. Co-chairmen are former Montana Senate Minority Leader Steve Doherty, D-Great Falls, and David Sirota, a Helena author who will be leaving his position as a fellow at the Center for American Progress to assume his new role. The organization's formal kickoff will be Aug. 16 in Seattle to coincide with the annual meeting of the National Conference of State Legislators. It will feature Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, former California House Speaker Willie Brown and former vice presidential candidate John Edwards. See www.progressivestates.com or call 406-459-7470.

HAL GETS $30 MIL GITMO JAIL JOB: Some have been calling for the US to shut down its scandal-plagued prison in Guantanamo, Cuba, but the Defense Department announced 6/16/05 that Halliburton, Vice President Dick Cheney's old outfit, will build a new $30 mln detention facility to house 220 men and security fence at the US naval base, Reuters reported. Critics have decried indefinite detentions at Guantanamo, as the US has denied rights accorded under the Geneva Conventions to prisoners of war. The prison was called "the gulag of our times" in a recent Amnesty International report. Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root Services of Arlington, Va., is to wrap up the work by July 2006. It is part of a larger contract that could be worth up to $500 million if all options are exercised, the Defense Department said. About 520 detainees from more than 40 countries are now being held at the prison. Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld said US taxpayers had spend more than $100 mln on construction costs and no other facility could replace it.


BUSH CAUGHT IN PATRIOT LIE: When George Bush urged renewal of the USA PATRIOT Act on 6/9/05, he boasted that "federal terrorism investigations have resulted in charges against more than 400 suspects, and more than half of those charged have been convicted." Bush and other administration officials, including Attorney Gen. Alberto Gonzales and his predecessor, John D. Ashcroft, have cited the statistics to justify the extraordinary law enforcement efforts against "terrorism." But when the *Washington Post* looked at the Justice Department's own list of terrorism prosecutions, it found that only 39 people -- not 200, as officials have implied -- were convicted of crimes related to terrorism or national security. Most of the others were convicted of relatively minor crimes such as making false statements and violating immigration law -- and had nothing to do with terrorism, the analysis shows. For the entire list, the median sentence was just 11 months. "Except for a small number of well-known cases -- such as truck driver Iyman Faris, who sought to take down the Brooklyn Bridge -- few of those arrested appear to have been involved in active plots inside the United States," the *Post* reported.


CHENEY LIED ABOUT IRAQ INTEL: One of the given rationales for attacking Iraq was that Saddam was linked to the 9-11 hijackers through a claim that Mohammad Atta met with an Iraqi intelligence official in Prague in April 2001 before the attacks. The supposed Prague meeting was advanced by former CIA Director Jim Woolsey , using evidence obtained from the Czech government. But ThinkProgress.org notes that, according to the FBI, Atta was in Virginia Beach at the time. The Czech government later backed off its claims, but Vice President Cheney stuck to it. In December 2001, Cheney said: "Well, what we now have that's developed since you and I last talked, Tim, of course, was that report that&endash;it's been pretty well confirmed that he did go to Prague and he did meet with a senior official of the Iraqi intelligence service in Czechoslovakia last April, several months before the attack." [NBC, *Meet the Press*, 12/9/01.] Now we know through a recently-disclosed British paper that the Bush administration had doubts about whether the Prague meeting did in fact occur. In the 3/18/02 memo, former British Ambassador Christopher Meyer said Paul Wolfowitz told him "there might be doubt about the alleged meeting in Prague between Mohammed Atta, the lead hijacker on 9/11, and Iraqi intelligence." The new evidence indicates that Cheney had reason to believe that his claims of a "pretty well confirmed" meeting were in fact not confirmed at all.


ROADBLOCK REMOVED FOR WEAPONS PROGRESS: One benefit of John Bolton's nomination as UN ambassador is that he is no longer hampering counterproliferation efforts at the State Department. The *Washington Post* reported 6/20 that for years, an arcane legal dispute had frozen a key U.S. program intended to keep Russian nuclear fuel out of terrorist hands. As undersecretary of state, Bolton was supposed to be fixing the problem, but critics complained he was the roadblock. With Bolton no longer in the job, US negotiators report a breakthrough with the Russians and predict a resolution will be sealed by President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin at an international summit in Scotland in July, clearing the way to eliminate enough plutonium to fuel 8,000 nuclear bombs. Without the hard-charging Bolton around, the Bush administration also has dropped its campaign to oust the chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and made common cause with European allies in offering incentives to Iran to persuade it to drop any ambitions for nuclear weapons.


BLOGS SURPASS CABLE NEWS: Chris Bowers at MyDD notes that the combined prime-time viewership of the top three cable news channels (Fox News, CNN and MSNBC) was 2,785,000 on June 3, with 695,000 in the prized 25 to 54 demographic. By comparison, the Liberal Blog Advertising Network received 5,915,000 page views. Further, roughly 70% of those page views came from the 25-54 demographic. "In other words, these 57 liberal blogs combined have already equaled, if not surpassed, the three cable news networks combined as a source of news among Americans under 55. Without any doubt, the blogosphere in general now far surpasses the three cable news networks as a source for news among Americans under 55."


MAKE A DEAL WITH JOE BIDEN: Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) announced on 6/19/05 that he would run for president in 2008 but his criticism of Howard Dean isn't going to endear him to progressive populists. David Sirota noted (6/14/05) that Biden continued "his self-serving, arrogant and conceited attack on DNC Chairman Howard Dean, this time telling Don Imus that 'The Democratic chairman does not speak for me, an elected United States senator. No party official speaks for me anytime, anyplace, under any circumstances. And I think the rhetoric is counter-productive.'"

Sirota added, "All good Democrats and progressives should make a deal with Biden: he can continue stabbing his own party in the back with impunity for his own self-promotion, and say his party doesn't speak for him. In exchange, Biden should agree to never, ever claim to speak for Democrats. Remember, this is a Senator who (among other things) led the fight to pass the bankruptcy bill, voted against limiting the interest credit card companies can gouge consumers with, voted against limiting predatory lending, voted against protecting consumers when their identity is stolen, voted for the Iraq War and voted to confirm Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. This says nothing about him perpetually floating his name for president, even though the last time he ran, he got caught pathetically trying to plagiarize people's speeches."

"Renee in Ohio" wrote at MyDD.com (6/11/05): "I agree with the person in Springdale, Md. who wrote to Senator Biden, 'Howard Dean speaks for me. I'd like for you to begin speaking for me also, if at all possible. It would be a welcomed change.'"


MARKUP SHOWS CAFTA IN TROUBLE: The Senate Finance Committee narrowly approved the Central American Free Trade Agreement 6/14/05, but National Farmers Union President Dave Frederickson said the 11-9 margin in the non-binding "mock markup" shows a level of dissent that indicates problems to come for the controversial trade pact. The committee normally approves trade agreements by a comfortable margin. "We cannot keep passing trade agreements that put American agriculture in jeopardy," said Frederickson. "CAFTA does not enjoy bipartisan support, because, like NAFTA, it represents a race to the bottom for commodity prices." CAFTA ignores major issues that distort fair trade such as labor, environmental regulations and currency, he said. NFU does not support this agreement, which trades away US agricultural markets for no visible returns to American farmers and ranchers, he noted.


SENATORS STILL WARY OF LYNCHING BAN: As of 6/20/05 13 Republican senators still refused to co-sponsor the anti-lynching resolution that passed on a voice vote 6/13/05, John Aravosis noted at Americablog. The "Lynch Mob" includes Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Robert Bennett (R-UT), Thad Cochran (R-MS), John Cornyn (R-TX), Michael Enzi (R-WY), Judd Gregg (R-NH), Kay Hutchison (R-TX), Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Trent Lott (R-MS), Richard Shelby (R-AL), Smith (R-OR), John Sununu (R-NH), Craig Thomas (R-WY).

The Jackson Clarion Ledger reported that from 1882 to 1968, there were 4,743 lynchings in the US. They occurred in nearly every state and four out of five victims were black. According to the Tuskegee Institute archives, there were 581 lynchings in Mississippi, followed by 531 in Georgia, 391 in Texas, 391 in Louisiana and 347 in Alabama.

Simon Wright, the cousin of Mississippi lynching victim Emmett Till, came to Washington to witness passage of the Senate resolution. Till was killed for allegedly whistling at the wife of a white man. Wright, now 62, was sleeping next to the 14-year-old Till on the night of Aug. 28, 1955, when he was awakened by two men who took Till away. Till's mutilated body was later found in a river.

Wright said he felt terror that night, then sadness, outrage and hopelessness. He said the Senate apology was "not enough, but it's a step in the right direction." He added, "Some people say, 'Don't open old wounds,' But they weren't wounded. I was."

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