A progressive critic of President Obama's Affordable Care Act has changed her tune after she found out last month that a program set up by the law will help treat her cancer. Spike Dolomite Ward, who does nonprofit work in Southern California, is a 49-year-old mother and wife in an “ordinary, middle-class” family that had struggled to stay insured after her husband lost his job, she wrote in the Los Angeles Times (12/6). Ultimately, they were forced to choose between paying their mortgage or paying for health insurance. They let the health insurance lapse two years ago and panicked after she was recently diagnosed with third-stage breast cancer, which requires months of expensive treatment.

She found that the federal government this past year set up a Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan, which guarantees access to insurance for US citizens with pre-existing conditions who have been uninsured for at least six months. “The application was short, the premiums are affordable, and I have found the people who work in the administration office to be quite compassionate (nothing like the people I have dealt with over the years at other insurance companies.) It’s not perfect, of course, and it still leaves many people in need out in the cold. But it’s a start, and for me it's been a lifesaver — perhaps literally.

“Which brings me to my apology,” Ward continued. “I was pretty mad at Obama before I learned about this new insurance plan. I had changed my registration from Democrat to Independent, and I had blacked out the top of the ‘h’ on my Obama bumper sticker, so that it read, ‘Got nope’ instead of ‘got hope.’ I felt like he had let down the struggling middle class. My son and I had campaigned for him, but since he took office, we felt he had let us down.

“So this is my public apology. I'm sorry I didn’t do enough of my own research to find out what promises the president has made good on. I’m sorry I didn’t realize that he really has stood up for me and my family, and for so many others like us. I’m getting a new bumper sticker to cover the one that says ‘Got nope.’ It will say ‘ObamaCares.’”

In 2010, the Affordable Care Act expanded coverage for young adults, provided tax credits to help small businesses to provide insurance coverage, prohibited denial of coverage for children with pre-existing conditions and set up a plan to provide insurance for adults with pre-existing conditions.

The pre-existing condition insurance plans as of December have enrolled over 30,000 uninsured Americans.

ACA also earmarked $11 bln in funds for community health centers and allowed states to receive matching funds to expand Medicare coverage for low-income individuals and families, created a $5 bln program to provide coverage for people who retire between the ages of 55 and 65 (as well as their spouses and dependents) and required new health plans to cover preventive services such as, blood pressure and cholesterol tests, mammograms and colonoscopies. And it prohibited insurance companies from rescinding coverage for errors or technical mistakes on a customer's insurance application after the patient got sick, set up an appeal process when claims are denied and eliminated the lifetime limits on insurance coverage.

This past year, the law gave seniors a 50% discount for name-brand drugs in the Medicare “donut hole,” provides free preventive care, such as annual physicals, for seniors on Medicare, and allows states to offer home and community-based services to disabled people through Medicaid rather than institutional care in nursing homes. It also requires at least 80% of premiums from individuals and small employers to be spent on benefits and quality improvement. The law also reduces the subsidy for companies that provide Medicare Advantage coverage.

In 2014, most individuals who can afford it will be required to obtain basic health coverage (the individual mandate). But Americans who earn less than 133% of the poverty level (now $14,000 for an individual and $29,000 for a family of four) will be eligible to enroll in Medicaid and tax credits will be available for those with income up to 400% of the poverty line (currently $43,000 for an individual and $88,000 for a family of four). Individuals who don't get insurance through their employer will be able to buy it from an Affordable Insurance Exchange, which will offer a choice of health plans that meet benefits and cost standards. See HealthCare.gov for more information.

OBAMACARE BOMB TICKING. Rick Ungar wrote at Forbes.com (12/2) that the provision in the Affordable Care Act that limits the profits insurance companies can make on health plans will set the nation's health care system on the road to a single-payer plan. The “medical loss ratio” requires insurance companies to spend 80% of premium dollars they collect — or 85% for large group insurers — on actual medical care rather than overhead, marketing expenses and profit. Insurance companies that do not meet the goals must provide rebates to consumers. Ungar thinks many insurance companies will decide they can’t make enough profit with those limits.

“This is the true ‘bomb’ contained in Obamacare and the one item that will have more impact on the future of how medical care is paid for in this country than anything we’ve seen in quite some time,” Ungar wrote. He predicted that the medical loss ratio will, ultimately, lead to the death of large parts of the private, for-profit health insurance industry and put the nation on the path to a single-payer system for most Americans “and thank goodness for it.”

Ungar concluded, “If you thought that the Obama Administration chickened out on pushing the nation in the direction of universal health care for everyone, today is the day you begin to understand that the reality is quite the contrary.”

States can seek waivers for their insurers. Maine was granted an adjustment because one of its three insurers threatened to pull out if the requirement went into full effect in 2011. The Texas Department of Insurance has sought a similar waiver for insurance companies operating in Texas. But Deann Friedholm, director of health reform for Consumers Union, noted in the Austin American-Statesman (12/12) that Texas has more than 30 insurers offering individual coverage, and insurers representing more than 90% of the market have stated that they do not intend to exit if the new rules take effect so she recommended that federal officials reject Texas' attempt to maintain business as usual for low-value health insurers. Texans who buy their own insurance could qualify for $481 mln in refunds over the next three years, she said.

ROMNEY KEEPS LYING ABOUT OBAMA 'REGULATORY BURDEN.' During an event in New Hampshire (12/12), Romney repeated his claim that the “regulatory burden" under President Obama has "increased four-fold,” resulting in businesses being buried under red tape, despite his campaign admitting in the past that this statement has no basis in fact.

ThinkProgress.org noted (12/12) that when Romney made the same claim during an interview with NPR in September, NPR asked the Romney campaign for verification, at which point the campaign was forced to admit that “the Governor misspoke.” Instead, the Romney camp told NPR that new regulations under Obama are twice what they were under President George W. Bush. Trouble is, that’s not true either, as Bloomberg News pointed out that Obama’s White House approved 613 federal rules during the first 33 months of his term, 4.7% fewer than the 643 rules cleared by President George W. Bush’s administration in the same time frame, according to an Office of Management and Budget statistical database reviewed by Bloomberg.

Romney also has claimed that regulations costs the US economy $1.7 tln annually. That number, according to economists, also isn’t true. In fact, John Irons of the Economic Policy Institute found that the study Romney cited “contains basic conceptual mistakes and relies on extraordinarily poor data. Its results should neither be used as a valid measure of the economic costs of regulation nor as a guide for policy,” he said.

“For Romney, using these outright falsehoods helps him paint the Obama administration as some sort of regulatory behemoth, smooshing small businesses beneath its heels. However, when actual small businesses are asked whether regulations are killing jobs, the answer is always a resounding no.”

GOP TARGETS MEDICARE — NO LIE! When PolitiFact announced its finalists for 2011’s Lie of the Year, it included the Democrats' charge that the Paul Ryan budget — which the Republican House passed and would convert Medicare’s traditional fee-for-service program into a voucher program — would end Medicare and force seniors to pay $12,500 for health care.

PolitiFact views the ad as a lie because the Republicans did not succeed in ending Medicare. The Democratic Senate rejected the GOP bill — but that doesn’t change the fact that nearly every Republican voted to end Medicare. PolitiFact also notes that seniors would have to pay Medicare premiums under the current system.

Igor Volsky of ThinkProgress.org noted (12/2): “Under (Ryan’s) proposal, beginning in 2022, people turning 65 will receive a pre-determined ‘premium support’ payment to purchase private coverage. The insurers will offer a basic package of benefits, but traditional Medicare — the program that President Lyndon Johnson enacted in 1965 — will literally stop enrolling new beneficiaries. Rather than paying health care providers directly — and using its market clout to secure better bargains and other efficiencies for enrollees — the government would now pay multiple private health insurers pre-determined amounts per beneficiary to act as middle men between patients and providers.

“It will no longer guarantee seniors a defined package of benefits, but will instead only offer a defined contribution towards their health care costs. As the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis of Ryan’s proposal explains, ‘the payment for 65-year-olds in 2022 is specified to be $8,000, on average, which is approximately the same dollar amount as projected net federal spending per capita for 65-year-olds in traditional Medicare.’ However every subsequent year, as health care costs increase, the government’s contribution ‘would grow at a slower rate,’ inflation, and the age of the enrollee. By 2030, under the proposal, the premium support would ‘only cover 32% of a typical 65-year-old’s total health care spending’ and would decrease every subsequent year,” so a $12,500 expense to seniors is a credible projection.

We rate PolitiFact’s statement that Ryan’s plan does not end Medicare to be the product of tortured logic.

GINGRICH WOULD CUT TAXES FOR RICH, BALLOON DEFICIT. The latest 2012 GOP presidential frontrunner, Newt Gingrich, released a plan to overhaul the US tax code by giving taxpayers the option of paying a flat 15% income tax rate. Gingrich’s tax plan would cut taxes for 70% of households and give generous tax breaks for wealthy families and corporations, but it also would add $1.3 tln to the US budget deficit in 2015 alone, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center.

Gingrich’s plan would create an optional 15% flat tax with a per-person deduction of $12,000. He would drop the corporate tax rate to 12.5% from 35%, allow businesses to write off capital expenses and eliminate taxes on capital gains and estates, Bloomberg News reported (12/12). (Texas Gov. Rick Perry had proposed a 20% flat tax option for wealthy families.)

People earning more than $1 mln a year would receive an average tax cut of $613,689 in 2015, compared with what they pay now. That change would boost their after-tax income by 28.7% and put their average tax rate at 11.9%.

The only problem is that the federal government needs to bring in taxes equal to a little more than 20% of the gross domestic product to pay the bills. In 2000, the last year the US ran a budget surplus (under President Bill Clinton’s budget), federal tax revenues were 20.6% of GDP, according to the Congressional Budget Office. President George W. Bush cut income and capital gains tax rates and the current tax rates collected 18.5% of GDP in 2007 (the last year before the Great Recession) — and the Treasury still fell $163 bln short that year.

Mitt Romney has proposed extending current tax rates, cutting the corporate rate to 25% and eliminating taxes on investment income for households earning less than $200,000 a year.

Most working-class families pay less than 15% of their earnings in income taxes, so they presumably would continue to file under the current code.

‘POINTLESS’ PAYROLL TAX BREAK BILL IN HOUSE. House Republicans indicated that they won't allow the working class to keep their payroll tax break without getting the Democrats to give up on other legislative interests. Senate Republicans simply blocked passage of four tax-cut bills in two weeks, but Steve Benen noted at WashingtonMonthly.com (12/12) that “House GOP lawmakers are so against extending a middle-class tax cut, they’re insisting on all kinds of goodies for themselves — adding that if their rewards are taken away, they’ll kill the overall proposal, no matter the consequences for the nation’s economy.

“Indeed, the ransom note is starting to look like a spoiled kid’s list for Santa: Republicans want the Keystone XL pipeline [which is opposed by environmentalists and weaker toxic-air safeguards and a ban on future EPA standards on toxic-air pollutants and a premium increase for wealthier Medicare beneficiaries and a federal employees pay freeze and a reduction in the federal workforce and a sharp reduction in the maximum duration of jobless benefits.

“And if they don’t get all of this, 160 million Americans will have less money in their paychecks starting on Jan. 1,” Benen wrote, adding, “Could this House bill pass the Senate and earn President Obama’s signature? Of course not. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), literally the only Republican on Capitol Hill who’s been reasonable on this issue, said (12/11), ‘It’s going to be pointless if the House sends over bills that the Senate cannot or will not pass.’”

AP reporter Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar reported (12/13) that raising taxes on millionaires may be a non-starter for Republicans, but they seem to have no problem hiking Medicare premiums for retirees making a lot less. The House plan also would raise Medicare premiums for outpatient and drug coverage for retirees making $80,000 for individuals, or $160,000 for families.

Jared Bernstein at jaredbernsteinblog.com (12/11) marveled at the Republican agenda. “The whole thing makes no sense. The conservative meme about UI [unemployment insurance] allowing unemployed people to scoff at all the available jobs out there is belied by the fact that there are four job seekers per job opening. Under such demand constrained conditions, conservatives, including Alan Greenspan, have typically supported UI extensions. In fact, we’ve never failed to extend with the jobless rate this high.

“It’s bad for families who need the money, and it’s bad for the macro economy, since they spend the money. I mean, who’d want to both hurt out-of-work families and further restrain the recovery? Why would anyone want to do that??!!

“Oh … right … never mind.”

A BILL WITH BETTER POINTS, BUT STILL NO CHANCE. The Congressional Progressive Caucus introduced (12/13) the Restore the American Dream for the 99% Act, based on input from 130,000 people who crafted the Contract for the American Dream at RebuildTheDream.com.

The bill, sponsored by Reps. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), includes near-term job-creation measures and budget policy reforms that would put more than 5 mln Americans back to work; increase taxes for millionaires and Wall Street speculators; create a national infrastructure bank that invests in America; eliminate handouts to Big Oil; add a public option to the Affordable Care Act; end the wars and reduce Pentagon waste; and would save $2.4 tln over 10 years.

The sponsors know the bill won't pass anytime soon, but Natalie Foster of Rebuild The Dream in a news release said it was an attempt to shift the debate. “You probably know someone who can't find a job, or who is facing foreclosure, or who has gone broke due to illness. We all know people who are struggling, because people are struggling everywhere. For far too long, this reality has been sidelined from the conversation in Congress,” she said.

Get the conversation going. Tell your member of Congress to support the Restore the American Dream for the 99% Act or sign the petition at MoveOn.org.

ROMNEY REVIVES KLAN SLOGAN. Mitt Romney has dusted off a nativist slogan from yesteryear with his proposal to "keep America American." In a speech in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Romney said (12/7), "There are people in this room who are informed and who care about this election, who recognize that this is a defining time for America," the Los Angeles Times reported (12/9). "We have on one side a president who wants to transform America into a European-style nation, and you have on other hand someone like myself that wants to turn around America and keep America American with the principals that made us the greatest nation on Earth."

The rhetoric was in line with Republican efforts to depict Obama as "The Other," an internationalist who doesn't adhere to "American Exceptionalism." After Obama told business leaders that US policymakers have been "a little bit lazy" when it comes to attracting businesses to American soil, Republicans claimed that Obama called Americans "lazy." Steve Benen noted that Romney joined in the attacks, exploiting the borderline racism behind them, as Romney argued that Obama called Americans "lazy" because the president "doesn't understand Americans."

(Adding to the irony, Benen noted (11/16) that in Romney's own book, No Apology, Romney complained that Americans “have tended to avoid the hard work that overcoming challenges requires.”)

But with the latest foray, Steve M at BoomanTribune.com noted (12/12), "'Keep America American'? Really?" The United Klans of America in 1920 published a pamphlet, "Why You Should Become a Klansman: Of interest to White, Protestant, Native Born Americans who want to keep America American." A similar pamphlet was distributed in Dallas in 1950 as part of a major Klan recruiting drive — just before a series of bombings of black-owned homes. And on the eve of World War II, a group called the American Coalition, using the slogan "Keep America American," pressured the US government not to admit Jewish refugees from Europe.

BECK SEES TEA PARTY RACISM. Glenn Beck had his stopped-clock moment in an appearance on the Fox Business channel (12/9), when he lashed out at Newt Gingrich, whom Beck sees as a big-government promoter in the vein of progressive Republican President Teddy Roosevelt, whom Beck hates. "So if you've got a big government progressive or a big government progressive in Obama, one in Newt Gingrich, one in Obama, ask yourself this, Tea Party: Is it about Obama's race? Because that's what it appears to be to me. If you're against him but you're for this guy, it must be about race. It's the policies that matter," Beck said.

Beck was quickly disowned by some conservative bloggers. Andrew Breitbart called Beck a "coward," a liar and a "huckster," saying the race comments “jumped the gun, and in essence jumped the shark.”

Alex Seitz-Wald noted at ThinkProgress.org (12/12) that the previous weekend, a Tea Party group in Kansas drew condemnations from the local NAACP for depicting President Obama as a skunk. “It is half black, half white, and almost everything it does, stinks,” read the website of the Patriot Freedom Alliance, a Tea Party of Hutchinson, under a picture suggesting “the skunk has replaced the eagle as the symbol for the president.”

And if Beck thinks Gingrich is progressive, what must he think of Mitt Romney, who, when he was running for governor of Massachusetts, said he was not a "partisan Republican" and that his "views are progressive," according to a 2002 video unearthed by amateur opposition researcher Alex Kaczynski (PoliticalWire.com, 10/13)? And Romney actually signed an individual mandate insurance bill!

BAY AREA LIBS LOSE TALK RADIO. There apparently are not enough liberals in the San Francisco Bay area to support their own talk radio station, according to Clear Channel Communications, which is ditching the progressive lineup at Green 960-KKGN. The new lineup, renamed KNEW-960, will include right wingers Glenn Beck in the morning drive time and John Gibson in evening drive time but keeps liberals Randi Rhodes from noon to 3 p.m. and Alan Colmes in evenings. Clear Channel is owned by Mitt Romney's Bain Capital LLC. Progressive talkers Stephanie Miller, Thom Hartmann and Mike Malloy will be carried on the hard-to-find FM HD2 channel, which requires a special HD radio receiver. (Bradblog.com, 12/5)

ANOTHER POLITICAL YEAR FOR SUPREMES. Among the politically charged cases the Supreme Court has agreed to hear in 2012 are the challenges of the 2010 health care overhaul, Arizona's tough anti-immigration measures and a federal court's order that Texas congressional and legislative elections be run next year under an interim plan that protects minority representation under the Voting Rights Act.

In the Texas case, where the Republican-dominated Texas Legislature gerrymandered congressional districts so that the number of Latino and black-leaning districts remained unchanged from the old map — despite the fact that Latinos were responsible for 65% of the state's 4.3 mln new residents — a three-judge federal panel in San Antonio redrew the map so that at least three of the new congressional seats could go Democratic, or 13 of the state's 36 seats.

At issue is whether the judges were authorized to redraw the districts without first determining that the Legislature-approved districts violated the Voting Rights Act. Under the federal law, because of the state's history of racial discrimination, Texas must get approval from the Justice Department before implementing changes to its election system and the court redrew the districts as an interim map for the 2012 election while the lawsuit proceeds.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments in January and, depending on how quickly the court rules, might force Texas officials to delay the primary elections that are now scheduled for March 6.

US CARMAKERS INCREASE SHARE. Ford, GM and Chrysler gained market share for the first time in 1988, Laura Clawson noted at DailyKos.com (12/12). Through November, the Detroit Free Press reported (12/12), US auto sales increased 10.4% over the first 11 months of 2010, as Detroit-based carmakers captured 47.2% of combined market share, up from 45.1% for the same period in 2010. In 1988, the last time all three gained share, their collective pieces of the pie swelled to 73.1%, up from 70.2%.

GM and Ford benefitted from new fuel-efficient cars such as the Chevrolet Cruze and Ford Fiesta that sold well when gas prices topped $4 last spring, and Chrysler was the industry's star with a 25% sales increase, thanks to the popularity of the Chrysler 200, Dodge Durango and Jeep Grand Cherokee, but the success of the US carmakers also came in part because Toyota and Honda suffered shortages following the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. By the end of the year, Toyota was rebounding and Honda is expected to follow, but Clawson noted that Ford, GM and Chrysler had gains in November even as Toyota was rebounding.

US carmakers promised investments in American manufacturing with more than 20,000 new jobs in the US as part of recent contracts with the United Auto Workers, and 160,000 jobs with suppliers and other businesses supported by auto manufacturing, the UAW reported.

MASSEY CEO SET TO OPEN MORE COAL MINES. Don Blankenship, who was CEO of Massey Energy when 29 miners lost their lives in a massive explosion at the Upper Big Branch, W.Va., coal mine in April 2010, has filed papers to start another coal mine venture, the Associated Press reported (12/8). The paperwork for McCoy Coal Group Inc. of Belfry, Ky., has been on file since January but the company has not sought a mining permit, said a Kentucky Energy and Environment spokesman.

Following the Upper Big Branch explosion, a United Mine Workers report summed up the tragedy in the title, "Industrial Homicide," which found that Massey "exhibited a corporate mentality that placed the drive to produce Massey coal above worker safety." An independent report on the disaster commissioned by then-Gov. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) concluded the responsibility for the explosion “lies with the management of Massey Energy … [B]y frequently and knowingly violating the law and blatantly disregarding known safety practices … Massey exhibited a corporate mentality that placed the drive to produce coal above worker safety.” And an investigation by the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) found the company kept two sets of books to hide safety problems, Tula Connell noted at the AFL-CIO's blog at aflcio.org (12/12).

Prior to the disaster, MSHA had filed more than 450 safety citations at Upper Big Branch, which was a non-union mine and wasn’t the only Massey mine with safety problems. MSHA records show that in at least six of the 10 years prior to the explosion, Massey mines' injury rate has been worse than the national average for similar operations. In 2009, Massey and subsidiary Aracoma Coal Co. agreed to pay $4.2 mln in criminal fines and civil penalties related to a January 2006 fire that killed two miners at the Alma No. 1 mine.

Blankenship had a reputation for busting unions, violating safety laws, attacking environmentalists and shilling for the far right and corporate America, Connell wrote.

Alpha Natural Resources, which bought Massey Energy for $8.5 bln in February, reached an agreement (12/6) with the federal government to pay $210 mln, which does not bar any future criminal prosecutions of individuals connected to the deadly explosion.

"Let’s hope not," Connell wrote. "Because as UMWA spokesman Phil Smith puts it, at least 18 Massey managers should be prosecuted, including its former CEO. 'Don Blankenship belongs in jail, not in a position to put yet more miners’ lives at risk.'"

SOLOMON GETS ENDORSEMENTS. Norman Solomon, the writer and progressive activist who is running for Congress in a North Coast California district, gained the endorsement of former US Rep. Dan Hamburg (D), who represented several counties in the district (12/13). Solomon, an independent progressive Democrat, is refusing corporate PAC money but has raised more than $250,000 in donations. Other recent endorsers include Reps. John Conyers (D-Mich.), Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and Dolores Huerta, co-founder of United Farm Workers. Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D), who is retiring from the 2nd District seat, is not making an endorsement. Solomon faces an open primary in June with state Rep. Jared Huffman (D), who has support of establishment Dems, small business owner Dan Roberts, the only Republican in the race, and several others. The top two candidates will be matched in the general election. See solomonforcongress.com.

From The Progressive Populist, January 1-15, 2012


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