30 June 2009

Medicare & Health Care Reform

Recent changes in Medicare have had negative effect on the 44-year old program. The 2003 Medicare Modernization Act created the Part D prescription drug plan and the Medicare Advantage plans that cost the federal government(you and I and all other taxpayers)12 to 19 percent more than traditional Medicare.

Through the years the reactionary right has stymied efforts to improve on Medicare with dental, long-term care, podiatry and vision care. What few changes have been made have benefited the insurance oligarchs and drug company Tsars rather than taxpayers or Medicare beneficiaries.

Now is the time to change that by improving the prescription drug program by creating a national, public plan option in Part D, eliminating the coverage gap, allowing beneficiaries to change plans when necessary, prohibiting Part C and D plans from making mid-year formulary deletions, granting the Secretary of Health and Human Services authority to negotiate drug prices to reduce costs and improving the appeals/exceptions process reducing cost sharing in the specialty tier.

Medicare can be enhanced by covering geriatric assessments,care coordination/management and chronic disease self-management; eliminating cost sharing for preventative services; adding a catastrophic stop-loss for beneficiary cost sharing; and enrollment assistance.

Coverage gaps in the current Medicare system are not found in typical employer provided plans and put older Americans at serious financial risk. High cost sharing in Part A, the lack of out-of-pocket limits in A and B, and the "doughnut hole" coverage gap in part D are examples of the precarious financial risk encountering too many older Americans.

Now is the time for change, contact your Senator and Representative today and ask that they improve Medicare and help create a public option as part of health care reform.

29 June 2009

Hunger In America - Shame On Us!

"It's really very simple, Governor. When people are hungry they die. So spare me your politics and tell me what you need and how you're going to get it to these people.”...Bob Geldof

More than 36-million Americans struggle with hunger including those who suffer from outright hunger and those who face "food insecurity" (literally do not know from where their next meal will come).

Some would have you believe that the problem is merely an adjunct of homelessness and a problem suffered by drug addicts and social misfits as the rabidly rediculous and insanely reactionary right wing would like us to believe. Well understand this; 40% of those suffering from hunger are employed, 9-million are children and 7-million are older Americans.

Last year 41% percent of households served by food banks, soup kitchens and other food assistance groups reported having to choose between buying food and paying for utilities or heat. More than one-third had to choose between food and paying the mortgage or rent.

With the current economic meltdown the problem grows on a daily basis far out stripping the abilities and resources of food banks, soup kitchens,shelters, religious organizations and other volunteers. Such a situation calls for immediate federal action to expand the food stamp program, to encourage food processors and manufacturers to donate to food banks and other agencies, and immediately increasing the minimum wage and intiating jobs and work programs so that no "working" person or family lives at poverty level.

The question also emerges, have we lost our compassion and ability to feel shame?

26 June 2009

Wal-Mart Drugs: A Health Risk?

Chances are you or someone close to you gets all or some of their prescriptions filled at Wal-Mart because they advertise reduced pricing. Last Tuesday, WakeupWalMart.com issued a press release reporting that Wal-Mart is getting some of its drugs from a disreputable supplier.

The supplier in question is Ranbaxy, an Indian company that the Department of Justice claims is responsible for introducing potentially "subpotent", "superpotent" or "adulterated drugs into the market. What this means in simple, every-day language is that medications used by millions of Wal-Mart shoppers could have contained active ingredients from unapproved sources, in unapproved blends, and in amounts weaker than FDA-approved doses.

The report also states that "Despite years of federal warnings concerning "systematic fraudulent conduct" Wal-Mart continues to source cheap drugs from Raxbury.

In recent years Raxbury has faced suits for patent infringements and United States federal action including the the blocking of more than 30 of its generic drugs from entering the country. The FDA stated that it was taking this proactive action because of the extent and seriousness of the violations uncovered at two of the company's sites. The violations include inadequate sterile processing and inaccurate record keeping.

Nearly a year ago the Justice Department asked a U.S. District Court judge in Maryland to force Ranbaxy to turn over audits completed by a contractor, which the company later agreed to provide. The government's request was related to an ongoing investigation of conspiracy, false statements and health care fraud.

Wakeupwalmart.com asks, "If Wal-Mart is interested in providing safe products from responsible suppliers, why is it handing out awards to companies under investigation by the FDA and DOJ?"

Wal-Mart's worldwide branding campaign as a global health care and ethical sourcing leader raises the question of whether it cares more about its bottom line than in the health and lives of its pharmacy customers.

Once again, older people and working families are exploited and put at risk because of the cynicism, willful greed and arrogant power of mega-companies such as Wal-Mart.

25 June 2009

Governor Perry Earns Detention and Swats From Retired Teachers

Our dunce cap wearing governor, Rick Perry, seems determined to wage a no-quarter given war against retirees, older Texans and working families.

His target of the day is the board of trustees of the state's Teacher Retirement System. And let me tell you, in the vernacular, the retired teachers are quite pissed off! Not merely miffed mind you...pissed!

Last week he vetoed House Bill 2656 (authored by New Braunfels Republican, Doug Miller) which would have added another retiree to the nine member board.

Reaction was immediate. Tim Lee, executive director of the Retired Teachers Association (TRTA) blasted the governor's decision, saying, "TRTA is appalled...especially when he told education retirees he would support such a bill when he was campaigning for reelection in 2006".

Currently only one TRS retiree serves on the board that is responsible for developing the investment policies and other pension investment decisions for the teacher's retirement fund. Critics of the governor were quite clear in complaining that the obvious message is that retirees are "just not smart enough" to have another position on the board.

Katherine Cesinger, a spokeswoman for the governor said, "There is no message other than that which was in the veto statement, which in effect states that the appointment of another board member would "dilute" the board's financial expertise.

Cesinger went on to say, "His concerns were grave enough to veto this bill".

The TRTA's statment on its web site responds, "The idea that removing one trustee with "financial expertise" would weaken the fund's ability to manage its assets is difficult to believe. TRS has a world-class investment staff, as well as numerous independent advisers, lawyers, research assistants, government relations personnel, accountants, auditors and more".

Simply put, the bill would have replaced one board member with a retiree raising to two the number of retirees serving on the board. It seems common sense would dictate that there be a balance of voices on the board particularly to offset the weight of influence from the private sector with each of those holding the potential for conflict of interest in these complicated economic times. After all, it is the retiree's pension fund!

Common sense is not in wide supply in Austin.

24 June 2009

Trolling the Polling!

Alright, I know. But it is kind of catchy, now isn't it. "Trolling the Polling", and here's what you catch. The majority of us like and approve of what Obama's doing and most of us repudiate the Republicans and their silliness.

For starters, let's look at the latest (June 21) Gallup breakdown:

Overall 59% of us approve. With 90% of Democrats approving, 55% of Independents approving and 23% of Republicans approving. Let's note at this time that overall the highest approval ratings that Republicans themselves have is 36% in a recent ABC/WaPo poll.

The age cohorts giving approval to Obama are striking in that he is looked upon favorably by all age groups with a slight week-to-week increase among the oldest Americans. Age 18-29 gives him a 67% approval rating, age 30-49 = 58%, age 50-64 = 59%, and age 65+ = 53%.

African-Americans approve by 95%, Whites by 53%, Hispanic by 72% and those living in the East approve by 56%, Midwesterners by 59%, Southerners by 54% and those in the West by 58%.

It is clear that most of us, regardless our race, age or region heartily approve of the job our President is doing. The message behind these numbers is quite clear. Despite the efforts of the corporate media and the right-wing noise machine to have us believe otherwise, there is no real disenchantment with President Obama or erosion of our support for him. Instead, we are thoroughly disgusted and turned off by the continued posturing and "sand in the gears" politics of the GOP.

To the contrary, let us peek at how Republicans are faring in the polls.

And, just to ice the cake, Americans now rate Obama ahead of congressional republicans (55% to 34%) in the handling of terrorism.

23 June 2009

Texas Dems Have A Death Wish

If you needed any further proof that Texas Democrats have a full-blown death wish please consider this.

Three days ago, the Houston Chronicle reported in a copyright story that Bush crony and Iraq invasion and occupation apologist, Tom Schieffer, will today announce his plans to run for governor of Texas---get this: As a DEMOCRAT!

This is the guy that Bush appointed as his ambassador to Australia and who supported the WMD Big Lie, the invasion and occupation of Iraq and indefinite detention of terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay. Running as a Democrat for crissakes! Lies are honesty, love is hate, and...ok, ok the whole Orwellian 1984 thing gets overused, but as a Democrat? How nuts is that?

Schieffer says that he believes the Republicans have moved too far to the right and that running as a centrist he can win in a state that has been dominated by far-right reactionary republicans for several decades. Excuse me, Tom. But, how in the hell can anyone get to the right of support of the Iraq invasion and occupation, belief in Sadam's WMDs, and the illegal and immoral indefinite detention of untried and non-convicted suspects? Tom, me boyo, them there's not Democratic nor centrist beliefs. And not to belabor the point, they are not American values either!

Harris County Democratic Chairman Gerry Brinberg was reported to have said that he recently heard Schieffer make a compelling case for his loyalty to Democratic values and a general election victory. But, he continued, there is a distinct possibility progressives will not buy it.

Gerry, Gerry Gerry. You think? Talk about having a marvelous grasp of the obvious.

And likely opponents so far; Kinky Friedman and state Senator Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio and on the Republican side we'll see Kay Bailey-Hutchison taking on Rick Perry.

Now excuse me as I go throw myself under a freekin' bus!

22 June 2009

Americans Want Public Option Health Care Plan - GOP says BOO!

According to a recent survey by Rueters, "Americans are struggling to pay for health care in the ongoing economic recession, with a quarter saying they have had trouble in the past 12 months, according to a survey released on Monday. ... 17.4 percent of households reported postponing or delaying health care over the past year ... Americans pay more per capita for health care than people in any other country, yet have high rates of infant mortality, diabetes, untreated heart disease and other conditions. Americans are often dissatisfied with their access to care ... 40 percent of all households planned to postpone care in the coming three months."

There is nothing new in that, nothing at all. We've known it for some time. But, it very starkly underscores, once again, the dire and urgent need for meaningful health care reform. I mention it because, despte this critical situation, the Republicans continue to stonewall, sand bag, obfuscate and lie in order to prevent that meaningful reform.

And that is despite the latest poll indication that 72-percent of all Americans support a government administered plan along the lines of Medicare for those under the age of 65. Such a plan would force competition with private insurers and guarantee that no American would be without health care.

The interesting thing behind that 72-percent is that 50-percent of people calling themselves republican support such a plan as do 75-percent of independents and 90-percent of democrats. Those supporting such a plan indicated they would be willing to pay the taxes necessary to support it.
The best the GOP can offer in the debate is its same old scare tactics....BOO!

18 June 2009

Alliance for Retired Americans - 2009 Legislative Conference - Day 4

Washington D.C. (Liberation City) - 6/18/09

Alliance for Retired Americans 2009 Legislative Conference - Day Four

Let's do a quick review of our lobbying efforts yesterday.

Our first visit was with a member of Senator John Cornyn's staff, Emily Dillard, Legislative Correspondent. It went about as expected. Senator Cornyn is adamantly opposed to any form of a Public Option which leaves no room for give and take on this critical and essential component of health care reform. I find this especially unfortunate since the Democrats have all but taken Single Payer off the table and that there cannot be any further concessions.

I told Emily that my perspective was that if we could not get a Public Option as a part of the package that I would be willing to let the current planning burn and melt and make the 2010 elections about health care and see how far the GOP would get with that.

She did allow as to how the Senator might support some expansion and change to Medicare but not altering Part D or opening it up to 55 - 64 year-olds. One wanted to argue these points, but how does one argue with someone who truly believes that Part D is a success story. I guess if you tell the lie often and loud enough you actually begin to believe it yourself. Personally, I try not to spit into wind, so we left it at that.

My suggestion for follow up: Call and write the Senator and let him feel the pain of your outrage.

My next meeting was with Senator Bailey-Hutchison and got a chance to catch her in the hall to talk briefly with her directly before being turned over to a staffer. Of the day, this was the most positive meeting. After our brief hallway chat, I met with Laura Bunton, the Senator's Legislative Correspondent.

Here's why I say this meeting was positive despite the fact that I could get no commitment or position statement. Laura said, in effect, that the Senator is waiting for the final version before she takes a position. I think what this really means is that she is planning to run for Governor of Texas and, since there is no way for her to get to the right of Perry, she is going to have to position herself in a way that can appeal to moderate Republicans and Democrats which means she will have to, at the very least, take a non-obstructionist if not supportive position on the President's health care plan.

My suggestion: Call and write and help her choose the supportive role if she expects to whip Perry.

The last meeting of the day was with Congressman, Jeb Hensarling, who concurs that a fix is needed for a badly broken system. And while he agrees with some of the basic elements of reform such as portability, affordability and getting coverage for the uninsured he takes the standard GOP position that this can best be effected through private insurers rather than government programs.

I reminded him that Medicare and Social Security are incredibly successful "government programs" and that it was the private insurance industry that helped put us in this fix. We left it that we would agree to disagree.

Suggested action: The congressman must hear from his constituency about their support of a public plan. Letters, phone calls and personal visits to his local offices are encouraged.

17 June 2009

Legislative Conference - Day Three

Washington D.C. (Liberation City) - June 17, 2009

Alliance for Retired Americans - 2009 Legislative Conference - Day Three

Today is "Lobby Day", the day that over 700 older Americans from all over the United States will visit their senators and congressional representatives to share their concerns about health care reform and other critical issues.

At about noon, we'll be bused to Capital Hill where we'll rally and then separate to visit our various representatives. I'm set to meet with staff members of Senators Hutchison and Cornyn and with my congressman, Jeb Hensarling.

In past years the Alliance has always held its "Lobby Day" immediately after Labor Day. However, this year, because of the critical nature and timing of the health care reform debate now underway, it was decided to move it up by 90-days in order that our voices be heard and that we help influence the outcome of the final bill.

These are perilous and difficult times. We're engaged in a hot war in Afghanistan, a deadly occupation in Iraq, threats to world peace and stability from Iran and North Korea, and an economy bouncing along on the bottom of a recession that threatens to bring unemployment to 12% by late this year or early next year.

It would be easy for health care reform and the needs of older Americans and working families to become lost in all that. It is up to us, each of us, all of us, you and me to shoulder our responsibilities and speak out in support of President Obama's health care reform. And there is no better time than today...Google your Senator and congress person to get their phone number and call their office that is nearest you and simply say, "I support the President's plan for health care reform".

Do it today! No excuses! You and I did not create this mess, but it looks as though it will be up to us to get it cleaned up. Call now!

16 June 2009

Legislative Conference - Day Two

Washington, D.C. (Liberation City) = Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Alliance for Retired Americans - 2009 Legislative Conference - Day Two

The timeline for health care reform is extremely short with an incredibly small window for Americans to make their voices heard in the process. We have maybe a month, certainly no more, in which we can act to influence the contents of the final bill. Hearings will be over and markups starting the week of July 13.

Our health care system is in crises: Costs are out of control and skyrocketing, nearly 50-million Americans (many children) are without coverage, those who have coverage find their premiums increasing three times faster than their salaries, and unpaid medical bills are the leading reason for personal bankruptcy.

This is the time, this is the moment in history that we can change that and wrest control from the insurance oligarchs and pharmaceutical company czars. But it won't happen without your active environment. Tomorrow, I, along with nearly 700 other older Americans will pay lobbying visits to capital hill to voice our concerns and interests to our senators and representatives. This would be a good day to pick up the phone and call YOURS!

I'll not write the script for you, but some key things to mention are:

Shared responsibility. Employers provide health care benefits or else pay into a central pool enabling workers without benefits to get insurance. Think of places such as Wal-Mart. This is commonly called, Pay or Play.

Absolutely no taxation of health care benefits. Health care reform can be paid for by changing things and eliminating waste such a Medicare Advantage programs and by allowing Medicare to bid for lowest drugs prices in the Part D section. Additionally, the wealthiest among us have, for two decades, enjoyed preferential tax breaks and rates...it is now time for them to pony up and shoulder some of the burden with the rest of us.

We must have a Public Plan. It provides true choice and levels the playing field through competition with the private insurance companies who have vested interests in throttling any change.

No one wants to change what works. We know from history that employer based and public programs work. These three crucial components would guarantee true health care reform that insures working families and older Americans will always have high quality health coverage despite what happens to their private coverage. These components provide choice, affordability, and that all of us have access to quality affordable health care.

C'mon, this is something you can do from the comfort of your sofa in your underwear. You don't even need to set down that can of beer. Starting a noon tomorrow, Wednesday, June 17, call your senators and representatives, your local newspaper and TV & Radio stations and tell them, The Time is Now and this is what we want!

15 June 2009

Alliance for Retired Americans - 2009 Legislative Conference - Day 1

Washington D.C. - Monday 6/15/09

Alliance for Retired Americans Legislative Conference - Day 1

As I anticipated, health care tops the list of Conference Agenda items. Costs continue to rise outpacing the rate of general inflation with older Americans (50 and older) increasingly using more of their income for out of pocket health care costs. This scenario unfolds as millions of baby-boomers are trying to retire and are facing an urgent need for health care, long-term care, economic security and affordable housing.

We have a once in a lifetime opportunity to fundamentally change how Americans pay for and receive their health care and bring about lasting, positive change. In so many ways this is what the 2008 elections were about and why so many of us worked long, hard hours and sacrificed time with our families.

Extremely powerful and reactionary forces, including the AMA and entire Republican establishment, are lining up to fight and spread disinformation to prevent any meaningful change.

This past weekend the battle intensified with key administration officials appearing on network and cable interview shows in support of reform that would include a "public plan" somewhat along the lines of the highly effective Medicare and Medicaid programs. Of course, the Republicans and insurance/health industry oligarchs have attacked any sort of "public plan" as too costly and government imposed "socialized medicine". It is worth mentioning, at this point, that these are the same bozos who conspired to give us the current economic collapse, the wrong-headed and abortive attempt to privatize Social Security, the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and torture. Liars lie, that is what they do!

Ed Coyle, Executive Director of the Alliance for Retired Americans, speaking in support of the "public plan" said recently, "Private insurers have proved to be inadequate in their coverage. More often than not, someone who in desperate need need of care will be turned away because of pre-existing conditions".

Today we'll breakout into work sessions to prepare for lobbying visits to our various congressional representatives and senators on Wednesday. This evening, we'll hear from Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary, U. S. Dept of Health and Human Services and Valerie Harper, Actress/Activist.

12 June 2009

Sarah Palin, Letterman, & Slutty Flight Attendant Look

Whew boy, and heck dang howdy!

The Palins have the conservatives all whipped up into a frenzy of umbrage and high dander over some risque remarks made by David Letterman on the occasion of their recent visit to New York.

During his monologue, Letterman commented on the "slutty flight attendant Look" that Sarah cultivates and that during the seventh inning stretch of a ball game, Bristol Palin was knocked up by Alex Rodriguez. In case you're not plugged into baseball Alex Rodriguez is a player, who in the vernacular, sleeps around a bit. And, of course Bristol's status as a single mom has been exploited for political purposes before by her parents during the presidential campaign.

Between us more cultured folks, the "jokes" were lame, tawdry and in poor taste and hardly all that funny (except maybe that flight attendant thing). But, when you tune in Letterman, that's what you're going to get.

The idiot Palins, instead of letting it go, have chosen to misconstrue the remarks as being about the younger daughter Willow instead of Bristol and in so doing have the conservatives in an uproar. And instead of shielding their daughter from morbid public speculation, they have, once again, thrust her into the center of controversy for political gain. And, in a very weird side note, that notorious fool Sean Hannity and conservative columnist, S. E. Cupp blame it all on President Obama, saying, in effect, that Obama's "permissive" attitude creates the climate for such "attacks". Idiocy reigns supreme among these people.

Letterman had this to say about the flap:

Always classless, the Palins have responded with the comment that they will not appear on Letterman "to give him a ratings boost" and they think it best they "keep their daughter away from that man." Did I mention idiots?

11 June 2009

Barefoot Summers & Bottle Cap Ball

I periodically get e-mails from a cousin with links to sites featuring trivia and photos from the "good old days" or "Golden Oldies" music and generally take a quick glance and move on. I lived the "good old days", and I'm here to tell you that in my estimation they just weren't all that good. You see, I still remember polio and all too may kids in iron lungs.

Today's link was different and set me to thinking about some things. The site is Bill's Retro World and worth a visit. One of the first things I spotted was an old Pepsi bottle cap...if you have to ask, what's that, you might as well move along because I'm afraid listening to an old fart reminiscing will bore you.

But, let me take you back in time to Springerton, Illinois (in the heart of Little Egypt, pop 623) in the late forties and early fifties when boys like me got a burr-head (haircut) the first week after school let out and went barefoot and bare-chested from Memorial Day to Labor Day and snuck off to swim in rivers, creeks and stock ponds every chance we got despite dire warnings about polio and impetigo. Hell, we even dove off railroad trestles in defiance of the tales about the kid who got paralyzed from the neck down by doing the same thing.

But, what got me to thinking about all this was that Pepsi bottle-cap and bottle cap ball. My cousins andI, along with other town boys would gather each morning in back of the town's sole barbershop to play bottle cap ball. First, we'd raid the general store's and DX gasoline station's soda machines' bottle cap holder that was right below the opener and gather up every new bottle cap we could to mingle with ones we'd already stashed.

Getting the picture yet? The bottle caps were our "balls" that the pitcher would sail in to a catcher. The "bats" were sawed off broom sticks and each batter got three swings at the bottle caps.

We had an honor system of sorts, in which the catcher would call balls and stikes and keep track of how many were "on base". And it mostly worked pretty well since we only had one or two fights a week arising from disputed calls.

Foul tips were strikes and three in a row was an out. There would be a short and long fielder standing behind the catcher and hits over the long fielder's head were homers, hits past the short fielder were doubles and hits past the pitcher but in front of the short fielder were singles. Hits caught on the fly, of course, were outs. No bases were used as we kept track of hits and outs to determine runs.

But, Pepsi caps were the worst for some reason. They just didn't sail right and had a tendency to flutter or veer off to the left or right. Bubble Up and Dr. Pepper caps were the best for some reason and also the rarest because they didn't sell as well as Pepsi, Nehi, Royal Crown, Coca Colas, and Orange Crush. To work correctly the cap had to have its cork lining intact to give it sufficient weight to sail and not flutter. Some of the boys were known to soak them in water to pick up some extra weight and speed and a flatter trajectory. That was sort of allowed, but sneaking in a "mudder" wasn't. A "mudder" was a bottle cap that had been packed with mud and allowed to dry and all but impossible to hit it would sail in so fast and straight.

We set our own rules, negotiated and settled disputes and generally went about our business without adult oversight or interference. There were no "bottle cap" moms in our hair and we learned the rules of life, and how to interact, problem solve and create in ways that we carried forward into adulthood.

That's been lost with T-Ball, Soccer Leagues, dance lessons and the dozens of other "adult supervised" activities that today's kids take part in. Come to think of it, it's those T-Ball generation kids that grew to adulthood without moral compasses, senses of fair play and self-centeredness who gave us AIG and all the other aspects of the financial meltdown.

So, perhaps, there was some "good" in the "good old days" after all.

10 June 2009

President Obama Should Release the Torture Photos

Mr. President...Release the damned torture pictures will you?

If for no other reason than it will throw the republicans into yet another hissy fit and I so love watching and listening and they snort and fart, and huff and puff like old "Yosemite Sam" in those Bugs Bunny cartoons from back in the day. In a way they're so cute when they do that, not lovable mind you, just cute in a weird cartoon character sort of way. And about as relevant to today's world.

Can't you just imagine it: "Carnsarned, ritzen splitzen, winking blinking, fritter splatten varmit went and released those goldarned pictures".

But what is not funny and what is not one carnsarned, goldarned bit cute is turncoat Joe Lieberman and the insipid Lindsey Graham posturing before the world threatening to "use any means necessary to keep the photos hidden".

I will put aside, for this issue, that Lieberman does a better job of representing the interests of the Knesset than the people of his state and Lindsey Graham is a futile little hop toad of a man wholly unworthy of the office he holds, and focus on the more important issue.

That issue is very simple and straight forward. Truth will out!

The torture happened and there is photographic evidence and at some point, probably sooner than later, they will show up in magazines, newspapers or online. Furthermore, we've already seen glimmerings and heard the descriptions of some of them. Truthfully, haven't we, in our mind's eye, reviewed each and every one of them? Listen up! The secret is already out. The world knows and our enemies have been, and this moment continue, using that knowledge against us.

The notion that somehow releasing the pictures will make things more dangerous for Americans at home and abroad is utterly specious and ridiculously absurd. Our enemies already want us dead in any way they can make it happen and releasing the photos will not increase their resolve one iota.

It should not have happened, but it did. Continuing to conceal the reality from the American people and the rest of the world under the canard that things will become more dangerous just does not suffice. There is more to it than that. Something else is at work. Something darker and more complex than what we're being told. And, that too will eventually come to light, it always does.

Were I in the position to do so, I would caution the President that this issue could very well be the cancer that nullifies his effectiveness. One never does well by attempting to hide things from the American people. Doubt me? Ask Nixon, Reagan, Bush the Elder, Clinton, and Bush the Lesser and each will tell you they came a cropper when trying to lie, mislead, conceal, or obfuscate in dealings with We the People.

So. Lieberman and Graham, shut the hell up. And, Mr. President release the damned photos and move on already!

09 June 2009

Long Term Care - Time For change

The Senate Select Committee on Aging held its second hearing this year on the key topic of long-term care on Wednesday, June 3. The first was back in March and following it, Committee Chairman, Herb Kohl (Dem-WI) urged the Senate to include changes in the coverage, financing, and governing standards of long-term care services and supports as part of comprehensive health reform.

Now, after last week's hearing, Senator Kohl called for stronger consumer protections and greater transparency within the long-term care insurance industry as more and more states are joining with the industry in calling for consumers to purchase LTCI.

Many seniors are confronted with devastating premium increase while many others do without due to prohibitively high premiums with great state-by-state variation in premiums and consumer safeguards for comparable plans, according to the committee's report. It cites one company which raised its rates by 40%.

"Until we can guarantee that consumers have adequate protections, and that premiums don't skyrocket down the road, long-term care insurance is not ready to be part of the health care reform solution", said Kohl.

The Kaiser Family Foundation put forth a study in conjunction with the hearing which reported, "American families today are struggling to pay for long-term are, caught in the cross hairs of an economic meltdown dramatically reducing the personal resources that have fueled over 25 percent of the nation's long-term care spending until now. The sources of out-of-pocket financing, which include home equity, personal savings, and income from adult children have provided critical private funding for a long-term care system in which insurance has played a very small role, covering only about 10 percent of all seniors."

The Kaiser analysis went on to cite High Cost, Health-Risk Deniability, Complexity of the Various Plans, and the Time Lag between purchase and use as the current primary impediments to consumers desire to buy into LTCI plans.

The report provides in-depth analysis and comparison of two suggested alternatives to the current situation: Employer Based Plans and Medicare Partnership Programs. Each provides some answers, but each also, raises many questions.

Older Americans need to keep themselves informed and involved on this critical health care issue, or they will find that once again the lobbyists of the insurance oligarchs will have their way and LTCI will remain out of reach for most of working America.

08 June 2009

WARNING: Creditors Can Attach SS & V.A. Checks

Earlier this month the Wall Street Journal reported that there exists a
loophole in in federal banking rule, allowing nefarious creditors to
garnish retirees' Social Security and Veterans'benefits.
On Friday, June 6. The Alliance for Retired Americans issued this
statement: While federal law is designed to protect these benefits
from most creditors, several bill collectors have legally
manipulated banks into temporarily freezing their customers' accounts
while the issue is sorted out. This ploy by creditors has intensified
since the substantial increase in direct deposit, which is used by 80%
of Social Security recipients.
Lawmakers from both parties are calling upon the Obama Administration
to issue new, tighter regulations to prevent some banks from seizing
funds that were placed in an account via direct deposit.
Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI), Chairman of the Senate Special Committee on
and other lawmakers have introduced a bill that would stop further
promotion of the direct deposit programs for Social Security and veterans'
benefits until the Treasury Department issues rules to protect the
benefits from creditors.
"The Alliance recognizes the vulnerability of direct deposit for retirees,
and it is imperative that we press the Department of Treasury to close
this existing loophole," said Barbara J. Easterling, President of
the Alliance for Retired Americans,in support of Sen. Kohl's bill.

Steps to protect your Social Security, disability, veteran's or pension benefits:

  • Don't commingle Social Security and exempt benefits with nonexempt funds.
  • Don't get a loan or credit card from the bank where your Social Security or pension is deposited.
  • If sued, go to court and demand proof of the debt.
  • If your bank account is frozen, file an exemption claim within 10 days.

05 June 2009

The Preacher's Son

It seems that there once was this old "fire & brimstone" Texas country preacher who sent his son off to college in the big city. But, after hearing tales of the worldly and licentious ways of college students he became worried and set off to visit and check up on the lad.

Upon arriving he found the boy was out and his room empty. The preacher thought a moment and then decided on his course of action and went back out for a quick shop.

Upon returning to the still empty room he laid on the desk a silver dollar, a bible, a half-pint of whiskey, and a Playboy magazine. He then hid behind the closet door awaiting the young man's return. He thought to himself, "If he picks up the bible he'll be a preacher like me, if he picks up the silver dollar he'll be a businessman, if he drinks the liquor he'll become a drunken bum, and if he looks at the magazine he'll become a womanizing no-good.

Sure enough, the youngster soon returned to his room for a couple of text books and as he turned to leave for his next class he noticed the items on the desk. He put the silver dollar in his pocket, tucked the bible under his arm, took a big swig from the booze and took a glance at the centerfold before leaving.

As the door closed behind the departing youth his devastated preacher father collapsed in agony on the bed. "Oh good Lord spare me," he wailed, "my son's going to become a Republican Legislator".

04 June 2009

Texas Legislative Failure - 81st Session Has Few Accomplishments

The 81st session of the Texas Legislature just ended with very few accomplishments.

Republicans, in search of a defining issue, tried to bully through a Voter ID bill which, in effect, would have disenfranchised older Texans, students, low-income people, i.e. Democrats. They failed due to a valiant effort by the legislature’s 74 Democrats to keep the measure from final consideration.

In retaliation, and in an obvious fit of pique, the Republican majority denied the CHIP expansion bill which would have delivered health care to 80,000 children and which would have made partially right the 2003 Republican bill that denied health care to 150,000 Texas kids.

But, they did approve a measure that penalizes teenagers who text and drive. And, they raised to age eight and height 4’9” the exemption for youth booster seats in automobiles. No duh! You can’t make up this stuff. Nowhere else but Texas.

Schoolteachers can look forward to getting a one-time $800 pay boost. They also approved an additional $2-billion for Texas schools over the next two years, exempted third graders from the TAKS test and allowed high school seniors to have more elective hours in their curriculum—how else will we have a pool of future legislators?

In a bit of laughable legerdemain they renamed state schools (residential and developmental facilities for adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities) to “state supported living centers”. At the same time they threw a few dollars ($112-million for five years) at the problem and scandal plagued system in order to add staff and security cameras.

On a positive note, the legislature did give the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association, which gives coverage to coastal residents who can’t get private insurance, the authority to issue ten-years bonds to recover losses after a hurricane.

But, worry not, there will be a second chapter as the Republicans left unresolved issues relating to TxDOT and the Texas Department of Insurance guaranteeing a special session where they’ll once again attempt to force the Voter ID bill.

Of course, think of the damage they might have wrought had they managed to accomplish something.

03 June 2009

A Conversation with State Representative Leo Berman

Occasionally God smiles on us and fortuitous things come about.

Last week, arch-conservative and reknowned xenophobe, Republican State Representative, Leo Berman (District 6 - Smith County) pre-announced his intent to run for governor. His real announcement, we are told, will come on July 4th. And...

Yesterday as I was entering my favorite smoothie place for lunch, I noticed parked in front a Mercedes Benz and BMW each with Texas State Official License Plates. As I approached the counter to place my order I noticed an older couple setting at a table by the window and being the rude, crass S.O.B. that I am, I told them that Texas state officials driving foreign luxury cars didn’t resonate all that well for me given the state of our economy.

The short explanation was that he paid for the cars himself and that one of them was assembled in Tennessee. “Oh”, I thought to myself, “obviously a Republican.”

He went on to identify himself as state representative Leo Berman and I took that as an invitation to send my split finger fast ball up under his chin. “How come”, I say, “You people didn’t go along with the Senate and vote to accept the $550-million stimulus money earmarked for extended unemployment benefits for working families?”

He replied that “”working” families don’t draw unemployment”, and I quickly answered, “Yes they do, when they’re laid off. And I can tell you that they’d much rather get a paycheck than an unemployment check!”

He cruised past that and said that Texas didn’t need to help out the President by taking money that would obligate us to changing our unemployment compensation program. I replied, “It would not have been helping the president, it would have been helping working families in Texas.”

He then launched into the Rick Perry Republican talking points about “strings” and having to extend unemployment compensation and Texas just didn’t need to do that to help out the President. I reminded him that Obama would not get a dime of that money, that it would have gone to hard-pressed unemployed, and that come October, without that infusion of money, the fund will be facing a billion dollar shortfall.

Back and forth we went, until he offered that the legislature put a lot of money on the table for retraining of unemployed people. My quick response was that job training was fine in an economy when jobs are available, but right now jobs are scarce and none of the training in the world will create those jobs nor will it put food on the table or pay rent for those who are out of work.

At this point the conversation began to disintegrate when he saw I was not buying his “talking points”. “Well”, he said, “the reason the bill did not come up was because the Democrats stalled us on the voter ID bill. It’s the Democrats fault.”

“No”, I said, “The problem is too many people in politics have lost touch with the notion that we have civilization and society and taxes in order that we look out for and take care of each other, not business and corporate interests.” I went on to mention that back in the day, Ralph Yarborough best summed it up by saying, “We need to move the jam down to the lower shelf where the little fellow can get his fair share.”

Berman made some sneering comment about Ralph Yarborough which left me pissed and with the choice to continue this exercise in futility or to disengage and enjoy my smoothie. I chose to end the conversation with some civil comment and watched as they toodled off in their Mercedes and BMW.

Dang old Republicans, they just don’t get it! But, I felt really good afterwards, that at least on one occasion Berman got to hear it straight! He’ll ignore it, and has no doubt washed it from his memory, but the important thing is that it got said—I wish more people would do the same.

02 June 2009

Legislative Failure - Betty Brown Gets It Wrong - Again!

I have not been troubled by self-doubt since my teen years and even then it was damned little. I have always been fairly comfortable with my convictions and base them on common sense, a blue-collar background and perspective, and extensive readings. But, today I shake my head in dismay, and wonder a bit if maybe I might just be wrong about certain things.

Here is what has brought me to this point. Awhile back I wrote about Texas Senate Bill 1569 relating to the $500-plus million that was to be part of our state stimulus money and that our dunce-cap wearing, fool-of-the-world governor, Rick Perry, so blithely declined. A bipartisan majority of the state senators said, in effect, “Hold on bozo, that money is needed, and if we do not take it now, we’re going to have a one-billion dollar unemployment fund shortfall come October and we’ll have to hike the tax on businesses to recover it”.

I went on to suggest that were that to come to pass, we are all of us going to pay higher prices for goods and services as those businesses act to recoup those higher tax outlays. I also scribbled some words about my conviction that in tough times it was the right thing to do in order to look out for our working families. You see, that is a conviction of mine, we join together in order to look out for each other.

It seems that the legislature does not share my conviction since they never brought the bill to a vote, effectively letting it languish to death while never putting themselves on the record as being for or against working families. This despite my exhortation that we all needed to contact our representatives and ask them to support the bill.

I did that myself, and got a reply from my state representative, Betty Brown. Now I’ll put aside the fact that Ms. Brown seems dumber than a tote sack full of Brazos River sand and suggest that despite that intellectual shortfall she might have some empathy for the state’s working families. Her reply to me reinforced the first part of my assessment of her and belied my hope that she might demonstrate some empathy.

Here, in part, is some of the drivel she dared to send me: “...Texans prefer a paycheck over an unemployment check, we cannot abandon the proven practices of limited government and fiscal conservatism that, blah, blah, yammer, yammer”. She claims Texas and its “pro-business” environment is at “the forefront of the national economy”.

The facts are otherwise Ms. Brown! Several years ago the state was indeed at the forefront but under your and Perry’s “fiscal conservative” stewardship we are projected to slip to tenth this year, with a downward spiral that will have us spinning in the drain for years to come. And, while we were at the economic “forefront”, our public education system was ranked only 25th among the states. I guess we could take comfort that our economic dead zone and equally fiscally conservative neighbors of Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi fared worse.

And just another fact or two, Ms. Brown: The state’s median income and “real” minimum wage do not rank at the forefront either. All of which proves my point about your being dumber than a... Oh well, you can always retrain, but you can never display honesty and conviction and support for the people on whose back our state’s "pro-business, fiscally conservative" economy rides until you cast off your tired, failed ideology of conservatism.

I’m glad I could have this brief conversation, I feel better. The self-doubt is gone. I was right and my convictions are intact.

01 June 2009

For Every Right - An Equal and Corresponding Responsibility

For every right we enjoy as free people there is a corresponding responsibility. Nowhere is this more important and critical than in our guarantee of freedom of speech. Yes, we have the right to speak our mind, but we do not have the right to shout fire in a crowded theater if no fire exists.

Today we are faced with yet again another violent act in which there is the extreme likelihood that a misguided and unstable person was driven to an incomprehensible act by inflammatory hate-speech from the right-wing.

In this instance it was the murder this week-end of Dr. George Tiller, a Kansas abortion provider, by at least one anti-abortion extremist. About this time last year it was the murder of two Unitarians in Tennessee because they were too liberal. One of the things setting apart these killings was that each happened while the victims were at church. Another is that right-wing hate speech surrounds and most likely contributed to both events.

In the Tennessee murders investigators found right-wing and hate-group writings and pamphlets along with references to the Fox cable news network. In the Kansas case, Dr. Tiller was the target of a vendetta by Fox News blowhard, Bill O'Reilly.

Folks, we have a responsibility to temper our speech because those who hear it and act on it make us complicit in their unworthy deeds of criminal insanity. If we dehumanize and characterize those with which we disagree as “murderers” we run the risk of inciting to action those among us who have the ability and mentality to perform great violence. In effect, we provide them permission to act on the whispered commands of their inner demons.

See the O'Reilly clip below, and ask yourself, “At what point does responsibility to the greater good of society trump one’s right to speak one’s mind”?