20 September 2009

Flaming Zealots Unite! Let Us Carry the Day!

Recently someone I irked in "Facebook" called me a "flaming zealot". Now, I have been called a lot of things in my 69 years (soon to be 70) at this sock-hop we so lightly dismiss as life, but, a "flaming zealot", well, that was a first.

"Flaming zealot?" I'm familiar with being called a "flaming liberal", "flaming drama-queen" and back in the pre-Facebook days of message boards a "flaming wanker", and a "flaming flamer", and even a "flaming pain in the ass" by my old man one time, but a "flaming zealot"? never til now.

I wanted to make certain of what I was being called, so I looked it up and this is what I found:

  • a member of an ancient Jewish sect in Judea in the first century who fought to the death against the Romans and who killed or persecuted Jews who ...
  • partisan: a fervent and even militant proponent of something
Since I am of the gentile persuasion, well actually skeptical inquirer/seeker would be more to the point...never mind, not being Jewish the second definition seems to fit quite well. Not that I have anything against Jews, some of my best friends are..OK, OK, I'm just riffing and being a bit sarcastic, but...

Witness this: On November 19, 1945, then president, Harry Truman went before congress and called for "affordable, quality health care options for every American so that no one is left impoverished as a result catastrophic health care costs". OK, admittedly my math is weak, I was a liberal arts major, but, I think that was over half a century ago. And you know what? the same damned Republican campaign of lies, misinformation, fear-mongering and demagoguery, funded by Insurance Czars and Drug Oligarchs, that we are witnessing today, was led by blow-hard Republican Senator Taft of Ohio. "It's socialism", he blustered and the fight was lost.

You see, they had the zealots on their side. And the Democrats reasoned and tried bi-partisanship negotiation and got scraps and bits and pieces of legislation, which ultimately made the drug, insurance and doctors richer and older people and working families in deeper financial holes. The mess we're trying to undo today.

Witness this: More than one-hundred years ago labor leader, Samuel Gompers, said in response to a question; "What does Labor want? We want more schoolhouses and less jails; more books and less arsenals; more learning and less vice; more leisure and less greed; more justice and less revenge; in fact, more of the opportunities to cultivate our better natures, to make manhood more noble, womanhood more beautiful, and childhood more happy and bright.”

Over a century ago, and yet we wait!

Once again the zealots on the other side carried the day with their goons, gun thugs and venal politicians all financed by big business and soulless corporations.

If you wish to delude yourself that somehow, some way these people have changed, found empathy or in any way care about the present or futures of older people or working families that is your choice. But, for me, the lessons are clear. The thugs of Harlan County were not beaten by coal miners calming down and talking rationally. Nor were the police and armed goons of the days of lock-outs in Detroit overcome by collegial discussion.

I do not see one whit of difference in the gun-toting idiots and "Sambo-sign" bearing morons at recent "town hall" meetings across this nation--they are the same goons and gun-thugs that have always been there and it is the same faceless money-men inflaming and financing them. Nothing changes!

My zealotry is born of history, of stoop labor, of grave-yard shifts in dangerous mines beneath the earth, of long hours on factory assembly lines, of grange meetings, union halls, picket lines, and a fervent desire that one day every person had an opportunity to live a productive life of fairness, decency, respect, and security without regard to their origin, gender, station in life, race, creed or sexual preference.

So, yeah, in this battle for decent, affordable, quality health care for every American, I expect that I am a "Flaming Zealot". And, yep, I am damned sick and tired of waiting, I just don't have that much longer!

Thanks for the compliment!

18 September 2009

Baucus Bill - Badly Bungled!

On Wednesday, Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), Chairman of the Finance Committee, brought out the committee's version of national health care reform - an $856 billion, 10-year measure that starts a bumpy journey through the Senate without any Republican support.

"The proposal's strong points are vastly outweighed by its shortcomings," declared Edward F. Coyle, Executive Director of the Alliance For Retired Americans. "For starters, there is no public plan." Many senior advocates agree that the Finance Committee bill's reliance on "health care co-ops" as an alternative to a public option fails to put pressure on private insurers to control health care costs, since there is no history or logic behind the claim that health care co-ops would provide real competition for giant private insurers.

Along with dropping the public health insurance option - which is part of the House bill (H.R. 3200)and the Senate Health, Education Labor and Pension (HELP) committee bill - the Baucus bill also taxes some health plans and individuals who fail to buy private insurance, while providing no penalties to employers who do not provide coverage.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) attacked Sen. Baucus' bill, questioning the chairman's decision to conduct months of bipartisan talks that failed to win a single Republican backer,while shutting out Democrats on the committee. On the positive side for seniors, in order to have their drugs covered under Medicare, manufacturers must provide a 50% discount off the negotiated price for brand-name drugs covered on plan formularies beginning in 2010 when beneficiaries enter the"doughnut hole" coverage gap. Also beginning in 2010, the bill would eliminate out-of-pocket costs for recommended preventive services for Medicare beneficiaries.

Since it has been documented elsewhere that Senator Baucus is a prime recipient of insurance company donations one justifiably wonders if the bill is not a "poison pill" designed to scuttle passage of reform legislation. Now is the time for grassroots pressure for the public option and true reform not another variation of the Medicare Part D process which benefitted insurance companies leaving seniors holding the bag.

17 September 2009

Texas Leads in Uninsured

Last week Families USA released a comprehensive and detailed analysis of a recent U.S. Census Bureau report of Health Insurance Coverage in 2008, which underscored some harsh and startling facts behind the Bureau's figures.

While the Bureau found that the number of uninsured grew to 46.3-million in 2008 the report and analysis from Families USA claims that the Census numbers are "significantly understated" as a result of unemployment in 2009. Regardless, the number of uninsured today exceeds the combined population of 24 states, including D.C., according to Ron Pollack, Executive Director of the consumer health organization.

Here in Texas, the Schieffer for Governor campaign has leaped into the fray claiming that health insurance premiums for Texans have risen five times faster than earnings since 2001. According to Schieffer the increase for health insurance premiums have soared by nearly 92% at the same time that Texans pay the highest home insurance rates in the nation.

There is no doubt that, under Perry's stewardship, Texas has become ripe pickings for the Insurance Czars and Energy Company Oligarchs--yeah we also pay the second
highest energy costs in the nation--while at the same time the state has climbed to the lead in the percentage of residents without any health coverage.

Six million people, including 1.2-million children have no health insurance. Certainly cost is a primary factor behind this number as, according to Schieffer, health care premiums for the average Texas working family has ballooned from $6,638 to $12,721 a year.

Using a formula which attributes 1.1 million additional people joining the ranks of the uninsured for each 1 percentage point in unemployment, Families USA projects that there are closer to 50-million uninsured persons than the 46.3-million projected by the Census Bureau. In 2000 there were 38.4-million uninsured Americans.

Pollack suggests that were it not for public health programs such as Medicaid, CHIPs, along with
Veteran's and Medicare programs, that saw increases in use from 83-million in 2007 to 87.4-million in 2007, there would have been an even larger increase in the uninsured.

As with virtually every other social ill in this country, the lack of health coverage continues to be a larger problem in communities of color as only 10.8 percent of non-Hispanic whites were uninsured while 30.7 percent of Hispanics and 19.1% of African Americans were uninsured.

11 September 2009

Southside Kiwanis - In The Belly of the Beast

A year ago I was invited to speak to Tyler's Alpha Kiwanis's group about the Alliance of Retired Americans and my experiences at the 2005 White House Conference on Aging. I had to cancel that engagement due to the onset of cancer and only recently was able to reschedule. Last Tuesday, I finally made that appearance. Here's a quick "condensed & abridged" version' of the occasion.

I had early indicators that my audience not only were not interested, but were overtly hostile and belligerent to whatever my presentation might be. One of those early indicators was the group of five who clustered next to me to make certain I could hear them as I was setting up--as they loudly pronounced that, "Obama is a communist, no one knows where he's really from and he won't tell us, the socialists paid his way through college so he could undermine America", and other equally ignorant and disgusting filth.

The other indicator was when the event's host; after the group sang a round of America The Beautiful, recited The Pledge of Allegiance, and a prayer complete with imprecations to GAAAWWWD, and his son, JEEEESUUUS, to save us from what's happening in Washington, apologetically introduced me as having "different ideas", but, "it won't hurt us to hear another opinion".

Good Marine that I am, I threw down my smoke grenade, faced toward and charged into the ambush, and attacked. Now, by God, I want my Purple Heart and Bronze Star.

I played our video for them, recounted my personal story of my battle with cancer and how, were if not for Medicare ( a government administered single-payer health care program), I would be destitute, if I were even able to find treatment. I then said that the Alliance has some suggestions about the things we would like to see come out of health care reform that we believe would be in the best interests of seniors and working families.

1. Open bidding for low cost drugs in bulk for Medicare as now does the V.A.
2. Close the do-nut hole so that seniors do not have to choose between food or their meds.
3. Extend the Medicare option to uninsured 55 to 64 year-olds increasing contributions to the plan while, at the same time, spreading the risk out over a younger, healthier demographic.

I then opened things for questions. The first purposely set the tone for what followed:

Mercedes Benz and BMW driving, renowned arch-conservative and xenophobe, Republican State Representative, Leo Berman, asked, "Under Obama-care, Medicare benefits are going to be cut, what's your alliance's position on that?"

"Leo", I answer, "You've been around long enough to know that your question is based on a fallacy. There is no such bill as Obama-care, and in fact, there is no bill at all until the House and Senate wrap up what they're doing and put a measure out on the floor for debate and vote and then the House/Senate Conference Committee will craft a final package for our President to sign."

"But", I went on, "Medicare Advantage plans do need to be trimmed back because they are draining the system and cost, on average, more than 10% more than standard Medicare treatment."

Leo huffed and puffed and found some other canard to trot out, "Under what the president wants to do, 20-million illegal aliens and their kids will get free treatment at tax-payers expense. Does your alliance support that."

"Leo", I say, "What the Alliance supports is that every American deserves an opportunity to have access to affordable, quality health care from the time they're born until they die and that we are particularly concerned that seniors continue to be protected under an improved Medicare system."

"So', he blustered, "I can quote you that your alliance stands in opposition to federally financed health care for illegal aliens?"

"Leo, you know better than to try to put words in my mouth. What I said was this, very clearly, The Alliance for Retired Americans believes that every American deserves quality, affordable health care...but, as to what you're suggesting with the tone of your questions, the Alliance is not going to support any measure that works to the detriment of seniors!"

Faced down, our hero, finding discretion as the best part of valor, announced he had "a meeting to attend", hauled ass--followed by four of his sycophants--without another word.

So, based on this experience, you can understand why I was not at all surprised by the childish, rude, belligerent and churlish behavior by so many of the Republicans toward the President during his address the other night, it's in their genes. They're like unruly children, they just have no self-control.

10 September 2009

Support For The President Grows

Retirees Praise Obama Health Care Speech

Health Insurance Reform Good for Americans of All Ages

The following statement was issued today by Edward F. Coyle, Executive Director of the Alliance for Retired Americans, in response to President Obama’s address this evening to a joint session of Congress.

“President Obama made a clear and convincing case for why Americans of all ages would benefit from health care reform. Tonight the President demonstrated bold leadership in specifically laying out both the urgent need for action, but also the dire costs of inaction.

“President Obama made great progress is clearing the air of the mean-spirited myths and falsehoods which have poisoned this debate up until now. But this is a new day, one in which retirees now have a better sense of how health reform will help them more easily see a doctor, get a prescription filled, and obtain essential preventive screenings for cancer and other diseases.

“This is an exciting moment where we can close the ‘doughnut hole’ coverage gap in Medicare Part D, lower prescription drug costs through common-sense price negotiation, eliminate the co-pay for preventive screenings, and help make long-term care more affordable. We have the opportunity to create a high-quality public option as a refreshing alternative to the big insurance companies who profit by denying care and discriminating against pre-existing conditions.

“The stakes could not be higher for retirees. If we fail to act this year, Medicare premiums and out-of-pocket costs would soon eat up more than one-third of a retiree’s Social Security benefits. A typical older couple would need to save $300,000 for medical bills not covered by Medicare.

“Grassroots activists with the Alliance for Retired Americans will continue their efforts to educate and mobilize seniors in support of President Obama’s agenda to improve the quality of life for Americans of all ages.”

03 September 2009

Friday Press Conference - You're Invited!

The Texas Alliance will be co-sponsoring a "thank you" press conference at the Austin CLC annual Labor Day Fish Fry to recognize Rep. Lloyd Doggett's unwavering support of health insurance reform, particularly during the August recess.

While the event is in Austin, I want to invite you to attend if possible.

What: "Thank You Rep. Doggett" at Austin CLC Labor Day Fish Fry

When: Friday, Sept. 4th at 5:30pm

Where: TX AFL-CIO parking lot at 1106 Lavaca St., Austin, TX, 78701

Alliance t-shirts, water bottles, etc. will be available for Alliance members.Thanks!

I have been very busy this week and will resume daily blogs after Labor Day!