28 May 2010

Obama's Fiscal Commission: A Threat to Social Security & Medicare

Here's What's Going On

Yesterday, in acts of cowardice and cynical capitulation to the vocal 35% of the country yammering about "entitlements" and the federal deficit, the United States Senate and House conspired to vote to continue funding our country's wars of invasion and occupation to the tune of $60-billion while cutting $24-billion for things such as Cobra, unemployment benefits extensions, and other state aid programs!  In effect, the unemployed are being forced to ante up money they don't have to cover nearly half the ongoing cost of two wars behind fought on the national credit card.  So much for fiscal responsibility!

It should be as clear as one of Ella Fitzgerald's high notes, that neither house nor either party gives a pile of hammered rat dung about working families, the poor, the unemployed, or older Americans.  And, as part of the backroom deals cut by the Obama administration  to push through the "watered-down" health care reform legislation we have been burdened with the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.  Clearly, it is up to you and me to preserve Social Security and Medicare for out children and grandchildren.

It must be noted right now that last winter, when certain budget hawks and deficit desperadoes in the Senate attempted to create a similar commission it was voted down due to pressure, in no small part, by grassroots activists and groups such as The Alliance for Retired AmericansIn order to get health care, the president ignored the will of the people and yielded to the demands of Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats and created this "Fiscal Commission" despite seeing its sound defeat in the legislative process.

Disturbingly,  the Commission contains numerous outspoken enemies of Social Security and Medicare.  Equally alarming is the fact that it is these commission members who will be voting on the final recommendations to be sent to Congress for an up or down vote.  Six panel members have a only a 6.5 percent out of 100% lifetime rating on the Alliance's Voting Record which measures how Senators and Representatives vote on legislation most affecting older Americans and their families.  This certainly augers the likelihood that they will spew out proposals to to cut Social Security and Medicare.

We've written before of co-chairman, Alan Simpson's, pejoratives describing older people as "Lexus driving, Latte drinking, greedy-geezers living in gated communities".  He also was a key supporter of Bush's abortive attempts to privatize Social Security in 2005 that, if enacted, would by now have lost 20% in value.

Make no mistake and harbor no illusions, we are in a state of war to protect and preserve these essential social safety-net programs.  And as with most wars, there is more than a single front.

Former Richard Nixon crony, billionaire Peter G. Peterson, along with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers are throwing all the forces they can muster against Social Security and Medicare.  Peterson has stretched and disjointed himself like Marvel Comic's Plastic Man in devising and conjuring schemes to take away people's Medicare and Social Security protections in the name of "fiscal responsibility".  He "bankrolled" the one-sided film "I.O.U.S.A., which depicts, a nation in the throes of a financial crises that can only be addressed through substantial cuts in so-called "entitlement" programs, including Social Security and Medicare.

So why would this billionaire and former top honcho of the now disgraced and defunct  Lehman Brothers  focus so much spleen and ill-will on Social Security?  I suspect that it because the uber-wealthy, similar to religious fundamentalist who exist in a state of unending horror that someone somewhere is enjoying life, live in continued and utter dread that working people, the elderly, the disabled, and those locked in perpetual poverty will someday, somehow catch an even break!

Next Week: We name the names and share the backgrounds, and suggest how you can fight back!

27 May 2010

The Republican Lies About Social Security Have Started Again: The Antidote? Truth!

The Good News About Social Security --- Print It & Share It

Social Security and Medicare are two of America's greatest success stories.  Social Security has helped generation after generation of America's retire with dignity and Medicare has helped reduce senior poverty by two-thirds since it began in 1965!  

Social Security is not part of the country's debt and deficit problem, it is the most fiscally responsible federal program--self-financed through dedicated contributions.  Ninety-nine percent of contributions are paid out in benefits, with only one percent spent on administrative costs.  There are no private investment plans coming anywhere near that!

We are hearing that Medicare is in a crises and that "baby-boomers will bankrupt the system and the country".  The influx of baby-boomers into Medicare does present challenges, but the recent health care reform legislation promises to save Medicare about $475-billion over ten years and is expected to extend the program's solvency another nine years.  Health care reform will, over the same period, cut the federal deficit by $138-billion.

*All these are verifiable fact.  And there are other truths:

More than one-third of those 65 and up rely on Social Security for 90% or better of their income.  Without it, 55% of the severely disabled, 47% of elderly households would be plunged into poverty and another 1.3-million children, and 2.4-million grandparents rearing 4.5-million grandchildren would lose the single most important source of income for these grand-family households.

Not merely a "Retirement Program", Social Security, pays more benefits to children than any other federal program.  Six-and-a-half million U.S. children receive assistance from its survivor program--which protects virtually all U.S. children in the tragic event of the death of a parent.

While in the worst recession since the great depression, Social Security continues to issue benefit payments, on time, in the full amount due, and without the slightest twitch.  According to the 2009 Annual Report of its Board of Trustees, it is safe and solvent, without any change, for at least the next 30-years.

Social Security is perhaps the world's greatest poverty fighter, it certainly is America's.  Older women and people of color are the ones most likely to face poverty in their older years.  Right now, women comprise 60% of Social Security beneficiaries and depend on it more than their male counterparts.  Over 75% of Latino and nearly 80% of African Americans count on Social Security for more than half their total incomes.

Social Security benefits are protected from inflation and guaranteed for life...no Wall Street backed private investment plan can truthfully make that claim.  In fact, since the economic meltdown, $10-trillion in asset values have evaporated--check your 401K or other stock market investments if you'd like to debate that figure!

Simply put; Social Security is even more vital to old-age security and it is clearly and utterly impossible to reliably replicate those on-time, life-time, guaranteed benefits in the private market.

Anyone telling you otherwise is a liar and less trustworthy than an aluminum siding telemarketer.

And, that's a fact!

26 May 2010

Stop Blaming Me for the Deficits: It Was Bush & His Misguided Cronies That Caused It!

Alright, at 70 I know that I can't go deep for the bomb, and will never again put one out of the park against a hanging curve ball, and yeah, I drive the speed limit and stay in the right lane regardless who it pisses off or whoever flips me the bird.  I confess to all those things.  I am 70, and acting my age.

But up until the day they take me out of this place feet first for my dirt-nap, I am going to shove back every damned time the misinformed, mal-intentioned, well-healed congressional lackeys of big oil, insurance, banking, pharmaceutical, finance and credit industries start their nattering about "entitlements" bankrupting the country.

And, I'll tell you this, at 6' 1" and 190 lbs, my shoves are pretty damned spirited, I ain't that old.  I'll admit, that for the most part, I am a surly, cranky old SOB; but that is more the result of diminished capabilities, recovery from cancer, and the god-damned arthritis in my back and knees than it is politics.  But, what really locks my jaws and jacks my jibs is being blamed for the federal deficit.

In the first place, I am not all that certain that some deficit is all that bad.  It's how you buy big ticket items in real life, such as cars, houses, appliances, and so forth.  Unless you're wealthy, you're not going to be able to acquire meaningful property without debt (deficit).  I think the same principle applies to government.

But, never mind that; what I am talking about is the tea-bagging, right-wing, whack-job, fundamentalist Republicans yammering about Social Security, Medicare and other "entitlements" causing the current deficit.  Don't listen, it is just more of their load-of-crap "message to America" being shoveled, thick and wide, in order to distract you from the real problems and real solutions.

We have a huge deficit because of that dry-drunk sociopath, George W. Bush, and his ungodly host of liars, thieves, mendicants, cut-purses, scofflaws, deep-forest hobgoblins, river trolls, dementers, death-eaters, and fen fiends, who put us into two wars on our national credit card, deregulated the robber barons and crooks of wall street causing the worst recession since the great depression, and imposing criminally insane tax policies that have increased the wealth of the very richest of Americans while destroying the middle-class and forcing working families and seniors into actual poverty or near poverty.

You think I liable the bastards?  Fine! Sue me! Truth is the perfect defense and the last thing any of those yahoos want is to be put on the witness stand under oath!

Here's what ought to be done.  (1) Raise the payroll tax on Social Security taxes for the wealthiest Americans.  (2) Freeze the estate tax at 2009 levels and apply those revenues to Social Security. (3)  Put Americans back to work in good-paying, jobs rebuilding America!

So, take a break from Oprah and Judge Judy and support legislation proposed by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) "The Wall Street Fair Play Act" (S. 2927 and representative Peter Fazio (D-OR) "Let Wall Street Pay for the Restoration of Main Street Act of 2009" (H.R. 4191).  The legislation would put a very modest tax (.025) on Wall Street financial speculations while leaving the vast majority of ordinary investors largely unaffected and generate over $75-billion a year.

25 May 2010

Rand Paul + John Cornyn = More Republican Lunacy

Texas (R) Senator John Cornyn presents a picture perfect image for a recruiting poster targeting well-healed, well-connected,  middle-aged, white-guys born with senses of entitlement to run things and an incipient outrage that somewhere, someone less worthy than they is getting an even break in life..  You have to grant him one thing, he makes absolutely no pretense of compassion, empathy or understanding for, and of, older people, working families and anyone not belonging to an exclusive country club.  To that extent he is true to something,  Never mind that the something is the continual exploitation of "the people" at the behest of corporate boardrooms..

But, that's the thing about "Crony" Cornyn, he is what he is, utterly and apologetically.  And all that would be fine except for the fact that he eschews his obligation to look our for and protect the interests of his constituents other than cattle and ranching barons, oil company oligarchs, and the thieves and liars of the insurance, banking and finance industries.

But, truly, none of that is news.  What is news is his nakedly open ambition to exceed his minimal ability and find a spot on the national stage.  After all, he must be thinking, if Sarah Palin can do it, then any damned fool can.  Right John, you do meet that basic requirement.  We in Texas have been watching him at this endeavor for sometime now and smirkingly tell each other that "this old boy would for sure squat on his spurs" if given a chance to Go Western.

In his eagerness to grab some national media he has come to the defense of Kentucky (R/Libertarian/Tea-Bag) senatorial candidate, Rand Paul, who over the weekend opened his mouth and allowed the vanilla pudding that takes the place of his brains to spew out as he tried to dodge a question about the Civil Right Act.

Defending Paul, Cornyn said, according to Politico (5/20), "I think it was sort of a gotcha question.  If I'm walking down the street minding my own business and somebody sticks a microphone under my nose about a law that was passed 40 years ago, without more detail--I think it probably caught him by surprise."

Later, he enlarged on this foolishness with, "Rand Paul, like every new candidate, is going to get better...Candidates make mistakes and they misspeak," according to Bloomberg (5/21).

A "gotcha" question?  Errr, Senator? Isn't that the nature of the business?  And when, at anytime in the last fifty years has a senatorial candidate just walked down the street "minding their own business"?  I've known a few, and all have had handlers, schedules, appearances and so forth---and never have I seen one just walking down the street, etc, etc.

But, beyond this uber-silliness, the issue really is the cavalier and dismissive attitude of both men toward the Civil Rights Act.  It is not merely some law passed four decades ago.  It was a hard fought (people died) landmark legislation that has made America a better place.  And even if one does not agree with that, someone running for the senate ought to be able to speak with some intelligence about such a law of transcendent transformation.

Rand Paul is really the first so called "Tea Party" candidate to capture a slot on a major party ticket and as the representative of the standing 35 percent of "nutters" who support tax breaks for the wealthy, two wars fought on a credit card, and all the anti-Constitutional excesses of that dry-drunk sociopath, George W. Bush, he probably cannot be expected to have a working knowledge of much of anything.  But, that is Kentucky's problem.

Our problem in Texas is that we already have a certain gaggle of congressional representatives who look like refugees from clown alley and a senator who is the very icon of establishment anti-union, anti-working class, anti-older persons who is doing his best to find a national platform.

Personally, I think we deserve better!

24 May 2010

Alliance for Retired Americans - Members Fight to Protect Medicare & Social Security

Congress Trying to Fix Doctors’ Medicare Reimbursements:
The U.S House and Senate are scheduled to vote soon on H.R. 4213 -- the American Jobs, Closing Tax Loopholes, and Preventing Outsourcing Act -- that extends unemployment benefits, COBRA subsidies, and enhanced Federal Medicaid Assistance Percentage (FMAP) matching funds for states, while fixing physician payments under Medicare for 5 years. 

Failure to pass this legislation will result in doctors facing a 21% cut in their Medicare reimbursements

However, the doctor reimbursement fix will ensure that Medicare beneficiaries continue to have access to family physicians and specialists.  Also included in H.R. 4213 is a provision to increase funding to states to help pay for increased Medicaid reimbursements. Medicaid dollars provide assistance to low-income seniors and pay for nursing home care; failure to extend this provision will force states to close budget gaps with brutal cuts that will affect many seniors. 

Alliance for Retired American members had already sent more than 2,000 letters by last week to Congress by clicking on HERE and pushing for doctors’ reimbursements not to be cut.

Special Committee on Aging: Social Security Only Needs Modest Changes:

Social Security faces a $5.3 trillion shortfall over the next 75 years, but a new congressional report says the gap could be erased with only modest changes to payroll taxes and benefits.  Many changes wouldn't affect current recipients, according to the report by the Senate Special Committee on Aging.  Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI), chairman of the committee, said small “tweaks” are all that is needed to bolster Social Security's finances for future generations of retirees.  “Modest changes can be made over time that will keep the program in surplus,” Kohl told The Associated Press.

The report lays out options for fixing Social Security, but does not endorse any of them.  Kohl said lawmakers will probably combine several options to ease their impact. To view the report, go to HERE

The panel's analysis will be presented to President Obama's Fiscal Commission.  Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH), who sits on the Commission, said recently that raising the Social Security retirement age would not have much of an impact on someone’s “lifestyle.”  “He must be referring to his own lifestyle, and not that of thousands of Granite State residents who work in physically demanding construction and service sector jobs,” said Charlie Balban, President of the New Hampshire Alliance for Retired Americans.

21 May 2010

Texas Textbook Massacre - The Good Guys Fight Back

Perhaps we Texans deserve what we get.

OK, I don't really believe that, but one just has to wonder when, year-after-year-after-year, we suffer through the repeated guffaws of a world looking at us askance: A governor who dances a jig of joy over the execution of a female death row inmate; who, by the way, is the same dry-drunk sociopath who told all humanity that "Rarely is asked, is our children learning?", a dunce-cap wearing governor who spouts 19th century secession foolishness, congressional representatives better suited for clown-alley than the hallowed halls of congress, and the Astros.  No wonder we've become the butt of some really bad jokes!

If all that were not enough, we are now subjected to finger-pointing, snickering side-glances, and outright hoo-hawing over our latest school textbook controversy.  Now, except for maybe the Astros, we are in a position to take back our rightful place among humanity and turn back the arrant silliness which is the source of so many bad jokes aimed in our direction.

We can do something about this textbook lash-up.  Yes, we know we're fighting a state board of education operating on a far-right agenda of reactionary conservatism led by Imam-like apostles of base fundamentalist Christianity.  Yes, all that is true and presents a very dreary outlook for education in Texas.

But as disheartening and futile as it all seems, and despite the awful sense of loneliness, and horrid feeling of foreboding that we might be among the few sane people left, there others out there who have courageously engaged the battle and are fighting to set things right.

One such person is Rebecca Bell-Metereau who is running against right-wing extremist, Ken Mercer, (profiled yesterday) for SBOE District 5 seat.

This, from her website:

"Our state is languishing near the bottom in high-school graduation, and our State Board of Education isn’t helping. Instead of being leaders in improving public education, they’re busy tearing it down. Their record of mismanagement includes dumbed-down textbooks, a public endowment placed in the care of cronies, and a curriculum that intrudes on private matters of belief. Enough is enough!

As a mother of two graduates of Texas public schools and a long-time educator at Texas State University, I want to take our public schools back. Texas students need to learn the most advanced science, technology, literature, and social studies.

The more we learn about what is happening on the Board, the more we see the urgent need for change. Please help me to ensure a better education for future generations and fiscal responsibility for our tax dollars." 

Another deserving of our favorable attention is Judy Jennings who is facing right-wing religionist and erstwhile Joe McCarthy groupie, Cynthia Dunbar (profiled yesterday) for the SBOE District 10 seat.

At her website she states:

“Sometimes people ask me why I’m spending so much energy running for an unpaid position on a highly contentious board.  I think of my grandsons, two healthy, happy, smart boys who will be entering kindergarten within the next couple of years.

“I hear them roar when they are pretending to be dinosaurs, watch the level of concentration on their faces as they study the pictures in a book I’m reading, and feel their excitement when they see a crab on the beach.

“I know the effect high-quality exposure to 21st century education can have on their future. And then I think of some of the people who are currently on the board, pushing personal agendas that undermine the quality of education those boys will receive. And there is no question in my mind. This is what I have to do.”

The issue here is really very clear and quite simple.  If we want state school board members who work to ensure that there are qualified teachers in the classroom teaching real skills, who work to reduce the appalling drop-out rate, and bring to Texas curriculum which reinforces critical thinking, research, and real-life process skills then you should work for, contribute to, and otherwise support these two candidates for the Texas State Board of Education.

If you prefer right-wing, conservative, religious-fundamentalists pushing 19th century anti-intellectualism and enforcing a doctrinaire curriculum which enforces a narrow worldview, well, you actually don't have to do a damned thing.  Just sit on your butt and let things go on as they are right now.  But you might want to consider that's how we get into these messes and why maybe we deserve what we get!.

Excuse me, I need a Texas-sized laugh, guess I'll go watch the Astros awhile.

20 May 2010

The Texas Schoolbook Massacre - Two Key Players

Part Two: Players in The Texas Schoolbook Massacre:

Cynthia Dunbar, SBOE member and author of One Nation Under God, in which she argues that the governance of the United States should be based on scripture.  And, if you're interested in a "completely whacked out resident of the wing-nut lunatic fringe" litmus test, she has opined that President Obama supports terrorism, and that public schools are nests of perversion, and maybe Senator Joe McCarthy's anti-communist witch-hunt of the 1950s was justified.

If that's not enough to gag a maggot, consider this from Wikipedia:.

"As a sitting member of the Texas State Board of Education, in March of 2010, Dunbar proposed and won ratification of a number of modifications to Texas K-12 social studies curriculum, notably the removal of Thomas Jefferson and mention of the Age of Enlightenment (in which reason was advocated as the primary source and legitimacy for authority)...

...According to an article in The Guardian , there are a number of changes such as these :
  • ...sidelining Thomas Jefferson, who favored separation of church and state, while introducing a new focus on the "significant contributions" of pro-slavery Confederate leaders during the civil war.
  • Study of Sir Isaac Newton is dropped in favor of examining scientific advances through military technology.
  • One curriculum amendment describes the civil rights movement as creating "unrealistic expectations of equal outcomes" among minorities.
  • ...drop[ping] references to the slave trade in favor of calling it the more innocuous "Atlantic triangular trade"
Dunbar says these are important steps to overturning what she believes is the myth of a separation between church and state in the US."

Dunbar's key henchman and co-conspirator is a fellow  who alleges his name is Ken Mercer and who allegedly holds some sort of degree from somewhere that is reported, mostly by him, to be in the science of biology.  I use the word allegedly advisedly since Mercer's abilities to prevaricate, hyperbolate,  and confabulate have earned him a "barely truthful" ranking from Texas Fact Check.

His agenda is relentlessly and carelessly anti-evolution, "Evolution can't be factual because there has never evolved a dog-cat".  Yeah? I want to shout, how do you account for the Duck-Billed Platypus?  Or my mother-in-law, huh?  How about that?

A quick Google search will take you to a number of websites, blogs and articles which parse, dismantle and disprove his ridiculously puerile pronouncements.  His mantra is "faith, freedom, family", and that he is "out to give teachers a well-deserved spanking"!

Now, take a breath (maybe a stiff drink would be better) and consider this. Does anything in the profile of either of these two nattering nabobs give you any reason to think they are better qualified than trained educators to decide curriculum?

The focus should be to prepare kids for the future and boards of education ought not micromanage that process, but should support critical thinking, problem solving, and research skills to prepare our school children for higher education and competition in the world jobs market.

Instead the focus of these people is the denigration of teachers and destruction of teacher's unions and the imposition of an anti-intellectual conservative agenda the K - 12 educational process.

Now, we are at the points of what can be done to combat the insanity.  After all, anyone can point out the problems, but what we need are people who can fix them.

Coming Tomorrow:  The push-back and the people out to unseat and change the make-up and agenda of the Texas State Board of Education.

19 May 2010

Texas Textbook Massacre - The Real Motives.

Part One:  Some Background

The controversy over changes to Social Studies textbooks in Texas is, as everyone knows, based on an ideological war that has been waging, sometimes public and sometimes behind the scenes, for many decades.  The war is not being fought just in Texas.  School boards, water districts, county and municipal bodies of various ilk and make-up have been infiltrated by, in most cases, well-healed right-wing ideologues dedicated to a grassroots campaign of disinformation and subversion in order to drag the country even further to the right.

Understanding this will help you understand that which defies understanding, the current Texas Text-Book Massacre.  Why, you wonder would the right-wingers make such a big thing out of calling the United States a Democracy and insist that it be termed a Republic.  Is it because Democracy sounds too much like "Democrat"?  Well maybe, partly, after all the people involved in this really are that petty and narrow-minded.  But, here, I think is the real reason: a Republic is nothing at all like a Democracy.  In a democracy, the majority rules and minority and individual "rights" are subjected to the law of the majority.  Tie that to the right wing's perpetual persecution complex and ongoing sense of victim-hood and you have a  clearer idea of what is behind that specific issue.  The right believes that in this imagined, idealized Republic that they believe the founders actually had in mind for us, that if someone wanted to own slaves, it would be a matter of individual choice and the majority could not impose an anti-slavery rule on those who wished to be slaveholders.

Never-mind that the dumb-asses have completely forgotten that we fought a war over that very notion and closed the book--we thought--on such arrant nonsense!  What they failed to accomplish wearing butternut while under the Stars and Bars, they hope to achieve by ideological indoctrination.

Let's not get lost in that illustration, I am not asserting that the owning of slaves is the desired outcome, but use the illustration to demonstrate the practical difference between a Democracy and a Republic.  The bottom line is one of state's rights, individualism and anti-Federalism.

The forces for sanity have won a couple of skirmishes and firefights in the war by forcing inclusion of the accomplishments of Barbara Jordan and Caesar Chavez which were to be deleted in the next printing.  Again, an example of just how narrow and petty are these people.

And, allow a quick digression: The fact that we are talking about these ideological issues rather than the educational needs and standings of today's Texas students is a victory for the right-wingers.  Their goal is ideological indoctrination, not education!  They would like for you believe that their mealy-mouthed posturings mean otherwise, but the simple truth remains...it is about right-wing ideology and the radical agenda of the religious right and its fellow travelers in the uber-conservative Tea Party spectacle!

Were it not so pitifully appalling and disgustingly and ridiculously tragic, the whole thing would be laughable.  If you ever attend one of the spectacles of mass hallucination of the cultural right and religious fundamentalists you would be treated to a display of at least one speaker channeling "The Founders" and their intent that "Ah-meer-ah-cuh" be a "Christian Republic".  Wait a minute here Fox, you say, ain't they picking on ole Thomas Jefferson , and ain't he one of them there founders? you ask.  Yep! sez I, and herein is the morbid humor of the self-contradictory madness of these people.  You see, while a founder, Thomas Jefferson had the heart and soul of a "Free-Thinker" who was splendidly ardent in his belief in a "wall of separation" between chruch and state, and while an anti-Federalist, he had the good common sense to utter these words, "The fundamental principle of [a common government of associated States] is that the will of the majority is to prevail." --Thomas Jefferson to William Eustis, 1809.

Hardly a man around whom to build your case for a "Republic" based on Christian principles, is it?  So, they say, "let's eliminate his poisonous beliefs from our textbooks".  Seems, that, as in some recent elections where conservatives were not conservative enough, Thomas Jefferson was not quite the Christian Republican he should have been.

Again, it is important that we understand several things at this point; these people are not acting on whim--there is a agenda and a greater purpose to their efforts, it is about ideology and has virtually nothing at all to do with education itself, and these people are not a group of like-minded concerned parents out to correct a wrong--they are part and parcel of the radical religious right and its fellow travelers from the ranks of those seen at Tea-Party spectacles.

Tomorrow:  We name some names, expose the viciously narrow background of several of the major players, and introduce those standing strong and holding hope for the future.

14 May 2010

Long Term Care in New Health Law - Part Two

Part Two: State Incentives and the CLASS Act

Yesterday we wrote of the coming changes to Medicare and Medicaid under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act which will act to further a transition from institutional to "community-based" and "at home" health care for the disabled and the elderly.  Today we examine some of the finer points of that change.

In 2005, the "money Follows the Person Rebalancing Demonstration" program was created to help states transition individuals from institutions to the community.  The new health law extends this demonstration program--originally set to expire September 30, 2011--to 2015 and reduces the minimum nursing home residency requirement to 90-days, rather than 6-months.  In 2007, CMS awarded $1,435,709,479 in grants with states proposing to transition over 34,000 individuals out of institutional settings over the five-year demonstration period.  Thirty states and the District of Columbia were awarded grants.

The health reform law also provides an incentive for states to devote more Medicaid funding toward community-based services.  Currently, only 4 states spend more than 50% of their Medicaid dollars on HCBS.  Under the new health law, states spending less than 50% of Medicaid long-term services and supports (LTSS) dollars on HCBS may receive a higher federal match as an incentive ti increase their HCBS spending.  States spending less than 25% on HCBS as of 2009 must aim to reach 25% no later than October 1, 2015, while all other states must have targeted spending percentage of 50% by October 1, 2015.  CLICK HERE to learn more.

The new health law also enacts the Community Living Assistance Support Act (CLASS Act), which creates a national long-term care insurance program financed through voluntary payroll deductions that will provide cash benefits to enrollees who are unable to perform two or three activities of daily living (ADLs).  Teh program has a five year vesting period and would pay enrollees no less than $50 per day to be used to offset the cost of long-term are services, including covering things like home modifications or paying for home health care aides.  To participate, individuals must be 18 or over and actively working.  "Actively working" includes part time workers and is not based on the number of hours and individual works, but by meeting in one year the baseline Social Security earnings requirement for one quarter--which is currently around $1200.  This program should be online by October 1, 2012, but payouts will not begin until 2016.  For more information, CLICK HERE.

13 May 2010

Long Term Care in New Health Law

Part One:  Restructuring Medicare & Medicaid to Provide Long Term "At Home" Care

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is projected to generate $500-billion in Medicare savings by ending overpayment to Medicare Advantage plans and some reduction in provider payments. The provider payments are to be reduced by increased efficiency in the Medicare program and reducing the inflationary payments to providers.

Skilled nursing facilities, home health agencies, inpatient hospitals, hospices and other Medicare providers will see a 1-percent reduction in their annual Market Basket (inflationary) updates in 2011 through 2104.  At the same time, rural home health care providers will see higher payments.  Home health agencies, nursing homes, and ambulatory surgical centers will be required to implement Medicare value-purchasing programs, which will act to further reduce costs for the Medicare program.

The aim of these new provisions, in addition to streamlining provider payments, is to address the long-term care needs of all Americans and to shift or rebalance Medicaid payments from institutions to home and community-based care.

The new health care law establishes the Community First Choice Option, which creates a new state plan option under Medicaid to provide community based attendant supports and services to individuals with disabilities who are Medicaid eligible and who require an institutional level of care.  Services would be provided based on a functional needs assessment.  States are freed from expenditure caps currently applicable in Home and Community based waiver programs.  States that choose the Community First Option will be eligible for an enhanced Medicaid match rate of plus six percentage points  for reimbursable expenses in the program. States will have the option of providing coverage for attendant services necessary to assist eligible individuals with activities of daily living and other related tasks.

States will also be able to use the funds to transition individuals from nursing homes in a number of ways, including; first month's rent and utilities, rent and utility deposits, basic kitchen supplies and other necessities that would facilitate the individual's transition from institutional to "at home" care.

These provisions goes into effect a little over a one year from now, October 11, 2011.  For more information CLICK HERE.

Tomorrow: Part Two...Class Act & Money Follows the Person Rebalancing Demonstration

10 May 2010

Kagan. Obama's Pragmatism Betrays Liberals Again!

We are hearing way too much about President Obama's pragmatism as an explanation for his appointments, decisions, positions, and other moves that cause heartburn among his liberal supporters. You'll see what we mean as, we promise you, the talking heads and prognosticators will, over coming days  and weeks, pick the low-hanging fruit about his selection of Elena Kagan to replace Justice Stephens on the Supreme Court as an example of his pragmatism; as she is not exactly liberal and not exactly conservative, but an excellent builder of consensus.

We will not tie into her qualifications and records except to say that in some ways she certainly has the capacity to serve as a Justice and to bring to it a valued ability to craft consensus.  And, despite some entrenched Republican opposition, she ought to sail through the confirmation hearings. And, we think that is a problem.

Remember Thomas, Alito, and Roberts and their selection process and confirmation hearing?  We sure do.  They were filled with left-wing rancor and liberal outrage and progressive dudgeon. Without exception, these three have lived up to their advance billing as right-wing reactionaries who would bring conservative judicial activism to the Supreme Court in ways never before seen.

I will make another promise...while the right will make some clatter and noise about this selection, there will be no thunder and lightening, no filibuster attempts, no startling revelations or accusations.  She will be easily confirmed, and the right will be predictably annoyed, but it will end with that.

And that should be a matter of concern for liberals and the left.  The very absence of a mounted campaign of resistance and discredit from the right is a signal that conservatives are not too concerned with her selection.  They feel no fear, anger or outrage at this appointment.  If they are not upset, we on the left should be.  We would have preferred to watch the conservatives choke on their own bile and choler.  Their extreme discomfort would be a source of comfort to us.

Instead, pragmatism wins again. Which is to say simply, once again we are seeing demonstrated just how far to the right the country has been dragged over the past three decades.  Kagan is centrist right and chosen to be the "consensus builder" on a court that already tilts to the far right.  She will not be the justice that will return the court to its previous liberal base.  The court will continue to decide from the right to the right and its decisions, while not appearing to be extreme right will remain far right of center!

As to the president?  Well, from where we are sitting, it once again appears that we've elected another Clintonesque, country-club Democrat more comfortable in a Chamber-of-Commerce meeting that a union rally and better fitted for suburban wine-and-cheese parties than bare knuckle politics.

We regard that as a damned shame.

07 May 2010

Voting Record (2009 - Every Senator & Representative) On Issues Affecting Seniors

New Alliance for Retired Americans Voting Record
Focuses on Health Care, Medicare, and Economics
On Tuesday, May 4th, the Alliance for Retired Americans marked Older Americans Month by releasing its latest voting record, a new report detailing the 2009 votes of every U.S. Senator and Representative on key issues affecting current and future retirees.  The document is available at CLICK HERE.   Once you are at the site you will see two "keys" explaining what the grading means, then click on your state to see how your state's senators and representatives voted on the issues most important to older people.

 “Higher scores show a commitment to improve health care, strengthen Medicare, and put seniors ahead of drug and insurance companies,” said Alliance President Barbara J. Easterling.  “The 2009 voting record showed a continuation of support for seniors in America, despite a tough economy,” she added.  The voting record examines 10 key Senate votes and 10 key House votes, showing the roll calls on issues such as helping pre-Medicare retirees afford health care, as well as Medicare-covered preventive screenings for seniors.  Several votes addressed national spending on health care, including historic votes on epic health insurance reform.

One hundred eighty-three U.S. House members achieved perfect scores of 100% in 2009.  One hundred and eighty-five received failing grades (60% or lower), with 16 receiving scores of zero.  Of the House members appointed to the President’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform in 2010, Reps. John Spratt (D-SC) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) scored 100% with the Alliance; Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA) scored 90%; Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI) scored 10%, and Reps. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) scored 0% (Hensarling represents Texas Congressional District 5, is said to have senatorial aspirations, was a protege' of Phil Gramm who was the architect of the deregulation behind much of the Wall Street melt-down).  The panel is considering major changes that would affect the financial future of Social Security and Medicare.

Fifteen members of the U.S. Senate achieved perfect scores of 100% in 2009, while 43 received failing grades of 60 percent or lower.  Both Senators from Minnesota, AmyKlobuchar (D) and Al Franken (D), received perfect scores in 2009.  The same was true for both of the Vermont Senators, Patrick Leahy (D) and Bernie Sanders (I).  However, all of the Senators from the states of Georgia, Kansas, Utah and Wyoming scored zero.   Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) has the lowest current lifetime Senate score with the Alliance, 1%.

06 May 2010

Health Care Reform - Understanding the Details


Amazingly many older Americans remain confused and fearful about what health care reform means and how and when the changes will become effective.  Here, from the Kaiser Family Foundation, are some highlights to answer those questions:

1) By 2014 most people will be required to have health insurance.  Those not qualifying for hardship exemptions and decline to buy insurance will be assessed a penalty.

2) Those lacking access to health care will be able to get coverage through a health Insurance Exchange with subsidies guaranteeing affordability.  Small business owners will also have access to similar exchanges.  Each exchange must include at least two multi-state and one non-profit option.  Optional levels of coverage will be offered with premium subsidies for families at up to 400% of the poverty level (currently $88,000).

3) Employers with 51 or more employees can choose not to provide health insurance, however they will be assessed a penalty for each employee receiving subsidized insurance through an exchange.  No mandate requires employers to provide insurance!  But, those who decline will find that there is a cost attached to their decision.

4)  New regulations will prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions or for jacking up premiums based on gender or current or previous health status.

5) Medicaid will expand to 133 percent of the federal poverty level (currently $29,327) for a family of four.

6) Lifetime limits on health care coverage will be banned.  No longer will catastrophic illness, disease or accident mean bankruptcy!

7) Dependent adults will remain covered under their parent's policies up to age 26.

8) Seniors should know that there are no death panels and that such decisions will remain between patient, family, clergy of choice and health care professionals.

9) Older Americans will benefit from the bill's ending of over payment to Medicare Advantage plans,  phased elimination of the Part D "doughnut" hole,  elimination of co-payments for "wellness" and "preventative" treatments, and provisions providing support and assistance to those elders who choose to "age in place".

The Christian Science Monitor reports, "Buried within the ..health care reform law is a small provision that in years to come could have a major effect on the kinds of treatments that American patients receive.

This provision requires the federal government to set up... a “Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute.” It sets aside $500 million in seed money for this new nonprofit organization, which is supposed to become a national guiding force for comparative effectiveness research.

Comparative effectiveness research takes a particular health problem, then pits different ways of treating that problem against one another, in an attempt to find which, if any, is a more effective way to maintain or restore patient health".

Meanwhile, as the question of cost was central to the debate, the Congressional Budget Office reports, "...the law will reduce the number of uninsured by 32 million people in 2019 and while the new health care legislation will tote a heft cost of $938 billion over ten years, the changes will act to reduce the deficit by $124 billion.

05 May 2010

Tea Party: Sufferers of Obama Derangement Syndrome

Numbers can be misleading, and we would all be well advised to take a very long, slow, deep breath before we get knotted up over the Tea-Party or Republicans with entrenched and pathological hatred of liberals in general and President Obama in particular.

Let me offer you some for instances.  Depending on whose poll you happen to look through, 18% to 35% of Americans say they "support" the so-called Tea-Party movement.  Gasp! That's a third of all Americans you say.  And you are correct.  What those numbers do not indicate is that the majority of those "supporters" are white, male, republican and over the age of 45.  They are the same gaggle of dysfunctional reactionaries (angry old white guys) who thought that dry-drunk sociopath, George W. Bush, was the bee's knees and that the catastrophically ill-advised invasion and occupation of Iraq was quiet a great notion.  They are the same intellectually stifled few who rely on base response from their lizard-like brain stems to guide them through life.

And, one really has to point out, according to those figures at least 82% to 65% of Americans are either indifferent or hostile to the Tea Party mob.

John Avion, of the Daily Beast adds a new phrase to our political lexicon: "Obama Derangement Syndrome"  wherein 67% of Republicans believe Obama is a socialist, 57% believe he is a Muslim,  45% think he was not born in the U.S. and is ineligible to be president, 38% say, "Obama is doing many of the same things Hitler did",  and 24% say they are suspicious that Obama very well could be the Antichrist".

As to that last Antichrist thingee, we all know don't we who the real Antichrist was, don't we? The deranged bozo who invented "blister paks"!

Those numbers come from a Harris poll taken at the most frothy point in the health care debate.  Now, well a week ago actually, The Washington-Post and ABC released their poll which further works to isolate the nutters suffering from Obama Derangement Syndrome, henceforth to be styled as ODS...yeah, I noticed too, very close to "odds" as in how odd these people are!

The WAPO-ABC News poll renders the president's overall approval at 54%, certainly down from the post election euphoric high of 68% but on the rebound from his low of 50% back in December when Republicans were scaring the wits out of the gullible with horror stories about "socialized medicine ending Medicare" and of "Government Death Panels".  Those who strongly disapprove of his job handling is at 44%, down from a December high of 49%...the swing is 9% since his tribulations of December.

Sure, these numbers can be chewed up and regurgitated about certain benchmark issues such as the economy, our current wars, the deficit, dealing with Iran and other such arcane matters of policy or along demographic lines.  But, overall, more than half think the president is doing OK and those who "strongly"  disapprove, 33%, are the same old upper middle-class, angry old white guys who cheer led us into a disastrous war and a deregulation primed recession and tax cuts for the wealthiest of us that now contribute so much to our budget-deficit.

All I'm saying is, were I you, I wouldn't get my knickers in a knot over the Tea Party crowd, they're same lack-wits who would support Phyllis Schafley as May Queen.  Just saying.

04 May 2010

Democrats' Senior Problem - Tall Cotton

You may have heard this somewhere else, but it is true.  You cannot win an election without the "senior" (65 & Older) vote!  You can't!  Here's why.

Even though older Americans comprise only 12% of the total population, when it comes to voting they turn out at least 10% more than the other age cohorts combined.  They regard voting as a "God-Given Right" and a responsibility of citizenship. And that is bad news for the Democrats, who used to be able to count on the senior vote as being in their hip pockets. That is changing faster than Texas weather, if it is not already entirely changed.

According to the Republican polling organization, The Tarrance Group, seniors now favor Republicans by a margin of 48% to 31%.  Overall Americans are very narrowly split between favoring Democrats over Republicans.  Granted it's a Republican pollster and thus slightly skewed to the right and there are gender, race and regional variables, overall it augers an upheaval in the November 2010 elections.

The seniors who came of age during the Great Depression and WWII are dying--thousands each month.  They are being replaced by people who came to age during the Eisenhower era, which was a much more narrow and conservative era.  They matured during what might very well be the economic zenith of America, the early to mid-sixties--and they know little of the reasons for the New Deal and liberal politics of their parents and grandparents.  To all too many of them, The Grapes of Wrath would be a poor vintage wine or something they cribbed notes for in senior English.

Compounding the misery for Democrats and President Obama in the upcoming 2010 elections is the fact that, despite their very focused efforts, the youth vote is unlikely to turn out as it did in 2008.

Recently Gallup released polling data indicating that people 65 (favor Republicans) and over were twice as likely as people 18-29 (favor Democrats) to say they were "very enthusiastic" about voting in the upcoming November Congressional elections. 

Midterm elections rarely carry momentous issues around which either party can mobilize huge numbers of voters and in a climate of economic uncertainty, catastrophic unemployment and disenchantment with incumbents; Democrats will find themselves, for the most part, in some very tall cotton.

Another political truism is that all elections are local and none are more so than midterm congressional races.  And while we can expect to see some large-scale "fence-mending" through the summer and fall there is little achievement that the Democrats can use to sway the older voters.  Consider Obama's historic, signature domestic health care reform victory--by 58% to 36%, it is opposed by older voters who find few benefits in the bill and who are still suspicious of Government Death Panels.  The one major thing that Democrats can point to with pride has no resonance with the demography they most need to convince.

As I said, tall cotton!

03 May 2010

Tragic Murder In Missouri

 Murder is Murder: Despite the Species!

We humans, we hairless apes are an odd lot and nowhere else is our oddness more marked than our attitudes and behavior toward other animals.

We become misty-eyed while watching movies such as Benji, Greyfriars Bobby, Homeward Bound, My Friend Flicka and others, which project onto furry, four-legged animals  near super-natural and endearingly anthropomorphic qualities while, at the same time, we are eating other animals in hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken, or perhaps a bit of barbecued venison.  Or maybe even feeding our cat or dog with a food made of horse-meat!

Some animals are cute and cuddly and welcomed into the home as pets to be pampered and fondled while the others are food to be hunted down and killed; or bred, raised and fed (often under near death-camp conditions) to be slaughtered en masse to feed the meat-hungry palates of the planet's most dangerous animal...homo sapiens!

No this is not a vegan or vegetarian diatribe against hunting or meat-eating.  It is merely a matter of wonderment as to how we can so adore one species while so brutally treating others.  It is also about a murder, which occurred in rural Missouri yesterday.

In many ways it was a minor murder as murders go....just what is sometimes called a "small death" by more calloused persons than I.

A horse was shot an killed while grazing in its pasture...I am shouting at you here!  It was grazing in its damned pasture nowhere near the woods so that it could have been mistaken for a deer.  But, you say, sometimes deer will mingle with horses and cattle so it might be easy to make that mistake.  That is a load of crap, I respond. The horse was shot through the heart with a high-powered rifle from thirty-feet away,  a mere ten-yards..a first down yardage measurement in football.  To measure it for yourself take 10 long paces stretching your legs as far as you can and at the end turn around and look back at your starting point--that is how close the murderer was to his victim.  And yeah, I'm betting a doughnut to a dollar that the killer was male.  It was no mistake and far enough from the road, woods and habitations that the killer was looking for an animal to kill..any animal would do!

Somewhere there is a man who is so devoid of empathy, compassion, sentiment, and decency that his impelling thoughts must be limited to; I am hungry, I am sleepy, I must relieve myself, and it would be fun to shoot and kill something today.  A somewhat functioning naked ape whose evolution became stymied at some point when he should have been acquiring higher sensibilities.  Would it be begging the question too much to suppose that maybe that process began when another, older male smeared blood on his cheeks from his first deer kill to get him over "buck fever" and set him on his way in one of the more pagan rites of passage to "manhood" celebrated by so many people calling themselves Christian?

You see, I think there is a relationship.  A relationship that empowers someone to kill a family pet, a $10-thousand dollar horse that was loved and nurtured and an affectionate source of comfort and joy to my sister-in-law and her companion on a small farm in Missouri.

They are bereft, grieving, angry, frightened, vulnerable, frustrated and in pain!  Somewhere nearby there is a man thinking, "I'm hungry, I want fried chicken".