11 January 2011

Seniors Lead Fight Against Health Care Repeal

As Republicans Try to Repeal Health Care Law, New Benefits for Seniors Kick In

House Republicans are wasting no time trying to repeal health care reform. The new Congress convened last Wednesday, and the House Rules Committee met on Thursday to report a rule to repeal the health care law. The full House voted Friday, 236-181, largely along party lines, to move ahead to next week's final vote, which is scheduled for Wednesday, January 12.  Due to the attempted assassination of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, that vote has been moved to next week.

The plan to repeal the health care reform law would increase the deficit by $230 billion by 2021, according to a preliminary analysis from the Congressional Budget Office. Because of the law, many important, positive changes to Medicare - such as free preventive screenings - went into effect on January 1. Those benefits, as well as a 50% discount for brand name drugs and 7% off generics for beneficiaries in the Part D doughnut hole, would disappear if the repeal were to become law. The doughnut hole is set to close entirely by 2020, but a repeal would change that. In addition, subsidies for early retiree health care would disappear. The 2010 law also extends the solvency of Medicare by 12 years. To see the Alliance for Retired Americans fact sheet on 2011 Medicare changes, go HERE

It is expected that nearly all or all House Republicans will vote for the repeal legislation, H.R. 2, next week. However, Senate Democrats and grassroots organizations are pushing back. On Monday, the Senate Democratic Leadership – Sens. Harry Reid (NV), Dick Durbin (IL), Patty Murray (WA), Charles Schumer (NY) and Debbie Stabenow (MI) - wrote then soon-to-be Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and told him that repeal of health care reform will not occur in the Senate.

The five Senate Democratic leaders asked the Ohio Republican in the letter to preserve the health care law or risk leaving seniors without expanded insurance coverage for prescription drugs that the law provides. In addition, the Leadership Council of Aging Organizations, a coalition of 65 senior organizations, including the Alliance, sent a letter to all members of the House on Wednesday night urging a vote against repeal; to view that, go HERE.

 “Repeal would hurt retirees immediately,” said Barbara J. Easterling, President of the Alliance for Retired Americans. “It would be a giant step backwards given all of the problems that were addressed by the 2010 health reform law.”


10 January 2011

Gabrielle Giffords, Part of a Long List

Back in September, HERE I wrote of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her "Sense of Congress" letter in defense of the preservation of Social Security as the right-wing re-energized its drive for privatization and reductions in benefits. This took courage on her part, as her district is largely Republican. Today she lies in a hospital fighting for her life after being gunned down by a crazy man said to be angry with her politics.

As with all such events of violence upon the innocent; people are slinging accusations, and blame, and grasping for answers.  Liberals are blaming right-wing rhetoric and Sarah Palin's "crosshairs" website "targeting" liberals.  At some point, I have no doubt that violent video games will be trotted out as a contributing factor. There might even be hearings.

But, the real problem, the underlying problem, will be, as always, ignored.  We Americans exalt violence, and praise and highly reward those who practise violence as a profession.  Doubt me?  Watch the NFL playoffs, watch a hockey match, or boxing match and come here and try to dispute me.  We tolerate and even venerate violence on on hand, and deplore and tsk-tsk its manifestations on the other.

H. Rap Brown said it very well back in the "Day's of Rage", when our inner cities burned, "Violence is as American as cherry pie!"  No, he did not say apple, he said cherry.

Doubt him?  Lincoln, McKinley, Garfield, Huey Long, George Wallace, John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Medgar Evers, Fred Hampton, John Lennon, Matthew Sheperd, Martin Luther King, the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Church shooting, Oklahoma City, Harvey Milk, Malcolm X, Ronald Reagan, Allan Berg, George Tiller, Columbine...OK?  Enough? Got it?

There's others if you demand it!

Our problem is multi-fold.  One, we are very ambivalent about violence, and two, we have not yet decided, as a culture, that we want to develop a way, or programs, which will, early on, identify the deeply disturbed among us, intervene, and effectively treat them or else remove them from the general population so that they no longer present a risk.  I believe the first contributes to our lack of will on the second.

And, three, how do we, as a free society, devise a means to monitor and identify violence prone people without relinquishing our freedom and individuality to some sort of totalitarian mental health overseer?  Well, starters would be effective, universal, and standardized childhood education with professionals trained to recognize the warning signs and readily available resources and programs designed to intervene or segregate those who display the warnings signs.  It really is that simple!

If course we won't. We'll burn candles, pray, weep, wring our hands, and hold vigils and marches for awhile, blame each other, then we'll forget about it until the next tragic event wrought by some maniac.  I'm betting by Superbowl Sunday we'll have pretty much moved on.

06 January 2011

Sunday Pot Roast = Thursday Hash

Back in the day, as the current cliche goes, people were less cavalier about food and waste.  Here's an example of what I'm talking about.  At least once a month, when I was growing up, pot roast was the Sunday meal...Sundays we didn't call it lunch, dinner or supper..it was the "meal".  Mom would load a huge roast into a roaster, load it with potatos, carrots, celery, and seasoning and spices known only to her, and let it cook at least half a day, occasionally adding a bit of water to keep things from drying out.

That roast and those vegetables along with gravy made from the roast's drippings and home made yeast rolls,  green onions in a water glass, and radishes on a saucer, all washed down with sugar sweetened iced-tea were "the meal".  But, as delicious as it was, that was mere prelude.

By Tuesday, that pot roast and vegetables would show up for supper as a meat pie; steaming, savory and rich, made from the pot roast and vegetables leftovers and freshly made-from-scratch pie dough.  Oh, but that was not the end of the pot roast.  Uh huh, not by a long shot.  My mom must have bought a full haunch of steer for the Sunday meal, because come Thursday, it would make its curtain call as hash.  And such hash it was: that left over roast would be ground up on a manual meat grinder, which was screwed down on the table edge, and transformed from a sweetly rich meat to a spicy and mouth watering mixture heated on the stove top with small chucks of diced portato and onion and served over freshly toasted bread.

See what I mean?  We had no garbage disposal system and nary an iota of that roast and its trimmings ever found their way into a garbage pail...and I don't remember that we ever thought of them as leftovers. 

Yep, a pot roast was always good for three meals and at least one school lunch sack with a thick cold roast beef sandwich slathered with tangy German mustard.

And, on roast beef Sundays, it was de riguer' that dessert be pineapple upside down cake.  Now, most such cakes are heavy sodden lumps of dough and sweetness, but not my mom's.  Somehow she managed that the cake it self be light and fluffy with the pinapple and topping complimenting rather than overpowering it.  My older brother and I knew our mom was the best cook in the world and when he got married he belaboured his poor bride with imprecations that she get recipes and learn from his mom how to cook.

Shortly after their honeymoon, they came for Sunday pot roast and after dessert and coffee my brother began boasting of how his mom made everything from scratch and that was the only way he could stand pineapple upside down cake, and that today's may had been the best ever.  Our mom just smiled and said nothing.

Shortly after clearing the table and putting things away, mom called the new bride over and with a wink and a smile  led her on the back porch which the trash can was kept, lifted its cover, and showed her, without a word, where she had thrown the Duncan Hines cake mix box.


05 January 2011

The Republican Strategy - How YOU Can Fight Back

Here is the Republican strategy at its simplest in less than a paragraph.

Drive up the deficit, spend off all surpluses and reserves, put the nation in a state of near bankruptcy and blame "entitlements" and a tax-and-spend philosophy of government for the problems and dismantle all social safety nets such as Social Security CHIPS, Medicare and Medicaid and hand them over to their deregulated, unregulated and never regulated,multi-national corporate masters to plunder, rape and pillage.  They're doing it nationally, and from state-to-state.

Additionally they vilify and label with pejoratives any groups or organizations, such as unions, that stand between them and their goals.

The answer to this is very challenging; first there must emerge leadership which can unify labor, the middle class, academia/students and the working and perpetually poor.

Secondly; that leadership will have to concurrently educate, organize and mobilize around one to two key, core issues which transcend and affect those key constituencies.

Finally, I firmly believe it is a fight to the death, both figurative and literal.  Unless we as individuals begin standing up to the arrogance and bullying of the right in our churches, neighborhoods, clubs, social gatherings, and street corners, we will surely lose.  We may have to lose friends, jettison relatives, and walk alone down some lonely alleys, but, if we do not give in, we will prevail.  We may have to lie down in front of the tanks.  Moral imperative without action is meaningless!

Just don't back down, sass, argue, fight back, if pushed-shoved back, if slapped-slug back. Multiply yourself, join a progressive organization and help them.

Here's an anthem for you:

04 January 2011

Obama Fails at Hold 'Em Poker

Republicans (and some yahoos calling themselves Democrat) are hellbent on destroying our social safety net despite the contrary wishes of the vast majority of American people.  Yesterday, we witnessed a weird convergence of these two indisputable facts as the Republican controlled congress voted to repeal health care reform and CBS Sixty-Minutes and Vanity Fair released a poll indicating that a combined 81% of Americans would either raise taxes on the wealthy (61%) or cut military spending (20%) in order to bring into line the nation's fiscal problems.  A scant handful, almost no more than the margin for error percentage, would cut Social Security or Medicare.

However, late last year President Obama went "all in" and tried to fill an inside straight by giving Republicans an extension of the Bush era tax cuts in order to gain a few palliative concessions including an extension of unemployment benefits for workers displaced by the current depression which was triggered by corporate greed and banking and Wall Street shenanigans.  Well, "the river" gave him no help at all!  Not only did the GOP get an extension of the Bush administration's tax policies, they are poised to rake in all the chips under the guise of Social Security reform.

All of which is to say, even Obama is ignoring the will of the people and gambling away our future.

Obama will want to stay in the game, and in order to do so, he will have to hustle up the means to stay at the table.  If past is prelude to present, we can expect him to capitulate on "entitlement" reform as he did on health care reform, Wall Street and banking regulation, and tax cuts for the wealthy.  In short, he is going to pawn our social safety net in order to stay at the table.

Even before "the flop" of the next hand, we can expect him to ante up raising the retirement age (which hammers working women and physical labor intensive workers the hardest), and reducing future benefits, and never mind that most of America is opposed, he has allowed himself to be sandbagged and an already poor hand is made awful by his lack of courage in standing up to the Republicans.

Already arrogant and out-of-control, the Republicans, financed by multi-national corporate money and pulled even further to the right by tea-bags and tea-hags will check and call, or raise and call him by saddling him with "entitlement reform".  Nowhere in this will you see anything approaching meaningful jobs creation measures..that card has been pulled from the deck.  You see, with an eye on 2012, the Republicans do not want the economy or jobs picture to improve and will check, call and bluff to that end.

You see, the president believes that by posturing to independents he can win reelection.  After all, democrats and progressives have nowhere else to turn, or so the thinking goes.  He's dismally wrong, is underplaying his hand, and will lose the pot...unfortunately, you and I will lose our shirts in the process.


03 January 2011

Big Changes For Medicare Beneficiaries

Medicare beneficiaries to benefit from changes implemented this year:

Drug makers will provide a 50% discount on brand-name drugs and the government will provide a 7% discount on generics for consumers in the gap (Donut Hole).  Each year, the discounts will increase until the consumer's share of costs while in the gap is 25% for both name-brand and generic drugs.

The elimination of deductibles and coinsurance for preventative services, as recommended by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.

Coverage of annual wellness visit and personalized prevention plan at no charge.

Provides 10 % bonuses payments to primary care doctors working in areas with physician shortages.

Creates a CMS Innovation Center that will explore effective ways to create efficient payment systems that are patient-centered, and that preserve and provide incentive for high-quality care.

Reduces market basket updates for providers, beginning this year.  This stabilizes payments to the various Medicare providers, reducing changes and uncertainty regarding their payments for services from Medicare.

Prohibits private "Medicare Advantage" plans from charging enrollees more than Original Medicare for certain medical services, including chemotherapy administration and skilled nursing care.

Freezes "Medicare Advantage" plans payment rates to 2010 levels.  The intent is to reduce government subsidies to insurance companies by phasing in annual reforms intended to better match coverage costs in the private Medicare insurance market to those in the Original Medicare program.

Allows Medicare Advantage enrollees to switch to Original Medicare during the first 45 days of the new year.

Freezes inflation indexing for Medicare-related Part-B premiums for people with high incomes.

Raises drug plan premiums for individuals earning over $85, 000 and couples earning over $170,000.

Creates a new voluntary national insurance program for long-term care services (Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) Program, financed through voluntary payroll deductions.  After five years of contributions one would be invested in the plan with an average lifetime benefit of $50.00 a day, depending on the needs of the person.