Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Pennsylvania State Senator Refuses To Apologize For His Remarks About Gays: ‘We’re Allowing Them To Exist’ from Think Progress

During a June 19 radio debate, Pennsylvania State Sen. John Eichelberger (R) repeatedly asserted that same-sex marriage is wrong, "dysfunctional," and would lead to "polygamy, marrying younger people." (Eichelberger is "sponsoring a Constitutional amendment to redefine marriage as between a man and a woman.") But perhaps his most shocking comments came when fellow lawmaker Sen. Daylin Leach (D) asked him how gay men and women should be treated:

Leach: Should our only policy towards [same-sex] couples be one of punishment, to somehow prove that they've done something wrong?

Eichelberger: They're not being punished. We're allowing them to exist, and do what every American can do. We're just not rewarding them with any special designation.

Listen to excerpts of the debate here:

LGBT activists were incensed by Eichelberger's comments, calling on him to apologize for his "insensitive remarks." Yesterday, gay and straight protesters briefly met with Eichelberger, "after [he tried] ducking them twice." They presented him with 5,000 signed petitions asking him to apologize. Eichelberger refused to do so:

EICHELBERGER: You know, the public process is very important in this country. That's what my bill does. It allows the public to make a decision, which I think is a healthy thing. So I appreciate your support of at least that concept.

SPEAKER: So are you going to apologize to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people in Pennsylvania — and all the people in Pennsylvania for those comments about allowing to exist and calling them dysfunctional.

EICHELBERGER: No, I think you know my answer to that. Thank you very much.

Watch it:


John Morgan of the Pennsylvania Progressive, who was at the Eichelberger confrontation and captured the exchange on video, said, "The fact he knew we would be at his office at noon and chose not to be there showed his cowardice. It was not until we waited an hour and returned that his receptionist allowed us a few minutes with the Senator in an additional hour."

Eichelberger has said that his June 19 remarks have been taken out of context. ThinkProgress contacted the senator's office, asking for clarification and whether he would be issuing an apology. Chief of staff Jason High simply said that the Eichelberger "has already clarified his statement in multiple media outlets." He pointed us to a June 27 Altoona Mirror story. However, while Eichelberger repeatedly says that his comments are being misinterpreted, nowhere in that article does he shed any more light onto what he actually meant:

He [Eichelberger] said members of Keystone Progress have taken what he said out of context. He said Thursday afternoon he has no intention of taking back or apologizing for anything he stated during the discussion with Leach about heterosexual marriage, bigamy, polygamy, other different forms of marriage and procreation. … Eichelberger said Morrill and his group are purposefully misinterpreting his comment.

Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents, an LGBT blog in Pennsylvania, writes, "It is one thing to disapprove of my identity or believe it is a choice, but quite another thing to suggest that I am permitted to exist in spite of my identity. Should I be grateful to Senator Eichelberger for not condoning someone taking away my existence?"

John McCain Country - Arizona Moves to Oppose Obama’s Expected Health Care Mandates

from http://www.cnsnews.com/public/content/article.aspx?RsrcID=50304

By Fred Lucas, Staff Writer

Arizona state flag
(CNSNews.com) - Voters in Arizona will decide next year whether residents will be subject to mandates in the pending health care reform that President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats are promoting.
At least five other states – Indiana, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Dakota and Wyoming – have considered proposals to take pre-emptive action against the pending federal mandates, but those proposals have either not made it out of committee, failed to get enough votes from one side of the legislature, or are still being crafted.
Only the Arizona Legislature introduced an initiative (HCR2014), which if passed, would amend the state constitution to codify that no resident would be required to participate in any public health care option. Arizonans will vote on the initiative in November 2010.
"HCR2014 is proactive and will protect patients' fundamental rights," Arizona State Rep. Nancy Barto, a Republican, said in a statement. "We are a front-line battle state to stop the momentum of this powerful government takeover of your health care decisions. Health care by lobbyists thwarts your rights and can be stopped here."
The main issue is the core of the Obama health plan – a government run or "public option" – to compete with private health insurers. Some state lawmakers fear such legislation would force residents to buy into the public plan.
"The eyes of the nation will be on Arizona next year to see what happens," Christie Herrera, director of the Health and Human Services Taskforce with the American Legislative Exchange Council, told CNSNews.com. "If this succeeds in Arizona, other states will take notice and push harder."
The Obama administration insists that the public option will provide another choice for Americans who are not insured or are unhappy with their current insurance and will force private companies to be more competitive.
Critics of the plan say private firms could not compete with a public option – with unlimited government resources – and thus would go out of business, leaving what is tantamount to a single-payer system in place.
What happens in Arizona could spur other states to pass similar laws or constitutional amendments, said Wisconsin State Rep. Lea Vukmir, a Republican, who sponsored similar legislation in 2008 that passed the House but failed in the Senate. 

President Barack Obama (AP Photo)
If the Obama administration's "public option" becomes law before Arizonans vote in November 2010, their initiative would still allow the state the challenge the Obama plan.
Vukmir said that the Obama proposal could be unconstitutional, under the Tenth Amendment, which states, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."
"I'm a strong believer in the Constitution and the Tenth Amendment," Vukmir told CNSNews.com. "The Tenth Amendment has been eroded by Congress and the Supreme Court for decades. We have to ask, does the Tenth Amendment have any meaning? We are supposed to have strong state governments and a weak central government. That has eroded away."
Georgia State Sen. Judson Hill, a Republican, said that the Obama plan would put a big strain on state budgets and told CNSNews.com that he would be interested in introducing similar legislation in the Georgia state house.
Medicaid and S-CHIP payments to states already make cutting costs untenable for states in lieu of a benefit cut or tax hike, Hill said.
He has introduced legislation to use state medical grants to go directly to patients as a sort of medical scholarship. (S-CHIP is the acronym for the State Children's Health Insurance Program, run by the federal Health and Human Services, which provides matching funds to states that provide expanded health insurance programs for families with children in low- to moderate-income brackets.)
"I call them federal crack dollars," said Hill. "States get addicted to health dollars sent by the U.S. government."
Arizona's Health Care Freedom Act, firstly, establishes the right of state residents to spend their own money to seek and receive health care and, secondly, the right to choose not to participate in any health care system of any type.
An advocacy group was started to campaign for the amendment.
"Protecting the rights of individuals to be in control of their health and health care must be a fundamental component of health care reform, so the Arizona legislature is to be congratulated for giving all Americans the opportunity to make certain our voices are heard," said Dr. Eric Novack, chairman of the group Arizonans for Health Care Reform.

It Came from Wasilla - vanity Fair article about Sarah Palin

Despite her disastrous performance in the 2008 election, Sarah Palin is still the sexiest brand in Republican politics, with a lucrative book contract for her story. But what Alaska's charismatic governor wants the public to know about herself doesn't always jibe with reality. As John McCain's top campaign officials talk more candidly than ever before about the meltdown of his vice-presidential pick, the author tracks the signs—political and personal—that Palin was big trouble, and checks the forecast for her future.

By Todd S. Purdum

rest at http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/2009/08/sarah-palin200908?printable=true&currentPage=all

Palin wrote an e-mail to friends pretending to be God: ‘Trig’s Creator, Your Heavenly Father.’ from Think Progress


ap0810200236691 In a new article in next month's Vanity Fair by Todd Purdum, former McCain presidential campaign aides unload on former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, calling her a "Little Shop of Horrors," a "diva," and a "whack job." The exposé also reveals that Palin, in an e-mail to her friends announcing the birth of her baby Trig, pretended to play God:

When Trig was born, Palin wrote an e-mail letter to friends and relatives, describing the belated news of her pregnancy and detailing Trig's condition; she wrote the e-mail not in her own name but in God's, and signed it "Trig's Creator, Your Heavenly Father."

Also, Purdum reports that Palin lied about not having insurance to show "she could empathize with uninsured Americans." Palin insisted that in her early years of marriage, she and husband Todd did not have coverage, when in fact they had catastrophic coverage. Palin "insisted that catastrophic insurance didn't really count and need not be revealed."

Monday, June 29, 2009

Workers Speak Out: Despite Calls for Reform, Wal-Mart Still Shortchanging Workers on Health Care


For years, we've heard hints that Wal-Mart might support a broad-based government health care plan. Now that health care reform is on the table, Wal-Mart is coming out in force to support it. One executive even wrote an op-ed in the The Tennessean recently about how:

Everyone must have access to quality, affordable health coverage, and businesses, individuals and governments must share responsibility for financing and managing a system that ensures we meet that goal.

But as you all know, Wal-Mart could have been helping the problem all along by putting some of its multi-billion-dollar profits into its health care plan.  At Wal-Mart Watch, we've heard for years from Wal-Mart employees that aren't eligible for the company plan, can't afford it - or have been somehow shortchanged by the plan. But there's no need to take our word for it - here's a sampling of what we've heard from real employees lately.

Is Wal-Mart serious about health care reform? Let us know in the blog comments below.

Wal-Mart's High Deductible Plans Are Only For Emergencies

I signed up for the Wal-Mart health insurance plan as soon as I was eligible, but after a few years, the price kept going UP UP UP and I had to trade down to the lower level insurance with a high deductible. Wal-Mart lies about its employees being insured under its plan. At my store, hardly anyone can afford to get the insurance. Some were on their spouse's insurance, some did without insurance at all, and some were on Medicaid.

When I was making just over $11 an hour, my insurance went from $170 to $240 every two weeks and I had to go with the lesser insurance, which really would only cover you for a catastrophe. Let's face it, you can't raise a family, let alone pay for health insurance and run a used car on $9 to $15 an hour like Wal-Mart pays its employees. Since I quit, I've found better insurance for about the same rate as I was paying for the inferior Wal-Mart insurance.

- Anonymous in New Jersey

I have insurance through Wal-Mart. It's not expensive - about $20.00 a month - but it has a high deductible and I can only afford to use it for emergencies. I can't afford to buy a plan with a smaller deductible because I can't afford to take $100.00 more out of my paycheck. Last year, they offered a plan like I have now, but with three doctors visits and a $20.00 co-pay. My 2-year-old is on state medical insurance because I can't afford to pay the high deductible on my insurance.

- Anonymous in Louisiana

Wal-Mart Health Care is Too Expensive, Employees Forced To Find Coverage Elsewhere

While working for Wal-Mart, I had to get health care coverage through a charity program connected to the Wheaton Franciscan health care system.  They pay 100% of my bills when I got to their facilities.  Their program has literally saved my life on a couple of occasions—once through surgery on my left foot and again when I had to have surgery to remove a cancerous tumor.  Thank God for these charity programs. Even though employees give their blood, sweat and tears to Wal-Mart, they won't do the same for you.  I had to be carried out on a stretcher with chest pains two years ago. I had a stress test, which thankfully came back negative, but I was told the chest pains were stress related. I wonder where the stress came from?

- P.F. in Wisconsin

I have worked for Wal-Mart for close to a year now and I have carefully read about all the different health plan choices they offer. To a person who makes a lot more than the average Wal-Mart employee, their plans might seem affordable.

My wife--who works for another company--makes three times more than I do and she only has to pay a fraction for comparable insurance. With over two million associates, half of them in the U.S., Wal-Mart should be able to provide much better plans than what they have now. For this reason, I'll stick with my wife's insurance.

- Anonymous in Illinois

Bankruptcy is the Only Way Out When Health Care Bills Stack Up

I worked for Wal-Mart for two years and paid for their health benefits. When I had to have surgery for a torn rotator cuff, Wal-Mart's insurance plan left me with $25,000 to pay out of my own pocket. The total bill was $40,000. I struggled to pay it off for a year and finally declared bankruptcy. Their health insurance is a sham and not worth signing up for.

- Carolyn Johansen

A Manager Confirms What We Already Know, Wal-Mart Plans Are Unaffordable

I have worked for Wal-Mart for three years as a Department Manager. I do have my insurance through Wal-Mart, and I don't think that it is very good. Unfortunately, the deductibles are high, and the coverage is very minimal. I see so many store associates who cannot even afford the insurance as minimal as it is...it's sad. I feel a company as big as Wal-Mart could make their insurance better and more affordable for all their associates.

- Anonymous Department Manager in Ohio

Posted by Eric Bull on Friday, June 26, 2009

How GE made billions from the bank bailout

By ProPublica
GE has long straddled the fence between banking and commerce — allowing it to profit from the federal bank bailout without falling under banking regulations. But as the Obama administration seeks to tighten financial regulation, the world's largest industrial company will have to make a choice.

General Electric, the world's largest industrial company, has quietly become the biggest beneficiary of one of the government's key rescue programs for banks.

At the same time, GE has avoided many of the restrictions facing other financial giants getting help from the government.

The company did not initially qualify for the program, under which the government sought to unfreeze credit markets by guaranteeing debt sold by banking firms. But regulators soon loosened the eligibility requirements, in part because of behind-the-scenes appeals from GE.

As a result, GE has joined major banks collectively saving billions of dollars by raising money for their operations at lower interest rates. Public records show that GE Capital, the company's massive financing arm, has issued nearly a quarter of the $340 billion in debt backed by the program, which is known as the Temporary Liquidity Guarantee Program, or TLGP. The government's actions have been "powerful and helpful" to the company, GE chief executive Jeffrey Immelt acknowledged in December.

GE's finance arm is not classified as a bank. Rather, it worked its way into the rescue program by owning two relatively small Utah banking institutions, illustrating how the loopholes in the U.S. regulatory system are manifest in the government's historic intervention in the financial crisis.

The Obama administration now wants to close such loopholes as it works to overhaul the financial system. The plan would reaffirm and strengthen the wall between banking and commerce, forcing companies like GE to essentially choose one or the other.

"We'd like to regulate companies according to what they do, rather than what they call themselves or how they charter themselves," said Andrew Williams, a Treasury spokesman.

GE's ability to live in the best of both worlds – capitalizing on the federal safety net while avoiding more rigorous regulation – existed well before last year's crisis, because of its unusual corporate structure.

Banking companies are regulated by the Federal Reserve and not allowed to engage in commerce, but federal law has allowed a small number of commercial companies to engage in banking under the lighter hand of the Office of Thrift Supervision. GE falls in the latter group because of its ownership of a Utah savings and loan.

Unlike other major lenders participating in the debt guarantee program, including Bank of America, Citigroup and J.P. Morgan Chase, GE has never been subject to the Fed's stress tests or its rules for limiting risk. Also unlike firms that have received bailout money in the Troubled Assets Relief Program, or TARP, GE is not subject to restrictions such as limits on executive compensation.

The debt guarantee program that GE joined is administered by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., which was reluctant to take on the new mission, according to current and former officials who were not authorized to speak publicly. The FDIC also initially resisted expanding the pool of eligible companies, fearing it would add more risk to the program, the officials said.

Despite those misgivings, there have been no defaults in the loan guarantee program. It has helped buoy confidence in the credit markets and enabled vital financial firms to raise cash even during the darkest days of the economic crisis. In addition, the program has raised more than $8 billion in fees.

"The TGLP program has been a money maker for us," FDIC chairman Sheila Bair has said. "So I think there have been some benefits to the government and the FDIC."

For its part, GE said that it properly applied for and qualified for the program. "We were accepted on the merits of our application," company spokesman Russell Wilkerson said.

The Cash Cow

The current good fortune of General Electric, ranked by Forbes as the world's largest company, has roots in the Great Depression, when it created a consumer finance arm so that cash-starved families could buy its appliances.

What grew from those beginnings is now a powerful engine of profit, accounting for nearly half of its parent's net earnings in the past five years. GE may be better known for light bulbs and home appliances, but GE Capital is one of the world's largest and most diverse financial operations, lending money for commercial real estate, aircraft leasing and credit cards for stores such as Wal-Mart. If GE Capital were classified as a banking company, it would be the nation's seventh largest.

Unlike the banking giants, GE Capital is part of an industrial company. That allows GE to offer attractive financing to those who buy its products.

At the height of last fall's financial crisis, GE's cash cow became a potential liability. As credit markets froze, analysts feared that GE Capital was vulnerable to losing access to cheap funding – largely commercial paper, or short-term corporate IOUs sold to large investors.

Company officials projected confidence. "While GE Capital is not immune from the current environment," Immelt said in October, "we continued to outperform our financial-services peers." Behind the scenes, they urgently sought a helping hand for GE Capital. One key hope was a rescue plan taking shape at the FDIC.

The program emerged during a hectic weekend last October as regulators scrambled to announce a series of rescue efforts before the markets opened.

They found a legal basis for the program in a 1991 law: If a faltering bank posed "systemic risk," then the FDIC, the Fed, the Treasury secretary and the president could agree to give the FDIC more authority to rescue a failing institution. The financial regulators applied the statute broadly, so it would cover the more than 8,000 banks in the FDIC system.

The FDIC hurried to approve the program Oct. 13.

"This was crisis management on steroids," said a person familiar with the process. "A lot was made up on the fly."

The author of the systemic-risk provision, Richard Carnell, now a law professor at Fordham University, says it was intended to apply to a single institution, and that in their rush to find legal footing for unprecedented new programs, regulators "turned the statute on its head."

The FDIC launched the program Tuesday, Oct. 14, the same day Treasury officials announced large capital infusions into nine of the country's banking giants under TARP. That day, the FDIC also expanded its deposit guarantees to a broader range of accounts.

Within days, the FDIC held conference calls with bankers to explain the program. Agency officials explained that not all companies that owned banks were eligible. "The idea is not to extend this guarantee to commercial firms," David Barr, an FDIC spokesman, said during one of the calls.

A Broader Program

GE was watching closely. Though GE Capital owned an FDIC-insured savings and loan and an industrial loan company, they accounted for only 3 percent of GE's assets. Company officials concluded that GE couldn't meet the program's eligibility requirements.

So the company requested that the program "be broadened," GE's Wilkerson said. GE's main argument was fairness: The FDIC was trying to encourage lending, and GE Capital was one of the country's largest business lenders.

GE deployed a team of executives and outside attorneys, including Rodgin Cohen, a banking expert with the New York firm Sullivan & Cromwell.

"GE was among the parties that discussed this with the FDIC," along with the Treasury and Fed, according to FDIC spokesman Andrew Gray. He said the details about eligibility "had not been specifically addressed" in the beginning.

Citigroup, the troubled banking giant, also was pressing for an expansion of the FDIC program. Though Citigroup was included in the debt guarantee program, its main finance arm, Citigroup Funding, appeared ineligible. Fed Vice Chairman Donald Kohn wrote to the FDIC's Bair on Oct.

21, arguing that debt issued by Citigroup Funding should be covered "as if it were issued directly by Citigroup, Inc."

Two days later, the FDIC announced a new category of eligible applicants – "affiliates" of an FDIC-insured institution. Bair explained that "there may be circumstances where the program should be extended" to keep credit markets flowing. That meant "certain otherwise ineligible holding companies or affiliates that issue debt" could apply, she said.

GE Capital now was eligible.

Raising Billions

GE Capital won approval to enter the FDIC program in mid-November with support from its regulator, the Office of Thrift Supervision. The company used the government guarantee to raise about $35 billion by the end of

2008. By the end of the first quarter of 2009, the total reached $74 billion, helping to cover the company's 2009 funding needs and about $8 billion of its projected needs for 2010.

Despite government support, GE lost its Triple-A rating for the first time in decades this year and was forced to sharply cut its dividend. But the outlook could have been much worse.

The debt guarantee program has "been of critical importance" to the fiscal health of GE Capital, said Scott Sprinzen, who evaluates GE's finance arm for the Standard & Poor's credit-rating company. He said the FDIC program enabled GE to "avoid an exorbitant price" for its debt late last year.

GE has not disclosed how much the company has saved because of TLGP backing.

Like other companies in the program, GE pays the FDIC fees to use the guarantees – a little more than $1 billion so far. But as Bair explained to bankers last fall, the fees, while "healthy," are "far below certainly what the cost of credit protection is now in the market."

Not every finance company has had that peace of mind. One of GE's competitors in business lending markets, CIT Group, a smaller company, has had a harder time raising cash. It has been unable to persuade the FDIC to allow it into the debt-guarantee program, at least in part because of its lower credit ratings. A recent Standard & Poor's analysis cited CIT's "inability to access TLGP" as a factor in the company's declining financial condition.

Two weeks ago, the Obama administration said it would seek to eliminate the Office of Thrift Supervision and force companies like GE to focus on commerce or banking, but not both. That could require the industrial giant to spin off GE Capital.

Last week, Immelt said GE had no intention of doing that. "GE is and will remain committed to GE Capital, and we like our strategy," he said in a memo to staff.

In its proposal to overhaul financial regulation, the Treasury Department pointed out that some firms operating under the existing rules, including collapsed companies such as American International Group, "generally were able to evade effective consolidated supervision and the long-standing policy of separating banking from commerce."

GE's Wilkerson said the company generally supports regulatory reform but thinks that it should be permitted to retain its structure. "Bank reform has historically included grandfathering provisions upon which investors have relied, and there is no reason this settled principle should not be followed here," he said. He said the company "didn't have any choice" but to have OTS as its regulator.

The company also objects to the Treasury's proposal to force firms to separate banking and commerce because that issue "had nothing to do with the financial crisis," Wilkerson said.

Wilkerson said GE has remained profitable and avoided some of the exotic financial products that contributed to losses at other institutions. He also said that GE performed an internal stress test this year and found that its capital position was "quite strong by comparison to the banks."

The FDIC has been working to wean financial institutions off the program. The TLGP originally was slated to end in June, but at the Treasury's request the FDIC agreed to extend it until Oct. 31. Some participants have stopped using the program, but GE Capital continues to do so for the overwhelming majority of its debt.

Much of the $340 billion in debt will come due in 2012, the year the FDIC guarantees expire. At that point, known in banking circles as the "cliff," the agency would have to make good if companies such as GE are unable to honor their obligations. FDIC officials say they are comfortable that the agency has collected more than enough money to cover potential losses.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Tweet from Twitterrific

The "Supreme Leader" in Iran and Rush Limbaugh Have This in Common:
They Both Want America to Fail. See Two-Faced Image on BuzzFlash.com.


Sent from my iPhone

Tweet from Twitterrific

Sean Hannity's Mentoring Relationship with Neo-Nazi Hal Turner, Who
FBI Just Arrested for Death Threats http://blog.buzzflash.com/node/8828


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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Health Insurance Insider: 'They Dump the Sick'


Retired Health Insurance Executive Blows the Whistle on His Former Industry

ABC News Business Unit

June 24, 2009—

Frustrated Americans have long complained that their insurance companies valued the all-mighty buck over their health care. Today, a retired insurance executive confirmed their suspicions, arguing that the industry that once employed him regularly rips off its policyholders.

"[T]hey confuse their customers and dump the sick, all so they can satisfy their Wall Street investors," former Cigna senior executive Wendell Potter said during a hearing on health insurance today before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

Potter, who has more than 20 years of experience working in public relations for insurance companies Cigna and Humana, said companies routinely drop seriously ill policyholders so they can meet "Wall Street's relentless profit expectations."

"They look carefully to see if a sick policyholder may have omitted a minor illness, a pre-existing condition, when applying for coverage, and then they use that as justification to cancel the policy, even if the enrollee has never missed a premium payment," Potter said. "&(D)umping a small number of enrollees can have a big effect on the bottom line."

Small businesses, in particular, he said, have had trouble maintaining their employee health insurance coverage, he said.

"All it takes is one illness or accident among employees at a small business to prompt an insurance company to hike the next year's premiums so high that the employer has to cut benefits, shop for another carrier, or stop offering coverage altogether," he said.

Potter also faulted insurance companies for being misleading both in advertising their policies to new customers and in communicating with existing policyholders.

More and more people, he said, are falling victim to "deceptive marketing practices" that encourage them to buy "what essentially is fake insurance," policies with high costs but surprisingly limited benefits.

Insurance companies continue to mislead consumers through "explanation of benefits" documents that note what payments the insurance company made and what's left for consumers to pay out of pocket, Potter said.

The documents, he said, are "notoriously incomprehensible."

"Insurers know that policyholders are so baffled by those notices they usually just ignore them or throw them away. And that's exactly the point," he said. "If they were more understandable, more consumers might realize that they are being ripped off."

Potter did have some kind words to share about his former employer, Cigna.

"I hope that I'm not coming across as someone who's critical of my former employer. I had a good career at Cigna and was well-compensated. I was there for 15 years and lasted 15 years," he said. "My comments are directed toward an industry that is really going in the wrong direction and taking this country in the wrong direction."

In a statement released this evening, Cigna said that it "strongly disagree(s) with the suggestion that, motivated by profits, the insurance industry has deliberately attempted to confuse or unfairly treat covered individuals."

The company said it has a team dedicated to help its policyholders understand their benefits and that it is advocating for improvements to the health care system, including mandated coverage for all.

The Senate also heard from Karen Pollitz, a research professor at the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute, and Nancy Metcalf, a senior program editor at Consumer Reports.

Pollitz said that insurance companies should provide more information about how coverage works so that consumers are better equipped to compare policies as they shop for coverage.

Metcalf spoke of how many Americans have mistakenly bought lower-cost insurance policies without realizing how little the policies actually cover.

"They were no match for insurance companies who know exactly how to design and market plans whose gaping holes don't become apparent until it's much, much too late," she said.

Sick Patients, Canceled Policies

As Congress and the White House continue to work on health-care reform, health insurance companies have been subject to intense grilling by lawmakers during several hearings.

Last week, three insurance company executives testified before Congress on the issue of health insurance rescissions -- the cancellation of insurance policies -- for seriously ill policyholders.

A year-long investigation by a subcommittee of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce found that three major U.S. insurance companies, WellPoint Inc., Assurant Health and United HealthGroup, canceled nearly 19,800 customer policies between 2003 and 2007.

The companies argue that rescissions are relatively rare and are important in combatting insurance fraud.

"In 2008, WellPoint's affiliated health plans rescinded one-tenth of one percent of new individual market enrollment," WellPoint said in an e-mailed statement to ABCNews.com. "While rescissions impact a very small percentage of applicants for coverage it is important to protect the majority who are honest on their applications for coverage."

Insurance companies are, by law, allowed to rescind policies for customers who found to have purposely lied or omitted information from their policy applications. But some of the rescissions the subcommittee found were for seriously ill people who had simply made mistakes on their applications.

Catching Fraud or Skirting Health Care Bills?

The committee found that the companies saved more than $300 million as a result of the rescissions. One WellPoint employee, the committee said, was awarded with a perfect performance appraisal after saving the company $10 million. (WellPoint told ABCNews.com that the money-saving reference in the appraisal was an "aberration" and said that the employee did not receive any extra salary or bonus.)

"These practices reveal that when an insurance company receives a claim for an expensive, life-saving treatment, some of them will look for a way, any way, to avoid having to pay for it," subcommittee chairman Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., said at the hearing.

Two former customers of Blue Cross of California, a subsidiary of WellPoint Inc., told ABCNews.com that the company canceled their insurance policies after such mistakes.

Mark Robison, of Santa Rosa, Calif., said Blue Cross canceled his policy after claiming that he knowingly omitted information about his then 8-year-old son having an undescended testicle. Robison said that Blue Cross already had information on his son's medical history on file. His son was under Blue Cross's coverage when he was initially diagnosed with his condition.

Sally Marrara, of Los Angeles, said the company canceled her policy after determining she never told them about back pain and a history of anti-depressant use. Marrara said the back pain was related to a hysterectomy that she had included in her Blue Cross application, while the anti-depressant use dated back some 10 years. She used the drugs temporarily, she said, to cope with her father's death.

Both Robison, whose son eventually underwent surgery, and Marrara, who was later diagnosed with lupus, are now saddled with thousands in medical bills. Each is suing the company.

"It's a total travesty," Robison said. "It's unwarranted and unconscionable."

Insurance companies argue that health care reforms that ensure coverage for those with pre-existing conditions should help tackle the problem of rescissions.

"In a reformed health care system, individuals and families will never again have to worry that they may lose coverage on the basis of their medical history," Karen Ignagni, the president of the health insurance company lobbying group America's Health Insurance Plans, wrote in a letter to Stupak.

Out-of-Network Agony

Today's Senate hearing comes three months after the Senate held hearings on concerns that health insurance companies are forcing consumers to pay more than they should for care from doctors outside the companies' networks.

The March hearings included testimony from a representative of the New York State Attorney General's office. An investigation by the state attorney general found that the insurance industry systematically under-estimates how much it should reimburse policyholders.

UnitedHealth Group CEO Stephen J. Hemsley said at a March 31 hearing that the insurance company stands by the integrity of the database -- run by UnitedHealth subsidiary Ingenix -- used to determine reimbursements and health care costs.

A report released today by the Senate Commerce Committee found that in addition to UnitedHealth, at least 17 other major insurance companies used Ingenix data.

The committee has claimed that evidence indicates that Ingenix data is faulty -- a claim the company has denied.

Health Insurance Insider: 'They Dump the Sick' from AfterDowningStreet.org


Health Insurance Insider: 'They Dump the Sick'
Retired Health Insurance Executive Blows the Whistle on His Former Industry
By Alice Gomstyn | ABC News Business Unit

Frustrated Americans have long complained that their insurance companies valued the all-mighty buck over their health care. Today, a retired insurance executive confirmed their suspicions, arguing that the industry that once employed him regularly rips off its policyholders.

"[T]hey confuse their customers and dump the sick, all so they can satisfy their Wall Street investors," former Cigna senior executive Wendell Potter said during a hearing on health insurance today before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

Potter, who has more than 20 years of experience working in public relations for insurance companies Cigna and Humana, said companies routinely drop seriously ill policyholders so they can meet "Wall Street's relentless profit expectations."

"They look carefully to see if a sick policyholder may have omitted a minor illness, a pre-existing condition, when applying for coverage, and then they use that as justification to cancel the policy, even if the enrollee has never missed a premium payment," Potter said. "…(D)umping a small number of enrollees can have a big effect on the bottom line." Read more.

SHOCKING: Fox News Labels Disgraced Republican Mark Sanford -- A Democrat from Crooks and Liars



I think it's just automatic now. When a high-profile Republican gets into trouble, Fox News steps in to mislead their sheep viewers by labeling them as Democrats.

Here's a short list of Fox's chyron hackery:

John McCain - Democrat
Joe Lieberman - Democrat
Arlen Spector - Democrat (when he was still a Republican!)
Mark Foley - Democrat

Media Matters also caught Fox listing a Democratic strategist as Bush's head of FEMA -- because his name happened to be Michael Brown. Oh, and we can't forget the time they announced Rep. William Jefferson's indictment using footage of Congressman John Conyers. They apologized to their audience, but never to Conyers personally.

I'm sure it was just an oversight, just like all the rest...riiiight. Have I missed any?

Dave N:

It's almost a clockwork thing.

Whenever Fox News wants you to forget that someone is actually a Republican, they, ah, accidentally label them a Democrat on their chryon and let it go. So they did that today, as you can see, while Mark Sanford was explaining that he had been in Argentina to screw around on his wife. (They corrected it in later chryons.)

Hardly the first time this has happened.


There was the time they ID'ed Mark Foley, in the midst of another sex scandal, as a Democrat too.

At other times with sex scandals, as with Sen. Larry Craig, they simply have forgotten to identify them as Republicans.

They've also done it when someone's Republican status is inconvenient:


When Arlen Specter was attacking conservative shibboleths, he got labeled a D too.

And then there was the time John McCain was labeled a Democrat too. At the time that just seemed weird, but now, with Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh and a host of other conservatives promoting the notion that McCain was just a fake Republican anyway, it makes a certain kind of sense.

Fox sense, that is.

Appraisals from Calculated Risk

Much is being written about the complaints of the NAR (Realtors) and the NAHB (Builders) concerning the Home Valuation Code of Conduct. And the response from the Appraisal Institute.

From Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist:
"[T]he increase in sales is less than expected because poor appraisals are stalling transactions. Pending home sales indicated much stronger activity, but some contracts are falling through from faulty valuations that keep buyers from getting a loan."
emphasis added
From Joe Robson, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB):
"In the midst of the prime home buying season, builders report that a number of factors are limiting new-home sales. These include consumer concerns about job security, potential buyers' inability to sell their existing homes, and problems with appraisals coming in too low. The latter issue is directly related to the use of distressed properties (foreclosures and short sales) as comps, which disproportionately impacts assessed values of nearby homes."
This change started when NY Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo sued First American for conspiring with WaMu to inflate real estate appraisals back in November 2007.
"The independence of the appraiser is essential to maintaining the integrity of the mortgage industry. First American and eAppraiseIT violated that independence when Washington Mutual strong-armed them into a system designed to rip off homeowners and investors alike," said Attorney General Cuomo. "The blatant actions of First American and eAppraiseIT have contributed to the growing foreclosure crisis and turmoil in the housing market. By allowing Washington Mutual to hand-pick appraisers who inflated values, First American helped set the current mortgage crisis in motion."
The emails evidence was pretty damning. And the HVCC was part of the settlement.

This has been coming for some time, and should be no surprise.

For a good background on the appraisal process, see Tanta's What's Wrong With Approved Appraiser Lists. Tanta was writing about approved appraiser lists, but her posts explains the appraisal problem. Here is an excerpt:
[W]hat WaMu is alleged to have done is itself the kind of conduct that is an automatic "red flag" for anyone who knows anything about how the appraisal management business works. Since most of you are fortunate enough to be entirely innocent of that, I thought I'd go through some issues here.

First off, I'm talking about how the business works, not about how the principles of appraiser independence are derived by the Appraisal Foundation or why they matter so much. I'm taking as a given that we accept the axiom that when an appraiser's compensation is based on his or her willingness to come up with the answer an interested party wants, instead of the answer he or she thinks the facts of the subject property, the transaction requested, and the local real estate market warrant, an appraisal is nothing more than a ratification of the loan amount someone has already decided on, and that "someone" isn't the ultimate bagholder. The real bagholder wants to know whether it is lending too much or risking owning an unsalable piece of REO. That an individual loan officer or broker just wants to know how high we can make the loan amount—and thus a commission—is an artifact of a business structure in which a lender's own employees or agents are not aligned with its own corporate best interests. At some level the appraisal problem will never get solved until the compensation of loan processing employees and intermediaries gets solved, but that's not today's argument.

In the olden days of local lenders, you had either staff appraisers or "fee appraisers." You could actually have appraisers on your payroll because you lent in a defined local area: you didn't have to worry about needing an appraisal for a property six states away that your staff appraisers couldn't get to, even if they were licensed in that state. If you relied on fee appraisers, possibly because it was too expensive to keep appraisers on the payroll during down-cycles in RE, you still worked in a local market, you got to know all of them, and you could order appraisals from people whose work was familiar. If you were smart, you worked with the best appraisers there were. If you were stupid, you channeled business to your golf buddies. A number of S&Ls did the latter, and they did not live happily ever after. We have this thing called FIRREA, which brought into being USPAP, in large part because of that second option.

Once local lenders became regional lenders and then national lenders, the distance between corporate headquarters, the Appraisal Department, and the actual properties and markets grew to the point that having staff appraisers was impractical and hiring fee appraisers was a crap-shoot. You can pick up the Yellow Pages to find an appraiser in a market you just entered, but this means you will learn by doing in terms of quality. That goes double if you entered this market via wholesale lending: you now have a broker you don't know much about hiring an appraiser you don't know anything about in an RE market you've never done business in before.

The early years of national wholesale lending supplied lots of excitement, as Podunk National Bank changed its name to Ubiquitous, Inc. and charged into market areas about which it knew nothing, on the assumption that, say, Miami is just like Podunk except the loan amounts are bigger. Sometimes this was actually retail lending: Ubiquitous, Inc. started buying up branches in all these new and exciting markets, with the plan of managing them long-distance from corporate headquarters. Often those branches (complete with their employees) could be acquired for amazingly cheap sums of money. The Lender Formerly Known As Podunk often didn't ask itself why the current owner of that branch wanted out so badly, but that's hardly a problem unique to mortgage lending or banking.

Eventually, everyone had to deal with the hard knocks. You might be able to justify taking risks on the unknown when you move into a new market, but you still have to do something about the problems that crop up. Everyone got at least some really bad appraisals from the Yellow Pages approach, and had to start making some lists. I really think that a major problem lurking in the industry happened right here, when wholesalers and correspondent lenders made a decision about what kind of list to make. Do you make an "Approved Appraiser" list of the ones you haven't had problems with, or do you make an "Excluded Appraiser" list of the ones you have had problems with?

There is no question that logically, the most efficient thing to do is make the exclusion list. Even if you believe that there are more than just a few bad apples, you don't get into the national mortgage lending business if you believe that bad appraisers outnumber good appraisers by a wide margin. Exclusionary lists are just shorter and easier to administrate.

If you're still a retail lender (just a long-distance one), you can keep the shorter exclusionary list internal to your own organization. The major disadvantage of exclusionary lists developed for the wholesale and correspondent lenders, and for any lender in the "originate and sell" rather than "originate and hold" business. If you are contracting with brokers, correspondent lenders, third-party investors and servicers and other folks who need to conduct due diligence on your loans, you end up having to make your list available to all those parties. It becomes nearly impossible to keep it confidential.

And that started the defamation fear. Too many lenders faced real or imagined threats of lawsuits from appraisers who did not want their names appearing on what had basically become a public hall of shame list. (I hasten to add that these things were not "public" to you, the consumer. They were an open secret to everyone in the business except the consumer.) So even though an approved appraiser list was a much more expensive, time-consuming, cumbersome way to get there, more and more big operations started keeping one. (Why not go to the regulators and beg for a "safe harbor" against defamation liability for exclusion lists? Because lenders are almost never long-sighted enough to ask for regulation that benefits them. They're too afraid that it always comes with the wrong strings attached. Then after the criminal probes and class actions and general shirt-losing, we look back wistfully on those strings we were so afraid of, wondering why we didn't snap that deal right up.)
The HVCC is addressing a very real and widespread appraisal problem. That doesn't mean the solution is perfect - and this shows once again that incentives matter.

An appraiser who is paid only if the loan is made, and is given the target number in advance, has a perverse incentive to "hit the number". However an appraiser that is paid no matter what, possibly has an incentive to be overly conservative and deliver a low ball appraisal that the NAR and NAHB and others are complaining about.

However lenders are still in the business of making loans (hopefully loans that will be repaid) - and the appraisers work for the lenders - and the lenders don't make money if the loan isn't made. So there is still an incentive to get deals done.

Pay to Play: $1.4 Million a Day Buys a Lot of Votes from Firedoglake



A whole lot of money is being spent in an attempt to derail true healthcare reform and maintain the untenable status quo.

This is the grim reality from a report released today by Common Cause. The special interests, all aligned against the urgent needs of the American people, are spending $1.4 million a day so that they will prevail and we won't. 

 Key findings of the Common Cause report include:

Health industries – including health insurance, pharmaceuticals and health products, hospitals and HMOs, and health professionals – have contributed over $372 million in campaign contributions to members of Congress since 2000.

Political spending by the health industries has increased 73 percent since 2000. Health interests contributed about $94 million to candidates for Congress in the 2008 election cycle, up from about $54 million in the 2000 cycle.

Members serving on committees and subcommittees with jurisdiction over health care reform in the House and Senate received the lion's share of health industries' largesse. Committee members raised $178 million from the industries this decade – roughly half of the industries' contributions to the entire Congress. Since 2000, the House members sitting on health committees have raised twice as much money from the health industry per election cycle as non-committee members (an average of 171,000 compared to 87,000), and the average House member on a key health subcommittee hauled in three times as much per cycle ($269,000). Senators with plum committee posts also enjoy sizable fundraising advantages.

The industries engage in "switch-hitting" – shifting campaign contributions between Democrats and Republicans to win access with the party in power. In 2000, with Republicans controlling the House and a closely-divided Senate, Republicans on health-related committees received more than double what Democrats received (68 percent to 32 percent) from the health industries. In 2008, with Democrats controlling both the House and Senate, over 61 percent of the industries' contributions to committee members went to the majority Democrats and just 39 percent went to Republicans.

The major health interests have spent an average of $1.4 million per day to lobby Congress so far this year and are on track to spend more than half a billion dollars by the end 2009. That comes out to about $2,600 per day per member of the House and Senate. The pharmaceutical lobby alone spent $733,000 per day in the first quarter of 2009. Since 2000, the industries have spent over $3 billion on lobbying, with the total increasing every year and rising more than 142 percent over the course of the decade. In each of the past four years health interests have been the number-one lobbying force in Washington, measured in expenditures, and have averaged over $1 million per day.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg!

There's also the spectacle of what I would call a medical-industrial congressional employment office. While the rest of us go to work every day wondering whether today will be the day we get the pink slip, CQ Politics reports that the medical-industrial complex seems to be an employer of choice for congressional spouses.

Nearly four dozen members of Congress have spouses employed in the health care industry — ties that lawmakers acknowledge are influencing their thinking about how the health system should be overhauled.

Financial disclosure forms made public in mid-June showed that at least 39 members were tied to the industry by their spouses in 2008. In addition, 13 full-voting House members are medical doctors.

Paul Krugman is worried. His blog post this morning in The Conscience of a Liberal, was titled, Obama messes up on healthcare, big time. Krugman's take home message,  you and I will have to drag healthcare reform over the finish line, or it will die an ignoble death.

My big fear about Obama has always been not that he doesn't understand the issues, but that his urge to compromise — his vision of himself as a politician who transcends the old partisan divisions — will lead him to negotiate with himself, and give away far too much. He did that on the stimulus bill, where he offered an inadequate plan in order to win bipartisan support, then got nothing in return — and was forced to reduce the plan further so that Susan Collins could claim her pound of flesh.

. . . Maybe there's a way to recover from this. But it's up to the health reform activists to stiffen the administration's spine. Obama may be satisfied with "broad parameters" — but the rest of us aren't, and have to make that known.

I don't blame Krugman for be scared--and angry.

Employer Requirement Under Consideration For Senate Finance Committee Health Bill Could Discourage Hiring of Low-Income, Minority, Disabled Workers

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

by Judith Solomon and Robert Greenstein

"While an employer responsibility requirement is an essential component of health care reform, a proposal that the Senate Finance Committee and the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee are considering for the forthcoming health legislation is flawed and would have serious unintended consequences, particularly for low-income and minority workers and workers with disabilities."

http://www.cbpp.org/files/6-24-09health.pdf  3pp.

Beck falsely claimed "bean head" Paul Krugman "missed" the housing bubble

Media Matters for America


During the June 23 edition of his Fox News program, Glenn Beck falsely claimed that Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman is one of "at least a dozen of the same economic bean heads who missed the industry's $8 trillion housing bubble." In fact, Krugman began "getting worried" about a "real estate bubble" as early as 2002, when he wrote in his New York Times column:

More and more people are using the B-word about the housing market. A recent analysis by Dean Baker, of the Center for Economic Policy Research, makes a particularly compelling case for a housing bubble. House prices have run well ahead of rents, suggesting that people are now buying houses for speculation rather than merely for shelter. And the explanations one hears for those high prices sound more and more like the rationalizations one heard for Nasdaq 5,000.

Moreover, Krugman wrote in May 2005 that "America's housing market, like the stock market at the end of the last decade, is approaching the final, feverish stages of a speculative bubble":

But although the housing boom has lasted longer than anyone could have imagined, the economy would still be in big trouble if it came to an end. That is, if the hectic pace of home construction were to cool, and consumers were to stop borrowing against their houses, the economy would slow down sharply. If housing prices actually started falling, we'd be looking at a very nasty scene, in which both construction and consumer spending would plunge, pushing the economy right back into recession.

That's why it's so ominous to see signs that America's housing market, like the stock market at the end of the last decade, is approaching the final, feverish stages of a speculative bubble.

Some analysts still insist that housing prices aren't out of line. But someone will always come up with reasons why seemingly absurd asset prices make sense. Remember "Dow 36,000"?

Also, in August 2005, Krugman noted that "it's an economy driven by real estate" and that "given current prices and our dependence on foreign lenders, houses aren't safe at all":

So it's an economy driven by real estate. What's wrong with that?

One answer is that it has been a pretty disappointing recovery. Two new reports, one from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and one from the Congressional Budget Office, compare the current economic expansion with other postwar recoveries. By any measure except corporate profits, which have done very well, this one comes up short.

Even the good months would have been considered subpar in the past: the administration hailed last month's job growth as something wondrous to behold, yet there were 68 months during the Clinton years when employment grew faster.

Still, the economy is expanding. But because that expansion depends so much on real estate -- without the housing boom, the economic picture would look dismal indeed -- you have to wonder how much to trust it.

I've written before about the reasons to believe that current house prices in much of the country represent a bubble. When that bubble begins to deflate, so will housing-related employment.

Beyond that, there's the disturbing point that we're paying for the housing boom (and the military buildup and tax cuts) with money borrowed from foreigners.

Now, any economics textbook will tell you that it's fine to borrow from abroad if the money is used to expand the economy's productive capacity. When 19th-century America borrowed from Europe to build railroads, it was also enhancing its ability to repay its debts later. But we aren't borrowing to build productive capacity. As a share of G.D.P., investment other than housing construction is below its average between 1980 and 2000, and way below its level at the end of the 1990's.

In other words, a fuller answer to my former neighbor would be that these days, Americans make a living selling each other houses, paid for with money borrowed from the Chinese. Somehow, that doesn't seem like a sustainable lifestyle.

How solid, then, is America's economic recovery? The British have a phrase that applies: "safe as houses." Our economy is as safe as houses. Unfortunately, given current prices and our dependence on foreign lenders, houses aren't safe at all.

From the June 23 edition of Fox News' Glenn Beck:

BECK: Is there any wonder why 52 percent of Americans say the stimulus is working? Fifty-two percent, that's down 7 percent in two months. Confidence in the Midwest is dropping faster than any place else.

If you look at Elkhart, Indiana, this -- I love this -- this is the R.V. capital of the world, where Mr. Green -- Mr. Clean Energy, Barack Obama, launches the stimulus program at the R.V. capital of the world.

The unemployment rate is 19.2 percent now, and that's not the worst place in America. And yet, at least a dozen of the same economic bean heads who missed the industry's $8 trillion housing bubble -- yeah, those guys -- including our best bud, the 2008 Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman -- they're now calling for a third stimulus.

Why are we listening to these crowds? I mean, most of them didn't get into specifics, but former Clinton treasury official Brad DeLong suggested guarantee all of the states' debt, all of them, all 50 states, just take that and just guarantee it. And, why don't you throw -- let it -- let it ride, put another $500 billion in aid on top.

Let me ask you something. We have survived worse, but we haven't had our event yet. How do we survive this with our parents? You think America's family is going to survive? The answer is yes -- but in what condition? We're all going to be living under a bridge soon, fending off bums with a beer bottle.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Rep. Neugebauer: ‘I Don’t Know’ If Obama Is A Citizen from Think Progress

Rep. Bill Posey's (R-FL) bill aimed at casting doubt over the citizenship status of President Obama appears to be gaining momentum within the Republican Party. The bill would require candidates for President to supply their birth certificates to the Federal Elections Commission to be eligible to run. Placating fringe elements of the right-wing movement who refuse to believe that President Obama was born in America, Posey himself has refused to say if he believes that the President was born in Hawaii.

Though initially it appeared he had little support, Posey eventually gained Rep. John Culberson (R-TX), Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-TX), Rep. Robert Goodlatte (R-VA), and Rep. John Carter (R-TX) as cosponsors. Last week, Rep. John Campbell (R-CA) also signed on as a sponsor of the bill, while Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) said that he would support the bill if it reaches the Senate.

Speaking to the Texas-based Chad Hasty radio show yesterday, Neugebauer explained his support for the "birther" movement:

Q: So you believe the President is a US citizen?

NEUGEBAUER: You know I don't know. I've never seen him produce documents that would say one way or another.

Listen here:


Of course, Obama was born in America and his birth certificate is widely available on the Internet. In response to an avalanche of conspiracy theories fabricated largely by Fox News and various right-wing media outlets, FactCheck.org has extensively researched the issue and provided Obama's birth announcement in the Honolulu Advertiser, a copy of the certificate with a raised seal, and the stamp of Hawaii state registrar Alvin T. Onaka.

But the truth has not deterred radicals like Posey and Neugebauer from attempting to cast Obama as some sort of illegitimate foreigner. World Net Daily, a conservative site highly supportive of Posey's efforts, has begun fund raising to place billboards around the country questioning Obama's citizenship.

Posey claims other congressmen have wished him "good luck" with his legislation, but have yet to sign on.

Need a side-by-side comparison of health care plans? from Congress Matters


There's a remarkable (or at least remarkable-looking) tool put out by the Kaiser Family Foundation that lets you generate and look over side-by-side, section-by-section comparisons of the various health care plans floating around out there. And not just the House plan and the Senate HELP plan, either. This one has Wyden/Bennett, Coburn/Burr, and others from Bernie Sanders, Pete Stark, John Dingell and more. Plus it lets you choose the topic areas for comparison of specific sections.

I haven't test-driven it yet, but you might want to. Check it out for yourselves here. And be sure to let us know if you discover any hidden gems.

Is Republican Joe Barton Coming Around While Democratic Insurance Industry Shill Max Baucus Is Still Sabotaging Health Care Reform? from DownWithTyranny!


A primary theme at DWT since we started has been to point out the unrelenting flood of conflicts of interest between members of Congress and corporate special interests. The disparity between the 70-80% of Americans wanting real health care reform and a huge herd of Lords and Ladies in the Upper Chamber dragging their asses has become a theme wherever the Medical-Industrial Complex isn't calling the shots. So forget about seeing much about it on TV, but Krugman was all over it yesterday, first in his column in the Times and then on his blog, where he links to Digby. And yesterday the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation examined the relationship between Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, who is committed to wrecking effective health care reform, and the Health Care Lobbyist Complex. Click on the image above to enlarge it.

It's unlikely that Republican Joe Barton (R-TX) would ever vote in favor of substantive health care reform but in today's hearings on Insurance Industry policies, even Barton-- following up on Bart Stupak's questions from last week regarding recession of policies-- was revolted by the blatantly anti-human policies of the insurance companies. Please watch this:


My heart isn't going out for the crooks who run the nation's insurance companies as they come to grips with the fact that, if given the opportunity, over 100 million Americans would immediately cease ever doing business with them again. A Republican Party propaganda sheet ran their tale of woe today about how a public option will have "devastating consequences" for them. If none of them are arrested and tried, they should count themselves lucky. Please don't forget to chip in to the Blue America Campaign for Health Care Choice. Digby and John Amato are working with Brave New Films today, shooting the commercials.

Nixon’s Stance on Abortion from mental_floss Blog


nixonWhether you love him or hate him, Richard Nixon is easily one of the most complex and fascinating characters we seem to tackle. In the magazine, we've talked about how he created the EPA, how he was responsible for a six-fold increase in the National Endowment in the Arts, his funding of methadone clinics as a means of helping to reduce crime (it seemed to have worked), his Quakerism and his engagement with China.

Of course, we've also talked about hatred for soups (he banned them at the White House), that whole Watergate debacle, and his completely pathetic style of dating (he asked his wife Pat to marry him on their first date, and when she said no, he drove her around on dates with other men just to spend a little more time with her.) Also, he was kind of a racist.

Today, the NY Times is reporting that the newly released Nixon tapes showcase his "ambivalent" stance on abortion after the Roe v Wade Supreme Court ruling. Part of the reason he didn't make a public statement about the case was because he was in two minds about it: 

"Nixon worried that greater access to abortions would foster "permissiveness," and said that "it breaks the family." But he also saw a need for abortion in some cases, such as interracial pregnancies.

"There are times when an abortion is necessary. I know that. When you have a black and a white," he told an aide, before adding: "Or a rape.""

I have no interest in fanning an abortion discussion on the blog (we just put out the a-political, feel good issue of the year, after all!), but I did think this was helpful in getting a little more insight into his complex mind.  Thanks Lizzie!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Amid Push for Regulation, Hedge Funds Spend Big on Lobbying from Capital Eye

As the White House and Congress propose new financial regulations in the wake of the recession, the hedge fund industry is stepping up its lobbying efforts. This morning's Wall Street Journal (subscription only) cites CRP data detailing hedge funds' political spending this year--$1.6 million in the 1st Quarter of 2009 on lobbying--as pro-regulation Democrats have assumed control over both Congress and the White House. However, despite what the article calls the industry's "increased profile," this total actually represents a decrease of 4 percent from the same point last year, according to the story.  

While hedge funds spent less than $1 million per year from 2003 to 2006, they shelled out $4.2 million and $6.1 million over the last two years, respectively, when they faced a bill that would increase taxes on hedge fund managers. Meanwhile, the lobbying expenditures of the overall financial services industry increased by only 38 percent between 2006 and 2008. Prior to 2007, the industry had not been a major big political player.

The Managed Funds Association (MFA), a trade group that bills itself as the "global voice of the alternative investment industry," has already spent $750,000 on lobbying. The group has retained a stable of white-shoe lobby shops such as Patton Boggs, which has been Washington's highest-earning firm each year since 2003. MFA has paid Patton Boggs $1 million over the past two years--$960,000 in 2008 and $40,000 so far this year.

Although the GOP may be perceived as more business-friendly, hedge funds have rewarded Democrats with campaign contributions since 1999. During the 2008 cycle, hedge funds gave Democrats $10.9 million, and Republicans $5.8 million. The quickening pace of reform this year has not derailed this trend. The entire industry has already donated $422,000 this year, and 69 percent of this total has gone to Democrats. MFA ranks second behind HBK Capital Management in terms of contributions.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is the leading recipient of hedge fund cash so far this cycle. New York's two Democratic senators, Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, rank second and third. Last cycle, then-Sen.Obama hauled in $1.3 million from the industry, more than double the receipts of his opponent, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

Democrats in both houses of Congress are being tested by the White House's plans to overhaul Wall Street. Today's Politico profiles five Democratic legislators who have critiqued elements of the Obama administration's reforms. The group includes Rep. Melissa Bean (D-Ill.), Rep. Walt Minnick (D-Idaho.), Rep. Michael McMahon (D-N.Y.), Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), and Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.). The securities and investment industry ranks at least third in terms of all-time donations for each lawmaker, except McMahon.

Spreading the Wealth Around to the Insurance Industry and Friends from Truthout - All Articles

(Photo: Elpis Nadya / Flickr)

    This is the time when the excrement starts hitting the fan. The lobbyists are in overdrive, rounding up members of Congress just like the cowboys of the Old West would bring in the herd.

    The industry groups will also have their friends in the news media working overtime hyping any possible obstacle to health care reform. And they are filling the airwaves with scary ads, warning that people will never be able to see a doctor again if meaningful health care reform passes.

    Since there are trillions of dollars at stake, the effort is understandable. The basic story is simple. The insurance, pharmaceutical and medical supply industries, along with the hospitals and the American Medical Association, have rigged the deck so that they get rich at the public's expense. They have structured our health care system so that we pay more than twice as much per person as people in other wealthy countries, even though we get worse care by many measures.

    The bloat in the health care sector is projected to grow rapidly over the next decade as health care consumes an ever larger share of the economy. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) reports that just the increase in health care spending share of the economy over the next decade will cost us $4.3 trillion. That is equal to a health care tax of $57,000 for an average family of four.

    Who benefits from the taxpayers generosity? CMS projects that $1.4 trillion, or $18,500 per family will go to the hospitals. Doctors and the pharmaceutical companies are each expected to score about $550 billion, costing families $7,300. And the insurance industry's share of GDP is projected to rise by $360 billion, or $4,800 for an average family.

    These massive transfers are not the result of the wonders of the free market. These folks are getting money out of our pockets because their friends in Congress have rigged the deck so the money flows from us to them. For example, the government grants the pharmaceutical industry patent monopolies that prevent normal competition in the prescription drug market.

    Unlike every other country in the world, the United States lets the drug companies use their government-granted monopolies to charge whatever they want. As a result, we pay nearly twice as much for our prescription drugs as people in countries like Canada and Germany.

    Similarly, doctors are able to tightly control the supply of both US trained physicians and the number of doctors that can enter the country from abroad. If custodians had the same control over the labor market for janitors, they would all be making $80,000 a year. We pay close to twice as much for our doctors as people in other wealthy countries. The gap is especially wide for highly paid specialists like neurosurgeons and cardiologists.

    Of course, the insurance industry is a total mess. They pocket more than 15 cents for every dollar they pay out to providers. By comparison, the administrative costs of Medicare are less than 2 percent of its revenue. If the insurers ever had to compete with a publicly run insurance plan on a level playing field, they would be blown out of the water.

    We know that private insurers can't compete because we already had this experiment with the Medicare program. When private insurers had to compete on a level playing field with the traditional government-run plan they were almost driven from the market. That is why they got their friends in Congress to pass Medicare Advantage. This program spreads the wealth around by giving the private insurers a subsidy of more than 11 percent per patient.
As Congress debates health care reform, we should be very clear what is going on. It is easy to devise reforms that will reduce costs without jeopardizing the quality of care.

    That is not the fight. The fight is over whether Congress will leave in place structures that will siphon an ever-larger amount of money out of taxpayers' pockets and put this money in the hands of the insurance industry, the hospitals, the drug companies and the doctors.

    Getting a robust public plan, that both individuals and employers can buy into, will be the key indicator of whether Congress is still determined to redistribute income into the hands of the insurers, the drug companies and the rest. A robust Medicare-type plan will not only reduce the insurance industry's tax on our health care, it will also be able to bargain for lower prices from the drug companies, the medical supply companies, and other health care providers.

    For this reason, most of the industry is united against any sort of serious public plan. Their latest compromise is a system of small cooperative insurers that will have no bargaining power. That's a cute joke, but it has nothing to do with health care reform.

    So, keep hold of your scorecard. Unless Congress creates a serious public plan, you can expect to be hit with the largest tax increase in the history of the world - all of it going into the pockets of the health care industry.


Dean Baker is the Co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. CEPR's Jobs Byte is published each month upon release of the Bureau of Labor Statistics' employment report.