Thursday, September 17, 2009
With the Iraq war spinning out of control in mid-2005, retired Marine Gen. James L. Jones spoke with his old friend Peter Pace, the incoming chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Jones, who is now Barack Obama's national security advisor, had been sounded out for the Joint Chiefs job but demurred. One reason: He felt that civilian leaders in Washington were warping the military planning process. "Military advice is being influenced on a political level," Jones warned Pace, according to Bob Woodward's book State of Denial. Jones's warning squared with other reports at the time that U.S. commanders in Iraq felt pressure to keep troop levels low. Faced with a growing Democratic onslaught, the Bush White House was all too determined to pretend that the war was under control.
Four years later, Jones visited U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan. As it happened, Jones was joined on his trip by Woodward, who reported in The Washington Post on July 1 that Jones had warned the commanders against requesting more manpower in the wake of President Obama's approval earlier this year of 21,000 more troops. According to Woodward, Jones cautioned that Obama would have a "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot" — or WTF (as in, "What the f—?")–moment were he to get such a request anytime soon. Jones was even more explicit in an interview with the McClatchy news service. When Obama originally increased troop levels, Jones said, military leaders had agreed that "there would be a year from the time the decision was made before they would ever come back and ask for any more."
Although other officials quickly disavowed Jones's remarks, it was clear that Jones had committed much the same sin that drove his disgust toward the Bushies. "There is pressure being brought to bear on generals," says a congressional aide who closely tracks Afghanistan policy. And, with the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan reportedly gearing up to request tens of thousands more troops this fall, it was an early sign that the Obama administration could fall prey to some of the politically driven mistakes that helped turn the Iraq war into a fiasco. Indeed, that's why recent commentary warning that Afghanistan could be to Obama what Vietnam was to Lyndon B. Johnson — a foreign quagmire that smothers a Democratic president's ambitious social agenda — may miss the point. The real danger for Barack Obama is not that he will follow in the footsteps of LBJ. It is that he will repeat the errors of George W. Bush.
A citizens health insurance reform alliance
formed to promote the successful passage of:
People often ask "I'm just one person, how can I possibly make a difference?"
If you're one of those people, here's your answer...
There is now a bill in Congress, H.R. 676 that offers a new and exciting way for you and your fellow citizens to work together and help make the dream of affordable health insurance for every American a reality. According to the World Health Organization, the US is ranked 37th in the world in providing adequate health care services to its citizens. Most Americans would agree that this is simply not acceptable and has to change. Our plan is a very simple one. Raise money to fund a massive and professionally produced advertising and public relations outreach, everything from full-page newspaper ads to prime time TV and radio spots. Advertising and modern public relations are some of the most powerful forces for behavior change ever devised and we will use it to it's full effect to promote this bill. This massive and ongoing ad campaign will be focused on one primary objective; to make every citizen in America aware of the tremendous benefits of this bill and encourage them to make their representatives in Congress aware of their desire to see this measure become the law of the land. We are starting off by asking every person interested in supporting this cause to contribute .99 cents per month in the form of a single annual donation of $10.98 (one month free).
Our goal is to eventually sign-up one million members. If you will sign-up today and then encourage two friends to do the same, and so-on, and so-on, we will reach our goal with room to spare. This will give us a million dollar plus per month promotion and advertising budget which will make you and us a tremendously powerful force for health care reform in the United States of America!! Nothing like this has ever been done before on this scale and its success will surely signal a fundamental change in the ability of grass roots public involvement in politics to have a real and significant impact. Please help if you can.
Tell me a little bit about H.R. 676...
The opponents of national health care, mostly those who are badly misinformed or paid agents of big corporations that are now making huge profits off of the current system by denying needed care to millions, will try to scare you by calling it "socialized medicine". You're going to hear that a lot in the coming months but don't be fooled; nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, the goal of this program is simply to create a fair and equitable single payer health care plan that all Americans can afford and benefit from while leaving most of the existing structure of practicing health care professionals and facilities completely alone. You choose your doctors, your hospitals and need no permission from anyone to go see them whenever necessary. No exclusions, no pre-existing conditions, no denied claims, just top rate, affordable, professional care for you and your family including prescription drugs, mental health AND dental services in addition to long term care, whenever you need it.
Why should I support HR676.org?
There are a lot of organizations out there today that are in favor of national health insurance. You probably haven't heard about too many of them even though some do have really great web sites with a lot of information on them. The problem is that few of them have any real plan of action designed to actually make national health insurance a reality. Talking about the problem is a very good thing, but we simply feel that talking just isn't enough. Ours is a totally unique approach in that regard because our intention is to actively work towards changing the landscape in America by fundamentally altering the current health insurance scene from one dominated by large for-profit corporations whose primary goal is to serve the needs of their investors and are content to leave millions behind to one controlled by a much more fair and equitable system whose primary responsibility will be to promote and protect the health of every American leaving none behind. Simply put we believe that our approach will make it possible to actually achieve this goal; a goal that has eluded us for so long. The basic premise is that if left to the existing political system, achieving the goal of creating a national health insurance system will never be possible. Why do we feel this way? The reasons are clear...
The concept of national health insurance for all citizens has been on the table since the Truman era back in the 1950's. Our politicians have had over half a century to work out a plan yet aside from the basic Medicare model, which has recently been so badly watered down by an ultra conservative administration in favor of even more corporate profits, nothing of any kind has been accomplished. In the meantime every other modern industrialized country in the world has passed us by and managed to find a way to do it. Why not us? Well, for one thing, the huge and powerful health insurance industry in this country has spent so much money on lobbying and contributing to the campaigns of so many politicians that they pretty much own and control the political process insofar as health insurance issues are concerned. Quite frankly, their main purpose is to make sure that things remain pretty much as they are regardless of how many people are left without any real access to the medical care system. Quite frankly there is no moral argument strong enough to make them voluntarily give up their death grip on the system. Consequently, another way must be found. That way is to directly organize and focus the will of the people themselves to help bring about the needed changes. That's where HR676.org, Inc. comes in and the vehicle we intend to use to make this happen is a massive, professional, ongoing nationwide advertising campaign financed by public contributions, a campaign that will focus on educating the public as to the benefits of national health insurance for all and stirring them into action.
DHARAMSHALA, India Tibetan prime minister-in-exile Samdhong Rinpoche on Tuesday accused the United States and other Western nations of appeasing China in regard to the mountain territory.
Every US president since George H.W. Bush in 1991 has met the Dalai Lama, who enjoys a wide US following. The Nobel Peace Prize winner was reportedly hoping to see Obama in the United States.
"A lot of nations are adopting a policy of appeasement," Rinpoche told a group of journalists late Tuesday.
He was speaking in the northern Indian hill town of Dharamshala, which has been home to the government-in-exile since the Dalai Lama fled to India 50 years ago after China crushed an uprising in Tibet.
"Even the US government is doing some kind of appeasement," Rinpoche said.
"Today, economic interests are much greater than other interests," Rinpoche went on to say.
Analysts say a meeting between Obama and the Dalai Lama before the US president's maiden trip to Beijing in November would be sure to spark an angry response from China.
It would potentially undermine Obama's hopes of building stronger ties with China, they say.
On Monday, the Dalai Lama's office said in a statement the spiritual leader was "looking forward to meeting President Obama after his visit to China".
The statement came after a US delegation visited the Dalai Lama in Dharamshala on Monday to brief him about US policy on Tibet.
The US team, led by White House adviser Valerie Jarrett, was the most senior group of American officials to travel to Dharamshala since March 2008, when Tibet was swept by a wave of unrest.
China considers the Dalai Lama a "splittist," despite his calls for autonomy rather than independence for Tibet, and has stepped up pressure on world leaders, including Obama, not to meet him.
By examining more than 3 million variants of DNA in 269 people, researchers identified about 1,800 genes that have been widely adopted in relatively recent times because they offer some evolutionary benefit.
Until recently, anthropologists believed that evolutionary pressure on humans eased after the transition to a more stable agrarian lifestyle. But in the last few years, they realized the opposite was true -- diseases swept through societies in which large groups lived in close quarters for a long time.
Altogether, the recent genetic changes account for 7% of the human genome, according to the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The advantage of all but about 100 of the genes remains a mystery, said University of Wisconsin-Madison anthropologist John Hawks, who led the study. But the research team was able to conclude that infectious diseases and the introduction of new foods were the primary reasons that some genes swept through populations with such speed.
"If there were not a mismatch between the population and the environment, there wouldn't be any selection," Hawks said. "Dietary changes, disease changes -- those create circumstances where selection can happen."
One of the most famous examples is the spread of a gene that allows adults to digest milk.
Though children were able to drink milk, they typically developed lactose intolerance as they grew up. But after cattle and goats were domesticated in Europe and yaks and mares were domesticated in Asia, adults with a mutation that allowed them to digest milk had a nutritional advantage over those without.
As a result, they were more likely to have healthy offspring, prompting the mutation to spread, Hawks said.
The mechanism also explains why genetic resistance to malaria has spread among Africans -- who live where disease-carrying mosquitoes are prevalent -- but not among Europeans or Asians.
by David Bacon
People have spent their lives in the NUMMI plant in Fremont, probably more time with the compressed-air tools at their workstations than with their families at home. The plant is like a city, thousands of jobs and thousands of people working in a complicated dance where each one's contribution makes possible that of the next person down the line. And like a city, it supports the people who work in it.
A NUMMI job brings the paycheck that pays the mortgage and the (now astronomical) tuition for kids in college. A NUMMI job makes possible the friendships that grow over years laboring in the same workplace. Working at NUMMI means being part of the union, with all the frustrations and infighting, but also the ability to pull together to get the contract that makes an industrial job bearable, and ensures that a kid's visit to a doctor or dentist doesn't bottom out the family bank account.
General Motors used to run this plant by itself, back in the '60s and '70s, when it was GM Fremont. It was a feisty plant with a feisty union, and a linchpin for years in the movement to stop concessions in union bargaining. When GM closed the plant the first time, in the early '80s, many thought it was revenge. Afterwards, autoworkers from Fremont became migrants. Many lived a lonely existence in motels in Oklahoma City or Texas, trying to hold onto seniority in a union auto job, sending money back home to families in California. Others lost their homes, and worse. In the wave of plant closures of the early 1980s, the Department of Commerce even kept a statistic of how many people committed suicide for every thousand who lost jobs when their plant shut down. No one in Washington has the courage to face that number anymore.
It's finally here, set to go to mark-up next Tuesday. The famous "bipartisan" effort that so far has the support of absolutely no Republicans, including
President Sen. Snowe.
You can read the Chairman's mark here [pdf]. In Finance tradition, the bill is written in narrative form, rather than legislative form. All amendments will also be offered in plain English, and then the plain English mark turned into legislative form.
Start reading, and chronicle the debacle in the comments. Let's start with this one, on page 2 (page 5 of the pdf), where it establishes that older people could be charged 5 times as much as younger people. You're reading that right:
Under the Baucus legislation, private insurers could also charge older individuals up to five times more for coverage. "You're just using age as a proxy for health status," Uwe Reinhardt, an economics professor at Princeton University told the New York Times. Reinhardt estimates that "Senator Baucus's age-rating plan would allow insurers to cover roughly 70 percent of the additional risk they'd take on by being required to accept all comers, regardless of health."
Affordability questions remain paramount throughout the mark, not just for older Americans (over 55, not yet eligble for Medicare). Marcy is doing a fantastic job of breaking down the costs for middle America, and the very real possibility that this bill would make American workers captive to their employers:
The individual definition of affordable uses 10% of Adjusted Gross Income. Whereas the employer's definition of affordable uses 13% of (apparently) total income.
Now, it's a good thing (sort of) that the affordability rate for individuals is 10% of AGI. That means a family would be able to opt out if there were no health care available at even a lower rate than I thought (for example, it might mean a middle class family could opt out if health insurance cost them $6,000 a year, as opposed to $8,000 a year). It's a bad thing, though, because it means MaxTax would be far from universal--a lot of middle class families will pretty much have to opt out because they can't afford coverage.
But if your employer offers health care--even if it covers just 65% of costs--then you can't opt-out unless you're paying out of pocket 13% of your total income!! Oh, and to opt-out you have to go to your manager and tell him or her that you're opting out, which means the employer will be fined; how many people do you think will be fired rather than opt-out?
So far the Baucus debacle is very good for Wal-Mart, very good for AHIP, and not so great for the rest of us.
The co-ops have never been a satisfying alternative to the public option. But the version in Baucus's bill isn't even a satisfying alternative to the co-op option. It's a neutered version of the co-op idea, which was in turn a neutered version of the public option.
The co-ops are on the state level, with each state pretty much required to have one. The 50 co-ops can then band together to leverage their national purchasing power. Sounds good, right? Sort of.
The co-ops can only compete in the small group and individual markets. That is to say, if the co-ops prove effective, and The Washington Post would like to offer co-op coverage as an option to its workers, it can't. The co-ops are not allowed to contract with large employers, which is to say, they can't compete with private insurers in the largest market, and they can't get the purchasing power that would come from a serious foothold among corporate customers.
Not only is their size restricted, so too is what they can do with their size. The co-ops can band together to increase their purchasing power, but they can't set national payment rates for their members, a la Medicare. As I understand it, they have to bargain with each provider and drug manufacturer and hospital and so forth separately, meaning they're denied one of the main advantages of size. The insurance industry is, in other words, being protected from not just public competition, but co-op competition.
WASHINGTONIn what government officials are calling a stirring testament to the leadership and foresight of late U.S. president Ronald Reagan, nearly $20 trillion in low denomination bills were discovered this week buried in the White House Rose Garden.
Sealed in hundreds of old mason jars, crumpled shoe boxes, socks, metal tins, and oven mitts, the financial windfall is believed to have been stashed away by Regan, then 76, during his second term.
"Our economic worries are no more," announced a jubilant Barack Obama, who claimed that the remarkable find would sustain the struggling nation for the next two decades. "Not only did President Reagan manage to anticipate a crippling recession 20 years ahead of time, but it appears he left behind all of the resources we would need to overcome it."
"Everything is here," added Obama, standing among the towering stacks of money, as well as several other items that were uncovered, including three dozen toothbrushes, multiple tire hubcaps, two teddy bears, and a broken desk lamp. "This truly is a tribute to Mr. Reagan's incredible presence of mind."
According to the White House, the surprising discovery was made early Tuesday morning by members of the gardening staff. Less than an hour later, an estimated $19 billion had been dug up from the yard.
While senior officials were initially unsure of where the hoard of valuables had come from, a number of cluesmost notably a framed photo of former first lady Nancy Reagan accompanied by a note which read "Don't be angry with me, Mommy"seemed to point to the 40th president.
Reports from retired Secret Service agents who routinely witnessed a disoriented Reagan sneaking out of the White House late at night, only to return in the early morning hours covered in grass and dirt, also corroborated Tuesday's find.
by David Kramer
The Obama administration supports extending three key provisions of the Patriot Act that are due to expire at the end of the year, the Justice Department told Congress in a letter made public Tuesday.
Lawmakers and civil rights groups had been pressing the Democratic administration to say whether it wants to preserve the post-Sept. 11 law's authority to access business records, as well as monitor so-called "lone wolf" terrorists and conduct roving wiretaps.
As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama said he would take a close look at the law, based on his past expertise in constitutional law. Back in May, President Obama said legal institutions must be updated to deal with the threat of terrorism, but in a way that preserves the rule of law and accountability.
Expanding the Bush war in Afghanistan. Expanding on the Bush corporate welfare bailouts. Keeping in place Bush's Fascist "PATRIOT" law. I just don't know how much more of this Obama "change" I can handle.
Probably the most high-profile eco-city out there is Masdar City, already rising out on the edge of Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. Late last month, according to Architecture and Design, a plan was selected for Masdar's city center.
The plan, by Australia-based firm Lava, contains an interesting solution for moderating Abu Dhabi's harsh desert climate: "solar umbrellas." Supposedly modeled on sunflowers, these strange devices will actually open up during the day (see image above) to collect solar energy and provide shade, and close at night (below).
Masdar is going to be a seriously futuristic place. LAVA's downtown envisions the following list of green features: "adaptive building façades with angles that can be altered to offset or optimise solar glare, materials on wall surfaces that respond to changing temperatures and contain minimal embedded energy, underground water storage, interactive light poles, interactive and heat sensitive technology, as well as roof gardens for food production, energy generation, water efficiency and the reuse of organic food waste."
A new study finds that a majority of physicians support the creation of a public health care option.
Surveying a nationally representative sample of 2,130 physicians across America, researchers Salomeh Keyhani, M.D., M.P.H., and Alex Federman, M.D., M.P.H., from Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City queried physicians about a range of options for expanding health insurance coverage.
"There should be no confusion about where doctors stand in the debate over expanding health insurance coverage: they want reform," said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. "This survey reveals important information about the perspective of physicians on issues central to the health reform debate. Policy makers should listen to their doctors."
The man who saw the meltdown coming had another troubling insight: it will happen again
Since the global financial system started unraveling in dramatic fashion two years ago, distinguished economists have suffered a crisis of their own. Ivy League professors who had trumpeted the dawn of a new era of stability have scrambled to explain how, exactly, the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression had ambushed their entire profession.
"Minsky" was shorthand for Hyman Minsky, a hitherto obscure macroeconomist who died over a decade ago. Many economists had never heard of him when the crisis struck, and he remains a shadowy figure in the profession. But lately he has begun emerging as perhaps the most prescient big-picture thinker about what, exactly, we are going through. A contrarian amid the conformity of postwar America, an expert in the then-unfashionable subfields of finance and crisis, Minsky was one economist who saw what was coming. He predicted, decades ago, almost exactly the kind of meltdown that recently hammered the global economy.
In recent months Minsky's star has only risen. Nobel Prize-winning economists talk about incorporating his insights, and copies of his books are back in print and selling well. He's gone from being a nearly forgotten figure to a key player in the debate over how to fix the financial system.
But if Minsky was as right as he seems to have been, the news is not exactly encouraging. He believed in capitalism, but also believed it had almost a genetic weakness. Modern finance, he argued, was far from the stabilizing force that mainstream economics portrayed: rather, it was a system that created the illusion of stability while simultaneously creating the conditions for an inevitable and dramatic collapse.
In other words, the one person who foresaw the crisis also believed that our whole financial system contains the seeds of its own destruction. "Instability," he wrote, "is an inherent and inescapable flaw of capitalism."