Thursday, September 10, 2009

Sick and Wrong


How Washington is screwing up health care reform – and why it may take a revolt to fix it


Let's start with the obvious: America has not only the worst but the dumbest health care system in the developed world. It's become a black leprosy eating away at the American experiment — a bureaucracy so insipid and mean and illogical that even our darkest criminal minds wouldn't be equal to dreaming it up on purpose.

The system doesn't work for anyone. It cheats patients and leaves them to die, denies insurance to 47 million Americans, forces hospitals to spend billions haggling over claims, and systematically bleeds and harasses doctors with the specter of catastrophic litigation. Even as a mechanism for delivering bonuses to insurance-company fat cats, it's a miserable failure: Greedy insurance bosses who spent a generation denying preventive care to patients now see their profits sapped by millions of customers who enter the system only when they're sick with incurably expensive illnesses.

The cost of all of this to society, in illness and death and lost productivity and a soaring federal deficit and plain old anxiety and anger, is incalculable — and that's the good news. The bad news is our failed health care system won't get fixed, because it exists entirely within the confines of yet another failed system: the political entity known as the United States of America.

Just as we have a medical system that is not really designed to care for the sick, we have a government that is not equipped to fix actual crises. What our government is good at is something else entirely: effecting the appearance of action, while leaving the actual reform behind in a diabolical labyrinth of ingenious legislative maneuvers.

Over the course of this summer, those two failed systems have collided in a spectacular crossroads moment in American history. We have an urgent national emergency on the one hand, and on the other, a comfortable majority of ostensibly simpatico Democrats who were elected by an angry population, in large part, specifically to reform health care. When they all sat down in Washington to tackle the problem, it amounted to a referendum on whether or not we actually have a functioning government.

It's a situation that one would have thought would be sobering enough to snap Congress into real action for once. Instead, they did the exact opposite, doubling down on the same-old, same-old and laboring day and night in the halls of the Capitol to deliver us a tour de force of old thinking and legislative trickery, as if that's what we really wanted. Almost every single one of the main players — from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Blue Dog turncoat Max Baucus — found some unforeseeable, unique-to-them way to fuck this thing up. Even Ted Kennedy, for whom successful health care reform was to be the great vindicating achievement of his career, and Barack Obama, whose entire presidency will likely be judged by this bill, managed to come up small when the lights came on.

We might look back on this summer someday and think of it as the moment when our government lost us for good. It was that bad.

Joe Wilson’s opponent raises $41,000 on ActBlue within hours of Obama’s speech

"You lie!"

The words were shouted during Obama's healthcare speech by South Carolina Congressman Joe Wilson, and progressives were not happy with the disrespect his words showed toward the presidential office.

So they took action, with literally thousands of twitter users linking to the Act Blue fundraising page for Joe Wilson's opponent, Rob Miller.

So how much money have they raised so far? It's now 11 p.m., mere hours after Obama's speech, and so far $11,507 $41,000 has been raised in that short span of time.

Tomorrow morning I'm scheduled to speak with a representative of ActBlue and I'll be able to find out more concrete numbers — where all that traffic was coming from and how quickly the money poured in after the speech.

UPDATE: Less than an hour and a half after I wrote this article, the fundraising numbers are up over $25,000 and climbing.

UPDATE 2: It's 4:06 a.m. and it's up over $41,000

UPDATE 3: I'm told that he has raised somewhere around $100k. I'll get an official number when I speak to the ActBlue spokesman later this morning.

A New Movement: Health Care as a Civil Right

By Dennis Kucinich

Dear Friends,

There is only one true health care public option: Single payer. It covers everyone, all basic health care needs, with doctor of choice. No more premiums, co-pays or deductibles. All health care assets in America would become not-for-profit. The bill already exists. It is HR 676. Congressman John Conyers and I wrote the bill. Our bill has the support of 85 co-sponsors in the House. And it is backed by a growing national movement of labor, doctors, and nurses. The movement needs you. Please join me for tomorrow's national conference call at 10:00pm EDT. Please call toll-free 1-800-230-1096.

The hour has arrived to begin anew the Civil Rights Movement, this time for Health Care for All. I am calling upon you to become a force in this movement. Go to Health Care as A Civil Right at to learn how you can circulate a single-payer petition and organize in your community. Please help fund this effort. Go to now, contribute.

The Preamble to the United States Constitution and Article One, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution both describe an originating purpose of our United States: to promote the general welfare. Health care is a legitimate function of our government. Health care is a basic right in a Democratic society. It is no more a privilege based on ability to pay than is the right to vote, which was once accorded only to property owners.

Health care is also a moral imperative. Forty seven million Americans are uninsured. Fifty million Americans are underinsured. People are losing their homes, their jobs, their life's savings, their retirement security and their financial health because they cannot pay medical bills, and despite this calamity Washington looks another way. We must not avert our eyes to this human suffering and this economic injustice.

Let's prepare a response which Washington will long remember as the time when the people reclaimed their government from the insurance and pharmaceutical companies. Join us. Contribute. Together, we can initiate an action plan to intervene and provide health care for all.
  1. A National Health Care for All Conference Call from Washington, DC, at 10 pm EDT, Thursday, September 10th at 1-800-230-1096. Join us, so that we can discuss our new beginning and ways in which we can all help. Pre-registration is necessary in order to reserve sufficient phone lines. Please RSVP here. When you call in and the operator asks, "what conference call?" tell the operator, "Health Care for All."
  2. On-line petition. Please contact your lists, your family and friends. Please sign the petition for a single payer system. I will deliver the petitions directly to your Congressperson.
  3. Petition to download, print and circulate among friends and neighbors - including an instruction sheet.
  4. Health Care Meet-Ups. Coming Thursday September 10 2009.
  5. Tell A Friend. Every email forwarded will make a difference? Please use the "Forward Email" link below to circulate up to 5 emails at a time to your friends.
I need your help to initiate this action.

Ronald Reagan's Torture

Independent Investigative Journalism Since 1995
Lost amid the attention given George W. Bush's "war on terror" torture policies was the CIA's cryptic admission that it also engaged in interrogation abuses during Ronald Reagan's anti-leftist wars in Central America, another era of torture and extra-judicial killings.

By Robert Parry

The 2004 CIA Inspector General's report, released last month, referenced as "background" to the Bush-era abuses the spy agency's "intermittent involvement in the interrogation of individuals whose interests are opposed to those of the United States." The report noted "a resurgence in interest" in teaching those techniques in the early 1980s "to foster foreign liaison relationships."

The report said, "because of political sensitivities," the CIA's top brass in the 1980s "forbade Agency officers from using the word 'interrogation" and substituted the phrase "human resources exploitation" [HRE] in training programs for allied intelligence agencies.

The euphemism aside,  the reality of these interrogation techniques remained brutal, with the CIA Inspector General conducting a 1984 investigation of alleged "misconduct on the part of two Agency officers who were involved in interrogations and the death of one individual," the report said (although the details were redacted in the version released last month).

In 1984, the CIA also was hit with a scandal over what became known as an "assassination manual" prepared by agency personnel for the Nicaraguan contras, a rebel group sponsored by the Reagan administration with the goal of ousting Nicaragua's leftist Sandinista government.

Despite those two problems, the questionable training programs apparently continued for another two years. The 2004 IG report states that "in 1986, the Agency ended the HRE training program because of allegations of human rights abuses in Latin America."

While the report's references to this earlier era of torture are brief – and the abuses are little-remembered features of Ronald Reagan's glorified presidency – there have been other glimpses into how Reagan unleashed this earlier "dark side" on the peasants, workers and students of Central America.

Punk Rock Opera

Green Day electrifies musical theater at the Berkeley Rep with American Idiot.

The musical American Idiot came about when Tony Award-winning director Michael Mayer casually told an interviewer that he wanted to stage it. Soon he was meeting with Billie Joe Armstrong and the other members of Green Day.

"I mean, I've taken my kid to see The Lion King before," says the mid-thirtysomething, who's been married fifteen years. "And it's like we might as well be going to a Jonas Brothers concert or something."

For a band that's made its millions on speed, pot, masturbation, paranoia, teen angst, and suicide, the world of chorus lines and saccharine, sappy arias just didn't seem to fit. Thanks to Mamma Mia, it doesn't have to.

The rock opera adaptation of Green Day's multiplatinum 2004 smash American Idiot is going to challenge the very definitions of punk, theater, and musical. The 75-plus-minute performance with a cast of 19 tells a Fight Club-esque story of self-discovery through death and destruction, yet it uses no words outside of the lyric content of the album. The hit album is played from beginning to end live by a band (not Green Day) and intercut with B-sides as well as three songs from the band's new album 21st Century Breakdown, including the hit "21 Guns."

After eight albums and almost twenty years together as a band — a near impossible feat these days — Green Day has undertaken its ballsiest and most experimental project yet. Taken with the unprecedented press shine now on the forty-year-old Berkeley Rep, as well as the fact that the project employs dozens of local artists amid a searing arts recession — and this musical might be the most boundary-violating, "punk" thing Green Day has ever done.

The story of trio Billie Joe Armstrong, bassist Mike Dirnt, and drummer Tre Cool has ascended to the status of legend. Emerging from the East Bay's punk rock scene of the early 1990s, they played fast, simple, snarling jams cut with melody and a cleverness that helped them break out from the pop-punk pack at the time. (Blink-182, anybody?) Kerplunk in 1992 and the single "Welcome to Paradise" softened up the beachhead for 1994's major-label debut Dookie on Reprise, which did fifteen million in global sales. Insomniac in 1995, Nimrod in 1997, and Warning in 2000 propelled the band far from the punk rock ghetto and set the stage for 2004's gargantuan American Idiot.

"It was something that I've always wanted to do, hoping that I had the guts to be able to do it," Armstrong said. "You have to take everything you learned and take a huge risk. You just evolve as a person and figure out what's important to you. Being a rock star can be a really positive thing. It just kind of depends on the way you go about it."

Armstrong says Idiot was the band accepting stardom, ditching the shackles of punk's rules and risking everything on a decades-old form, the rock opera. After an aborted attempt to make a more traditional album called Cigarettes and Valentines, Green Day channeled The Wall, Tommy, and maybe a little of the Broadway musical Oliver!

Robert Reich Public Option Video

Money and Health


"Let's face it folks, if health care was manufacturing or Walmart, the jobs and services would already have been outsourced to the cheapest foreign competitor."


    The media tells me that health reform is a very complicated issue, that it is hard to understand and even harder to explain to simple-minded and politically unsophisticated people like me. It is about money and costs and free-market and big government socialists versus real America, or something like that.

    So, I ask: How can the majority of other industrialized nations manage to provide affordable health care to their citizens?

    The fabulous media roll their eyes and show me the following Organization for Economic Development (OECD) report:

    Total health care spending per person as of 2007:

    US: $7,290

    UK: $2,992

    Japan: $2,581

    Canada: $3,895

    France: $3,601

    The average OECD expenditure: $2,964

    Now, this health care spending gives the US a sort of neutral bang-for-the-buck result. We do better in some areas and not so good in others.

    O.K., got it.

    Next question: If other countries spend less than half of what the US spends (on average) with good results, where does all our money go?

    This is where my neat-o media suddenly points across the room at the man jumping up and down about wanting his country back or the lady hollering about the Muslim socialist in the White House. Look, look they say, Jerry Springer politics is so entertaining!

    But I still want to know where all that money goes. Don't you?

    We spend twice the money on health care as most other countries and we are supposed to just accept this as the cost of a free market, the price of being American? Let's face it folks, if health care was manufacturing or Walmart, the jobs and services would already have been outsourced to the cheapest foreign competitor.

    I'm not a journalist or a particularly educated guy, but golly, gee whiz Batman, it seems to me that somebody is getting ripped off here - and that somebody is, us.

    Here's more figures I hear tossed around without examination: The administrative costs of Medicare run about 3 percent while the corporate health insurance industry administrative costs hover at 30 percent.

    How can that be? I thought the government was really bad at managing anything while private enterprise is expert at cost containment. But the businessmen require ten times as much overhead costs as big government politicians?

    Whatever happened to the old adage "follow the money?" Who in our media or journalist-pundit class is willing to give up the ratings gold of raucous town hall meetings to investigate where our money is going?

    How much of that $7,290 per person in the US goes to exorbitant CEO salaries? How much goes to lobbyist funding to deregulate the insurance industry? How much is waste and fraud? How much of that money is actual medical treatment?

    This is America, the greatest nation with the best health care in the world. I know, because my TV tells me so. But something is not right here. Something is off.

Advocacy Group Shows Their Disgust as Malaysian Cannabis Trafficker Sentenced to Death
By Alun Buffry
ImageMembers of the UK campaigning group The Legalise Cannabis Alliance (LCA) expressed outrage on reading that the sentence of death by hanging has been given on a 24-year-old man for just over half a kilo of the plant. Image Alun Buffry, a spokesperson for the Alliance, said "Today I read about a self-confessed supplier to be hanged for about 650 grams of cannabis.
"Lim Kok Yong, 24, is to be hung by the neck in agony until he dies, for under 650 grams of cannabis plant material. "Cannabis is a plant that grows both wild and cultivated around the world, and the very vast majority of the half a billion users (as estimated by World Health Organisation) claim to benefit from it.
"The plant has many uses - as well as easing the symptoms of some dreadful ailments - it can be used to produce environmentally safe fuels, foods, fibre for building materials, papers and clothing, and oil for lubrication and light.
"In this the 21st century, it is indeed sad to read that Malaysia, a developed country of world-wide importance, still adopts such an unjust sentencing policy, whilst countries like Portugal, Argentina
and Mexico have recently decriminalised cannabis possession, and for over 30 years The Netherlands have operated a highly successful system of allowing "Coffeeshop" to sell cannabis in limited amounts to adults, and patients can get the plant through their doctors.
"I urge the Malaysian Government to step in and save this man's life."
The LCA are urging people to write to the newspaper editor and also Malaysian Embassies around the world.
"PLEASE send a comment to the Editor expressing your outrage - mark the subject Letter to the Editor and quote the headline (above) and date (Sept 2nd) and send your email to
"This is a start - just imagine if they get thousands of letters of outrage - they would be bound to print an article - then maybe we can target our outrage at the Government and Embassies of Malaysia - this can save lives"
Tyre Shop Assistant To Hang For Trafficking Cannabis

Tyranny! Tyranny! Everywhere!

GOP lawmaker 'protecting' Georgians from non-existent threat

by Stephen C. Webster

Georgia State Senator Judson Hill and his fellow Republicans are so determined to fight health insurance reform that they are promoting a bill in the state's legislature which would prohibit the federal government from enforcing pending reforms on insurers in the state.

Hill is doing this, he told Fox News on Sunday, to "protect the fundamental rights and freedoms of all Georgians to be able to choose a health care provider, if they want, or choose their own health insurance plan."

He added: "We don't want a one-size-fits-all government plan thrust down our throat and to be penalized or forced or to have it forced upon us."

While that may indeed be the target of the Georgia legislation, it is deceptive on its face. Nothing of the sort has been proposed by the Obama administration or congressional Democrats.

A public insurance option is just that: an option, intended to be used by those who have none. Other reforms proposed would limit an insurer's ability to deny coverage to those with pre-existing conditions, along with requirements for continued coverage if an insured person becomes ill.

Hill's argument is like insisting upon changing a state's laws to prohibit funding for public transportation -- such as light rail or buses -- because of a far-flung fear that one day it could mean everyone will be forced to give up their cars.

“Good Billions After Bad”–One Year After Wall Street Bailout, Pulitzer Winners Barlett and Steele Investigate Where All the Money Went

It's been exactly one year since the onset of the financial crisis and the passage of the Bush administration's $700 billion dollar bailout of Wall Street. The bailout marked the single largest financial intervention by the Treasury into the banking system in American history.

But what were the factors in deciding who received bailout funds? And what happened to all the money? The answer to those two simple questions is: We don't know.

In a new article in Vanity Fair, the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative team Donald Barlett and James Steele try to find an answer. Poring over bank records and Securities and Exchange Commission filings, Barlett and Steele recreate what happened in late 2008, when the Bush Treasury Department, led by former Goldman Sachs CEO Henry Paulson, sought to prevent a complete Wall Street meltdown by pouring billions into the banking system.

The problem is, they write, "once the money left the building, the government lost all track of it…It was hard to escape the feeling that the real strategy was less than scientific—amounting to a hope that if a massive pile of money was simply thrown at the economy, some of it would surely do something useful."

Latest image from the Refurbished Hubble

A Radical Solution to End the Drug War: Legalize Everything

One cop straight out of The Wire crunches the numbers with's political columnist to discover that America's prohibition of narcotics may be costing more lives than Mexico's — and nearly enough dollars for universal health care. So why not repeal our drug laws? Because cops are making money off them, too.

By John H. Richardson

Neill FranklinWe've heard a lot about the terrible death toll Mexico has suffered during the drug war — over 11,000 souls so far. This helps to account for the startling lack of controversy that greeted last week's news that Mexico had suddenly decriminalized drugs — not just marijuana but also cocaine, LSD, and heroin. In place of the outrage and threats that U.S. officials expressed when Mexico tried to decriminalize in 2006 was a mild statement, from our new drug czar, that we are going to take a "wait and see" approach.

Still, we've heard nothing about the American death toll. Isn't that strange? So far as I can tell, nobody has even tried to come up with a number.

Until now. I've done some rough math, and this is what I found:


To repeat, that's 6,487 dead Americans. Throw in overdoses and the cost of this country's paralyzing drug laws is closer to 15,000 lives.

I'm basing these numbers on an interview with a high-ranking former narcotics officer named Neill Franklin. A member of the Maryland State Police for 32 years, Franklin eventually rose to the position of commander in Maryland's Bureau of Drug Enforcement. As he puts it, he was a classic "good soldier" in the drug war.

Franklin's turning point came in October of 2000. "I lost a very, very close friend of mine, a narcotics agent for Maryland State Police," he says. "His name was Ed Toatley. He was assassinated outside of Washington, D.C., trying to make a drug deal in a park. He had a wife, he had three kids. I had just spoken to him a couple of weeks prior to him getting assigned to this particular deal — he was finally going to bring this guy down, and lo and behold the guy kills him."

That got Franklin thinking. "I started doing the research and asking the questions: What progress are we making on this thing? And it turns out that not only are we losing kids who are in the game, but we are losing communities and fellow cops. We had lost a number of police officers in Baltimore alone."

Another turning point was 2002, when Angela Dawson and her five kids were murdered in East Baltimore by drug dealers she had been tying to keep from doing business in front of her house. "They fire-bombed the house late one night and the whole family perished," Franklin remembers.

So he started brooding on the drug war's body count. "Baltimore is a city of just a hair over 600,000 people. Our annual homicide rate was fluctuating between 240 and 300 every year for decades. Think about that: 240 to 300 homicides annually, and 75 percent to 80 percent are drug related. It's either gangs that are using drugs to support operations, or territorial disputes among drug dealers, or people just getting caught in the line of fire. And Baltimore is a small city compared to others," Franklin notes. "So we're not talking a handful of homicides; we're talking about the majority of the homicides in any city in the U.S. So if you add those cities up — just lowball it, take just 50 percent — I guarantee you, you'll find the numbers are quite similar to what they have in Mexico."

I took his advice. In 2007, the last year for which hard numbers are available, 16,425 people were murdered. Since our most recent Census said that 79 percent of the country is urban, I cut out the rural Americans — although there's plenty of drug use there, too — and came up with 12,975 urban homicides. Low-balling that number at 50 percent, I arrived at a rough estimate of 6,487 drug deaths. Using 75 percent, the toll rises to 9,731.

"And now we've got the cartel gangs coming up from Mexico," Franklin reminds me. "They're in over 130 cities in the U.S. already, and it's not going to get better."

Why Regulating Legal Drugs Fixes the Dead-Body Problem

Neill Franklin's solution is radical: "You have to take the money out of it. Many people talk about legalization and decriminalize — it's still illegal, but you're just not sending as many people to jail, especially for the nonviolent offenses. However, the money is still being made in the illegal sales, so you still have the drug wars. It's prohibition that's killing our people. That's why people are dying."

"So," I ask, "you want to legalize everything?"

"Yes. But I like to put it like this: I want regulation of everything. Because right now, I think they're confusing prohibition with regulation. What I'm talking about is applying standards — quality control, just like alcohol. We should have learned our lesson during alcohol prohibitions — we repealed the Eighteenth Amendment and applied standards of sale and manufacture, so it has to be a certain quality and you can't sell it to just anybody, and you still go to jail if you sell it to the wrong people. So, among other things, you'll also reduce overdoses — the majority of the overdoses we have is people who don't know what they're getting or buying because the purity level fluctuates. In addition, people are afraid to get help because they don't want to go jail, so they let their friends die."

So let's add overdoses to our death toll. In 2005, recent Senate testimony shows, 22,400 Americans died of drug overdoses. Leaving aside prescription drugs and counting only the 39 percent of overdoses attributed to cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamines, I count another 8,736 deaths.

That brings us to 15,223 Americans dead from the drug war.

Mice Levitated in Lab

A three-week-old mouse weighing about 10 grams levitated by magnetic fields, either with a magnet (a) or without (b). Credit: Da-Ming Zhu et al.
A three-week-old mouse weighing about 10 grams levitated by magnetic fields, either with a magnet (a) or without (b).
Credit: Da-Ming Zhu et al.

Scientists have now levitated mice using magnetic fields.

Other researchers have made live frogs and grasshoppers float in mid-air before, but such research with mice, being closer biologically to humans, could help in studies to counteract bone loss due to reduced gravity over long spans of time, as might be expected in deep space missions or on the surfaces of other planets.

Scientists working on behalf of NASA built a device to simulate variable levels of gravity. It consists of a superconducting magnet that generates a field powerful enough to levitate the water inside living animals, with a space inside warm enough at room temperature and large enough at 2.6 inches wide (6.6 cm) for tiny creatures to float comfortably in during experiments.


The researchers first levitated a young mouse, just three-week-old and weighing 10 grams. It appeared agitated and disoriented, seemingly trying to hold on to something.

"It actually kicked around and started to spin, and without friction, it could spin faster and faster, and we think that made it even more disoriented," said researcher Yuanming Liu, a physicist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. They decided to mildly sedate the next mouse they levitated, which seemed content with floating.

A plastic cage was also designed by physicist Da-Ming Zhu at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, to keep the mice in during levitation. Its top remained open to let in air, food, water and video surveillance, and its bottom was filled with small holes to allow waste removal.

From time to time, mice would kick the walls of the cage, causing it to briefly drop off from the levitation zone before re-entering it and floating again.