Tag Archives: Healthcare

SYNDICATED COLUMN: How Bernie Can Pay For His Ambitious Agenda? Slash the Military

Late last year, I interviewed Bernie Sanders while working on my biography “Bernie.” I asked him if he planned to reduce the defense budget if elected president. “We will take a hard look at that,” he told me, agreeing that there’s an awful lot of bloat in America’s military spending that ought to be cut.

Why doesn’t he say that now?

A statement detailing his intent to reduce military spending — not just the on-the-books budget of the Pentagon, but also the “off the books” taxdollars that go to wars like the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the National Security Agency and other parts of the surveillance state that have expanded radically since 9/11 — would help answer one of Sanders’ critics’ most potent criticisms: that he’ll be an irresponsible Santa Gone Wild, giving away free college tuition and Medicare for all without a care in the world for how to pay for it.

Hillary Clinton’s campaign, already reeking of desperation, is turning ugly. Bill Clinton, of all people, accused Bernie of lying, and his supporters of sexism. Clinton surrogate Madeleine Albright called female Sanders supporters traitors to their gender. The once-respected Gloria Steinem called them sluts, implying they were hanging out at Bernie’s big rallies to get laid by hunky Bernie bros.

Pathetic. But Hillary remains a potent force. She’s the mathematical favorite. When she casts herself as the realist (“a progressive who likes to get things done”), her argument that Bernie’s promises are politically unrealistic and fiscally irresponsible carries weight with Democrats who are still on the fence.

If Bernie can answer this two-part question, he wins the nomination: how will he get his far-left programs (by American standards, not those of the rest of the world) through Congress? How will he pay for them?

The first question, I think, isn’t as big a hurdle as the corporate punditry seems to think. Most voters can imagine a sustained progressive movement centered around street activism — Sanders’ “political revolution” — that pressures Congress so that, as Sanders puts it, Mitch O’Connell sees hundreds of thousands of people marching outside his window whenever he plots to thwart the people’s will.

Like Occupy Wall Street, except that the president is encouraging the movement rather than ordering the cops to beat up its members.

Anyway, liberal Democrats are angry. Hillary’s “half a dream” sales pitch isn’t half as enticing to them as Bernie’s ambitious agenda. Come on, Hill: did you take half a bribe from Goldman Sachs? Even if Bernie’s idealism gets dashed on the rocks of Republican intransigence, progressive Dems don’t care; they want to see Bernie try. Democrats haven’t watched a Democratic president push for radical change since LBJ.

The second question of the skeptics is: show me the money! Where is the cash to pay for free public college tuition and a single-payer healthcare system?

Sanders has said he would cover the $75 billion per year cost of his college reform program by imposing a tax on Wall Street speculation. He would almost certainly increase taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals as part of moving the tax code back to a more progressive, pre-Reagan structure. Everyone would pay a higher tax rate to cover Berniecare, though working-class people would pay less than they’d save.

At the risk of sounding like a Republican, there’s waste throughout the federal budget. There is, for example, no evidence that the NSA has ever done its job by preventing a single terrorist attack. Meanwhile, as Edward Snowden informed us, they’re spying on all our phone calls and emails. Shut them down; save $10 billion a year or more. Similarly, the Department of Homeland Security could be trimmed to a fraction of its current size or eliminated, with its tiny portion of useful activities transferred to other agencies, including law enforcement.

Last year’s defense budget was nearly $600 billion, or 54% of discretionary federal spending. That’s more than the next nine countries combined, including China and Russia. Conservatively, at least half of that is spent on waste and fraud by DOD contractors, so there’s $300 billion right off the bat. I bet we could cut it 90% and still not have to worry about a foreign invasion, something that hasn’t happened since 1812.

These cuts could easily cover the several hundred billion shortfall between Bernie’s tax increase on the rich and the cost of his healthcare plan.

Nothing says fiscal conservatism like pacifism. As of 2015 the wars against Afghanistan and Iraq, the most expensive in U.S. history, cost more than $1.5 trillion. More than $1 billion a year is still going down those ratholes. Bernie has said ISIS must be “crushed,” but he may want to revisit that. As of November, the anti-ISIS air and jihadi-training campaign had cost $5 billion and counting.

And obviously don’t start any new wars of choice.

Studies have shown that high student loan debt hobbles economic activity, delaying the age at which college graduates can afford to buy their first cars and homes. Freeing college graduates and their parents from exorbitant tuition bills would stimulate the automobile and real estate markets in particular, as well as the overall economy.

The same is true for healthcare costs. Every dollar you don’t spend on health insurance premiums, deductibles and co-pays is one you have for something else. That’s a lot of potential stimulus.

I don’t know why the Sanders campaign hasn’t issued a detailed plan explaining how President Sanders would cover the costs of free college tuition and Medicare for All. Maybe they’re worried about getting attacked as weak on national security by the hawkish Secretary Clinton and, in the general election, by the Republican nominee (probably Trump or Cruz).

Though a valid concern, it should take a back seat to plugging the Bernie-is-just-a-dreamer narrative Hillary’s camp is framing him with. He’ll never be able to out-militarist Hillary or the Republicans, who will try to brand him as the second coming of Vladimir Lenin anyway. Why bother to try?

(Ted Rall is the author of “Bernie,” a biography written with the cooperation of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. “Bernie” is now on sale online and at all good bookstores.)

 

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The Hopelessness of Unaudacity

Confronted with an optimistic opponent who promises substantial changes in American foreign and domestic policy in the form of Bernie Sanders, establishment candidate Hillary Clinton has been reduced to promising incremental improvements, and defending past gains. She argues her approach is more pragmatic. But will voters be satisfied with more of the same?

Confronted with an optimistic opponent who promises substantial changes in American foreign and domestic policy in the form of Bernie Sanders, establishment candidate Hillary Clinton has been reduced to promising incremental improvements, and defending past gains. She argues her approach is more pragmatic. But will voters be satisfied with more of the same?

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Healthcare Insurance Pigs Soaking Americans With Secret 20%-40% Rate Increases on Obamacare

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This is what happens when you trust free markets.

You probably heard that the Supreme Court rejected the latest legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, a.k.a. The Great Transfer of Taxpayer Dollars to Scumbag Health Insurance Companies. That news broke during a major news day.

What you likely missed, because it came out on July 3rd when everyone was driving to the beach or flying somewhere fun for their Independence Day weekend getaways instead of paying attention to the news, was that the ACA is tanking. That’s why you have me: to read depressing tidbits about America’s decline, and to annoy Obamabots with another I-told-you-so.

When Obama resurrected 1993’s benighted Hillarycare scheme, I warned that there were two major problems with this convoluted hybrid of government-managed healthcare and for-profit healthcare.

First, the Affordable Care Act kept the insurance companies in business. Aetna, United Healthcare and the other big insurers are a huge drain on the system, sucking out billions in profits and driving up costs. Profitmaking has no place in healthcare, which is a basic human right, like air and water. Air and water are free; healthcare should be free too. But that’s the opposite of what drives health insurers: they want to give you as little care as possible while charging you as much as possible.

Second, the ACA diminished Americans’ zeal for socialized medicine, the standard in the developed world. “In legislation no bread is often better than half a loaf,” Robert La Follette, the Wisconsin Progressive of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, pointed out. “Half a loaf, as a rule, dulls the appetite, and destroys the keenness of interest in attaining the full loaf.” I wrote last year: “In 2007, before Obama and his ACA came along, 54% of Americans favored single-payer. Now, thanks to a system that’s better than nothing but not nearly good enough, it’s down to 37%. Hillary Clinton is endorsing Obamacare, and has officially come out against single-payer.”

Now that the public has had a chance to use and pay for Obamacare, support for single-payer is back up to 50%.

Back to that story that broke on the deadest news day of the year. From The New York Times: “Health insurance companies around the country are seeking rate increases of 20% to 40% or more, saying their new customers under the Affordable Care Act turned out to be sicker than expected…Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans — market leaders in many states — are seeking rate increases that average 23 percent in Illinois, 25 percent in North Carolina, 31 percent in Oklahoma, 36 percent in Tennessee and 54 percent in Minnesota, according to documents posted online by the federal government and state insurance commissioners and interviews with insurance executives.”

Did your paycheck go up 20%, much less 40%, in the last year? I didn’t think so.

The proper reaction to this disgusting move — remember, we’re talking about a for-profit corporate sector that rakes in billions of dollars a month and pays its CEOs millions of dollars a year — is to line up the executives responsible against a wall and shoot them full of holes, then deny the healthcare claims of any who survive just because, as the rest of us routinely experience.

Since that would be illegal, however, the second-best approach should be to shame the bastards relentlessly on social media, until they’re forced to go join ISIS because people would subject them to Two Minute Hates wherever they go. (Not to say that ISIS, which provides free healthcare, would want these human turds either.)

This is where one naturally turns to political leadership. Surely the President of the United States, a.k.a. He For Whom Obamacare Is Named, will crack down on these insurance pirates?

Not so much. Obama “said that consumers should put pressure on state insurance regulators to scrutinize the proposed rate increases. If commissioners do their job and actively review rates, he said, ‘my expectation is that they’ll come in significantly lower than what’s being requested.'”

No doubt the healthcare industry itself, which rakes in billions each year from their new involuntary customers, hears our anger.

Not so much. Marinan Williams, CEO of the Scott & White Health Plan in Texas, which applied for a 32% rate hike, says: “Over the next three years, I hope, rates will start to stabilize.” How about we “stabilize” her salary at 32% less than she gets now?

How’s your interest in the “full loaf” — single-payer socialized medicine — now?

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for The Los Angeles Times, is the author of the book “Snowden,” the first biography of NSA whistleblower Edward J. Snowden. It is in graphic novel form, and will publish August 18th. You can subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2015 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Germanwings Mass Murder-Suicide Caused by Punitive Rules, Coldhearted Capitalism

 

Investigators are still putting together the pieces, but from what we know so far, it’s likely that 27-year-old German co-pilot Andreas Lubitz committed mass murder-suicide when he flew a Germanwings passenger jet carrying 149 passengers and fellow crewmen into the French Alps.

Authorities say they haven’t found a suicide note, but it’s a safe bet that Lubitz’s final act was prompted by depression (they found the meds), diminished vision, a deteriorating romantic relationship and his worry that the Lufthansa subsidiary would ground him if they found out about his problems, crashing a career he loved and blowing up his livelihood.

Though rare, pilot suicide isn’t unheard of. As long as the current system remains in place, it will happen again.

By “system,” I’m referring both to specific rules issued by the FAA and other countries’ aviation authorities to regulate pilots, and to that most coldhearted of socioeconomic systems, you’re-on-your-own capitalism.

“Before they are licensed, pilots must undergo a medical exam, conducted by a doctor trained and certified by the aviation agency,” explains The New York Times. Some airlines impose additional screening procedures, but they vary from company to company. Active pilots are required to have a medical screening once a year until they turn 40 and then twice a year after. Only when pilots are found to have mental health problems are they sent to a psychiatrist or psychologist for evaluation or treatment.”

At first glance, an incident like the Germanwings disaster seems to call for increased physical and mental monitoring. But leaning harder on pilots would only fix half the problem.

The current system is punitive – thus it encourages lying.

“But the system, Dr. [Warren] Silberman [a former manager of aerospace medical certification for the FAA] and others said, leaves pilots on an honor system, albeit one reinforced by penalties to discourage them from concealing any health issues that could affect their fitness to fly, including mental illness. Pilots who falsify information or lie about their health face fines that can reach $250,000, according to the FAA.”

Imagine yourself in that position. Knowing that public safety is at risk, you might do the right thing and step forward after your psychiatrist tells you that you shouldn’t be working, as happened to Lubitz. Then again, you might not.

First of all, you might doubt the diagnosis. That’s the thing about mental illness – victims’ judgment can be impaired. For example, there is evidence that Ronald Reagan suffered from early signs of dementia while serving as president. If true, that’s scary – but was the Gipper aware he was fading?

Second, you might think you could handle it, that with the help of psychiatric treatment and antidepressant medications, you could push through what might turn out to be a temporary crisis. Why risk everything over a passing phase?

Third, and this is likely, you might keep your problems to yourself because to do otherwise would ruin your life – or at least feel like it. At bare minimum, it would end your career, forcing you to start from zero. For many people, that seems too horrible to bear. In our society, social status is determined by our careers.

“The stigma [of having a mental illness] is enormous,” Dr. William Hurt Sledge, professor of psychiatry at Yale who has consulted for the FAA, the Air Line Pilots Association and major airlines, told the Times. “And of course, none of them wants that to be known, nor do they want to confess it or believe that they have it.”

And for those who decide to ignore the stigma, what comes next? Where’s the safety net, professional, social and economic, for people who run into trouble, whether of their own making or not?

At the root of Lubitz’s decision to kill himself – whether he gave much thought to the 149 people on the other side of the reinforced cockpit door cannot be known – is that he lived, as we all do in the Western world, in a disposable society. Lose what you do and you lose what you are. The bills keep coming long after the paychecks stop; soon you have nothing left.

I could throw a dart at any daily newspaper to illustrate this point; today it would probably land on the results of an AARP survey that found – unsurprisingly to anyone over age 50 – that a single layoff after that age has devastating, long-term consequences. People over 50 are overwhelmingly more likely to wind up classified among the long-term unemployed and typically wind up earning less if and when they find a new job, often starting again from scratch in a new industry because their experience was in a line of work that no longer has openings.

I imagine a system in which people like Andreas Lubitz don’t need to see a psychological or other setback as the end of their world.

What if he could have confided in his bosses without fear? What if Lufthansa policy was to stand by him through his treatment, guaranteeing him a respectable job at equivalent salary – for as long as it took for him to get better? And if he couldn’t recover, what if he knew that his country’s government would provide for him financially and otherwise? Finally, what if no one cared what he did for a living, and it was just as prestigious and remunerative to work as a file clerk as to fly a plane?

I’m not sure, but I bet 150 people would be alive today.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for The Los Angeles Times, is the author of the new critically-acclaimed book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2015 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Ebola Is Here in America. Why Aren’t We Angry?

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It was clear from the tone of the coverage of Ebola’s arrival in the United States that media gatekeepers expected people to be surprised by a Dallas hospital’s decision to turn away U.S. Ebola Patient Zero from the emergency room. It was, by any standard, a colossal screw-up, one that might easily have been avoided. The man was Liberian. He’d informed ER staff that he’d recently traveled to Liberia, the epicenter of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. His symptoms — he vomited en route to the hospital — were consistent with Ebola. Despite having all the information they needed to make a proper diagnosis and having received alerts from the Centers for Disease Control to be on alert for people arriving from West Africa with flu-like symptoms, the hospital turned him loose, where he is believed to have directly exposed at least 100 people to the deadly virus.

It’s an outrageous lapse, yet Americans weren’t outraged. Why would we be? Anyone who deals with the U.S. healthcare system has experienced its systematic incompetence.

In New York City, where I’ve lived most of my life, conventional wisdom is that a visit to the ER will make whatever is ailing you worse rather than better — unless you’ve been shot. Severe vomiting? Head pressure that makes you feel like your head is going to explode? Sky-high fever? Blunt head trauma caused by a car accident? Odds are, you’ll sit on hard plastic seats in a stuffy waiting room for hour after hour, feeling nastier and nastier. The one time I got proper treatment at the ER was when the root of a mole on my chest separated from the artery into which had grown, causing it to burst into a glorious, gory explosion à la “Saw.”

“Gunshot wound!” an intern shouted when my friends carried me in.

Instant attention. Multiple doctors.

Obviously it worked out ­— here I still am, writing and complaining.

If you live in New York, and you’re really really sick but not visibly bleeding, you might want to shoot yourself. Hey, doc, while you’re dressing that bullet in my thigh, can you look at the dent in my skull?

The Dallas Ebola incident reminded me of an evening I spent with my friend Cole Smithey, the film critic.

“My finger is bothering me,” Cole whispered to me during a screening. After the lights came up, he showed me an index finger that had expanded to nearly double its normal width. We drew the same conclusion: an insect bite, most likely a spider. Swelling tends to be greater on extremities.

As the night wore on, however, the swelling got worse and more painful. We searched in vain for the telltale double marks of a spider bite.

Cole is a stoic guy but his agony was obvious. Around 11 pm we appeared at the emergency room of Lenox Hill Hospital on the Upper East Side of Manhattan — a stone’s throw from New York Hospital where, New Yorkers remember, Andy Warhol died of medical neglect.

We waited. The pain got worse. When we consulted the triage nurse, she took a quick look at Cole’s hand, which by then was swollen nearly down to his wrist, and told us to leave. “Go the pharmacy and get some Benadryl,” she ordered.
We followed her advice. Cole took the Benadryl and went home.

And nearly died.

Turned out he had an aggressive form of flesh-eating bacteria. Unable to sleep, he took a cab at 5 am to a private 24-hour clinic where doctors immediately recognized the symptoms and began pumping heavy-duty antibiotics via an IV.

It was touch and go for a few hours.

“Good thing you came when you did,” a doctor told him. “If you’d waited a couple more hours, you’d be dead.”

Like the Ebola failure in Texas, my friend’s near-death experience due to an idiot in the ER is an outrage — and common occurrence. Every American can tell a similar story. It’s been this way for as long as we can remember; it just keeps getting worse.

As the Ebola scare demonstrates, a nation that shortchanges its healthcare infrastructure is due for an awful reckoning. But good healthcare is incompatible with corporate capitalism. As long as medicine is a business rather than a privilege guaranteed by the government to every citizen at no cost, hospitals will be short-staffed, too small for their communities, riddled with workers who are overworked, demoralized and/or inept.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist, is the author of the new critically-acclaimed book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Never Trust a Realist

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“There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why,” Robert F. Kennedy famously said. “I dream of things that never were and ask, ‘why not?'”

RFK was an idealist — someone who views the world as a blank slate full of possibilities.

So am I.

Realists — people who strive to make improvements within the constraints of the current situation — are important. No society can live with its head in the clouds. But we also need people who look to the stars. Where are they now?

For as long as I can remember, American politics and media have been dominated by self-identified realists to the exclusion of idealists. In many cases, the “realists” are just bullies pushing agendas with no real grounding in reality (c.f., Bush’s neo-cons). Still, some of these Very Reasonable People, as Paul Krugman calls them, have achieved incremental victories that have made life somewhat better in some respects (c.f., Obamacare).

But no civilization can achieve greatness without idealists. If you’re looking for one big reason the United States seems to be on the wrong track, try the marginalization of idealism that coincided with the collapse of the peace movement and the American Left at the end of the Vietnam War in the early 1970s. The death of every strain of American Leftism from liberalism to revolutionary communism has left us with a nation that doesn’t know how to dream big.

If we’d been like we are now when Sputnik launched, it’s a fair bet we never would have gone to the moon. We couldn’t have justified the massive budget. Or it would have died in Congress. The money would have been spent, but on stuff no one needs — invading foreign countries, tax cuts for the rich and big corporations — with nothing to show for it.

America has become too small to fail.

In an excerpt from his upcoming book that appeared recently in The Atlantic, Michael Wolraich recently discussed the tendency of Robert La Follette, the Wisconsin senator and leading light of the Progressive movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, to hold out for radical progress over incremental, less satisfying gains. La Follette’s big-picture approach — so idealistic — was, in its way, more realistic than what passes for realism today:

“He might have passed more legislation by compromising [with his enemies], but he refused to dilute his proposals. There was that stubbornness again but also strategy. La Follette took a long view of political change. In contrast to Roosevelt’s pragmatic approach, he believed that temporary defeat was preferable to compromised legislation, which would sate public demand for reform without making genuine progress. ‘In legislation no bread is often better than half a loaf,’ he argued. ‘Half a loaf, as a rule, dulls the appetite, and destroys the keenness of interest in attaining the full loaf.’ Legislative defeat, on the other hand, served a useful political purpose. He would use the defeat of a popular bill to bludgeon his opponents in the next election, and he would keep assailing them with it until they yielded or lost their seats.”

Or, as the revolutionary “situationists” who took over Paris in May 1968 cried: “Be realistic: Demand the impossible!

When I read this, I thought: Yes! Here’s a perfect articulation of the politics we’re missing.

With USA Today recently joining the chorus of media describing Barack Obama, who championed realism in the form of diminished expectations, as a failed president and a “lame duck before his time,” and Hillary Clinton once again marketing herself a yet another drab uber-realist for 2016, a reminder of La Follette’s ambitious approach to politics is especially timely.

Consider, for example, Obamacare.

La Follette would see the Affordable Care Act as a classic case of the “half a loaf” that “dulls the appetite” for true reform — in this case, socialized medicine or at least European-style “single payer.” In 2007, before Obama and his ACA came along, 54% of Americans favored single-payer. Now, thanks to a system that’s better than nothing but not nearly good enough, it’s down to 37%. Hillary Clinton is endorsing Obamacare, and has officially come out against single-payer.

Democrats defended Obamacare to liberals and progressives as an imperfect, insurance company-protecting interim measure. Obamabots encouraged libs to support the conservative Democratic president because the ACA would move America closer to the single-payer ideal.

Now we see how wrong the “realists” were. As La Follette would have predicted, the appetite for the “full loaf” of single payer has diminished, partly sated by the “half loaf” of Obamacare. Regardless who wins in 2016, single-payer will be off the agenda for another four to eight years. Obamacare killed single-payer.

Imagine, on the other hand, where we’d be if Obama had gone the idealist La Follette route, proposing a single-payer healthcare reform bill that had suffered defeat at the hands of Congressional Republicans.

Six years after the beginning of the 2008 economic crisis, several more million of Americans would be uninsured. Hospital emergency rooms, bursting at the seams as it is, would be in a greater state of crisis — which would add to support for reform. You can easily imagine Obama and the Democrats beating up “Republicans who don’t care about sick and dying Americans” on the campaign trail. Sooner or later — I’d bet sooner — they’d have to cave in and vote for this big new social program, just as they did with the New Deal and Great Society, or face oblivion.

Of course, Obama’s appetite for single payer was never ferocious. He promised a single-payer “option” during the 2008 campaign — yet never tried — but the point remains, the American people allowed themselves to be “realistic.” Which left them with far less than they might have gotten had they held out for full-fledged single-payer.

As we head into the 2016 campaign, remember what “realism” really is: the siren song of mediocrity, written by the elite to make you settle for less than you deserve.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist, is the author of “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan,” out Sept. 2. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

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Big Loss/Win for the President

Big Loss/Win for the President

Rather than news or politics, political cable news and network news cover the horse race: why this event is good for a politician and why that one isn’t. Ignored by the horserace are the real-world implications of the news, including how tragedies and triumphs affect actual real (but ordinary) citizens.

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LOS ANGELES TIMES CARTOON: Sick Days as “Job Killer”

Sick Days as Job Killer

There they go again.

Whenever anyone floats an idea that would improve the lives of workers — shorter hours, higher wages, or better working conditions — employers claim they’ll be forced to fire workers.

They’re always wrong. But they never shut up.

The California Chamber of Commerce, which represents business, has elevated this argument to a media event. This year’s annual CCOC “Job Killer” list features 26 bills the organization would like to kill. (Last year, the CCOC killed 35 out of 36 pro-worker bills on its hit list.)

Among the “killer 26” is AB 1522, sponsored by Lorena Gonzalez, a San Diego Democrat. Gonzalez’s bill would guarantee California workers at least three paid sick days a year. (The exact formula is one sick hour for every 30 hours worked.)

To hear employers whine, you’d think that letting employees stay home sick less than one percent of the year — as opposed to dragging themselves to their jobs where they may infect coworkers and customers — would destroy the capitalist system.

Assemblyman Donald P. Wagner (R-Irvine) called the bill an “ill-considered, heavy-handed, one-sided piece of legislation,” Melanie Mason reports in The Times.

A similar law recently went into effect in New York over the objections of the city’s billionaire then-mayor, Michael Bloomberg, who argued that sick leave laws “hurt small businesses and stifle job creation.”

But there’s a problem with the Chamber of Commerce “job killer” talking point: it’s baseless. There’s no evidence that requiring companies to provide paid sick leave hurts business. A year and a half after such a law went into effect in Connecticut, for example, a study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research found that “the impact of the new law on business has been modest…nearly two-thirds said it had led to no change or an increase of less than 2% in their overall costs. About another 12% didn’t know how much their costs had increased.”

“Virtually none [of the companies] reported reducing wages,” the authors wrote. “About 90% did not reduce their workers’ hours; 85% did not find it necessary to raise prices.”

Job killer? Job annoyer, at most.

Meanwhile, Seattle enacted a major increase in the minimum wage, to $15 per hour, prompting predictions that similar wage hikes could spread across the nation. As usual, pro-business extremists are predicting doom. ” Seattle’s economy will be hurt by this policy and so will some low skill workers who will lose their jobs thanks to the people claiming to be helping them,” Jeffrey Dorfman writes in Forbes.

In the real world, however, minimum wage increases have not caused job losses — even in isolated hamlets like SeaTac, Washington, where restaurants and other low-wage employers could seemingly pick up and move a few miles away.

Courtesy of the big business lobby, that’s the screw-the-workers propaganda machine for you. Why let facts get in the way of the eternal quest for an extra buck?

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: May Sarah Palin’s Stupid Conspiracy Theory Come True

How Obama’s Stupidity Might Get Us Real Healthcare

When it comes to Obamacare, Democrats have every reason to accuse the House Republicans of bad faith. Still, yesterday’s Congressional grilling of the private contractors hired to build the healthcare.gov federal marketplace serves as a reminder that editorial writers’ endless calls for bipartisan cooperation should never be heeded. We need adversarial politics; for that, the more polarization the better. If not for those pissy Republicans, who would get to the bottom of the disastrous October 1st rollout of the Affordable Care Act? Not the secrecy-obsessed Obama, who makes Nixon look like a paragon of transparency. Not his make-any-lame excuse Democrats.

Tea Party types love conspiracies. Obama is a Kenyan socialist. (So where’s the socialism?) 9/11 was an inside job. (But not a good one.)  But sometimes conspiracies turn out to be true — even if they’re weren’t planned that way.

The latest dastardly plot circulating among Tea Partiers is that the Obamaites deliberately screwed up the ACA websites to pave the way for their true agenda: socializing healthcare. (I use the plural because most of the online state marketplaces, developed based on consultations with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, are just as buggy and crashy as the federal one.)

Sarah Palin articulates this — hey, there are four words you don’t usually see at the same time — in an October 20th blog post:

“Obamacare in its current corporatist form isn’t meant to last. It’s meant to push us towards full socialized medicine with a single-payer system.”

“The broken websites and botched Obamacare rollout help push things to that inevitable conclusion by causing frustration and confusion that only the government can ‘fix,'” writes Palin.

She continues with a logical fallacy: Obama is smart, smart people don’t make dumb mistakes, therefore any “mistakes” they make are intentional.

“In fact,” Palin argues, “these unusable Obamacare websites make a reasonable person wonder how this administration could have made such a colossal bungle of the rollout when they are, after all, the same savvy experts who had the most sophisticated and precise campaign websites ever built. They could pinpoint voters down to a city block, but they messed up a website that cost the government over $200 million more than it cost Apple to develop the first iPhone. Purposeful?”

The problem with this reasoning (which echoes 9/11 Truther theories that the Bush Administration couldn’t possibly be stupid enough to let hijacked planes fly around the U.S. for nearly two hours) is that Obama and his team aren’t really smart. They’re calm.

It’s not the same.

If Team Obama had been plotting Canadian-style socialized medicine all along, they wouldn’t have floated all those dumb “heckuva job, Barry”-style excuses that turned healthcare.gov into the president’s Katrina moment:

  • Too much volume. But corporate websites routinely handle more than the ACA sites. Besides, the feds knew that, in a nation with tens of millions of uninsured people, tens of millions of people were going to check out the website. The truth, as any idiot could plainly see, was that volume wasn’t the issue. Lousy coding was.
  • ACA is “more than a website” — and anyway, why don’t people use the phone? Actually, that’s not true. For most people, the ACA are the websites. That’s how Obamacare was promoted. People were told to go online. So they did. As for those who threw up their hands and tried calling — I was one of them — there was no way to buy a plan by phone.
  • Everyone knew there would be glitches. The problem with that Democratic talking point is that while Americans may suffer from short memories, they’re not totally retarded. We still recall September 2013. It’s not like anyone in the White House announced before the launch: “Hey, don’t freak if you can’t access the websites right away. Chillax, wait a month or two. We’re expecting a lot of glitches, and things could be less than cromulent for a while.”

No, Governor Palin, the truth behind the ACA mess is that Obama and his gang of golfing buddies are idiots.

OK, so there was evildoing. For example, as Forbes reported: “HHS bureaucrats knew [forcing the uninsured to create an account and enter detailed personal information before you can start shopping] would make the website run more slowly. But they were more afraid that letting people see the underlying cost of Obamacare’s insurance plans would scare people away… Obamacare wasn’t designed to help healthy people with average incomes get health insurance. It was designed to force those people to pay more for coverage, in order to subsidize insurance for people with incomes near the poverty line, and those with chronic or costly medical conditions…This political objective — masking the true underlying cost of Obamacare’s insurance plans — far outweighed the operational objective of making the federal website work properly.”

There was corruption too. UnitedHealth Group, which as one of the nation’s biggest insurers stands to make billions from the ACA, was a key contractor for the federal website.

Mostly, though, there was idiocy. Secondarily, in execution. End-to-end testing began in late September. For an October 1st rollout. What could possibly go wrong?

That’s right: secondarily.

Primarily, Obama and the Democrats were idiots to think that the ACA’s bastard hybrid of public and private could function properly — certainly not on “a project of such immense complexity. The federal exchange must communicate with other contractors and with databases of numerous federal agencies and more than 170 insurance carriers.”

Look at what happened to the Postal Service: neither beast nor fowl, the uncomfortable marriage of for-profit business and Congressionally mandated payouts has pushed an otherwise viable organization to the brink of collapse.

ACA was created in response to skyrocketing healthcare costs — a problem directly attributable to the big insurance companies, which are raping patients and doctors with extortionist rates in order to accumulate obscene profits. The common sense solution? Cut out the insurers; put them out of business. Nationalize hospitals and private clinics. Turn doctors and nurses into federal employees. Obama built the ACA to increase the big insurers’ profits even more. Thus, for example, no federal price controls on the plans to be sold through the government websites. It comes as no surprise, but sad confirmation that we were right, that insurance company stocks have soared since the passage of the ACA.

Now, with a little luck, we’re looking at the possible realization of Sarah Palin’s nightmare scenario:

“With Obamacare we have crappier health care (fewer choices, fewer doctors, and an IPAB rationing panel of faceless bureaucrats, aka the ol’ ‘death panel’ that has been admitted to existing in Obamacare), but it is very expensive for the individual American…Americans, if you’re faced with a 300% increase (or even a 65% increase like my family) in your health care premiums for crappier coverage, doesn’t ‘free’ socialized medicine all of a sudden sound appealing? And that’s how Americans will be led down the primrose path to a single-payer system. People will be frustrated, worn out, and broke under this new government burden. Many will end up concluding they’ll settle for — then demand — full socialized medicine because they’ll see how the unworkable Obamacare will break our health care system (where, presently, no one is turned away from emergency rooms and we have many public and private safety nets for people in need), along with busting our personal bank accounts.”

I never thought I’d say this, but: From Sarah Palin’s lips to God’s ears.

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. Go there to join the Ted Rall Subscription Service and receive all of Ted’s cartoons and columns by email.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Obamacare Website to New Yorker: Drop Dead

This week, we wrap up a personal saga of bureaucratic incompetence and institutional corruption: my attempt to sign up for Obamacare.

The Affordable Care Act officially launched three weeks ago. As one of 50 million uninsured Americans, I’ll pay a tax penalty unless I purchase for-profit insurance from a wildly profitable corporation (the healthcare sector pays its CEOs the highest salaries) via my state’s “health insurance marketplace.”

Alas, my first attempt to shop for a plan ended four hours into the process, when New York’s website crashed and ate most of my info. Two weeks later, I was able to register. But the system couldn’t tell me if I’d qualify for a subsidy, or whether any of the plans cover my doctor or local hospital.

As the leaves pile up and I head out to buy a last-minute discount pumpkin just in time for Halloween, will the system work — the one that was supposed to launch three weeks ago? Let’s find out.

Fortunately for President Obama, his Republican rivals were so busy committing electoral suicide by shutting down and pushing the federal government to the brink of default that no one noticed his lame excuses — “we expected glitches” — for his incredibly shitty websites.

“These are not glitches,” an insurance executive told Forbes. “The extent of the problems is pretty enormous.”

Hey, it’s not like they had three years to get ready.

Now Obama says: “I am the first to acknowledge that the website that was supposed to do this all in a seamless way has had way more glitches than I think are acceptable and we’ve got people working around the clock to do that.” Which is totally true, if by “first to acknowledge,” Obama means “fifty millionth to acknowledge after stonewalling and refusing to admit anything’s wrong.”

OK, so the president is a liar. But then he says “people” are “working around the clock” to make things work “in a seamless way.” Which inspires me with confidence. After all, I’m a person. “People” are members of my own same species. We’re on the same team!

I’ll admit, though, I’m not exactly Hoping for a big bucket of Change.

Like Mulder, I want to believe. The problem is, two days ago, The Newspaper of Record printed an article that, among other things, says:

“Most of the 15 exchanges run by states and the District of Columbia do not have provider directories or search tools on their Web sites — at least not yet — so customers cannot easily check which doctors and hospitals are included in a particular plan’s network. Most allow customers to search for providers by linking to the insurers’ Web sites, but the information is not always accurate or easy to navigate, health care experts say.”

Well, let’s see for ourselves, shall we?

Log in: no problem.

Take that, Tea Party Patriots!

The last time I slogged through this process, I wasn’t able to find out whether I’d qualify for a subsidy. So I’m on tenterhooks. Am I poor enough, have enough newspapers canceled me, slashed my fee and/or kept me at the same rate for years as inflation ate away my standard of living to score a break on Obama’s for-profit healthcare mandate?

I click the tab marked “financial assistance.” Fortunately, all the information I spent hours typing in a week and a half ago is still there. Inexplicably, however, I have to scroll through each page, individually re-approving them. There are 28 of them in all. Terrible design. What is this, iOS7?

The little wheel turns. And turns. Is it working? Yes! I get a message:

“You and your family cannot pick a health plan right now. You will get a letter or an email telling you when to log onto your Marketplace account to pick a health plan. Call 1-855-355-5777 to find out how to pick your plan if the Marketplace has not contacted you by the middle of December 2013.”

Thus endeth my adventure with the Great Privatized Healthcare Marketplace Experiment of 2013. Which, apparently, will soon become the Great Privatized Healthcare Marketplace Experiment of 2014. Or 2015. Whichever comes last. Or ever.

Which really sucks.

It sucks for two reasons:

First, like 50 million other Americans, I really do need insurance. Like most cartoonists and writers, I work for a syndicate that considers me an “independent contractor” for tax purposes. So even though I work 80 hours a week, I get zero coverage. I feel healthy, but you never know. Swine flu nearly killed me a few years back. Also, I drive too fast.

My experience isn’t unique. How many Americans won’t be able to buy health insurance between now and December, or whenever Obama finally gets his act together? How many will die due to lack of insurance? (The back of the envelope guesstimate: about 3800 per month.) How many will go broke paying for-profit doctors and hospitals?

Second, Obamacare is a Catch-22.

Bloomberg wire service reports: “The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 requires most Americans have an active health insurance policy by March 31 or pay the higher of one percent of their annual income or $95.”

As the not-typically-quotable John Boehner asked recently: “How can we tax people for not buying a product from a website that doesn’t work?”

To which New York’s healthcare marketplace exchange thingamabob gives an elegant answer: “Error 500: org.opensaml.common.SAMLRuntimeException: Error determining metadata contracts.”

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. Go there to join the Ted Rall Subscription Service and receive all of Ted’s cartoons and columns by email.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

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