Sunday, April 30, 2006

Support Builds for Immigration Protests, Boycott

As May 1 action looms, undocumented workers discuss their power, solidarity

by Kari Lydersen, NewStandard

While the corporate-sponsored media report alleged splits in the immigrant-rights movement and dwindling support for a boycott and general strike, TNS found that solidarity and commitment are growing.

Chicago; Apr. 28 – In the 2004 independent film A Day Without a Mexican, Californians woke up and all the Mexicans had disappeared. Lawns went untended, hotel rooms sat uncleaned, and countless other jobs performed by low-paid immigrants were left undone.

Immigrant-rights groups have frequently mentioned this film and the larger concept behind it during the past six weeks of massive pro-immigrant marches. In Chicago, where the first of the large demonstrations took place, a central theme has been waking the American public up to the economic importance of immigrants. Organizers say they want to show how much immigrants, including close to 12 million undocumented ones, contribute with their labor and with their buying power.

At the March 10 Chicago demonstration, during which more than 100,000 immigrants and their supporters hit the streets, a group handed out flyers for a hastily organized boycott of Miller beer. Demonstrators targeted Miller Brewing Co. because the company's PAC had donated $2,000 to Wisconsin Republican Congressman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., sponsor of the harshly anti-immigrant bill that passed the House of Representatives last year.

Merchants on 26th Street, Chicago's main Mexican commercial drag in the Little Village neighborhood, said that by evening customers were refusing to buy Miller. The message reached beer distributors quickly, and by the following week officials from the company's Milwaukee headquarters had met with coalition organizers and put out a statement opposing the House's legislation.

"A lot of immigrants are not eligible to vote, but we have the purchasing power," said Salvador Cervantes, a member of the Chicago organizing coalition.

The idea amplified on April 10, when immigrant marchers in scores of cities and towns across the country pledged to refrain from shopping, working or going to school, wearing white T-shirts to symbolize their unity in creating a "day without immigrants."

A boycott on May Day has likewise been called in many cities across the country as part of pro-immigrant demonstrations. Called a paro in Spanish, the term is generally understood to mean both refusing to buy and refusing to work or go to school.

But the plan for a paro is not universally endorsed by all immigrant-rights groups. In Chicago, the organizing coalition known as the Movimiento 10 de Marzo, or the March 10 Movement, decided not to call for a boycott or general strike in the city, largely because of the involvement of labor unions that said they could not legally endorse such an action because their contracts prohibit them.

The question of whether to participate in nationwide calls for a May 1 boycott was hashed out at a contentious April 22 meeting, where the local coalition decided to support calls for boycotts in other cities, but refrain from a boycott in Chicago.

"We consider it a matter of wording," said Jorge Mujica, Illinois secretary general for the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD), a Mexican political party and one of the central coalition organizers. "If people are marching all day, they're not working, buying things or going to school. But since we have the unions, we can't call a boycott or a strike. We'd rather have labor on our side than call for a boycott. As for the national and international boycott, we think it's beautiful."

But some organizers described this as caving in to unions and politicians that were pushing for a more moderate stance.

"I wish the unions had stayed out of it and let people celebrate May Day the way they wanted," said Rafael Cervantes, an activist from Monterrey, Mexico who has lived in Chicago for decades. "The boycott was a symbol for people, an icon, a way to say we matter, we are an important cog in this machine, we produce and we consume. It's ironic that the unions are saying they could not support it because it would be illegal, but the whole reason we're marching is that people are here 'illegally.'"

Tom Hansen, founder and director of the Mexico Solidarity Network, a grassroots organization working for social change on both sides of the US-Mexico border, said the boycott is only one example of the larger ideological battle that is going on in the immigrant-rights movement. "The reformists want to 'manage' the movement with a lot of US flags and a discourse about family values, et cetera," Hansen told The NewStandard. "The more progressive elements want to move the discussion to one about exploitation, labor rights and the meaning of citizenship."

On April 24 union leaders held a press conference supporting the march and framing it as not only about immigration but about rights for all workers. They said a boycott was beside the point for the labor issues they wanted to highlight.

"We're not even putting it into the equation," said Moises Zavala, a Chicago organizer for the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW). "This is the day to recognize our labor history and bring it full circle. In Chicago we're not endorsing a boycott; we're out to march to show our numbers and recognize the importance of May Day."

Teamsters organizers said that rather than discussing a strike or boycott, they were trying to get employers on workers' side; helping employees petition their employers for time off or paid holidays to attend the demonstrations.

In Los Angeles, where other mass protests are planned, some groups will be carrying out work stoppages and boycotts and attending a daytime downtown march. Others who plan to go to work and school will attend a separate demonstration in the late afternoon.

Thousands of truck drivers working out of the Port of Los Angeles and cab drivers who serve Los Angeles International Airport are expected to strike for the day or possibly the week.

"If truckers aren't trucking, the port isn't working," said Los Angeles attorney and organizer Jim DeMaegt. "If cab drivers don't drive, LAX will be shut down. Nobody knows precisely what will happen, but there is a lot of support."

DeMaegt thinks a massive strike would force policy change faster than some other types of actions. "We say a day without shopping is good; going to speeches, going marches is good," he told TNS. "But stopping work – a day without workers will close the country. A day without goods going in and out of the ports and airports of the US, and we'll have a policy change within a week."

The truckers and cab drivers are organized but are not members of official labor unions, giving them the freedom to strike without worrying about legal issues binding unions.

The truckers and cab drivers are protesting against rising fuel prices and low pay, along with calling for immigration reform.

DeMaegt said local Teamsters officials are not supporting a work stoppage but support the overall mobilization.

Aquilina Soriano-Versoza, executive director of the Pilipino Workers' Center, noted that many of their members are home-healthcare workers, so they don't want to endanger their clients by skipping work; but they will support the mobilization nonetheless.

"They can't leave their patients, but they're in solidarity," Soriano-Versoza said. "There are a whole range of ways people can participate."

She noted that many employers, particularly in the Koreatown garment industry, have given their workers the day off thanks to organizing by community groups and employees.

Alexis Lanza, an activist with the Chicago group La Voz de los de Abajo (The Voice of Those Below) and an immigrant from Honduras, said he supported the call for a one-day boycott. "I think it would have been good if the US united on that," he said. "But there are lots of interests, unions and different groups, and it's not easy to balance those things."

Lanza would prefer long-term boycotts of products from companies that donate to anti-immigrant politicians or promote policies that hurt Latin Americans through international trade or employment policies. The Chicago committee discussed proposals for a long-term boycott of Coca-Cola, with its notorious human-rights record, and a local Mexican cheese company that buys from Rep. Sensenbrenner's state, Wisconsin. But those proposals were not adopted.

"Calling a boycott for just one day strategically doesn't have that big an impact; it's symbolic," said Lanza. "The next day you'll be buying the same products again."

Lanza thinks even without an official boycott, the demonstrations will make immigrants' economic power clear. "If you're calling on people to close their businesses during the march, that's like a boycott, except you're not calling it that," Lanza said.

Some groups in other cities have not endorsed the boycott out of fear there will be a backlash against immigrants or that workers will lose their jobs for skipping work. But in Chicago, where many workers fired for participating in the March 10 demonstrations were reinstated after immigrant organizers threatened to protest workplaces, advocates say they are not that worried.

"I really feel this time around nobody is going to get fired," said Mujica. "We have prepared this so well with the letters for employees to give to their employers." He noted the group is distributing letters in several languages for workers to download and use to explain their cause while formally requesting time off.

In Arizona, the coalition that organized a 100,000-strong protest on April 10 in Phoenix waffled about supporting a boycott. Last week, the Somos America (We are America) coalition announced it was supporting demonstrations and other forms of protest, but not endorsing the boycott due to fear of a backlash and concern for immigrants' job security.

But, according to the group's chairman, Roberto Reveles, who spoke to the Arizona Republic, the recent arrests of 1,187 undocumented immigrants in federal raids on pallet maker IFCO Systems locations in 26 states including Arizona, spurred the group to change its mind.

Reveles told the Republic that his group wanted "to make a statement against the latest raids," which came "at a time when they should be working toward immigration reform rather than instilling additional fear in the lives of undocumented workers and their families."

The success of the boycott, according to Hansen of the Mexico Solidarity Network, will depend "on how many people participate, what the impacts are and, most importantly, the kind of political consciousness that accompanies the tactic."

"The idea is to change hearts and minds," he said, "and to give immigrants a sense of their power. This is particularly important for a group that has been repressed and exploited for so long, on both sides of the border. A change in the collective appreciation of what is possible is the real goal of the boycott."

Friday, April 28, 2006

Moderate Earners Increasingly Lack Health Coverage

By Nick Timiraos
LA Times Staff Writer

April 26, 2006

WASHINGTON — The number of uninsured adults who earn between $20,000 and $40,000 annually is rising, according to a study released today — suggesting that fewer employers are providing healthcare coverage.

That study, along with one that says the uninsured are likely to seek treatment only when they become seriously ill, coincides with a national campaign, Cover the Uninsured, to make healthcare coverage a top legislative priority.

Research by the Commonwealth Fund, a nonpartisan New York-based foundation that examines healthcare issues, found that the percentage of moderate-income Americans who were without insurance for at least part of the year had jumped sharply over four years — from 28% in 2001 to 41% in 2005.

"It's a cause for concern that this problem is obviously spreading into more moderate-income households," said Sara Collins, the study's lead author. "It's reflective of the fact that more employers are not offering coverage."

The study estimates that 48 million Americans lack health insurance. Of those, two-thirds are in families in which at least one person works full time, the study says.

"What those numbers do is cry out for public policymakers to take this challenge very seriously," said Gail Shearer, health policy director at Consumers Union.

Dr. Fernando Guerra, who directs the public health department in San Antonio, described the costs incurred by a lack of insurance. In an interview, he told of treating a staph infection in a 4-month-old whose mother had postponed treatment because she had no insurance.

"If the mother had been able to bring the child for treatment, it could have been resolved very quickly" for about $150, he said. Instead, surgery to drain the infant's thigh cost nearly five times as much.

The study found that 60% of uninsured adults with chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, forgo medication to save money and that 20% of working adults are paying off medical debt, often exceeding $2,000.

The study surveyed 4,350 adults by telephone between August 2005 and January 2006.

A similar report released today warned that uninsured Americans were four times more likely than those with insurance to avoid seeing a doctor when they needed treatment.

The study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a Princeton, N.J., philanthropy specializing in healthcare issues, found that 23% of uninsured adults said their health was "fair" or "poor," compared with 12% of those with insurance.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Study Finds Oil Co. Profits Driving Increased Fuel Costs, Not Crude Prices

CONSUMER WATCHDOG - The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights released a new study today of rising gasoline prices in California that found corporate markups and profiteering are responsible for spring price spikes, not rising crude costs or the national switchover to higher-cost ethanol, as the oil industry claims.

Independent petroleum consultant Tim Hamilton analyzed gasoline price increases from January to April to find that:

Increases in the "spot" market price of crude oil -- which is the highest price a major oil company would pay for crude oil -- accounted for only 12 cents per gallon. California's percentage sales tax increased fuel prices by another four cents per gallon. More than 40 cents of the 60-cent increase in gasoline prices over 3 1/2 months is attributable to increased refinery and marketing profit margins for the oil companies; Neither the MTBE phaseout nor the substitution of ethanol is a serious part of the increase. . .

The profit increase of 42 cents, on top of record profits last year, means California gasoline will cost consumers approximately $546 million more in April 2006 than in April of last year. . . Oil companies are opportunistically using the rising world price for crude oil as an excuse to excessively raise gasoline prices and pump up their profits, even though the spot market price for crude has gone up far more slowly than gasoline prices," said FTCR President Jamie Court. "In addition, the spot price is higher than most oil companies pay, since they either harvest their own crude or pay more stable and often much lower contract prices.

Sunday, April 23, 2006


By Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman

We haven't done the poll, but our guess is that most Americans recognize the name Katie Couric.

And they wouldn't know Amy Goodman from a hole in the wall.

NBC Today Show co-anchor Katie Couric said this morning that she is leaving the show to become the anchor for the CBS Evening News.

Amy Goodman is the anchor of the award winning one-hour television and radio news program, Democracy Now.

Couric gets more ink than Goodman in the mainstream press.

That's because Couric plays by the rules of the game.

Goodman doesn't.

Couric has been with the Today Show for 15 years.

She has also been a contributing anchor for Dateline NBC.

For most of her professional life, Couric has been a celebrity interviewer and stenographer to power.

According to the Today Show web site, she has interviewed "a panoply of world leaders, national political figures, writers, actors and pop culture icons."

Some of her groundbreaking political interviews have been fawning sycophantic things with:

George Bush Sr., George Bush Jr., Barbara Bush, Laura Bush, Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, Kofi Annan, Tony Blair, Jennifer Wilbanks ("whose disappearance just before her wedding day created a nationwide sensation, earning her the moniker "runaway bride"), Tricia Meili -- the Central Park Jogger, John F. Kennedy, Jr. John and Patsy Ramsey about the death of their daughter, JonBenet,

Amy Goodman has reported more substantive news in one year that Couric has reported on in a lifetime.

Just last week, Democracy Now ran a two part interview with Noam Chomsky about his new book, Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy.

Would Couric run a debate on the Israeli/Palestinian issue between Noam Chomsky and Alan Dershowitz, as Goodman did earlier this year?

Would Couric interview Norman Finkelstein on the same?

Would she know who Norman Finkelstein is?

Would Couric know Al Lewis as anything more than Grandpa on the Munsters?

Or would she dare interview him on his radical political philosophy, as Goodman did before Grandpa Al died earlier this year?

Would Couric know about the 1991 massacre of 271 peaceful protesters in Dili, East Timor by Indonesia forces?

Goodman was there with the protesters, was beaten, but survived.

If Katie Couric were interviewing Vanessa Redgrave, would the conversation be dominated by the death by Israeli bulldozer of peace activist Rachel Corrie -- as was Goodman's interview last month of Redgrave?

Would Couric dare interview the now untouchable Harry Belafonte -- after he called the war criminal a war criminal?

Would Couric travel to Nigeria -- as Goodman did -- to document Chevron's complicity with the Nigerian military in putting down an indigenous revolt?

Couric is going to CBS News, the old stomping ground of Edward R. Murrow.

The recently released movie of Murrow -- Good Night and Good Luck -- purports to be how Murrow stood up to Senator Joseph McCarthy and his communist witch hunts.

But the movie is actually about the sacrifice of television news at the altar of corporate commercialism.

Murrow had slim hopes for television.

He could see the writing on the wall.

As movie reviewer John Powers put it, the movie's real theme is "the inherent debasement of mass news in a commercial culture, a process so powerful that even brave individuals can't stop it."

"You see, news is a product that must be able to pay for itself," Powers said on NPR's Fresh Air. "In practice, that means getting ratings, finding corporate sponsors and newsmen becoming purveyors of fluff, and that's precisely what we see happening in the film. Murrow's show 'See It Now' has to fret about alienating its sponsor, Alcoa, when it goes after McCarthy, and Murrow himself must placate CBS by hosting the celebrity interview show 'Person to Person.'"

Powers says that "like it or not, the age of infotainment was in the cards from the very beginning."

"And for all his highfalutin speeches about how television can educate, illuminate and inspire, Murrow could do nothing to slow it down," Power said. "Seeing it now, his famed anti-McCarthy broadcast looks less like the flowering of a golden age than a blip on the radar of packaged commercial news, rather like Shepard Smith and Anderson Cooper unexpectedly exploding with anger during Hurricane Katrina before returning to their usual sleek selves."

Amy Goodman and Democracy Now are what Edward Murrow professed television could become.

Katie Couric and the CBS Evening News represent what he feared it would become.

Good night.

Good luck to Amy Goodman and Democracy Now.

Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter, <>. Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor, <>. Mokhiber and Weissman are co-authors of On the Rampage: Corporate Predators and the Destruction of Democracy (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press).

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Breaking News: Scott McClellan is history

Posted by Evan Derkacz at 7:03 AM on April 19, 2006.

Replaced by a Fox host?

White House Press Secretary (Ari Fleischer's replacement) Scott McClellan is history. No more on this yet... except to say that this is roughly the equivalent of bleaching the teeth of a cancer patient. Which is to say: no dice, what ails you, ails you still.

Update: Judd Legum writes: "The White House is considering replacing him with Fox News anchor Tony Snow."

Oh, come on... like you're surprised.

Here's Media Matters' Tony Snow page:

* Fox's Snow falsely claimed that Wilson said Plame was not covert
* Tony Snow's evolutionary falsehoods
* Conservatives falsify record on Ruth Bader Ginsburg
* FOX pundits wrong: undecideds do break for challenger
* Conservative hosts echoed RNC claim that Kerry blamed troops for missing explosives
* "Nuisance" echo: Media conservatives embraced GOP distortion of Kerry interview
* Media largely ignored LA Times report of Bush administration plans to delay major Iraq combat until after presidential election
* Contrary to conservatives' claims, Bush has not been forthcoming in release of military service records

(ThinkProgress, MediaMatters)

Feckless Leader

Posted by Melissa McEwan, Alternet

Bush still can't answer important questions; life's just a big old joke.

Yesterday, during at appearance at Johns Hopkins School of International Studies, Bush opened it up to some unscripted Q&A, which is always a disastrous idea under the best of circumstances, but things took a terrible turn when a first-year student in South Asia studies asked him about the law governing the actions of private military contractors in Iraq.

Q …My question is in regards to private military contractors. Uniform Code of Military Justice does not apply to these contractors in Iraq. I asked your Secretary of Defense a couple months ago what law governs their actions.

THE PRESIDENT: I was going to ask him. Go ahead. (Laughter.) Help. (Laughter.)

Q I was hoping your answer might be a little more specific. (Laughter.) Mr. Rumsfeld answered that Iraq has its own domestic laws which he assumed applied to those private military contractors. However, Iraq is clearly not currently capable of enforcing its laws, much less against -- over our American military contractors. I would submit to you that in this case, this is one case that privatization is not a solution. And, Mr. President, how do you propose to bring private military contractors under a system of law?

THE PRESIDENT: I appreciate that very much. I wasn’t kidding -- (laughter.) I was going to -- I pick up the phone and say, Mr. Secretary, I've got an interesting question. (Laughter.) This is what delegation -- I don't mean to be dodging the question, although it’s kind of convenient in this case, but never -- (laughter.) I really will – I’m going to call the Secretary and say you brought up a very valid question, and what are we doing about it? That’s how I work. I'm -- thanks. (Laughter.)

Three years into the war, that the president still has no idea how to answer questions like this (sobbing) is just a dreadful embarrassment (blushing), not only for him, who must now be used to the shame of his own idiocy (crawling into the fetal position), but also for us, who probably ought to be used to it (sobbing), which is perhaps the most pathetic commentary of all (uncontrollable wailing).

The intrepid Crooks and Liars has the video. Be prepared to cringe in agony as you witness Dear Leader do his manic tapdance under the excruciating misapprehension that the crowd is laughing with him rather than at him.

(Crooks and Liars)

Thursday, April 13, 2006

The people, united, will never be defeated!


DOUG IRELAND, DIRELAND - This morning in Paris, the conservative government of President Jacques Chirac caved in and announced that the special labor contract for under-26 workers that had sent millions of students and union members into the streets in protest was dead. The "CPE" (Contrat Premier Embauche or first-job contract) will be "replaced" by a new plan to provide subsidies to employers to encourage the hiring of young people in a country where youth unemployment is at 24% (and even higher -- upwards of 50% -- in the ghettos.). . .

As usual, the U.S. press understood little about the conflict. Over and over again, one heard the students referred to by TV's bubbleheads (from CBS to CNN) as "reactionaries" because they opposed the new law. But what the CPE law had done was to eliminate for under-26 workers the rights previously guaranteed to all French workers not to be fired without cause. Under the CPE, younger workers could be canned at any moment from the moment of their hiring up the two years' duration of these youth employment contracts without the employers' being required to justify the firing, if the fired worker chose to haul the employer before labor tribunals. . .

Critics Blow Holes in Mass. ‘Universal’ Health Plan

by Megan Tady

Massachusetts; Apr. 12 – While Massachusetts's new "universal" bill meets with a nationwide round of applause as a possible solution to the growing healthcare crisis, physicians and public advocates point to a long list of faults with a plan they consider a universal facade.

Many opponents say the bill, which was passed by the Massachusetts House and the Senate last Tuesday and is awaiting Governor Mitt Romney's signature, hurts low- and middle-income residents while bolstering profits for private insurance companies. According to a Boston Globe analysis, private insurers paid $7.5 million to lobbyists fighting for the bill.

Although the bill is designed to provide health coverage for Massachusetts's poorest residents and offers a sliding-scale subsidy for residents who earn up to three times the poverty level, some critics say low-income residents should be prepared for disappointment, because lawmakers have drastically under-funded the bill.

"The bill raises almost no new funds but promises to cover hundreds of thousands of new people," noted Benjamin Day, executive director of Mass-Care, a coalition of organizations working toward a single-payer healthcare system for Massachusetts. Day's group estimates that the $170 million allotted to subsidize lower-income residents will only cover about 45,000 of them.

That's less than a tenth of the state's uninsured residents, according to the most conservative official estimate of 523,000 uninsured people in the state. Lawmakers have based that estimate on data from a 2004 state survey that only counted people who were uninsured at the time of the survey and was conducted only in English or Spanish. When people who lacked coverage at any point in the year prior to the survey were added, the number of uninsured rose by 170,000.

"We don't think it was an accurate survey to make accurate policies," said Steffie Woolhandler, a physician at Cambridge Hospital, who also co-founded Physicians for a National Health Program, a nonprofit organization working toward a comprehensive national healthcare program.

What has thrown Massachusetts into the spotlight, however, is not the plan's pitfalls. Massachusetts is the first state to devise a healthcare plan that forces people to obtain health insurance. Those who exceed the income-eligibility threshold for subsidies are required to purchase their own health insurance or face tax penalties and fines. For example, an individual who makes $29,000 a year and whose employer does not provide health benefits must purchase health insurance through a private company.

Under the bill, uninsured individuals who don't purchase health insurance by July 1, 2007 will lose their personal income-tax exemption; by 2008, they will have to pay a penalty equal to half the cost of the insurance plan they could have purchased. Individual coverage typically costs a minimum of $4,000 annually in Massachusetts, and family plans cost as much as $11,000 a year.

Proponents of the bill say it will make insurance universally accessible through as-yet-undefined "market reforms" aimed at holding down costs.

Many organizations were immediately enthusiastic about the bill. "We were big smiles all around [when the bill passed]," said Brian Rosman, policy director of Health Care for All, a healthcare advocacy organization that pushed for the bill. "It's certainly not all that we'd hoped for, and there are some things that are not yet worked out or don't meet what our ideal bill is. But in terms of the legislative process, we're very pleased."

Others, however, see the bill as little more than a scheme to enforce payments to private companies.

"The poorest people did get some benefits from this bill, but the majority of the uninsured in Massachusetts are going to get precious little help," said Woolhandler. "So we don't think this plan is going to give us universal health care. But what it will do is force a lot of middle-income people – who are already struggling to make it in this expensive state – to pay thousands of dollars to private insurance companies."

According to the Massachusetts Department of Health and Human Services, 56 percent of the uninsured in Massachusetts live in households with incomes above twice the poverty level, or $37,700 per year for a family of four.

Defending the plan, Romney has compared the bill with requiring drivers to buy automobile liability insurance. But critics point out that insuring a car against accidents is not exactly akin to insuring one's health.

"Romney has this notion that health insurance should work like auto insurance, but people can choose not to buy a car," said Matt Singer, communications director of the Progressive Legislation Action Network, an organization that supports progressive legislation on the state level. "People can't choose not to have a body."

The bill would also impose a tax on some businesses that do not provide health insurance. But in contrast to the heavy penalties that individuals could face for not complying with the mandate by 2008, businesses employing more than ten people will only face a tax of up to $295 annually for every employee not covered by a company plan.

Although proponents of the bill say it would encourage employers and employees to share responsibility for providing broad health coverage, others see it as an anti-worker tactic.

"This is a rejection of the fundamental healthcare system in America, which is employer-based," Singer said. Traditionally, she explained, people have relied on the bulk-purchasing power of their employers to provide insurance for workers. "But this bill is taking that away and saying, 'Well, actually, we're going to put the burden on the individual, to the extent that we're going to penalize individuals who don't have health insurance.'"

Equally disturbing, said Singer, is the prospect that some residents who simply can't afford health insurance will end up paying the tax rather than buy a plan. "That's not a solution to America's healthcare crisis," he said.

While the bill states that "affordable" health care will be offered to residents, lawmakers were vague about the details of the cost of plans. In addition, officials have so far not indicated what exact incentives they intend to provide insurers to push them to offer low-cost healthcare plans. Critics expect the sheer cost of even basic health insurance will force many to buy low-cost plans that offer watered-down coverage compounded by high fees.

"Comprehensive, affordable policies don't exist," Woolhandler said. "Many people will be forced to pay thousands of dollars for a policy that is only a piece of paper. If someone actually does get sick, the policy will be so full of gaps – like large co-pays – that they could go bankrupt. They'll be facing the worst of both worlds: [being] forced to hand over thousands of dollars to the private health-insurance companies, and finding that they're not actually covered when they get sick."
© 2006 The NewStandard.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

UPDATED: Bush planning Iran attack

By Evan Derkacz
Posted on April 10, 2006

Seymour Hersh drops another bomb -- pun very much intended -- in the latest New Yorker alleging that the Bush administration has "operational plans" for regime change in Iran. That's "n" not "q." Iran.

Not only have they "increased clandestine activities inside Iran and intensified planning for a possible major air attack," according to Hersh, but the plans may well, in the name of destroying Iran's nuclear capability, involve the utilization of ours: "The lack of reliable intelligence leaves military planners, given the goal of totally destroying the [potential nuclear weapon development] sites, little choice but to consider the use of tactical nuclear weapons."

This, despite the fact that, according to Scott Ritter [VIDEO], there's no reason to believe that Iran has the capability, nor that they're actually do anything to violate the nonproliferation treaty at this point.

Not only that, but former UN weapons inspector Hans Blix said last week that "Iran is a least five years away from developing a nuclear bomb, leaving time to peacefully negotiate a settlement... 'We have time on our side in this case. Iran can't have a bomb ready in the next five years.'"

Hersh contends that Bush's reasoning for these radical plans is largely "messianic."

A government consultant with close ties to the civilian leadership in the Pentagon said that Bush was "absolutely convinced that Iran is going to get the bomb" if it is not stopped. He said that the President believes that he must do "what no Democrat or Republican, if elected in the future, would have the courage to do," and "that saving Iran is going to be his legacy."

Hersh quotes a former defense official with close ties to the administration as responding to Bush's plans with this technical jargon: "What are they smoking?"

UPDATE: Exasperated commenters have inspired me to include this bright spot from the Hersh piece. According to a Penatagon adviser, not only are "some senior officers and officials... considering resigning over the issue [the use of nuclear weapons, not necessarily a pre-emptive war]," but the Joint Chiefs have "agreed to give President Bush a formal recommendation stating that they are strongly opposed to considering the nuclear option for Iran."

One final note of potential irony. Larisa Alexandrovna writes:

According to current and former intelligence officials, Plame Wilson, who worked on the clandestine side of the CIA in the Directorate of Operations as a non-official cover (NOC) officer, was part of an operation tracking distribution and acquisition of weapons of mass destruction technology to and from Iran.

In other words, Bush's outing of Valerie Plame for political gain may well have played a role in bringing about these apocalyptic and heartbreakingly stupid plans. (C&L, DailyKos, RawStory)

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Massachusetts Sets Health Plan for Nearly All

April 5, 2006
New York Times

BOSTON, April 4 — Massachusetts is poised to become the first state to provide nearly universal health care coverage with a bill passed overwhelmingly by the legislature Tuesday that Gov. Mitt Romney says he will sign.

The bill does what health experts say no other state has been able to do: provide a mechanism for all of its citizens to obtain health insurance. It accomplishes that in a way that experts say combines several methods and proposals from across the political spectrum, apportioning the cost among businesses, individuals and the government.

"This is probably about as close as you can get to universal," said Paul B. Ginsburg, president of the nonpartisan Center for Studying Health System Change in Washington. "It's definitely going to be inspiring to other states about how there was this compromise. They found a way to get to a major expansion of coverage that people could agree on. For a conservative Republican, this is individual responsibility. For a Democrat, this is government helping those that need help."

The bill, after the product of months of wrangling between legislators and the governor, requires all Massachusetts residents to obtain health coverage by July 1, 2007.

Individuals who can afford private insurance will be penalized on their state income taxes if they do not purchase it. Government subsidies to private insurance plans will allow more of the working poor to buy insurance and will expand the number of children who are eligible for free coverage. Businesses with more than 10 workers that do not provide insurance will be assessed up to $295 per employee per year.

All told, the plan is expected to cover 515,000 uninsured people within three years, about 95 percent of the state's uninsured population, legislators said, leaving less than 1 percent of the population unprotected.

"It is not a typical Massachusetts-Taxachusetts, oh-just-crazy-liberal plan," said Stuart H. Altman, a professor of health policy at Brandeis University. "It isn't that at all. It is a pretty moderate approach, and that's what's impressive about it. It tried to borrow and blend a lot of different pieces."

Many states, including Massachusetts, have been wrestling for years with how to cover the uninsured, and several states have come close, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Hawaii passed a universal access law in 1974 requiring employers to offer health care coverage for employees working 20 hours or more a week, but nearly 10 percent of people remain uncovered. Efforts to cover all citizens in Minnesota and Vermont in 1992 and in Massachusetts in 1988 fell flat in the mid-1990s when the language in the bills concerning universal coverage was repealed.

In 2003, Maine enacted a law that significantly broadened insurance coverage and combined employer payments with expanded government programs. That year, California enacted a law that required employer contributions, but it was repealed in a referendum in 2004. Massachusetts would be the first state to require its citizens to have health insurance.

The Massachusetts bill creates a sliding scale of affordability ranging from people who can afford insurance outright to those who cannot afford it at all. About 215,000 people will be covered by allowing individuals and businesses with 50 or fewer employees to buy insurance with pretax dollars, and by giving insurance companies incentives to offer stripped-down plans at lower cost. Lower-cost basic plans will be available to people ages 19 to 26.