Daily Archive: 11/19/2013

Nov 19 2013

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

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New York Times Editorial Board: A New G.O.P. Excuse for Doing Nothing

With unrestrained glee, Republicans are using the calamitous debut of the Affordable Care Act as their latest justification for undermining all of health care reform. But they’re not stopping there. The Obama administration’s fumbling is apparently a good excuse for them to do nothing on immigration reform, on a budget agreement, and on any other initiative coming out of the White House. [..]

Their opportunistic theme is clear: If you can’t trust President Obama on this issue, how can you trust him on anything else? Unquestionably, the White House handed them this gift through two kinds of incompetence: the technical failure of the health-exchange website, and the political failure of the president in falsely promising that no one would lose an insurance policy they already had.

But just as these blunders are not the end of the health reform, they will also, in the end, not stop the long march to immigration reform, more jobs or desperately needed improvements to education, transportation and other fundamental functions.

Michael Klare: Are we witnessing the start of a global green revolution?

Mass environmental protests are gaining strength. If governments won’t take the lead on an imperiled planet, someone will

A week after the most powerful “super typhoon” ever recorded pummeled the Philippines, killing thousands in a single province, and three weeks after the northern Chinese city of Harbin suffered a devastating “airpocalypse“, suffocating the city with coal-plant pollution, government leaders beware!

Although individual events like these cannot be attributed with absolute certainty to increased fossil fuel use and climate change, they are the type of disasters that, scientists tell us, will become a pervasive part of life on a planet being transformed by the massive consumption of carbon-based fuels. If, as is now the case, governments across the planet back an extension of the carbon age and ever increasing reliance on “unconventional” fossil fuels like tar sands and shale gas, we should all expect trouble. In fact, we should expect mass upheavals leading to a green energy revolution.

Richard (RJ) Eskow: ‘Values, Not Just Math’: Why Elizabeth Warren’s Latest Speech Matters

This week Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts gave an important speech on the floor of the United State Senate. Said Sen. Warren, “the conversation about retirement and Social Security benefits is not just a conversation about math. At its core, this is a conversation about our values.” Sen. Warren knows her values.

She knows her math, too. As co-author of The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers and Fathers Are Going Broke, Warren helped document a phenomenon which most Americans had observed but few had fully recognized: Typical two-earner middle-class families today can’t maintain the standard of living which single-earner middle-class households enjoyed in the 1950s and 1960s.

Why? Because real wages have fallen, mortgages are more expensive, education costs have skyrocketed, and out-of-pocket health care costs have risen dramatically for families with employer-based insurance.

Paul Rieckhoff: Who Will Stand With Military Sexual Assault Survivors When It Counts This Week

Serving in the U.S. military requires courage. Coming forward to describe surviving military sexual assault takes even more.

That is what thousands of survivors like those shown in the Academy Award-nominated film, The Invisible War have done. And for every survivor who is able to come forward, thousands are suffering in silence.

When the Department of Defense reported that there were an estimated 26,000 cases of unwanted sexual contact in the military in 2012, it was a massive wake-up call. It showed our military is being weakened from the inside. And this week, the issue has finally reached a tipping point. After 20 years of broken promises to end sexual assault in the military, one vote will determine whether or not Congress has the courage to strengthen the military justice system.

Wendall Potter: The Real Reasons Insurers Are Canceling Policies

Before Obama signed the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies already were making rapid progress in implementing their business plans of “migrating” their customers from traditional managed care plans to so-called “consumer-directed” plans, the industry euphemism for high-deductible policies. At the same time they’ve been requiring us to pay more out of our own pockets for care, they’ve also been implementing a strategy of reducing benefits. Investors and Wall Street financial analysts refer to these common industry practices as “benefit buydowns.” That’s another euphemism, by the way.

I myself — and thousands of my fellow Cigna employees — were notified several years ago, long before I left my job, that our HMOs and PPOs were being discontinued. Yep, we got notices in the mail. If we wanted to stay in a Cigna-subsidized health plan, we would have to switch to a high-deductible plan. The same thing has happened to tens of millions of other Americans in recent years.

Yet if you relied on the Washington media for your news and information about health care, you’d think that insurance companies would never have considered sending policy discontinuation notices to their policyholders until forced to do so by Obamacare.

The truth: they have always done this when profits were at stake.

Norman Solomon: The Obamacare Disaster and the Poison of Party Loyalty

Four years ago, countless Democratic leaders and allies pushed for passage of Barack Obama’s complex healthcare act while arguing that his entire presidency was at stake. The party hierarchy whipped the Congressional Progressive Caucus into line, while MoveOn and other loyal groups stayed in step along with many liberal pundits. [..]

It should now be painfully obvious that Obamacare’s little helpers, dutifully reciting White House talking points in 2009 and early 2010, were helping right-wing bogus populism to gather steam. Claiming that the Obama presidency would sink without signing into law its “landmark” healthcare bill, many a progressive worked to throw the president a rope; while ostensibly attached to a political life preserver, the rope was actually fastened to a huge deadweight anvil. [..]

With such disingenuous sales pitches four years ago, President Obama and his Democratic acolytes did a lot to create the current political mess engulfing Obamacare-exaggerating its virtues while pulling out the stops to normalize denial about its real drawbacks. That was a bad approach in 2009. It remains a bad approach today.

Nov 19 2013

On This Day In History November 19

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

November 19 is the 323rd day of the year (324th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 42 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln delivers Gettysburg Address.

On November 19, 1863, at the dedication of a military cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, during the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln delivers one of the most memorable speeches in American history. In just 272 words, Lincoln brilliantly and movingly reminded a war-weary public why the Union had to fight, and win, the Civil War.

The Battle of Gettysburg, fought some four months earlier, was the single bloodiest battle of the Civil War. Over the course of three days, more than 45,000 men were killed, injured, captured or went missing.  The battle also proved to be the turning point of the war: General Robert E. Lee’s defeat and retreat from Gettysburg marked the last Confederate invasion of Northern territory and the beginning of the Southern army’s ultimate decline.

Charged by Pennsylvania’s governor, Andrew Curtin, to care for the Gettysburg dead, an attorney named David Wills bought 17 acres of pasture to turn into a cemetery for the more than 7,500 who fell in battle. Wills invited Edward Everett, one of the most famous orators of the day, to deliver a speech at the cemetery’s dedication. Almost as an afterthought, Wills also sent a letter to Lincoln-just two weeks before the ceremony-requesting “a few appropriate remarks” to consecrate the grounds.

Text of Gettysburg Address

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us-that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion-that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain-that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom-and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Nov 19 2013

A Green Alternative

Bill Moyers and Company: Fighting the Good Fight

Have you ever dreamed of quitting your day job to work on something you really believed in? That’s exactly what this week’s guests, Jill Stein and Margaret Flowers, did when they left their careers behind as medical doctors.

Both saw that holding political office largely depended on how much money you have, which in turn enabled injustices to be fashioned into law and public policy. Outraged and angry, they decided to stand up and take action.

“When people ask me ‘what kind of medicine are you practicing?’ I usually say, ‘I’m practicing political medicine because it’s the mother of all illnesses,'” Stein tells Bill. Flowers adds: “Once you start speaking truth to power and standing up for the right things, it’s very empowering.”

Stein and Flowers serve as the president and secretary of health, respectively, for the Green Shadow Cabinet, an organization offering alternative policies to the “dysfunctional government in Washington, DC.”



Transcript can be read here

Nov 19 2013

Retirement in Crisis

Increasingly over the last few months the sensible people of congress have gotten on board with the idea that Social Security should be expanded. With the failure of many 401k’s and inadequate pension funds, many seniors and future retirees are more reliant on Social Security for a substantial part of their retirement plans. Senators Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) have proposed that instead of switching to a “chained” consumer price index that cuts retiree benefits, the nation should adopt CPI-E, which measures the actual cost of living for the elderly and would raise benefits to meet actual needs.

The latest to voice support for this idea is Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren who took to the Senate floor to criticize the Washington Post‘s editorial that said  called expanding Social Security “wrongheaded” and suggested the nation should instead be more concerned about the higher percentage of children living in poverty. Sen. Warren called this the “uglier side” of the debate on Social Security.

Floor Speech by Senator Elizabeth Warren (pdf)

The Retirement Crisis

November 18, 2013

As Prepared for Delivery

(Mr./Madame) President, I rise today to talk about the retirement crisis in this country – a crisis that has received far too little attention, and far too little response, from Washington.

I spent most of my career studying the economic pressures on middle class families – families who worked hard, who played by the rules, but who still found themselves hanging on by their fingernails. Starting in the 1970s, even as workers became more productive, their wages flattened out, while core expenses, things like housing and health care and sending a kid to college, just kept going up.

Working families didn’t ask for a bailout. They rolled up their sleeves and sent both parents into the workforce. But that meant higher childcare costs, a second car, and higher taxes. So they tightened their belts more, cutting spending wherever they could. Adjusted for inflation, families today spend less than they did a generation ago on food, clothing, furniture, appliances, and other flexible purchases. When that still wasn’t enough to cover rising costs, they took on debt credit card debt, college debt, debt just to pay for the necessities. As families became increase singly desperate, unscrupulous financial institutions were all too happy to chain them to financial products that got them into even more trouble — products where fine print and legalese covered up the true costs of credit. These trends are not new, and there have been warning signs for years about what is happening to our middle class. One major consequence of these increasing pressures on working people – a consequence that receives far too little attention – is that the dream of a secure retirement is slowly slipping away.

A generation ago, middle – class families were able to put away enough money during their working years to make it through their later years with dignity. On average, they saved about 11% of their take home pay while working. Many paid off their homes, got rid  of all their debts, and retired with strong pensions from their employers. And where pensions, savings, and investments fell short,

they could rely on Social Security to make up the difference. That was the story a generation ago, but since that time, the retirement landscape has shifted dramatically against our families. Among working families on the verge of retirement, about a third have no retirement savings of any kind, and another third have total savings that are less than their annual income. Many seniors have seen their housing wealth shrink as well. According to AARP, in 2012, one out of every seven older homeowners was paying down a mortgage that was higher than the value of their house.

While President Barack Obama and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi have expressed their support for cuts to Social Security as part of a budget agreement to trim the deficit, which Social Security does not contribute to, most Democrats wisely have said ruled that out in the current debate talks. We need to make sure that any cuts to the Social Security benefits of our most vulnerable citizens is taken off the table permanently.