Kevin Drum of WashingtonMonthly.com sees national health care in the US as inevitable. "It won't come without a lot of kicking and screaming, of course, but it will come nonetheless," he wrote 5/23/05, citing a Los Angeles Times article about the latest wrinkle in employer healthcare plans: extremely high deductibles, paired with health savings accounts, in an attempt to avoid rising premiums. In the 5/22/05 New York Times, Robin Cook reports that advances in genetic testing are bringing us closer and closer to the day when simple diagnostics will allow insurance companies to decide who they will cover and who they won't. Risk pooling will become a thing of the past, and anyone with the bad luck to have a risky genetic chart will find herself unable to get insurance coverage at all.
"With the end of pooling risk within defined groups, there is only one solution to the problem of paying for health care in the United States: to pool risk for the entire nation," Cook wrote, referring to a comprehensive package that includes preventive care, acute care and catastrophic care. "Although I never thought I'd advocate a government-sponsored, obviously non-profit, tax-supported, universal access, single-payer plan, I've changed my mind: the sooner we move to such a system, the better off we will be. Only with universal health care will we be able to pool risk for the entire country and share what nature has dealt us; only then will there be no motivation for anyone or any organization to ferret out an individual's confidential, genetic makeup."
As employers become progressively less willing to pay for skyrocketing healthcare costs that their foreign competitors don't have to shoulder; as workers are forced to pay more and more for ever stingier benefits; and as genetic testing prevents increasing numbers of people from getting any coverage at all, there will be a growing groundswell to ditch America's peculiar and dysfunctional system of employer provided healthcare and replace it with something better, Drum wrote.
GOP EYES PERMANENT CAMPAIGN: Republicans have kept up a campaign to deny Gov. Christine Gregoire legitimacy ever since the third and final recount showed the moderate Democrat beat Dino Rossi (R) by only 129 votes out of 2.7 million cast. Gregoire was sworn into office on Jan. 12, but Rossi and the GOP challenged her election in court and the case went to trial 5/23/05 in the small city of Wenatchee, in eastern Washington. "There is more at stake here than whether the Evergreen State is run by the equivalent of John Kerry or George W. Bush (which matters a lot to us in the upper-left corner),' George Howard wrote for the American Prospect Online (prospect.org) 5/23/05. "If Rossi wins his case, political professionals will see a successful strategy for contesting the results of statewide races and judicial standards for overturning an election will have been dramatically lowered. The combination of the two would mean more legal election challenges and an ugly new politics of undermining elected officials." The GOP has run an effective PR campaign to label the new governor "Fraudoire," wrote Howard, the political editor of Seattle Weekly. "The Republicans' vast echo chamber -- including shock jocks of talk radio, fervent Internet bloggers and Republican elected officials -- have skillfully used the imperfections of the state's electoral system to cast doubt on the legitimacy of Gregoire's election." Survey USA, a nonpartisan firm that works for TV stations, found that Gregoire's May approval ratings (34% approve; 58% disapprove) were the lowest of any Democratic governor in the nation and 47th overall.
R'S LOOK TO PAD COURT MAJORITIES: Dave Denison notes in the 5/22/05 Boston Globe that Republican judges are in the majority in 10 out of the nation's 13 federal appellate courts. "By the end of President George W. Bush's term the count will likely be 12 out of 13, and about 85% of those circuit court judges will be Republican appointees, according to a March report in the National Law Journal. Seven of the nine sitting Supreme Court justices (and 16 out of 22 appointments in the last 50 years) were put forward by Republicans, as well. All of which lends a certain antic quality to House majority leader Tom DeLay's description of the federal courts last month as 'the left's last legislative body.' Federal judges are appointed for life; it could be a generation before the political balance shifts again."
NARAL SNUBS R.I. DEMS: The National Abortion Rights Action League outraged Democrats when it endorsed for re-election Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I., who supports abortion rights but also supports anti-abortion GOP leaders. NARAL had helped drive out the most electable pro-life Democratic challenger, Rep. Jim Langevin, from the race. That left two pro-choice Dems, Rhode Island Secretary of State Matt Brown and former attorney general Sheldon Whitehouse, challenging Chafee. Both attacked his record of supporting federal judges deemed "anti-choice" by NARAL, the Providence Journal reported 5/20/05. A Senate Democratic poll in January showed Langevin beating Chafee 52-32. A Providence TV station's poll 4/25-28/05 showed Chafee leading Brown 44-27 and Whitehouse 41-31.
TEXAS DEREG NO HELP FOR RATEPAYERS: Deregulation of electrical utilities was supposed to lower rates for small consumers in Texas, but -- surprise -- it's not working out that way. A study by Jay Zarnikau at the University of Texas, reported in the Wall Street Journal 5/20/05, finds that Texas utilities used the 1999 restructuring law to impose big price increases on residential and small-business customers. Rates shot up an average of 43% from January 2002 to October 2004 for customers still getting power from their deregulated utilities, versus a 17% jump in prices for customers of utilities still charging traditional cost-based rates. Prices at rural electric cooperatives rose just 9%. Nationally, states still are debating whether deregulation is the best method for delivering low prices for consumers. The big increases show how difficult it is for states to provide some price stability for small consumers with little bargaining leverage, while still protecting suppliers against rising fuel costs, the Journal reported.
FOX NEWS FREE FALL: Fox News ratings have been plummeting for six months, Mediabistro.com reported 4/26/05. "TV Newser" cited a CNN press release that noted Fox's primetime audience in the 25-to-54 age bracket dropping from 1,074,000 in October '04 to 445,000 in April '05. That's a 58% decline, with no sign of leveling off. Other cable stations' ratings were also down since the election, but CNN's, for example, appeared to have stabilized in April while Fox's continued to drop. Newshounds.us, which bills itself as "eight middle-aged citizens who watch Fox News so you won't have to," commented, "Fox's plunging ratings should be a warning to those cable stations trying to copy the news channel's conservative Republican slant. People are tired of it. Try something different, like a progressive television show, for a change."
MAYORS EMBRACE KYOTO RULES: Unsettled by a series of dry winters in normally wet Seattle, Mayor Greg Nickels has begun a nationwide effort to do something the Bush administration will not: carry out the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, the New York Times reported 5/14/05. Nickels (D) says 131 other likeminded mayors have joined a bipartisan coalition to fight global warming on the local level, in an implicit rejection of the administration's policy. Mayors, from cities as liberal as New York and Los Angeles and as conservative as Hurst, Texas, represent nearly 29 million citizens in 35 states, according to Nickels' office. They are pledging to have their cities meet what would have been a binding requirement for the nation had the Bush administration not rejected the Kyoto Protocol: a reduction in heat-trapping gas emissions to levels 7% below those of 1990, by 2012.
Nickels said that to achieve the 7% reduction, Seattle was requiring cruise ships that dock in its bustling port to turn off their diesel engines while resupplying and to rely only on electric power provided by the city, a requirement that has forced some ships to retrofit. And by the end of this year the city's power utility, Seattle City Light, will be the only utility in the country with no net emissions of greenhouse gases, the mayor's office said.
Salt Lake City has become Utah's largest buyer of wind power in order to meet its reduction target. In New York, the city is trying to reduce emissions from the municipal fleet by buying hybrid electric-gasoline-powered vehicles.
OIL FIRMS PROFITS SKY-HIGH: 'Tis the season (again) of sky-high gas prices, and according to the Department of Energy, they're here to say, with costs likely to average $2.28 through the summer. This means a major added burden on America's middle class, the Center for American Progress noted. Except for housing costs, low- and middle-income households in the US spend more of their earnings on transportation than anything else. President Bush has admitted his energy bill wouldn't change the price at the pump. In fact, a 2004 analysis by the Energy Information Administration found that the Bush-backed energy bill will actually raise gas prices and increase oil demand nearly 14% by 2010.
As Americans struggle at the pump, oil companies are raking in record profits and giving their executives fat raises. According to the Wall Street Journal, Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch/Shell Group "both reported huge increases in first-quarter income, benefiting from the industry wide bonanza also swelling the coffers of their peers: high prices for the oil they pump and high margins for refining it." Of course, those profits do have their drawbacks: Exxon's "soon-to-retire CEO suddenly has a new anxiety: how to spend the windfall wrought by $55-a-barrel oil," Fortune magazine reports. "If oil simply stays where it is now, Exxon's cash could approach $40 billion in 12 months. By then [Exxon's CEO] is expected to have handed off the top job &endash; and the headache of what to do with all that cash." And the recent Journal compensation survey found that oil and gas executives' total direct compensation (2004) averaged about $16.5 million (median). The median percent change from 2003 to 2004 was 109.1%, by far the highest of the industries profiled. (For more on CEO pay soaring while the middle class struggles, see www.americanprogress.org.)
Even Republicans know Bush's energy plan is "bulls**t. At least, that's what House Resources Chair Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) said 4/21/05 at a Capitol Hill news conference while Pombo's conservative colleagues were talking up new subsidies for hydrogen technology. Pombo turned to House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and whispered, "This is bulls -- t." (A CNN journalist happened to be within earshot.) Pombo later explained his comment: President Bush's plan to spend $2 billion developing hydrogen-fueled cars is "not a short-term solution because we just don't have the technology to produce it," he said, adding that the promised vehicles are "multimillion-dollar prototypes that nobody's going to buy." Pombo's actually right, AmericanProgress.org noted. "Sure, hydrogen could be an important energy option down the road. But making fuel-cell technology the prime focus of our sustainable energy policy, as conservatives in Washington have done, means having to wait 15 to 20 years to produce cleaner cars and wean the country off of oil. And while Bush trumpets the long-term gains of hydrogen, he's hindering investment in clean technologies that already exist and actively opposing efforts to make today's cars and trucks cleaner and more fuel-efficient.
Gas prices can be lowered sooner rather than later, AmericanProgress.org says. For example, scrap-and-replace programs offer low-income drivers (who typically own the least-safe and the most-polluting cars on the road) the opportunity to trade in their inefficient vehicles for cleaner, more efficient cars. A system of feebates -&endash; fees and rebates assigned to each vehicle type based on its fuel efficiency &endash;- would provide a direct signal of the value of efficiency to consumers where they pay the most attention, at the sticker price. Buyers of more efficient vehicles would receive a rebate; buyers of less efficient vehicles would pay a fee. And merely improving standards for tire replacements, so that substitute tires are required to be as efficient as new car tires, would save over 7 billion barrels of oil over the next 50 years.
'DON'T PRIVATIZE FREEDOM': Two months after three Denver residents were ejected from a presidential "town hall meeting" on Social Security because of a bumper sticker on their car, the "Denver Three" and victims of similar incidents in other states announced the kickoff of a "Don't Privatize My Freedom" campaign 5/23/05. The campaign will increase awareness of the White House pattern of removing citizens from "town hall" forums based solely on viewpoint, and will demand answers from the White House about how event staff are trained. Similar exclusion and removal tactics have been used by White House event staff at town hall forums in Colorado, North Dakota, Arizona and New Hampshire. After the 3/21/05 incident in Denver, Rep. Mark Udall, D-Colo., sent a letter to the White House demanding answers, but received none. The Secret Service reportedly has opened a criminal investigation into allegations that forum workers impersonated Secret Service agents. "When the same thing happens in four different states, it's not an isolated incident, it's a policy," said Alex Young, one of the Denver 3. "The White House has done everything possible to stonewall any question about who is training event staff to violate the rights of citizens at public events. With the Don't Privatize My Freedom campaign, we are demanding answers -- and we'll get them." See www.denverthree.org.
PROG CAUCUS STEPS UP: The Congressional Progressive Caucus, with 50-plus members the single largest caucus in the House, has hired grassroots organizer Bill Goold as its first full-time staffer, co-chairs Barbara Lee (Calif.) and Lynn Woolsey (Calif.) announced 5/16/05. Goold has more than 26 years of experience working in Congress for congressmen Don Pease, George Brown, Bernie Sanders, Rush Holt, and Sen. Tom Harkin. Goold also worked as senior policy adviser in the International Affairs Department of the AFL-CIO and deputy director for global programs in the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center. As progressive policy adviser, Goold will serve as the primary point of contact for the Democratic leadership, Congress members and other caucuses on all CPC issues. He will also be charged with developing and implementing a comprehensive communications strategy and coordinating CPC policy outreach to progressive organizations.
DOZENS OF KORAN ABUSES REPORTED: Senior Bush administration officials reacted with outrage to a Newsweek report that US interrogators had desecrated the Koran at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility, resulting in a notorious retraction. But the Los Angeles Times noted 5/22/05 that allegations of disrespectful treatment of Islam's holy book are far from rare. An examination of hearing transcripts, court records and government documents, as well as interviews with former detainees, their lawyers, civil liberties groups and US military personnel, reveals dozens of accusations involving the Koran, not only at Guantanamo, but also at American-run detention facilities in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Pentagon is conducting an internal investigation of reported abuses at the naval base in Cuba, led by Air Force Lt. Gen. Randall Schmidt. The administration has refused to say what the inquiry, still weeks from completion, has found so far. But the allegations, both at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere, contain detailed descriptions of what Muslim prisoners said was mishandling of the Koran -- sometimes in a deliberately provocative manner.
BUSH FIGHTS CENTRAL AMERICAN DEMOCRACY: CBS Marketwatch reported 5/17/05 that Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick gave a speech at the right-wing Heritage Foundation claiming that Congress will approve the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CA) because lawmakers "will want to provide a helping hand to the fragile democracies in the region." Zoellick "warned that the former Communist rebels and right-wing dictators of the region would be the biggest winners if CAFTA is defeated."
Apparently, Zoellick believes that the region's oldest and most stable democracy are "communist rebels and right wing dictators," David Sirota noted at DavidSirota.com. "The fact is, the major opposition to CAFTA is being led by Costa Rica, the oldest democracy in Central America. As the Wall Street Journal recently noted, 'The reluctance of Central America's oldest democracy has surprised the White House and undermines one of its chief arguments for the pact: that Cafta represents an urgently sought benefit for the impoverished region.' Polls show Costa Ricans worry that Cafta may lead to the privatization of the country's free universal health-care system. Just 38% of Costa Ricans polled in February who had heard of the deal thought it would benefit the country, compared with 56% in January of last year."
BUSH APPROVAL STILL FALLING: A CNN/USA Today Gallup poll released 5/23/05 showed that 46% approve of the way Bush is handling his job while 50% disapprove. On Social Security, 58% disapprove of Bush's proposal. And 47% said the country would be better off if Democrats controlled Congress, up from 45% in October 2004, while 36% supported Republicans, down from 41% last year.
US OK'D SOME IRAQ SANCTION BUSTERS: While Republicans preferred to focus attention on foreigners, a report released May 16 by the Democratic staff on a Senate investigations committee stated the US government turned a blind eye to extensive sanctions-busting in the prewar sale of Iraqi oil. The report said the Bush administration was made aware of illegal oil sales and kickbacks paid to the Saddam Hussein regime but did nothing to stop them.
The Senate report found that US oil purchases accounted for 52% of the kickbacks paid to the regime in return for sales of cheap oil -- more than the rest of the world put together, the London Guardian noted 5/17/05. The US sales dwarf transfers previously alleged by the Senate majority against UN staff and European politicians such as the British MP, George Galloway, and the former French minister, Charles Pasqua.
"The United States was not only aware of Iraqi oil sales which violated UN sanctions and provided the bulk of the illicit money Saddam Hussein obtained from circumventing UN sanctions," the report said. "On occasion, the United States actually facilitated the illicit oil sales.
The report is likely to ease pressure from conservative Republicans on Kofi Annan to resign from his post as UN secretary general, the Guardian noted.