Paul Krugman took on the unwarranted pride in the US system of health insurance and prejudice against national health insurance plans in the New York Times on 11/7/05. In 2002 the US spent $5,267 per person on health care. Canada spent $2,931; Germany spent $2,817; Britain spent only $2,160, he noted. "Yet the United States has lower life expectancy and higher infant mortality than any of these countries." He also noted that the journal Health Affairs in a study of the medical experience of "sicker adults" in six countries, including Canada, Britain, Germany and the US, found that Americans find it harder than citizens of other advanced countries to see a doctor when we need one, and our system is more rife with medical errors. "Above all, Americans are far more likely than others to forgo treatment because they can't afford it. Forty percent of the Americans surveyed failed to fill a prescription because of cost. A third were deterred by cost from seeing a doctor when sick or from getting recommended tests or follow-up.
Krugman also noted that Taiwan shows the advantages of universal coverage. It moved 10 years ago from a US-style system to a Canadian-style single-payer system. In 1995 less than 60% of Taiwan's residents had health insurance; by 2001 the number was 97%. Yet according Health Affairs, this huge expansion in coverage came virtually free: it led to little if any increase in overall health care spending beyond normal growth due to rising population and incomes.
"The economic and moral case for health care reform in America, reform that would make us less different from other advanced countries, is overwhelming. One of these days we'll realize that our semiprivatized system isn't just unfair, it's far less efficient than a straightforward system of guaranteed health insurance," Krugman wrote.
ALITO UNIFIES OPPOSITION: Liberal advocates are documenting the ways that Samuel Alito, the latest Bush nominee for the Supreme Court, threatens abortion rights, workers' rights and civil liberties, but Nathan Newman, writing at his weblog, said the opinion that unites the maximum voters against him and divides the potential opposition is Chittister v. Department of Community and Economic Development, in which Alito ruled that the Family and Medical Leave Act did not apply to millions of state employees across the country. The Supreme Court overturned his decision with Chief Justice William Rehnquist, writing for a 6-3 majority, saying that the 14th Amendment confers such power by authorizing Congress to enforce each state's duty to accord ''equal protection of the laws."
"There is little question that the Family and Medical Leave Act is one of the popular laws passed in recent decades -- a lifesaver for many mothers and fathers who want to stay home with a newborn or a sick family member without fear of being fired from their job for taking that time off," Newman wrote. "Opposition to Alito's decision is a unifier -- it unites feminists, organized labor, public employees, and soccer moms. And by alienating working mothers especially, who depend on FMLA leave, Chittister has the potential to deeply divide the Republican base. ...
"If we want to encapsulate what the 'federalism revolution' means, what the 'Constitution in Exile' means for average families, it is this: Ordinary laws enacted by democratic majorities will randomly be struck down in the name of rightwing ideology."
CHENEY TRAILS CHILD BEATERS, SPOUSE CHEATERS: George W. Bush's approval rating fell to 35% in the CBS News poll released 11/3/05, the lowest rating for a president in a second term since Richard Nixon. But he still looks good compared with Vice President Dick Cheney, whose 19% approval rating Bob Harris noted is two points less popular than cheating on your spouse and seven points behind corporal punishment in schools. "Dick Cheney is now comfortably nestled deep in what can be politely called lunatic territory," Harris wrote at BobHarris.com. "Dick Cheney is now 18 points behind the number of people who believe alien beings have secretly contacted the US government. Bush, similarly, now trails the number of people who think astrology is scientific by five points." Harris added, "Scottie McClellan, however, can still spin things: Bush only trails the aliens by two points."
DEMS GAIN: In a Washington Post-ABC News poll released 11/6/05, 35% said they approved of the job Republicans in Congress were doing, but only 41% gave a positive rating to the Democrats. However, asked whom they were likely to support in next year's House elections, 52% of registered voters said the Democrat, while 37% said Republican.
Democrats need to gain 15 seats to recapture the House next year. They need six seats to retake the Senate.
FBI EXPANDS SECRET SCRUTINY: The FBI issues over 30,000 national security letters every year, requiring individuals and businesses to surrender private information. There is practically no oversight, and Congress has little interest in what's done with it, Barton Gellman reported in the Washington Post 11/6/05. Issued by FBI field supervisors, the letters, under the US PATRIOT Act, do not need the review of a prosecutor or judge but can be used to sweep up the records of people who are not alleged to be terrorists or spies. They extend the bureau's reach as never before into telephone calls, correspondence and financial lives of ordinary Americans. People such as librarians or business operators who receive the letter are barred from revealing to anyone what it said or what information they are forced to give up. There is no public accounting, nor review by the Justice Department or Congress, and the files are not destroyed when citizens are found to be innocent and investigations are closed. Instead, in October, President Bush signed Executive Order 13388, expanding access to those files for "state, local and tribal" governments and for "appropriate private sector entities," which are not defined. "A national security letter cannot be used to authorize eavesdropping or to read the contents of email. But it does permit investigators to trace revealing paths through the private affairs of a modern digital citizen. The records it yields describe where a person makes and spends money, with whom he lives and lived before, how much he gambles, what he buys online, what he pawns and borrows, where he travels, how he invests, what he searches for and reads on the Web, and who telephones or emails him at home and at work."
As it wrote the PATRIOT Act four years ago, Congress placed an expiration date on 16 provisions, but there was no expiration placed on national security letters. The Justice Department has not responded to a 2004 congressional request for a description of "the scope of such letters" and the "process and standards for approving" them. No FBI or Justice Department official audits the use of national security letters to assess whether they are appropriately targeted, lawfully applied or contribute important facts to an investigation, the Post reported. Inspector General Glenn A. Fine reports twice a year on abuses of the PATRIOT Act and has yet to substantiate any complaint, but since objects of the clandestine searches are never notified, they are in no position to complain about a search. But Pat Roberts, R-Kan., Senate intelligence chairman, stated that "the committee is well aware of the intelligence value of the information that is lawfully collected under these national security letter authorities," which he described as "non-intrusive" and "crucial to tracking terrorist networks and detecting clandestine intelligence activities."
DELAY GETS NEW JUDGE: Tom DeLay gets the best of both worlds with the appointment of retired District Judge Pat Priest of San Antonio to preside over his trial on conspiracy and money laundering charges. After DeLay complained that the original trial judge in Austin had contributed to Democratic campaigns and the liberal organization Moveon.org, the Republican chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court replaced the Austin-based judge with Priest, a Democrat who has a reputation for being sympathetic to defendants. Houston Chronicle columnist Rick Casey, who formerly reported in San Antonio, recalled that Priest made a politically courageous ruling 15 years ago, suppressing a tainted confession of an accused cop killer in a notorious case. And if Priest rules against DeLay, there's the all-Republican Court of Criminal Appeals for DeLay to fall back on.
COLORADO RATTLES RIGHT WING: Tax-loathing right-wingers were stunned when 52% of Colorado voters on 11/1/05 passed a referendum suspending the "Taxpayers Bill of Rights," which impaired the state's ability to respond to crises. The vote frees $3.7 bln for essential services, but Grover Norquist, Americans for Tax reform president, said of GOP Gov. Bill Owens, who supported the referendum: "Young Republican children years from now will be scared in campground campfires by stories about Bill Owens -- the tax-cutting Republican who magically turned into a tax-increase bad guy and they will not be able to sleep all night." Douglas Bruce, author of the 1992 TABOR amendment, commented, "[Colorado voters] have to accept the consequences of voting themselves back into slavery."
We'll have more on the 11/8/05 election results in the next issue.
LIB TO AIR ON DEFENSE RADIO: Armed Forces Radio will go ahead and air the Ed Schultz show in overseas programming, Schultz said 11/7/06. The Defense Department had intended to start carrying the liberal talker in October until Schultz criticized Allison Barber, a deputy assistant secretary of defense, for staging a teleconference between Bush and US soldiers in Iraq. Under the Bush administration, right-wing talker Rush Limbaugh has been the only talk show for US service members.
HOUSE OK'S VOTE SUPPRESSION: The US House on 11/26/05 voted 220-200 along party lines to suppress voting by low-income people. The House adopted GOP leadership language into HR 1461, the Federal Housing Finance Act of 2005, that disqualifies non-profit housing organizations that engage in non-partisan voter registration and get-out-the-vote activities from receiving grants from a new Affordable Housing Fund created by the bill. Sheila Crowley, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, called the provision "an assault on American democratic values."
GREEN GIFT CATALOG: Co-op America, a non-profit that educates people about promoting corporate responsibility has announced today a resource to help consumers choose green gifts this holiday season. The Green Gift Catalog at www.coopamerica.org/go/holidaygifts features over 40 socially and environmentally responsible businesses offering discounts and deals in order to help make green gift giving even easier. Co-op America is asking consumers to not buy gifts from Wal-Mart this holiday season and instead use their gift purchases to support businesses that respect people and the planet. US consumers plan to spend an average of $681 on holiday gifts, up from $655 in 2004. The winter holidays will add up to $435.33 billion in consumer spending this year according to the National Retail Federation.
DISASTER AID CRITIC CHANGES MIND: When the House voted in early September for a $1.4 bln relief bill for victims of Hurricane Katrina, Rep. John Hostetler, R-Ind., was one of 11 Republicans to oppose it. On 11/7/05, The Hill newspaper Hostetler, facing a tight race next year, asked President Bush for money to help victims of the tornado that ripped through many areas in his 8th District, killing 22.
SENATE VOTES CUTS FOR RURAL US: The US Senate on 11/3/05 passed by a 52-47 vote a $36 bln budget reconciliation package that cuts programs for farmers, rural communities and the working poor. Among some of the amendments that were rejected before the final vote was one by Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., to change the name of the Republicans' Deficit Reduction Omnibus Reconciliation Act of 2005 to the Moral Disaster of Monumental Proportion Reconciliation Act. "Let's call this bill what it is -- a moral disaster," explained Lautenberg. "This bill would close the door of opportunity and cut critical services to the poor, elderly, sick and hungry." The National Farmers Union said the cuts place a further burden on America's family farmers and ranchers. Farm spending makes up less than 1% of the federal budget, yet farmers and ranchers are expected to absorb 9% of all federal spending reductions. Republican congressional leaders plan $70 bln in additional tax cuts directed toward the wealthy. That same week the Senate passed legislation delaying mandatory country-of-origin labeling (COOL) until 2008. Congress adopted COOL in 2002, but it has repeatedly delayed implementation for everything but seafood.
CLASS ACTION AGAINST WAL-MART: One measure of what an economic wrongdoer Wal-Mart has become is how routine it is when 200,000 Missouri workers are certified for a class action against the company for failing to pay them for rest breaks and forcing employees to work off-the-clock, Nathan Newman noted at nathannewoman.org. While there is a long trial ahead, Newman noted that just getting class action status required extensive testimony by the employees, where the judge stated that the plaintiffs have demonstrated by compelling testimony that a Sam's Club payroll manager was trained and instructed to systematically and routinely deduct rest breaks and meal breaks from employees' daily time records, with or without verification by the employee or supervisor; and that unauthorized overtime pay was removed or edited from time records. "This is theft, nothing less, and yet some people offer Wal-Mart even a nod of acceptance for their consistent abuse of the law and their workers," Newman wrote. Jonathan Tasini has been railing at workinglife.typepad.com on Democratic operatives for taking money to spruce up Wal-Mart's image and for 22 Democratic Congress members who voted to support the DOL-Wal-Mart dirty deal on child labor. The Wal-Mart 22 includes Marion Berry (Ark.), Sanford Bishop (Ga), Dan Boren (Okla.), G. K. Butterfield (N.C.); James Clyburn (S.C.), Bud Cramer (Ala.), Henry Cuellar (Texas), Artur Davis (Ala.), Diana DeGette (Colo.), Harold Ford (Tenn.), Charles Gonzalez (Texas), Ron Kind (Wis.), Jim Matheson (Utah), Dennis Moore (Kan.), Mike Ross (Ark.), John Salazar (Colo.), Vic Snyder (Ark.), John Tanner (Tenn.), Mike Thompson (Calif.), Bennie Thompson (Miss.), Ed Towns (N.Y.) and Al Wynn (Md.).
JOE GOES HIS OWN WAY: With hearings on Samuel Alito's nomination to the Supreme Court delayed until January, on ABC's This Week 11/76/05, Sen. Joe Biden undercut the Senate Democratic leadership's negotiating position by saying that Dems shouldn't and probably wouldn't filibuster Alito's confirmation. Salon's Tim Grieve noted that Biden has a history of going his own way. "Earlier this year, as his colleagues were still mounting an effort to defeat the nomination of Alberto Gonzales as attorney general, Biden opened his questioning by assuring the nominee that he'd be confirmed."
ANTIWAR SERMON BRINGS IRS EXAM: The Internal Revenue Service has warned an Episcopal church in California that it might lose its tax-exempt status because of an antiwar sermon last year, the Los Angeles Times reported 11/7/05. Rector J. Edwin Bacon of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena told congregants 11/6/05 that a guest sermon by the church's former rector, Rev. George F. Regas, on 10/31/04 prompted a letter from the IRS. Regas had imagined Jesus participating in a political debate with then-candidates George W. Bush and John Kerry. Regas said that "good people of profound faith" could vote for either man, and did not tell parishioners whom to support. But he criticized the war in Iraq, saying that Jesus would have told Bush, "Mr. President, your doctrine of preemptive war is a failed doctrine. Forcibly changing the regime of an enemy that posed no imminent threat has led to disaster." On 6/9/05, the church received a letter from the IRS stating that "a reasonable belief exists that you may not be tax-exempt as a church " The IRS recently informed the church that it would proceed with a formal examination.
US JAILED WRITERS FOR SATIRE: Two Afghan writers were held in the US military prison at Guantanamo three years for writing a satire, James Rupert of Newsday reported 10/31/05. Badr Zaman Badr and his brother Abdurrahim Muslim Dost write jokes, so when the Clinton administration in 1998 offered a $5 million reward for Osama bin Laden, Dost responded that Afghans should put up 5 million *Afghanis* -- equivalent to $113 -- for the arrest of President Bill Clinton. "It was a lampoon ... of the poor Afghan economy" under the Taliban, Badr recalled. The article instructed Afghans how to identify Clinton if they stumbled upon him. "It said he was clean-shaven, had light-colored eyes and he had been seen involved in a scandal with Monica Lewinsky," Badr said. So in 2002, when the US military shackled the writers and flew them to Guantanamo among prisoners whom Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld declared "the worst of the worst" violent terrorists, the brothers found life imitating farce. Interrogators, some flown down from Washington, didn't get the joke, Badr said. "Again and again, they were asking questions about this article. We had to explain that this was a satire." He paused. "It was really pathetic." In recent months, scores of Afghans interviewed by Newsday -- including a dozen former US prisoners, plus human rights officials and senior Afghan security officials -- said the US is detaining enough innocent Afghans in its war against the Taliban and al Qaeda that it is seriously undermining popular support for its presence in Afghanistan.
MSNBC LIMITS LIBS: Keith Olbermann of MSNBC's *Countdown* recently revealed that network bosses were upset when he had two liberal guests too close together on his show in September 2003. According to Fairness and Accurancy In Reporting (FAIR) Olbermann on 10/25/05 told Al Franken that a network vice president complained when he had Franken and Janeane Garofalo on his show two days apart. "I got called into a vice president's office here and told, 'Hey, we don't mind you interviewing these guys, but should you really have put liberals on, on consecutive nights?'" FAIR noted that from 9/2/03, when Franken was interviewed, to 9/4/03, when Garofalo appeared, Olbermann interviewed nine guests. FAIR noted that Phil Donahue's talk show was cancelled in February 2003 -- despite being the channel's highest-rated show at the time -- explicitly for his left-of-center political views. An internal management memo worried that his program could become "a home for the liberal antiwar agenda." FAIR founder Jeff Cohen, a senior producer on MSNBC's Donahue show, explained to the *American Journalism Review* (12/04-1/05): "In the last months of Donahue, we were ordered to book more right-wing guests than left-wing, more pro-war than antiwar to balance the liberalism of host Phil Donahue." Cohen added that orders that Donahue's guest list favor conservatives were stated repeatedly to the show's staff.