Mike Madden noted at Salon.com (8/10) that US health care already has “death panels,” but they’re run by private insurance companies that determine who gets medical coverage. In one notorious case, CIGNA denied a liver transplant for a 17-year-old California girl suffering from leukemia in 2007, despite the recommendation of Nataline Sarkisyan’s doctors who said she had a 65% chance of succeeding. The company decided that wasn’t a good enough reason to order the transplant. The bureaucrats held their ground for a critical 10 days before they relented, just two hours before the girl died in December 2007.

The American Medical Association reported that the biggest insurance companies in the country denied between 2% and 5% of claims put in by doctors last year. There is no national database of insurance claim denials, because private insurance companies aren’t required to disclose such stats, Madden reported. A House Energy and Commerce Committee report in June found that three insurance companies kicked at least 20,000 people off their rolls between 2003 and 2007 for such reasons as typos on their application paperwork, a pre-existing condition or a family member’s medical history. The insurance companies saved $300 mln. Many clients were denied insurance after they put in claims. People who buy insurance under individual policies, about 6% of adults, are especially vulnerable, but the 63% of adults covered by employer-provided insurance aren’t immune to difficulty, Madden noted.

Some other healthcare horror stories Salon.com turned up from the current system:

• In June 2008, Robin Beaton, a retired nurse from Waxahachie, Texas, found out she had breast cancer and needed a double mastectomy. Two days before her surgery, her insurance company, Blue Cross, flagged her chart and told the hospital they wouldn’t allow the procedure to go forward until they finished an examination of five years of her medical history — which could take three months. It turned out that a month before the cancer diagnosis, Beaton had gone to a dermatologist for acne treatment, and Blue Cross incorrectly interpreted a word on her chart to mean that the acne was precancerous.

Not long into the investigation, the insurer canceled her policy. Beaton, they said, had listed her weight incorrectly when she bought it, and had also failed to disclose that she’d once taken medicine for a heart condition — which she hadn’t been taking at the time she filled out the application. By October, thanks to an intervention from her member of Congress, Blue Cross reinstated Beaton’s insurance coverage. But the tumor she had removed had grown 2 centimeters in the meantime, and she had to have her lymph nodes removed as well as her breasts amputated because of the delay.

• In October 2008, Michael Napientak, a doorman from Clarendon Hills, Ill., went to the hospital for surgery to relieve agonizing back pain. His wife’s employer’s insurance provider, a subsidiary of UnitedHealthCare, had issued a pre-authorization for the operation. The operation went well. But in April, the insurer started sending notices that it wouldn’t pay for the surgery, after all; the family, not the insurance provider, would be on the hook for the $148,000 the hospital charged for the procedure. Pre-authorization, the insurance company explained, didn’t necessarily guarantee payment on a claim would be forthcoming. The company offered shifting explanations for why it wouldn’t pay — first, demanding proof that Napientak had tried less expensive measures to relieve his pain, and then, when he provided it, insisting that it lacked documentation for why the surgery was medically necessary. Napientak’s wife, Sandie, asked her boss to help out, but with no luck. Fortunately for the Napientaks, they were able to attract the attention of a Chicago Tribune columnist before they had to figure out how to pay the six-figure bill — once the newspaper started asking questions, the insurer suddenly decided, “based on additional information submitted,” to cover the tab, after all.

• David Denney was less than a year old when he was diagnosed in 1995 with glutaric acidemia Type 1, a rare blood disorder that left him severely brain damaged and unable to eat, walk or speak without assistance. For more than a decade, Blue Cross of California — his parents’ insurance company — paid the $1,200 weekly cost to have a nurse care for him, giving him exercise and administering anti-seizure medication.

But in March 2006, Blue Cross told the Denney family their claims had exceeded the annual cost limit for his care. When they wrote back, objecting and pointing out that their annual limit was higher, the company changed its mind — about the reason for the denial. The nurse’s services weren’t medically necessary, the insurers said. His family sued, and the case went to arbitration, as their policy allowed. California taxpayers, meanwhile, got stuck with the bill — after years of paying their own premiums, the Denney family went on Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid system.

• Patricia Reilling opened an art gallery in Louisville, Ky., in 1987, and three years later took out an insurance policy for herself and her employees. Her insurance provider, Anthem Health Plans of Kentucky, wrote her this June, telling her it was canceling her coverage — a few days after it sent her a different letter detailing the rates to renew for another year and billing her for July.

Reilling thinks she knows the reason for the cutoff, though — she was diagnosed with breast cancer in March 2008. That kicked off a year-long battle with Anthem. First the company refused to pay for an MRI to locate the tumors, saying her family medical history didn’t indicate she was likely to have cancer. Eventually, it approved the MRI, but only after she’d undergone an additional, painful biopsy. Her doctor removed both of her breasts in April 2008. In December, she went in for reconstructive plastic surgery — and contracted a case of MRSA, an invasive infection. In January of this year, Reilling underwent two more surgeries to deal with the MRSA infection, and she’s likely to require another operation to help fix all the damage. The monthly bill for her prescription medicines — which she says are mostly generics — is $2,000; the doctors treating her for the MRSA infection want $280 for each appointment, now that she’s lost her insurance coverage. When she appealed the decision to cancel her policy, asking if she could keep paying the premium and continue coverage until her current course of treatment ends, the insurers wrote back with yet another denial. But they did say they hoped her health improved.

Wendell Potter, the CIGNA insurance executive turned whistleblower, told the Senate commerce committee (6/24) insurers routinely dump policyholders who are less profitable or who get sick. In addition to individual policy rescission, they also dump small businesses whose employees’ medical claims exceed what insurance underwriters expected. “All it takes is one illness or accident among employees at a small business to prompt an insurance company to hike the next year’s premiums so high that the employer has to cut benefits, shop for another carrier, or stop offering coverage altogether — leaving workers uninsured,” a practice known in the industry as “purging.” The purging of less profitable accounts through intentionally unrealistic rate increases helps explain why the number of small businesses offering coverage to their employees has fallen from 61% in 1993 to 38% today, according to the National Small Business Association. And once an insurer purges a business, Potter told the senators, there are often no other viable choices in the health insurance market because of rampant industry consolidation.

SATIRE IS IMPOSSIBLE. Prominent Republican economist Arthur Laffer said on CNN (8/4), “If you like the Post Office and the Department of Motor Vehicles and you think they’re run well, just wait ’til you see Medicare, Medicaid and health care done by the government.”

Nobody bothered to point out that Medicare, Medicaid and veterans’ health care already is done by the government.

Laffer, as a member of Ronald Reagan’s Economic Policy Advisory Board from 1981 to 1989, was one of the major proponents of “Supply Side” economics, which proposed to increase tax revenues by cutting tax rates, which Laffer argued would stimulate the economy. Massive deficits resulted. Laffer also played a key role in writing Proposition 13, the California Constitutional initiative in 1978 that capped property tax rates and required a two-thirds majority in both chambers of the legislature to increase state taxes. Those restrictions have made it practically impossible to increase state and local tax rates and resulted in periodic paralysis of state and local government agencies.

‘TEABAGGERS’ DISRUPT TOWN-HALLS. Opponents of health care reform were ready when Congress adjourned for the August recess as former Republican leader Dick Armey’s FreedomWorks encouraged mobs to disrupt town-hall meetings called by Democratic House members to discuss the reform proposals. Max Pappas, FreedomWorks’ vice president for public policy, boasted on Hardball with Chris Matthews (8/6) about flooding town hall meetings and “blowing them apart.” “We have about 400,000 on-line members who we can contact with an e-mail database that we have, send them information about when the town halls are, give them briefings on the health care reform plans,” he said. He declined the next day on C-SPAN to try to get the group’s members to “calm down,” ThinkProgress.org noted (8/7).

After a mob disrupted a town meeting held by Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Austin) at a local grocery (8/1), the state Republican and Libertarian parties objected to Doggett’s claim that the disruption was planned by Republicans and Libertarians. But the suburban Oak Hill Gazette reported that Rosemary Edwards, chairwoman of the Travis County Republican Party in Austin, on the day before Doggett’s event posted on her blog a call for “all Patriot friends to SHOW UP, STAND UP and SPEAK UP!” and to “BE LOUD!” Edwards later wrote an op-ed for the Austin American-Statesman admitting her role and said Doggett “had it coming.” Blogs connected to the Libertarian Party and Rep. Ron Paul, a Repub with Libertarian ties, also called for organized protest before the event took place.

At a town-hall in Kewaunee, Wis., Rep. Steve Kagen (D-Wis.) was heckled, interrupted and filibustered by a group including Heather Blish, who said she was “just a mom from a few blocks away” who was “not affiliated with any political party.” She repeated to a TV reporter that she was not a member of the Republican Party. But the reporter found that, according to her LinkedIn page, Blish was the vice chair of the county Republican Party until last year, when she worked for Kagen’s GOP opponent. She also has worked for the state and national Republican Party.

Some anti-Democratic protesters have brought guns to the town halls and others have threatened union members who have showed up to keep order at the meetings.

“Tea Party” protesters were involved in a scuffle with union members supporting health care reform at a St. Louis town meeting (8/6) called by Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-Mo.). Brandon Davis, director for the Service Employees International Union in Missouri, called the clash “the latest attempt by right-wing fringe groups to hijack the democratic process — through violence, if necessary.” Six people were arrested, including a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Kenneth Gladney of St. Louis, a Tea Party member who was selling yellow flags with “Don’t tread on me” printed on them, told the Post-Dispatch he was assaulted and sought hospital treatment for injuries to his knee, back, elbow, shoulder and face. But Elston McCowan, an SEIU staffer, said Gladney was actually an instigator who attacked McCowan as he walked to his car. McCowan said he suffered a dislocated shoulder. A video of the alleged attack shows what appeared to be a pushing match in which Gladney and his adversary apparently fell down. Gladney was walking around casually after the incident, Daphne Eviatar noted at WashingtonIndependent.com (8/10). The next day, Gladney showed up at a Tea Party event in a wheelchair seeking donations to pay for his injuries. His attorney, who witnessed the scuffle, said Gladney is unemployed but reportedly has insurance through his wife.

At least one protester showed up at President Obama’s town hall meeting in Portsmouth, N.H. (8/11) with a holstered sidearm as well as a sign referencing Thomas Jefferson’s quote: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” (Local police noted that he was nowhere near the president and he was kept “under constant surveillance.”)

‘DEATHERS’ AREN’T ROCKET SCIENTISTS. What is it about health care reform that brings out the foolish in opposition? Jay Bookman noted at blogs.ajc.com (8/10) that Investors Business Daily in a 7/31 editorial gave credence to the right-wing canard that that Obama’s health-care plan included “death panels” that would deny medical care to handicapped or disabled persons.

Bookman noted that his “favorite part of the editorial deals with the British health-care system, which if you believe IBD is basically condemning the old and disabled to die. ‘People such as scientist Stephen Hawking wouldn’t have a chance in the U.K., where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless,’ the editorial claims.

“Of course, that same Stephen Hawking who wouldn’t have a chance in the United Kingdom was in fact born in the United Kingdom, has lived his entire life in the United Kingdom and lives there still today, at the ripe old age of 67. (He was in fact hospitalized earlier this month.) Hawking is, you might say, living, breathing proof that these people are first-class fools.”

(Editor’s Note: Bookman is perhaps being charitable in calling the IBD editors “fools.”)

Other Republicans straddling the difference between fools and liars were former New York Lt. Gov. Betsy McCaughey (R), who apparently started the foolishness when she claimed on former Sen. Fred Thompson’s radio show (7/16) that the House bill proposed to institute mandatory counseling sessions telling seniors how “to do what’s in society’s best interest … and cut your life short.” Politifact.com, a nonpartisan project of the St. Petersburg Times, checked the facts and rated McCaughey’s interpretation “Pants-on-Fire” untrue. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) made a slightly more measured statement (7/23), warning that the same provision “may start us down a treacherous path toward government-encouraged euthanasia if enacted into law.” Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) stated on the House floor (7/28) that the Dem bill was placing “seniors in a position of being put to death by their government.”

They were referring to page 425 of the House Democrats’ bill, which allows for Medicare to pay for the discussion of “advance care planning,” such as a living will and durable powers of attorney should patients become unable to make their own decisions. This is regarded as a sensible move for everybody outside Crazy Town. In fact, the provision for end-of-life discussions at issue in the House bill was originally HR 1898, a bipartisan bill sponsored by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), whose cosponsors include Reps. Charles Boustany (R-La.), Geoff Davis (R-Ky.) and Patrick Tiberi (R-Ohio). Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) got a similar amendment passed during the Senate health committee’s bill markup. He and Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) co-sponsored a similar bill in 2007.

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin joined the “deathers” in an 8/7 posting on her Facebook page in which she wrote that “my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s ‘death panel’ so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their ‘level of productivity in society,’ whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil.”

By this time, many Republicans were starting to ease themselves away from the crazy talk about “death panels” when no such language was contained in the bill, but former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) told ABC’s This Week (8/9) that people are being asked “to trust turning power over to the government when there are clearly people in America who believe in establishing euthanasia, including selective standards.”

For his part, Isakson, who sponsored the amendment, told the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein it was “nuts” to confuse the House bill’s provision of counseling for end-of-life directives or a living will with euthanasia (8/10). But shortly after Obama at his town hall meeting in Portsmouth, N.H. (8/11), noted Isakson’s connection to the language on “end of life counseling” Isakson’s office released a statement denouncing Obama’s comments. “Isakson vehemently opposes the House and Senate health care bills and he played no role in drafting language added to the House bill by House Democrats calling for the government to incentivize doctors by offering them money to conduct “end-of-life counseling” with Medicare patients every five years,” the statement said.

Apparently, nuttiness is catching in the GOP. Particularly among senators who are up for election in 2010, as Isakson is.

A right-wing group called the 60-Plus Association started running an ad (8/10) warning that the health care bill will cut $500 bln from Medicare and let the government, not doctors, decide if older patients are “worth the cost.” Rachel Maddow noted on MSNBC (8/10) that AARP reported in 2006 that the pharmaceutical industry was the main funder of the group. (This would be the same pharmaceutical industry, by the way, that supposedly made a deal with the White House to support health care reform in exchange for limits on how much the drug costs would be squeezed.)

RIGHT SMEARS OBAMA’S HEALTH ADVISER. Betsy McCaughey also twisted out of context the writings of one of Obama’s healthcare advisers. In a New York Post column (7/24) headlined “Deadly Doctors,” McCaughey claimed Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, health-policy adviser at the White House Office of Management and Budget and a member of Federal Council on Comparative Effectiveness Research, supports healthcare rationing, denying care to a grandmother with Parkinson’s or a child with cerebral palsy and defends discrimination against older patients. Other right-wing critics picked up the theme of Emanuel as a healthcare rationer and euthanasia enthusiast. In fact, Alex Koppelman noted at Salon.com (8/10), Emanuel, brother of White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, is actually one of the country’s leading medical ethicists, a forceful defender of people approaching the end of their life and an opponent of even voluntary euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. In 1994 Emanuel co-authored a study showing that the economic cost of caring for the dying isn’t nearly as high as it’s made out to be, and that not much can be done about it anyway. “We must stop deluding ourselves that advanced directives and less aggressive care at the end of life will solve the financial problems of our health-care system,” the two wrote. In testimony he gave to the Senate Finance Committee later that year, Dr. Emanuel said, “Just because we are spending a lot of money on patients who die does not mean that we can save a lot of money on end of life care.”

HOUSE WILL GET SINGLE-PAYER VOTE. Single-payer advocates apparently will get their vote on the House floor in September. According to the New York Daily News (8/1), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi promised Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) that she will allow a debate and vote on substituting a single-payer plan for the health reform bill. Weiner hailed the concession as a victory: “Single-payer is a better plan and now it is on center stage. Americans have a clear choice. Their Member of Congress will have a simpler, less expensive and smarter bill to choose. I am thrilled that the Speaker is giving us that choice.”

Andrew Coates of Physicians for a National Health Program noted that the floor amendment would replace HR 3200 with HR 676 by John Conyers, the United States National Health Care Act, which would expand Medicare to cover everybody with improved benefits. House Speaker Pelosi and Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) have supported single-payer in the past, but they don’t believe it can pass in the House or the Senate. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said he also would propose a single-member amendment on the Senate floor.

GOP COMPLAINS ABOUT PATRIOTISM QUESTIONS. The National Republican Congressional Committee (8/10) slammed the Democratic leadership for questioning the patriotism of those who disrupted town-hall meetings called by Democratic members of Congress. In a USA Today column (8/10) House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said of the town-hall disruptions, “Drowning out opposing views is simply un-American. Drowning out the facts is how we failed at this task for decades.” The NRCC also targeted Rep. Baron Hill (D-Ind,), who told the Washington Post: “What I don’t want to do is create an opportunity for the people who are political terrorists to blow up the meeting and not try to answer thoughtful questions.”

“According to the Democratic leadership, if you oppose an increase in healthcare costs, massive deficits, and higher taxes, you are ‘un-American,’” said NRCC communications director Ken Spain. “By calling town hall attendees ‘political terrorists’ or questioning the patriotism of their own constituents, Democrats have reduced themselves to the hateful and unproductive rhetoric they once excoriated.”

Eric Kleefeld noted at TalkingPointsMemo.com (8/10) that questioning the patriotism of political opponents and calling them “unAmerican” was the same politics Republicans used to denounce during the Bush years.

VITTER MOCKS DEM CONCERNS OVER PROTESTERS. Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) said at a town-hall meeting in Pineville, La. (8/8), he was “unalterably opposed” to health care reforms proposed by Democrats, and said he rejected advice to have security at his events. “I told them the best security is to do what the people want you to do,” Vitter said, drawing a round of applause from the friendly crowd. He also said “this and any other angry mob is always welcomed at my town hall meetings,” though the Alexandria Daily Town Talk noted (8/9) that “questions from audience members were screened and selected in advance of the event.”

GRAHAM: PATIENTS SHOULD THINK ABOUT COST. The basic problem with health care, according to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), is that consumers don’t care how much it costs to get treatment. In an interview with *Washington Post* blogger Ezra Klein (8/8), Graham said, “Have you ever asked a doctor how much it costs to get a treatment? I haven’t either. You ever gone to a hospital and asked how much they charge for surgery? When I go to buy a car I go to four or five dealers. Somehow we gotta get people believing that once you pay the deductible it still matters how much money you spend. Third-party payment is unique to health care. It makes the consumer two or three steps removed from their purchase. Cost containment to me is trying to tie the consumer to the service.” Graham later admitted that a healthcare purchase is different from buying a car, but he still thinks Americans should realize that “real money” is involved in medical treatment.

OBAMA’S NOT AFRAID OF ‘HIS LIBERALS.’ Panelists on both ABC’s *This Week* and Fox News Sunday uniformly asserted that President Obama never does anything to upset “his liberals,” Ian Millhiser noted at ThinkProgress.org (8/10). (In neither case, he added, was an actual liberal among the panelists.)

“Such claims that Obama never defies progressives may accurately reflect the views of right-wing activists and Beltway pundits, but they have no basis in reality,” Millhiser wrote, noting the following cases:

• Stimulus: Progressive economists — including at least one Nobel Prize winner — warned that the President’s stimulus package was too small to lift the sinking economy. Similarly, progressives consistently warned the President not to replace highly-stimulative spending with ineffectual tax cuts. Nevertheless, the President rejected progressive pleas for a more substantial package and brokered a deal with made tax cuts almost one-third of the stimulus. Obama allowed much of its final form to be dictated by a handful of Senate Republicans.

• Bank Nationalization: Many progressives unsuccessfully urged Obama to nationalize the failing banks, rather than risk making future bailout payments to an industry whose recklessness nearly destroyed the nation’s economy.

• Cap and Trade: Many of President Obama’s campaign promises for a robust cap-and-trade system have been watered down by a coalition of so-called “Brown Dog” Democrats loyal to Big Coal.

• Single-Payer: The House Progressive Caucus prefers a single-payer system to the almost-exclusively private insurance-driven system proposed by the President.

• Judicial Nominations: President Bush stacked the federal courts with young right-wing ideologues — one of whom even compared Social Security to “cannibalism.” President Obama’s nominees, however, have been older and far more moderate than President Bush’s, and at least one has been actively opposed by disability rights advocates.

• Executive Power: President Obama embraced several Bush-era assertions of power, including signing statements and aggressive use of the state secrets doctrine to avoid disclosing information in court.

• Torture: President Obama initially opposed a commission to investigate Bush-era torture policies. His Administration also opposes prosecuting Bush Administration officials guilty of torture.

• GLBT Rights: Despite campaign promises to repeal bigoted laws like DOMA and Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell, President Obama is “moving slowly” in carrying out this promise. This, despite the fact that Obama has the power to unilaterally suspend DADT.

“None of this means that Obama is a bad president, Millhiser wrote. “To the contrary, his economic policies are beginning to pull the nation away from the brink of an economic collapse caused by decades of right-wing policy, and his health care plan will protect millions of Americans from the insurance industry’s tactics.

“If anything, the Obama Administration teaches that even an effective President must constantly be pressured to keep his promises. Although Obama has yet to make a big push on GLBT rights, pressure from gay rights groups convinced him to grant benefits to the same-sex partners of federal employees and to pledge to overturn DADT by the end of his first term. Similarly, under pressure from progressives, President Obama tacitly endorsed a torture commission and agreed that Attorney General Holder should have discretion to confront past abuses. And the President backed off plans to nominate a CIA Director opposed by many progressives because of concerns about his views on torture.

“Simply put, these Sunday show pundits have an axe to grind against ‘liberals.’ But the reality of the Obama Administration’s actions thus far is one that defies such simple-minded criticisms.”

‘DAVID VS. MONSANTO’ DOCUMENTS ROUNDUP READY CASE. An hourlong documentary about Percy Schmeiser, a Canadian farmer from Saskatchewan who was involved in a lawsuit and countersuit with Monsanto Canada over the contamination of his canola crops with genetically modified seeds, is available from Journeyman Pictures (journeyman.tv), Charles Lemos noted at MyDD.com (8/7). In 1997, Monsanto found its genetically engineered canola plant growing on Schmeiser’s farm 40 miles east of Regina. Schmeiser insisted that seeds, which were designed to be resistant to Roundup pesticide, blew onto his fields from passing trucks or neighboring farms. Monsanto sued him, and Schmeiser lost the first round when a federal judge in Canada in 2001 ruled that Schmeiser “knew or ought to have known” his seed was “Roundup Ready.” The Supreme Court of Canada ruled 5-4 in 2004 that the farmer violated Monsanto’s patent. But rather than roll over, Schmeiser sued Monsanto for contaminating his field and won an out-of-court settlement in March 2008. Monsanto was ordered to pay all the cleanup costs of the Roundup-resistant canola that contaminated Schmeiser’s fields. Schmeiser believes the agreement ensures that farmers will be entitled to reimbursement when their fields become contaminated with unwanted “Roundup Ready” canola or any other unwanted genetically modified plants. See his story at percyschmeiser.com.

BANKS TAKE BITES. US banks will reap a record $38.5 bln from customer overdraft fees this year, nearly double the figure reported for 2000, MarketWatch.com reported (8/10), citing a *Financial Times* report. Overdraft fees represented more than 75% of service fees charged on consumer deposits, according to *FT*. The biggest banks — such as Citigroup Inc. , Bank of America Corp. , J.P. Morgan & Co. and Wells Fargo & Co. — charge the highest overdraft fees. The median bank overdraft fee has risen to $26 from $25 this year. The Obama administration has proposed to create a Consumer Financial Protection Agency, which could take a hard look at overdraft charges and other bank fees. Late fees and loan-origination, over-the-limit and overdraft charges helped generate 53% of banking industry income in 2008, up from 35% of income in 1995, according to one estimate.

GOP’S RATING WITH LATINOS FALLS TO MARGIN OF ERROR. Republican opposition to the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, based largely on her ethnicity, has pushed the GOP approval rating among Latinos to a new low of 3%. The nonpartisan Research 2000 poll commissioned by DailyKos.com found that the favorable opinion of Latinos toward the GOP dropped from 14% April 27-30, the week Justice Souter retired, to 3% Aug. 3-6, while unfavorables rose from 73% to 86%. “Republicans were already lagging badly with Latinos, yet somehow, they managed to lose a net 24 favorability points over the course of three months. And for what? To keep the dying 1950s Pat Buchanan-wing of the party happy? Great call, there,” noted Markos Moulitsas Zúniga, founder of DailyKos.com.

ROGUE SECURITY FIRM SEEKS NEW STATE DEPT. BID. Even as a wrongful-death lawsuit moves forward against the private security company formerly known as Blackwater, and its founder was implicated in a scheme to eliminate witnesses in a federal lawsuit, the firm now known as “Xe” seeks to renew its contract with the State Department to guard diplomats when the deal expires next year, Spencer Ackerman reports for WashingtonIndependent.com (8/10). In 2005, the State Department issued a four-year contract, valued at $560 mln per year, for three companies (Blackwater, Triple Canopy and DynCorp) to provide security for diplomats in dangerous areas. Blackwater/Xe stood to gain $1.2 bln from the State contract, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) reported after a 2007 investigation found Blackwater guards were involved in an average of “1.4 shooting incidents per week” between 2005 and 2007. In the most high-profile incident, 17 Iraqi civilians were killed in a September 2007 shootout in Baghdad’s Nisour Square. In that incident, Blackwater gunmen first shot a family in a car approaching their guards and then opened fire on other cars attempting to flee the scene. Family members filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the company in a US federal court. Two former Blackwater employees recently implicated Blackwater founder Erik Prince in the killings of employees who cooperated with federal investigations and further alleged that the company smuggled weapons into Iraq, according to Jeremy Scahill at The Nation.

Blackwater/Xe has been largely thrown out of Iraq, but Xe is operating in Afghanistan, where in May off-duty security guards employed by a subsidiary drunkenly fired upon a car in Kabul, injuring two civilians.

SENS BLOCK ARMY SEC’Y. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is said to be furious that four Republican senators are blocking the confirmation of President Obama’s nominee for Army secretary, former Rep. John McHugh (R-N.Y.). Sens. Pat Roberts and Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) are upset that some detainees in Guantanamo might be moved to the prison at Fort Leavenworth while Sens. Jeff Sessions and Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) are blocking the appointments in a dispute with the Army Corps of Engineers over a state water project, Chris Wallace reported at Fox News.

Brownback and Roberts are also blocking nine other nominees for senior administration posts at the Pentagon and Justice Department. They said “they are prepared to block the appointments until they get answers from the White House about the proposal. And they said they want Leavenworth taken off the list of potential relocation spots.”

ADS PULLED FROM BECK SHOW. GEICO has joined the list of businesses that will no longer advertise on Glenn Beck’s program on Fox News, responding to an appeal by ColorOfChange.org (8/11). GEICO’s decision comes on the heels of announcements that LexisNexis-owned Lawyers.com, Procter & Gamble, Progressive Insurance and SC Johnson were distancing themselves from Beck after the news host called President Obama a “racist” who “has a deep-seated hatred for white people.” James Rucker, executive director of ColorOfChange.org, applauded the companies that pulled their ads from Beck after more than 75,000 members signed a petition directed at advertisers. “Beck’s rhetoric is dangerous to the fabric of our democracy, and we are heartened that so many big companies feel the same way,” Rucker said in a news release. “We won’t stop here — we’re going to continue our fight to see that as many of Beck’s advertisers pull their support as possible.”

TEXAS COMPETITIVE? TELL THE DEMS. A Gallup Poll (8/4) ranked Texas as “competitive,” based on tracking polls during the first six months of 2009 that found 42% self-identified as Dems or Dem-leaning independents while 40% said they were Republicans or GOP-leaning independents. *Texas Monthly*’s Paul Burka noted that he has regarded Texas as competitive ever since Dems outvoted Republicans by more than 2 to 1 in the 2008 presidential primary, but that doesn’t mean Democrats will be winning statewide races anytime soon. Gallup also found Texas competitive last year, but John McCain won the state in 2008 with 55.45% of the vote, which constitutes a whupping, and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) breezed to an easy re-election. No Dem has won statewide since 1994 and without a public face for the party, it cannot be competitive in statewide races, Burka wrote. “The best indication of the Democrats’ moribund state is that no one is lining up to run for statewide office. Politicians know which way the wind blow,” he wrote at texasmonthly.com (8/5).

RECOVERY ACT SAVES JOBS, BUT LITTLE RELIEF. The July unemployment report released (8/7) by the Bureau of Labor Statistics detailed the 19th month of the recession, showing that 247,000 more jobs were lost in July but unemployment was little changed, declining 0.1 percentage points to 9.4% as 422,000 people dropped out of the labor force, the Economic Policy Institute noted. The number of workers who have been unemployed for over six months increased by 584,000 to 5 mln, so that now over one-third of this country’s 14.5 mln unemployed workers have been unemployed for over half a year.

The pain in the real economy is clearly deepening, but it is doing so much more slowly than during the winter months, when the economy regularly shed around 700,000 jobs, EPI noted at epi.org. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is now providing a significant boost, most likely adding 3 percentage points to GDP growth in the second quarter, which likely created or saved around 720,000 jobs. The job losses in July would likely have been nearly double without the impact of the recovery act.

‘TWILIGHT’ FOR DOBBS. Lou Dobbs apparently has made the calculation that there are ratings opportunities among the nutty right. On his 8/10 radio show, Lou Dobbs called Howard Dean “a bloodsucking leftist — I mean, you gotta put a stake through his heart to stop this guy,” according to MediaMatters.org. Dobbs said Howard Dean “helped advance the idea of liberal fascism.”

From The Progressive Populist, September 1, 2009

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