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From the LA Times, Blue Shield of California seeks rate hikes of as much as 59% for individuals,

Another big California health insurer has stunned individual policyholders with huge rate increases -- this time it's Blue Shield of California seeking cumulative hikes of as much as 59% for tens of thousands of customers March 1.

Blue Shield's action comes less than a year after Anthem Blue Cross tried and failed to raise rates as much as 39% for about 700,000 California customers.

. . . Michael Fraser, a Blue Shield policyholder from San Diego, learned recently that his monthly bill would climb 59%, to $431 from $271.

"When I tell people, their jaws drop and their eyes bug out," said Fraser, 53, a freelance advertising writer. "The amount is stunning."

. . . Blue Shield said the cost of health coverage was being driven up by large hospital expenses, doctors' bills and prescription drug prices. Blue Shield's Epstein said other factors also contributed to the three increases in five months.

California needs to look into a statewide "single-payer" health care plan,


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The country is trying to pass health care reform but a single Senator is able to block the popular "public option" and "Medicare buy-in" plans, because he says it is wrong to let the public have any choice besides for-profit companies.  Actually it is one Senator plus the entire Republican caucus - but we already understood that they do the bidding of the big corporations that fund them. The rule of the Senate allow minorities to thwart the will of the people and block bills.

An NBC/WSJ poll that came out yesterday showed that 45% of the public found it unacceptable that the public option was removed, and 42% acceptable, but 58% wanted the Medicare buy-in and only 32% didn't.  But never mind, both of those are out because of one Senator (joining all the Republicans.)  This is a clear example of democracy thwarted.

In California we can't pass a budget or tax corporations or the wealthy to pay for our schools, colleges and universities, reads, etc. for the very same reason.  Our legislature is structures to that a minority can thwart the will of the people.  It requires a 2/3 vote to pass a budget or raise revenue.  And we have a minority that is funded by the big corporations, with one corproate PAC funded by Wal-Mart, Blue Cross of Ohio (?), Reliant Energy and others putting almost $1 million of into just one race last year.

It is time to trust the people and change the system in Washington and the system in Sacramento. It is time for majority rule.

 


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The end of an era

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With the passing of Senator Edward M. Kennedy this week, we have come to the official end of an extraordinary era and family legacy. There are still many of us left who cut our political teeth on the Kennedy's-- listening to the newly elected, handsome young man with the appalling Boston accent (this is not intended as an insult, I'm from Boston myself) call us to service to our country. We also remember his younger brother, Bobby trying to pick up the mantle during the turbulent days of the Viet Nam War and asking why we can't live our dreams. We had remaining within our midst for many decades the youngest of nine children "Teddy" who ended up carrying the torch of an ill-fated family. Now even he is gone and we are left to mourn the passing of one family's response to the call to public service.

One cannot ignore in the mix, the less visible but equally committed Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who passed away only a few short weeks ago. Her work in establishing the Special Olympics was no less notable in its impact on the lives of thousands of families around the world.

Teddy Kennedy was a large and boisterous man. He was passionate, he was charming and he was imperfect. A scar on his legacy will be that horrible summer's night when he drove off a bridge in Chappaquidick that took the life of a young woman and left him forever with a blot on his work. Nonetheless, and with that being said, it is his powerful and positive legacy that we should and must remember of him and his life's work championing the cause of the needy and the poor among us.

A wonderful vignette is circulating on you-tube that captures his passion in a speech to a group about the importance of universal healthcare. Classic Teddy. Passionate. Personal. Genuinely heartfelt. No observor can hear or see him without agreeing that he truly cared, understood the need for better healthcare and felt the pain he had endured himself, having survived a terrible plane crash that killed two others and with family medical crises that stalked his children for years.

 


Growing up in Boston in the 60's, I remember watching his debate against another great political Boston family, the McCormacks. I remember so vividly watching our black and white T.V. when his adversary, Edward McCormack taunted the 30 year old youngest of 11 Kennedy kids by saying, " I'll bet if your name were Edward Moore, and not Edward Moore Kennedy, you wouldn't even be here tonight". Even though he may have been right, Teddy although clearly annoyed, kept his cool and responded, again with that heavy Boston accent, about the purpose and value of public service. .

While the Kennedy's out-dueled the McCormacks on this one, and Teddy entered the U.S. Senate, that bitterness never hampered Teddy in his effort to be a great Senator. He had an Irishman's love of the bitters and a good story. He had an enormous love of his children and a hearty meal.

I had the good fortune of serving as an intern in his office when he was the Majority Whip. At the same time, he was dealing with the cancer of his eldest son and the terrible asthma problems of his youngest, Patrick. He had lost his remaining two older brothers in the intervening years and  had become the father figure to their families and their broods.

Ted Kennedy was clearly a child of privilege and wealth. He is reputed to never have carried any money with him so that his staff would always make sure they had real currency with them when staffing him.  But he was always approachable and funny, with a quick wit and humorous tale to tell at the drop of a hat. 

His office was a gallery of family pictures of sparklingly handsome, toothy people almost always photographed in the out-of-doors, always smiling, whether it was playing football, sailing, skiing or just being there. It was almost hard to believe that this very same family had suffered so much at the hands of assassins and war. (Eldest of the siblings was Joe Kennedy Jr. who died as a fighter pilot in World War Two and Joe Srs. first hope for a Catholic President).

I heard Senator Kennedy give many speeches over the course of his career. He had that incredible Kennedy charisma, with those sparkling blue eyes and as he got older, that mane of stunning white hair. He mellowed, especially after marrying his wife and now widow, Vicki in 1992 and seemed to settle into his role as America's elder statesman. He had found his niche, was comfortable with it and his life and with the opportunity to lead the Senate's liberals as its spokesman and champion.

In spite of all the tragedy in his life, Edward Moore Kennedy never abandoned the little guy, never gave up the fight for equal dignity for all people and never forgot how his life of privilege compelled him and his family to seek to make life a little better for everyone else.  It is a legacy we will do well to remember. It seems only fitting that he left us and left the stage with the following charge at the 2008 Democratic Convention: "The work begins anew. Hope rises again and The dream lives on." Whether we agreed with Kennedy's vision of a better world or focused too much on his flaws and failings, the one thing we can and should agree upon is that his work has impacted all of us and we are the better for it.


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George Lakoff has a good piece out on how to talk about health care reform.  In The PolicySpeak Disaster for Health Care, Lakoff writes,

How is it possible that the same people who did so well in the campaign have done so badly on health care?

The problem, according to Lakoff, is that they are discussing policy, with lists, instead of telling the bigger story,

PolicySpeak is the principle that: If you just tell people the policy facts, they will reason to the right conclusion and support the policy wholeheartedly.

. . . To many liberals, PolicySpeak sounds like the high road: a rational, public discussion in the best tradition of liberal democracy. Convince the populace rationally on the objective policy merits. Give the facts and figures. Assume self-interest as the motivator of rational choice. Convince people by the logic of the policymakers that the policy is in their interest.

He says tell the story:

Insurance companies are inefficient and wasteful. A large chunk of your health care dollar is not going for health care when you buy from insurance companies.

Insurance companies govern your lives. They have more power over you than even governments have. They make life and death decisions. And they are accountable only to profit, not to citizens.

The health care failure is an insurance company failure. Why keep a failing system? Augment it. Give an alternative.
So go out and tell the story.  In marketing we say not to just list the features, instead talk about the benefits that those features bring to the customer.

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In recent weeks, the public discourse in this country has moved from simple dishonesty to mob rule, exemplified by the threatening and hysterical frenzy created by the right-wing talk shows.  This extremely disturbing development has been orchestrated by former Congressman and Republican leader Dick Armey and other politicians who are making millions as hired guns paid to fan the flames of hatred, bigotry and frustration in both enthusiastic and unsuspecting pawns in these extremist games.

 

The fury is stoked and blessed by an ideology that cares little for the country and seeks to realize the dreams of Rush Limbaugh and his ilk, i.e., to cause our President to fail.  Most of the anger, however, arises from the failure of uncontrolled right-wing politics and so-called "free-marketeering" that has put the nation on the brink, cost so many American jobs and created economic uncertainty.

 

When discourse moves from lively and colorful discussion to shouting, threats and violence, those who seek logical and fact-based debate and respectful dialogue intended to produce constructive and meaningful solutions are pushed aside as decibels of disruption are raised beyond control.  How can participants in "town hall" discussions exchange ideas when no one listens because they are too busy shouting and insulting the speakers.

 

It is almost impossible to know where all this is leading.  It is important, though, to acknowledge how the debate has moved away from what is acceptable and what we're accustomed to as Americans and into a world ripe with anger, fear irrationality and violence.

 

There are parallels to the behavior of Bill O'Reilly inciting violence against Dr. George Tiller.  Encouraging lunatics to commit acts of violence is itself criminal for which people like O'Reilly should be held accountable.  Without accountability, incitement simply continues.  Our President and other leaders are hung in effigy, with swastikas smeared on signs bearing their names, and people tote guns to meetings about health care reform with suggestions that it is time to purge our country through revolution and blood letting.  This is not democracy; this is mob rule, and it should not be tolerated.

 

There is a significant distinction between healthy debate and disruptive dissent.  The issues facing our country are too important and complex to be subjected to the fury unleashed upon those who do not share the opinions of extremists.  Many of those who are angry and frustrated have been fed a pile of misinformation and outright lies to protect insurance companies and anti-Obamaites who care little for developing a true and effective fix for our state and a broken health care system.  Their only goal is to inflict  mortal injury on government and the Obama administration.  We can't let that happen. How we tone down the rhetoric and correct the lies and distortions is no easy task, but it is one we must pursue. 

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Sunday's San Jose Mercury News contains an anti-government op-ed by George Will, "Democrats want nation dependent on government". (The online headline is different.)

This sounds scary, sinister, even somehow slightly evil.  But if you look into the meaning of the words, the effect changes.

Here is what I mean.  In America government is us.  Our Constitution is the defining document of our government and it couldn't be clearer, declaring that We, the People formed this country "to promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves"... In other words, watch out for and take care of each other; "We, the People" have banded together to watch out for each other, take care of each other and build institutions to protect and empower each other.

So with them real meaning of the words in mind Will's headline becomes "Democrats want nation to take care of each other."  Will is exactly right, and good for them.

Will's column is about the national healthcare reform battle and proposals for a "public option," which offers a Medicare-like health insurance plan to all of our citizens.  Will opposes this, because,
"Competition from the public option must be unfair because government does not need to make a profit and has enormous pricing and negotiating powers."
In other words, he is complaining that a public option health insurance plan will provide more benefits to more citizens at a lower cost.  Will casts this as a bad thing, because it threatens the ability of a few wealthy business owners to profit from people's need for health care. 

Profits for a few instead of benefits to the public appears to be his idea of the purpose of government.  But to the rest of us the point of health care reform is to take better care of each other while lowering the costs.  This is why the "public option" is necessary -- private, profit-driven companies are not designed to accomplish delivery of essential services to everyone.  Profit-driven companies are designed to deliver only to those who are willing to pay the most, which when applied to essential human needs violates fundamental tenets of democracy.  We are supposed to be a one-person-one-vote country, not a one-dollar-one-vote country.

Again, Will and other conservatives use lots of scary words.  But if you look at the meanings of the words, their complaint is with Americans who want to enjoy the fruits of democracy and equality, and take care of each other. 

And this is supposed to be a bad thing?
  

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Over at Calitics there is an interesting diary from 'zeroh8' asking "Why Are We Spending So Much More?"  zeroh8 looked at the changes over the last ten years in how the state spends money.  The result, according to the diary, is a per-capita increase of $1088 as follows:

California Government Department
2007-08 less 1997-98 Per Capita Spending

Criminal Justice $185
General Government $14
Health $265
Higher Education $109
K-12 Education $399
Resources & Environmental Protection $27
Social Services $59
Transportation $30
Total $1,088 

Robert Cruikshank commented that the appearance of an education spending increase is an illusion, (sadly California still ranks 47th in education spending-per-pupil)

Much of the "increase" in K-12 funds is illusory. When Arnold cut the VLF in 2003 that money had to be backfilled by the state. That backfilling is listed on the books as "spending" and so it appears as a huge "spending increase" when in fact it is no such thing. Schools didn't actually get more money. It's an accounting trick.

Robert is pointing out that this appearance of a large increase in education spending is actually just replacing spending that was already there, but that was cut from local budgets when Governor Schwarzenegger cut the Vehicle License Fee, so the state had to make up (backfill) the loss.  The state is spending more because local governments are spending less, but the total hasn't increased.  Lesson: you have to look at the whole picture including local budgets to see the whole story because the state has to step in when local governments lose their funding sources.

Health care spending increases are certainly not isolated to California state government.  This is the health care crisis that is eating up government, business and family budgets around the country.  So far We, the People, in our wisdom, had avoided the kind of "socialized medicine" that the rest of the world has, which means we spend vastly more for health care with vastly worse results.  There is little California can do about it, except to further deny health care to people.  Is that the kind of people we will decide to be? 

Then there is that huge increase in criminal justice (prison) spending.  Was that necessary?  Well, we decided to pass laws that put people in prison for life for stealing a pizza or for years for smoking a joint.  And in the last few decades we have cut education spending, which to some extent has necessitated the increases in prison spending, because we know where that inevitably leads,

"18-to-24-year-old male high school dropouts have an incarceration rate 31 times that of males who graduated from a four-year college"      
We're seeing the health care crisis eating the state budget, and the problem of the prison costs.  Part of our problems today are because yesterday we were "penny wise and pound foolish," saving some money by cutting education only to spend it on prisons (and who knows how many other ways) later.  Along with foolish tax cuts like cutting the VLF, and cutting property taxes for big corporations, and instead borrowing which has led to huge interest payments, those are the spending problems that brought about the budget crisis and that keep our government from being able to spend more on things We, the People need.

About those choices:  zeroh8 did a ton of research because no California citizen would know any of this from sources available to most of us.  The corporate media is not explaining the state budget and the functions of government to the public.  The example of the state making up local revenue losses in order to save our schools is a great example -- instead it is just presented to people that the state is "spending even more".

So what is the point of this exercise? To give the people the facts, not the phony sound-bites designed to further anger people against government and rail even further about having to pay taxes to fund the programs and services. The goal of the conservatives is to simply unfund government, thus making "We the People" powerless against the big moneyed interests -- the people who brought you the sub-prime fiasco, the Wall Street boondogles, the Haliburton no-bid contracts and the Blackwater mercenaries.  As long as the bucks are flowing, what do they care if government can't do its job.... what do they care about long lines at the DMV, wildfires that burn down communities, gangs that take over our streets and oh, yes......swine flu epidemics that kill millions?  They can just fly away in their private jets or sail away on their yachts -- that california won't tax.


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Help Stop the Cuts

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Over at SEIUVoice.org there is a petition to Governor Schwarzenegger asking him not to balance the budget using cuts that hurt homecare workers.  The Governor is proposing to cut state funding for In-Home Supportive Services, which helps provide crucial assistance to thousands of elderly and disabled people in California.  The proposal would reduce state funding for homecare workers to minimum wage and eliminate care.  This would cause thousands of workers to lose their health benefits.

here's the thing: it would also force many current homecare patients into nursing homes.  So in future years this would be a far greater cost to the state.

Here is the wording from the petition page:

Dear Governor Schwarzenegger-

Balancing the budget shouldn't be done on the backs of homecare workers whose hard work allows hundreds of thousands of Californians to live safely and with dignity in their own homes.  Cutting California's homecare workers to the minimum wage with drastic cuts in benefits is unacceptable.

I stand in solidarity with the homecare workers who are gathering on Saturday, January 24th in Sacramento, San Francisco and Fresno to stop the cuts.
Go to the page and sign the petition.

Society is only as strong as its weakest link, and it is the responsibility of the people and our government to protect those who are genuinely unable to care for themselves.  We are morally and duty bound to do whatever we can to assure every human being a level of basic dignity. That is what these workers provide for those whom they serve.  We are talking here about cutting this kind of care rather than, for example, asking oil companies to pay something when they take our oil out of the ground to sell back to us.  How have we gotten to this point?


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From Speaker Pelosi

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The following was submitted by Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi:

When I was sworn in as the first woman Speaker of the House in January, my 8-year-old granddaughter Madeleine said she hoped because of my step forward, more women would also be able to have jobs like mine. With those words, Madeleine spoke a simple but powerful truth: Without the pioneering women who have blazed the trail before us, we would not have come nearly as far as we have today.

When I proudly assumed the role of Speaker, it was with a nod to both the past and to the future. It was in honor of those pioneering suffragettes and women whose tenacity and sacrifice allowed me to become the first woman Speaker. And it was in honor of our children, who represent our hope for the future and for change. At the time, I said that we have made history, and now we must make progress.


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The religious right is at it again, with another ballot measure intended to divide Californians and prevent women from making their own choices about their own bodies and lives. This time it is Proposition 4 -- "Sarah's Law" -- the old "parental notification" initiative that bans the termination of a pregnancy in a minor unless their parents are notified 48 hours ahead of time.

The same initiative has been rejected by California voters twice for good reason. Yes, this is the third time in three years. So the state -- We, the People, the taxpayers -- runs the expense of another ballot initiative.

So this time they have named the parental notification initiative "Sarah's Law" after Sarah of the Bible -- a fictitious name being used for a real woman who died in Texas in 1994 from an infection caused by a torn cervix. Prop 4 proponents claim that "Sarah" would have been saved if Prop 4 had been in effect there. Now it turns out that Prop 4 would not have applied. So this new rationale for the previously-rejected law -- that Prop 4 would save the lives of minors, entirely based on one 1994 case -- is false. Obviously helping young women is not the point of this law. Below I will talk about how this will actually endanger their health and lives.

First, though, an Aug. 2 LA Times story explains: 'Sarah's Law' would not have applied to 'Sarah,' acknowledge backers of the abortion-notification measure,

Backers of a ballot measure that would require parents to be notified before an abortion is performed on a minor acknowledged Friday that the 15-year-old on which "Sarah's Law" is based had a child and was in a common-law marriage before she died of complications from an abortion in 1994.

[. . .] Proposition 4 would amend the California constitution to prohibit abortion for unemancipated minors until 48 hours after a physician notifies the minor's parent or legal guardian. State voters have twice rejected similar measures.

At first glance it might seem like a good idea to require minors to notify parents before they can terminate a pregnancy. Unfortunately the reality of people's lives does not always match up with the ideal families of 1960s TV shows. There are very serious reasons that a young woman might not want to tell parents about a pregnancy. These can involve abuse, incest and fear. In these cases requiring parental notification can bring about serious consequences. It can also cause the young woman to turn to unsafe alternatives.

There can even be very bad reasons where the young woman really should tell the parents. But a law like this also endangers a foolish, unwise young woman's health because it can cause her to to to an illegal, unlicensed, unsafe practitioner, or even try something herself. People do not always do the best and wisest thing. Foolish and unwise young people even more so.

History and experience have taught society that having a safe and legal place to turn for help is the best way to protect our young women. When a young woman is pregnant and does not want to be and there are no safe procedures available she might out of desperation turn to unsafe alternatives. When pregnancy termination was illegal it didn't mean women did not terminate pregnancies, it meant they did so at very high risk to their health. Terrible consequences were not uncommon. This is why the right's justification for Sarah's Law, and the false story behind it, is such an abomination. They are trying to take away these safe procedures with false stories that this will protect young women. It is safe and legal procedures that protect women who decide to choose to terminate a pregnancy.


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