Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Let’s Have Some Real Change In A National Insurrection That Re-Balances The Scales Of Justice And The Weigh Scales Of Our Economy.

Let’s Have Some Real Change In A National Insurrection That Re-Balances The Scales Of Justice And The Weigh Scales Of Our Economy.

(My Poor Battered Ring A Digital Photo Experiment)

Reporting from Washington - After months of criticizing Democratic healthcare proposals from the sidelines, House Republicans this week began presenting their plan, an effort intended to undercut the portrayal of the GOP as the "party of no."

Unlike the Democrats' strategy of trying to provide near-universal coverage and force other major changes to the insurance system, the Republican approach is an incremental one with a different goal -- controlling healthcare costs.

GOP lawmakers propose to do so through market-oriented measures that would limit medical malpractice lawsuits, expand the use of tax-sheltered medical savings accounts, let people shop for insurance outside of their own states and make it easier for small businesses and hard-to-insure people to get coverage. The ideas reflect conservatives' suspicion of sweeping new programs, federal spending and additional regulation.

The GOP plan is, by design, a less costly bill with more modest ambitions. Its price tag, which is still to be determined, surely will be far less than the House Democratic bill. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the cost of that plan would exceed $1 trillion over 10 years.

Unlike the Democratic plan, it does not include subsidies or other provisions that would make coverage more affordable to people of modest means.

"What we've learned over many, many years is that the reason people don't have insurance is that they can't afford it," said Drew Altman, president of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, an nonpartisan health policy research group. "You can't make much progress toward helping the uninsured unless you help them buy it."

The Republicans' proposals long have been on their wish list, yet they were not enacted even when the party controlled Congress and the White House. And they are being resurrected at a time when some Republicans warn that the party is in danger of being seen as guardians of an unpopular status quo in healthcare.

"Come campaign time, voters need to know what healthcare reforms Republicans have supported," said Whit Ayres, a GOP pollster.

House Democratic leaders on Wednesday laid the groundwork for a Saturday vote on their massive healthcare legislation, after settling on a compromise to diffuse disagreement in their own ranks over how to restrict federal funding for abortions.

The proposal does not differ substantially from one in the original bill that required consumers to pay for any abortion benefit with their own money, rather than with federal insurance subsidies. Senior Democrats hope that by tightening that restriction further, they will be able to satisfy enough socially conservative Democrats to get a majority.

President Obama is going to Capitol Hill on Friday to meet with House Democrats ahead of the expected vote, according to a senior Democratic aide who requested anonymity when discussing the volatile healthcare issue.

Republicans, who harbor no hopes of passing their alternative plan during Saturday's scheduled debate, have spent months criticizing the Democrats' plan as an intrusive, expensive government program -- an argument with strong appeal for the party's conservative base.

Rep. Bob Inglis (R-S.C.) said that in his solidly conservative district, he has staged all of his healthcare speeches in front of signs that read "16 Reasons to Oppose Obamacare." But this week, House Republican Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) shifted the emphasis by unveiling the GOP alternative and launching a campaign to raise his party's public profile on the issue.

"This is an intentional strategic shift toward not being just the opposition party, but trying to be the alternative party," said David Winston, a Republican pollster close to the congressional leadership.

The Republican bill lacks many major elements of the Democratic proposal: There is no expansion of Medicaid, no requirement that individuals buy insurance, no penalties for employers that do not offer coverage, and no subsidies to help the needy pay premiums.

In addition, the GOP proposal does not include one of the most popular elements of the Democrats' plan -- a ban on denying coverage to people with preexisting medical conditions.

But the Republican plan has adopted some of the more modest Democratic provisions. It too would make it easier for young adults to remain on their parents' health policies. It also would end the controversial insurance practices of imposing annual or lifetime limits on benefits and of canceling coverage after a policyholder becomes sick.

And rather than give more power to the federal government to address the nation's healthcare problems, the Republican plan looks to states, market forces and individuals.

Their bill would provide aid to the states to form "high-risk" insurance pools that would cover people -- including those with preexisting conditions -- who cannot get coverage through their jobs or in the individual market. The GOP bill also would provide incentive grants for states that reduce premiums and the ranks of the uninsured.

Small businesses would be encouraged, but not required, to cover their employees under provisions that would make it easier to band together to get group rates.

To curb costs through increased competition, the GOP plan would make it easier for insurance companies to sell policies across state lines. And it would impose new curbs on medical malpractice lawsuits -- on the theory that healthcare inflation is fueled by defensive medicine and the rising cost of malpractice insurance.

To increase incentives for individuals to control their own health spending, the bill would expand the use of tax-favored health savings accounts. And it would allow employers to provide steeper discounts in insurance premiums to employees who adopt healthy lifestyles.

Details On Health Care Bills In House, Senate

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | Published: November 4, 2009

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- House Democratic leaders have presented a new health overhaul bill that melds legislation passed by three committees over the summer. And House Republicans have unveiled their own alternative, after months of criticizing the Democrats' approach.

In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is finalizing legislation merging the work of two committees and making other changes.

Here are details on the three bills. The Senate bill has not yet been made public, so some specifics are unknown.

The House Democratic bill (Affordable Health Care for America Act):

WHO'S COVERED: About 96 percent of legal residents under age 65 -- compared with 83 percent now. About one-third of the remaining 18 million people under age 65 left uninsured would be illegal immigrants.

COST: The Congressional Budget Office says the bill's cost of expanding insurance coverage over 10 years is $1.055 trillion. The net cost is $894 billion, factoring in penalties by individuals and employers who don't comply with new requirements. That's under President Barack Obama's $900 billion goal. However those figures leave out a variety of new costs in the bill including increased prescription drug coverage for seniors underMedicare, so the measure may be around $1.2 trillion.

HOW IT'S PAID FOR: $460 billion over the next decade from new income taxes on single people making more than $500,000 a year and couples making $1 million. The original House bill taxed individuals making $280,000 a year and couples making more than $350,000, but the threshold was increased in response to lawmakers' concerns that the taxes would hit too many people and small businesses.

There are also more than $400 billion in cuts to Medicare and Medicaid; a new $20 billion fee on medical device makers; $13 billion from limiting contributions to flexible spending accounts; sizable penalties paid by individuals and employers who don't obtain coverage; and a mix of other corporate taxes and fees.

REQUIREMENTS FOR INDIVIDUALS: Individuals must have insurance, enforced through a tax penalty of 2.5 percent of income. People can apply for hardship waivers if coverage is unaffordable.

REQUIREMENTS FOR EMPLOYERS: Employers must provide insurance to their employees or pay a penalty of 8 percent of payroll. Companies with payrolls under $500,000 annually are exempt -- a change from the original $250,000 level to accommodate concerns of moderate Democrats -- and the penalty is phased in for companies with payrolls between $500,000 and $750,000.

Small businesses -- those with 10 or fewer workers -- get tax credits to help them provide coverage.

SUBSIDIES: Individuals and families with annual income up to 400 percent of poverty level, or $88,000 for a family of four, would get sliding-scale subsidies to help them buy coverage. The subsidies would begin in 2013.

HOW YOU CHOOSE YOUR HEALTH INSURANCE: Beginning in 2013 through a new Health Insurance Exchange open to individuals and, initially, small employers; it could be expanded to large employers over time. States could opt to operate their own exchanges in place of the national exchange if they follow federal rules.

BENEFITS PACKAGE: A committee would recommend a so-called essential benefits package including preventive services; out-of pocket costs would be capped. The new benefit package would be the basic benefit package offered in the exchange.

INSURANCE INDUSTRY RESTRICTIONS: No denial of coverage based on pre-existing conditions. No higher premiums allowed for pre-existing conditions or gender. Limits on higher premiums based on age.

GOVERNMENT-RUN PLAN: A new public plan available through the insurance exchanges would be set up and run by the secretary of Health and Human Services. Democrats originally designed the plan to pay Medicare rates plus 5 percent to doctors, but the final version -- preferred by moderate lawmakers -- instead would let the HHS secretary negotiate rates with providers.

CHANGES TO MEDICAID: The federal-state insurance program for the poor would be expanded to cover all individuals under age 65 with incomes up to 150 percent of the federal poverty level, which is $33,075 per year for a family of four. The federal government would pick up the full cost of the expansion in 2013 and 2014; thereafter the federal government would pay 91 percent and states would pay 9 percent.

DRUGS: Grants 12 years of market protection to high-tech drugs used to combat cancer, Parkinson's and other deadly diseases. Phases out the gap in Medicare prescription drug coverage by 2019. Requires the HHS secretary to negotiate drug prices on behalf of Medicare beneficiaries.

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By Dave Lindorff

Next time you see a junkie sprawled at the curb in the downtown of your nearest city, or read about someone who died of a heroin overdose, just imagine a big yellow sign posted next to him or her saying: “Your Federal Tax Dollars at Work.”

Kudos to the New York Times, and to reporters Dexter Filkins, Mark Mazzetti and James Risen, for their lead article today reporting that Ahmed Wali Karzai, brother of Afghanistan’s stunningly corrupt President Hamid Karzai, a leading drug lord in the world’s major opium-producing nation, has for eight years been on the CIA payroll.

Okay, the article was lacking much historical perspective (more on that later), and the dead hand of top editors was evident in the overly cautious tone (I loved the third paragraph, which stated that “The financial ties and close working relationship between the intelligence agency and Mr. Karzai raises significant questions about America’s war strategy, which is currently under review at the White House.” Well, duh! It should be raising questions about why we are even in Afghanistan, about who should be going to jail at the CIA, and about how can the government explain this to the over 1000 soldiers and Marines who have died supposedly helping to build a new Afghanistan). But that said, the newspaper that helpedcheerlead us into the pointless and criminal Iraq invasion in 2003, and that prevented journalist Risen from running his exposé of the Bush/Cheney administration’s massive warrantless National Security Agency electronic spying operation until after the 2004 presidential election, this time gave a critically important story full play, and even, appropriately, included a teaser in the same front-page story about October being the most deadly month yet for the US in Afghanistan.

What the article didn’t mention at all is that there is a clear historical pattern here. During the Vietnam War, the CIA, and its Air America airline front-company, were neck deep in the Southeast Asian heroin trade. At the time, it was Southeast Asia, not Afghanistan, that was the leading producer and exporter of opium, mostly to the US, where there was a heroin epidemic.

A decade later, in the 1980s, during the Reagan administration, as the late investigative journalist Gary Webb so brilliantly documented first in a series titled “Dark Alliance” in the San Jose Mercury newspaper, and later in a book by that same name, the CIA was deeply involved in the development of and smuggling of cocaine into the US, which was soon engulfed in a crack cocaine epidemic—one that continues to destroy African American and other poor communities across the country. (The Times role here was sordid—it and other leading papers, including the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times—did despicable hit pieces on Webb shamelessly trashing his work and his career, and ultimately driving him to suicide, though his facts have held up.

For the whole sordid tale, read Alex Cockburn’s and Jeffrey St. Clair’s Whiteout: the CIA, Drugs and the Press) In this case, Webb showed that the Agency was actually using the drugs as a way to fund arms, which it could use its own planes to ferry down to the Contra forces it was backing to subvert the Sandinista government in Nicaragua at a time Congress had barred the US from supporting the Contras.

And now we have Afghanistan, once a sleepy backwater of the world with little connection to drugs (the Taliban, before their overthrow by US forces in 20001, had, according to the UN, virtually eliminated opium production there), but now responsible for as much as 80 percent of the world’s opium production—this at a time that the US effectively finances and runs the place, with an occupying army that, together with Afghan government forces that it controls, outnumbers the Taliban 12-1 according to a recent AP story.


The real story here is that where the US goes, the drug trade soon follows, and the leading role in developing and nurturing that trade appears to be played by the Central Intelligence Agency.

Your tax dollars at work.

The issue at this point should not be how many troops the US should add to its total in Afghanistan. It shouldn’t even be over whether the US should up the ante or scale back to a more limited goal of hunting terrorists. It should be about how quickly the US can extricate its forces from Afghanistan, how soon the Congress can start hearings into corruption and drug pushing by the CIA, and how soon the Attorney General’s office will impanel a grand jury to probe CIA drug dealing.

Americans, who for years have supported a stupid, blundering and ineffective “War on Drugs” in this country, and who mindlessly back “zero-tolerance” policies towards drugs in schools and on the job, should demand a “zero-tolerance” policy toward drugs and dealing with drug pushers in government and foreign policy, including the CIA.

For years we have been fed the story that the Taliban are being financed by their taxes on opium farmers. That may be partly true, but recently we’ve been learning that it’s not the real story. Taliban forces in Afghanistan, it turns out, have been heavily subsidized by protection money paid to them by civilian aid organizations, including even American government-funded aid programs, and even, reportedly, by the military forces of some of America’s NATO allies (there is currently a scandal in Italy concerning such payments by Italian forces). But beyond that, the opium industry, far from being controlled by the Taliban, has been, to a great extent, controlled by the very warlords with which the US has allied itself, and, as the Times now reports, by Ahmed Wali Karzai, the president’s own brother.

Karzai, we are also told by Filkins, Mazzetti and Risen, was a key player in producing hundreds of thousands of fraudulent ballots for his brother’s election theft earlier this year. Left unsaid is whether the CIA might have played a role in that scam too. In a country where finding printing presses is sure to be difficult, and where transporting bales of counterfeit ballots is risky, you have to wonder whether an agency like the CIA, which has ready access to printers and to helicopters, might have had a hand in keeping its assets in control in Kabul.

Sure that’s idle speculation on my part, but when you learn that America’s spook agency has been keeping not just Karzai, but lots of other unsavory Afghani warlords, on its payroll, such speculation is only logical.

The real attitude of the CIA here was best illustrated by an anonymous quote in the Filkins, Mazzetti and Risen piece, where a “former CIA officer with experience in Afghanistan,” explaining the agency’s backing of Karzai, said, “Virtually every significant Afghan figure has had brushes with the drug trade. If you are looking for Mother Teresa, she doesn’t live in Afghanistan.”

“The end justifies the means” is America’s foreign policy and military motto, clearly.

The Times article exposing the CIA link to Afghanistan’s drug-kingpin presidential brother should be the last straw for Americans. President Obama’s “necessary” war in Afghanistan is nothing but a sick joke.

The opium, and resulting heroin, that is flooding into Europe and America thanks to the CIA’s active support of the industry and its owners in Afghanistan are doing far more grave damage to our societies than any turbaned terrorists armed with suicide bomb vests could hope to inflict.

The Afghanistan War has to be ended now.

Let the prosecution of America’s government drug pushers begin.

A note about Sen. John Kerry: Kerry (D-MA), who went to Afghanistan to press, for the Obama administration, to get his "good friend" President Karzai to agree to a run-off election after Karzai’s earlier theft of the first round, has played a shameful role here. Once, back when he still had an ounce of the principle that he had back when he was a Vietnam vet speaking out against the Indochina War, Kerry held hearings on the CIA's cocaine-for-arms operation in Central America. Now he's hugging the CIA's drug connections.

-- Dave Lindorff is a Philadelphia-based journalist and columnist. His latest book is “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006 and now available in paperback). He can be reached at This article appeared in | source

23 CIA Agents Convicted In Kidnapping, Torture Trial In Italy

CIA station chief defense: 'I am not guilty. I am only responsible
for following an order I received from my superiors'

Dear Ed.,

They acted under orders from Bush and Cheney. Today, however, an Italian court convicted 23 American involved in the CIA's kidnap and rendition/torture program.

Around the world, and right here in the United States, outraged people are demanding that the architects of the criminal enterprise – Bush and Cheney – be brought to justice.

Twenty-two of the convicted Americans were immediately sentenced to five years in jail.

The other convicted American, Milan CIA station chief Robert Seldon Lady, was given the harshest sentence: eight years in prison. "I am not guilty. I am only responsible for following an order I received from my superiors," Lady was quoted as saying by the newspaper Il Giornale.

As the Associated Press writes, "The trial is the first by any government to scrutinize the CIA's extraordinary rendition program, which human rights advocates charge was the CIA's way to outsource the torture of prisoners to countries where it is practiced." The defendants were tried in abstentia and are considered fugitives.

This is a crucial step on the road to justice. But it must go to those at the top, to the architects of these criminal acts.

It is noteworthy that the defense offered by the attorneys of the convicted was that they were following the orders of the Bush/Cheney White House.

From Italy to Spain and Germany, court proceedings have taken place or are underway against Bush-era crimes.

'We The People' must let the world know that the American people too will not tolerate torture, secret prisons, kidnappings, assassinations and wars of aggression. Unless Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld are held accountable before the law it will send a message to the world that future U.S. officials can repeat these dastardly acts with impunity.

This movement has truth on its side. It also has public opinion on its side. As the convictions in Italy show it is gaining strength globally. We are organizing at full speed now and in the months ahead.

Independents Fuel GOP Victories In Va., N.J.

The independent voters who powered President Obama and Democrats to victory in 2008 fled to Republicans in Tuesday's elections, helping the GOP romp to a ticketwide sweep in Virginia and a stunning victory over an incumbent Democratic governor in New Jersey.

But the night wasn't a total loss for Democrats, as their candidate won a special election to fill an open congressional seat in upstate New York after a bitter civil war left Republicans divided between their party's nominee and a Conservative Party candidate. The seat had been in Republican hands for more than a century.

Nevertheless, in a sign that there's more trouble ahead for Democrats, voters in New Jersey and Virginia said they were driven by the economy and spending, and Republicans said their showing on Tuesday gives them momentum heading into the 2010 congressional elections.

Campaigning in Virginia, Republican Robert F. McDonnell said Democrats' "overreach" in Washington helped boost him to what was a trouncing of Democratic nominee R. Creigh Deeds. And in New Jersey, Republican Chris Christie unseated the broadly unpopular Gov. Jon Corzine despite being outspent in a solidly blue state…

“It’s The Economy Stupid!” Bailing out the Wall Street and Banking Roulette Players and declaring a recession (“Managed Depression”) nearly over without reemployment and job production is a “Fairy Tale” that we are all too old to believe…why?

We have to eat, pay the bills and pay highwaymen medical Bills. We could remedy all this with one week of a national strike and thousands descending on Washington…one week of our lives for this nation and our welfare!

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