healthcare

Commentary: Healthcare vs. Insurance Care

by Patricia Cogswell, Byron Center, MI

I have been following the health care insurance issues very closely. I am a retired Health Care practice manager and a former RN. I have seen the evolution and downfall of health care over the years.

The major change is in the word Healthcare which exists only in the minds of doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers. The new word is Insurance Care. The Insurance industry has taken over the healthcare industry. Patients want healthcare but they do not know that it no longer truly exists. Insurance controls the healthcare.

I may be an old retired healthcare worker but I also remember when the medical people decided what a patient needed. I remember the times that when a patient was sick, he was treated according to what the doctor thought he had. Not today — today a non medical person working in an insurance company decides what he needs. The need is based on how much profit the insurance company can get. Yes, it is the same insurance company that went out of the way to promote their product over their competitors to woo you or your employer to sign up with them and take your money for an insurance policy that you and/or your employer decided upon. All goes well until you or your co-worker becomes sick. Suddenly, you are a monetary statistic on a chart created by the insurance company. That chart says that you may have had a pre-existing condition or an un-approved condition.

Pre-existing condition is a loop-hole for insurance companies. Many of us are born with something we did not ask for and maybe did not even know about until we were diagnosed but the insurance company stats person pounces because their stats say that we were previously deemed by this disease therefore we are not now eligible for coverage. A worse scenario is that we did know about the disease but we changed jobs or was laid off or our company closed their doors, etc. The Insurance stat person double pounces on us. We have a pre-existing condition and therefore not eligible for insurance. Oh, they can insurance us but the cost will be very prohibitive. The wealthy will smile and say okay, the rest will just lay awake nights wondering how they can pay for the prescriptions and doctors appts. they need. Many will just give up and no nothing and not fill the prescription or visit the doctor and death will take them. Others will go but take their credit cards to max and remortgage their homes, etc and then have to file bankruptcy or lose their homes.

Okay, these are some facts I have presented. Now I have a question for you – Are you so wealthy you do not need insurance and do not care about others who do or are you a person who cares about your neighbors and believes in the Golden Rule? You choose and I hope you choose the path to Universal Insurance coverage for all.

I am a compassionate Christian who believes in Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself and there is no question how I (if I were a Congressman or Rep) would vote. I could not live with my own conscience if I were to vote for the Insurance companies and the Profits that are made on heathcare. My conscience would not allow me to say that a tax break should be put in place for a citizen for Insurance. A person who cannot afford the premiums for health care would find the tax break worthless. This idea of a tax break is only another example of a loophole tax break for the wealthy. It reminds me of Marie Antoinette who said “Let them Eat Cake” when they could not afford bread.

Please pass this on to anyone who is in desperate need of healthcare or cannot afford the premiums, copays, etc . I just want you to know that I do really care about you. I have given up on passing it on to the congressmen who can actually make a difference in your lives. If you think they will listen, please pass it on to your powers-that-be in your State.

Headlines: House Passes $106 Billion War Spending Bill; Obama To Extend Federal Benefits To Gay Couples

Democracy Now Headlines: House Passes $106 Billion War Spending Bill; Obama To Extend Federal Benefits To Gay Couples

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

House Passes $106 Billion War Spending Bill

The Democratic-controlled House has narrowly passed a $106 billion spending bill to expand the war in Afghanistan and to continue funding the war in Iraq. 32 anti-war Democrats voted against the measure as did all but five Republicans. The Republicans opposed a part of the bill to increase funding for the International Monetary Fund. The final vote was 226 to 202. Congressman Dennis Kucinich voted against the war funding.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich: “We are destroying our nations moral and fiscal integrity with the War Supplemental. Instead of ending wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan now by appropriating only enough money to bring our troops home, Congress abdicates its Constitutional authority, defers to the President and asks for a report. That’s right. All we are asking for is a report about when the President will end the war.

Dennis Kucinich also criticized the increased funding for the International Monetary Fund.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich: “There is money too for the IMF, presumably to bail out European banks. Billions for the IMF so they can force low- and middle- income nations to cut jobs, wages, healthcare and retirement security, just like corporate America does to our constituents. And there is money to incentivize the purchase of more cars, but not necessarily from the US because the Buy American Mandate was not allowed. Another $106 billion and all we get is a lousy war. Pretty soon that is all that is going to be about the only thing made in America: war.”

UN: Record Of Number Internally Displaced Persons

The United Nations is reporting a record number of internally displaced persons received UN assistance in 2008. 14.4 million people were registered as living under UN care. Another 11.6 million internally displaced persons were left to fend for themselves or receive assistance from other agencies. The total number of internally displaced persons has increased even more since the end of 2008 due to fighting in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Somalia.

As Protests Continue In Iran, Ebadi Calls For New Election

Anti-government protesters are filling the streets of Tehran again today calling for last week’s election results to be thrown out. Supporters of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi accuse President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of rigging the election. On Tuesday backers of Mousavi and Ahmadinejad both held massive rallies Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi has called for a new election under the watch of international observers.

Obama: U.S. Should Not Meddle In Iranian Elections

In Washington President Obama resisted calls for the United States to take a direct stance on the situation in Iran.

President Obama: “It’s not productive, given the history of U.S.-Iranian relations, to be seen as meddling, the U.S. president meddling in Iranian elections.”

Former Republican presidential candidate John McCain criticized Obama’s handling of the crisis.

Sen. John McCain: “He should speak out that this is a corrupt, fraud, sham of an election. The Iranian people have been deprived of their rights. We support them in their struggle against a repressive, oppressive regime. And they should not be subjected to four more years of Ahmadinejad and the radical Muslim clerics.”

Iranian Government Cracks Down on Foreign Press & Websites

Meanwhile the Iranian government has revoked press credentials for foreign journalists and ordered journalists not to report from the streets. Much of the video footage from Iran is now coming from Iranian citizens who are posting video to YouTube and other sites.

Amateur video posted on the internet earlier today appears to show members of the Revolutionary Guard firing at a crowd of demonstrators from the roof of their building in Tehran on Monday. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard corps said today it will pursue legal action against websites that it claimed were inciting people to riot as well as the people who post material to the websites.

Obama To Extend Federal Benefits To Gay Couples

President Obama is expected to sign a presidential memorandum today to extend benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees but he will stop short of pledging full health insurance coverage. Obama is making the announcement at a time when he is facing growing anger among gay supporters over his administration’s recent decision to file a legal brief supporting the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act. During the presidential campaign Obama called for repealing the Defense of Marriage Act as well as the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

Report: Anti-Gay Killings Jump 28 Percent in 2008

Meanwhile a new report from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs has found that the number of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people killed in bias-motivated attacks increased by 28 percent last year. The group documented 29 killings in 2008, the highest number recorded since 1999.

Obama To Outline Major Financial Regulatory Changes

In economic news, President Obama is expected to propose today the creation of an independent and powerful Consumer Financial Product Safety Commission to regulate financial products such as mortgages and credit cards. The McClatchy Newspapers reports that as part of the proposal, the Federal Reserve and other bank regulators would lose their oversight over mortgages, credit cards and other financial products that are sold to consumers. At the same time Obama is proposing expanding the Feds role as the regulator of the nation’s largest banks such as J.P. Morgan Chase and Goldman Sachs to include other giant financial firms, such as the insurance companies AIG and MetLife.

Report: Unemployment Crisis To Continue Until 2014

Meanwhile a leading economic forecaster is projecting that much of the country will not return to peak employment until at least 2012 and many cities won’t return to recent peaks until 2014 or later. Six million jobs have been lost since the recession began 18 months ago.

Carter: Gaza Residents Are Treated “More Like Animals Than Human Beings”

Former president Jimmy Carter said Tuesday that Palestinians in Gaza were being treated “more like animals than human beings.” Carter made the comment after touring the Gaza Strip for the first time since the Israeli attack.

Jimmy Carter: “Tragically, the international community largely ignores the cries for help, while the citizens of Gaza are treated more like animals than like human beings.”

Jimmy Carter also called for an investigation into war crimes committed by Israel.

Jimmy Carter: “There is no explanation. The responsibility for this terrible human rights crime lies in Jerusalem, in Cairo, in Washington and in the capitals of Europe, throughout the international community. This abuse must cease. The crimes committed against you must be investigated. The walls must be brought down and the basic right of freedom must come to you.”

1979 State Dep’t Ruling: Israel Settlements “Inconsistent With International Law”

Meanwhile new attention is being paid to a State Department opinion issued during Jimmy Carter’s administration regarding Israeli settlements. In 1979 a State Department legal adviser issued an opinion that stated the establishment of Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territories is “inconsistent with international law.” The opinion cited Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which states that an occupying power “shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” The legal opinion has never been revoked or revised. On Tuesday Israel’s newly appointed ambassador to Washington Michael Oren claimed that Israel does not have the ability to halt all settlement building.

Michael Oren: “This is a country of law, and citizens of the state of Israel have rights under that law and if a person has purchased a house, if a person has taken out a contract for building a house, if a corporation is involved in a construction activity, the Israeli government does not have the right under Israeli law to stop them. If it tries to, they will appeal to the (Israeli) supreme court and, my guess is, the supreme court will view in favor of those appellants.”

The future of the Israeli settlements is expected to be discussed at today’s meeting in Washington between Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Lieberman lives in the West Bank settlement of Nokdim.

New Gov’t Report: Global Warming Is Unequivocal

A new report by the Obama administration says global warming is “unequivocal and primarily human-induced.” The Washington Post reports the study details how climate change will affect certain parts of the United States. In the Northeast, the heaviest rainstorms have become 67 percent heavier since 1958, as warmer weather evaporates more water vapor into the atmosphere to feed storm clouds. Around the Great Lakes, snowstorms could get heavier as ice recedes and exposes more open water. By 2100 parts of the South could experience 150 days a year with temperatures higher than 90 degrees.

Peruvian Prime Minister To Resign

Peruvian Prime Minister Yehude Simon has announced plans to resign following the bloody clashes between indigenous activists and the police. Simon has led negotiations with indigenous groups protesting decrees to foreign oil and gas development in the Amazon jungle. Meanwhile the Peruvian Foreign Ministry has announced that it has granted safe passage to indigenous leader Alberto Pizango to leave Peru for Nicaragua, which has granted him political asylum. On Tuesday Bolivian President Evo Morales accused Peruvian President Alan Garcia of committing genocide.

Evo Morales: “I’m convinced that what happened in Peru is genocide caused the free trade agreement. Privatization hands South America and Latin America’s Amazon forests over to multinationals. Now the free trade agreement is causing genocide not just in Latin America, but all over the world.”

In other news from Peru, protesters have blocked access to one of the country’s largest gold mines. Peru is the world’s sixth-largest gold producer.

Mogadishu Police Chief Killed

In Somalia the police chief of the capital Mogadishu has been killed in a day of heaving fighting between government forces and Islamic milittants. More than 250 people have been killed in Somalia over the past month.

Republican Senator John Ensign Admits To Affair

On Capitol Hill, Republican Senator John Ensign of Nevada has admitted he had an extramarital affair with a campaign staffer. Ensign was seen as a potential candidate for president in 2012. Ensign is a born-again Christian who was a member of the Promise Keepers, a male evangelical group that promotes marital fidelity. Ensign had once claimed he never met behind closed doors with women staff members and would not travel alone in a car with a woman who was not his wife. In 2007 Ensign urged Idaho Senator Larry Craig to resign after his arrest in a men’s bathroom for alleged lewd conduct.

Trial of Former Democratic Rep. William Jefferson Begins

The federal trial of former Democratic Congressman William Jefferson of Louisiana has begun. On Tuesday federal prosecutors told jurors Jefferson had squeezed hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks from people who sought his help. Jefferson has been charged with 16 counts, including bribery, racketeering, obstruction of justice and money laundering. In 2005 the FBI raided Jefferson’s Capitol Hill home and found $90,000 wrapped in foil and stuffed in food containers in a freezer.

Pioneering Doctor Leo Orris, 93, Dies

Ad doctor Leo Orris has died at the age of 93. He was a pioneer in environmental medicine, and discovered the causative link between tobacco and cancer in 1958.

Headlines: Kennedy Health Bill Would Leave 36 Million Uninsured; CIA Director Initially Backed Torture Truth Commission

Democracy Now Headlines: Kennedy Health Bill Would Leave 36 Million Uninsured; CIA Director Initially Backed Truth Commission

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

Hundreds of Thousands Protest in Iran; Seven Killed

In Iran, hundreds of thousands of people marched in Tehran Monday to protest last week’s disputed presidential election. Defying an official ban on protests, opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi joined the massive crowd, which has been described as the largest anti-government demonstration in Iran since the Iranian Revolution of 1979. The protests turned bloody last night when seven people were reportedly killed. Meanwhile, Iran’s powerful Guardian Council says it will order a recount of votes in contested areas of Iran. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the winner in Friday’s poll with 63 percent, compared with 34 percent for Mousavi. On Monday, President Obama said he was “deeply troubled” by the violence but would continue to pursue “tough direct diplomacy” with Iran. Supporters of Mousavi have also been holding protests in Paris, New York, Washington and other cities. Babak Talebi took part in a demonstration Monday in Washington.

Babak Talebi: “We are here to show our solidarity with the people inside Iran who are out on the streets demanding that their voice be heard. And they’re demanding a new election, and we’re demanding that the previous one on Friday not be legitimized through recognition in the mainstream media and international entities. We want to make sure that we all stand with the people in Iran and what their demands are.”

Report: Kennedy Health Bill Would Leave 36 Million Uninsured

A new analysis by the Congressional Budget Office has concluded that Senator Edward Kennedy’s plan to expand healthcare coverage would cost about $1 trillion over the next ten years and fall far short of providing universal healthcare coverage. According to the CBO, the plan would reduce the number of uninsured by 16 million people, but even if the bill became law, 36 million people would remain uninsured in 2017.

Supreme Court Won’t Review Cuban Five Case

The US Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal by five jailed Cuban nationals known as the Cuban Five. The five men were convicted in 2001 for spying on the US military and Cuban exiles in southern Florida. All five are serving time in federal prisons across the country. The men say they weren’t spying on the US, but trying to monitor violent right-wing Cuban exile groups that have organized attacks on Cuba. The Cuban Five trial was the only judicial proceeding in US history condemned by the UN Human Rights Commission. Ricardo Alarcon, the president of Cuba’s Parliament, criticized the Supreme Court for refusing to hear the appeal.

Ricardo Alarcon: “Today is a day of shame and of anger. It is a day of shame for those who believe in justice in the North American system. It is a day of anger for many people in all the world that have called upon the US Supreme Court to do something very simple, which is to review the case of the Cuban Five.”

Attorneys for the Cuban Five have argued their trial should have been moved from Miami, the heart of the Cuban American community, because of a biased jury pool.

Supreme Court Refuses to Hear Border Wall Case

The Supreme Court has also refused to accept a case seeking to stop construction of a wall along the the US-Mexico border. Several Texas border communities had sued the federal government after former Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff waived thirty-six federal laws protecting water, air quality, endangered animals and Native American sites in order to build the border wall.

Pelosi Pressures Antiwar Democrats to Back War Funding Bill

On Capitol Hill, the Democratic House leadership is pressuring antiwar Democrats to support a $106 billion supplemental war funding bill. In May, fifty-one antiwar Democrats opposed an earlier version of the bill. Now House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is trying to pressure some of those Democrats to switch their votes to help pass a new version of the bill that also includes increased funding for the International Monetary Fund. California Democratic Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey says the White House has threatened to pull support from freshman antiwar Democrats who vote no on the bill. In order to block passage, thirty-nine House Democrats need to join with Republicans opposing the bill.

Pakistan to Expand Offensive Against Taliban

Pakistan is preparing to expand its war against the Taliban by launching a new offensive in South Waziristan, home to Baitullah Mehsud, a Taliban leader. This will mark the second front in Pakistan’s war against militants. Over the past six weeks, Pakistan, with US backing, has waged a major attack on the Swat Valley. The fighting has displaced more than two million civilians.

Al Jazeera Employees Detained in Afghanistan

In Afghanistan, two Al Jazeera employees have been detained after being told by officials to report to the country’s intelligence headquarters. Meanwhile, General Stanley McChrystal has taken over as the top US commander in Afghanistan.

UK to Conduct Private Inquiry into Iraq War

The British government has announced it will conduct a wide-ranging inquiry into the country’s role in the Iraq war. But antiwar campaigners are criticizing the government’s decision to conduct the inquiry in private.

Report: CIA Director Initially Backed Truth Commission

CIA Director Leon Panetta has revealed he initially supported the creation of a Truth Commission to investigate the Bush administration’s counterterrorism policies. Panetta told The New Yorker magazine, quote, “I could see that it would make some sense, frankly, to appoint a high-level commission, with somebody like Sandra Day O’Connor, Lee Hamilton–people like that.” Panetta dropped his support for the Truth Commission after President Obama essentially vetoed the idea in late April.

CIA Officer in El-Masri Rendition Promoted Twice

The New Yorker magazine has also revealed that the CIA has twice promoted an officer responsible for the rendition and detention of an innocent German citizen named Khaled El-Masri. CIA agents kidnapped El-Masri in Macedonia and flew him to Afghanistan, where he was held in a dungeon and tortured. He was jailed for 149 days without charge. The CIA officer refused to release El-Masri even after it was clear that he was not a terror suspect. The officer was never reprimanded.

KSM Says He Gave False Info After Being Tortured

Newly declassified documents reveal that the CIA’s use of torture may have produced false information. Self-proclaimed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed told US military officials that he made up stories about Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts after being tortured.

Carter: Netanyahu Blocking Peace With Palestinians

Former President Jimmy Carter has accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of setting up new obstacles to peace with the Palestinians. On Sunday Netanyahu said for the first time he could accept a two-state solution, but only if the new Palestinian state had no army and no control of its airspace and borders. Jimmy Carter spoke during a stop in Jerusalem.

Jimmy Carter: “My opinion is he raised many new obstacles to peace that had not existed under previous prime ministers. He still apparently insists on expansion of existing settlements, he demands that the Palestinians and the Arabs recognize Israel as a Jewish state although 20 percent of the citizens here are not Jews. This is a new demand, President Obama in his speech called for two states and am glad Prime Minister Netanyahu has accepted that concept.”

Earlier today Jimmy Carter visited Gaza for the first time since the Israeli invasion.

Jimmy Carter: “It’s very distressing to me, I have to hold back tears when I see the deliberate destruction that has been racked against your people. I come here to the American school which was educating your children, supported by my own country and I see that this been deliberately destroyed by bombs from F-16 made in my country and delivered to the Israelis.”

Jimmy Carter is scheduled to meet Hamas leader Ismail Haniya later today.

Campaigners Urge Caterpillar To Halt Bulldozer Sales to Israel

Shareholders of the company Caterpillar have rejected an effort by human rights activists to stop the firm from selling bulldozers to Israel to be used to demolish homes in Gaza and the West Bank. At the company’s annual meeting last week dissident shareholders submitted a resolution calling for a review of Caterpillar sales to militaries with poor human rights records, including Israel. The Israeli activist Matan Cohen of the group Anarchists Against the Wall attended the shareholders meeting.

Matan Cohen: “Caterpillar has been arguing for years that they are not responsible for what their clients are doing with their products and we made a very simple case. As a recent ruling in the United States court, in the state of New York said, if you are willfully blind to what your clients are doing with your products, you are as legally culpable as they are, hence we demanded Caterpillar stopped providing Israel its services, and stop giving them D-9 bull dozers with which Israel has been demolishing, homes constructing the seperation wall, and uprooting olive groves on a day-to-day basis.”

Environmental Justice Attorney Luke Cole, 46, Dies

And the pioneering environmental justice attorney Luke Cole has died at the age of 46. He was the co-founder of the Center for Race, Poverty and the Environment. Over the years Cole battled toxic waste facilities, mega-dairies, mining companies and other pollution threats in poor and minority communities in California and Alaska. Cole died last week after a car accident in Uganda.

Legislators Drafting Health Care Legislation have Financial Ties to the Industry

Last week, we highlighted an article in USA Today that explained how lobbyists are skirting federal campaign finance regulations by giving money to “honor” lawmakers. At the time, we wrote that it is an example of how corrupt the legislative process has become.

Now, there is another noteworthy example. Late last week, The Washington Post reported that most of the legislators drafting health care reform legislation have substantial investments in the sector:

Almost 30 key lawmakers helping draft landmark health-care legislation have financial holdings in the industry, totaling nearly $11 million worth of personal investments in a sector that could be dramatically reshaped by this summer’s debate.

The list of members who have personal investments in the corporations that will be affected by the legislation — which President Obama has called this year’s highest domestic priority — includes Congress’s most powerful leaders and a bipartisan collection of lawmakers in key committee posts. Their total health-care holdings could be worth $27 million, because congressional financial disclosure forms released yesterday require reporting of only broad ranges of holdings rather than precise values of assets.

Rules for disclosing this information are limited and there are no rules that prevent members from having a financial interest in industries that they regulate.

Given that so many members of Congress profit from the health care industry, it’s no surprise that a single-payer health care system–which would create a government-sponsored insurance system–is largely off the table. a

Local and Michigan Headlines: What Happened to Single Payer Health Care; College-Bound Michigan Students Unsure about Financial Aid

Some worthwhile articles published elsewhere in the past 24 hours or so:

Headlines: New Mountaintop Removal Mining Rules Criticized as Ineffective; Contradicting Obama, Sen. Baucus Rules Out “Public” Health Care

Democracy Now Headlines: New Mountaintop Removal Rules Criticized as Ineffective; Contradicting Obama, Sen. Baucus Rules Out 'Public' Health Care

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

Admin Rules Out U.S. Re-settlement for Gitmo Prisoners

The Obama administration says its scrapping plans to let foreign prisoners cleared for release from Guantanamo Bay live in the United States. The White House had already announced its opposition to admitting a group of seventeen Chinese Uyghur prisoners even though they were no longer designated ‘enemy combatants’ and ordered immediately freed. Administration officials cited Congressional opposition to the Uyghurs’ release in arguing they stood no chance in convincing lawmakers to accept other freed prisoners.

6 Gitmo Prisoners Freed

The news comes as four of the Uyghur prisoners have been released to Bermuda, where they will live as foreign guest workers. The U.S. is still in talks to send the remaining thirteen to the Pacific archipelago of Palau. Two other Guantanamo prisoners were also released Thursday and sent to their home countries of Iraq and Chad. The Chadian, Mohammed El Gharani, was the youngest Guantanamo Bay prisoner on record, having been arrested in Pakistan at the age of fourteen.

Dems Resolve Gitmo, Photo Differences in War Funding Bill

Congressional Democrats meanwhile have reached an agreement on a war funding bill that would authorize the transfer of Guantanamo prisoners to stand trial in the United States. The measure does not include language allowing indefinite detention as President Obama has inititally proposed. The White House also dropped a request for a provision imposing a Congressional ban on the release of photos showing the abuse of prisoners at U.S. jails in Iraq and Afghanistan. President Obama said he will continue to seek the photos’ censorship through an appeal to the Supreme Court.

Anti-War Lawmakers Urge Rejection of War Funding

The war funding bill includes more than $90 billion dollars for the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan and is expected be voted on next week. In a letter to other House members who have previously opposed war funding, Congressmembers Lynn Woolsey of California and Dennis Kucinich of Ohio urged them to retain “steadfast opposition” to the new bill. Speaking on the House floor, Kucinich said the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan is based on “aggression and lies.”

Rep. Dennis Kucinich: “A new administration and the same old war, with an expansion of the war in Afghanistan. We cannot afford these wars. We cannot afford these wars spiritually. They are wars of aggression and they are based on lies. We cannot afford these wars financially. They add trillions to our national debt and destroy our domestic agenda. We cannot afford the human cost of these wars, the loss of lives of our beloved troops and the deaths of innocent civilians in Iraq , Afghanistan , and Pakistan.”

Senate Backs Sweeping Tobacco Regulation

The Senate has approved a measure that would strengthen government regulation over the tobacco industry. On Thursday, Senators voted 79 to 17 to give the Food and Drug Administration new authority in overseeing the manufacture and marketing of tobacco. The FDA would be able to ban the most harmful of the thousands of chemicals used in cigarettes and reduce the amount of nicotine. Tobacco companies would also be forced to disclose the ingredients in their products. The House passed a similar measure last month. A longtime cigarette smoker himself, President Obama has vowed to sign the legislation into law.

Contradicting Obama, Sen. Baucus Rules Out “Public” Health Care

President Obama was in Green Bay, Wisconsin Thursday to promote his push for health care reform. Speaking at a town-hall style event, Obama rejected criticism of his calls for creating a government-run public insurance program that would compete with private insurers.

President Obama: “To those who criticize our efforts, I ask them, ‘What’s the alternative?’ What else do we say to all the families who spend more on health care than on housing or on food? What do we tell those businesses that are choosing between closing their doors and letting their workers go?”

Obama’s comments were aimed at critics who have opposed any type of public health plan. Private insurers have opposed a government-run program out of fear they’d be unable to compete with its cheaper costs. Obama did not however address his progressive critics who advocate the creation of a single-payer system that would eliminate for-profit insurance companies entirely. As Obama promoted his version of a public insurance program, a key Senate Democrat said he would oppose any form of public health care. Max Baucus, the Senate Finance Committee chair leading Congressional efforts on health care reform, said he would propose a plan based on creating member-based insurance cooperatives not run by the government. Bacus explicitly ruled out using the word “public”, saying: “It’s not going to be public, we won’t call it public, but it will be tough enough to keep insurance companies’ feet to the fire.”

Von Brunn Charged With Murder in Holocaust Museum Shooting

The white supremacist James von Brunn has been charged with murder for Wednesday’s shooting death of a security guard at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. The security guard, Stephen Johns, was thirty-nine years old. On Thursday, Johns’ mother, Jacqueline Carter, spoke of her son’s life.

Jacqueline Carter: “He’s just a beautiful person. He liked his job and he worked a lot. It would be just like him to try and protect people from harm.”

Von Brunn remains in critical condition from wounds sustained when other security guards returned fire. Meanwhile Thursday, the FBI acknowledged it had been “aware” of Von Brunn’s hateful writings about religious and ethnic minorities but that it never launched a criminal probe.

WHO Declares Swine Flu Pandemic

The World Health Organization has declared the outbreak of the swine flu a global pandemic. On Thursday, the WHO raised its pandemic alert level to six, its highest level. Health officials say the alert level means the swine flu has spread to two world regions and doesn’t signify a likely increase in deaths or serious cases.

General: Afghan Violence Worse Since 2001

The top U.S. military commander in the Middle East says violence in Afghanistan has reached its highest level since the U.S.-led invasion of 2001. General David Petraeus said the attacks hit a more than seven-year high last week. Addressing the public outrage in Afghanistan over scores of deadly U.S. attacks, Petraeus said*: “This is the graveyard of empires. . . . It is a place that has never taken kindly to would-be conquerors.”

Iran Holds Presidential Elections

In Iran, a record turnout is expected today for a presidential election between incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and three opposition candidates. Ahmadinejad is facing a stiff challenge from Mir Hossein Mousavi, an architect and artist who served as Prime Minister of Iran between 1981 and 1989.

Carter: Hamas Key to Future Peace Deal

Former President Jimmy Carter is renewing criticism of the U.S.-led boycott of the elected Hamas government in the Gaza Strip. Speaking on a visit to Syria, Carter said the U.S. and Israel should drop their refusal to deal with a Palestinian unity government that includes Hamas. Carter also called for a prisoner exchange that would see the return of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in Gaza for some of the more than 10,000 Palestinians in Israeli jails.

Jimmy Carter: “I don’t believe there is any possibility to have peace between Palestinians and Israel unless Hamas is involved directly in harmony with Fatah. My hope is that we could see some agreement between Hamas and Israel with the release of Shalit and an equivalent, the release of prisoners that Israel is holding, Palestinians.”

Aid Groups to Return to Darfur

In Sudan, the Sudanese government has authorized several aid groups to return to Darfur. Sudan expelled the groups in March after the International Criminal Court charged President Omar Hassan al-Bashir with committing war crimes in Darfur. UN Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes said the groups have been readmitted on the condition they change their names and logos. Holmes also said the aid groups will return to humanitarian crisis that worsened during their absence.

UN Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes: “However effective the efforts of the government, United Nations, the remaining NGOs have been in preventing a further immediate crisis, they have not yet replaced and can not easily or rapidly replace the capacity and skills lost. Current levels of assistance in some areas remain well below the necessary standards to which we subscribe, and as we enter the hunger gap and rainy season, the needs and gaps will only be further exacerbated.”

Thousands of Peruvians Rally Against Indigenous Crackdown

In Peru, thousands of people took part in nationwide demonstrations Thursday to support an indigenous protest against oil and natural gas exploration in the Amazon rainforest. Police used tear gas on a crowd of at least 20,000 protesters near the national Congress in Lima. Tensions have flared after last week’s police killings of an estimated 30 civilians at an indigenous roadblock. On a visit to Cuba, Bolivian President Evo Morales voiced support for the indigenous protests.

Bolivian President Evo Morales: “It’s not possible that the most oppressed people in Latin America’s history be humiliated like we have seen in recent days in some regions. We hope these problems are a lesson in understanding the demands, the demands of defending life, the environment, the planet earth and humanity, as Fidel said.”

The unrest in Peru has ties to U.S. trade policy. The land laws that sparked the uprising were passed under “fast track” authority granted to Peruvian President Alan Garcia’s government to implement the US-Peru Free Trade Agreement.

Activists Protest Schumer for Backing Peru Trade Deal

On Thursday, three activists were released from jail following their arrest for blockading the New York offices of Democratic Senator Charles Schumer. The activists say they confronted Schumer for his refusal to address human rights concerns in voting for the U.S.-Peru trade deal in 2007.

New Mountaintop Removal Rules Criticized as Ineffective

Environmental groups and Appalachian activists are criticizing new Obama administration rules on mountaintop removal as too lax on the coal industry. On Thursday, the White House unveiled new regulations governing mountaintop removal, the controversial coal mining practice that has caused extensive environmental damage in the Appalachian region. The changes include ending fast-track approval for new mining permits, imposing more extensive environmental reviews, and asserting federal authority over state-level regulators. But critics say the rules offer few specifics and will have little effect if any. Joan Mulhern of Earthjustice said: “The administration is proposing… to essentially [rearrange] the bureaucratic deck chairs on the disastrous ship that is mountaintop removal. They announced… no substantive policies to actually stop the destruction [it's] caused.’

Interior Report Criticizes Bush Sale of Utah Land

A new Department of Interior report has faulted the Bush administration for its rush to sell off oil and gas exploitation rights on vast swaths of federal land in Utah last year. The report says the Bush administration did not follow longstanding procedures in trying to sell off 22 parcels of land. The sale was later cancelled by Obama administration Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. The report’s findings could bolster the defense of a college student who disrupted the auction by posing as a bidder. The student, Tim DeChristopher, is currently facing ten years in prison on charges of interfering with a public auction.

Iraq War Vet Commits Suicide

In California, a 24-year old Iraq war veteran has committed suicide. Former Army Specialist Trevor Hogue was found dead in his childhood home last week. He had hung himself to death. His mother says he was left seriously emotionally scarred after witnessing a bombing attack on other members of his unit.

Owner of Medical Marijuana Dispensary Sentenced to 1-Year Term

An owner of a California dispensary for medical marijuana has been sentenced to one year in prison. The owner, Charles Lynch, was given the jail term despite the Obama administration’s vow not to prosecute medical dispensers who comply with state law. But federal judge George Wu said the new federal policy would not affect his ruling.

Survey: 2.8M Homes Unprepared for Switch to Digital TV

And analog television signals will shut off tonight as the U.S. completes the transition to digital TV. The survey group Nielson says around 2.8 million homes remain unprepared for the switch. Most of the unprepared households fall in the low-income, elderly and rural demographics.

Headlines: House Panel Holds Hearing on Single Payer Health Care; Utah Man Dies After Tasering

Democracy Now Headlines: House Panel Holds Hearing on Single Payer Healthcare; Utah Man Dies After Tasering

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

White Supremacist Kills Guard in Holocaust Memorial Shooting

A white supremacist with a long history of anti-Semitic activity is in custody today after opening fire at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, killing a security guard and wounding another. The gunman, eighty-eight-year-old James W. von Brunn, was critically injured after other guards returned fire. The slain security guard, Stephen Johns, was thirty-nine years old. Washington, DC Mayor Adrian Fenty said police believe von Brunn acted alone.

Washington, DC Mayor Adrian Fenty: “In these days and times, you never know when someone is going to grab a gun and use it in an inappropriate way, as was done today. But we want to thank the heroism of the security guards, the Metropolitan Police Department, for being on hand very early to make an arrest. We believe we have someone who was a lone gunman, but we’re going to spend the night investigating any and all other leads.”

The attack marks at least the third recent shooting involving a gunman with ties to the white nationalist movement.

Following Senate Approval, Torture-Linked General Given “Carte Blanche” for Afghan Command

The Senate has confirmed the nomination of General Stanley McChrystal to head the occupation of Afghanistan. McChrystal’s promotion was approved Wednesday despite controversy over the abuse of prisoners by forces under his authority at the Joint Special Operations Command. McChrystal oversaw a secretive program to hunt down and assassinate suspected terrorists around the globe. The New York Times reports McChrystal has been given “carte blanche” in choosing his subordinates, including many Special Operations veterans that could be linked to prisoner abuse. Senior military officers say McChrystal is putting together a corps of 400 officers and soldiers who will rotate between the United States and Afghanistan for at least three years.

House Panel Holds Hearing on Single Payer

On Capitol Hill, a House subcommittee held a hearing Wednesday to consider single-payer healthcare. It was the first time a congressional panel had taken up single payer in the ongoing debate over healthcare reform. House Judiciary Chair John Conyers criticized Democratic leaders for declaring single payer “off the table.”

Rep. John Conyers: “There is some notion that universal single-payer healthcare is off the table. Well, that raises a very important question. If you take the most popular healthcare reform measure and take it off the table, heaven knows what it is, I guess, you think you’re left with. This is the most popular form, and it would be very unlike the party in the majority now to determine that the most popular system would not even be examined. I am asking for a hearing in every committee, every committee, and if they will let us into the Senate, as well.”

Conyers is the sponsor of House Resolution 676, which would grant universal healthcare to all Americans by making the government the lone provider of medical coverage.

AMA Opposes Public Health Insurance Plan

In other healthcare news, the nation’s largest physician organization has announced it will oppose Democratic plans for a new government-sponsored insurance program that would compete with private insurers. In a statement, the American Medical Association said healthcare should be provided solely through “private markets.” The announcement comes just days before President Obama is set to travel to Chicago to address the AMA on Monday. The AMA represents around 250,000 doctors across the United States. Its position comes despite recent polls showing as many as 60 percent of doctors support the creation of a national public insurance plan.

Tiller Colleague Vows to Continue Performing Late-Term Abortions in Kansas

A doctor who worked in the clinic of the slain abortion provider Dr. George Tiller has announced he intends to continue performing late-term abortions in Kansas. Dr. LeRoy Carhart was one of a team of physicians to work with Tiller before his murder last month. Speaking to the Associated Press, Carhart declined to say whether the abortions would continue at Tiller’s clinic or whether he’d open a new site. His announcement comes one day after Tiller’s family announced the clinic’s permanent closure. It had been one of the only in the country to perform abortions in the third trimester.

Admin to Unveil New Rules on Mountaintop Coal Mining

The Obama administration is set to announce today new regulations of mountaintop removal, the controversial coal mining practice that has caused extensive environmental damage in the Appalachian region. The changes include ending fast-track approval for new mining permits and imposing a more extensive environmental review. Interviewed by the Washington Post, the chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Nancy Sutley, said the administration hasn’t ruled out seeking a complete ban on mountaintop removal, with discussions still in the early stages.

New “Compensation Czar” to Oversee Exec Pay

The Obama administration has appointed a Washington, DC attorney to become the so-called “compensation czar” overseeing the salaries of top executives at bailed-out financial firms. Kenneth Feinberg will have authority to set the compensation for executives at seven taxpayer-rescued companies, including Citibank, Bank of America and General Motors. The White House, however, has dropped an initial pledge to cap executives at $500,000.

Peruvian Congress Suspends Land Laws

In Peru, lawmakers have temporarily suspended two land-use laws that led to an indigenous uprising and dozens of deaths in the ensuing police crackdown. Indigenous groups have opposed the laws that would allow an unprecedented wave of logging, oil drilling, mining and agriculture in the Amazon rainforest. On Wednesday, the Peruvian congress voted to suspend the laws, but for an unspecified time. Indigenous leader Efrain Pizango Wasy said the protests will continue until the laws are fully repealed.

Efrain Pizango Wasy: “Our reaction is not to suspend the strike, but to continue until the end. As you have heard, this measure is suspended for only ninety days. This is not convenient for us, the indigenous population. We will gather more and continue fighting until the end.”

President Alan Garcia’s government passed the land laws under “fast track” authority he had received to facilitate implementation of the US-Peru Free Trade Agreement.

Security Council Members Agree on North Korea Sanctions

UN Security Council members have agreed on a new round of sanctions in response to North Korea’s recent nuclear test and missile launches. The new measures include asking countries to inspect North Korean vessels carrying suspicious cargo and requiring them to deny the vessels fuel. The US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, praised the agreement.

UN Ambassador Susan Rice: “We tabled a draft resolution to be considered by all colleagues on the Security Council, which we think provides a very strong, very credible, very appropriate response to the provocative nuclear test that North Korea launched and its subsequent activities.”

The UN Security Council is expected to approve the sanctions in a vote on Friday.

UN Withdraws Staff from Peshawar Following Deadly Bombing

In Pakistan, the United Nations has withdrawn most of its staff from the northwestern city of Peshawar following the killing of two officials in a massive truck bombing of a luxury hotel. The pullout is heightening concerns over the plight of the more than two million people who have fled their homes in the US-backed offensive on Taliban militants in neighboring Swat Valley. On Wednesday, the US envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, praised the offensive in Washington.

US Envoy Richard Holbrooke: “What I saw in Pakistan on this trip was the slow emergence of a consensus behind the government’s actions. Everywhere, there was a dramatic change in attitudes from my previous trips, because of the outrages of the Taliban and their supporters.”

Blackwater Sued for 2007 Killing of Iraqi Civilian

The private military firm formerly known as Blackwater is facing a new lawsuit over the August 2007 killing of an Iraqi civilian in Hilla. The case was filed on behalf of the surviving relatives of seventy-five-year-old Husain Salih Rabea. At the time, Rabea’s relatives said he had pulled over to the side of the road to let a Blackwater convoy pass. The last vehicle in the convoy allegedly opened fire when Rabea pulled back onto the road. The suit also alleges Blackwater employees are guarding employees of the International Republican Institute in Iraq despite an Iraqi government ban.

Oregon National Guard Members Sue KBR for Toxic Exposure

In Oregon, five current and former Army National Guard soldiers have filed a lawsuit accusing the war contractor KBR of knowingly exposing them to a cancer-causing chemical in Iraq. A group of sixteen Indiana National Guard soldiers filed a similar suit last year. The soldiers were providing security for KBR during repairs of a water treatment plant in southern Iraq shortly after the US invasion. The National Guard members claim the site was contaminated for six months by hexavalent chromium, “one of the most potent carcinogens” on record. They allege KBR knew the plant was contaminated but concealed the danger. Attorneys for the soldiers say they expect several West Virginia National Guard members to file a similar suit.

Audit Faults at Least $13 Billion in War Contractor Spending

The lawsuits follow the release of a new federal report detailing waste and abuse by war contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Commission on Wartime Contracting says auditors have questioned more than $13 billion in spending. The report also says over 240,000 contractors are employed in Iraq and Afghanistan, around 80 percent of them foreign nationals.

Witnesses: 2 Afghans Killed, Dozens Wounded in US Grenade Attack

In Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai has ordered a probe into an alleged US attack that killed two people and wounded more than fifty others in Kunar Province. Afghan witnesses have accused a US soldier of throwing a grenade at a crowd that had gathered to watch US troops working to free a large military vehicle that had become stuck on a road. Local doctors say the injured included several children, some in critical condition.

State Dept. Analyst, Wife Denied Bail in Cuba Spy Case

A former State Department analyst and his wife have been denied bail following their arrest on allegations of being longtime spies for the Cuban government. Walter Kendall Myers and his wife Gwendolyn appeared in a Washington, DC courtroom on Wednesday after pleading not guilty to charges of conspiracy, being agents of a foreign government, and wire fraud.

Study: Firms, Governments Funded over 22,000 Pentagon Trips

A newly released database shows Pentagon employees took more than 22,000 trips paid for by foreign countries, private corporations and other sources between 1998 and 2007. The Center for Public Integrity says the visits cost more than $26 million and often involved interests paying for officials who could make decisions benefiting those picking up the tab. The biggest travel funder was the medical industry, which footed the bill for more 8,700 trips worth over $10 million.

Utah Man Dies in Police Tasering

In Utah, a thirty-two-year-old man has been killed in a tasering by police. Brian Layton Cardall was confronted after running away from his vehicle near a highway road. He had recently struggled with mental health issues, and his wife had called police. When Cardall was found, a police officer used his taser weapon, causing Cardall to lose consciousness. He was pronounced dead after being taken to a hospital. In a statement, Cardall’s family remembered him as “a wonderful son, brother, father, and husband who loved being with people. He was full of personality and wanted to make a difference in this world.”

Texas Police Defend Tasering of 72-Year-Old Woman

Cardall’s death comes as video has emerged of a Texas police officer tasering a seventy-two-year-old woman after pulling over her vehicle. Kathryn Winkfein said she was stopped for going fifteen miles over the speed limit in a construction zone. Texas police have insisted the officer’s actions were justified.

Headlines: Obama Nominee Linked to Spying on Muslims, CIA Torture; Study: Medical Bills Account for Over 60% of Bankruptcies

Democracy Now Headlines: Obama Nominee Linked to Spying on Muslims, CIA Torture; Study: Medical Bills Account for Over 60% of Bankruptcies

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

At Least 40 Killed in Pakistan Mosque Bombing

At least forty people are reportedly dead following a bomb attack on a mosque near Pakistan’s Swat Valley. It’s the ninth bombing to hit Pakistan since government forces launched a US-backed attack on Taliban militants in April. US special envoy Richard Holbrooke is in Pakistan today for talks with Pakistani leaders on supporting the offensive. The meeting comes as the United Nations is warning it could be forced to reduce its Pakistan relief efforts unless it receives additional aid. Manuel Bessler of the UN Organization for Humanitarian Assistance cited dwindling supplies.

Manuel Bessler: “Some of the clusters are running short. And in this sense, we have to use all opportunities to bring to the attention of the international community the urgent need to fund this operation. When we are short in funding, short in resources, we will be forced to scale down our operation.”

Around 2.5 million people have been displaced by the fighting in Swat and other northwest areas.

Obama Plays Down Mideast Peace Hopes

President Obama is in Germany today on the third stop of his tour of Europe and the Middle East. One day after his speech in Cairo, Obama played down expectations of solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict under his administration.

President Obama: “The United States can be a partner in solving the problem, but ultimately the parties involved are going to have to make a decision that the prosperity and security of their people is best served by negotiations and compromise. And we can’t force them to make those difficult decisions. What we can do is to provide them a framework and a forum and the support for such an outcome to be achieved.”

The Obama administration has clashed with Israel over a US insistence that Israel end settlement expansion. But it’s refused to leverage massive US aid to Israel or push for the settlements’ complete dismantlement. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said he hopes Obama will follow his Cairo speech with meaningful pressure on Israel.

Saeb Erekat: “President Obama’s speech laid the ground for the two-state solution. Now, I hope that in the next few months President Obama will lay a real plan with time lines, monitors and mechanisms to implement and translate the vision of two states from a vision to a realistic political track.”

Obama will pay tribute to victims of the Nazi Holocaust when he tours the Buchenwald concentration camp later today. He’ll then head to France to commemorate D-Day on Saturday.

North Korea Silent on Trial of US Journalists

In North Korea, state officials have remained silent on the trial of two detained US journalists. Euna Lee and Laura Ling were detained along the Chinese border in March. Both work for Al Gore’s Current TV. Their trial was supposed to open on Thursday, but there’s been no word on whether it’s begun.

UN Human Rights Commissioner Urges Probe of Afghan Civilian Deaths

The UN’s top human rights official is calling for an independent probe into the rising number of civilian deaths in Afghanistan. Speaking before the UN Human Rights Council Thursday, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said attacks by both Taliban militants and US-led forces should be investigated.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay: “The government of Afghanistan and all states involved in this conflict should take all measures to protect civilians and to ensure the independent investigation of all civilian casualties, as well as justice and remedies for the victims.”

14 Killed in Somalia Clashes

In Somalia, at least fourteen people have been killed in clashes between government forces and rebel fighters in the capital Mogadishu. The ongoing fighting has caused a new wave of displacements, with around 70,000 people fleeing Mogadishu in the past month. Oxfam Somalia relief coordinator Hassan Nour said the humanitarian situation is dire.

Oxfam Somalia relief coordinator Hassan Nour: “You can imagine a situation where nearly half of the country’s entire population are in need of humanitarian aid, where borders are closed, where displacements is taking place, where droughts are actually frequent. One emergency after the other. This is no longer a normal situation. This is an extraordinary humanitarian situation.”

Seven thousand Somali refugees are now pouring into neighboring Kenya each month.

US Ordered to Release Secret Gitmo “Evidence”

A federal judge has ordered the Obama administration to release secret evidence it says justifies the continued imprisonment of over 100 Guantanamo Bay prisoners. US District Judge Thomas Hogan rejected the government’s blanket request to keep the documents sealed, saying it must seek court approval to keep specific information under wraps. The case was brought by prisoners’ attorneys and a coalition of media groups. Jonathan Hafetz of the American Civil Liberties Union hailed the ruling, saying, “For far too long, the government has succeeded in keeping information about Guantanamo secret and used secrecy to cover up illegal detention and abuse.”

Obama Nominee Linked to Spying on Muslims, CIA Torture

The Obama administration’s pick for a top Homeland Security position has ties to the FBI spying on Muslim Americans, as well as reported links to CIA torture. Philip Mudd has been nominated to become secretary of intelligence and analysis at Homeland Security. Under the Bush administration, Mudd helped spearhead an FBI program that sifted through customer data collected by San Francisco-area grocery stores in 2005 and 2006, hoping that sales records of Middle Eastern food would lead to Iranian secret agents. A congressional aide, meanwhile, told the Associated Press Mudd had direct knowledge of the torture of foreign prisoners while serving as deputy director of the CIA’s Office of Terrorism Analysis. Mudd’s confirmation hearing is expected next week.

Bankruptcy Filings Projected to Reach 1.5M

New figures show consumer and commercial bankruptcies are on pace to reach more than 1.5 million this year. The figure is the highest since Congress passed legislation making it harder to file for bankruptcy in 2005.

Study: Medical Bills Account for Over 60% of US Bankruptcies

A new study, meanwhile, says ballooning medical bills are now responsible for more than 60 percent of bankruptcies in the United States. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation says the percentage of bankruptcies linked to medical bills increased by 50 percent from 2001 to 2007, the last year for which data is available. More than 75 percent of bankrupt families had health insurance but were still crippled by medical debts.

Ex-Countrywide CEO Accused of Fraud, Insider Trading

The former chief executive and co-founder of the mortgage lender Countrywide Financial has been charged with civil fraud and illegal insider trading. On Thursday, federal regulators said Angelo Mozilo and two other Countrywide execs misled shareholders about the failings of their vast holdings in subprime loans. Countrywide played a major role in the subprime mortgage scandal, holding one of every six mortgage loans in the United States.

Tennessee Schools Remove Censorship of LGBT Websites

In Tennessee, school officials have rescinded a ban on websites containing information about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues. The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit against two Tennessee school districts last month for installing software that prevented students from accessing LGBT websites.

Hundreds to Attend Tiller Funeral in Wichita

And in Kansas, hundreds of people are expected to attend Saturday’s funeral of the murdered abortion provider Dr. George Tiller. Tiller was killed last Sunday as he ushered during services at his Wichita church. On Thursday, the suspect in his killing, anti-abortion activist Scott Roeder, made a brief call to the Associated Press from his jail cell but refused to talk about the murder. Scott Roeder’s brother, David, has said Roeder has suffered from mental illness. Tiller’s funeral will be held at the College Hill United Methodist Church, whose members have previously supported Tiller’s abortion clinic. More than forty-five vigils have been held across the country to honor Tiller since his murder.

Health Care Advocacy Group Responds to Proposed Reforms in Michigan

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The Michigan Universal Health Care Access Network (MichUHCAN)–an advocacy group working for comprehensive health care–has responded to proposals to reform the individual health insurance market in Michigan. In a blog post, the group says that the proposals are a “pretty good idea” and that they have the potential to be great. It states in part:

This plan would apply to anyone with health insurance, and would completely cover all expenses above $25,000. In other words Michigan would have a single-payer health care system for all expenses above $25,000.

In theory an insurance company could offer a plan with a $25,000 deductable and never pay a cent in medical bills. Their only costs would be administrative, so they could probably charge $100 a year and still make money. Unfortunately for us universal-care advocates this program is funded by a small tax on health care premiums, so if the entire state actually enrolled in plans like that there’d be no money to pay Doctors.

But even without that stealth universal plan this would help a lot.

For one thing the 80-90% of the state that currently has health insurance would be less likely to go bankrupt when they get sick because out of pocket expenses would be capped. As is even with a UAW plan somebody whose care costs $300,000 has a $60,000 co-pay. $25,000 is still a whole lot for a family on a UAW salary to pay, but it’s a lot more doable than $60,000.

Then there’s the fact that it will make more people insurable. People with expensive pre-existing conditions can’t get insurance at al because the insurance company isn’t stupid. They know that if you sign up a guy likely to have an expensive heart attack for $6,000 a year you’re gonna go out of business. With total medical expenses capped at $25,000 minus co-pays insuring that guy makes a lot more business sense.

Altogether the Legislature estimates this program will insure half of Michigan’s current uninsured population. Depending on how things go in DC it’s theoretically possible Michigan could end up with true universal coverage. That’s unlikely, but if both plans pass we’ll have more than 95% of Michigan covered. I’d guess it would be more like 97-98%.

Note that under this system the new plan would be a single payer. Let me repeat that: under this new system 97% of Michiganders would be covered by a single payer. They’d only be covered after paying huge medical bills, but I have the feeling convincing politicians to lower that $25,000 threshold will be a lot easier than convincing them to create a new system from scratch.

This plan is far from MichUHCAN’s ideal health plan. It won’t cover everybody, and those it does cover are still on the hook for $25,000, but it’s a good starting point. And a lot better than the current mess we’re dealing with.”

Single Payer Health Care Day of Action on May 30

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In light of news of health insurance monopolies in Michigan, the group Healthcare-NOW! is organizing protests for single payer health care on May 30 in over forty cities nationwide. The protests will be going on at the same time as the AHIP (American Health Insurance Plans, a private health insurance lobby) conference in San Diego.

Multiple studies have shown that single payer would be much more cost-effective than both the current system and Obama’s public/private plan. Overhead, underwriting, billing, sales and marketing, profits, and executive pay make up 31% of all money spent on health care right now. A single payer system would cut all that out and use the savings to extend coverage to everyone. This plan is different from what Obama has proposed, which includes keeping the for-profit health insurance industry.

In West Michigan there will be one protest organized by Single Payer Michigan. The group is based out of Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor. According to the facebook event page the protest is called “Demand single payer national health care now!” and it will begin at 1 PM on May 30th, at the Federal Building.