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This is What Democracy Looks Like

Weekend Madman

Friday-Sunday, February 16-18, 2007


The Elevator Party Won't Debate

"It's time for the Senate to give an up-or-down vote now,"
-President George W. Bush, Leader and "Decider" of "The Elevator Party"

Now just who, or what was President Bush talking about? Well, in this case, it was John Bolton as the permanent US Ambassador to the United Nations. And in this case, Bush couldn't even get his preferred nominee out of committee, not that it stopped him from placing Bolton into the UN as a "recess appointment". (A recess appointment is made when the president feels a need to fill a position, but the Senate isn't in session to vote.) But there were many other instances when Bush called for the famed "up or down vote".

Bush called on the Senate to vote "up or down" on:
-Samuel Alito for Supreme Court Associate Justice
-Harriet Meier for that very same spot eventually won by Alito
-Social Security
-Energy Bill
-ALL federal judge nominees
-And so much more

The filibuster is something that President Bush ahs wanted to do away with since he realized that he could get his way with a friendly, GOP-led Senate and his majority in the House of Representatives. Bush treated congress much in the same way a king would treat his court: Expecting only agreement and no dissension what-so-ever. Anytime the minority Democrats said that they were considering a filibuster - the only weapon the Dems had left as a minority party - the President came on the air and whined to the American public that is simply wasn't fair. But now that the Dems have to majority in both houses, the Republicans are whining a new tune.

While American troops are fighting and dieing in Iraq and Afghanistan; and while the House has already approved a non-binding resolution against Bush's ill-advised troop "surge" in Iraq; a mere 34 members of the Senate are holding up debating the "surge". In other words, they don't even want to debate actions which pertain to whether American children live or die, and that's it in a nutshell. What possible reason, other than Bush's whining, do the GOP minority have for not even wishing to talk about other options in Iraq, other than a troop "surge"? The Republicans owe the American people an answer, don't you think? All this time the Bushies and his all-to-willing "Congress of the Willing" didn't see fit as to ask their Democratic colleagues for their opinion, nor did they ever offer to debate the President's will. And it stays the same: Even now, as the Dems have majorities in both houses, they still want to debate in an inclusive manner with their minority partners. The GOP want no part of it and still just want to allow Bush his way.

From a political point of view, the stalemate meets the same end:

"A majority of the United States Senate is against the escalation in Iraq. As for the Republicans who chose once again to block further debate and protect President Bush, the American people now know they support the escalation,"
-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (DEMOCRAT-NV)

Although the Democrats and those Republicans who voted with them, realize that it's necessary to fund the troops, they also know that this funding should include armor, better training and other tools necessary for their defense in Iraq and Afghanistan. The 34 that refuse to debate would rather say the Dems don't support the troops. How long are they going to use that same old tired tact anyway? The American people aren't falling for it anymore.

And as long as the GOP still support what nearly 70 percent of the American people no longer support - unending wars - they will remain a party in contempt. Maybe another four GOP senators will cross the line to end this lunacy. After all, we all want an end to these wars.

"We have to end this war and we can't do it without Republican votes."
-Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (DEMOCRAT-NY)

They have to step up or more and ore Americans will die.

Senator John McCain (REPUBLICAN-AZ) skipped the vote, not deeming it important. The presidential hopeful would rather campaign in Iowa than talk about the future of our military and the lives of our soldiers. He called the vote "insulting" and "meaningless". Funny, that's how I think of him at this point. I guess the Straight-talk express pulled into DeMoines this weekend and couldn't get out.

The GOP will sacrifice the lives and Americans, Iraqi civilians and anyone else who stands in their way of endless war, and it's up to the American people to speak up and support a debate that will lead to the end of the Iraq war.

-Noah Greenberg

Debating Iraq: Straight to the Point

I have a very simple message for Frank Lautenberg, Robert Menendez and the rest of the US Senate:

No debate on Iraq, no money for Iraq

This is a starting point. The Senate Republicans must not be allowed to hide from the public.

-Robert Scardapane

Health Care Reform: All in One Big Step

The thing about incrementalism (changing the US health care system step by step) that is dangerous is that there are sometimes provisions in incremental programs that cause big problems. Edwards and others like him who want to force people to buy healthcare are introducing a problem that is worse than having no healthcare because now people would have to buy plans that don't really cover much in addition to still being saddled with all their original bills. This makes a terrible impact on people with chronic conditions. I would rather have no healthcare than be forced to pay for one of those stripped-down plans, which is all I would be able to afford. And the cherry-picking that insurance companies do make it worse.

-Billie M. Spaight

Do those who favor incrementalism know of the HUGE profits insurers are making? Does they know of their hard, hard work to keep from covering long-term, expensive disease treatments? Do they know how often they turn really sick people down FLAT? There are too many people with their sad stories about this! Don't get me started on that! Let's put those same people to work at better, more publicly beneficial projects.

They refer to expensive treatments and how insurance companies supposedly earn their keep. I get the idea that they feel if you're really sick, and you can't afford to pay all an insurance company --either in premiums or in payments directly to the providers--you might as well suffer and die, because those insurance companies have to be paid and all that care costs MONEY.

The insurance companies will still try not to have to cover expensive treatments for very long. Their bottom line is paramount to them. This will happen even when people get some help in paying the premiums. That's why the insurance companies should be eliminated. They don't have to be there. It's not theft of services. The services are provided by the caregivers, not by the insurance companies.

Those who have written against a Single Payer Universal Health Care Plan should come to one of the Healthcare-NOW! community truth hearings, where people give testimony about what they have had to endure with the insurance companies. They'll also find people who can tell why the single-payer plan truly works. Real dollars and cents. Unless you're the CEO of an insurance company, or really have good coverage, you'll need to be one of the lucky ones.

-Carol Yost

Robert Chapman responds to the Canadian Health Care System:

In response to a recent entry of mine regarding Canadian patient wait times, Noah recounted his personal experience with the Canadian health system in Montreal and stated his conviction that it is the best in the world.

The Canadian health system may well be the best in the world and certainly sets a high bar for the US health system to match or exceed.

The following supports my assertion about wait times, and whether accurate or not facts such as these constantly crop up in Canadian political debates.

The Vancouver, British Columbia-based Fraser Institute has a yearly publication titled, "Waiting Your Turn." Its 2006 edition gives waiting times, by treatments, from a person's referral by a general practitioner to treatment by a specialist. The shortest waiting time was for oncology (4.9 weeks). The longest waiting time was for orthopedic surgery (40.3 weeks), followed by plastic surgery (35.4 weeks) and neurosurgery (31.7 weeks).

Canadians face significant waiting times for various diagnostics such as computed tomography, magnetic resonance imaging and ultrasound scans. The median wait for a CT scan across Canada was 4.3 weeks, but in Prince Edward Island, it's 9 weeks. A Canadian's median wait for an MRI was 10.3 weeks, but in Newfoundland, patients waited 28 weeks. Finally, the median wait for an ultrasound was 3.8 weeks across Canada, but in Manitoba and Prince Edward Island it was 8 weeks.

Despite the long waiting times Canadians suffer, sometimes resulting in death, under federal law, private clinics are not legally allowed to provide services covered by the Canada Health Act.

Note: Having business with many associated with the garment industry in Canada (mainly Quebec and Ontario provinces); and having membership in a newsgroup where many of the members are Canadian; I have discovered that our neighbors to the north really rely on the government for their health care needs which include things like brainstem implants, annual (if not more) MRI's and operations to remove tumors, many of which are life-threatening, I have had opportunity to speak with a large number of those who benefit from the Canadian health care system, and I use the word benefit due to the expedience with which emergency issues are taken care of and the ability of all Canadian citizens to see a doctor when they have to. I have yet to hear of any such horror stories (as mentioned above) regarding Canada's medical patients and, believe me, I now know quite a few of them.

Regardless of what one-sided studies might suggest, these patients have had no problem seeking and obtaining the medical attention they need. And as far as a regular doctor's visit here in the US, how long does it take you to get an appointment to see your doctor? I average about six weeks (with my new doctor) and have had to wait as long as four months for an appointment at my old doctor's office in new Jersey. The latter would often cost me hours of waiting and a day's pay.

The Fraser Institute, it should be noted, is a Libertarian Canadian think tank. Viewing their website (www.fraserinstitute.ca), one gets the distinct impression that they feel anything the government now touches should be immediately given to private industry, including health care. The wait times the above article speaks of are for referrals from a general practitioner to a specialist. The report states that they have gone down (from 17.9 weeks to 17.7 weeks, about four months, on average), but make no mention of emergency medical treatment. The Libertarian group's final statistics are for the fiscal year ending 2004.

According to the institute's critics, Fraser doesn't appear to open themselves up to peer review and they devote only five percent of their budget towards promoting their findings. In other words, they don't look to others for agreement or dissent. Their practices are similar to those of American Conservative think tanks, and the Bush administration themselves: Confirm your pre-determined conclusion by seeking out only facts which support it while ignoring those facts that don't "fit".

Personal one-to-one talks with many Canadians have left me with the impression that we should trade our American way of healing with the Canadians. I sincerely doubt the Canadians' will to agree to such a trade. -NG

Is the Government Reading Your Email?
NOW - t r u t h o u t: Programming Note

PBS Airtime: Friday, February 16, 2007, at 8:30 p.m. on PBS (check local listings at http://www.pbs.org/now/sched.html.)
Accusations that the American government spies on private citizen emails. Next time on NOW.

Is the government reading your email? On February 16 at 8:30 p.m. (check local listings), NOW reports on new evidence suggesting the existence of a secret government program that intercepts millions of private emails each day in the name of terrorist surveillance. News about the alleged program came to light when a former AT&T employee, Mark Klein, blew the whistle on what he believes to be a large-scale installation of secret Internet-monitoring equipment deep inside AT&T's San Francisco office. The equipment, he contends, was created at the request of the US Government to spy on email traffic across the entire Internet. Though the government and AT&T refuse to address the issue directly, Klein backs up his charges with internal company documents and personal photos.

Criminal Defense Lawyer Nancy Hollander, who represents several Muslim-Americans, feels her confidential emails are anything but secure. "I've personally never been afraid of my government until now. And now I feel personally afraid that I could be locked up tomorrow," she told NOW.

Who might be eyeing the hundreds of millions of emails Americans send out each day, and to what end? Next time on NOW.

-Forwarded by Robert Scardapane

In response to Madman's statement, "Note: Whereas a Baucus plan is better than nothing, any plan which doesn't lead to each and every man, woman and child covered in this country is a plan I will not support. No one - and I mean no one should fall through the cracks of a medical plan that will leave any single person out. Unfortunately, Baucus' plan seems like it would do just that.

"Baucus is right, he does not have a 'magic solution.' Additionally, I didn't see the word 'affordable' anywhere. Any plan where the American public is footing the bill must be made affordable and must have a sliding scale that starts at the number zero, so even those whose circumstances put them above arbitrary dollar figures can even afford to see a doctor.

"A step in the right direction? Yes. But Baucus can't expect it to be the final step. -NG"
Rhian writes:

Absolutely right on.

About obesity? Doctors will do nothing about it, know nothing about it, and when confronted with obvious symptoms of Cushing's disease, will refuse to see and treat it. Especially when they are seeing female patients. God forbid they should prescribe the sort of real diet pills that were available in the 80's, which actually worked to take off 20-40 lbs in 30 to 60 days.

Same is true of female heart problems, which present without the lumpiness when arteries are blocked, that males have.

Same is true of prescriptions for HRT. One report came out, that 'proved' (but not really) that HRT would cause cancer. The response in the medical community was like chicken little, egad egad the sky is falling.
Cancer, cancer, you will get cancer if you treat hot flashes, mood swings and general lethal hostility toward the human race, from menopause. The study actually turned out to be quite wrong for women under the age of about 65, but is HRT available? Absolutely not.

We hear much about good insurance coverage for health care, but in a health care deterioration crisis.
If there is going to be some sort of national health care, providers like doctors should have to maintain some level of successful treatment, or be stricken from the rolls of eligibility to treat.

And Robert Chapman responds to Universal Health Care: Final step? Senator Baucus' proposal is the beginning of a conversation.

I agree with Noah in making universal coverage the goal.

It should be borne in mind too, that the current system is well established and has powerful advocates. They may well share the goal of universal coverage, but the risks they are willing to tolerate to achieve it are understandably much less than the risk activists may propose. In my opinion achieving the goal of universal health care coverage is going to require a major realignment in American politics.

The magnitude of the problem, the fiscal restraints and the new political environment are all factors that will make this political realignment both necessary and difficult. The magnitude of the health care reform issue is mind-boggling, a few comparisons:

The US health sector is bigger than the UK economy. The number of uninsured that we know of are more than the population of the Ukraine. We have an immigrant population that is increasing by something like a million people a year who must be integrated into the system. Our native population is aging which places unprecedented stress on the health care system, and we have 12 million undocumented workers whose health care needs will be met through our system. All of this in a period of strained budgets and a declining revenue base.

Health care is competing for resources with:
-The interest expenditure that is something like 1/4 of the federal budget and is going up.
-The military and security sector demands on federal resources are already huge and likely to increase without a major political alignment.
-The Bush tax cuts that continue to reduce the government's ability to raise revenue to meet its obligations.

Our political vision, to produce effective policy, must not be confined to the federal and national level. Due to federal budgetary constraints, the States and localities will be forced to the front in dealing with the health care challenge which vastly complicates the matter.

The anti-war coalition has revitalized the American left and provides a good base for activism and interest in health care reform. However, in my opinion, this base is not big enough to effect the far reaching changes needed by itself, and so far has been unable to deal with other players with vital stakes in this field. The need for state and local activism will change the tactics and focus of the anti-war coalition.

This is not an insuperable challenge, but it is one that should be dealt with soon before other players mobilize.

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-Noah Greenberg