January 6, 2016

Freedom of the Press - for Billionaires

Billionaires play an outsized role in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign. Half of campaign contributions come from a mere Handful of the mega-wealthy. There's Donald Trump, of course. But also Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas gambling magnate.Mr. Adelson has been in court to answer questions which revolve around his operations in Macau, including links to organized crime and prostitution. Most surprising was his behavior in court, where he refused to answer routine questions and argued with the judge, Elizabeth Gonzales.

Then Mr. Adelson bought Nevada’s largest newspaper. Reporters at the paper were told to monitor all activity of three judges, including Ms. Gonzales. Meanwhile, an attack on Judge Gonzales, appeared in a small Connecticut newspaper owned by one of Mr. Adelson’s associates. "O.K., but why do we care?" asks economist Paul Krugman. "Because Mr. Adelson’s political spending has made him a huge player in Republican politics — so much so that reporters routinely talk about the 'Adelson primary,' in which candidates trek to Las Vegas to pay obeisance."

Here's another gem about the mega-rich to ponder: media mogul Rupert Murdoch, founder of Fox News, has bought the venerable National Geographic. Why? Well, it's clear that something has to be done about the NG taking climate change seriously, and showing how energy companies are spoiling our land, air and water. That will have to change. And Rupert has the bucks to do it.

Freedom of the press, a pundit once declared, is only for those who own one.
Note: Sheldon Addison is well known here in Spain. Two years ago he tried to create Europe's biggest gambling complex just outside Madrid. The notoriously-corrupt conservative regional government laid out the red carpet for him, salivating over all the graft that it could involve. However, Addelson pulled out once he realized that Spanish labor and tax laws could not be bent enough for his greedy appetite. The public's reaction was palpable: Good riddance!

November 17, 2010

Shed a Tear for Our Country

After Vietnam, we all thought "never again!". Our leaders surely had learned that it is futile to occupy another country because even the most high-tech army is no match for determined peasant forces defending their homeland.

Well, no. Two decades later, we are agonizing through two remakes of the original Vietnam script. It's enough to make a grown man cry. And that's just what political commentator Richard Reeves did: he pulled his car over to the side of a Los Angeles road because the radio news had brought him to tears.

"I was listening to the news on National Public Radio when there was another story about another death in Afghanistan. Pfc. Andrew Meari, age 21. A village called Senjaray. An Afghan on a moped pulled up next to an American truck and blew himself up, killing Meari and another guy. The Americans, my countrymen, were there, near Kandahar, working to win the trust and cooperation of the locals.

"They were paying the locals, sipping tea with them, giving them weapons and advice. The locals killed them. What hit me was listening to Spc. Robert Criss, who said Meari was his best friend: 'I don’t trust anyone out there. They just seem shady all the time. ... They duck around corners and [peek] out at us.'

Meari’s company commander said, "We were making inroads."

Reeves disagrees. "No we weren't. We were occupying their country—and they hate us. I was not crying for Meari, though God knows, he and his family deserve our tears. I was crying for my country, for the cowardice of our leaders who continue to send the same brave young men out again and again to die rather than admit they have no chance as strangers in a strange land."

Americans seem curiously silent about all this. Iraq and Afghanistan were not issues in the recent national elections. And the information from the war zones is diluted by triumphalist propaganda on powerful media outlets. "Did we even notice when the troops abandoned the Korengal Valley in defeat three months ago?" asks Reeves.

"Cry the beloved country. Shed tears for the brave. And for the cowards, too, the men and women in Washington who refuse to admit we cannot impose our will on the world—and certainly never will unless we are in a struggle where we are all engaged and all at risk." Spoken like a true, compassionate liberal.

September 11, 2010

What can we remember about 911?

When I visited the U.S. in August of 2002, nine months after the mass murders by death-cult muslims, I was surprised by the collective memory loss surrounding much of  what had happened. Foremost was the insistence by many people that Iraq and its fiendish leader Saddam Hussein was in cahoots with Al Qaeda in planning the terrorist attacks.

Few people had paid attention to the early revelation by the FBI that 15 of the 19 attackers were from Saudi Arabia, one from Lebanon, two from the United Arab Emirates and one from Egypt. None were from Iraq.  
A week after the attacks, Vice Presient Cheney admitted on TV’s Meet the Press that nothing could be found linking Saddam Hussein to the attacks.

But Cheney and his boss, George W. Bush, soon were blurring the facts by the tactic of “conflating“ – that is, mentioning separate items in the same breath so that they fused as one in the minds of listeners. For example a White House or Pentagon statement about the terrorist attacks would invariably make an immediate reference to Saddam Hussein as being a man to fear. Result: 911 = Iraq. Subliminal action.

Or: 911 = Al Qaeda = Iraq, because Saddam was close to Osama Bin Laden.  Serious foreign-policy analysts found that equation absurd: Saddam Hussein was a secular despot who was despised by Bin Laden, a religious fanatic. And Saddam, a paranoid psychopath, considered all terrorists a danger to his own regime. You could read that in reports by Arab scholars all over the internet.

Soon conflation morphed into outright charges that Saddam Hussein was a serious threat to the United States, indeed, to the world. He had Weapons of Mass Destruction and was ready to use them. As the war drums got louder, no one noticed that Hussein had only a peasant army and an ineffective air force, and that his “long range” Scud missiles couldn’t fly more than a few hundred miles. 

And so, two years later, and six months after the U.S., invasion of Iraq, 70 percent of Americans believed Iraq was responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Last time I looked, the credibility gap was down to 36 per cent, which shows that flim-flams don’t last forever. Too late, though: Iraq is a bombed-out land: Millions of  its citizens are either dead or maimed, internally displaced or in foreign exile. Many of their homes, hospitals and schools are destroyed. Water, electricity and basic services are very scarce. It is a smashed country that may never be put back together.

Those are just a few of the things I remember bitterly about 911 and its aftermath. Now I read that there is growing nostalgia for George W. Bush, and that his smiling face is showing up on bumper stickers. Memory can sure play tricks on you – or rather, people can sure play tricks on your memory.

September 7, 2010

Has anyone noticed that the Affordable Care Act is already here?

I tried hard to follow the long battle in the U.S. Congress over health-care reform, and eventually gave it up:  far too complicated. The only thing clear to me was that Big Pharma and the health insurance industry were spending zillions of dollars to discredit reforms -  and getting their money's worth.

But when the smoke of battle finally cleared we had the Affordable Care Act, passed in Congress this March 2010, and signed into law by President Obama. It bars health plans from denying coverage to people who already have an illness, dropping the coverage of people who become sick, charging higher premiums because of health issues. Sounds good in theory; in practice...well, we shall see.

And we'll see sooner than I had imagined: In just two weeks, on September 23, the first consumer protection rules go into effect. I wonder if they will affect any of my American contacts reading this?

Effective Sept. 23:

- No discrimination against children with pre-existing conditions.  The new law includes rules to prevent insurance companies from denying coverage for children with health problems who might run up a lot of doctors' bills.

- Prohibits insurance companies from dropping coverage.  In the past, insurance companies could search for an error on a customer's application or other technical mistake and use it as a pretext to stop covering the person when he or she got sick. The new law makes this illegal and after media reports cited incidents of breast cancer patients losing coverage, insurance companies agreed to end this practice immediately. Effective for health plan years beginning on or after September 23.

- Eliminates lifetime limits on insurance coverage. Under the new law, insurance companies will be prohibited from imposing lifetime dollar limits on essential benefits, like hospital stays.

- Regulates annual limits on insurance coverage.  Under the new law, insurance companies' will find it harder to limit the amount of insurance coverage a patient may receive. [In 2014, the use of annual dollar limits on essential benefits like hospital stays will be banned for new plans in the individual market and all group plans.]

- Extends coverage for young adults. Requires any group or individual health plan that provides dependent coverage for children to continue that coverage until the child turns 26 years of age. Effective for policy or plan years beginning on or after September 23, 2010 and applying to all plans in the individual market, new employer plans, and existing employer plans if a young adult is not eligible for employer coverage. However, many of  the nation’s health insurers (including the four largest insurers) and self-insured organizations have agreed to implement this change well before the effective date.

- Improves Consumer Assistance. Requires that any new group health plan or new plan in the individual market implement an effective appeals process for coverage determinations and claims. Effective for policy or plan years beginning on or after September 23, 2010.  The law also provides consumers with an easy way to appeal to their insurance company and to an outside board if the company denies coverage or a claim.

Covering Preventive Health Services. All new individual and group health plans and plans must provide first dollar coverage for preventive services.

December 31

Reporting Health Coverage Costs on Form W-2. Requires employers to disclose the benefit value for each employee's health insurance coverage on the employee's annual Form W-2. Effective for tax years beginning after December 31, 2010.

Standardizing the Definition of Qualified Medical Expenses. Defines qualified medical expenses for HSAs, FSAs, and HRAs to fit the itemized deduction. But over-the-counter medicine with a prescription still qualify as medical expenses. Effective for tax years beginning after December 31, 2010.

January 1, 2011

Filling the Part D ‘Donut Hole.’ Provides a 50 percent discount on all brand-name drugs and biologics purchased in the donut hole by beneficiaries who do not receive Medicare Extra Help. These discounts will gradually increase to completely fill the donut hole by 2020 for all Part D enrollees. [Sorry, I don't know what a donut hole is; at least not this kind/ RF).

Improving Preventive Health Coverage. Provides a free, annual wellness visit and personalized prevention plan services for Medicare beneficiaries and eliminates cost-sharing for preventive services.

Improving Transitional Care for Medicare Beneficiaries. Establishes the Community Care Transitions Program to provide transition services to high-risk Medicare beneficiaries. .

Expanding the Adoption Credit and Adoption Assistance Program. Increases the adoption tax credit and adoption assistance exclusion by $1,000, makes the credit refundable, and extends the credit through 2011. Effective for tax years beginning after December 31, 2009.

More changes are due over the next four years.

Information on implementation of the Affordable Care Act is available dpc.senate.gov/reform and at http://www.whitehouse.gov/healthreform/timeline

August 9, 2010

Explaining American Media to My Spanish Friends

We had the Obama ladies here in Spain the past few days and they got warm receptions everywhere. So what's this we hear of criticisms of the trip in the U.S.? What did they do wrong?

Well, nothing. You have to understand how the American Rightwing Noise Machine works. In this case, we have a radio announcer called Rush Limbaugh, who has a weekly audience that he estimates at around 3 million listeners. That's a lot of listeners; and he has press columns syndicated across the country and throughout the armed forces information network. This guy is so powerful that some call him the strongest voice of the Republican Party.

In an August 6 Broadcast of his show, Rush declared that Michelle Obama is "taking 40 of her best friends and leasing 60 rooms in a 5-star hotel - paid for by you." Wow! You can imagine the outrage across the nation (across the world if you consider all those military-base radios). Wasting taxpayers money during a recession!

The Obamas trip ended Sunday with a brief visit to the Spanish royal family at their summer vacation home, the Marivent palace in Majorca. King Juan Carlos, who is recovering from cancer surgery is at left; Queen Sophia greets Sasha; Princess Letizia and Michelle.
What Rush does not say is that that the Obamas paid personal expenses on the trip, including lodging, with their own money. And he ignores the fact that First Ladies have travelled around the world before and never picked up any tabs.

Back in June, Fox News - the loudest voice on the Noise Machine - was accusing Obama of staying on vacation all the time -- when, in fact, he's taken less vacation time than any president in decades. George W. Bush spent one-third of his presidential time on vacation, mostly at his Texas ranch, and there was never a peep of complaint out of the Machine.

Hey, I've picked up a very tiny example of what comes out of the Machine every single day. For the endless stream, go here:

May 12, 2010

The Peace Movement is Dead - Long Live War

During our Thanksgiving visit to my sister in Florida, we saw few signs on her giant TV screen of a caring society. Very little was reported on the 900-plus channels about the wars on the other side of the globe and their horrendous toll of human suffering. Afghanistan and Iraq were blips on the screen - and on radio dials as well - compared to the massive coverage of Tiger Woods' marital problems.

No one cares. Not the media. Not the man and woman in the street. And certainly not those Tea Partiers who are livid about Big Government spending - except if the money is poured into endless wars. Tea Partiers know where to draw the lines on penny-pinching; you'll never hear them citing facts like these from writer/activist David Swanson:

"We spend more on the military and wars than we spend on everything else combined, more than all other nations on earth spend on their militaries combined, and many times what all conceivable enemies spend on their militaries combined. And we call this "defense". Are you sure that's what it is? Why do other nations stay safer than ours without building military bases all over the world and without impoverishing themselves?"

Corporations, he writes, "run our economy and manage our systems of communication. They own the two major political parties. They have built a private military. They loot the U.S. Treasury at will. And they have become unassailable. Those who decry the corporate coup are locked out of the national debate. . . "

That kind of talk certainly gets Swanson locked out of the national debate while corporate mouthpieces like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Pat Buchanan, to name a few, are all over TV and radio. At public television, Bill Moyers has retired and his replacement makes it clear there will be no more rocking of conservative boats.

The Peace Movement is dead, declares Chris Hedges, author and former New York Times correspondent, from his tiny corner of the web at TruthDig.

"We are approaching a decade of war in Afghanistan, and the war in Iraq is in its eighth year. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and thousands more Afghans and Pakistani civilians have been killed. Millions have been driven into squalid displacement and refugee camps. Thousands of our own soldiers and Marines have died or been crippled physically and psychologically. We sustain these wars, which have no real popular support, by borrowing trillions of dollars that can never be repaid, even as we close schools, states go into bankruptcy, social services are cut, our infrastructure crumbles, tens of millions of Americans are reduced to poverty, and real unemployment approaches 17 percent. Collective, suicidal inertia rolls us forward toward national insolvency and the collapse of empire. And we do not protest. The peace movement, despite the heroic efforts of a handful of groups such as Iraq Veterans Against the War, the Green Party and Code Pink, is dead. No one cares."

He means, of course, the vast majority doesn't care. Because he cares, and so do I.

March 15, 2010

McCarthyism - Liz Cheney's Version

Only oldtimers like me can recall how destructive McCarthy "witchunting" was to the country more than a half-century ago. Younger generations can get a sample of its poison through George Clooney's 2005 movie "Good Night and Good Luck". Or check out today's McCarthysim evident in this ad smearing the Justice Department lawyers representing Guantanmo detainees.

Behind the ad is Liz Cheney, daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney. Over the past week, her conservative group, Keep America Safe, has launched a smear campaign against the lawyers - "the al Qaeda seven" - who did legal work on behalf of terror suspects.

Mother watches Sen. McCarthy on TV
"Senator Joseph McCarthy’s formula was to call into question the patriotism and loyalty of his political opponents and malign them as jeopardizing America’s integrity and national security," writes Jake Horowitz on his blog War and Peace. Cheney and her Republican crowd follow suit...

"Compiling a dossier on Justice Department lawyers and sullying the character of these individuals is mere neo-McCarthyism cloaked in the language of national security and safety," Horowitz adds. "Cheney’s attempt to score cheap political points by questioning the integrity of these lawyers and equating them with al Qaeda terrorists must be dismissed outright.

"In representing Guantanamo detainees, Justice Department lawyers have defended the U.S. constitution by ensuring that even those charged with heinous acts have the right to make their case heard in court. It is this principle that lies at the heart of American democracy and represents the bedrock upon which our nation was founded. Constitutional rights apply to unpopular people too, and American history is filled with examples in which patriotic lawyers have defended the most dangerous criminals."

Cheney's phoney flag-waving reminds me of the 2004 Swift Boat campaign against Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. Remember? Kerry was a much-decorated Vietnam War veteran who was called a coward and a liar during the 2004 presidential election campaign while George Bush, who avoided not only the war but completion of his National Guard duties, was portrayed as more patriotic, more heroic. It was a textbook example of how Republicans can seduce the general public into believing lies and misinformation as true: hero becomes coward, and vice versa. War even becomes peace, as we have also seen.