Thursday, December 24, 2009

Share Jesus Not Religion This Holiday Season

A thought occurred to me while I was in the kitchen preparing potato salad for Christmas dinner.

Sadly the joy of the Christmas holiday season has been ruined for many non-Christians because they equate the holiday with the often judgmental, thoughtless and, sometimes downright mean-spirited behavior of many Christians.

So Fellow Christians,

This Christmas let's remember to share a lot more of our Savior and a little less of our doctrine. Share the love of Jesus with the people in your life. It's the best birthday that you can give Him.

It's the real reason for the season.

From my house to yours, Merry Christmas.

Who Comes This Night from the 2006 album 'James Taylor at Christmas'. Sony BMG Music Entertainment

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

So You Expect the Health Insurance Industry to Play Fair?

Sure they will, just like AIG.

As Brady Dennis reports in his article for the Washington Post on the failure of the majority of AIG executives to return their bonuses, old habits are hard to break. Profit often has a way of trumping principle in corporate America. Dennis writes:
"When word spread earlier this year that American International Group had paid more than $165 million in retention bonuses at the division that had precipitated the company's downfall, outrage erupted, with employees getting death threats and President Obama urging that every legal avenue be pursued to block the payments.

New York Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo threatened to publicize the recipients' names, prompting executives at AIG Financial Products to hastily agree to return about $45 million in bonuses by the end of the year.

But as the final days of 2009 tick away, a majority of that money remains unpaid. Only about $19 million has been given back, according to a report by the special inspector general for the government's bailout program."
Does this really shock anyone?

So why is anyone shocked that a large portion of the progressive population is distrustful of a Senate health care reform bill that both fails to offer a public option and fails to address the insurance industry's exemption from anti-trust laws? Isn't trusting the health insurance to contain consumer costs a little like asking Wall Street executives to return their bonuses?

Monday, December 21, 2009

Insanity Run Amuk in the Health Care Reform Debate

Headline Huffington Post: Robert Byrd's Death Seemingly Wished For By Tom Coburn

Enough is enough already. This Huffington Post headline is ridiculous and definitely in poor taste.

Heaven knows that the last person I am interesting in defending is Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.). But unless he specifically referenced Sen. Byrd by name or made some veiled reference to "the good gentleman from West Virginia" then neither Senator Durbin or the author of this post knows what was in Sen. Coburn's mind.

Have many of the Republicans acted like hateful, petulant children about health care reform? Of course.

Have some of the Democrats acted in their own self interest? Yes, to that too.

Have members of the Senate used the idea of prayer and religion to advance their very own agendas? Yes indeed. Coburn's comment was out of line.

And do persons on all sides of the debate secretly harbor thoughts of throwing a few members of the Senate under a moving train? You Bet. I know that I have my list and it's pretty long.

But to say that Tom Coburn seemed to be wishing for Senator's Byrd's death is irresponsible and the very type of comment that gives progressives and bloggers everywhere a bad name.

Shame on the Huffington Post for this headline. You have now officially stooped to the level of a Rupert Murdoch rag. All may be fair in love, war and the health care reform debate but this headline is too much for this progressive to stomach.

Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Thursday, December 17, 2009

When Corporations Run Government This Is What You Get

When corporations have undue influence on government you can count on one thing: the interests of the corporations will always be placed before the interests of individuals. Never has this been more true than in the devolution of the Senate version of H.R.3590 - The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act aka the health care reform bill. And regardless of your political party affiliation or whether you are for or against the bill, you should find the handling of this bill by the Senate and the White House deeply troubling.

Obviously no one really believed that in just one year after an election, albeit an historic one, the world of Washington politics was going to dramatically change. However, I suspect that most people did hold out hope that our elected officials would finally realize that the American people were no longer naive and/or clueless about the influence peddling that occurs in our nation's capitol. I believe that most Americans, at least the progressives that I know, held the hope that their elected representatives would respect their intelligence and realize that while they may have been fooled more times than they care to count, they can't be fooled all of the time. Yet sadly it appears that a lot of people in Washington didn't receive that memo. Because now the American people are being asked to be happy about a proposed Senate health bill that throws them a few crumbs but leaves the most vulnerable in society at the mercy of the insurance industry.

Yes, there are a few good things in the current version of health care reform bill but let's all be honest. If an insurance company is allowed to charge a senior citizen three times as much for their health care coverage does it really matter if there is no longer a doughnut hole in their prescription coverage? In fact, the amendment that would have made a significant difference in the the cost of prescription drug costs, the Dorgan/Snowe amendment, was rejected in order to protect the interests of Big Pharma

Here's what we are now being asked to cheer. A bill that opens for the door for a senior citizen who currently pays $200/mo ($2,400/yr) for supplemental Medicare coverage to now see the possibility of that rate jumping to $600/mo ($7,200/yr). In that scenario, the Senate's bill would, at best, guarantee that that senior faces extreme financial hardship or, at worse, force them to choose to forego medical care that they may desperately need.

In another scenario, a young person, with what is currently considered "a pre-existing" condition, could be forced to purchase an insurance plan at an exorbitant rate. That certainly wouldn't leave much money left over to spend on the other items that help fuel our economy, would it?

In both of these scenarios, the only entity that is really benefiting is the insurance company. Surprise, surprise!

As physician and former Gov. Howard Dean wrote in his article, Health Care Bill Won't Bring Real Reform, for the Washington Post:
"Real health-care reform is supposed to eliminate discrimination based on preexisting conditions. But the legislation allows insurance companies to charge older Americans up to three times as much as younger Americans, pricing them out of coverage. The bill was supposed to give Americans choices about what kind of system they wanted to enroll in. Instead, it fines Americans if they do not sign up with an insurance company, which may take up to 30 percent of your premium dollars and spend it on CEO salaries -- in the range of $20 million a year -- and on return on equity for the company's shareholders. Few Americans will see any benefit until 2014, by which time premiums are likely to have doubled. In short, the winners in this bill are insurance companies; the American taxpayer is about to be fleeced with a bailout in a situation that dwarfs even what happened at AIG."

In an interview with MSNBC's Keith Olbermann former Cigna executive Wendell Potter calls the current version of the Senate health care reform bill, a big gift for the (insurance) industry.

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This bill is a travesty. Even worse, anyone who has the courage to speak out against this sell-out to the insurance industry is being labeled as "irrational" and their dissent is being misrepresented.

During an interview with Keith Olbermann, Lawrence O'Donnell touched on why it seems that Howard Dean's comments are being taken out of context as well as why the White House seems to be more upset with Dr. Dean than the obstructionist Sen. Joe Lieberman:

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In a post for The Hill, Alexander Bolton quotes Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) as saying: “This bill appears to be legislation that the president wanted in the first place, so I don’t think focusing it on Lieberman really hits the truth." And that takes me back to the heart of this post.

As long as election campaigns involve obscene amounts of money, then corporations will have undue influence in politics. And when corporations have undue influence in politics you can count on one thing: the interests of the corporations will always be placed before the interest of individuals.

So who is to blame for this madness? Sen. Lieberman, Pres. Obama, Harry Reid, Congress, the lobbyists? Or maybe we should all take a look in the mirror. Because if we quietly sat by while our government was sold to corporate interests we have no one to blame but ourselves.

Related posts:

An Appeal for Real and Comprehensive Health Care Reform

Health Care Reform - How Bad Do We Want It?

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Reality of War for America's Women in Uniform

Thanks to Marcia G. Yerman for bringing Kimberly Hefling's article, Female Veterans Struggle for Acceptance, to my attention. As Marcia noted in her comment on the post, "Military Sexual Trauma is a major issue."

Sadly, it's a major issue that is gravely under-reported.

In her article, Ms Helfing writes:
"Female service members have much higher rates of divorce and are more likely to be a single parent. When they do seek help at VA medical centers, they are screening positive at a higher rate for military sexual trauma, meaning they indicated experiencing sexual harassment, assault or rape. Some studies have shown that female veterans are at greater risk for homelessness.

Former Army Sgt. Kayla Williams, an Iraq veteran who has written about her experience, said she was surprised by the response she and other women from the 101st Airborne Division received from people in Clarksville, Tenn., near Fort Campbell, Ky.

She said residents just assumed they were girlfriends or wives of military men."

Read Kimberly Heflng's Article at HuffingtonPost

Unbelievable! It's sounds like Sgt. Williams is encountering people who've watched too many episodes of MASH and taken the fiction as gospel.

But as one response to the HuffPo article indicates, even if people view today's service women as more than the "girlfriends and wives of military men", many are still unaware of the scope of the problems that they face. In his comment Kidorf asked, "Are you suggesting that those female soldiers are being "offed"?

Well, Kidorf, the parents of Army Pfc Lavena Johnson may well answer that question with, YES.

On July 19, 2005, Army Private First Class LaVena Johnson was found dead in Balad, Iraq. It has been reported that when her body was discovered in a tent belonging to a private military contractor her remains displayed
a black eye, broken nose, burned hands, loose teeth, acid burns on her genitals and a bullet hole in the head. The military ruled her death as a suicide.

While it is yet to be confirmed by the military that Pfc Johnson was murdered, it is certainly clear that she and many other service women have been and continue to be subjected to various forms of abuse. It is also evident that their concerns (and those of their loved ones) are largely being dismissed.

The following is a video clip from a 2008
hearing held by The Oversight Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs' on "Sexual Assault in the Military." In this segment, you see Subcommittee Chairman Tierney and Full Committee Chairman Waxman practically threaten Michael Dominguez, Principal Deputy Undersecretary for Defense, with contempt after he reveals that he has ordered Dr. Kaye Whitley of the DOD Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office to defy a subpoena to appear before the committee.

In his opening comments to the hearing Chairman Tierney remarked:
“What’s at stake here goes to the very core of the values of the military and the nation itself. When our sons and daughters put their lives on the line to defend the rest of us, the last thing they should fear is being attacked by one of our own. We fundamentally have a duty to prevent sexual assaults in the military as much as humanly possible, and to punish attackers quickly and severely. We also must empower victims so they feel comfortable coming forward to seek justice and to receive help to get their lives back on track and to restore their dignity. Finally, we simply must ensure a climate in our military where sexual assault is in no way, either officially or unofficially, condoned, ignored, or tolerated.”

Another article which addressed this same troubling issue was "Rapists in the Ranks" by Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), a must read for anyone concerned about this issue.

In this article Rep. Harman wrote:
"The scope of the problem was brought into acute focus for me during a visit to the West Los Angeles VA Healthcare Center, where I met with female veterans and their doctors. My jaw dropped when the doctors told me that 41% of female veterans seen at the clinic say they were victims of sexual assault while in the military, and 29% report being raped during their military service. They spoke of their continued terror, feelings of helplessness and the downward spirals many of their lives have since taken."
She also noted:
"At the heart of this crisis is an apparent inability or unwillingness to prosecute rapists in the ranks. According to DOD statistics, only 181 out of 2,212 subjects investigated for sexual assault in 2007, including 1,259 reports of rape, were referred to courts-martial, the equivalent of a criminal prosecution in the military. Another 218 were handled via nonpunitive administrative action or discharge, and 201 subjects were disciplined through "nonjudicial punishment," which means they may have been confined to quarters, assigned extra duty or received a similar slap on the wrist. In nearly half of the cases investigated, the chain of command took no action; more than a third of the time, that was because of 'insufficient evidence'."

In the following video Massachusetts School of Law Professor Diane Sullivan interviews Kirsten Holmstedt on her book, The Girls Come Marching Home: Stories of Women Warriors Returning From The War In Iraq. In the book female veterans of the war in Iraq speak about soldiers dying on their watch, dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and the difficulties of returning home.

Recently, President Barack Obama announced that an additional 30,000 troops will be deployed to Afghanistan. Of course, a percentage of that number will be women. Regardless of how you feel about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, isn't it time to make sure that the women who courageously serve in the armed services be treated with the respect that they have earned.

Related Posts:

Will You Become One of 25 Million?

Speak Out Against the Sexual Violence in Iraq

What Happens When Johnny Comes Marching Home

Friday, December 11, 2009

A Response to President Obama’s “Just War” Doctrine

As Ben Feller reported for Associated Press, "President Barack Obama evoked the cause of a just war on Thursday, accepting his Nobel Peace Prize just nine days after sending 30,000 more U.S. troops to war in Afghanistan but promising to use the prestigious prize to 'reach for the world that ought to be.'"

In response to President Barack Obama's "Just War" statement, Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) has issued the following statement:

WASHINGTON - December 11 - “Yesterday, our president mused about the inevitability of war, war’s instrumentality in the pursuit of peace and just wars.

It is important for us to reflect on his words, because once we believe in the inevitability of war, war becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Once we are committed to war’s instrumentality in pursuit of peace, we begin the Orwellian journey to the semantic netherworld where War IS Peace, where the momentum of war overwhelms hopes for peace. And once we wrap doctrines perpetuating war in the arms of justice, we can easily legitimate the wholesale slaughter of innocents.

The war against Iraq was based on lies. Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan are based on flawed doctrines of counter-insurgency. War is often not just; sometimes it is just war. And our ability to rethink the terms of our existence, to explore the possibility of peace without war, may well determine whether we end war, or war ends us."
Kudos Representative Kucinich. Progressives can not afford to only be against the war when the opposing political party is in office.

In case you missed the speech, here is a video clip courtesy of TPMTV

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Pelosi Backs Off Public Option

Now that it's official that the "public option" died on the table today at 11:12 a.m. Eastern Standard Time, I can only say that I'm really not surprised. As I stated in an August blog post, I'm sure that Congress will eventually pass some form of health care reform in order to allow us all to pretend that America has taken one small step in the right direction. But to use a football analogy, driving 80 yards down the field means very little if you falter in the red zone and have to settle for a field goal.

As a nation, we have yet to determine that quality health care for all is a right. We say that we want health care reform, we just don't want it bad enough to make the sacrifices necessary to make it a reality. After all, most Americans have some form of coverage, don't they? We certainly can't cut the budgets for defense spending, farm subsidies and building new prisons. We wouldn't want to make the insurance mad. After all, they might threaten to raise everyone's premiums or refuse to offer coverage in certain states. And of course, no politician can afford to lose those campaign dollars, can they?

Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

A Television Event That May Remind People of Their Power

Every once in a while something truly special airs on television. When "The People Speak" airs on The History Channel this upcoming Sunday it will be one of those moments.

Inspired by the books of Howard Zinn, ("A People's History of the United States") and Anthony Arnove, ("Voices of a People's History"), The People Speak is a documentary which tells the story of American democracy through the words of the ordinary, yet powerful, people who have shaped it.

With a cast that includes: Benjamin Bratt, Josh Brolin, Don Cheadle, Matt Damon, Rosario Dawson, Danny Glover, Jasmine Guy, John Legend, Viggo Mortensen and Sandra Oh, this film shares the voices of the dissenters, the protesters, "the resistance in U.S. history " who have helped shaped this nation's history but are seldom mentioned in history texts. The result is a documentary which reminds us that democracies are built from the bottom up, not from the top down.

In the following video clip Howard Zinn and co-exec-producer Chris Moore discuss their film on the Today show:

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Reporting for the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Katie Leslie interviewed actress Jasmine Guy who shared her experience in making this documentary:

" 'The live experience, the filming process, was really incredible,' Guy said, explaining that actors and musicians practiced their lines backstage in character. 'We had Frederick Douglass in one corner and Martin Luther King in another and Abraham Lincoln... it was deep.'

Guy said she was most touched by the work of Abbey Lincoln, whom she knew as an actress and singer, but not as an activist. Guy depicted Lincoln, Alice Walker, Sylvia Woods and others in the film.

'In reading it, it was so raw and it kind of touched a nerve with me because it was talking about the acceptance of our own beauty as black women and how we can’t ever seem to get it right,' Guy said of Lincoln's work. 'And I think those people you don’t expect to come out with these profound powerful moving words really moved me the most because they did come from everyday people.' "

As Bill Moyers reminded us during his address at the NYU Kimmel Center on December 12, 2006, "democracy works when people claim it as their own" and "the next chapter is ours to tell." "The People Speak", reminds us of this important message once again.

Hopefully, enough of us are listening.

Related Posts:

A Challenge for Every American Citizen, 9/07

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Financial Industry Money Flows To Sponsors Of Industry-Friendly Amendments

As one commenter posted, "This is a surprise because?"

Sadly, it is no surprise to most Americans that the financial sector has undue influence on Capital Hill. That is why it is so very important that citizens contact their Congressperson and ask that they support

H.R.4173 - the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2009.

This may be the average consumer's last chance.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost