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Ex-Hospital CEO Battles Reform Effort

Monday, May 11, 2009

Ads Cite Long Waits In Canada and Britain

By Dan Eggen
The Washington Post

The television ads that began airing last week feature horror stories from Canada and the United Kingdom: Patients who allegedly suffered long waits for surgeries, couldn't get the drugs they needed, or had to come to the United States for treatment.

"Before government rushes to overhaul health care, listen to those who already have government-run health care," intones Rick Scott, founder of a group called Conservatives for Patients' Rights. "Tell Congress to listen, too."

Scott, a multimillionaire investor and controversial former hospital chief executive, has become an unlikely and prominent leader of the opposition to health-care reform plans that Congress is expected to take up later this year. While disorganized Republicans and major health-care companies wait for President Obama and Democratic leaders to reveal the details of their plan before criticizing it, Scott is using $5 million of his own money and up to $15 million more from supporters to try to build resistance to any government-run program.

The campaign is being coordinated by CRC Public Relations, the group that masterminded the "Swift boat" attacks against 2004 Democratic presidential candidate  John F. Kerry, and is inspired by the "Harry and Louise" ads that helped torpedo health-care reform during the Clinton administration....(Click for remainder.)


When Chevron Hires Ex-Reporter to Investigate Pollution, Chevron Looks Good

By Brian Stelter
The New York Times

What did Chevron do when it learned that “60 Minutes” was preparing a potentially damaging report about oil company contamination of the Amazon rain forest in Ecuador? It hired a former journalist to produce a mirror image of the report, from the corporation’s point of view.

As a demonstration of just how far companies will go to counteract negative publicity, the Chevron case is extraordinary. Gene Randall, a former CNN correspondent, spent about five months on the project, which was posted on the Internet in April, three weeks before the “60 Minutes” report was shown on May 3.

“Chevron hired me to tell its side of the story,” he said. “That’s what I did.”

The two videos — one by CBS, the other by a corporation being scrutinized by CBS — run about 14 minutes long. They each discuss a class-action lawsuit filed by Ecuadoreans who accuse Texaco, a company acquired by Chevron in 2001, of poisoning the rain forest.

An Ecuadorean judge is expected to rule soon on whether Chevron owes up to $27 billion in damages, which would make the case “the largest environmental lawsuit in history,” the “60 Minutes” correspondent, Scott Pelley, said.

Both videos start with a correspondent appearing on camera and calling it a “bitter” dispute. But from there, they diverge. The “60 Minutes” report visits the rain forest, talks to the Ecuadorean judge and interviews a Chevron manager. The Chevron video interviews the same Chevron manager, as well as five professors who are consultants to the oil company, but none of the plaintiffs....(Click for remainder.)


Obama Caving to Senior Military Leadership, Religious Right on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Obama Caving to Senior Military Leadership, Religious Right on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"

By Kevin Nix
Service Members Legal Defense Network

WASHINGTON, DC - When asked this morning on This Week with George Stephanopoulos if "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" will be overturned, the president's national security advisor, General Jones, responded, "I don't know."

" 'I don't know?' The answer should have been a one-word answer 'Yes,' said Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.

"Jones's answer, along with Secretary Gates's remarks to the Army War College on April 16, make it clear that a calculated political decision has been made that the President is not going to take 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' on publicly-himself-and instead his defense team is doing it."

There should be no waffling in this Administration-whether from Jones or Gates, on whether repeal is going to happen. The discussions should be when and how. Recall what Obama said on the campaign trail in 2007:

America is ready to get rid of the 'don't ask, don't tell' policy. That work should have started long ago. It will start when I take office. America is ready to get rid of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. All that is required is leadership.(Fall 2007 to Human Rights Campaign)

That was then. This is now. The Center for Military Readiness (CMR)-which wrote in Human Events recently, "Obama administration officials appear equivocal on this issue"- is boasting about "changing the debate" and taking credit for intimidating the White House to back off DADT. Phyllis Schlafly, grandmother of the conservative movement, sits on the CMR Board.

Gay and lesbian soldiers continue to get fired on this President's watch, most recently Arabic linguist Army Lt. Dan Choi and 2nd Army Second Lt. Sandy Tsao. At the end of the day, this is what the debate is about-them and their families....(Click for remainder.)


How Do Americans Really Feel About God?

The religious right's era of unquestioning Christianity is over. In fact, Americans have incredibly complex feelings about God and country.

By Courtney E. Martin
The American Prospect

At a conference held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, The Dalai Lama greets scientists with a traditional bow. (AP Photo/Lisa Poole)
Last year, I appeared as a guest on right-wing pundit Laura Ingraham's radio show. She and I were debating the merits of comprehensive sexual education, and something I said really set her off. "Do you even believe in God?!" she screamed. I could almost see the blond flyaways standing up on their offended little ends.

Not usually flummoxed by blowhards like Laura, I have to admit I was thrown off. I took a deep breath and then answered, "I think, like most Americans, I have a complex relationship with the idea of God."

"Most Americans," she spit back, "are Christian!"

I had a hunch that her take on Americans' religious perspective was spuriously simple, but it was comforting to read the findings of a new report by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life titled "Faith in Flux" that proves it. Building on a similar report last year, the Pew Forum looked at "the fluidity of religious affiliation in the U.S." and found that roughly half of U.S. adults have changed religion at some point in their life. Further, the number of Americans who identify as unaffiliated with a particular religion -- now hovering around 16 percent -- has grown more rapidly than any other religious group in recent decades.

In recent years, the story of American religion has been hyped up in fire and brimstone thanks to our previous president, a self-proclaimed born-again Christian, and the massive evangelical movement that influenced him to enact policies that were consistent with religious perspective: the global gag rule, abstinence-only sex education, and marriage-promotion programs, just to name a few. But those days are over. These policies, to borrow some vocabulary from religious folks, have been an abomination -- imposing one narrow definition of morality on a broad and diverse group of people the world over. Talk about not walking humbly with your God.

It wasn't divine intervention that ousted George W. Bush from office. It was millions of Americans -- some Christians, some Jews, some Muslims, some confused -- who wanted an ethical, not necessarily a religious, president. Pew reports that in 2008 Democrats and Barack Obama made significant gains among Hispanic Catholics, Hispanic Protestants, and other minority Catholics and Protestants. A majority of black Protestants, seculars, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, and Asian Christians also voted Democratic. A new day dawned in Washington -- one where humility and a sort of quiet faith replaced the ego and fanaticism of yesteryear....(Click for remainder.)


A Table for Tyrants

By Vaclav Havel
The New York Times

PRAGUE - Imagine an election where the results are largely preordained and a number of candidates are widely recognized as unqualified. Any supposedly democratic ballot conducted in this way would be considered a farce. Yet tomorrow the United Nations General Assembly will engage in just such an “election” when it votes to fill the vacancies on the 47-member Human Rights Council.

Only 20 countries are running for 18 open seats. The seats are divided among the world’s five geographic regions and three of the five regions have presented the same number of candidates as there are seats, thus ensuring there is no opportunity to choose the best proponents of human rights each region has to offer.

Governments seem to have forgotten the commitment made only three short years ago to create an organization able to protect victims and confront human rights abuses wherever they occur.

An essential precondition was better membership. The council’s precursor, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, was folded in 2006 mainly because it had, for too long, allowed gross violators of human rights like Sudan and Zimbabwe to block action on their own abuses.

The council was supposed to be different. For the first time, countries agreed to take human rights records into account when voting for the council’s members, and those member-states that failed to, in the words of the founding resolution, “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights” would find themselves up for review and their seats endangered. For victims of human rights abuses and advocates for human rights worldwide, the reforms offered the hope of a credible and effective body....(Click for remainder.)


Game On

My hope for a fair--but quite tough--Supreme Court fight.

By E.J. Dionne, Jr.
The New Republic

WASHINGTON -- The coming battle over President Obama's first Supreme Court nomination could be an enlightening debate over what direction the court should take. It could also be a nasty and hypocritical fight that obscures more issues than it clarifies. Which will it be?

When George W. Bush was president, Senate Republicans who are now proposing to raise an ideological ruckus said that Democrats were wrong to use judicial philosophy as a benchmark for confirming a nominee. If a president's picks were formally qualified and intelligent -- and both Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito were -- that should be enough, the Republicans said.

Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., warned during the Alito confirmation that if Democrats used ideology as a measuring stick with Bush nominees, it was inevitable that Republicans would apply the same standard to the appointee of a Democratic president. "I say to my Democratic friends, think carefully about what is being done today," Kyl warned in 2006. "Its impact will be felt well beyond this particular nominee."

In fact, there is no evidence that Republicans would have been nicer to an Obama nominee if Roberts and Alito had been confirmed unanimously.

Nonetheless, Kyl had a point. To pretend that these judicial fights are about anything other than the court's philosophical direction is a form of willful dishonesty. It's better to be straightforward about the existence of a political struggle over the court than to manufacture phony reasons for opposing a nominee related to "character," "qualifications" or "temperament."...(Click for remainder.)


Harry, Louise and Barack

By Paul Krugman
The New York Times

Is this the end for Harry and Louise?

Harry and Louise were the fictional couple who appeared in advertisements run by the insurance industry in 1993, fretting about what would happen if “government bureaucrats” started making health care decisions. The ads helped kill the Clinton health care plan, and have stood, ever since, as a symbol of the ability of powerful special interests to block health care reform.

But on Saturday, excited administration officials called me to say that this time the medical-industrial complex (their term, not mine) is offering to be helpful.

Six major industry players — including America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), a descendant of the lobbying group that spawned Harry and Louise — have sent a letter to President Obama sketching out a plan to control health care costs. What’s more, the letter implicitly endorses much of what administration officials have been saying about health economics.

Are there reasons to be suspicious about this gift? You bet — and I’ll get to that in a bit. But first things first: on the face of it, this is tremendously good news.

The signatories of the letter say that they’re developing proposals to help the administration achieve its goal of shaving 1.5 percentage points off the growth rate of health care spending. That may not sound like much, but it’s actually huge: achieving that goal would save $2 trillion over the next decade....(Click for remainder.)


Open Letter to the Republican Traitors (From a Former Republican)

By Frank Schaeffer
The Huffington Post

Dear Republican Leaders: The Republican Party has become the party dedicated to sabotaging the American future. Check out the sermon I just delivered about the Republican Party on CNN when being interviewed by D.L. Hughley -- and/or read on.

You Republicans are the arsonists who burned down our national home. You combined the failed ideologies of the Religious Right, so-called free market deregulation and the Neoconservative love of war to light a fire that has consumed America. Now you have the nerve to criticize the "architect" America just hired -- President Obama -- to rebuild from the ashes. You do nothing constructive, just try to hinder the one person willing and able to fix the mess you created.

I used to be one of you. As recently as 2000 I worked to get Senator McCain elected in that year's primary. (McCain and Gen. Tommy Franks wrote glowing endorsements regarding my book about military service, AWOL.). I have a file of handwritten thank you notes from Presidents Ford, Reagan, Bush I and II. In the 1970s and early 80s I hung out with Jack Kemp and bought into his "supply side" myth and even wrote a book he endorsed pushing his ideas.) There's more, but take it from me; my parents (evangelical leaders Francis and Edith Schaeffer) and I were about as tight with -- and useful to -- the Republican Party as anyone. We played a big part creating the Religious Right.

In the mid 1980s I left the Religious Right, after I realized just how very anti-American they are, (the theme I explore in my book Crazy For God). They wanted America to fail in order to prove they were right about America's "moral decline." Soon after McCain lost in 2000 I re-registered as an independent in disgust with W. Bush. But I still respected many Republicans. Not today.

How can anyone who loves our country support the Republicans now? Barry Goldwater, William F. Buckley and Ronald Reagan defined the modern conservatism that used to be what the Republican Party I belonged to was about. Today no actual conservative can be a Republican. Reagan would despise today's wholly negative Republican Party. And can you picture the gentlemanly and always polite Ronald Reagan, endorsing a radio hate-jock slob who crudely mocked a man with Parkinson's and who now says he wants an American president to fail?!

With people like Limbaugh as the loudmouth image of the Republican Party -- you need no enemies. But something far more serious has happened than an image problem: the Republican Party has become the party of obstruction at just the time when all Americans should be pulling together for the good of our country. Instead, Republicans are today's fifth column sabotaging American renewal....(Click for remainder.)


Max Baucus Should Not Be Deciding Health Care for America

The “Senator for K Street” is Putting Campaign Donor Profits Ahead of the Basic Needs of the People

By Kevin Zeese

Senator Max Baucus and the Senate Finance Committee are too corrupted by corporate health industry profiteers donations to give America the health care policy it needs.

Health care is 15% of the U.S. gross domestic product. Health care costs have been rising rapidly for several years. U.S. health care expenditures surpassed $2.4 trillion in 2007, more than three times the $714 billion spent in 1990. The cost of health care is projected to reach $4.4 trillion by 2018. There is a lot of room for corporate profiteering in the increasing cost of health care. So, the millions the health care industry has invested in Baucus and the Senate Finance Committee could turn out to be a very profitable one.

It is evident that any bill that comes out of the Senate Finance Committee will be a pro-industry bill that will ensure trillions in profits for the health insurance industry, HMO’s and pharmaceutical industry.

Baucus has held two hearings so far and has refused to allow advocates for the most popular reform – a single payer national health policy – to even testify. Single payer, improved Medicare for all, is favored by more than 60% of Americans as well as majorities of doctors, nurses and economists. It is the most cost-effective and efficient way to provide health care to all Americans from cradle to grave....(Click for remainder.)


"Preliminary" Talks Held on U.S. Military Gay Policy

By Will Dunham

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration is holding "preliminary discussions" about changing the military's prohibition against openly gay service members, White House National Security Advisor James Jones said on Sunday.

President Barack Obama pledged during the presidential campaign to change the policy. But the issue has been on the back-burner as the White House tackles other issues such as the economy and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Jones said he does not know if the policy, known as "don't ask, don't tell," will be overturned, and indicated a cautious approach.

"We have a lot on our plate right now. It has to be teed up at the right time ... to do this the right way," Jones said on the ABC program "This Week."

Asked if the policy will be overturned, Jones said, "I don't know. ... The president has said that he is in favor of that. We'll just wait. We'll have to wait and see."

The current policy does not allow the military to ask service members about their sexual orientation, but allows the military to expel people who make it known that they are gay.

The policy was passed by Congress in 1993. It was fashioned as a compromise between those who wanted to preserve the previous outright prohibition on gays in the military and those who wanted to allow gays to serve.

"We have had preliminary discussions with the leadership of the Pentagon, (Defense) Secretary (Robert) Gates, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs (Admiral Mike Mullen)," Jones said....(Click for remainder.)


Not True, but Coming Soon to Fox News

By Jamison Foser
Media Matters

You may remember GOPUSA as the right-wing advocacy organization/mailing list that created a phony news organization in order to send Jeff Gannon -- a professional escort whose real name wasn't Jeff Gannon -- to the White House as a correspondent.

The folks at GOPUSA shut down that part of the operation soon after it was exposed by Media Matters and others, but they continue to operate a mailing list and web page in order to spread their crazy.

One recent email came with the subject line "Extremely Urgent: Society to Come Unglued." A 6,000+ word screed followed, with instructions to "read what I am about to say carefully, because your very life may depend on it." Amidst the hysterics about plummeting ozone, the email did offer one reassuring bit of advice: "You don't necessarily have to bury a huge cache of silver coins in your backyard to be able to barter in an emergency situation."

Whew. That's good to know.

Anyway: GOPUSA emails tend not to get much attention. After all, most of their recipients are probably too busy fashioning hats out of aluminum foil to read through 6,000 words. But on Friday, GOPUSA sent out an email that is bound to get picked up by Fox News or some right-wing radio host or Newsbusters blogger:
The Department of Homeland Security Strikes Again

A Special Report by Archie Jones, American Vision Staff Writer

A customer service representative at The Patriot Depot just received a call from Rosemary in Ball, Louisiana alerting him that her brother-in-law was stopped by small town Louisiana police and detained by the roadside for half an hour. A background check was conducted to determine whether he was a member of an "extremist" group. Why? Her brother-in-law (name not disclosed for privacy) had purchased a conservative "Don't Tread on Me" bumper sticker from The Patriot Depot and displayed it on his car.
Now: That obviously didn't happen....(Click for remainder.)


Citigroup Spends Bailout Money Lobbying Student Lenders To Sabotage Obama Plan

By Moe Tkacik
Talking Points Memo

If Citigroup -- recipient of $45 billion in bailout funds and constant visits with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, and longtime employer of former Treasury Secretary Bob Rubin -- is supposed to be the government's friend, it's quite the underminer. Today the bank emailed borrowers who took out student loans with Citigroup encouraging them to write to Congress opposing the administration's student loan proposal.

Obama has been talking about overhauling student loans since at least 2007, echoing GAO estimates that banks had been taking in $15 million a day peddling and securitizing private student loans without taking on any risk, since student loans are guaranteed by the government and cannot even be discharged in a bankruptcy. The "most controversial" aspect of his proposed legislation, according to the New York Times, would cut out the proverbial middleman so all students could borrow directly from the government. Any "controversy," of course, is likely to be fomented by the banks that make money off the arrangement -- as Citigroup's letter would seem to indicate.
Citibank The Student Loan Corporation

May 7, 2009

Dear [Redacted],

Thank you for the opportunity to help you obtain the education of your choice. As a student loan provider for the past 50 years, Citi has provided financial aid assistance to millions of students and parents nationwide.

Given the challenging economy and continued increases in the cost of higher education, it is critical that the U.S. student lending system serves the best interests of students and their families. If you believe that competition and choice among student loan providers is valuable, you have an opportunity to make your voice heard.

Why Get Involved?
The government budget outline proposes offering federal student loans solely through the federal government's Direct Lending Program starting July of next year. While this proposal will not impact a borrower's ability to obtain a federal student loan, it will eliminate your ability to choose a student loan provider. It will also substantially increase the national debt since each and every federally-insured student loan will be funded by the Federal Treasury through the issuance of treasury securities. This proposal impacts you as a citizen - both as a taxpayer and as a borrower.

Why Does Competition And Choice Matter?
Without private lender involvement through the Federal Family Education Loan Program, students and their families will not enjoy the benefits that competition has made possible for more than 40 years. This competition has provided not only a choice of lenders, but also innovative products and services, such as:
* a variety of borrower benefits that lower your cost of borrowing
* financial literacy programs that educate you on how to borrow responsibly
* web-based tools and resources to advise you about your financing options
* default prevention services to help you pay back your loans
Competition also has driven increased customer satisfaction as a result of the responsiveness, personal attention and on-campus support that student loan lenders have provided to borrowers and schools nationwide.

Make Your Voice Heard
If you value the ability to shop for, evaluate and choose your student loan provider, make your voice heard by contacting your Members of Congress and by signing one of the online petitions that support borrower choice and competition in federal student lending.


The Student Loan Corporation
(Click for remainder.)


Is it 1996? Or 2009?



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