Friday, December 23, 2011

And To All A Good Night




Try to live a life of

KINDNESS

Not just during the

HOLIDAY SEASON

But throughout the

ENTIRE YEAR

Never forget

It's what distinguishes us as

DEMOCRATS

☪ ✡ ✞ ☬ ☯ ✌

Friday, December 16, 2011

While you’re diddling, Rome is burning, Nero! 2011 GOP Talking Points: The Year in Review

By Guest-Blogger tazshedevl



The GOP is fighting extending the payroll tax cut for 160 million Americans as we speak, because the measure to do it would raise taxes on 350,000 of America’s richest to pay for the cut.  Their latest attempt at “compromise” involves adding several contentious and unsettled issues to the bill—since when does adding things no one agrees on and insisting it’s your bill or no bill make it MORE likely a bill will pass?

Listening to the rhetoric is a walk down a memory lane bordered on both sides with many noteworthy whoppers.  Now that It’s the end of the year, there’s no better time to sum up some of the GOP’s talking points from 2011 before we put them permanently (please God!) in the rear view…

“It’s about the Job Creators, Stupid!”

Great concept – it’s a different take that sounds good, until you realize that the “job creators” aren’t actually creating any jobs.  And that conveniently included in the class of “job creators” are rich people who never did.  But what about the small fraction of the richest 1% in this country who do have companies and could create jobs—why have they failed to actually do so?  It isn’t because their taxes are too high, the regulations too cumbersome or they can’t afford it—it’s because there’s no consumer demand for what they sell because nobody else has any money to spend.

Decades of policies specifically tailored to benefit “job creators” haven’t done squat for job creation—all they did was create a small uber-class of ultra-rich who simply don’t spend enough to sustain the larger economy on their own.  How?  By enabling them to squirrel away a lot more cash while cutting their contribution toward the things that made this nation great in the first place.  You know, things like education, infrastructure, investments in technology and a social safety net that pulled and kept millions out of poverty.

“Job Creators” have been paid handsomely by the American people in the form of huge tax breaks so that they would create jobs for the last 10 years.  Yet the Bush tax cuts led to the worst job creation record on record.  Is there any employer anywhere that would keep paying for that kind of lack of performance?  Hope YOU’VE enjoyed YOUR free ride, “Job Creators,” because your government welfare-driven, taxpayer-funded gravy train ends in 2012.   

“It’s about the deficit, Stupid!”

After spending 8 years blowing a hole in the deficit, the GOP suddenly finds it imperative we fix it NOW, when corporations and the rich are enjoying record profits and spending nothing to create jobs, and cuts will hurt everyone else to the point of drawing blood.  This is all just a distraction—JOBS are the problem, not spending.  

Do they really think we think it's an accident that when they were in power, Cheney said “Deficits don't matter,” which gave them license to spend on the 1% with unfunded tax breaks, on big pharma with an unfunded fix to the Medicare donut hole, and on the military-industrial complex with not one but two unfunded wars, but now, suddenly, when they don’t have a blank check to keep spending, the deficit is the most important thing?   How can they even look themselves in the mirror with a straight face?

“It’s about the uncertainty, Stupid!”

Markets and business need certainty to create jobs, says the GOP.  But In reality, it’s consumers that drive job creation by spending on goods and services.  Want to talk about “uncertainty?” How about certainty for the middle class and working Americans?

There are 160 million people who don’t know if they’re going to have dinner tonight, or if they can get their kid a Christmas present, because they don’t know if they’ll have the money left over after paying their bills to be able to get by after more taxes get deducted from their check on January 1st.  $85 a month might not mean much to our millionaire politicians, but for some of us, it’s the difference between eating and having the gas to get to work, or deciding which you’ll do without.  Again.

These are people who would be shopping, if they knew they could afford it.  But they don’t know if they can because the status of the payroll tax is still up in the air.  So much for certainty.  What really matters is certainty for the middle class and small businesses.  And they wonder why people have taken to the streets to #Occupy wherever they happen to be.

“It’s about the size of government, Stupid!”

The GOP ran on a platform of jobs, but has done absolutely nothing to create any—in fact, they’ve been fighting every effort by others to do so and focusing on other things altogether while pushing the entire time for more layoffs of government workers.  In spite of their distractions, we know that 2-1 doesn’t ever equal 3—you can’t eliminate more jobs faster and then wonder where the jobs are with any integrity whatsoever.  “Government doesn’t create jobs?”  Really?  Government created THEIR jobs, and it employs millions who work for the people.  To say otherwise is a bold-faced lie. 

Nor did government cause the financial crisis in 2008, as they so often claim. Every once in a while, a banker actually admits it, and even Forbes gets that the government didn’t cause the crash!  This is all about creating a self-fulfilling prophecy—if they cut government services, then of course people will complain that the money they ARE spending isn’t getting them anything worthwhile.  This is again all about saving the 1% on their tax bill so that they can hoard even more cash.  It benefits them, but does nothing for the rest of us.

Not surprisingly, the GOP also isn’t complaining that banks received plenty of assistance from the Fed, unbeknownst to the rest of us and Congress.  For people who hate big government, they certainly aren’t outraged by their donors accepting trillions in government-backed aid.  Does that sound like anything even close to a free market?  Don’t think so.

It’s about too much regulation, Stupid!”

Of course corporations would push for fewer regulations, for the same reason that criminals want fewer police—it makes it more likely they can get away with the crimes they commit!  Since Wall Street did such an excellent job self-policing, why WOULDN’T we just trust corporations with the welfare of our citizens, our natural resources and our financial and political systems?

Never mind that the GOP’s claims that regulations kill jobs aren’t true--  even if they were, letting corporations and other bad actors get away with fraud, cheating and stealing from the American taxpayer isn’t worth it at ANY cost.
 
If the ratings agencies hadn’t been so riddled with corruption, maybe the mess wouldn’t have happened.  Or if the regulators weren’t stuck with rules that are rife with exceptions, so they could actually protect the American people from fraud... But even when there are solid regulations, they’re not always enforced – if anything, we need MORE oversight, not less, and every once in a while, someone, maybe even a federal judge, actually says it out loud.

“It’s about the taxes, Stupid!”

To buy that taxes inhibit job creation requires amazing powers of amnesia and denial--  you have to block out the fact that Clinton raised taxes and yet we experienced great economic growth and job creation, and just disregard that raising taxes generates the revenue needed to fix the shortfall and doesn’t actually cause mass exodus of the wealthy from a particular area or keep companies from hiring.  Even the Wall Street Journal gets that the Bush tax cuts led to the worst job creation record on record, and the Congressional Budget Office acknowledges that a tax holiday for repatriation of overseas profits would have a “negligible” effect on job creation.  Even Republican Senator Tom Coburn gets that tax breaks for millionaires are just “welfare for the wealthy.”

There’s no evidence to support this from any angle, but the GOP keeps on playing it like a tired old favorite song that sounded good when it first came out but is just lame in hindsight.

Guess what?  We’re NOT as stupid as you think!

Dear GOP,

The time for playing your silly reindeer politician games is over—you’ve had 11 months to jockey for position and dick with the American peoples’ confidence in their government’s ability to act in the best interest of the nation, and with the world’s confidence in your ability to handle our finances.  Did you really think you could threaten the nation and the world with a default on our already-incurred obligations, and that would somehow be acceptable?

Don’t you get it?  We can see you.  We can see through you.  Your telling us what people think and want you to do doesn’t count anymore, because we know what people really think—we communicate with each other directly.  Your lies don’t fly anymore.

Your attacks follow a tired and predictable pattern:

·         First they’re substantive, your attempt to frame the issues in broad principles that belie what your policies actually do, which is benefit the 1% no matter what.  

·         Then, if you fail to get your way with your propaganda, the argument becomes procedural—it’s about how things are written, how they are presented in Congress, or how they are handled in committee.  Another nice tactic, designed to distract from the real issue, which is that you are still working to change things to benefit the 1% who pay for your election campaigns and then extract beneficial consideration from you in policymaking.

·         Finally, if you still don’t get you way, it becomes personal—it’s about the individual proposing the legislation you don’t like, or the people who support it.  It’s all about demonizing somebody, somehow, through name-calling and inflammatory accusations.  Whatever it takes to stop what your donors don’t want to happen from happening.

Well, here’s a news flash for you: There is NO POSSIBLE WAY to block this and NOT have your actions look like the assault they are on 160 million citizen voters.  None whatsoever.  If for ANY reason you deny the middle and working classes the same tax cut extension you repeatedly fought tooth-and-nail for on behalf of the 1%, you WILL be held accountable by the people you are hurting, loud and clear, in the 2012 elections.

We don’t care about your negotiating stance.  We don’t care about your talking points.  We’re not interested in your latest clever strategy to come up with a way to make this thing benefit the 1% in some way, shape or form.  

We’re not going to follow your accusations wherever your finger currently happens to point in blame anymore, we’re just going to stand here, in your face, and keep insisting you to do something that benefits the rest of us, and if you don’t, we’ll find someone who will.  The 1% may have paid for your election campaign, but we’re the ones who voted for you.  Whether you like it or not, and in spite of your current efforts to the contrary, we still have the power of the vote.
 
So you can say whatever you want, but we’re now completely focused on the ONE THING that matters: 

What have you done for US lately?

Disdainfully,

The 99%


Follow tazshedevl on Twitter.





Monday, December 12, 2011

Pay Down The National Debt Project



Photo: Creative Commons via Flickr / Wollombi)
Last November, two dozen millionaires (and probably a couple of billionaires) descended on Washington to "protest" that they and their fellow one percenters should pay higher taxes. It looked more like a convention than a protest, as it took place in what appeared to be a large hotel meeting room and people were wearing name tags. But their alleged purpose there was to tell Congress, "We should be paying more to the federal government. Please take money from us."

But when they were asked, would they give it up?

Michelle Fields of The Daily Caller was on hand with her iPad, on which she had displayed the Department of Treasury website where you can make a voluntary payment towards reducing the federal debt. She talked to many of the men in attendance to ask them why they were there and if they'd be willing to make a payment right then to help lower the debt.

She reported that none of them would.

They had all sorts of excuses as to why they were refusing. Things like, "You're being silly," and "It would be completely puny and ineffective," and "I think that's a joke and I'm not interested."


One gentleman snarled at Ms. Fields, "Why don't you donate money?" When she replied that she was not part of the one percent, and she was not there asking congress to raise her taxes, his retort was, "Well that's okay, you can donate money just as well as I can. Do you think that'll help?"




Good question. Would it help if those who can afford to — even those not in the one percent — made a voluntary payment towards the national debt? How many Americans would have to chip in to make any sort of reasonable dent in the current debt? How much would people need to give to make a difference?

How much could we realistically hope to raise from average Americans?

One solution that has been offered to start resolving the debt problem is to return the top marginal tax rate to what it was during Bill Clinton's presidency: 39.6 percent. That's 4.6 percentage points higher than the current top marginal tax rate, and depending on where the threshold is placed, as little as 1 percent overall (a multiplier of 0.01), or less.

The median income for a worker in America is $39,336. If Americans donated one tenth of what the richest Americans are being asked to pay, or a factor of 0.001 of their annual income, the average donation amount would be approximately $39.34.

There were 217,342,419 eligible voters in 2010. Of those, only 90,732,693 turned out to vote. If only those Americans who voted in 2010 donated $39.34, we could pay down $3,569,424,143 of the debt.

That's $3.5 billion.


We are going through a national crisis right now. The debt, regardless who ran it up and by how much, is unsustainable. While there is no question but that we will have to make changes in both law and policy to begin to resolve our debt problem, Republicans have made a central theme of their party, that we should not rely on government to solve our problems. Private industry and individuals, they claim, can do a better job than government. Does that extend to our nation's fiscal problem, as well?

One could justifiably argue that once we've done what we're obligated to do by law, our responsibility ends. But during times of crisis, should it? Is it not incumbent upon us to work for the greater good, even if it goes beyond the limits required by law?

Many of us do just that. We volunteer our time with campaigns. We run for local or state office ourselves. We make charitable donations that help our neighbors, which in turn lightens the load on government and our fellow taxpayers.

When the nation's children are starving, we go out and feed them. What about when the nation itself is starving? Should we not feed it, too?

Billionaire Warren Buffett has issued a challenge to Republicans in Congress: He will match any contribution they make to the national debt dollar-for-dollar, except for Mitch McConnell who he will match 3:1. But so far he appears to be the only one willing to put his money where his mouth is. The millionaire protestors — oddly — admit they'll have to be forced by the government to give up any of their income to help save the country.


Show the millionaires that we are willing to step up to the plate ourselves, even if they aren't.

Thank You!

REFERENCES

‘Patriotic millionaires’ demand higher taxes, but unwilling to pay up ~ By Michelle Fields at The Daily Caller
Warren Buffett To Republicans: I'll Match Every Dollar You Contribute To Pay Down The Debt ~ By Ben Walsh at Business Insider
2010 General Election Turnout Rates ~ By Dr. Michael McDonald, Department of Public and International Affairs, George Mason University at The United States Elections Project

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Where Is The Choice And Competition In Filling Prescriptons?

Do you like being forced to use only a mail-order pharmacy? Do you miss being able to have an actual conversation with your pharmacist, who knows your history and is happy to take a few minutes to answer some questions about how to take your medication? For me, the answers are 'Definitely not' and 'Absolutely'!

We are insured through my husband's employer (their parent company, to be accurate) and pay what amounts to a rather substantial co-payment of premiums for top-of-the-line PPO insurance. On that portion of our health care, we have pretty good choice and competition.

However, when it comes to our prescription plan, we have one option: Express Scripts. The only way we would be allowed to continue to receive coverage for our prescriptions and choose our local pharmacy would be to choose a Kaiser plan for our Health Insurance. Outrageous! Why should we have to do that? Why should our medical care have to suffer if we want to improve our prescription care?

Where's the so-called Choice and Competition for prescriptions? There is none. Once again the "Big Boys" are driving all their competition out of business, forcing us to use only their company or pay hundreds or thousands of dollars out-of-pocket for needed medications our doctors have put us on.

This has to change.


Last week I had yet another in an ongoing series of problems with our mail order pharmacy, Express Scripts. After making four attempts using their website to request a new prescription for one of my medications, and each time getting a nondescript "Unable to process your request at this time" error message, I used the site's contact form to notify customer service and ask them to resolve the problem. More than a full day later I received a reply by email. It advised me to use their website to request a new prescription.

Yes, really.

In a fit of fury I shot off a reply, cc'ing the company's CEO, George Paz*, berating them for not bothering to actually help me, let alone acknowledge the specific problem I had encountered, and letting them know that I would be filing a complaint with Viacom, through whom we get our insurance.

First thing Monday morning a representative from the corporate office called me, apologizing for how I had been treated by their customer service. The CEO had, in fact, received my email and was none-too-happy about its contents. That particular customer service department will be receiving new training, tech support will be updating its error messages to be more specific and helpful to the customer, and my doctor had already been called and had renewed my prescription. That, along with two other prescriptions were sent out that morning via UPS next day delivery at no additional charge to me.

But it should never have had to come to that.

I'm probably one of the lucky ones, in that I'm not afraid to stand my ground and fight for what I know I have a right to expect as a paying customer. Others, not so much (my husband among them; when I told him the outcome he said, "You're going to have to teach me how to do that."). According to Healthcare Finance News, in an article titled, Survey: Widespread problems with mail order pharmacies, "Many patients go without their prescribed medicine due to the slow or ineffective service of mail order pharmacies."

Can you imagine?


The article goes on to say, "The survey of more than 400 patients found 48 percent of respondents who were mail-order customers had to go without their medications because of late delivery. Those patients who are required by their health plan to use mail order reported higher rates of late delivery (63 percent) than those who had a choice of pharmacy (28 percent)."

Think about that. Nearly two-thirds of patients who are forced to use a mail order pharmacy receive their medications late.

And yet year after year, new enrollment cycle after new enrollment cycle, Americans are given zero choice as to how their prescription medication will be filled or delivered. None.

Do you think it's bad now? It's about to get a whole lot worse.
In July, Pharmacy Benefit Manager (PBMs) giants Express Scripts and Medco announced they would merge. This transaction is currently ... pending approval by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). If approved, this merger would lead to reduced consumer choices in pharmacy, higher premiums for plan sponsors and consumers and reduced access to community pharmacies for plan beneficiaries.
But all hope is not lost.

There is legislation pending in both the House and the Senate that would eliminate this problem once and for all.


On the House side it is H.R. 1971, introduced by Representative Cathy McMorris-Rogers (R-WA), titled Pharmacy Competition and Consumer Choice Act of 2011. Its purpose is "to amend the Public Health Service Act to ensure transparency and proper operation of pharmacy benefit managers."
Pharmacy Competition and Consumer Choice Act of 2011 - Amends the Public Health Service Act, the Employee Retirements Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), the Internal Revenue Code, and part D (Voluntary Prescription Drug Benefit Program) of title XVIII (Medicare) of the Social Security Act to prohibit a group or individual health plan from entering into a contract with any pharmacy benefits manager (PBM) to manage the prescription drug coverage provided under such plan or to control the costs of such coverage unless the PBM satisfies the requirements of this Act. ...
On September 8th it was referred to the Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions, where it still sits as the year is quickly running out.

On the Senate side is S. 1058, also called the Pharmacy Competition and Consumer Choice Act of 2011, introduced by Senators Mark Pryor (D-AR) and Jerry Moran (R-KS). It, too, is sitting in committee.

So I urge each and every one of you to


And ask them, "Where is my "Choice & Competition" regarding my prescription needs?" Tell them your pharmacist can be just as important as the doctor you choose and ask for their support for the Pharmacy Competition and Consumer Choice Act.



*For the record, here is how George Paz's compensation stacks up with his "competitors" in the field (does anyone else see anything wrong with this picture?):

George Paz Chairman, Chief Executive Officer and President, Express Scripts Inc. $10.3M
Gregory D. Wasson R.ph Chief Executive Officer, President and Director Walgreen Co. $1.2M
Angela F. Braly Chairman, Chief Executive Officer, President and Chairman of Executive Committee WellPoint Inc. $1.1M
David M. Cordani Chief Executive Officer, President, Director and Member of Executive Committee Cigna Corp. $1.0M
Mark T. Bertolini Chairman, Chief Executive Officer, President, Chairman of Executive Committee and Member of Investment & Finance Committee Aetna Inc. $937.3K
Steven H. Collis Chief Executive Officer, President, Director and Chairman of Executive & Finance Committee AmerisourceBergen Corporation $652.0K


REFERENCES AND ADDITIONAL RECOMMENDED READING

Pharmacy Competition and Consumer Choice Act of 2011 ~ at Govtrack.us
Survey: Widespread problems with mail order pharmacies ~ By Richard Pizzi, Editorial Director at Healthcare Finance News
George Paz Executive Profile ~ at Bloomberg Businessweek
Hoey: FTC Should Block the Express Scripts-Medco Merger to Promote Pharmacy Choice, Competition ~ By By B. Douglas Hoey at Roll Call
At Capitol Hill Rally, Community Pharmacists Announce Support for Bipartisan Senate Bill to Bolster Consumer Choice and Pharmacy Competition ~ at National Community Pharmacists Association
Moran Sponsors Bill to Promote Patient Choice and Competition Among Pharmacies ~ at politcalnews.me




"How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world." ~ Anne Frank