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Unfinished business of executive pay reform

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Sarah AndersonMost analysts of the high-finance meltdown that ushered in the Great Recession have concluded that excessive compensation was a key causal factor. Outrageously high rewards gave executives an incentive to behave outrageously, to take the sorts of reckless risks that would eventually endanger our entire economy. Our nation’s leading political players have sought, sometimes with grand fanfare, to confront this reality. The financial reform package enacted this July, for instance, codifies several long-term goals of executive pay reformers, most notably a “say on pay” provision that hands shareholders the right to take nonbinding advisory votes on executive compensation.

This reform could become a valuable tool for shareholder activists, particularly if such votes are required on an annual basis. However, there is little evidence that “say on pay” has had an impact on overall compensation levels in nations where it has already been in practice.

To bring executive pay back down to mid-20th century levels, we need reforms that cut to the quick, which recognize the dangers banks and major corporations create when they dangle oversized rewards for executive “performance.” Some reforms that would move us in this direction are now pending in Congress.

One of the most promising would eliminate a perverse incentive for excessive pay in our tax code. Under current rules, there are no meaningful limits on how much a firm can deduct for the expense of executive comp. Thus, the more a firm pays its CEO, the more that firm can deduct from its taxes. The rest of us bear the brunt of this loophole, either through increased taxes needed to fill the revenue gaps or through cutbacks in public spending.

The Income Equity Act, introduced by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), would deny all firms tax deductions on any executive pay (including stock options) that runs over 25 times the pay of a firm’s lowest-paid employee or $500,000, whichever is higher.

The Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) and the 2010 health care reform bill set important precedents for this reform by applying $500,000 deductibility caps on pay for bailout recipients and health insurance firms. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has said he would consider extending the tax deductibility cap in TARP to U.S. companies generally.

Another practical proposal would use the power of the public purse to encourage more rational pay levels. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Illin.) has introduced the Patriot Corporations Act to extend tax breaks and federal contracting preferences to companies that meet benchmarks for good corporate behavior. Among the benchmarks: not compensating any executive at more than 100 times the income of the company’s lowest-paid worker.

By law, the U.S. government denies contracts to companies that discriminate in their employment practices, by race or gender. This reflects clear public policy that our tax dollars should not subsidize racial or gender inequality. In a similar way, this reform would discourage extreme economic inequality.

Congress should also revisit the proposal that passed the Senate last year which would’ve capped total pay for employees of bailout companies at no more than $400,000, the salary of the U.S. President. Such a restriction could be enacted today for application in the event of future bailouts. Given a clear warning about the consequences for their own paychecks, executives might think twice about taking actions that endanger their future – and ours.

Congress should not shy away from bolder action on executive pay. Lawmakers mandate limits on other types of corporate behavior all the time. They limit how much pollution corporations can spew out. They limit the chemicals companies can sneak into their products. They limit the hours they can force employees to labor. They set these limits because they recognize that irresponsible corporate behaviors threaten our communities.

Excessive executive pay, the Wall Street meltdown has demonstrated ever so vividly, endangers our public well-being as surely as any other pollutants.

Sarah Anderson is a co-author of the new Institute for Policy Studies report, Executive Excess 2010: CEO Pay and the Great Recession.

About The Author: Sarah Anderson is the Institute for Policy Studies Global Economy Project Director. He work  includes research, writing, and networking on issues related to the impact of international trade, finance, and investment policies on inequality, sustainability, and human rights. Sarah is also a well-known expert on executive compensation, as the lead author of 16 annual “Executive Excess” reports that have received extensive media coverage.

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How Online Activists Ended Insurance Company Discrimination Against Women

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Last year, we ran a story about Peggy Robertson of Colorado. Robertsons’ health insurer, a subsidiary of UnitedHealth, had required that she be sterilized to receive health insurance. Peggy later testified before a Senate HELP subcommittee on insurance company discrimination against women, and told her story to millions on ABC Nightly News and on YouTube.

The committee Chair, Sen. Barbara Mikulski, reacted strongly to Robertsons’ testimony, calling it a bone-chilling and morally repugnant story of insurance company abuse. Today, the New York Times caught up with Robertson and asked for her reaction to the health care bills’ passage into law:

In a telephone interview on Friday, Ms. Robertson said: Barbara Mikulski told me, she promised me, This will never happen again. She did it. Its wonderful.

But it wasnt just Sen. Mikulski. Activists first mobilized in September, after discovering that domestic violence could be legally deemed a pre-existing coverage in eight states and the District of Columbia.

Online activists reacted by flooding Congress with petitions and emails and it paid off. The original House and Senate bill included specific language banning this practice.

In the months that followed, tens of thousands of SEIU online activists rallied against insurance company discrimination, sending thousands of personal emails to Congress. And even more signed petitions to Congress asking that they include language in the final bill to ban practices like gender rating and classifying domestic violence as a pre-existing condition.

Thousands more publicized this issue across social networks, taking their ticket and stating “I am not a pre-existing condition” on Twitter and Facebook.

We also rigged our phone system to direct calls into male members of Congress to educate them on gender discrimination by insurers.

Supporters joined the “I am not a pre-existing condition” Facebook group and wore t-shirts to the gym and around their neighborhoods.

And finally, bloggers and partner organizations (esp. the National Women’s Law Center) wallpapered the web with original reporting, thoughtful analysis and calls to action on ending insurance company discrimination against women. Blogs like Feministing, RH Reality Check, and Feministe fiercely reported on these stories and directed their readers to actions.

Together, we made history. Because of your activism, in four years, United States law will ban insurers from discriminating against women with higher fees, denial of coverage, and failure to provide coverage of critical procedures and services, like maternity care and c-sections.

*This post originally appeared in SEIU Blog on March 30, 2010. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jessica Kutch is an online campaign manager for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), where she directs the union’s new media campaign to win health insurance reform. She’s been organizing online since 2005, and has expertise in email advocacy, online advertising, social media and blogger relations.  Before joining SEIU, Jess managed online campaigns for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. She’s a graduate of Bennington College.

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Baucus Bill Is Far Short of Real Health Care Reform

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The Senate Finance Committee’s health care reform proposal released this morning falls far short of the comprehensive reform that would provide working families with the quality and affordable health they desperately need, say health care advocates.

In a statement this morning, outgoing AFL-CIO President John Sweeney says the bill

“fails to meet the most basic health care needs of working families and it fails to meet the expectations we have set for our nation.”

The labor leaders say the Finance Committee bill’s reliance on so-called health care co-ops as an alternative to a public option

fails to put pressure on private insurers to control health care costs. There is no history or logic behind the claim that health care co-ops would provide real competition for the giant private insurers that have a stranglehold on health coverage today.

While the bill’s main author, committee chairman Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), spent weeks trying to win some moderate Republican backing for the plan, not a single GOP senator has endorsed it. One key Finance Committee Democrat has already announced he will oppose the Baucus bill unless significant changes are made.

Along with dropping the public health insurance option-which is part of the House bill (H.R. 3200) and the Senate Health, Education Labor and Pension (HELP) committee bill-the Baucus bill also taxes some health plans and individuals who fail to buy private insurance, while providing no penalties to irresponsible employers who do not provide coverage.

While taxing group plans that may have higher costs because the plans cover older workers, workers with worse than average health histories or who simply live in higher cost areas, it imposes no taxes high cost individual plans.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), a long-time advocate of health care reform, says because the bill abandons the public health insurance option-among other objections–

there is no way in present form I will vote for it. Therefore, I will not vote for it unless it changes during the amendment process by vast amounts… I am putting down a marker, which I think others should put down, too, who might feel the same way I do.

There are, some provisions in the bill that do provide important insurance industry reforms and improvements in how health care is delivered and paid for with a focus on quality over quantity. But say the AFL-CIO leaders

But the proposal’s strong points are nowhere near sufficient to outweigh its problems. However well intentioned the attempts at bipartisanship, the final product reflects the bankrupt policies of the past more than the forward-looking policies needed to drive meaningful health care reform.

We are counting on finance committee Democrats to fix the bill and side with working families, not insurance companies.

The Finance Committee is scheduled to begin mark-up of the bill-when improving amendments can added-next week. The Senate HELP committee has approved its version and action on the House legislation is expected later this month.

About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He came to the AFL-CIO in 1989 and has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety. He carried union cards from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, American Flint Glass Workers and Teamsters for jobs in a chemical plant, a mining equipment manufacturing plant and a warehouse. He’s also worked as roadie for a small-time country-rock band, sold blood plasma, and played an occasional game of poker to help pay the rent. You may have seen him at one of several hundred Grateful Dead shows. He was the one with longhair and the tie-dye. Still has the shirts, lost the hair.

This article was originally published in AFL-CIO blog on September 16, 2009. Re-printed with permission from the author.

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Take Back Labor Day – The “Lost Decade” of Young Workers

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(The following post is part of our Taking Back Labor Day blog series. Many people view Labor Day as just another day off from work, the end of summer, or a fine day for a barbecue. We think that it’s a holiday with a rich history, and an excellent occasion to examine what workers, and workers rights activism, means to this country. Our Taking Back Labor Day posts in September will do that, from a variety of perspectives, and we hope you’ll tune in and join the discussion!)


Labor Day has lost its luster as a holiday. First celebrated on September 5, 1882 in New York City, the day consisted of a parade and celebrations to exhibit “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations.” Now the holiday has been downgraded to back yard bar-b-ques and end of the summer getaways. The question is: who is resting on Labor Day? Certainly 15 million American’s aren’t taking the day off- because they don’t have job, as “real unemployment” rates have climbed to 16.8%.

Many of the older generation aren’t resting on Labor Day. They can’t afford to quit their jobs and retire. And, according to new data, our youth aren’t resting either. Nearly one in three workers under age 35 will be laboring on Labor Day, and almost half of them are working more than 40 hours per week. A full 50% do not have family leave time, at an age most likely to be growing a new family, 40% do not have sick leave and 33% don’t have any vacation time at all. (AFL/CIO, 2009). Not much “esprit de corp” to celebrate this year.

These grim statistics, and many more, were released in a landmark report called, “Young Workers A Lost Decade” conducted in July 2009 by Peter D. Hart Research Associates for the AFL-CIO and their affiliate Working America. The nationwide survey of 1,156 people follows up on a similar survey the AFL-CIO conducted in 1999.

The survey states; “young workers, (in 1999), were economically insecure, concerned about deteriorating job quality, distrustful of corporate America–and yet stubbornly hopeful about the future. Ten years later, the change is shocking. The status of young workers not only has not improved; its dramatic deterioration is threatening to redefine the norm in job standards. Income, health care, retirement security and confidence in being able to achieve their financial goals are down across the board. Only economic insecurity is up.”

An astounding one third of workers age 35 and under live at home with their parents – because they cannot afford housing on their own. Our best and brightest are frozen in place, while simultaneously running in circles. Many can’t afford to go to college, yet, those who do have upper level degrees can’t find jobs in their field, and are overwhelmed with student loans. Workers age 35 and under can’t afford health care, can’t get ahead, or save for the future.

AFL/CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka summed up the report’s findings this way:

“We’re calling the report “A Lost Decade” because we’re seeing 10 years of opportunity lost as young workers across the board are struggling to keep their heads above water and often not succeeding. They’ve put off adulthood–put off having kids, put off education–and a full 34 percent of workers under 35 live with their parents for financial reasons.”

Check out this short You Tube video clip of young professionals most affected by the economy speaking their minds:

The findings from this study are significant, and deeply distressing. The days of securing a job as a bank teller or in sales; settling down, buying a house and starting a family are over. The upcoming generation will emerge as the first to be worse off than their parents, and something must be done.

I have written previously about how the United States is one of the few countries that does not mandate paid vacation time for workers. We give a nod to Labor Day, but we do not believe in it. Stress related illnesses from our overworked population are the greatest burden on health care, but we do not support any measures for prevention. We complain to our government to fix our problems, but we don’t eat properly, exercise and meditate – what’s wrong with us anyway?

On Labor Day, while it is important to rest our bodies, we cannot rest in our determination to change the climate and opportunities in the work force. We cannot put our heads in the beach sand and ignore the far reaching implications of the “Lost Decade”. It is exactly the fire, imagination and energy of our nation’s young professionals that will carry us into a new era of prosperity.

While the outlook looks pretty grim for this bunch, there is a bright side to this group- they are incredibly resilient, creative and interested in service. Our working class, age 35 and under are unusually politically active – at the polls and in civic affairs, and are resoundingly optimistic President Obama can help turn things around for them to move forward as future leaders.

If we can give our youth a little room – they can get the job done. Let’s look at the health care reform issue from their perspective. While the politicians are punting sound bytes like Hail Mary’s, check out a creative approach in the “SuperMom Healthcare Truth Squad.” Picture a bunch of young women donning bright red capes and flocking in major cities across the nation to distribute information about why health care reform will help bring economic security to the nation. Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, founder of MomsRising.org. writes,

“why do moms care (about health care reform?) Not only are families struggling with getting children the healthcare coverage they need for a healthy start, but 7 out of 10 women are either uninsured, underinsured, or are in significant debt due to healthcare costs.” 

Julia Moulden writes about the “New Radicals” who are making money – and making a mark on the world, through social change and empowering disadvantaged workers world wide. Recently, she highlighted a new “30-something” company that helps fund entrepreneurial projects, via mini pledges instead of investors, called Kickstarter.

The original Labor Day was born in during the peak of the Industrial Revolution as a backlash to workers being on the job 12 hours a day, 7 days a week in order to make a basic living. Hmmm. Sound familiar? Let’s take back Labor Day for the purpose it was created, and address the basic worker’s rights to a decent paying job, health benefits, paid leave time and a positive work environment in which to thrive. And, yes, let’s remember to Rest.

About the Author: Kari Henley is currently President of the Board of Directors at the Women & Family Life Center. She organizes the Association of Women Business Leaders (AWBL), and runs her own training and consulting practice. Kari is an avid writer, active in her community, and an expert in group facilitation. She has worked for the past 17 years with corporate, non-profit and public audiences. Past clients include Yale Medical School resident program, Fed Ex, Hartford Hospital, St. Francis Hospital, Price Waterhouse Coopers, Washington Trust Co., CT Husky program, the American Cancer Society. For more information, email: karihenley@comcast.net.

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Workers ‘Becoming Backbone’ of Health Care Reform Effort

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The active participation of union members is changing the tone of the health care reform town hall meetings going on now during the August congressional recess. What began as forums for anti-Obama propaganda are now becoming platforms for real debate over what kind of reform is needed.

Much of the credit goes to union members who have mobilized to take back the town halls from the campaign of misinformation being waged by extremist groups, some backed by corporate donors and fueled with talking points from extremist Republicans.

Even the stalwart conservative newspaper, The Washington Times, had to admit that union members are making a difference in the tone of the town halls. In today’s edition, the Times says:

Members of the nation’s labor unions have made up a hefty segment of the audiences that flocked to town halls Mr. Obama held in the past week, and they have played an even larger role in a nationwide campaign for an insurance overhaul. Financially, and with boots on the ground, unions have become the backbone of the president’s effort.

The Times quotes Troy Goodson, a member of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 969 in Grand Junction, Colo., who explained why health care reform is needed. Goodson, 55, said he has triplets at home, and their hospital delivery costs alone would have left him underwater financially had he lacked adequate insurance. He said he’s glad to see union members out in force, pushing for the president’s plan.

He told the Times:

The big corporations and the insurance industry, they’re lobbying 24/7. Someone has to fight against that.

And we are fighting back in a big way.

When President Obama held a town hall meeting in Helena, Mont., the crowd inside reached about 1,300, many of them union members. Outside, another 1,100 people rallied for and against reform. The Montana State AFL-CIO reports that 700 of the 1,100 were union members and pro-health care reform supporters, outnumbering opponents by about two to one.

Montana union members came by bus from Missoula, Billings and Great Falls to the town hall, followed in each case by long car pool caravans. One caravan came from Havre, which is on the Canadian border, about a five-hour drive away from Helena.

In Mason City, Iowa, between 50 and 60 people were turned away from a health care reform town hall meeting hosted by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) because of fire code concerns. So many people came to the meeting that they couldn’t all fit into the room where the town hall was scheduled.

That was not the case in Nashville, Tenn., where only one anti-health care reform opponent showed up at a protest on Friday. According to the Associated Press, Tom Kovach, state director of America’s Independent Party, said he’d hoped to see at least 50 people at the protest.

Instead, the only company he had was a handful of reporters and a few passing joggers. Kovach acknowledged that Friday was school students’ first day back and that protesters may have wanted to be “cautious,” considering the group was criticized for protesting near the school.

In Nebraska, some 40 people rallied in downtown Omaha Saturday afternoon to show their support for health care change. The rally was part of AFSCME’s “Highway to Health Care” tour, which will stop in 21 cities over three weeks. It was organized by AFSCME and the AFL-CIO. The tour also traveled to the state capitol in Lincoln on Sunday.

It seems that anti-worker forces are not only using the town halls to oppose health care reform but also are taking aim at the Employee Free Choice Act. The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) has sent out a list of town hall meetings and is encouraging its members to show up and speak out against the bill, which, according to NAM, says “that any version of the [Employee Free Choice Act] is unacceptable to manufacturers.”

James Parks: My first encounter with unions was at Gannett’s newspaper in Cincinnati when my colleagues in the newsroom tried to organize a unit of The Newspaper Guild. I saw firsthand how companies pull out all the stops to prevent workers from forming a union. I am a journalist by trade, and I worked for newspapers in five different states before joining the AFL-CIO staff in 1990. I also have been a seminary student, drug counselor, community organizer, event planner, adjunct college professor and county bureaucrat. My proudest career moment, though, was when I served, along with other union members and staff, as an official observer for South Africa’s first multiracial elections.

This article originally appeared on the AFL-CIO Blog on August 19, 2009 and is reprinted here with permission from the source.

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Government run health-care, SIGN ME UP!

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“The government can’t run Cash for Clunkers, how can we trust them with health care.” That line was repeated over and over during recent town meetings with Congress-people and Senators.

First, the Cash for Clunkers program was an unqualified success. When was the last time you remember hearing about a government program that was so popular and so successful?

Cash for Clunkers was designed to get gas-guzzlers off the road and to sell new cars. Check and double-check. People loved the program and raced to the dealerships to cash in. Sure the program ran through a lot of money, because people loved it and it more than achieved its goals. Give me more of this kind of government program!

And speaking of government programs, sign me up for a government run health care program. As skeptical as I am of government, I am a thousand times more skeptical of health insurance companies.

I’m writing this not only as a consumer, but as a person who spent time working for two different health insurance companies. I’ve seen the lies and profiteering from the inside and I want another option. We deserve another option.

I wish Congress-people and Senators could see how frustrated we are with pre-existing conditions, treatments being considered experimental and all the other crap that we’ve all been handed by health insurance companies. Crap that we’ve had thrown in our faces even though we paid our dues and were promised the very care we’re having withheld from us.

I’m not suggesting a single-payer model. No, my suggestion is much simpler. Let the government compete with health insurance companies. I’m tired of them having a monopoly in health care. Let’s give them a real run for their money by making them compete.

They hate this idea because they know that far from fearing their government there are millions of people who would rather put their lives in the hands of government bureaucrats than profiteering private companies.

So please keep the public option on the table. Give us real choice.

Funny how corporations talk about the free market but then do everything to keep it very expensive and not free at all.

Based on your experience do you prefer the existing monopoly or would you like to join me in a government run program?

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. If you have a question for Bob, contact him via bob@workplace911.com .

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HCAN’s Health Care ’09 Rally Was a Huge Success

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The organization Health Care for American Now (HCAN) invited thousands of health care supporters from around the country to DC to lobby their Members of Congress for real health reform on Thursday, June 25.  According to Jason Rosenbaum from HCAN’s blog, “10,000 people from just about every state in the Union came to DC. People came from all walks of life – pastors, bricklayers, restaurant workers, small business owners, actors and actresses, doctors, nurses – and they gave their legislators a clear message – we want health reform, we want health reform that’s real (including a strong public health insurance option), we want health reform that will lower costs, and we want it now, in 2009, because we can’t wait.”

In the weeks leading up the event, HCAN encouraged organizations interested in health care reform to call and email Members of Congress to support the choice of a public health insurance option, promoted the rally with customized videos with Edie Falco, and encouraged supporters to create Twitter accounts and Twitter to the hash tags of their Members of the Congress during the rally.

The rally started off in the morning in Upper Senate Park.  Industry leaders, supporters, and Members of Congress, including Dr. Howard Dean, Anna Berger, Senators Schumer and Brown, Congresswoman Allison Schwartz, and actress Edie Falco discussed health care issues and shared their stores before one of the largest crowds the Capitol Police had ever seen.  Following the rally, town hall meetings and one-on-one lobbying visits were scheduled with dozens of Members of Congress so that they could hear directly from the people on the issue of health care reform.

HCAN’s grassroots health care rally was an impressive event and a huge success – people from all over the country came out to voice their opinions and demanded government accountability and health care reform.  For more information and photos from the event, please visit HCAN’s blog:


About the Author: Tina Yang is a Summer Intern for Workplace Fairness, where she helps draft legal content relating to health and safety, health care, and employment benefits.  She is currently a 2L at Washington University School of Law in St. Louis.

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The REAL Bipartisan Consensus on Health Care

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As noted by glacierpeaks in Quick Hits, there’s solid GOP support for a public option–among the Republican public, not the Republican elite. From the NYT poll:

It could not be clearer. In America, as in Iran, the deepest cleavage is between the public and the political elites. The difference between Iran and America is the nature of the dynamic. In Iran, the unelected elite selected a group of “safe” opposition candidates it allowed to run for President, and the people themselves turned one of those candidates into the vehicle of their desire for real reform. In America, propelled through the primary system, people voted for someone who really appeared to be apart from the establishment–someone who spoke out against the Iraq War, for gosh sakes! Authentic progressives (TM) could not accept anything less! And what we got was a relentless centrist, not in the “center of America” sense as the above poll result so clearly shows, but in the “center of Versailles” sense.

Other “counter-intuitive” trends are afoot as well–counter to the Versailles intuition, that is…. Paul Rosenberg :: The REAL Bipartisan Consensus On Health Care Skepticism toward government is decreasing:

Concern over coverage (vs. costs) is increasing:

And all this despite the fact that people realize there could be downsides (heavens! will they never stop growing up?):

In a follow-up interview, Matt Flurkey, 56, a public plan supporter from Plymouth, Minn., said he could accept that the quality of his care might diminish if coverage was universal. “Even though it might not be quite as good as what we get now,” he said, “I think the government should run health care. Far too many people are being denied now, and costs would be lower.”

Just imagine what it would be like if we had political leadership in our country that worked in harmony with the people, instead of working against them! Legitimate concerns would be met by can-do efforts to mitigate the downsides, while staying true to the main thrust of what the people themselves wanted to be done.

This, after all, is what the Iranian people are shedding their blood for this very day. And we’re the example that’s inspired the world since our own Revolution 200+ years ago. But we still seem as far away from realizing that goal as ever before.

Yes, we’ve gotten a lot better buy-off gifts over the years. And I wouldn’t poo-poo any of them. We’ve ended slavery. Women can vote. They’re even a small minority in the Senate. But a government that actually works with the people to achieve what they want?

You can’t be serious!

About the Author: Paul Rosenberg is progressive activist and journalist who is a frontpage blogger for OpenLeft.org and Senior Editor for Random Lengths News, an alternative bi-weekly in the Los Angeles Harbor Area, where he specializes in labor, community and environmental justice issues. From his anti-war and civil rights activism as a teenager in the 1960s, through his involvement in food co-ops in the 1970s, to his Central American solidarity work, media and renters’ rights activism in the 1980s, and beyond, he has focused his energy primarily on issue activism, with increasing attention to media from the mid-1980s on. He began working as a freelance journalist with a primary focus on op-eds and book reviews in 1994, and joined Random Lengths News in 2002. He’s been published in the Progressive magazine, Publishers Weekly, the LA Times, Christian Science Monitor, and Dallas Morning News.

This article originally appeared in Open Left on June 21, 2009. Re-printed with permission by the author.

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Washington Post Makes Up Competition In the Insurance Market

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It’s amazing how far the conservative Washington Post editorial board will go to deny the fact. Here is the blatant falsehood from their editorial today (emphasis mine):

More disappointing was Mr. Obama’s restated commitment to a public health insurance option as part of the array of available plans. A public plan is not necessary to maintain a competitive market in health insurance, but including a public plan is almost certain to doom what Mr. Obama says are his hopes for a bipartisan agreement. Given the high stakes involved in an overhaul of this magnitude, it would be unfortunate indeed if health reform were to be a one-party endeavor.

Here you’ve got a conservative lie and a inside-the-Beltway platitude all rolled into one. Let’s take them piece by piece.

First, the Washington Post editorial board actually believes there is a competitive insurance market right now to maintain, and that a public plan isn’t necessary to keep that competition up?

Do the Washington Post editors read their own paper? Because they published a story via the Associated Press (now offline) on Health Care for America Now’s report showing there is no competition between health insurers. In most states, insurance markets are dominated by one or two insurers, and the Justice Department feels they are at risk for monopolies. That is not a “competitive market in health insurance.” Clearly, the Washington Post editorial board wants to deny the facts.

Or maybe they just want to keep the status quo. They imply by their word “maintain” that we have a market they like right now. Maybe the Washington Post editorial board wants to see the insurance industry continue raking in money hand-over-fist using their near-monopoly powers. Maybe that constitutes a competitive market in their minds.

Next, the Washington Post editorial board goes on to say they’d rather have a bipartisan health care plan than one with a public health insurance option to do important things like control costs and provide better health care. In other words, they’d rather see health reform in name only than health reform that actually means anything, another vote in favor of the status quo, where one American every 30 seconds files for bankruptcy due to high health care costs.

Robert Creamer has a bit of a history lesson on the fallacy of bipartisanship:

Of course you never heard a word about “bi-partisanship” from the insurance industry or Republicans when they passed the notorious “Medicare Part D” prescription drug plan in 2003. Back then, they froze Democrats out of all negotiations, and passed the bill on a 220 to 215 vote in the House (with only 16 Democrats voting yes). In fact, Medicare Part D would be their idea of a “good” health care “reform”: taxpayer subsidies for private insurers with no competition from a public plan. And if we went that route, the results of health care reform would look pretty much like the results of Part D as well – no cost control, giant gaps in coverage, and confusing options for consumers.

Now that the political tide has turned, and last year’s economic collapse has given voters a fresh lesson in the consequences of turning public policy over to corporate CEOs and insurance giants like AIG, the Republicans and insurance companies have had an eleventh-hour conversion to the benefits of “bipartisanship” when it comes to health care reform.

It’s no surprise then that in the current debate, the advocates of this position have made it clear that, to them, “bi-partisanship” means one thing: Americans should be denied the choice of a public health insurance option like Medicare. Their problem is that while a public health insurance option may not have bi-partisan support in Congress, it has big time bi-partisan support among the voters.

He also points out, a public health insurance plan has bipartisan support among the people, whether it has it in Congress or not:

A poll conducted earlier this year by the highly respected Lake Research Partners found that voters overwhelmingly want everyone to have a choice of private health insurance or a public health insurance plan (73%), while just 15% prefer everyone having private health insurance.

And the preference for a choice between public and private health insurance plans extends across all demographic and partisan groups, including Democrats (77%), Independents (79%) and Republicans (63%). So in fact, President Obama’s proposal that creates a choice of a public health insurance option is a bi-partisan plan – whether is has “bi-partisan” support in Congress or not.

The Obama plan for health care reform has massive bi-partisan support throughout the United States. Let’s get busy making sure that it becomes the law of the land whether the insurance companies and the Republicans in Congress support it or not.

It doesn’t matter if this thing is bipartisan, because just being bipartisan doesn’t mean it helps the American people. That’s the bottom line. It needs to be good for you and me. If Republicans want to play ball and pass something real, great. If they don’t, it’s more important to get health reform than to get a bipartisan bill. But of course, the beltway insiders at the Washington Post disagree.

Why don’t you take a moment and write them a letter to the editor. Explain how their facts are wrong and how their inside-the-beltway attitude is hurting this country in the fight for real health care reform. Email your letter to letters@washpost.com.

About the Author: Jason Rosenbaum is a writer and musician currently residing in Washington D.C. He is interested in the intersection of politics and culture, media consolidation issues, and making sense out of our foreign policy disasters. He currently works for Health Care for America Now and he is also the webmaster for The Seminal.

This article originally appeared in Health Care for America Now! on June 8, 2009. Re-printed with permission by the author.

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Small Biz Group Says Health Care Reform Could Save Them $855 Billion

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Health care reform that requires employers to provide health care coverage for workers or pay into a fund—known as pay or play—could save small businesses as much as $855 billion during the next few years.

A new study by the Small Business Majority disproves claims by health care reform opponents that requiring businesses to provide coverage to their workers would destroy their bottom line.

The Economic Impact of Health Care reform on Small Business, written by Massachusetts Institute of Technology economics professor Jonathan Gruber, says that small businesses, more than any other sector of the economy, “suffer from our broken health care system.”

From spiraling premiums to inadequate access to health care for themselves and their employees, small business owners have seen their prospects for growth diminished and their profits slashed by today’s patchwork of inefficient health care options.

The report looks at three health care reform proposals—including President Obama’s—that call for pay or play by businesses, along with tax credits and other incentives to help offset the cost of providing health insurance to their workers.

This analysis demonstrates that the type of health care reform that is emerging from today’s debate will save small businesses hundreds of billions of dollars, protect small business wages and jobs—and allow small businesses to reinvest and grow.

Without reform, small business owners will pay nearly $2.4 trillion in health care costs for their workers over the next 10 years. But as the report points out, reform as outlined under the three plans,

could save as much as $855 billion with reform—a 36 percent reduction, money that can be reinvested to grow the economy.

Soaring health care costs are projected to cost some 178,000 small business jobs over the next decade, but health care reform, could reduce projected job loss by 72 percent job loss.

To benefit small businesses, their workers and the economy, the Small Business Majority report says that health care reform must:

  • Substantially contain costs.
  • Guarantee access to coverage regardless of health status.
  • Be based on shared responsibility among individuals, businesses, the government and the health care industry.
  • Provide appropriate assistance to small businesses to meet their health care obligations.

The Small Business Majority, founded in 2005 by executives of small companies who wanted to broaden the small-business discussion about health reform, isn’t the only small business group to back comprehensive health reform.

In January, the Main Street Alliance network of state-based small business health care coalitions, surveyed 1,200 small business owners and found they

  • Are concerned deeply about the adequacy of insurance, including the breadth and affordability of services covered by their plans.
  • Believe government should provide a public alternative to private coverage.
  • Want increased oversight of private insurers.
  • Are willing to contribute their fair share toward a system that makes health care work for small businesses, their employees and the communities they serve.

About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He came to the AFL-CIO in 1989 and has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety. He carried union cards from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, American Flint Glass Workers and Teamsters for jobs in a chemical plant, a mining equipment manufacturing plant and a warehouse. He’s also worked as roadie for a small-time country-rock band, sold blood plasma, and played an occasional game of poker to help pay the rent. You may have seen him at one of several hundred Grateful Dead shows. He was the one with longhair and the tie-dye. Still has the shirts, lost the hair.

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