The Known Universe: Where Are We?

I’ve heard about the full hour-long presentation of this cosmic journey, shown periodically at the state-of-the-art Hayden Planetarium in New York City. One twelve year-old girl was reported to have emerged from this show weeping, apparently overcome by her new understanding of her place in the Universe.

The following 6-minute 31-second visualization, produced by the American Museum of Natural History, is a sample of the larger program, but is still deeply moving.

One viewer, watching this video, asked “Why are we at the center of the universe?”

Are we? Does the universe really have a center?

It’s everywhere and nowhere, so … we’re at the center, and we aren’t.

And of course, our journey always has to start from … here:

Obama Says He Never Campaigned for the Public Option

Is Obama telling the truth when he says he never campaigned for the public option?

Watch this 30-second video and decide for yourself:

See the full story on Americablog.

RNs: Healthcare Bill Cedes Too Much to Insurance Industry

Nation’s Largest RN Organization Says Healthcare Bill Cedes Too Much to Insurance Industry

By National Nurses United

December 21, 2009

The 150,000 member National Nurses United, the nation’s largest union and professional organization of registered nurses in the U.S., today criticized the healthcare bill now advancing in the U.S. Senate saying it is deeply flawed and grants too much power to the giant insurers.

“It is tragic to see the promise from Washington this year for genuine, comprehensive reform ground down to a seriously flawed bill that could actually exacerbate the healthcare crisis and financial insecurity for American families, and that cedes far too much additional power to the tyranny of a callous insurance industry,” said NNU co-president Karen Higgins, RN.

NNU Co-president Deborah Burger, RN challenged arguments of legislation proponents that the bill should still be passed because of expanded coverage, new regulations on insurers, and the hope that it will be improved in the House-Senate conference committee or future years.

“Those wishful statements ignore the reality that much of the expanded coverage is based on forced purchase of private insurance without effective controls on industry pricing practices or real competition and gaping loopholes in the insurance reforms,” said Burger.

Further, said NNU Co-president Jean Ross, RN, “the bill seems more likely to be eroded, not improved, in future years due to the unchecked influence of the healthcare industry lobbyists and the lessons of this year in which all the compromises have been made to the right.”

“Sadly, we have ended up with legislation that fails to meet the test of true healthcare reform, guaranteeing high quality, cost effective care for all Americans, and instead are further locking into place a system that entrenches the chokehold of the profit-making insurance giants on our health. If this bill passes, the industry will become more powerful and could be beyond the reach of reform for generations,” Higgins said.

NNU cited ten significant problems in the legislation, noting many of the same flaws also exist in the House version and are likely to remain in the bill that emerges from the House-Senate reconciliation process:

  1. The individual mandate forcing all those without coverage to buy private insurance, with insufficient cost controls on skyrocketing premiums and other insurance costs.
  2. No challenge to insurance company monopolies, especially in the top 94 metropolitan areas where one or two companies dominate, severely limiting choice and competition.
  3. An affordability mirage. Congressional Budget Office estimates say a family of four with a household income of $54,000 would be expected to pay 17 percent of their income, $9,000, on healthcare exposing too many families to grave financial risk.
  4. The excise tax on comprehensive insurance plans which will encourage employers to reduce benefits, shift more costs to employees, promote proliferation of high-deductible plans, and lead to more self-rationing of care and medical bankruptcies, especially as more plans are subject to the tax every year due to the lack of adequate price controls. A Towers-Perrin survey in September found 30 percent of employers said they would reduce employment if their health costs go up, 86 percent said they’d pass the higher costs to their employees.
  5. Major loopholes in the insurance reforms that promise bans on exclusion for pre-existing conditions, and no cancellations for sickness. The loopholes include:
    • Provisions permitting insurers and companies to more than double charges to employees who fail “wellness” programs because they have diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol readings, or other medical conditions.
    • Insurers are permitted to sell policies “across state lines”, exempting patient protections passed in other states. Insurers will thus set up in the least regulated states in a race to the bottom threatening public protections won by consumers in various states.
    • Insurers can charge four times more based on age plus more for certain conditions, and continue to use marketing techniques to cherry-pick healthier, less costly enrollees.
    • Insurers may continue to rescind policies for “fraud or intentional misrepresentation” – the main pretext insurance companies now use to cancel coverage.
  6. Minimal oversight on insurance denials of care; a report by the California Nurses Association/NNOC in September found that six of California’s largest insurers have rejected more than one-fifth of all claims since 2002.
  7. Inadequate limits on drug prices, especially after Senate rejection of an amendment, to protect a White House deal with pharmaceutical giants, allowing pharmacies and wholesalers to import lower-cost drugs.
  8. New burdens for our public safety net. With a shortage of primary care physicians and a continuing fiscal crisis at the state and local level, public hospitals and clinics will be a dumping ground for those the private system doesn’t want.
  9. Reduced reproductive rights for women.
  10. No single standard of care. Our multi-tiered system remains with access to care still determined by ability to pay. Nothing changes in basic structure of the system; healthcare remains a privilege, not a right.

“Desperation to pass a bill, regardless of its flaws, has made the White House and Congress subject to the worst political extortion and new, crippling concessions every day,” Burger said.

“NNU and nurses will continue to work with the thousands of grassroots activists across the nation to campaign for the best reform, which would be to expand Medicare to cover everyone, the same type of system working more effectively in every other industrial country. The day of that reform will come,” said Ross.

Kill the Senate Health Care Bill

I received the following email today from Jane Hamsher of Firedoglake:

The Senate’s health care bill must be killed.

It is an ungodly mess of errors, loopholes, and massive giveaways. When the American people find out what’s actually in this bill, they will revolt. Congress and President Obama have no choice but to do better for health care than this bill.

Sign the petition: the Senate health care bill must be killed.

How bad is the bill?

Forces you to pay up to 8% of your income to private insurance corporations — whether you want to or not.

If you refuse to buy the insurance, you’ll have to pay penalties of up to 2% of your annual income to the IRS.

After being forced to pay thousands in premiums for junk insurance, you can still be on the hook for up to $11,900 a year in out-of-pocket medical expenses.

Massive restriction on a woman’s right to choose, designed to trigger a challenge to Roe v. Wade in the Supreme Court.

Paid for by taxes on the middle class insurance plan you have right now through your employer, causing them to cut back benefits and increase co-pays.

Many of the taxes to pay for the bill start now, but most Americans won’t see any benefits — like an end to discrimination against those with preexisting conditions — until 2014 when the program begins.

Allows insurance companies to charge people who are older 300% more than others.

Grants monopolies to to drug companies that will keep generic versions of expensive biotech drugs from ever coming to market.

No reimportation of prescription drugs, which would save consumers $100 billion over 10 years.

The cost of medical care will continue to rise, and insurance premiums for a family of 4 will rise an average of $1000 a year — meaning in 10 years, you family’s insurance premium will be $10,000 more annually than it is right now.

I could go on, but it should be clear: this is not reform. This is a con job.

Sign our petition: kill the Senate bill.

Make no mistake, we need health care reform. But the Senate’s idea of reform is a disaster, and will make things far worse than they are today.

We must kill this fake reform.

Thanks for all you do.

Jane Hamsher
Firedoglake

P.S. Please, after you’ve signed, forward this email to your friends, family, coworkers – anyone you know. It’s critical we act fast to kill the Senate bill, and we need everyone we can on board.

Attorney Frank Bloksberg: County May Have Legal Problem Outsourcing

Paul Emery — on KVMR’s evening news for December 16th — interviewed local attorney, Frank Bloksberg, on the subject of library outsourcing.

Bloksberg suggested that — since Nevada County is not a “charter” county but a “general law” county — it is bound by California Code section 31000 with regard to the kinds of jobs it may outsource.  He said that Nevada County may be in violation of the law if it approves LSSI’s proposal.

Click on the following radio icon to listen to Paul Emery’s roughly 6-minute interview with Frank Bloksberg, made available with the permission of KVMR:

The People Speak: Democracy is Not a Spectator Sport

people_speakTonight from 8 to 10 PST, the History Channel will broadcast what promises to be an excellent, timely film directed by Matt Damon, based on Howard Zinn and Anthony Arnove’s Voices of A People’s History of the United States.

Much of the film consists of the words of ordinary Americans who became extraordinary and changed our history. Their words are spoken again by contemporary actors and actresses, such as Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Viggo Mortensen, Marissa Tomei and others.

Here’s a moving excerpt (because Zinn becomes visibly choked up) from the transcript of Moyers’ interview with Zinn:

BILL MOYERS: One of my favorite sequences is in here, is when we meet Genora Dollinger. Tell me about her.

HOWARD ZINN: She was a woman who got involved in sit-down strikes of the 1930s. Those very dramatic moments when workers occupied the factories of General Motors and wouldn’t leave, and therefore left the corporations helpless. But this was a time when strikes all over the country galvanized people and pushed the New Deal into the reforms that we finally got from the New Deal. And Genora Dollinger represents the women who are very often overlooked in these struggles, women so instrumental in supporting the workers, their men, their sweethearts. And Genora Dollinger just inspires people with her words.

BILL MOYERS: She was only 23 when she organized.

HOWARD ZINN: Amazing. Yes.

[MARISSA TOMEI as GENORA DOLLINGER]: Workers overturned police cars to make barricades. They ran to pick up the fire bombs thrown at them and hurl them back at the police. The men wanted to me to get out of the way. You know the old “protect the women and children” business. I told them, “Get away from me.” The lights went on in my head. I thought I have never used a loud speaker to address a large crowd of people but I’ve got to tell them there are women down here. I called to them, “Cowards! Cowards! Shooting into the bellies of unarmed men and firing at the mothers of children.” And then everything became quiet. I thought, “The women can break this up.” So I appealed to the women in the crowd, “Break through those police lines and come down here and stand beside your husbands and your brothers and your uncles and your sweethearts.” I could barely see one woman struggling to come forward. A cop had grabbed her by the back of her coat. She just pulled out of that coat and she started walking down to the battle zone. As soon as that happened there were other women and men who followed. That was the end of the battle. When those spectators came into the center of the battle and the police retreated, there was a big roar of victory.

BILL MOYERS: That’s Marisa Tomei as Genora Dollinger. What do you think when you hear those words?

HOWARD ZINN: First, I must say this, Bill. When my daughter saw this she heard Marisa Tomei shout to the police, “Cowards, cowards.” My daughter said a chill, a chill went through her. She was so moved. And so, when I see this, and I’ve seen this so many times, and each time I am moved because what it tells me is that just ordinary people, you know, people who are not famous, if they get together, if they persist, if they defy the authorities, they can defeat the largest corporation in the world.

More Resources:

Bill Moyers interesting interview with Howard Zinn, in which they discuss The People Speak.

The PBS People Speak webpage.

The History Channel People Speak webpage.

More about Genora Dollinger.


Overheard Rumor: Is The Union Laying Off?

rumorsAbout a half hour ago, I overheard a clerk in a local grocery store talking to a customer who wondered why there was no Sacramento Bee on the newsstand:

“It wasn’t delivered today. Since The Union took over delivery of the Bee, it’s been a problem. I heard that The Union may be laying off.”

When it was my turn to check out, I asked her about it, and she admitted she had just heard rumors.

Sure enough, though: No SacBee on the newsstand.

More Tales of a Dysfunctional Senate

straightjacketIn today’s episode, the White House sides with Big Pharma.

“Politics makes strange …”

What was that again?

From Hufington Post, “Pharma Deal Shuts Down Senate Health Care Debate:”

The White House, aided by Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), is working hard to crush an amendment being pushed by Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) to allow for the reimportation of pharmaceutical drugs from Canada, Senate sources tell the Huffington Post.

As a result, the Senate health care debate has come to a standstill: Carper has placed a “hold” on Dorgan’s amendment and in response, Dorgan tells HuffPost, he’ll object to any other amendments being considered before he gets a vote on his.

Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) is a lead co-sponsor of Dorgan’s amendment. She said she’s confident that, as of now, they have the votes they need. “I think that’s why we’re not having this vote,” she said, smiling. The amendment has the support of a number of other Republicans, including Sens. John McCain (Ariz.), Charles Grassley (Iowa), John Thune (S.D.) and David Vitter (La.).

Opponents of the amendment worry that many more Republicans may join the amendment not because they agree with it, but because they want to put the health care bill in jeopardy.

Public Meeting on Library Outsourcing (12/17/09 6:30 PM)

Marianne Greenberg, a passionate opponent of library outsourcing, will be hosting a public meeting to discuss alternatives on Thursday, December 17th at 6:30 PM in the Community Room of the Madelyn Helling Library.

Here’s a copy of the flyer:

library_meeting

LSSI Budget Details Revealed

budgetSteve Monaghan, County CIO, emailed me the LSSI budget details yesterday, in the form of this document titled “LSSI Cost Proposal, Nevada County Library Operations.”

I had hoped that by studying these cost details, we would be able to quickly determine the plausibility of LSSI’s promise to operate the Nevada County Library system for 7% under the current budget.

Unfortunately, such a determination is much less straightforward than I had hoped.

As Steve rightfully pointed out in his email to me:

“LSSI’s proposal is a portion of the overall library budget, and you need to know what to replace it for, and what to keep in to see the larger budget ramifications. Third, the proposal was based on our current budget of $2.45M. Our new revenue projection is $2M. Thus adjustments (services/hours/locations) have to be made to get an apples-to-apples comparison to the cost cutting scenarios we are putting together for in-house library services (budget/hours/locations), else it is meaningless as we don’t have $2.45M to spend on the proposal as quoted.”

So, I made an attempt to analyze “merely” the “Salaries and Benefits” (compensation) portion of the budget, as it is termed in the county’s budget documents.

Because I’ve been suspecting that LSSI’s main strategy would likely be to reduce by restructuring the most persistently growing and intractable portion of our current library budget (compensation), I’ve been staring at LSSI’s “Staffing” cost projections, and compared their total for the first year ($1,443,529) with the line item for “Salaries and Benefits” ($1,769,445) on page 3 of Mary Ann Trygg’s library budget figures, here:

I’m guessing that the difference — $325,916 (about 15% of the $2.45million assumption) — represents a significant part of LSSI’s promised savings, even after factoring out the County Librarian’s compensation and other presumably lesser costs excluded from LSSI’s budget.

I read a comment by a librarian working in the Jackson County Oregon Library System after its management was outsourced to LSSI. She said, “I no longer have a retirement program.” I don’t know what that means, unless she formerly had a pension, which LSSI succeeded in restructuring to something like a 401K. Many people probably can’t afford the matching contribution, no matter how low it is.

It’s this kind of issue, which is still opaque in the public discussion, that is likely to arouse a lot passion.

Such restructuring details, if they exist, are nowhere stated in LSSI’s proposal, that I have been able to find.

Take a look at LSSI’s budget document and see if can you can make sense of it.

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