Monday, December 2, 2013

(Medicare for ALL?) Has the Flawed Rollout Put the Rest of His Policy Agenda at Risk and, With It, Progressive Ideas about What Government Can Attempt and What a President Can Achieve at a Moment When an Unprecedented Expansion of Health-Care Coverage Could Validate Them? (Corporate Spooks (HB Gary/Themis/Palantir/Berico/Endgame) Employed by Banksters - BofA - to DeepSix Activists)

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It's all true about the rollout of Obamacare going much better - and it will work eventually (although for whom it still remains to be seen) - but first, friends, a comment from my favorite candidate for President (or any office for which he might decide to run):

Dear Cirze (Dear America), I hate to say "I told you so." But I told you so.

I said, waaaaaaay back in 2010, that anyone who wants Medicare coverage should be able to buy it. I was right. And I'm still right. 
If you agree, then congratulations -- you're right, too.

Think about it: Has anyone ever complained about being canceled by Medicare? No.

Has anyone ever complained that the Medicare website crashed? No.

Has anyone ever complained that Medicare refused him coverage?

Has anyone ever complained that Medicare cut him off when his care got too expensive?

Has anyone ever whined that Medicare is socialism? Well, yes. In 1961, Ronald Reagan said that Medicare would bring on a socialist dictatorship. As if.

The real problem that we have is not that some website doesn't work. The real problem is not that Obamacare somehow is compelling employers to drop health coverage (because it's not). The real problem is not that some insurance companies are canceling some policies - when has that ever not happened?

Here are the real problems:

  1. A lot of Americans can't afford health insurance.
  2. In many areas of the country, the health insurance companies and the hospitals are monopolies or duopolies, and they control the market.
  3. The health insurance companies charge as much as they can, they provide as little care as they can get away with, and they call the difference "profit." They have a conflict of interest with you. They make more money by denying you the care that you need to stay healthy, or even alive.
But there is a solution to these problems. In fact, some Americans have an excellent healthcare system, which is overwhelmingly popular. It provides care from Point Barrow, Alaska, to Key West, Florida, and from sea to shining sea. It's cheap and efficient - 97% of the cost goes directly into providing care. We've invested billions of dollars to make it comprehensive and universal. You may have heard of this healthcare system -- it's called "Medicare."

And, weirdly, we open it only to seniors and the disabled. It's as if we were to say that the minimum age to drive on interstate highways were 65 years old. It's as if we were to say that only seniors could go to public school.

That's just nuts.

What would it cost for everyone else? I'm glad you asked. According to the experts, for full coverage, including the prescription drug benefit, Medicare would cost barely $100 a month for children, and less than $500 a month for people in their sixties. Which is much less than my coverage costs -- and, I would venture to say, probably yours, too (unless you're on it already).

Which is why, back in 2010, I introduced a simple, four-page bill, the 'Medicare You Can Buy Into Act.' The bill allows Americans to buy into Medicare at cost. If you want Medicare, and you pay for it, you've got it. Period. End of story.

I signed up more than 80 co-sponsors in the House, in two weeks.

Poll after poll found that a "public option" like this was very popular with the public, too.

did a survey of surveys, and found that in 28 polls, the average result was 57 percent in favor, and 38 percent against - despite massive negative propaganda spewed out by the Chamber of Commerce.

Unfortunately, the Affordable Care Act passed without a Medicare buy-in, or any public option. King Lieberman (D-Aetna) vetoed it. That kept private insurance companies exclusively in charge of health coverage for people under 65. We can all see how well that's turned out. These large and profitable corporations have cancelled policies and raised rates at will. They are demanding the power to continue to discriminate against women, to deny coverage to people with existing illnesses, and to pull the plug - literally - on anyone whose coverage becomes too expensive.

And is it really their fault? "No one can serve two masters." (Matthew 6:24; Luke 16:13.) We are asking the health insurance companies to serve two masters: patients, and profit. They can't do it. No one can.

But the health insurance companies have demonstrated that they are good at one thing - fooling voters. They spent $2 million against me in 2010 in the Great Democratic Apocalypse, and they got rid of me.

Temporarily. And now, I'm back.

So after I won reelection last year, one of the first bills that I introduced was that same old four-page bill, the 'Medicare You Can Buy Into Act' (H.R. 500). Because we need it. Me and you. We need it.

If we open up Medicare to everyone who can pay for it, private insurance premiums will drop, because health insurance companies with local monopolies will face much-needed competition. And, to compete, those companies will have to offer better policies -- policies with more comprehensive coverage, with a broader network, and better service.

Now that's what I call true health care reform. That's what I'm talking about.

We want a public option. We need a public option. And that public option already exists - we just need to open it up, to all Americans.

Here is our cheer: "I want Medicare. You want Medicare. We all want Medicare."

Let's make it happen. Sign the petition today:

It is never too late to do the right thing.

L'chaim - To Life,

Rep. Alan Grayson

"The greatest wealth is health." - Virgil

P.S. Since lobbyists own Washington, D.C., only a movement, a committed corps of can-do citizens, can achieve a public option. If you want to be part of that movement, then you need to demand a public option, and ask your friends, family and co-workers to do the same. Start by sharing this with your friends by e-mail, and on Facebook and Twitter.

Thanks, Allen. You've got my support (and my heart)!
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And on another front - Good for you, Al!

The Clinton/Gore ticket is now vegan.

Al Gore Outed As a Vegan

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I've long been in awe of those who honestly endeavor to tell us about the underworld that operates to keep us (the U.S. public) in the dark as to the meaning of deep events, and how they go about their daily activities in keeping these secrets out of the public domain. If they were keeping us safe, it might be forgiven (even though a lot of these activities were/are clearly illegal and undermine our freedom as individuals and as a nation), but if they are being utilized to make money for or even just ultimately enhance the power of those who want to keep us in bondage out of fear, it can't be. Ever.

Since 9/11, the immediate invocation of the (readied-long-before-in-the-dark-background) Patriot Act, and the activation of a Third Reich-invoking Homeland Security apparatus for oversight of everyone-everywhere-all-the-time, it's gotten so overwhelming that it's hard to believe that citizens of a land founded on the premise of freedom and individual liberty are still buying it.

Thank whoever that some are involved daily in trying to bring light (and change) to this situation.

Bill Moyers has always been a paragon of truth telling in my world.

He still is.

Tuesday, Nov 26, 2013

Revealed: How Corporate Spooks Spy on Activists

A new report discusses some of the techniques. They can be devious

Joshua Holland,

In 2010, a group of hackers known as LulzSec gave us a peek into the shadowy world of corporate espionage. The group released 175,000 emails it obtained from a private security firm called HBGary Federal.

The hack revealed, among other things, that Bank of America (BofA) had grown concerned about a promise that Wikileaks founder Julian Assange made in 2009 to release a trove of sensitive documents that Assange claimed could “take down” the bank. BofA went into crisis-control mode, setting up a “war room” to handle the fallout from the expected release (which, as it turned out, never came).

It also approached the Justice Department, which referred the mega-bank to a K-Street lobbying firm, which introduced BofA executives to a group of private security firms called Team Themis.

Peter Ludlow, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote in The New York Times that the group offered, among other services, a “common aspect of intelligence work: deception. That is, it is involved not just with the concealment of reality, but with the manufacture of it.”

Team Themis (a group that included HBGary and the private intelligence and security firms Palantir Technologies, Berico Technologies and Endgame Systems) was effectively brought in to find a way to undermine the credibility of WikiLeaks and the journalist Glenn Greenwald . . . because of Greenwald’s support for WikiLeaks.
Team Themis considered falsifying documents and feeding them to Greenwald in order to discredit his reporting. They also pitched the Chamber of Commerce with a plan to infiltrate Chamber Watch, a progressive group that opposes the CoC’s anti-regulatory agenda. They suggested creating “two fake insider personas, using one as leverage to discredit the other while confirming the legitimacy of the second.”

When the story broke, Bank of America and the Chamber of Commerce rushed to distance themselves from the plans and HBGary claimed that they had never gotten past the planning stage. But the leaked emails briefly shined a light on the murky, largely unregulated world of corporate spying – an industry that watchdogs say has grown exponentially since the 9/11 attacks.

Last week, the nonpartisan, nonprofit Corporate Policy Center issued a report titled, “Spooky Business: Corporate Espionage Against Nonprofit Organizations,” which detailed a number of revelations of corporate espionage operations against non-profit activist groups. Moyers & Company spoke to the report’s author, Corporate Policy Center Director Gary Ruskin, last week.

Joshua Holland: Over the past few years, a few cases of corporate espionage against various activist groups have come to light, but your report is the first to attempt to document this phenomenon in detail. Do we know how widespread this practice is?

Gary Ruskin: We really do not. Our report, “Spooky Business,” is really an effort to say something that we really know very little about. It’s kind of like documenting the tip of the iceberg, but we don’t know how deep the iceberg goes. So it’s going to require a lot more journalistic work, as well as some investigations by the Department of Justice and other law enforcement officials.

Holland: Let’s look at an example of the kinds of stories that have come to light and then we can discuss the ramifications. What is S2i, the company formerly known BBI?

Ruskin: Those two companies are basically private investigation firms and they were very active in surveilling and conducting espionage against a wide variety of nonprofit organizations.

Holland: What kind of specific activities did you find these private ‘spooks,’ if you will, doing to disrupt activist groups — or is disrupt even the right word?

Ruskin: I think “disrupt,” “surveil” and “conduct espionage” are all quite correct. They conducted a wide variety of espionage activities. One thing that they did to Greenpeace was they conducted more than 120 efforts at “dumpster diving,” where they would go onto Greenpeace’s property and essentially trespass and obtain the group’s thrown-out memos and the like.

BBI also had on its retainer an active duty police officer in Washington, D.C., who could help them get onto Greenpeace’s property. They did a wide variety of physical surveillance and intrusion and infiltration activities. And it appears that they did wiretapping, as well as hiring an NSA contractor who specialized in computer intrusion and electronic surveillance and that was all used against Greenpeace. 

Theft of a wide variety of Greenpeace memos — it’s a very long and complicated list of espionage activities.

Holland: And have you found instances where they actually infiltrated these groups, where they posed as activists themselves to get on the inside?

Ruskin: We found that that was the most common form of espionage, where a company would hire an intelligence person, who would then either pose as a volunteer or as a journalist and then vacuum up a lot of information.

Holland: And you mention in the report that a lot of these companies had employed former NSA, CIA and other types of former intelligence officers.

After 9/11, we saw a huge expansion of our intelligence budgets and I think most people may not realize that a large share of that expansion wasn’t done through government agencies directly, but through outside security contractors.

According to journalist Tim Shorrock, around 70 percent of our national security spending now goes to private firms. So I guess the question is: to what degree did building all of this private intelligence capacity help create the situation that you describe in the report?

Ruskin: Well, I think you hit it right on the head there. We essentially have this private national security state and they have a tremendous amount of private national security capability. And this is for-profit and they want more contracts, so they’ll take contracts from companies that want to conduct espionage against nonprofits and this is a problem.

And another part of the problem is that there haven’t been much in the way of investigations — and certainly not prosecutions in the United States over this sort of thing – so the people who conduct this kind of espionage think that they can do it with impunity. And, so far, they’re right.

Holland: Michael Hayden, the former director of both the NSA and the CIA, oversaw that privatization effort in the early 2000s and late ’90s. He told Shorrock — and I’ll quote, because I think it’s so interesting. He said, “The largest concentration of cyber power on the planet is the intersection of the Baltimore Parkway and Maryland Route 32.” That’s where the NSA and its top contractors are located. Hayden coined the term ‘Digital Blackwater’ to describe this stuff.

Gary, I may be asking you to speculate here: after 9/11, we saw the line between activism and terrorism starting to blur. We started hearing terms like “ecoterrorism,” for example. I wonder to what degree you think that mindset has bled into the private sector, with intelligence agencies seeing activism as somehow criminal or illegitimate and something to be targeted?

Ruskin: Well, I think it’s pretty clear that we’re seeing that sort of thing more and more. It’s clear that that was part of the treatment of Occupy Wall Street across the country, where there were these interesting FBI-corporate “partnerships.” We wrote about one in the report called “InfraGard.”

And it’s not just happening in the United States. There was a really interesting piece in a Vancouver newspaper last week showing government espionage of environmental activists and groups in Canada on behalf of oil companies.

Holland: There’s a revolving door here, with personnel moving between private intelligence companies and the government, right? And revolving doors make regulation really challenging. Is there any sort of regulation of this kind of corporate spying?

Ruskin: When we’re talking about private corporate spying on nonprofits, there’s been very little. And that’s part of the problem: in general, there’s been very little attention paid to moonlighting CIA operatives, or retired operatives. We don’t know what they actually do and whether it’s ethical and whether it should continue.

And so that’s something that Congress really could and should do — hold hearings to shine some light on what is really happening so that we can figure out how it’s got to change.

Holland: You mention the Pinkertons in the report. That was a private police force used by corporations to, among other things, brutalize, and sometimes even murder labor organizers a hundred years ago.

So I wonder if this is a new thing or an old thing that now has new technologies and uses more sophisticated tactics than beating people over the head with baseball bats?

Ruskin: In some ways it’s definitely a very old thing. But what’s different now is the technology is far more intrusive. And we have this giant national security state that is, in effect, for hire by companies to do their espionage.

And the third thing is that there’s been no pushback from law enforcement. In the UK and in France, there has been pushback on this sort of thing, but not here in the United States. So that’s got to change.

Holland: And have you seen a chilling effect from this, or is that a potential danger here, Are activists being scared off?

Ruskin: You know, democracy really depends on an active citizenry and on active citizen groups and to the extent that that is impaired because of espionage, well, then our entire democracy is the poorer for it. And that’s why we really think that the Justice Department and Congress need to do their job.

Holland: Let me play Devil’s advocate for a moment. How would you respond to the other side of the argument, which is that companies have a right — and let’s face it, in some instances a need — to anticipate and try to head off illegal actions against them, as opposed to legal First Amendment-protected activism?

Ruskin: Well, there’s no question that they’re perfectly within their rights to collect information by legal means, but when they break the law that’s very different. We uncovered in our report some conduct that certainly appears to be illegal and we supposedly live under the rule of law in our society. So let’s make sure that that continues.

You can download “Spooky Business: Corporate Espionage Against Nonprofit Organizations” here.

The New Yorker decided to try to unwind the political damage arising from the keystone cops health care rollout (and thereby lessen it). Are they (and will it be) successful? I guess we'll have a better roadmap by January 1, 2014.

Heal Thyself

by Amy Davidson

December 2, 2013

Last Tuesday, at a forum put together by the Wall Street Journal, President Barack Obama told a group of C.E.O.s that he was relatively sure that would be “functioning for the majority of people who are using it” by November 30th, two months after its disastrous launch. He acknowledged that the process had been “rough, to say the least,” and added that, once the site does work, “we’re going to have to obviously re-market and re-brand.”

That’s not all he’ll have to do. In a CBS News poll released the next day, the President’s approval rating fell to thirty-seven per cent, the lowest it has ever been. The flawed rollout has put the rest of his policy agenda at risk and, with it, progressive ideas about what government can attempt and what a President can achieve—at a moment when an unprecedented expansion of health-care coverage could validate them. According to a new Gallup poll, only forty-two per cent of Americans now agree that the government should guarantee access to health care. In 2006, the number was sixty-nine per cent. The technical inadequacies of may prove less of a burden than the political damage that has been done.

By November 2nd, fewer than twenty-seven thousand people had managed to sign up for plans through the federal exchange, while seventy-nine thousand had done so in the fourteen states that set up their own sites with federal funds. A week ago, at a press conference at the White House, reporters asked Obama if he had been less than honest with the American people about the readiness of the program. Even in the face of hostility, the President seemed to think, as he often does, that his intelligence vouchsafes his integrity. He replied, “You know, I’m accused of a lot of things, but I don’t think I’m stupid enough to go around saying, ‘This is going to be like shopping on Amazon or Travelocity,’ a week before the Web site opens, if I thought that it wasn’t going to work.” 

But there were also the cancellation notices, sent out by insurance companies to hundreds of thousands of people who had heard the President repeatedly tell them, “If you like your plan, you can keep it.” His defense was that companies drop people every year; that the cancelled plans were shabby; and that, once people saw the great deals on, they wouldn’t want their old ones anyway. That just seemed to make people angrier, though he was no doubt right about the plans. He came as close as he ever has to losing the wholesale support of congressional Democrats, and was forced to devise something between a fix and an alibi, giving state insurance commissioners the power to choose whether people can hold on to existing plans for another year.

The problems with the rollout are alternately maddening and tragic. America’s health-care system has long been profoundly broken. It has shortened lives, distorted the economy, left families bankrupt after illnesses. The hundreds of bugs on the site—slapped-together code that has to draw on multiple agencies’ databases, some decades old, built by dozens of contractors—have obscured a pretty good law, one that finally protects people with preëxisting conditions and those who could never afford insurance. There are other benefits, too, such as cost controls and coverage for reproductive health. Obama doesn’t have to run for office again, but other Democrats do, and the big question for the 2014 midterms may be how each party handles Obamacare.

Not for the first time, Obama has been slow to realize the effect, at every stage, of his knockdown fight with the Republican Party over policy. The passage of the Affordable Care Act, in 2010, was followed by court challenges, dozens of votes to repeal or defund it, and a systematic state-by-state effort to impair it, using every tool in the political system and some outside of it. In 2012, when the Supreme Court upheld most of the law, it also allowed states to opt out of the Medicaid expansion.

The federal government would have paid almost the entire cost. Who wouldn’t like such a plan?

Republicans, as it happens: only four states with both a Republican governor and a Republican-led legislature took the money. (In all, twenty-five states did.) In Texas alone, this will leave a million people in a “coverage gap.”

In a concerted effort facilitated by conservative interest groups — such as Generation Opportunity, funded by the Koch brothers—Republican - led states have undermined the law in ways that range from making it harder to enroll to declining to enforce rules when insurance companies break them. has been getting better; visitors are now generally able to log on and start an application. And by last week enrollment had more than doubled on the state-run Web sites, which continue to work reasonably well, notably in California and Kentucky.

Where Obamacare is broadly available and unobstructed, it appears to be bearing out its promise. But there isn’t a lot of time: the deadline to sign up for plans that go into effect on January 1st is December 23rd, just three weeks after the November 30th target date to have the system repaired. Then money starts changing hands, in the form of premiums and subsidies. Henry Chao, the deputy chief information officer of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, testified last week that parts of the site that will be needed for that — “the back-office systems, the accounting systems, the payment systems” — have not even been built.

Since the rollout, Obama has treated it as a given that the Web site will be fixed, and that everyone will remember how bad the present system has been and how much better the new one is. “I am confident that, by the time we look back on this next year, that people are going to say this is working well, and it’s helping a lot of people,” he said at last week’s press conference.

After five years in the White House, Obama still believes that he can go into a corner, tinker with something until it’s better, and win on the merits. The long view can serve him well, but it can also leave him unprepared when the other side won’t give up on an all-out battle. Health-care reform is the President’s signature legislative achievement, and a historic one. To preserve it, he needs to fight for it politically, state by state. This time, the Obama brand alone isn’t enough.

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