Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Company You Keep

That's the slogan of New York Life, a company that offers life insurance, investment accounts, etc.

My late husband had a small IRA with New York Life. For two months I've been battling with them to get the funds. I need them to pay his debts - notably to pay for his cremation.

What's taking so long? Well, for starters, lousy customer service. New York Life probably assigns an actual human to big dollar accounts, but for the smaller ones, you get to speak to a different person every time. I've sent in the paperwork they asked for, to receive a letter 2 weeks later, informing me that they only got one of the forms (even though both were in the envelope.) Then the paperwork was filled out incorrectly. The woman I spoke with was quite annoyed that I didn't do what they'd told me to do, after all they made it quite CLEAR. Perhaps if this is the kind of thing you do all the time, it is clear. No one has been willing to help talk me through this - or give instructions that might actually BE helpful.

I'm on the 4th round of "you haven't sent us the correct information." The final paragraph reads: "When we receive these requirements, we will be able to consider the claim, or advise you if additional information is needed." That tells me that they have every intention of continuing to jerk me around.

If New York Life is the company YOU keep, you're in bad company. Their brand of customer service is so poor, I'm embarrassed for them.


It seems I finally found a customer service person who was interested in providing actual customer service! The check is reported to be in the mail. If that is so, I'll be showering accolades upon her.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Karl Rove granted divorce in Texas

Karl Rove granted divorce in Texas - -

Karl dumps his second wife - just in time for the holidays. Those GOP family values sure do shine!

I'm sure the payoff guarantees no tell-all book, but one can hope...

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Faux Reform

I ran into an old friend of my father’s recently, and as always, the discussion turned to politics. We’re polar opposites on the political spectrum. He said that he pays a lot of money for health insurance, and so should everyone else. That’s personal responsibility, in GOPspeak. We didn’t continue down that thorny path, but I’m certain that tort reform and blaming people for their health problems were waiting to leap into the conversation at any moment. I’m also certain that CEO bonuses, monopolies, and administrative costs were not fated to be part of the discussion, because apparently conservatives don’t mind those things.

That’s why I’m surprised that the Republicans aren’t tap dancing all over Washington, DC with delight over what is incorrectly called the health care reform bill. If there were truth in advertising, it would be called the Taxpayer Funded Giveaway to Insurance Companies. The GOP has never been shy about using our money to fund corporate America. We shovel plenty to defense contractors, to private mercenaries like Blackwater, and let us not forget that TARP originated with the Bush administration. A few years ago, the GOP desperately wanted to turn Social Security over to their corporate buddies on Wall St. One would think that a bill that forks over to Big Insurance under the phony guise of reform would be right up their alley, but one would be wrong. The GOP, and their angry toady Lieberman are so intent on thwarting Obama that they are missing this chance to pay back their campaign donors.

Let’s make no mistake; this alleged reform bill is nothing of the kind. An insurance reform bill would do something about containing costs. This bill does not. A reform bill would bust up the insurance monopolies. The market is controlled by a small number of big companies that have been allowed to become so large by continual mergers. No competition. The costs are just driven higher and higher, along with the CEO bonuses. In many states there are 2 companies that control the entire insurance market. NH is one of those states. Anthem Blue Cross (Wellpoint) and Cigna control 75% of the NH health insurance market.

In 2008, CIGNA’s CEO, Edward Hanaway took a hit. His salary increased to over $1.1 million, but he lost big on other forms of compensation. The poor man’s performance bonus decreased by 63 percent from the previous year. Hanaway had to make do with only $6.7 million. It just makes you want to cry for the poor fella, doesn’t it? WellPoint’s CEO, Angela Braley earns the same salary, but earned less of a performance bonus – but then, she’s a woman, so that is to be expected. Yep, these are the people who the GOP doesn’t want to help out, with taxpayer money. I confess, I’m shocked. It goes to show how divisive our politics have become, when Corporate America isn’t being rewarded by its most loyal fans – the GOP.

The numbers of uninsured folks and families is on the increase. More and more jobs are being lost, despite the rosy unemployment figures that the US Bureau of Labor Statistics puts out. They only count those who are filing for or collecting unemployment benefits. The numbers of unemployed who were ineligible for, or have run out of benefits are not counted. People who work 4 hours a week are counted as employed. The 10 percent number we hear bandied about is a lie – a lie aimed at keeping us from knowing how bad the situation really is. The real unemployment number is somewhere between 17 and 22 percent. Many of these folks have lost their health insurance, too. Luckily we do have a permanent state of undeclared war to provide employment opportunities for our youth.

So, instead of a real reform bill that would actually help working folks be able to afford insurance, we have a bill that would force working folks to buy expensive private insurance from the monopolies. Those who need help would get government subsidies. There is no mechanism in place to hold those costs down. The insurance monopolies could just hold us up for ever-increasing subsidies – and they will. The Obama administration made a deal with Big Pharma that essentially means that the drug companies can continue to gouge us without fear of regulation. An amendment allowing reimportation of drugs from other countries was shot down. The idea of having to buy our own drugs back (cheaper!) from other countries is bizarre if you stop to actually think about it. We’re told we can’t regulate the drug business, because that would stifle their innovation. I think they could innovate plenty if they stopped advertising penis pills on television every five minutes.

The really sad thing about this whole reform charade is this – we the people do not matter. Our health and well being is not a factor at all. From the very first meeting at the White House, the deck was stacked, by very obviously excluding advocates of a single payer system. If the system is to be fixed, everyone ought to be at the table. Obama said he wanted a bill by the end of the year. He didn’t say anything about it being a GOOD bill. It’s become increasingly obvious that we have government by the corporations, for the corporations, and the party in the driver’s seat matters only in mostly cosmetic terms.

The GOP will continue to wail and gnash its collective teeth about the unborn, while doing nothing to aid the born, unless they were born sucking on a silver spoon. The Democrats will continue to fail to provide any kind of leadership, and will allow the GOP to dominate the national political dialogue with fear and lies. In short, the only change we’re going to see is for the worse.

"Democracy as we know it will be lost if we continue to allow government to become one bought by the highest bidder, for the highest bidder. Candidates will simply become bit players and pawns in a campaign managed and manipulated by paid consultants and hired guns." - Sen. Wendell Ford

printed as an op-ed in the Conway Daily Sun, on December 18, 2009

© s.bruce 2009

Sunday, December 13, 2009


The barter economy is not suffering during the recession. In times of economic downturn, barter can help a family or a business stay afloat. Barter can be really helpful to small business owners. Finding ways to barter for advertising or other services can be invaluable when money is tight. A CNN story takes a look at a business bartering trade show and organization:

Ted Rahaim, owner of DBK Family Jewelers in Plainville, Conn., said that bartering has been a great way for him to get things for his small business that he wouldn't be able to afford if he had to shell out the cash -- like advertising.
He came to the show expecting to barter $30,000 to $40,000 worth of jewelry. He didn't know what he'd be trading for, but he did pick up one case of meat. In the past he's bartered for business needs, including business cards and plumbing and heating services for his stores.
"It opens up a lot of doors for me," he said.

People are also using barter to get medical or dental care for their families. A recent story in the Sky Valley Chronicle from Washington State provides an example:
A recent Washington Post article reported Craigslist had an 80 percent increase in activity in its bartering section this year. Some of these posts – as well as posts on other sites that specialize in barter - are for people seeking to trade something for health and dental care.

Ramona Heath, whose story is contained in a recent broadcast radio report, had been out of work for over a year. Her husband lost his job also in the recession. Essentially homeless after the unemployment for so long, Ramona went on the Internet and found a dentist who would fix her daughter’s long neglected teeth in exchange for her skills and labor in housekeeping.

Now her 8-year old daughter can smile without covering her mouth. In the past whenever she would smile she would cover her mouth, embarrassed about the bad shape her teeth were in.

A family in Ohio is using barter as a way to buy Christmas presents:
Gina and Richard Lavelle are determined to give their four children a Christmas this year despite losing their income and their home. To do so, Gina turned to Craigslist where her ad joined dozens of other ads from people wanting to barter services or other items for Christmas presents.

Planet Green has some suggestions on barter websites, and of course, there is always craigslist.

Most of us have things around the house that we'd like to get rid of, but we don't want to throw away. A great solution to that problem is Freecycle. Someone who wants your unwanted object will actually come and take it away! Freecycle can also help you find things you might need. Freecycle's mission statement:

Our mission is to build a worldwide gifting movement that reduces waste, saves precious resources & eases the burden on our landfills while enabling our members to benefit from the strength of a larger community.

There are Freecycle networks in all 50 states and 85 countries - and best of all, it's free.

Cross posted at Main Street a project of Working America.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Changing Face of Homelessness

The US Conference of Mayors has released their 2009 survey on Hunger and Homelessness. The report is based on a survey of 27 mayors from around the country who are members of the Conference of Mayors task force on Homelessness and Hunger.

The study shows about a 26% increase in requests for emergency food assistance. The numbers of homeless families have also risen sharply:

76 % of the cities reported an increase in family homelessness, while homelessness among individuals decreased or stayed the same for 16 of the 23 cities. The report notes that most of the cities that experienced drops in individual homelessness attributed the decline to a policy strategy by federal, state and local governments of adopting 10-year plans to end chronic homelessness among single adults. The recession and a lack of affordable housing were cited as the top causes of family homelessness in the surveyed cities.

HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan
who chairs the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, said that one of the most tragic consequences of our housing and economic crisis are those who fall into homelessness as a result – whether through foreclosures, evictions, layoffs, or other financial problems. The Secretary noted that with increases in rural and suburban family homelessness, the issue is not an urban problem, but one every community struggles with. He said, “As diverse as our homeless population is, there is one thing that everyone who is homeless shares: a lack of housing they can afford. And as this study finds, high housing costs often lead families to cut back on necessities like food.”

Homeless shelters all over the country are full, and in some cases, turning people away. The Denver Post ran a story earlier in the week that showed an absence of beds for homeless women in Denver:

On Monday night, when the temperature dropped to 5 degrees in metro Denver, as many as 35 solo homeless women were turned away from city shelters.
Although the number of unaccompanied homeless women in the metro area has tripled since 2007 — to 1,606 from 552, according to the 2009 Metro Denver Homeless Initiative's point-in-time survey — there are only 241 shelter beds for solo women available in Denver.
Emergency-shelter beds "are extremely limited for women," said Geoff Bennett, director of the Samaritan House. "There are many more men's beds than there are beds for women."
When the beds fill up, some of the women may receive motel vouchers, but they must meet certain criteria. And if they don't,
they must fend for themselves.

The lack of shelter beds for women seems to be a problem of stereotyping. For decades, the single, alcoholic male has been the image of homelessness. As a result, in some places the stereotype continued to dominate, while the homeless population changed:
Leslie Foster, director of The Gathering Place, believes part of the problem is systemic.
"In the mid to late '80s, when a lot of services were started for men, homeless women were only 10 percent of that population," she said. "Now, women are 42 percent of the homeless population, and 27 percent of (the homeless population) are children under 18. That's nearly half the homeless population, and the services have not kept up."

It's everywhere. Homeless shelters are full in Fargo. In New York City the Legal Aid Society is taking the city to court for violating a 1981 agreement wherein the city agrees to provide clean and safe shelter for men and women who seek it:

New York City shelters are so full that homeless men and women have been left to sleep on benches, floors and dining room tables over the last three months, violating a landmark 1981 agreement, Legal Aid lawyers charged in court papers on Wednesday.
The motion by the Legal Aid Society and the Coalition for the Homeless also alleges that homeless women have been transported on buses after midnight to a shelter in East New York, Brooklyn, where they have been allowed to sleep for less than five hours before being required to leave again in the morning

Bottom line - there just aren't enough shelter beds to fill the increasing demands. New York City also has an increasing number of homeless veterans to contend with.

There are nearly 10,000 homeless veterans in New York City, on Long Island and in northern New Jersey, according to estimates in a new report from the Department of Veterans Affairs, which also found that veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are falling into homelessness earlier than those who served in Vietnam.

This isn't just an urban problem. The suburbs are also seeing a sharp increase in homelessness, and as this story in the Chicago Tribune demonstrates, adding additional capacity is a real struggle in the suburbs:

PADS (Public Action to Deliver Shelter) uses rotating faith-based sites and an army of volunteers to provide nightly refuge. Most operate from October to April. Although churches consider it part of their mission to tend to the needy, housing the homeless can evoke concern among neighbors and parishioners.

Last year for example, a plan to open a PADS shelter in Park Ridge was abandoned after residents objected to the use of two church sites. Getting enough volunteers for a new shelter also can be difficult. "For every site, there's four to six support congregations," said Carol Simler, executive director of DuPage PADS. "We work with over 4,000 volunteers and more than 130 congregations to provide this interim housing."

PADS sites are constantly recruiting volunteers just to maintain the current level of service. Responding quickly to increased demand is beyond their means

This is particularly alarming:
But surveys don't capture the grim truth on the streets and at shelters -- emergency beds are scarce. From Chicago Heights to Waukegan, demand has outstripped supply, with shelters resorting to lotteries and free bus passes out of town to handle the overflow.

Just ship those pesky homeless people out of town - and make them someone else's problem.

There is a lack of affordable housing and rental property across the country. We've been focused on building single family homes and McMansions for the last decade. As a result, during a severe recession, the face of homelessness in the US has changed. Today's homeless are likely to be working families.

cross posted at Main St - a project of Working America

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The Real Unemployment Numbers

The REAL unemployment rate.
The U.S. unemployment numbers are out today, and most headlines will show that the U.S. unemployment rate in November was 10.0 percent, down from 10.2 percent in October. That number is depressingly large, but even that under-counts the true number of unemployed. For instance, it doesn’t count those people who don’t have a job and have given up looking for one, or those who have found marginal part-time work but still can’t make ends meet and are still looking for a full-time job.

To explain who counts as unemployed and who does not, the folks at created this video:

This is helpful - I've just learned I'm not really unemployed!

The Layoff List says:
The “Real” unemployment rate in the US is now 22%

One thing is for sure, the statistics compiled by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics leave a lot of people out. The real numbers of unemployed are much higher, and likely to continue to continue to grow.

cross posted at

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Terrorist thwarting hero turns out to be a liar

AirTran ‘hero' wasn't on plane, airline says  |

Posted using ShareThis

It's a little easier to understand why a Houston man who claimed to have thwarted a potential terrorist attack on a flight leaving Atlanta has not answered repeated requests to tell his story.

He was not on the plane, AirTran Airways says.

The story of how this brave fellow saved a plane from 11 Muslims was picked up by every crazy righwingnut website -including Glenn Beck's 9/12 site.

The airline debunked the whole story point by point.

So, bummer, dude. Instead of 11 Muslim terrorists, it was a Spanish speaking guy who didn't understand the instructions the flight attendant gave about shutting off cell phones. And the liar wasn't even on the plane.

I hope Glenn Beck cried while he admitted the story was a fake....if he ever did.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Cord Wood

After decades of discussion, the issue of the Carroll County Nursing home seems to have been solved, at least for now. We’ve all been aware for well over a decade that the building had problems. Decades of GOP control in the legislature ensured inadequate funding for plenty of things in the state, including the county nursing home.

The ugliness of the debate has been surprising even to me, and I always expect the worst. I do know, however, that elderly people vote, and so I would have expected some of the Republicans to at least pretend to have some concern and compassion for others. They let their masks slip, and we all saw what lurks beneath. It wasn’t pretty.

Some of the antics around this debate have been comedic. The alleged emails from Umberger and Chandler were good for a laugh. Clearly Representative Umberger knows how to use a computer, but we all learned at the 2006 candidate debate that Representative Chandler does not know how to use email. If any emails came from him, he had some help. Some have been tragic – State Senator Jeb Bradley saying he didn’t try to influence legislators, while Last Minute Zimmerman carried around a letter on Bradley’s own letterhead proving otherwise. Bradley, a multimillionaire, will never have to worry about paying for the best possible care for his own mother. Other people’s mothers and fathers are a different story, unless of course, they’re wealthy GOP donors. I’m sure he’d muster up some concern then. Same for Last-Minute Zimmerman, a Tuftonboro businessman whose business is in Wolfeboro. Like Jeb Bradley. No connection there, I’m sure. Zimmerman is another wealthy man who doesn’t want to have to spend a dime on those less fortunate. Damn these old people! They should have planned better; they should have pulled up their bootstraps and not gotten old!

The ugliness was not confined to the county legislative delegation. Nearly every week, we were treated to a diatribe from Ray Shakir, a NY transplant, who writes in the style of the hyperactive fifth grade playground bully he once was. The tele-talk column about the nursing home was another eye opener. There was a lengthy response from a fellow who claimed to be 72 years old. He felt that since he is part of a large family with a shared bathroom, that nursing home residents should endure the same. That these folks in the nursing home aren’t related didn’t seem to factor into his thinking. He was opposed to residents having dieticians and social activities. According to that tele-talk column, he said, “When you get to a place in your life where you’re completely helpless and unable to care for yourself then it’s time to begin to think of other alternatives.” Sounds like death panels to me. Does Sarah Palin know about this guy?

Thanks to Last-Minute Zimmerman, who never had a plan, just a whole lot of last minute criticism for a project he never involved himself in, the folks at Mountain View got to live in fear for a while longer. A guy who has two homes of his own was able to slow down the process long enough to frighten seniors even more about what might become of them. Somewhere, his wealthy pals are patting him on the back for his efforts. One can only hope that a spin from the Great Wheel of Karma may give these guys a taste of their own medicine. Let them be startled by what kind of nursing home their kids put them in.

The way this whole debate unfolded reflects everything that is wrong with us as a community and a society. The folks who live in the county nursing home are folks of limited means, who need care. They cannot afford the expensive, for-profit homes. These are people who worked their whole lives. Some were veterans. They are mothers, fathers, and neighbors. They are members of our communities. Now they live in a cramped, old building, in rooms that aren’t big enough to swing a cat in, and they have to share them with another person. These people have no privacy at all, and no room for their belongings. Is this really how we think people should be forced to live at the end of their lives? Do we think that because they are elderly, they don’t care about privacy and dignity, or have any right to it? If the old adage is true, “A society is judged by the way it treats its weakest members” we are in big trouble. In other words, we are in big trouble.

The people who would love to stack up seniors on bunks like cordwood, and haul ‘em into a group shower are the same ones who have never met a defense budget or a military appropriations bill they wouldn’t cheerlead. They begrudge every cent spent on taking care of US citizens, but applaud every trillion spent killing foreigners or lining the pockets of defense contractors. Our priorities are deeply skewed.

It’s unfortunate that this became a political football. Thankfully, some folks managed to resist that temptation. Harry Merrow of Ossipee wrote a great letter to the editor, where he said, “I consider myself a conservative Republican and I can be as cheap as the next person, but sticking it to the old people is not the way to cut costs.” Thanks for giving them hell, Harry.
At least this matter has been resolved, and we can get on with building a nursing home worthy of our seniors – a place where folks can spend their last years in comfortable surroundings, with dignity and respect.

In a country well-governed poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed wealth is something to be ashamed of.” Confucious

© sbruce 2009 Published as an op-ed in the Conway Daily Sun on December 4, 2009

the picture is not of the Mountain View nursing home - it's an old photo of a poor house.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Food Insecurity on the Rise

Food Insecurity is defined by the USDA is defined as: inadequate or unsure access to enough food for active, healthy living. The USDA has been doing a study each December since 1995. The latest USDA results are from 2008. From the study:
The number of food-insecure U.S. households rose from 13.0 million (11.1 percent of all households) in 2007 to 17.1 million (14.6 percent) in 2008. The additional food-insecure households were nearly evenly split between households with and without children, about 2 million in each group. However, the increase was proportionally larger for households with children. Among these households, the prevalence of food insecurity rose from 15.8 percent in 2007 to 21.0 percent in 2008. The corresponding increase for households without children was from 8.7 to 11.3 percent.

It seems reasonable to assume that food insecurity continued to increase in 2009, and that it is likely to worsen in 2010 as food prices continue to rise.From the NY Times:
The Agriculture Department is forecasting that food prices will increase 3.5 to 4.5 percent in 2009, compared with an estimated 5 to 6 percent increase by the end of this year.

Some economists project even steeper increases next year. For instance, Bill Lapp, principal at Advanced Economic Solutions in Omaha, said he expected food prices to jump 7 to 9 percent next year.

These price increases are tied to the high prices for commodities such as grain, wheat, and corn earlier in the year. The commodity prices are coming down, but food costs haven't caught up yet. Meat and poultry producers say they will have to significantly increase their prices.

As a result, more people are using the available food safety nets than ever before. According to the NY Times more than 36 million people in the US are using food stamps.
From the ailing resorts of the Florida Keys to Alaskan villages along the Bering Sea, the program is now expanding at a pace of about 20,000 people a day.

The program, now called SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) would like to do more:
“I think the response of the program has been tremendous,” said Kevin Concannon, an under secretary of agriculture, “but we’re mindful that there are another 15, 16 million who could benefit.”

Nationwide, food stamps reach about two-thirds of those eligible, with rates ranging from an estimated 50 percent in California to 98 percent in Missouri. Mr. Concannon urged lagging states to do more to enroll the needy, citing a recent government report that found a sharp rise in Americans with inconsistent access to adequate food.

“This is the most urgent time for our feeding programs in our lifetime, with the exception of the Depression,” he said. “It’s time for us to face up to the fact that in this country of plenty, there are hungry people.”

SNAP issues plastic cards - like debit cards. Mercifully the day of the big, fake, food stamp dollars, and the stigma that accompanied them is over.

cross posted at working america blog

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Al Franken fallout has GOP fuming

Al Franken fallout has GOP fuming - Manu Raju -

Pity the poor Republicans. They're all mad because they feel that Al Franken accused them of being rape defenders, when they voted against his amendment.

Maybe if they STOPPED DEFENDING RAPE they wouldn't have a problem.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

from Talking Points Memo

As Obama Sends More Troops, Giant Shadow Army of Contractors Set to Grow in Afghanistan

While contractors allow the U.S. to fight wars with fewer American troops -- which may be good or bad, depending on who you ask -- they also present serious transparency and security concerns. That includes goodwill-draining episodes like the May shooting of two Afghan civilians in Kabul by contractors working for Xe, formerly Blackwater. Experts are also concerned about an attack by enemies who might slip through security as a contractor at an American facility.

It's impossible to say how much taxpayer money is going to private contracts because various government entities either don't know, or don't agree on, just how many contractors are currently in Afghanistan.

That fact "permits and invites waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayer money and undermines the achievement of US mission objectives," Michael Thibault, co-chair of the bipartisan Commission on Wartime Contracting, complained at a hearing last month. At that hearing, military witnesses couldn't come up with a precise count of contractors, prompting former GOP congressman Chris Shays to remark, "I kind of want to scream."

Regular readers will remember the story of Jamie Leigh Jones who was raped by military contractors. I'm with Chris Shays. This whole thing makes me want to scream.

Obama pays back donors

The Campaign Cash Behind the Afghanistan Escalation

Some are calling the president's plan to ratchet up the war a betrayal of the Democratic base, which overwhelmingly opposes sending more troops. For example, a recent Gallup poll found that 60% of Democrats want the president to begin reducing troop levels in Afghanistan.

But while the president may be showing disloyalty to his political base, he's remaining faithful to the defense industry interests that so generously funded his campaign.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics' database, the top recipient of defense industry money in the 2008 election cycle was Barack Obama, whose haul of $1,029,997 far surpassed Republican contender Sen. John McCain's $696,948.

So much for hope.

It's Obama's War Now

On March 20, 2003, the United States invaded Iraq. I was part of a panel that night on a local cable TV station, where we were talking about the imminent war, and talking about peace. As soon as we were off the air, someone came in to tell us that President Bush had just announced the invasion. Irony stuck her head in the oven that night.

I feel much the same way tonight. President Obama is going to announce an escalation of the war in Afghanistan. This comes as no surprise to anyone who actually listened to him during the campaign. He said he intended to do this. Obama is a canvas that a lot of people painted pretty progressive hopes upon. Listening to him, and looking at his voting record showed he was no progressive - just another triangulating Clintonesque centrist. I'm not disappointed - I had very low expectations of him.

I had hoped that given the incredibly high numbers of people unemployed in this country, that he might think twice about spending trillions more of our tax dollars on war, while the social safety nets in this country continue to break. The official numbers are 10% unemployed, but I believe it's more like 20%. No one counts the people that have been out of work so long they can't collect unemployment benefits, or the folks who weren't eligible for them to begin with. I guess that's the new jobs plan: join the military, so we can continue to fight endless undeclared wars.

That is the future, unless we take radical action. Endless undeclared wars, that make big money for defense and weapons contractors. The corporate military industrial complex is running our country, make no mistake. We have over 1000 military bases around the world - not including the secret ones where we take people to torture them. We spend at least 54% of the discretionary budget (plus all of the special war funding bills) on defense. We spend more than every other nation on the world combined, on defense, and we can't win these wars? We aren't supposed to. If we weren't always at war, we might start thinking about spending that money on something else. We might start thinking about making the Pentagon pass an audit, and account for the nearly $3 trillion that it cannot account for.

One solution, of course, is to reinstitute the draft. If more families were involved, involuntarily, and on the receiving end of the "collateral damage", there would be loud, focused, antiwar protesting. If the sons of the GOP Congresscritters (notorious chickenhawks) were in line to get their asses shot off, we'd see some changes made.

It's disheartening to see so many people who were against the war when it belonged to Bush suddenly embrace it because they like the salesman. This will haunt them in 2010 and 2012. The GOP will rightly claim hypocrisy. This action seals Obama's fate as a one termer - and may well be the undoing of the Democratic Party.

The US needs to rethink foreign policy. We cannot support this kind of unnecessary military spending. We're borrowing the money to fight these wars, a legacy that our grandchildren will bear. We hear all manner of whimpering and accusation about the deficit - yet not a one of the big outspoken deficit hawks opposes military spending. Our very own Senator Judd Gregg is supporting this escalation - Judd Gregg who failed to be concerned about the deficit when he voted for every military spending bill that Bush suggested.

According to what I heard on NHPR yesterday, Senator Jeanne Shaheen is also supporting Obama's war. I'm sorry, Senator - I won't be voting for you next time. I won't vote for any incumbent or candidate who supports this war - or any other. I'm all finished supporting folks just because they have a D next to their name. I'm not going to waste another minute of my time on a candidate (on any level) who is not a progressive. No more centrists. No more NH tax pledge supporters. No more holding my nose and voting for the lesser of two evils. Doing that is what keeps the cycle going. As long as we support any old Democrat, no matter how right leaning, we'll continue to be told by the party that that's what we must do, that only centrist/right candidates can win in NH.

It's time for a third party. Obama is a huge disappointment to progressives. The Democratic majority we've all been waiting for can't even pass a useful health care plan - the best they can come up with is a valentine for insurance and drug companies. Now more than ever we need bold, creative leadership - and all we've got is a guy who is too afraid of upsetting the GOP and his bipartisan legacy to actually do anything.

It's time. I'm leaving the Democratic Party. It's time for a whole new direction.

War Resisters Pie Chart and budget info for 2009

© 2009 sbruce

Medicare Part D Open Enrollment Period

The annual enrollment and re-enrollment period for Medicare Part D drug insurance opened on November 15, and will remain open until December 31. Medicare Part D is not part of Medicare (despite the misleading name). It is a private drug insurance program that Medicare recipients must participate in (unless they have a comparable employer benefit), or pay a penalty that will remain in place for the duration of the recipient's time on Medicare, and may even escalate in cost.

This period gives new Medicare recipients a chance to sign up for a Part D plan, and gives those already enrolled a chance to change plans. The enrollee pays monthly premium paid for this insurance. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation:
The average monthly PDP premium in 2010 (weighted by 2009 enrollment, assuming beneficiaries remain in their current plan) will be $38.94. This is an 11 percent increase from the weighted
average monthly premium of $35.09 in 2009, and a 50 percent increase from $25.93 in 2006, the first year of the Medicare Part D drug benefit.

The cost of Part D plans vary across the country. The drugs covered by plans also vary considerably, and the plan can change the drugs they cover at any point in the year. The enrollee can only opt out during the open enrollment period at the end of the year. Each state offers over 40 different plans.

There is a significant coverage gap built into the plan, known as the "donut hole." On average, in addition to the monthly premium, there is a $310 deductible. After that, the plan pays for 75% of the drug costs, and the enrollee pays the other 25%.
When the enrollee reaches $3,610 in costs, they hit the donut hole, and must pay 100% of the cost of their prescriptions until they reach $6,440 in total drug costs. After that threshold is crossed, the enrollee pays 5% of their prescription drug costs, the plan pays for 15%, and Medicare pays the remaining 80%. This is known as Catastrophic Coverage. The Health Insurance Reform bill being discussed in Congress contains provisions for closing the coverage gap by 2019.

Since the plan began in 2006, the cost of the plans have steadily increased, as have the deductibles, as well as the size of the donut hole. Medicare Part D was a controversial piece of legislation, because it strictly forbids Medicare from negotiating prices with drug companies. A study done by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that seniors find the plans confusing, feel too many are offered, and on average, did not choose the lowest cost options for themselves. Insurance companies exert a lot of pressure on seniors to choose "brand name" plans.

To see how it works, I went to the site, to shop for a plan in my area. I found my state, and even my county. There were 43 plans for me to choose from in Carroll County, NH. We have a population of 47,408. That does seem excessive. site is very helpful, and will give you a breakdown by state and county of what plans are available, and how those plans have been rated by past enrollees. Most senior centers have folks on hand to help folks who aren't computer savvy negotiate through this overly complicated process.

cross posted at