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Fiasco Obamacare Debut

Fiasco Obamacare Debut

by Stephen Lendman

Obamacare's painful rollout is the least of its problems. More on that below. 

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is rife with problems. It's a ripoff. It's a boon to healthcare providers. It scams most enrollees. 

It's not universal as promised. It leaves millions of Americans uninsured. It leaves most others woefully underinsured.

US healthcare already is unaffordable. Obamacare makes it more so. It lawlessly invades privacy. It compromises a fundamental human right.

Martin Luther King once said:

"Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in heath care is the most shocking and inhumane."

Obamacare mandates making a failed system worse. It guarantees inequality. It institutionalizes it. It does so legally. 

Dr. Margaret Flowers is a universal single-payer activist. She's a Physicians for a National Health Program congressional fellow. She's US Green Shadow Cabinet Secretary of Health.

She's a Healthcare-NOW! board member. It addresses America's health insurance crisis. Obamacare made it worse. Dr. Flowers calls it "perhaps the greatest corporate scam ever."

Healthcare giants wrote the law. It assures greater than ever profits. It's at the expense of proper healthcare. "(S)hoddy products" insurers offer don't provide it, said Dr. Flowers.

US-style healthcare doesn't work. It's the world's most expensive by far. It provides the least bang for the buck. "It means that people only receive the health care they can afford, not what they need," explains Dr. Flowers.

It "leaves tens of millions without coverage." It "lowers the bar on what is considered to be acceptable insurance coverage." 

Most plans offered mandate huge deductibles and co-pays. Doing so means unaffordable out-of-pocket costs for tens of millions.

Federal subsidies for America's poor are woefully inadequate. Millions live from paycheck to paycheck. Limited resources make expensive treatments unaffordable. 

Medical expense debt is the nation's leading cause of personal bankruptcies. Healthcare gets increasingly more expensive. Insurers scam the system for profit.

According to Dr. Flowers, "expect them to justify higher premiums and to push for lower levels of coverage or fewer required services. And we can expect (federal and state authorities to be) compliant, as they have been."

Healthcare isn't a commodity. It's a fundamental human right. Privatizing it is polar opposite of what's needed. "We need Medicare for all now," says Dr. Flowers.

Everyone in! No one left out! Everybody gets identical coverage. Illness guarantees equal treatment. ACA assures separate and unequal. For many, it means pay or die.

October 1 was ACA rollout day. Web site access problems accompanied it. Millions needing to enroll in healthcare exchanges can't do so. What should have been simple is nightmarish.

It wasn't supposed to be this way. Washington had years to get ready. Failure perhaps is a metaphor for what never should been enacted in the first place.

On Monday, Obama acknowledged ongoing problems. At the same time, he minimized their severity. He didn't explain what went wrong, why, when they'll be fixed, or how to cope in the meantime.

Insurers are notifying customers their coverage is cancelled. It's because they're not complying with new ACA mandates.

Kaiser Health News said "Florida Blue is terminating about 300,000 policies, about 80% of its individual policies in the state."

Kaiser Permanente in California notified 160,000 customers they're out. Pittsburgh's Highmark dropped about 20% of its enrollees. Independence Blue Cross of Philadelphia cancelled about 45% of theirs.

Much the same thing is happening across America. ACA is barely three weeks old. Imagine how much worse things may get.

Obama lied saying if you like your coverage you can keep it. False! Force-fed options substitute. ACA institutionalized inequality. 

Millions are denied a fundamental human right. Millions more won't get enough of it to matter when they most need it.

New York Times editors were some of ACA's biggest boosters. They shamed themselves in the process. Even they expressed outrage over its "chaotic debut."

Unless serious problems are "fixed soon, they threaten to undermine" the entire system, they said.

"The administration created the Web site so the buck stops with high officials." Health and Human Services and Obama "allowed this to happen." They bear full responsibility.

Excuses offered don't wash. Enrollment procedures were supposed to be easy. Technical problems weren't supposed to happen.

Experts involved in fixing things say they're extensive. Perhaps months are needed to resolve them.

Millions are justifiably angry. They're frustrated. They're not sure what to do. Accountability is largely absent. Putting lipstick on this pig doesn't wash. 

Obama's signature initiative flopped on launch. Ahead expect things to get worse, not better. At issue isn't enrolling. 

It's what's covered, what isn't, cost, affordability, insurers gaming the system, and providing expensive treatments only to those who can pay for them out-of-pocket.

Obamacare's sick start reflects self-inflicted incompetence. Obama blamed snafus on system overloading. Search engines like Google handle billions of monthly visitors. They do so routinely.

Washington operates the world's most sophisticated supercomputers. Failure to get things right initially suggests lots more trouble ahead. Confidence once lost is hard to regain.

Consumer Reports (CR) reacted. After three weeks of testing, it said "stay away from for at least another month if you can." Abstain until major problems plaguing it are fixed.

"Hopefully that will be long enough for its software vendors to clean up the mess they've made."

"The coverage available through the marketplaces won’t begin until Jan. 1, 2014, at the earliest, and you have until Dec. 15 to enroll if you need insurance that starts promptly."

In ACA's first week, CR estimates about 270,000 people enrolled successfully. Nearly 9.5 million others tried and failed.

A week after launch, CR called "barely operational." On October 10, it said:

"(I)t's still next to impossible to create a user name and password that you can actually use to sign in." 

"(F)ive times (failed) without success. Our readers report similar frustrations." One wrote:

"Have been trying for a week, at least 10 times a day.  Have yet to get through the process."

Another said:

"Created account on 10/6 but unable to access it since then - get an error message saying that my account is not valid.' What a waste of my time."

"I have not been able to log in and I have tried 47 times," said a visitor to CR's Facebook's page of its online interactive site.

The only good news, said CR, is that "consumers coming to are no longer stopped cold by an error message or a screen saying they've been put in a waiting line."

On October 16, CR offered tips on registering. "We got advice from a pro software tester," it said.

(1) "Follow instructions when creating a user name." It's not easy. Instructions are garbled. They're needlessly complicated.

(2) "Move on immediately from failed logins."

"(D)on't believe all the status and error messages. They may not always match reality."

If what's tried doesn't work, use a different name, password and security question. Test to see if anything works.

(3) "Check your inbox frequently." If enrollment succeeds, "you should receive an 'account activation' e-mail (confirmation) within a few hours."

"Answer it promptly." Otherwise, " will time you out."

If no email arrives, you're back to square one. Start over.

(4) "Clear your cookies." If logging in to fails, most likely previous visits got your browser overloaded with them.

They exceed what the site can handle. It's one of many design errors. "(E)ither delete the cookies from your browser or log back in from" an alternative one.

If that's too much to handle, do nothing for several weeks. Then try again.

Marketplace coverage begins on January 1. Assuring it requires enrolling by December 15. Obamacare's rocky start suggests doing so won't be easy.

Millions already experienced error messages, delays, crashes, and stuck accounts.

Tech experts warned about problems in each enrollment step. According to healthcare consultant Dan Schuyler:

"There is grave concern that many individuals who are intent on securing coverage by (January 1) may not be able to do so by that date."

If "problems persist another three or four weeks, those at the back of the line will not have coverage."

Obamacare advocates knew they'd be problems. A pre-launch simulation test failed. It crashed. Federal officials went ahead as planned anyway.

Moments after midnight on October 1, locked up. About 2,000 users couldn't complete step one in enrolling.

When millions tried doing so, things went from bad to worse. None of this should have happened. 

No one knows when problems will be resolved. It's unclear how many bugs beset the system.  Millions wanting to enroll are stuck in limbo. 

It remains to be seen what happens on January 1. Americans needing healthcare can't wait. They need it now.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at 

His new book is titled "Banker Occupation: Waging Financial War on Humanity."

Visit his blog site at 

Listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network.

It airs Fridays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.

New Google technology ‘uProxy’ to provide uncensored internet for global activists

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The Government Shutdown’s Incalculable Damage to Scientific Research

Photo Credit: Alexander Raths/

October 18, 2013  |  

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"We're very excited."

So Minnesota Republican Representative Michele Bachmann told the Washington Post, commenting on the shutdown that ground many critical government functions to a halt for over two weeks. "It's  exactly what we wanted, and we got it."

So, what exactly did Bachmann and her Republican colleagues get out of it? A lot more than they may have bargained for, according to scientists employed by the federal government. It is not just that government researchers were locked out of their labs and offices, but whole programs were wastefully delayed and, in some cases, endangered.

I talked to Tom Greene, an astrophysicist at  Nasa Ames research center outside of San Francisco. Greene is working on the James Webb  SpaceTelescope – the eagerly awaited successor of the Hubble, with even more power to peer into heretofore unseen reaches of the universe. He told me that more than 100 scientists had gathered from all over the world to conduct critical equipment tests in preparation for the launch. But that all ended on 1 October when the government stopped writing checks.

Not only did this delay cost the program an estimated $1m a day, but, given Nasa's tight schedule, some tests may never get done now. This "is kind of scary," Greene says, given the immense complexity of the world's most powerful telescope.

This is only one of untold thousands of projects that were mothballed when Congress's failure to approve a budget defunded the US government at the start of the month. Federal websites were taken offline, scientists couldn't receive emails, attend meetings, or interact with their colleagues. Crucial  environmentalfood safety and climate monitoring programs were either suspended, or substantially scaled back.

Now that the whole bizarre episode appears to be over, it's a good time to look at what it cost American taxpayers – and the science which we collectively support. Where to start? Let's begin as far away from Washington as we can get – in, say,  Antarctica.

The National Science Foundation, which is funded by the federal government, had to send the scientists home during key field season and shut down projects ranging from climate research to studies of penguins. Will they return now that government funding has been restored? Well, maybe not. "Some activities cannot be restarted once seasonally dependent windows for research and operations have passed," the National Science Foundation cautioned in a statement. Oops: so some projects may have just  blown a whole year's research.

And speaking of Antarctica, a  US delegation had to suspend its trip to Australia, where representatives of many nations are gathering in hopes of agreeing on the creation of the world's largest marine sanctuary. America has been one of the most enthusiastic proponents of this; Russia, which has fishing rights in the area, has  resisted.

The meeting starts in a few days. So, with any luck, there might still be time to book the flight. Would it be too much to ask the  Republicans in Congress who caused the shutdown to chip in for late booking fees on those tickets?

Closer to home, there are the lab animals that were being used in research on diseases like diabetes,  cancer and Alzheimer's.  National Public Radio reported that thousands may have already died or been killed by researchers who could no longer maintain them, including colonies of genetically altered mice that are unable to survive without constant monitoring by scientists. To revive these unique strains now will be costly, both in time and money.

Andrew Rosenberg, the director of the Union of Concerned Scientists'  center for science and democracy, has been looking into the impact of the shutdown on researchers around the country. He told me about a wildlife biologist who tags grey wolves who just missed the heart of his yearly field season; a researcher monitoring currents in the mid-Atlantic who couldn't get access to his ocean site during a recent tropical storm, which he had been waiting for all year; a cancer trial that had to be cancelled; students who lost critical training time … the list goes on. Rosenberg says:

Pro-Coal Kids’ Pages Pulled from Government Site as Public Pressure Increases

Photo Credit: Stanislav Tiplyashin

October 18, 2013  |  

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The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity has removed coal-related educational sections from its website, less than two weeks after the launch of a grassroots campaign demanding that the pages be taken down.

The website sections were supposed to educate children about energy, but had been widely denounced because they focused on misleading pro-coal messages.

It wasn't just environmentalists who objected to the way Illinois was talking about coal to kids. Last month, a state-commissioned evaluation of the Illinois coal education program determined that the curriculum, including the website, was "biased towards a positive image of coal."

As pressure increased on the department to take action, staff members initially claimed that they were too broke to fix the problem. Then the pages disappeared from the site on Monday. Earlier screen shots show sections called "Education" and "Kid's Site," neither of which was visible when YES! checked the DCEO site [this week].

"This is a victory for our children and schools," said Sam Stearns, a former coal miner who helped to organize for the site to be changed, "and a first step toward refashioning an energy education program that tells the truth about the health and environmental impacts of coal mining and burning."

In the CREDO petition Stearns launched, along with former country music singer and environmentalist Mark Donham, the two criticized the website's downplay of environmental impacts and safety issues among miners, especially black lung disease.

They also singled out the use of a cartoon figure that told children that land reclamation efforts after strip-mining return the land "the way it was or better than before mining."

Coal education screen shot.

Along with CREDO, Stearns was joined by national children's groups such as Rethinking Schools, the Zinn Education Project, and the Boston-based Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, which led a successful campaign two years ago to expose the " United States of Energy," a curriculum published by Scholastic but bankrolled by the American Coal Foundation.

"It's not surprising that a desperate industry would try and win children's hearts and minds," said Josh Golin, the campaign's associate director. "But it's beyond disappointing that state education officials would help dirty coal with this dirty mission."

Bill Bigelow, curriculum editor at Rethinking Schools magazine and co-director of the Zinn Education Project, found the outcome encouraging.

"They can only get away with this because people haven't demanded that it stop," he said. "Now, they have."

Jeff Biggers wrote this article for YES! Magazine , a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas and practical actions. Winner of the David R. Brower Award for Environmental Reporting, Jeff is the author of Reckoning at Eagle Creek: The Secret Legacy of Coal in the Heartland , among other books. His website is

Sharing Rides, Hoarding Profits

 “Disruption” is the zeitgeist of Silicon Valley’s tech industry, especially in the realm of startups. The mythos goes like this: small scrappy hackers with very little capital and a few computers can create new business models that will topple older fossilized companies, even whole industries. In the process the economy will become more efficient and everyone will have more choices. We all win thanks to the new Internet-enabled economy. That’s not at all what is happening in reality, however.

The ideology of disruption goes back a long way in the annals theorizing capitalism, but the current ideology really owes more to Clayton Christensen, a Harvard Business School professor and devout Mormon who has built his academic career on case studies of disruptors. Christensen’s seminal 1998 article in the Harvard Business Review on disruption tells a story about dominant companies atop their industries —Firestone, Xerox, IBM— that were caught flat footed, and in several cases destroyed, by their smaller creative competitors. They failed to innovate and grow beyond their core markets. They failed to recognize the potential of a new technology that would make their existing products and services obsolete. This has fidelity with the actual history of American business.

Christensen, along with his son Matthew, manages a hedge fund that purports to bet on disruptors and short the stock of bumbling giants. Christensen also sponsors a think tank he named after himself, the Christensen Institute, which, according to its web site is, “dedicated to improving the world through disruptive innovation.”

California’s tech entrepreneurs have embraced Christensenian disruption. The big case studies in tech that seem to confirm Christensen’s theory are well known. Digital cameras destroyed film. Personal computers displaced mainframes as the core hardware business, and laptops have since eaten into a huge share of the personal computer market. Now mobile devices are eroding PC sales. None was ever seen as a threat to the existing dominant product and producer, but displacement happened nonetheless. Tapes replaced vinyl, CDs replaced tapes, but MP3s and iTunes-like services have replaced CDs. Cloud is displacing both the idea of storing your data on physical drives you own. Software as a service is chipping away at the idea of buying and owning software. And so on…

In a lot of cases disruption ends up being a battle of big corporations for market share. Consumers and employees within the industry aren’t necessarily better or worse off when the smoke clears and a winner emerges with a new technology and business model.

But the tech boom today is characterized by a another kind of disruption. It’s social disruption. New technologies and business models don’t just attack the existing dominant corporations; they attack social relations and transform non-business spheres of life into methodical instances of economic exchange from which the new tech innovators extract revenue. The tech boom is also characterized by disruption of smaller competitive markets by emergent tech monopolists backed ultimately by huge pools of private equity and giant, monopoly-seeking corporations.

The winners and losers in many cases of disruption are split along existing racial and class lines of inequality. Those with little economic or political power to defend themselves from the disruptors are seeing their livelihoods and communities turned upside down. Their small businesses are being destroyed. Their communities are becoming unaffordable. Those with cultural capital, and access to economic capital have a shot at being disruptive, at skimming some wealth off of deregulated industry and precarious labor. And the wealthy individuals and companies that should be disrupted by a clever tech startup —the tax dodging banks, the Fortune 500, the health care companies and insurance giants— have the resources to defend themselves, fend off the geeks, deploy an equally clever response to retain market share, or to just buyout the scrappy competitor and fold it into their existing empire.

The ridesharing phenomenon reflects all of this and more.

Ridesharing companies like Lyft, Uber, and Sidecar use the ubiquitous ownership of smartphones to connect casual drivers and passenger clients through their proprietary applications. Like any broker they take their cut of the revenue in these transactions, (Lyft, for example, skims 20 percent off each payment made by a passenger through their smartphone.) Ridesharing companies encourage unregulated, hyper-privatized transactions among precarious laborers. Their business model relies on marketizing formerly non-economic spheres of life, like giving a friend a ride in your car, and they have aggressively externalized costs like gas, insurance, payroll, etc. so that profits are maximized and expenses are as close as possible to nonexistent. In doing so they undermine the very existence of the taxi industry, but they also undermine public infrastructure in toto.

Taxis are not just some private sector dinosaur that should be hit from an innovation meteor. Taxis are an integral part of every major city’s transportation infrastructure. Taxis have been strictly regulated to ensure that the industry’s companies and contractor-drivers pay revenue into the city for the infrastructure they use: roads, signals, bridges, signs, sidewalks, etc. In San Francisco taxis generate over ten million dollars each year in revenue for the city to spend on maintaining transport infrastructure. The funds also pay for the costs of regulating the industry through the Taxi Commission. Regulators attempt to shape the industry in important ways to make it more accessible and equitable and therefore democratic. For example, San Francisco’s taxi fleet is 85 percent hybrid or CNG fueled, reducing the fleet’s carbon emissions and improving the health of city residents. This environmental standard is only possible because the industry is regulated, and ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft undermine this effort. Taxis are also required not to discriminate among passengers, and to serve all parts of the city, among other things that might not be maximally profitable. It’s this public transportation infrastructure, a big part of which is comprised of taxis, that is being disrupted by the ridesharing companies who have inserted themselves as for-profit brokers in the transportation commons.

The people who will lose the most from the unbridled rise of ridesharing are those employed by the taxi industry which is seeing profits disappear. San Francisco’s taxi industry is very decentralized and highly competitive. There are about 31 cab companies today served by 10 dispatch companies, some quite big and some very small. No single firm is dominant. There are about 1,500 cabs authorized to drive within the city. The taxi industry employes several thousand workers. Taxi drivers are predominantly immigrants and people of color, and the average cabbie earns a very low yearly income. In 2000 upwards of 57 percent of San Francisco cab drivers were immigrants, with the largest groups having arrived from South Asia, East Asia, Russia and Africa. Of the 1,540 taxi drivers in the San Francisco, San Mateo, Redwood City metro region the hourly mean wage last year was $14.17, and the annual mean income was a mere $22,440.

When people say the taxi industry is “ripe for disruption,” what they’re saying, besides the real inefficiencies and problems affecting most big city taxi operations, is that it is a decentralized, highly competitive industry, most of whose owners and operators are low-income people of color, many of who are immigrants. They are susceptible because they are marginalized, and because they lack political and economic clout. In San Francisco the cabbies are definitely a noisy political lobby, but up against the tech and venture capital bosses and entrepreneurs, who are most influential in the Mayor’s office, the cab drivers are impotent.

That’s who is being disrupted, a competitive industry that is owned by, and which employes, working class people of color.

So who’s doing the disrupting? Who benefits from this attack on the taxi industry, and more generally on the principle of a regulated transportation sector?

The two biggest ridesharing companies in San Francisco are Uber and Lyft. Although they virtually didn’t exist until two years ago, between them they have raised about $390 million over the past 2 years according to securities filings with the state and SEC. Uber and Lyft are quickly expanding their ridesharing enterprises to New York, LA, Chicago, and other cities far beyond the laboratory of San Francisco.

Where is this money coming from?

Uber’s financial backers include Goldman Sachs, Google Ventures, and four other private equity groups. Perhaps Uber’s biggest financial backer is TPG Capital. Co-founder of TPG, David Bonderman, one of the wealthiest men on earth, is now on Uber’s board of directors. Bonderman’s personal net worth is somewhere in the ballpark of $2.6 billion. TPG reportedly has $55 billion in funds under management making it one of the largest private equity firms in the world.

Uber’s other investors like Menlo Ventures, Benchmark Capital, and First Round Capital are pretty typical of Silicon Valley’s private equity network. The firms are owned and run by mostly white men with Ivy League college pedigrees, places like Stanford, Cornell, Harvard, Yale and other bastions of privilege. The partners at these firms are millionaires, and billionaires are not uncommon. They leverage pension fund, university endowment, and sovereign wealth dollars to invest in speculative ventures as well as established companies (and from their limited partners they extract hefty management fees). To call them members of the 1% would be inaccurate. Many of Silicon Valley’s private equity investors quality as bona fide members of the 0.1% due to the enormous sums of wealth and income at their command. While most are socially liberal, many of them make political investments with influential Democratic and Republican members of Congress to ensure the country’s tax code and business laws allow them maximally build their fortunes.

Lyft’s financial beneficiaries are similarly elite members of the economic hierarchy. Earlier this year Zimride, the ridesharing company that developed Lyft, sold its Zimride ride-sharing application to Enterprise Holdings for an undisclosed sum. (Zimride was the equivalent of a combined craigslist ride-sharing bulletin board and Facebook.) Enterprise Holdings is a giant global corporation that booked $15.4 billion in revenue last year. As a private corporation, Enterprise is owned and controlled by the Taylor family of St. Louis. Jack Taylor, the family’s patriarch, is reportedly worth $11 billion. The Enterprise acquisition of Zimride is an example of how powerful corporate interest often respond to potential disruptors who might undermine their existing product; they purchase them and integrate them into their larger operations. In this case Enterprise, which peddles rental cars it owns, saw Zimride as something that could disrupt their profit stream, so Enterprise gobbled up the disruptor. The way Enterprise does business is changing as a result, but the distribution of economic power isn’t shifting.

Zimride’s Lyft ridesharing product which directly competes with taxi companies and bigger competitors like Uber received $80 million this year, mostly from the Andreessen Horowitz private equity firm. Again, Andreessen Horowitz is about as wealthy and establishment as you can imagine in American business. Marc Adreesseen, who half the firm is named for, got rich from developing one of the first web browsers. From the fortune he obtained doing that he invested in other big tech companies and became wealthy. Today Andreessen is a director of HP and Ebay, two Fortune 500 companies, as well as a director of Facebook.

Ben Horowitz (son of the arch-conservative David Horowitz) was a founder of Opsware, a company Hewlett Packard bought for over a billion dollars back in 2007. Andreessen was a funder of that company. Opsware was possibly a disruptor to established tech companies like HP, so HP devoured it.

Andreessen Horowitz manages probably upwards of $3 billion, and they have dozens of investments. They’re major backers of other disruptive tech startups like Airbnb and Udacity, two companies that are similar to ridesharing in that they are threatening the welfare and livelihoods of low-income communities.

Look across the other smaller ridesharing startups that are competing for market share in this gold rush sector and you’ll see similar stories, fast growing companies with very disruptive business plans backed by very powerful investors. The people who’s lives will be most disrupted are going to be the less powerful working class who toil in the competitive and disorganized taxi and other transit industries. The public sector will be disrupted as it is partially privatized and as regulations are undermined in favor of new rules that allow tech companies to externalize costs as much as possible onto precarious workers. More and more parts of our lives will be transformed into relationships of market exchange. As San Francisco’s recent battles over ridesharing show, this is by no means a “natural” process. It’s politically determined as to what kind of economy we want, and how the rules of the economy will distribute wealth and income and provision for public goods.

Darwin Bond-Graham, a contributing editor to CounterPunch, is a sociologist and author who lives and works in Oakland, CA. His essay on the economic looting of Detroit appears in the September issue of CounterPunch magazine. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion

What Happened When I Tried to Meet With My Elected Representative John Boehner

Photo Credit: By United States House of Representatives ( [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

October 16, 2013  |  

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This is a story that should be fairly disturbing. I am a 19 year old college student hailing from West Chester, Ohio. I set forth last spring (early April) to speak to my congressman—John Boehner—about issues that were incredibly important to me. At the time my family was in financial crisis. My father had been out of work for almost a year, my mother's hours had been cut, though her job didn't provide her with healthcare anyway.

Of course, I was having trouble paying for college. I attend The Ohio State University, which has one of the lowest tuition of any University in the state of Ohio—but it was still a lot of money. I had taken off the fall semester of my freshman year to work and hopefully pay some bills. I wanted to talk to Congressman Boehner because at the time a huge debate over student loan interest rates was going on. I wanted to tell him how much this mattered, how students like me would use the opportunity given—but we just needed a little help.

I was so sure I could do this. I was so absolutely sure that if a normal person worked hard enough, they could speak to their most local representative to Washington.

I was wrong. Dead wrong.

How I Started

I began by sending an email and making a phone call to the local West Chester office. When both responses resulted in the same exact letter of reply, I grew conscientious about whether Congressman Boehner was actually hearing anything I was saying. I began to get the impression that I was simply being sent the same generic response about Rep. Boehner working during college to pacify me, rather than because people actually cared.

This is when I decided I wanted to talk to him face-to-face. I knew it wouldn't be easy and that I wouldn't be given much time. I was okay with that. I know that with five minutes I could explain to the Congressman how important education was to me, and how we needed to offer lower interest rates, not higher. I sent emails asking to meet with him, underlining my concerns with college affordability.

I kept getting the same letters in the mail. The same generic responses.

A month had passed, and I was more than a bit angry. It was looking to be harder and harder to go back to OSU next semester, and my most local representative to Washington DC didn't seem to care.

I decided to call his Washington DC office and explain to them my desire to meet with Congressman Boehner. They seemed unsure about this request, but the aide on the phone was extremely polite and gave me the email address for the scheduling team. I was encouraged by this, it seemed like I was heading in the right direction.

On June 17th, 2013 I sent the following email:

To whom this may concern:

My name is Jake Geers, I am a student and community organizer who is the son of two hard working Americans. I have been working full time alongside my education and would like the opportunity to give a middle American perspective to the congressman regarding the student loan crisis in America. I am willing to meet with Rep. Boehner here in west Chester or in Washington D.C.

Please email me back with any questions. I understand the schedule may be full, and despite the pending deadline of July 1 I am fully open to speaking with the congressman any day after July 7th.

With Governor’s Veto, California’s Harsh Drugs Sentencing Will Continue

Photo Credit: By Neon Tommy (originally posted to Flickr as Jerry Brown) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

October 16, 2013  |  

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Over the long weekend, California Gov. Jerry Brown chose to continue the 40 year old failed war on drugs.

Brown rejected the national ‘smart on crime’ trend and pragmatic public policy by vetoing SB649, which aimed to give judges and district attorneys  the discretion to charge possession of small amounts of illicit drugs for personal use as a felony or a misdemeanor as the case warrants.

Brown chose to make no advance towards the federal court order to reduce prison overcrowding. The governor chose to defy supermajority public opinion on how California should deal with nonviolent drug offenders.

Drug use is a health issue, not a criminal justice one. And the last thing someone struggling with problematic drug use needs is a lifelong felony record. Felony sentences don’t reduce drug use and don’t persuade users to seek treatment, but instead, impose tremendous barriers to housing, education and employment after release – three things we know help keep people out of our criminal justice system and successfully reintegrating into their families and communities. States that currently charge drug use as a misdemeanor actually show higher rates of drug treatment use.

Locking up people for simple drug possession comes at a tremendous cost to the taxpayers, between $40,000 and $52,000/year to be precise, depending on whether they serve their time in a prison bed or a county jail.

According to  state data, there are 10,000 convictions for possession of heroin and cocaine for personal use each year in California. The majority of these 10,000 sentences are to felony probation. SB649, authored by state Sen. Mark Leno and supported in the legislature by some Republicans, as well as most Democrats would have helped reduce prison and jail overcrowding in California and provided savings to the financially-strapped courts because felony charges require setting a preliminary hearing, whereas misdemeanor offenses do not.

Brown let down the people of California, the majority of whom support going even farther than this bill would have gone. While the law enforcement lobby gained a huge win with this  veto, the public opinion that strongly favors this type of drug sentencing reform was dismissed

A statewide 2012 poll showed 75 percent of Californians favoring investment in prevention and alternatives to jail for non-violent offenders, with 62 percent agreeing that the penalty for possessing a small amount of illegal drugs for personal use should be reduced to a misdemeanor. Leno’s bill provided a safe and logical opportunity to reduce the number of people incarcerated for simple drug possession.

Two months after U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced the nation’s plan to scale back federal prison sentences for low-level drug crimes, California is still struggling for consensus on how to comply with a federal mandate to reduce prison overcrowding, much of which has been driven by overly harsh drug sentencing.

In fact, today the U.S Supreme Court  rejected Brown's appeal in the state's prison overcrowding case, leaving California under federal court order to reduce its prison population by nearly 8,000 inmates byJan. 27, 2014.

Not only would SB649 have helped the governor meet the federal court order, it would have brought California closer to the standard of 13 states, the District of Columbia, and the federal government, which already treat drug possession as a misdemeanor. Drug crime is not higher in those states.

Instead, California remains one of worst in the country with harsh drug sentencing standards and overcrowded prisons and jails.

This piece first appeared on the Drug Policy Alliance blog

Facts and Myths About Infidelity

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October 16, 2013  |  

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Good-looking people may receive more invitations to cheat on their partners, but they are no more likely than anyone else to have an affair.

That’s one finding of a  newly published study that looks at infidelity among young American adults. It finds that, among a large group of young adults, two different measures of attractiveness—the assessment of an interviewer, and a person’s body-mass index—had any appreciable impact on the likelihood of cheating.

Effrosyni Adamopoulou, a research fellow with the Bank of Italy, reports that some common beliefs about infidelity appear to be supported by the evidence, while others do not. She studied data from the  National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, a nationally representative sample of young Americans that began in 1994 and 1995, when participants were between 7th and 12th grade.

The subjects were contacted periodically for subsequent “waves” of the study. The most recent data came from 2001-02, when participants were ages 18 to 26, and from 2008, when they were 24 to 32. Information was collected during interviews that took place at the person’s home.

For her study, published in the journal Economics Letters, Adamopoulou focused on one specific question: “During the time you and your current partner have had a sexual relationship, have you ever had any other sexual partners?” Note that this expands the traditional definition of infidelity beyond married couples to people who are currently dating or co-habitating.

In the most recent survey (2008), 21.5 percent of participants reported that they had cheated on their current partner at least once. Self-reported cheating was lower among married people, with only 12.9 reporting they had strayed.

A greater percentage of men than women admitted to cheating, but Adamopoulou notes that during the 2001-02 interviews, that situation was reversed. Pooling both sets of answers, “one can argue that men and women are equally likely to be unfaithful,” she writes, adding that this conforms to the theory that in societies like the U.S. where women have achieved a certain degree of equality, infidelity rates should be about the same.

In the not-particularly-surprising category, she finds more religious people are less likely to cheat, and that having a child lowers the chances of infidelity. In addition, she found infidelity is more common among blacks than whites, and more likely to occur "in relationships of long duration."

More intriguingly, Adamopoulou charts a very clear pattern of seasonal differences. From 1996 to 2001, cheating among married participants peaked each year during the summer months.

As a possible explanation, she notes that people are more likely to travel in the summer, which means more opportunities for hanky-panky. “Cheating is less likely to be detected when an individual chooses partners in different places,” she notes.

“There does not seem to be any relationship between socioeconomic status and infidelity,” she writes. “Earnings and education do not seem to have any statistically significant effect (on rates of cheating).”

Finally—an activity where there is no class divide.

Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for the Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune and Ventura County Star.

The Myth of Christian Persecution

Republican congresswoman Michele Bachmann (C) heads for a House Republican caucus meeting at the US Capitol building in Washington, DC on October 4, 2013

October 16, 2013  |  

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The following article first appeared in the American Prospect. 

When Senator Rand Paul took the stage at last weekend's Values Voter Summit, it was clear he needed to up the stakes. Alongside a handful of other 2016 presidential contenders, Paul was auditioning for the far right’s support in a speech to the annual conference of Christian conservatives hosted by the Family Research Council at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C. Making his task far more difficult was that fact that one of his rivals had just hit a home run.

Ted Cruz, the Republican senator largely blamed for orchestrating the government shutdown in a last-ditch effort to defund the Affordable Care Act, left the podium after a barn-burner speech punctuated by yells of protest from a handful of immigration activists who had entered the conference incognito. Each time the protesters interrupted Cruz’s speech, the audience throbbed with exhilaration and rage. Cruz—who would go on to win the 2016 presidential straw poll—paced the stage like a charismatic preacher, pronouncing amid thunderous applause, “The greatest trick the left has ever played is to convince conservatives we cannot win.” It was an appropriate tack for a man who’s been widely criticized for leading congressional Republicans into an unwinnable shutdown crisis. At least in Cruz’s mind, victory was still possible.

The air was much stiller after Paul took Cruz’s place behind the microphone. But the Kentucky libertarian plunged in, dispensing with a few boilerplate jokes about the Senate Republicans’ upcoming meeting at the White House before shifting to another conservative bête noire: Christian persecution in the Middle East and beyond. “Across the globe, Christians are under attack, almost as if we lived in the Middle Ages or under early pagan Roman rule,” Paul said, referring to the waves of violence against Coptic Christians, who were targeted following the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. “This administration does nothing to stop it. And it can be argued that they’re giving aid and comfort to those who tolerate these crimes.”

The global war on Christianity is a perpetual topic on conservative talk shows, but it might seem like an odd choice for a politician like Paul, who's made his name as a libertarian Republican opposed to any kind of military intervention. As the Values Voter Summit unfolded over the next day and a half, however, it was clear that Paul was stepping onto a powerful rhetorical bandwagon. Throughout the summit, speaker after speaker bemoaned Christians’ status as an embattled people, fighting everything from Islamic radicalism to a shadowy “war on football.”

At least four speakers—from Ted Cruz to Matt Krause, a first-term Texas state legislator—placed themselves and the assembled crowds in the shoes of another embattled minority: Jews at the time of the Babylonian exile. “Like Esther, you were called for a time such as this,” Cruz told his audience, echoing a line from the Book of Esther, the Biblical story of the queen who rescued the Persian Jews, a religious minority in exile, from the genocidal machinations of the king’s adviser, Haman. It’s a weird analogy, not least because it casts Obama (who is, of course, also a Christian, although that fact was not mentioned at the summit) as Haman, a member of the Amalekite tribe, the Jews’ ancient foes. The allusion has other disturbing implications: At the end of the Book of Esther, the Jews, with the Persian king’s blessing, roved throughout the kingdom, slaughtering their enemies.

The crowds ate it up. But why would messages about martyrdom and victimhood be so galvanizing to a group of people who are, by almost any measure possible, objectively not being persecuted? The president is Christian; Congress is overwhelmingly Christian; although there are no Protestants on the Supreme Court, a majority of the justices are Catholic. Even Paul’s claims about a global war on Christianity ring false. Muslims who use the Internet—who make up about 18 percent of the global population, although this number varies widely from country to country— are increasingly likely to have favorable views of the West and Christianity, signaling that as Internet access expands, Muslim attitudes will grow friendlier.  Two-thirds of Muslims worldwide share concerns about Islamic extremism.

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8 Ways WikiLeaks Cables About a Tiny Country Like Iceland Expose the Dark Depths...

View of the WikiLeaks homepage featuring its founder Julian Assange.
Photo Credit: haak78 /

October 9, 2013  |  

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As Chelsea Manning serves a 35-year sentence for the heinous crime of informing Americans about their government, an obscure milestone in her journey passes this autumn—the fifth anniversary of Iceland's financial collapse. In early 2010 —with 251,287 diplomatic cables, records from Guantanamo Bay, and reams of raw intelligence from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—Manning reached out to WikiLeaks, having been spurned by the New York Times and the Washington Post.

Because Julian Assange and Daniel Domscheit-Berg had traveled to Iceland, where they were lauded for publishing a loan portfolio detailing sketchy loans made by the collapsed Icelandic bank Kaupthing, Manning took an interest in the country. She learned about the so-called Icesave dispute between Iceland and Britain and the Netherlands in a WikiLeaks chatroom, and, as she later told a military court, decided to leak a cable describing the conflict, with Icelandic diplomats begging the U.S. to stop “bullying” them.

“Iceland was out of viable options and was coming to the US for assistance. Despite the quiet request for assistance, it did not appear that we were going to do anything,” she said. “I felt that I would be able to right a wrong by having [WikiLeaks] publish this document.”

It was published in February 2010. The deluge came after.

But the so-called Reykjavik 13 cable isn't the only globally noteworthy cable to emerge from WikiLeaks' Icelandic treasure trove. I read through every cable sent from America's northernmost embassy and discovered eight tasty tidbits that you might want to know about.

1. The U.S. organized a trip for foreign journalists to promote war.

According to a March 28, 2007 cable written by Ambassador Carol von Voorst, the U.S. Embassy was fretting that Iceland was losing interest in maintaining its small (but proportional) contributions toward the war efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq. She bemoaned the Icelandic government's plans “to withdraw its Icelandic Crisis Response Unit (ICRU) from Chaghcharan, northern Afghanistan in late April, where it has played an essential part in the region's humanitarian missions since 2004,” attributing the move to Icelandic officials being “greatly influenced by public opinion, especially in the run-up to national elections this May."

Von Voorst wrote that the Embassy “believes it is imperative at this time to shore up Iceland's support of NATO's ongoing mission in Afghanistan” and, therefore “is nominating one of the country's most influential broadcasters to participate in the upcoming USNATO opinion-maker tour in Brussels and Washington, D.C. to help explain the importance of NATO's reconstruction and security assistance mission to Afghanistan.” This was a veteran radio journalist working for the state broadcaster by the name of Jon Gudni Kristjansson.

Von Voorst characterized him as the optimal choice for the “US government-sponsored travel.” He was described by the ambassador as someone who “would appreciate the opportunity to participate in the USNATO tour to receive first-hand information about the US and NATO missions in Afghanistan”:

Mr. Kristjansson believes the USNATO trip would deepen his understanding of the complex situation in Afghanistan, and would give him the opportunity to obtain on-the-record comments from US and NATO officials, which he would use in developing stories to send back to Iceland during his trip.

Like most ambitions of an imperial nature, this did not exactly go as planned. In an email, Kristjansson, who confirmed that he went on the trip and said that it was paid for by the U.S. government, stressed that it was “next to useless” from a journalist's point of view. He said U.S. and NATO officials put forth “the message that everything was going fine in Afghanistan, but the 'information' was too one sided.” He, therefore, didn't use the trip to produce any sort of reports on Afghanistan.

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