Saturday, March 31, 2012

ANS -- Winter Coat Turns into a Sleeping Bag for the Homeless

One of our readers sent me this story.  It's great:  a design student is challenged to design to fill a need, she designs a coat that converts into a heat-conserving sleeping bag, she starts a business to make them and hires the homeless....
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Winter Coat Turns into a Sleeping Bag for the Homeless

59 comments Winter Coat Turns into a Sleeping Bag for the Homeless

Written by Bonnie Alter

You could call these coats "transformer clothing" because they do change from a coat into a sleeping bag. But you could also call them humanitarian and inspirational because they save homeless people from freezing in the winter.

The coats were created by a student industrial designer from Detroit.

The Element S (Survival) Coat is self-heated and waterproof and transforms into a sleeping bag at night. It took the designer a long time to test out the possibilities–the first one weighed twenty pounds and was terrible looking. After taking advice from homeless advisors at a local shelter the latest version is made of water and wind and air-resistant polyethylene on the outer layer, which acts as a barrier.

The inner layer is made of Thinsulate and Steelcase fabric to store body heat. It also turns into an over-the-shoulder bag with the arm sockets acting as storage. The design is so clever that it won an International Design prize.

To date 275 coats have been made and one hundred of them have been given to homeless people in Detroit. Two were donated to Occupy Wall Street supporters in New York this past winter.

As explained in the New York Times, it has been quite a journey for Veronika Scott, the designer. It all started with a Detroit professor who had a design activism class where students were given the instruction to "Design to fill a need" and Veronika Scott did just that. Let's hope she got an A+ on the course.

She has now started up a small non-profit business, Empowerment Plan, which provides homeless women with employment opportunities. In preparation, she has travelled to social entrepreneur fairs, met manufacturers, renovated a space in Detroit on the cheap.

She has had help from her friends. Carhartt is a local company which specialises in work wear and they have donated industrial sewing machines, materials and training guidance. In addition, a local industrial fabric company, is helping her with manufacturing so she can make her coats more quickly

As for the women who are working at the Empowerment Plan, they have been taught how to sew them and are paid for their work. So not only does the coat help the homeless, its creation is providing long-term education and opportunities as well. If you are inspired, you can donate to the project.

This post was originally published by TreeHugger.


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Friday, March 30, 2012

ANS -- Justice Scalia: Let Them Die

Justice Scalia has shown himself to be an inhuman monster.  As one of the comments said, why hasn't the pope excommunicated him for this?  Very short article. 
Find it here:    

Justice Scalia: Let Them Die

[] Tuesday, March 27, 2012 | [] Posted by Deaniac83 at 1:24 PM


[] Maybe you missed it, but Justice Scalia today said that letting the uninsured die is a better idea than making it an individual responsibility for those who can afford it to buy health insurance.

Solicitor General Donald Verrilli was explaining to Justice Scalia that the individual responsibility provision (aka "the mandate") is justified given the fact that the uninsured can show up in emergency rooms and get care regardless of ability (or willingness) to pay, shifting the cost to other participants of the market in the form of higher insurance premiums. Scalia, undeterred, dropped the GOP baseline:

GENERAL VERRILLI: No. It's because you're going -- in the health care market, you're going into the market without the ability to pay for what you get, getting the health care service anyway as a result of the social norms that allow -- that -- to which we've obligated ourselves so that people get health care.

JUSTICE SCALIA: Well, don't obligate yourself to that. Why -- you know?

GENERAL VERRILLI: Well, I can't imagine that that -- that the Commerce Clause would --would forbid Congress from taking into account this deeply embedded social norm.

JUSTICE SCALIA: You -- you could do it.

Don't obligate yourself to that? That, Justice Scalia, is the cornerstone of a civilized people. That is the fact that when someone shows up at the emergency room with a chest pain or a broken leg or a head injury, we don't wait to verify insurance or bank accounts before giving them the care that they need. We shouldn't obligate ourselves to that? There is only one other alternative, if we don't obligate ourselves to that. And that is to let people die if they cannot pay for the emergency care that they need.

This is a justice of the United States Supreme Court. This is one of the nine people that decide the fates of all Americans on issues of crucial significance. I'm still in shock. But I guess I shouldn't be. But I am ashamed. For him. For the Supreme Court. For a justice system that allows someone like this to put on a robe.

Scalia doesn't just say it once; he re-iterates it. You could do it, it says. Yes, I guess we could. We could let people die. Because anything is better than making those who can afford it buy insurance, right? Anything, including letting people die. Welcome to "Justice" Antonin Scalia's America.

ANS -- Startup announces big breakthrough for electric vehicle batteries

I told you great things were being developed.  Here's one of them.  It should help.
Fidn it here:   

Startup announces big breakthrough for electric vehicle batteries

The Chevrolet Volt uses a form of lithium-ion chemistry in its batteries. (Keri Wiginton/ Chicago Tribune photo)

March 27, 2012

For years, the electric vehicle industry has been eager to build a better electric car battery: one that extends range while having a longer overall life, is affordable, quick-charging and safe.

Now Envia Systems, a start-up based in Newark, Calif., has announced it has achieved a critical milestone: a rechargeable lithium-ion battery with an " energy density" of 400 watt-hours per kilogram, the highest energy density known to be recorded.
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When commercialized, Envia says the 400 wh/kg battery, with a range of 300 miles and a cost of about $25,000, will slash the price of electric vehicles and make them more affordable for mainstream consumers.

Envia received a $4 million grant from ARPA-E in December 2009 to develop advanced lithium-ion batteries for electric cars. It went on to raise $17 million in venture capital from General Motors Ventures, Bay Partners, Redpoint and Pangaea Ventures.

"We hope that this low cost and high density battery technology enables widespread adoption of electric vehicles across the country and around the world," said ARPA-E (Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy) Director Arun Majumdar.

Batteries are complex systems that convert stored chemical energy into electricity. Researchers say advances often involve trade-offs: improving range may result in skyrocketing costs, or a shorter battery life.

Measured as kilowatt hours per kilogram or liter, "energy density" determines range: The more watt hours, the more miles a car can travel on a single charge. Low-cost, high-energy density batteries are the Holy Grail. Battery costs are expected to come down due to volume manufacturing, but energy density has been a much harder goal to achieve.

Kapadia said that Envia's hard-working team of engineers developed the technology from scratch. After testing the battery in-house, additional testing was performed by the Electrochemical Power Systems Department at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Indiana. The company is now in discussion with auto manufacturers.

The Tesla Roadster, Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt all use some form of lithium-ion chemistry in their batteries.

­ Dana Hull

San Jose Mercury News

ANS -- Obama’s Top 50 Accomplishments

for those of you who think President Obama didn't do anything, here is a list of fifty things he has accomplished, despite being opposed at every turn by Republicans and Tea Partiers who wanted to not get anything done at all.  Yes, Obama made compromises.  Otherwise, nothing would have happened.  don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.  If you think he should have done more, do you also think he COULD have done more?  Are you really thinking of a president rather than a king?  If you want more done, get rid of the Republicans and Tea Partiers in congress. 

Find it here:  
and also here:

March/ April 2012 Obama's Top 50 Accomplishments

By Paul Glastris, Ryan Cooper, and Siyu Hu
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(Also check out the main article, The Incomplete Greatness of Barack Obama, and the issue's Editor's Note.)

1. Passed Health Care Reform: After five presidents over a century failed to create universal health insurance, signed the Affordable Care Act (2010). It will cover 32 million uninsured Americans beginning in 2014 and mandates a suite of experimental measures to cut health care cost growth, the number one cause of America's long-term fiscal problems.

2. Passed the Stimulus: Signed $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009 to spur economic growth amid greatest recession since the Great Depression. Weeks after stimulus went into effect, unemployment claims began to subside. Twelve months later, the private sector began producing more jobs than it was losing, and it has continued to do so for twenty-three straight months, creating a total of nearly 3.7 million new private-sector jobs.

3. Passed Wall Street Reform: Signed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (2010) to re-regulate the financial sector after its practices caused the Great Recession. The new law tightens capital requirements on large banks and other financial institutions, requires derivatives to be sold on clearinghouses and exchanges, mandates that large banks provide "living wills" to avoid chaotic bankruptcies, limits their ability to trade with customers' money for their own profit, and creates the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (now headed by Richard Cordray) to crack down on abusive lending products and companies.

4. Ended the War in Iraq: Ordered all U.S. military forces out of the country. Last troops left on December 18, 2011.

5. Began Drawdown of War in Afghanistan: From a peak of 101,000 troops in June 2011, U.S. forces are now down to 91,000, with 23,000 slated to leave by the end of summer 2012. According to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, the combat mission there will be over by next year.

6. Eliminated Osama bin laden: In 2011, ordered special forces raid of secret compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in which the terrorist leader was killed and a trove of al-Qaeda documents was discovered.

7. Turned Around U.S. Auto Industry: In 2009, injected $62 billion in federal money (on top of $13.4 billion in loans from the Bush administration) into ailing GM and Chrysler in return for equity stakes and agreements for massive restructuring. Since bottoming out in 2009, the auto industry has added more than 100,000 jobs. In 2011, the Big Three automakers all gained market share for the first time in two decades. The government expects to lose $16 billion of its investment, less if the price of the GM stock it still owns increases.

8. Recapitalized Banks: In the midst of financial crisis, approved controversial Treasury Department plan to lure private capital into the country's largest banks via "stress tests" of their balance sheets and a public-private fund to buy their "toxic" assets. Got banks back on their feet at essentially zero cost to the government.

9. Repealed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell": Ended 1990s-era restriction and formalized new policy allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military for the first time.

10. Toppled Moammar Gaddafi: In March 2011, joined a coalition of European and Arab governments in military action, including air power and naval blockade, against Gaddafi regime to defend Libyan civilians and support rebel troops. Gaddafi's forty-two-year rule ended when the dictator was overthrown and killed by rebels on October 20, 2011. No American lives were lost.

11. Told Mubarak to Go: On February 1, 2011, publicly called on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to accept reform or step down, thus weakening the dictator's position and putting America on the right side of the Arab Spring. Mubarak ended thirty-year rule when overthrown on February 11.

12. Reversed Bush Torture Policies: Two days after taking office, nullified Bush-era rulings that had allowed detainees in U.S. custody to undergo certain "enhanced" interrogation techniques considered inhumane under the Geneva Conventions. Also released the secret Bush legal rulings supporting the use of these techniques.

13. Improved America's Image Abroad: With new policies, diplomacy, and rhetoric, reversed a sharp decline in world opinion toward the U.S. (and the corresponding loss of "soft power") during the Bush years. From 2008 to 2011, favorable opinion toward the United States rose in ten of fifteen countries surveyed by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, with an average increase of 26 percent.

14. Kicked Banks Out of Federal Student Loan Program, Expanded Pell Grant Spending: As part of the 2010 health care reform bill, signed measure ending the wasteful decades-old practice of subsidizing banks to provide college loans. Starting July 2010 all students began getting their federal student loans directly from the federal government. Treasury will save $67 billion over ten years, $36 billion of which will go to expanding Pell Grants to lower-income students.

15. Created Race to the Top: With funds from stimulus, started $4.35 billion program of competitive grants to encourage and reward states for education reform.

16. Boosted Fuel Efficiency Standards: Released new fuel efficiency standards in 2011 that will nearly double the fuel economy for cars and trucks by 2025.

17. Coordinated International Response to Financial Crisis: To keep world economy out of recession in 2009 and 2010, helped secure from G-20 nations more than $500 billion for the IMF to provide lines of credit and other support to emerging market countries, which kept them liquid and avoided crises with their currencies.

18. Passed Mini Stimuli: To help families hurt by the recession and spur the economy as stimulus spending declined, signed series of measures (July 22, 2010; December 17, 2010; December 23, 2011) to extend unemployment insurance and cut payroll taxes.

19. Began Asia "Pivot": In 2011, reoriented American military and diplomatic priorities and focus from the Middle East and Europe to the Asian-Pacific region. Executed multipronged strategy of positively engaging China while reasserting U.S. leadership in the region by increasing American military presence and crafting new commercial, diplomatic, and military alliances with neighboring countries made uncomfortable by recent Chinese behavior.

20. Increased Support for Veterans: With so many soldiers coming home from Iraq and Iran with serious physical and mental health problems, yet facing long waits for services, increased 2010 Department of Veterans Affairs budget by 16 percent and 2011 budget by 10 percent. Also signed new GI bill offering $78 billion in tuition assistance over a decade, and provided multiple tax credits to encourage businesses to hire veterans.

21. Tightened Sanctions on Iran: In effort to deter Iran's nuclear program, signed Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act (2010) to punish firms and individuals who aid Iran's petroleum sector. In late 2011 and early 2012, coordinated with other major Western powers to impose sanctions aimed at Iran's banks and with Japan, South Korea, and China to shift their oil purchases away from Iran.

22. Created Conditions to Begin Closing Dirtiest Power Plants: New EPA restrictions on mercury and toxic pollution, issued in December 2011, likely to lead to the closing of between sixty-eight and 231 of the nation's oldest and dirtiest coal-fired power plants. Estimated cost to utilities: at least $11 billion by 2016. Estimated health benefits: $59 billion to $140 billion. Will also significantly reduce carbon emissions and, with other regulations, comprises what's been called Obama's "stealth climate policy."

23. Passed Credit Card Reforms: Signed the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure Act (2009), which prohibits credit card companies from raising rates without advance notification, mandates a grace period on interest rate increases, and strictly limits overdraft and other fees.

24. Eliminated Catch-22 in Pay Equality Laws: Signed Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009, giving women who are paid less than men for the same work the right to sue their employers after they find out about the discrimination, even if that discrimination happened years ago. Under previous law, as interpreted by the Supreme Court in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., the statute of limitations on such suits ran out 180 days after the alleged discrimination occurred, even if the victims never knew about it.

25. Protected Two Liberal Seats on the U.S. Supreme Court: Nominated and obtained confirmation for Sonia Sotomayor, the first Hispanic and third woman to serve, in 2009; and Elena Kagan, the fourth woman to serve, in 2010. They replaced David Souter and John Paul Stevens, respectively.

26. Improved Food Safety System: In 2011, signed FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, which boosts the Food and Drug Administration's budget by $1.4 billion and expands its regulatory responsibilities to include increasing number of food inspections, issuing direct food recalls, and reviewing the current food safety practices of countries importing products into America.

27. Achieved New START Treaty: Signed with Russia (2010) and won ratification in Congress (2011) of treaty that limits each country to 1,550 strategic warheads (down from 2,200) and 700 launchers (down from more than 1,400), and reestablished and strengthened a monitoring and transparency program that had lapsed in 2009, through which each country can monitor the other.

28. Expanded National Service: Signed Serve America Act in 2009, which authorized a tripling of the size of AmeriCorps. Program grew 13 percent to 85,000 members across the country by 2012, when new House GOP majority refused to appropriate more funds for further expansion.

29. Expanded Wilderness and Watershed Protection: Signed Omnibus Public Lands Management Act (2009), which designated more than 2 million acres as wilderness, created thousands of miles of recreational and historic trails, and protected more than 1,000 miles of rivers.

30. Gave the FDA Power to Regulate Tobacco: Signed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (2009). Nine years in the making and long resisted by the tobacco industry, the law mandates that tobacco manufacturers disclose all ingredients, obtain FDA approval for new tobacco products, and expand the size and prominence of cigarette warning labels, and bans the sale of misleadingly labeled "light" cigarette brands and tobacco sponsorship of entertainment events.

31. Pushed Federal Agencies to Be Green Leaders: Issued executive order in 2009 requiring all federal agencies to make plans to soften their environmental impacts by 2020. Goals include 30 percent reduction in fleet gasoline use, 26 percent boost in water efficiency, and sustainability requirements for 95 percent of all federal contracts. Because federal government is the country's single biggest purchaser of goods and services, likely to have ripple effects throughout the economy for years to come.

32. Passed Fair Sentencing Act: Signed 2010 legislation that reduces sentencing disparity between crack versus powder cocaine possessionfrom100 to1 to 18 to1.

33. Trimmed and Reoriented Missile Defense: Cut the Reagan-era "Star Wars" missile defense budget, saving $1.4 billion in 2010, and canceled plans to station antiballistic missile systems in Poland and the Czech Republic in favor of sea-based defense plan focused on Iran and North Korea.

34. Began Post-Post-9/11 Military Builddown: After winning agreement from congressional Republicans and Democrats in summer 2011 budget deal to reduce projected defense spending by $450 billion, proposed new DoD budget this year with cuts of that size and a new national defense strategy that would shrink ground forces from 570,000 to 490,000 over the next ten years while increasing programs in intelligence gathering and cyberwarfare.

35. Let Space Shuttle Die and Killed Planned Moon Mission: Allowed the expensive ($1 billion per launch), badly designed, dangerous shuttle program to make its final launch on July 8, 2011. Cut off funding for even more bloated and problem-plagued Bush-era Constellation program to build moon base in favor of support for private-sector low-earth orbit ventures, research on new rocket technologies for long-distance manned flight missions, and unmanned space exploration, including the largest interplanetary rover ever launched, which will investigate Mars's potential to support life.

36. Invested Heavily in Renewable Technology: As part of the 2009 stimulus, invested $90 billion, more than any previous administration, in research on smart grids, energy efficiency, electric cars, renewable electricity generation, cleaner coal, and biofuels.

37. Crafting Next-Generation School Tests: Devoted $330 million in stimulus money to pay two consortia of states and universities to create competing versions of new K-12 student performance tests based on latest psychometric research. New tests could transform the learning environment in vast majority of public school classrooms beginning in 2014.

38. Cracked Down on Bad For-Profit Colleges: In effort to fight predatory practices of some for-profit colleges, Department of Education issued "gainful employment" regulations in 2011 cutting off commercially focused schools from federal student aid funding if more than 35 percent of former students aren't paying off their loans and/or if the average former student spends more than 12 percent of his or her total earnings servicing student loans.

39. Improved School Nutrition: In coordination with Michelle Obama, signed Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act in 2010 mandating $4.5 billion spending boost and higher nutritional and health standards for school lunches. New rules based on the law, released in January, double the amount of fruits and vegetables and require only whole grains in food served to students.

40. Expanded Hate Crimes Protections: Signed Hate Crimes Prevention Act (2009), which expands existing hate crime protections to include crimes based on a victim's sexual orientation, gender, or disability, in addition to race, color, religion, or national origin.

41. Avoided Scandal: As of November 2011, served longer than any president in decades without a scandal, as measured by the appearance of the word "scandal" (or lack thereof) on the front page of the Washington Post.

42. Brokered Agreement for Speedy Compensation to Victims of Gulf Oil Spill: Though lacking statutory power to compel British Petroleum to act, used moral authority of his office to convince oil company to agree in 2010 to a $20 billion fund to compensate victims of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico; $6.5 billion already paid out without lawsuits. By comparison, it took nearly two decades for plaintiffs in the Exxon Valdez Alaska oil spill case to receive $1.3 billion.

43. Created Web site run by independent board of inspectors general looking for fraud and abuse in stimulus spending, provides public with detailed information on every contract funded by $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Thanks partly to this transparency, board has uncovered very little fraud, and Web site has become national model: "The stimulus has done more to promote transparency at almost all levels of government than any piece of legislation in recent memory," reports Governing magazine.

44. Pushed Broadband Coverage: Proposed and obtained in 2011 Federal Communications Commission approval for a shift of $8 billion in subsidies away from landlines and toward broadband Internet for lower-income rural families.

45. Expanded Health Coverage for Children: Signed 2009 Children's Health Insurance Authorization Act, which allows the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to cover health care for 4 million more children, paid for by a tax increase on tobacco products.

46. Recognized the Dangers of Carbon Dioxide: In 2009, EPA declared carbon dioxide a pollutant, allowing the agency to regulate its production.

47. Expanded Stem Cell Research: In 2009, eliminated the Bush-era restrictions on embryonic stem cell research, which shows promise in treating spinal injuries, among many other areas.

48. Provided Payment to Wronged Minority Farmers: In 2009, signed Claims Resolution Act, which provided $4.6 billion in funding for a legal settlement with black and Native American farmers who the government cheated out of loans and natural resource royalties in years past.

49. Helped South Sudan Declare Independence: Helped South Sudan Declare Independence: Appointed two envoys to Sudan and personally attended a special UN meeting on the area. Through U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice, helped negotiate a peaceful split in 2011.

50. Killed the F-22: In 2009, ended further purchases of Lockheed Martin single-seat, twin-engine, fighter aircraft, which cost $358 million apiece. Though the military had 187 built, the plane has never flown a single combat mission. Eliminating it saved $4 billion.
Paul Glastris, Ryan Cooper, and Siyu Hu collaborated on this article. Glastris is the editor in chief of the Washington Monthly. Cooper and Hu are interns at the magazine.

In the Current Magazine


ANS -- Reminder: No One Disputes the Legality of Single Payer

Very short article on Single-Payer health insurance.  Why don't we have it?  Why is health insurance in court being challenged?
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Reminder: No One Disputes the Legality of Single Payer

By: Jon Walker Tuesday March 27, 2012 1:09 pm

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With the Supreme Court arguing the legality of the Affordable Care Act, it is a good time to remember that almost nobody disputes that single payer, such as Medicare for All, would be undoubtedly constitutional. Even Michael Carvin, one of the lead lawyers arguing (for the non-state private opponents) that the individual mandate is unconstitutional admitted today that single payer would be clearly legal. From the Supreme Court transcript:

JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: So the ­ I ­ I want to understand the choices you're saying Congress has. Congress can tax everybody and set up a public health care system.


JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: That would be okay?

MR. CARVIN: Yes. Tax power is -


MR. CARVIN: I would accept that.

If Democrats had created a simple, straight forward single payer system or merely provided the uninsured with a default public insurance program, the constitutionality of health care reform would likely never have gotten to the Supreme Court.

I also suspect such a simple and easy to understand law would also have been radically more popular than the Affordable Care Act.
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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

ANS -- The single-payer plan reborn

this is an article by Robert Reich.  It tells us about the situation in health care, and how Obama can get us Medicare for all if the Supreme Court shoots down the mandate.  the article is fairly short (unlike the health care bill).
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Monday, Mar 26, 2012 2:34 PM Pacific Standard Time

The single-payer plan reborn

How Obama could turn a health care defeat in the Supreme Court into a major progressive victory

By Robert Reich
Supreme Court Health Care

Supporters of the health care reform law signed by President Obama gather in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, Monday, March 26, 2012, as the court begins three days of arguments on health care (Credit: AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Topics:Barack Obama, Healthcare Reform, Supreme Court
This originally appeared on Robert Reich's blog.

Not surprisingly, Monday's debut of Supreme Court argument over so-called "individual mandate" requiring everyone to buy health insurance revolved around epistemological niceties such as the meaning of a "fee" or a "tax."

Behind all this is the brute fact that if the Court decides the individual mandate is an unconstitutional extension of federal authority, the entire law starts unraveling.

But with a bit of political jujitsu, the president could turn any such defeat into a victory for a single-payer healthcare system – Medicare for all.

Here's how.

The dilemma at the heart of the new law is that it continues to depend on private health insurers, who have to make a profit or at least pay all their costs including marketing and advertising.

Yet the only way private insurers can afford to cover everyone with pre-existing health problems, as the new law requires, is to have every American buy health insurance – including young and healthier people who are unlikely to rack up large healthcare costs.

This dilemma is the product of political compromise. You'll remember the administration couldn't get the votes for a single-payer system such as Medicare for all. It hardly tried. Not a single Republican would even agree to a bill giving Americans the option of buying into it.

But don't expect the Supreme Court to address this dilemma. It lies buried under an avalanche of constitutional argument.

Those who are defending the law in Court say the federal government has authority to compel Americans to buy health insurance under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, which gives Washington the power to regulate interstate commerce. They argue our sprawling health insurance system surely extends beyond an individual state.

Those who are opposing the law say a requirement that individuals contract with private insurance companies isn't regulation of interstate commerce. It's coercion of individuals.

Unhappily for Obama and the Democrats, most Americans don't seem to like the individual mandate very much anyway. Many on the political right believe it a threat to individual liberty. Many on the left object to being required to buy something from a private company.

The president and the Democrats could have avoided this dilemma in the first place if they'd insisted on Medicare for all, or at least a public option.

After all, Social Security and Medicare require every working American to "buy" them. The purchase happens automatically in the form of a deduction from everyone's paychecks. But because Social Security and Medicare are government programs financed by payroll taxes they don't feel like mandatory purchases.

Americans don't mind mandates in the form of payroll taxes for Social Security or Medicare. In fact, both programs are so popular even conservative Republicans were heard to shout "don't take away my Medicare!" at rallies opposed to the new health care law.

There's no question payroll taxes are constitutional, because there's no doubt that the federal government can tax people in order to finance particular public benefits. But requiring citizens to buy something from a private company is different because private companies aren't directly accountable to the public. They're accountable to their owners and their purpose is to maximize profits. What if they monopolize the market and charge humongous premiums? Some already seem to be doing this.

Even if private health insurers are organized as not-for-profits, there's still a problem of public accountability. What's to prevent top executives from being paid small fortunes? Apparently that's already happening.

Moreover, compared to private insurance, Medicare is a great deal. Its administrative costs are only around 3 percent, while the administrative costs of private insurers eat up 30 to 40 percent of premiums. Medicare's costs are even below the 5 percent to 10 percent administrative costs borne by large companies that self-insure, and under the 11 percent costs of private plans under Medicare Advantage, the current private-insurance option under Medicare.

So why not Medicare for all?

Because Republicans have mastered the art of political jujitsu. Their strategy has been to demonize government and privatize everything that might otherwise be a public program financed by tax dollars (see Paul Ryan's plan for turning Medicare into vouchers). Then they go to court and argue that any mandatory purchase is unconstitutional because it exceeds the government's authority.

Obama and the Democrats should do the reverse. If the Supreme Court strikes down the individual mandate in the new health law, private insurers will swarm Capitol Hill demanding that the law be amended to remove the requirement that they cover people with pre-existing conditions.

When this happens, Obama and the Democrats should say they're willing to remove that requirement – but only if Medicare is available to all, financed by payroll taxes.

If they did this the public will be behind them ­ as will the Supreme Court.

Robert Reich, a professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley, was secretary of labor during the Clinton administration. He is also a blogger and the author of "Aftershock: The Next Economy and America's Future."  More Robert Reich

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

ANS -- The Right-Wing Plot to Control Your Health Care

This is a story about health care, and how important it is now that we insist on getting privacy and making our own medical decisions inserted into the plan.  It's about the War on Women. 
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The Right-Wing Plot to Control Your Health Care

The war on women is also an effort to permanently give politicians, religious authorities, accountants, and your boss a seat in your doctor's exam room.
March 21, 2012  |  
Photo Credit: Shutterstock
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Much has been written the past few months about the conservatives' assault on women's autonomy: the intrusive battery of new laws designed to forcibly insert the right-wing's political and religious agenda into the most intimate conversations between women and their doctors.

What's less well understood is that this same effort is also a full frontal attack on the future of government-paid healthcare, and by larger extension, on Americans' trust in their public institutions, and our confidence in government's ability to solve problems the market can't handle.

As I've written recently, busting our trust in democracy is a central goal of the Republican Party as it's currently configured. Killing our will and ability to provide good healthcare to every American is central to this enterprise: If we get the idea that we can do this much good for this many people through government, we might regain faith in our civic competence to do a whole lot of other things, too. It's the last thing they want.

So they are, quite simply, out to break the social agreements that would enable such a system to exist at all. And there's a lot in these "war-on-women" bills that achieves this other goal as well.

Who Gets to Choose?

Americans already support several government-paid healthcare systems. One, Medicare, is a single-payer system on the Canadian model. Another, the VA system, is pure British-style socialized medicine. There are a vast number of other systems as well -- child health programs, active-duty military health services, the systems that serve Native American reservations and prisons, and so on. Through these systems, we pay the bills for our seniors, troops, veterans, kids, disabled people, and others to receive healthcare.

But we've also very clearly understood, throughout the many decades of these programs' existence, that paying the bills does not give us the right to choose what care people get. Americans, by and large, stand by the idea that the fundamental right to make medical decisions should remain with us and our doctors to the greatest extent possible. There's a strong cultural belief that politicians, bureaucrats, bean-counters, well-meaning friends, religious busybodies, and your mother have no business in deciding how you should manage your health.

In fact: the thing that pisses us off the most about private insurance is the way those systems allow accountants and shareholders into the mix -- two groups of people most of us are firmly convinced have absolutely no business making decisions about our care. And we're equally suspicious when government tries to "ration" care (which is why our default has been to leave rationing to the free market, which does an ugly and brutal job of it).

We've also been pretty hostile to the idea that taxpayer-funded healthcare should ever be an open invitation for pecksniffers to run around commenting loudly on people's diets and recreational activities. Yes, we're paying their bills. And we can do what we can do -- build parks and trails, mandate good food labeling -- but beyond a point, that's it. When it comes to what any given individual does, that's between them and their doctor, and our job is to butt out.

This goes to the heart of what Americans adore most about the promise of government healthcare. We love the way it guarantees our individual freedom to pursue life, liberty and happiness, while also recognizing that we can't pursue those goals freely unless we're also covered for the very real risks that pursuit entails. If freedom means being able to quit your job to go back to school, start a business, travel the world, or raise your kids, the prospect of losing your health insurance may be the biggest obstacle there is to true American liberty, investment and self-improvement. 

It's that promise of personal freedom and opportunity that beckons us in the direction of single-payer healthcare. It's also the promise that conservatives are doing their damndest to break.

Breaking Faith With Our Doctors

Right now, Republicans in Congress and in legislatures around the country are asserting -- for the first time in the history of government-paid healthcare in America -- that politicians, religious leaders, bosses, and bureaucrats have an express legal right to meddle in our personal medical affairs. If this campaign succeeds in opening those doors, we'll end up with a public system that we can trust even less than we trust private insurers now.

Among the radical new ideas that will shred the ability of public healthcare to function going forward:
  • They are asserting that the opinions of politicians trump both your right to patient consent and the scientific judgment of your doctor.
  • They are establishing the principle that the government can require you to undergo -- and pay for -- specific treatments (like the transvaginal ultrasound) for purely ideological reasons that contribute nothing to your health.
  • It's not just government that's slipping through this door. So-called "conscience clauses" are also expanding the rights of other non-MDs -- particularly pharmacists, nurses and employers -- to insert themselves into people's personal medical decisions for reasons that have nothing to do with ensuring good evidence-based care.
  • They are encouraging all the rest of the country's panty-sniffing moralizers to believe that they are qualified to judge who is entitled to what kind of care, and to make the delivery of that care a political issue. If this continues, it's not hard to imagine future laws that allocate healthcare on the basis of who is deemed most "deserving" by their neighbors.  

This is a dangerous step away from science-based medical practice -- and from our basic rights to liberty and privacy. Worse, once policies like this fall into place, there will be no limit to the amount of future political, bureaucratic and religious tinkering with our medical care that will become possible. Ultimately, the Right is trying to create a two-tiered system in which the only people who have complete privacy and freedom of choice in their doctors' offices are those rich enough to pay out-of-pocket for it themselves. The rest of us will have to accept whatever Congress, our boss, the bean-counters, and the Catholic bishops think we deserve.

And they will have conclusively proven their argument that we can trust government even less than we can trust corporations. Just as they've already done to our Congress and our economy, it'll be yet another case where they willfully break effective democratic systems -- just so they can then complain loudly to anybody who'll listen about how broken they are.

If we want to make sure that our medical decisions remain between us and our doctors, we need to stop this now. What's at stake goes far beyond even the horrors of state-mandated physical and emotional rape of women seeking abortions (though that's horrible enough). If this crusade is allowed to succeed, every detail of our healthcare stands to become a political, economic, bureaucratic, and theological football forever after -- and we will grieve for the good old days when our medical care was a personal, private decision made just by us and our doctors behind the exam room door.

It's now or never. Because once they've broken it this way, the odds are slim that we'll ever get it back.

Sara Robinson is a social futurist and the editor of AlterNet's Vision page. Follow her on Twitter, or subscribe to AlterNet's Vision newsletter for weekly updates.

Monday, March 26, 2012

ANS -- The truth about healthcare reform

This is an article about what is in the ObamaCare law.  Most of us don't know, so keep this handy for when you have questions. Or just read it. 
Find it here:,0,901197.column  

The truth about healthcare reform

The Affordable Care Act has already changed the lives of millions of Americans for the better. The problem is, most people don't understand the reforms.

Healthcare reform  

Marche Curry, left, who is a college student and unable to afford insurance, is examined by Dr. Nadine Altidor during a routine checkup in Miami. (Joe Raedle, Getty Images)
By Michael Hiltzik

March 24, 2012
In today's world of 24-hour news and 15-second sound bites, every policymaker knows that managing the message is the key to winning over the public. So why has the messaging on behalf of one of the most dramatic public reforms of our lifetimes, the federal Affordable Care Act, been so incompetent?

Provisions of the 2010 healthcare reform have already changed the lives of millions of Americans for the better. It has brought insurance coverage to more than 2.6 million previously uninsured young adults, cut prescription costs by a total of $3 billion for millions of seniors, eliminated co-pays on preventive services such as child immunizations and cancer screenings and eliminated annual and lifetime claims caps for more than 80 million policyholders.

Ads by Google When its broadest provisions are triggered in 2014, millions more Americans will be relieved of the threat that their insurer can dump them or jack up their premium to unaffordable heights just because they've fallen ill or been injured.

"No longer will people be bankrupted because they have a bad gene or a bad traffic accident," says Jonathan Gruber, a health economist at MIT who helped fashion the pioneering healthcare reform act in Massachusetts.

Did you know any of that? If so, you're in the minority. Only 39% of respondents to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll released this month thought they had enough information to understand how the law would affect them personally ­ and that figure had declined over the last year. Only 1 in 4 respondents knew that the act already has eliminated co-pays for preventive care and lowered prescription costs for Medicare members.

On the other hand, most of the provisions above win overwhelming public support when they're explained to respondents and polled individually. Still, poll respondents with any opinion at all on the measure remain evenly split about it, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey released in December.

Blame for the knowledge gap belongs chiefly to the act's supporters, who have consistently failed to stand up for their own accomplishment, as was evident during the 2010 congressional campaign, when they allowed opponents to define the act for them. The harvest was all that ridiculous talk of "death panels" and a government takeover of healthcare.

This should worry policymakers as the 2-year-old law faces two crucial tests. Arguments before the Supreme Court on the measure's constitutionality are scheduled for this week. Even more important, the act is sure to be the outstanding political football of the coming presidential election (despite the endlessly masticated fact that the putative Republican front-runner, Mitt Romney, implemented the state-level model for the federal law as governor of Massachusetts but says he opposes the federal version).

What's unfortunate is that the political battle is certain to feature continued sophistry by reform opponents ­ "selling fear instead of facts," as Gruber puts it in a new book, "Health Care Reform: What It Is, Why It's Necessary, How It Works," which attempts to explain the act in the format of a graphic novel.

In recognition of the old saw that a lie can get halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on, here are some healthcare reform facts, already shod.

Start with coverage of younger persons. The 18-26 age group has tended to be overrepresented among the uninsured ­ 28% were uninsured in 2009, according to a Gallup survey. In part this happens because people just embarking upon their careers find it harder to afford coverage, may not have families to worry about and as "young invincibles" think they can safely go without coverage.

As a result of a reform act mandate that offspring as old as 26 could be covered by their parents' policies, the uninsured rate in this cohort has plummeted to less than 25% ­ the only such decline since 2010 marked in the Gallup survey. That's a tangible benefit not just for younger people who can now afford insurance, but also for many parents who had continued to foot their kids' bills for individual insurance.

The billions in savings in prescriptions from seniors comes from the act's closing of the "doughnut hole" in Medicare's Part D prescription coverage, which subjected enrollees to unexpected out-of-pocket expenses after they reached a given spending level.

The act already has eliminated a loophole that allowed insurers to deny coverage for children with preexisting conditions, and has provided federal funding for states to provide coverage for adults with chronic conditions who were denied insurance in the private market. This is a bridge to 2014, when all such exclusions will be outlawed; like many such provisions, it applies chiefly to non-group and non-employer-provided health insurance, where the most flagrant consumer abuses appear.

The effects of many such regulations are already visible in California, which has been ground zero of the insurance crisis. California's uninsured rate runs four to five percentage points higher than the national rate, in part because of its preponderance of small employers and big-box retailers such as Wal-Mart, which traditionally stick government and other coverage providers with the burden of insuring its workers. The state's individual insurance market is the nation's biggest, encompassing more than 2 million people whose lives have been at particular risk from insurance practices such as cancellation of coverage for sick or injured customers.

The reform act has greatly expanded the state's ability to offer coverage to those who have lost their insurance by funding a new program that today covers 8,600 high-risk Californians at reasonable premiums, according to Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California, which last week issued a report card on the act's effects in the state. The study calculated that the act has brought coverage to 370,000 low-income Californians through federal funding for county programs, allowed 355,000 young persons to stay on their parents' plans and provided 9 million Californians with new consumer protections.

"We're pretty sure that people don't want to go back to a world where they don't know if their insurance will cover them," Wright told me. "But until they get sick, people may not necessarily realize what the improvement is."

There are even signs that the act may be helping to moderate premium increases. A survey by the benefits consulting firm Mercer projects the rise in health benefit costs in 2012 to be the lowest in 15 years. Figures from CalPERS and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics similarly point to a slowdown in cost growth, although the reform act's influence on the trend is hard to gauge.

The biggest gap in public understanding applies to the act's provision requiring Americans to carry health insurance beginning in 2014, whether through the government, through their employers or purchased from a so-called exchange that will oversee the commercial market ­ the so-called individual mandate.

Polls show the mandate is the act's least popular provision, and it's at the center of the challenge before the court. But it's impossible to overstate how central the individual mandate is to the Affordable Care Act. Without it, the reform's crucial companion provision eradicating exclusions for preexisting conditions will be financially untenable for the insurance industry. That's well understood by reformers, insurance executives, and responsible conservatives ­ Romney himself has consistently defended the principle as he applied it in Massachusetts.

Conservative analysts Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former director of the Congressional Budget Office, and Vernon Smith, a Nobel economics laureate at Chapman University, observed last week in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that the reform act would cost insurers $360 billion over 10 years without the mandate, but produce a gain of $6 billion with it. For insurers, they concluded, "the benefits of the individual mandate ... are projected to balance, nearly perfectly, the costs" of other regulations in the reform act.

The failure of the act's supporters to get these complicated concepts across to the public has poised health insurance reform on the knife edge between triumph and tragedy ­ triumph if it survives Supreme Court review and the November election, tragedy if it does not.

Making its virtues plain was never going to be easy. "In today's political climate, once you have an explanation that takes more than two sentences, you're screwed, because someone else will have a one-sentence lie," says Gruber. "This is about getting people to understand the law. We've just got to get it in place, let Americans feel the benefits, then they'll like it."

Michael Hiltzik's column appears Sundays and Wednesdays. Reach him at, read past columns at, check out and follow @latimeshiltzik on Twitter.

Copyright © 2012, Los Angeles Times

ANS -- Blow, Krugman: Roots of "A Mother's Grace and Grieving" In ALEC's "Lobbyists, Guns and Money"

The Treyvon Martin case is horrific, but what is behind it is also horrifying.  ALEC is an organization dedicated to taking away what has made America great.  It is behind the new laws that take away our safety, our environment, our freedom, and our labor unions.  It is also behind the so-called "Stand Your Ground law" that allowed George Zimmerman to just SAY he felt threatened and thereby avoid being arrested or investigated or drug tested when he shot and killed Martin.  This gives the police duties that should rest with the judiciary: the right to determine guilt. ALEC is promoting passing laws like this all around the US.  They are dangerous, and should be countered!
This article is about the Martin/Zimmerman case, and about ALEC too. 
Find it here:,_krugman:_roots_of_%22a_mother%27s_grace_and_grieving%22_in_alec%27s_%22lobbyists,_guns_and_money%22/#paragraph5   

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Blow, Krugman: Roots of "A Mother's Grace and Grieving" In ALEC's "Lobbyists, Guns and Money"

 Today's New York Times' op-ed page is headlined by columns from Charles Blow and Paul Krugman; but, their combined sentiments were originally captured quite presciently by Kossackjamess, five days ago, in: " 'Stand Your Ground' Law has its roots with ALEC."

First, here's jamess, from last Wednesday…

The shock and horror I've felt about the Trayvon Martin slaying is profound.

This unjustified killing of an unarmed young man on the basis of skin color, illustrates so much of what is still wrong in America.

And stunningly, the Florida law that effectively grants this unwarranted "license to kill" has some very shady origins as well ... some xerox copy origins from the usual "Rollback America" suspects: 

The American Legislative Exchange Council ALEC

ALEC Has Pushed The NRA's "Stand Your Ground" Law Across The Nation
by Matt Gertz, -- March 21, 2012

The legislation apparently preventing the successful prosecution of Trayvon Martin's killer was reportedly adopted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)as model legislation that the shadowy group has spent years promoting across the country with the help of their allies in the National Rifle Association.

Florida's statute on the use of force in self-defense is virtually identical to Section 1 ofCastle Doctrine Act model legislation as posted on the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD). According to CMD, the model bill was adopted by ALEC's Civil Justice Task in August 2005 -- just a few short months after it passed the Florida legislature -- and approved by its board of directors the following month.

The language is identical to ALEC's Castle Doctrine Act model legislation [...]
3. A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place [other than their dwelling, residence, or vehicle] where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another, or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.

If you haven't read jamess' post, I strongly encourage you to do so.

As he notes later on in it: "Hundreds more have died by the 'Castle Doctrine' that ALEC has brought the nation's neighborhoods."

You might also want to checkout his post from early yesterday afternoon: " How the ALEC Agenda becomes the Law of the Land."

Indeed, there are hundreds of mothers grieving due to corporate-sponsored "Stand Your Ground" laws that have been enacted in 21 states (and counting).

#         #         #

Charles Blow gives us a firsthand account of Trayvon Martin's mother's grace and grief in today's NYT…

A Mother's Grace and Grieving
Charles Blow
New York Times
March 26, 2012

Miami Gardens, FL

"They called him Slimm."

That is what Sybrina Fulton, the mother of the slain Florida teenager Trayvon Martin, told me people called her son because he was so thin…

Blow sat down with Ms. Fulton and her mother on Saturday, for an hour. (I strongly encourage you to read his column; if your anger doesn't overcome the tears, it will make you cry.)
…To believe Zimmerman's scenario, you have to believe that Trayvon, an unarmed boy, a boy so thin that people called him Slimm, a boy whose mother said that he had not had a fight since he was a preschooler, chose that night and that man to attack. You have to believe that Trayvon chose to attack a man who outweighed him by 100 pounds and who, according to the Sanford police, was wearing his gun in a holster. You have to believe that Trayvon chose to attack even though he was less than a hundred yards from the safety of the home where he was staying.

This is possible, but hardly sounds plausible.

The key is to determine who was standing his ground and defending himself: the boy with the candy or the man with the gun…

Blow continues on to provide us with one of the most up-close pieces on Trayvon Martin and his loving family that's been written to date.

He reminds us that: "…it is important to not let Trayvon the person be lost to Trayvon the symbol. He was a real boy with a real family that really loved him…"

But, as Kossack jamess reminds us above, there are now hundreds of other families--many that are, I'm sure, very much like Trayvon Martin's family--mourning the deaths of hundreds of other real people with real families that loved them, as well.

#         #         #

So, while the roots of Trayvon's mother's grace in her grieving may be found in the personal prejudices and twisted realities of one George Zimmerman, the reality is that ALEC pushed the blueprint that was Florida's "Stand Your Ground" legislation to the point where it is now law in 20 more states.

Lobbyists, Guns and Money
Paul Krugman
NY Times
March 26, 2012

Florida's now-infamous Stand Your Ground law, which lets you shoot someone you consider threatening without facing arrest, let alone prosecution, sounds crazy ­ and it is. And it's tempting to dismiss this law as the work of ignorant yahoos. But similar laws have been pushed across the nation, not by ignorant yahoos but by big corporations.

Specifically, language virtually identical to Florida's law is featured in a template supplied to legislators in other states by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporate-backed organization that has managed to keep a low profile even as it exerts vast influence (only recently, thanks to yeoman work by the Center for Media and Democracy, has a clear picture of ALEC's activities emerged). And if there is any silver lining to Trayvon Martin's killing, it is that it might finally place a spotlight on what ALEC is doing to our society ­ and our democracy…

…we seem to be turning into a country where crony capitalism doesn't just waste taxpayer money but warps criminal justice, in which growing incarceration reflects not the need to protect law-abiding citizens but the profits corporations can reap from a larger prison population.

Now, ALEC isn't single-handedly responsible for the corporatization of our political life; its influence is as much a symptom as a cause. But shining a light on ALEC and its supporters ­ a roster that includes many companies, from AT&T and Coca-Cola to UPS, that have so far managed to avoid being publicly associated with the hard-right agenda ­ is one good way to highlight what's going on. And that kind of knowledge is what we need to start taking our country back.

#         #         #

Meanwhile, Geraldo Rivera adds insult to injury (and the entire corporate-captured media circus that now surrounds Trayvon's death, where their disgustingly feeble narrative attempts to lay the blame on his murder upon a piece of clothing), via so-called "commentary" that was so lame even his own son said he was ashamed of him, we await justice.

Also this weekend, the New York City police department did its "bit" to remind us of the status quo's countless, unpunished transgressions against people of color in our supposedly "post-racial" society, when they apparently had an epiphany and – after six years -- finally dismissed Detective Gescard Isnora, the man who fired the first 11 of 50 bullets into Sean Bell's car, we await justice.

We await justice.
By bobswern | Sourced from DailyKos

Posted at March 26, 2012, 7:44 am

Saturday, March 24, 2012

ANS -- Conservative Bullying Has Made America Into a Broken, Dysfunctional Family: But There Are Ways to Regain Our Well-Being

Here is another brilliant article by Sara Robinson.  It's about the fraction of American society who want to destroy our democracy, and what we can do to preserve our country "of the people, by the people, and for the people."  First, we have to recognize what's going on, and then we have to quit falling for "the tyranny of the disgruntled", a ploy liberals often fall for. 
Find it here:   

AlterNet / By Sara Robinson
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Conservative Bullying Has Made America Into a Broken, Dysfunctional Family: But There Are Ways to Regain Our Well-Being

An abusive, out-of-control, rageaholic GOP broke our country by shattering our trust in democracy and in ourselves.
March 20, 2012  |  
Photo Credit: meddygarnet
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A marriage counselor friend once told me that he almost always knows by the end of the very first session whether he's being hired to guide a damaged couple back to health, or to help them work toward a divorce -- even when the couple doesn't know the answer to this question themselves.

It's easy to see, he explained. The relationship's future success or failure all hinges on one simple thing: How much goodwill and trust they have left. Even if they've hurt each other badly, the couples who make it are the ones that still retain a few shreds of faith in each other's basic good intentions. She didn't mean to hurt me. He's not always a bastard. Deep down, she still loves me. Deep down, he really wants things to be better.

These couples are still seeing same future together, and still cling to the tattered memories of why they first fell in love. Just a few frayed threads of trust are all that's needed -- if they've got that, the odds are high that with time and work, they can re-weave the fabric of the marriage into something that's once again strong and good.

On the other hand, the tell-tale sign of a zombie marriage -- one that's already dead, even if the parties involved haven't yet confronted that fact -- is that one or both partners have already given up and checked out. The trust is broken, the dream shattered, the damage just too much to ever repair. Things have been said and done that can't ever be unsaid or undone. There's so much bad history that there's no way a mere human heart can ever forgive it all. It's so far gone that pain and rage are all that remain -- and the longer they stay together, the more brutal it's likely to get.

If, as George Lakoff says, we tend to think of the nation as a family, then my friend's approach for identifying salvageable marriages may apply just as well to salvaging our democracy. Because, like all marriages, all democratic governments are founded -- first and foremost, above all else -- on an essential bedrock of trust and shared vision. We need to trust that our fellow citizens are decent people with good intentions. If we don't have even that much basic confidence in each other, there's no way that we can work together to build a society that works. In fact, there's not really even a reason to try.

Seen this way, "America" is the family name for the 310 million of us bonded together in a covenant that's very much like the commitment that forms a family. We have come together to build our common wealth, create opportunities for each other that will secure our shared future, raise our children, care for our elderly, protect our assets, look after each other in sickness and in health, and wisely tend our national house and manage our gathered resources so we can hand the increase proudly off to the next generation.

And, like a family, this is a commitment that is entirely grounded in mutual trust -- a bone-deep knowledge that we will keep faith and be there for each other; that we will look out for each others' rights, property, and kids; that we will generously give the family our best whenever possible; and that we also rely on it to be there for us when we need help. For better or worse, richer or poorer, sickness or health, we promise to be there for each other. The true strength and wealth of the country begins with the strength of that commitment.

We cannot do this kind of mutual self-governance well -- indeed, we cannot do it at all -- unless we fundamentally trust each other's good intentions and devotion to our shared enterprise. We may disagree on the means, but we share the same vision about what the ends should be. And just like in a marriage, when that trust is damaged, our future viability as a nation becomes a wide-open question.

This is a scary thought, because right now, America is riven by two very different visions of the future, held by two partners who obviously have radically different visions about where we should be going.

On one hand, you've got most of the country -- center-right, center, center-left, and progressive -- which sees us as a family in trouble, but which also believes that if we return to our bedrock agreements, focus on solving our shared problems and fall back on our basic goodwill and common sense, we should be able to sort things out. This is the two-thirds of America that poll after poll shows is ready to move forward on issues like economic transformation, inequality, corruption and corporate overreach, climate change and energy policy, and remaking our infrastructure. There's a sense that, even though the challenges are big, we can solve them if we can come together, treat each other decently, reaffirm our commitment to the future, and force the democratic process to work again.

On the other hand, there's another group that has entirely checked out on us, and turned ugly and abusive. The conservative minority is acting like Lakoff's canonical Strict Father scorned: When the family rejects his leadership and his attempts at authoritarian contol, he sinks into a punitive, bullying rage, lashing out at the rest of us for what he's come to believe is irredeemable broken faith because we won't let him be the boss. By his behavior, he is telling us in no uncertain terms that he wants a scorched-earth divorce -- the kind that leaves the rest of us broke, ruined, miserable, and utterly at his mercy.  He has gone so far as to hire batteries of lawyers and lobbyists to accomplish this, and is taking a bully's evident glee in his success.

What Democracy Abuse Looks Like

Here are a few broad-brush examples of how this screw-you attitude toward the idea of a balanced, strong, cooperative American family is playing out right now:

Most conservatives now openly reject the very idea of democracy. Whether it's corporatists seeking to own every branch of government and privatize every public institution, security and intelligence types cracking down on our civil liberties, or Christian nationalists out to turn the country into a theocracy, conservatives are increasingly united by the conviction that Americans cannot be trusted to govern ourselves.

According to Dave Johnson, if you really want to understand just how hostile conservatives are to the very idea of democracy, and how debased their discourse has become on the subject, just take some of their favorite sayings and substitute the word "government" with either "democracy" or "we, the people."

So: "government is the problem, not the solution" becomes "democracy is the problem" -- or, perhaps worse: "we, the people are the problem." Likewise: "smaller government" becomes "smaller democracy" and a smaller role for we, the people.  The idea that "government destroys liberty" is clearly code for "democracy destroys liberty." And so on. (It's a great game you can play at home -- fun for the whole family!)

Along these same lines -- and despite the conspicuous way the Tea Party fetishizes the Constitution -- it's increasingly evident that the future they have in mind very explicitly does not include the Bill of Rights, a people's Congress, the ability to petition our government, or the right to appeal to the courts for redress. I don't have to enumerate the violations on this front, but I do encourage progressives to start seeing these assaults on our rights as clear evidence that our opponents fundamentally do not trust democracy, and are very deliberately out to destroy the constitutional rules that ours runs on.

They also don't trust diversity in any form. They're actively hostile to the idea of E pluribus unum -- out of the many, one. Anybody who's not white, straight, Christian, conservative, and male is inherently not-American. And the only acceptable function of government is to keep those Others -- both here, and abroad -- firmly in their place. The nightly news is full of fresh assaults on the rights of those who don't fit their narrow definition of Real Americans.

They have embraced bullying as a political strategy and an acceptable cultural norm, which has in turn coarsened our civil discourse to the point of democratic breakdown. Rush Limbaugh and his throng of hate-talking imitators have given their listeners wide-open social permission to say ugly things in public that would most assuredly get them fired if they said them at work (check your company handbook, which no doubt has firm guidance on this point), and would probably precipitate an immediate divorce if they said them at home. The tone alone says it all: this is not the way you talk to people you intend to have any kind of future with.

Conservative lawyers and courts are actively carving out a First Amendment right to bully racial and religious minorities, immigrants, gays, and women who won't stay in their place. Almost every family (including mine, unfortunately) and every workplace has a FOX-trained bully who makes it almost impossible to have simply collegial conversations. Democracy is literally not possible where such bullies exist, because the give-and-take and nuanced discussions that lead to good decision-making simply can't happen. Instead, all the power goes to the person who's willing and able to throw the biggest tantrum. That's not democracy, in any sense of the word.

Our founders understood this all too well, which is why so many of our basic rules of government were explicitly designed to keep bullies in check.

They are systematically destroying Americans' ability to trust almost every civil institution on the American landscape. The list goes on and on, but here's a starter collection:

They are strategically undermining our schools by deliberately destroying community trust in them. Like a controlling father, they want the kids at home where they can keep a constant eye on them.

They are attempting to privatize Social Security, prisons, the military, and our infrastructure -- all to prove their argument that we are no longer competent to do anything for ourselves through our government. Like an abusive spouse, they want us to feel too demoralized about ourselves to do anything effective to improve our lives, let alone find the courage and resolve to free ourselves from the abuse.

They are bastardizing science and bowdlerizing history -- the two fields of academia most essential to developing foresight and understanding the implications of our future choices. And, in the process, they are keeping us from solving problems that threaten the continued existence of the entire human family.

They have demonized and harassed the mainstream media to the point where they can no longer be truly neutral about anything, for fear of exhibiting "liberal bias."

They repealed the Fairness Doctrine, and took over local radio.

They are infringing on our religious freedoms in the name of extending their own.

They are defunding government ("democracy") at all levels because they don't believe that We, the People, can spend the money right. (Again: this is the logic of an abusively controlling spouse.)

They have destroyed our economy to benefit the top .10 percent, which effectively robs the rest of us of much of our cultural, economic and political power as well. And they have done this by telling us that "there is no such thing as society" -- a claim that justifies bleeding off the vast and very real mountain of public wealth that this fictitious American society has carefully amassed over the course of its entire history.

All of these efforts, and many more, are rooted in one core fact: America's conservatives ultimately do not trust other Americans to run their own lives as individuals -- let alone govern ourselves as a group. And I'd argue that this mistrust runs so deep that no healing is possible for them. They have reached the point where they very clearly no longer want to be in this family together with us.

The seething, simmering rage and pain are running so deep now that the only thing that will satisfy them is total destruction of everything that puts the "us" in US. In their minds, breaking America as we've known it for the past 80 years is the only way they'll ever be able to adequately punish us, and the only hope they have of someday seizing enough control of the shambles to finally salve their fury and fear.

To Stop A Bully: How to Restore Trust

This kind of dogged will to destroy is inherently pathological, whether it's happening within a marriage or a nation. There's no way it can ever be construed as healthy. My friend the marriage counselor would have looked at this situation -- one spouse overwhelmed by irrational, abusive, controlling rage and constantly imputing unspeakable motives to the other -- and written the marriage off.

But we can't do that. We are still, for better or for worse, the biggest, richest family on the planet. On one hand, there's no way for them to leave, because there's nowhere for them to go, and no legal divorce is possible. On the other, letting them destroy the great house of America, built through generations and centuries to its present stature, is simply not an option. 

So what do we do? If these people really don't want to be in the marriage -- if they are, in fact, trying to destroy it by any means possible -- how on earth can we continue to function as a family?

We may have to do what families have always done with members who have lost their way, but cannot be abandoned. We need to close ranks around them, building alliances and strategies that will enable us to protect ourselves and each other from their depredations. We cannot change them, but it helps to realize that the faithful and decent members of this family still vastly outnumber those who wish us harm. If we work together closely, we can leverage our numbers and our sanity to arrange things in ways that will minimize the damage our rageaholic members can do.

The most important and critical thing we need to do is to restore trust; trust in each other, and in the idea of ourselves as a good and worthy family. We deserve so much better; and we are capable of so much more than our abusers tell us is possible. 

We can refuse to buy into divide-and-conquer strategies, realizing that in this situation, the only distinction that matters at all is the one between those who are rooting for this country to succeed, and those who are out to destroy it. You are either on the side of democracy and the great American family, or you are not.

We can resolve to trust and respect each others' perceptions and interpretations of events, even when they don't entirely agree with our own. We can decide that we're going to stay sane in the face of the craziness -- and stand with anybody, regardless of their politics, who is also acting in good faith to stand against the bullies.

We can work to create a consensus vision of the next America we want to become, and form trusting relationships with others to make that happen.

We can refuse to reward bullying behavior with success. (Or, for that matter, with any more attention than it takes to get the bullies out of the room.)

We can stand up before each other and the world and say: "Those people do not speak for us, and their squalid, angry vision is not our vision. We are a better nation than that."

And we can, simply, continue to come together and govern. Because the specter of citizens civilly and peacefully exercising power is, above everything else, the one thing they fear the most, the biggest threat to the radical anti-democracy agenda. 

Sara Robinson is a social futurist and the editor of AlterNet's Vision page. Follow her on Twitter, or subscribe to AlterNet's Vision newsletter for weekly updates.