Friday, June 28, 2013

ANS -- Big Lie: America Doesn't Have #1 Richest Middle-Class in the World... We're Ranked 27th!

This article was sent to me by one of our readers.  It's about our wealth being substandard, and what is causing that.  If the graphics don't make it through, follow the link to see them. 
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Les Leopold

Les Leopold

Author, "How to Make a Million Dollars an Hour" (Wiley 2013)

Big Lie: America Doesn't Have #1 Richest Middle-Class in the World... We're Ranked 27th!

Posted: 06/28/2013 9:53 am

America is the richest country on Earth. We have the most millionaires, the most billionaires and our wealthiest citizens have garnered more of the planet's riches than any other group in the world. We even have hedge fund managers who make in one hour as much as the average family makes in 21 years!

This opulence is supposed to trickle down to the rest of us, improving the lives of everyday Americans. At least that's what free-market cheerleaders repeatedly promise us.

Unfortunately, it's a lie, one of the biggest ever perpetrated on the American people.

Our middle class is falling further and further behind in comparison to the rest of the world. We keep hearing that America is number one. Well, when it comes to middle-class wealth, we're number 27.

The most telling comparative measurement is median wealth (per adult). It describes the amount of wealth accumulated by the person precisely in the middle of the wealth distribution -- fifty percent of the adult population has more wealth, while fifty percent has less. You can't get more middle than that.

Wealth is measured by the total sum of all our assets (homes, bank accounts, stocks, bonds etc) minus our liabilities (outstanding loans and other debts). It the best indicator we have for individual and family prosperity. While the never-ending accumulation of wealth may be wrecking the planet, wealth also provides basic security, especially in a country like ours with such skimpy social programs. Wealth allows us to survive periods of economic turmoil. Wealth allows our children to go to college without incurring crippling debts, or to get help for the down-payment on their first homes. As Bill Holiday sings, "God bless the child that's got his own."

Well, it's a sad song. As the chart below shows, there are 26 other countries with a median wealth higher than ours, (and the relative reduction of U.S. median wealth has done nothing to make our economy more sustainable.)



Here's a starter list:
  • We don't have real universal health care. We pay more and still have poorer health outcomes than all other industrialized countries. Should a serious illness strike, we also can become impoverished.
  • Weak labor laws undermine unions and give large corporations more power to keep wages and benefits down. Unions now represent less than 7 percent of all private sector workers, the lowest ever recorded.
  • Our minimum wage is pathetic, especially in comparison to other developed nations. ( We're # 13). Nobody can live decently on $7.25 an hour. Our poverty-level minimum wage puts downward pressure on the wages of all working people. Also while we secure important victories for a few unpaid sick days, most other developed nations provide a month of guaranteed paid vacations as well as many paid sick days.
  • Wall Street is out of control. Once deregulation started 30 years ago, money has gushed to the top as Wall Street was free to find more and more unethical ways to fleece us.
  • Higher education puts our kids into debt. In most other countries higher education is practically tuition free. Indebted students are not likely to accumulate wealth anytime soon.
  • It's hard to improve your station in life if you're in prison, often due to drug-related charges that don't even exist in other developed nations. In fact, we have the largest prison population in the entire world, and we have the highest percentage of minorities imprisoned. "In major cities across the country, 80 percent of young African Americans now have criminal records." (See Alexander, Michelle (2010), The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. New York, The New Press. p. 7. as cited in Wikipedia.)
  • Our tax structures favor the rich and their corporations who no longer pay their fair share. They move money to foreign tax havens, they create and use tax loopholes, and they fight to make sure the source of most of their wealth -- capital gains -- is taxed at low rates. Meanwhile the rest of us are pressed to make up the difference or suffer deteriorating public services.
  • The wealthy dominate politics. Nowhere else in the developed world are the rich and their corporations able to buy elections with such impunity.
  • Big Money dominates the media. The real story about how we're getting ripped off is hidden in a blizzard of BS that comes from all the major media outlets... brought to you by...
  • America encourages globalization of production so that workers here are in constant competition with the lower wage workers all over the world as well as with highly automated technologies.

Is there one cause of the middle-class collapse that rises above all others?

Yes. The International Labor organization produced a remarkable study, ( Global Wage Report 2012-13) that sorts out the causes of why wages have remained stagnant while elite incomes have soared. The report compares key causal explanations like declining bargaining power of unions, porous social safety nets, globalization, new technologies and financialization.

Guess which one had the biggest impact on the growing split between the one percent and the 99 percent?


What is that? Economist Gerald Epstein offers us a working definition:

"Financialization means the increasing role of financial motives, financial markets, financial actors and financial institutions in the operation of the domestic and international economies."

This includes such trends as:

•The corporate change during the 1980s to make shareholder value the ultimate goal.

•The deregulation of Wall Street that allowed for the creation of a vast array of new financial instruments for gambling.

•Allowing private equity firm to buy companies, load them up with debt, extract enormous returns, and then kiss them good-by.

•The growth of hedge funds that suck productive wealth out of the economy.

•The myriad of barely regulated world financial markets that finance the globalization of production, combined with so-call "free trade" agreements.

•The increased share of all corporate profits that go to the financial sector.

•The ever-increasing size of too-big-to-fail banks.

•The fact that many of our best students rush to Wall Street instead of careers in science, medicine or education.

In short, financialization is when making money from money becomes more important that providing real goods and services. Here's a chart that says it all. Once we unleashed Wall Street, their salaries shot up, while everyone else's stood still.


Do we still know how to fight?

The carefully researched ILO study provides further proof that Occupy Wall Street was right on the money. OWS succeeded (temporarily), in large part, because it tapped into the deep reservoir of anger toward Wall Street felt by people all over the world. We all know the financiers are screwing us.

Then why didn't OWS turn into a sustained, mass movement to take on Wall Street?

One reason it didn't grow was that the rest of us stood back in deference to the original protestors instead of making the movement our own. As a result, we didn't build a larger movement with the structures needed to take on our financial oligarchs. And until we figure out how to do just that, our nation's wealth will continue to be siphoned away.

Our hope, I believe, lies in the young people who are engaged each day in fighting for the basic human rights for all manner of working people -- temp workers, immigrants, unionized, non-union, gays, lesbians, transgender -- as well as those who are fighting to save the planet from environmental destruction. It's all connected.

At some point these deeply committed activists also will understand that financialization both here and abroad stands in the way of justice and puts our planet at risk. When they see the beast clearly, I am confident they will figure out how to slay it.

The sooner, the better.

(This article was originally posted on

Les Leopold is the director of the Labor Institute in New York and the author of
How to Make a Million Dollars an Hour: How Hedge Funds get away with Siphoning off America's Wealth (Wiley 2013)

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

ANS -- Dignity Is Nice, but What About the Benefits of Gay Marriage?

Here's some of the effects of the Supreme Court decisions of today about marriage equality. 
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«OLDER The Case for a War on Coal

Dignity Is Nice, but What About the Benefits of Gay Marriage?

By Ciara McCarthy and Mariana Zepeda


Posted Wednesday, June 26, 2013, at 5:04 PM
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Supporters of same-sex marriage stand in front of San Francisco City Hall on June 26, 2013. The Supreme Court's rulings on gay marriage aren't just symbolic­a host of practical effects comes with the broadening of marriage equality.

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

In light of the repeal of DOMA earlier today, Slate has been thinking about the many rights and privileges that married couples have. Equal access to marriage is about dignity, but it's also about the practical aspects of sharing a life with someone. Here's to filing joint tax returns!

Married people can:
  • Inherit a spouse's estate without paying taxes. This was the issue at the heart of the DOMA case, Windsor v. United States. Edith Windsor had to pay estate taxes after her wife died, which the Supreme Court judged to be unconstitutional. She'll get a refund.
  • File jointly for bankruptcy, eliminating the debt for both spouses.
  • Qualify to take leave to care for a spouse with a serious medical condition if the job is protected under the Family and Medical Leave Act.
  • Under spousal testimonial privilege, one spouse can't be forced to testify against the other in court.
  • File joint tax returns. In some cases this will increase the couple's tax bill; in other cases it will decrease it, as Matt Yglesias pointed out this morning.
  • Get divorced.
  • Deduct alimony payments from federal income tax.
  • Qualify for Medicare based on a spouse's employment.
  • Qualify for health plans under the Federal Employees Health Benefits program if one spouse is a member of the uniformed services.
  • Sponsor a spouse for an immigration visa.
  • Qualify for benefits if one spouse is or has been an employee of the federal government. These benefits vary but include health insurance (including dental and vision) and long-term care insurance.
  • Receive specific Social Security benefits, such as the "surviving spouse benefit," under which a person can choose to either continue receiving his or her own Social Security payment or collect that of his or her spouse.
  • Receive veterans benefits, which include health care, dependency and indemnity compensation, and educational assistance programs.
  • Delay enrollment in Medicare Part B (hospital insurance) and D (prescription drug coverage) if one spouse is still working and has a health plan. Otherwise a person could incur a penalty for not enrolling upon turning 65.
  • Veterans' spouses can get priority over nonveterans in job training programs, qualify to receive educational assistance, receive medical care through the Department of Veterans Affairs, and get a memorial headstone paid for by the U.S. government.

Read more from Slate's coverage of gay marriage.

ANS -- Greenhouse Gases & Where They Really Come From: Infographic

This short article contains a nifty energy graphic flow chart -- and links to more of them. 
Find it here:  

Greenhouse Gases & Where They Really Come From: Infographic

By John Voelcker John Voelcker
738 views Jun 25, 2013
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World Greenhouse-Gas Emissions Flow Chart 2010 [source: Ecofys

World Greenhouse-Gas Emissions Flow Chart 2010 [source: Ecofys + ANS Bank]

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We love data.

And we love simple but informative graphic presentations of complex data even more.

Which leads us to today's infographic, a presentation of the sources and activities that produce greenhouse gases as a result of human activity.

Inspired by an earlier similar graphic from 2005, the infographic was put together for ASN Bank and Dutch energy consultant Ecofys.


The chart is broken down into Sources, Sectors, and Greenhouse Gases, using data from 2010 (sourced at the bottom).

At the left, the chart shows the sources of the greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere, breaking it down into fossil fuels--coal (25 percent), oil (19 percent), and natural gas (21 percent)--and direct emissions, which includes things like landfills and animal flatulence (35 percent).

Then it shows the various activities and locations that produce the gases from those sources--including industry, buildings, transportation, agriculture, energy supply, and land-use change.

The transportation sector, by the way, is responsible for about 15 percent of overall global greenhouse-gas emissions.

Finally, the gases themselves are shown as the result of those sources and processes. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is 76 percent of the total, but methane (CH4) represents 15 percent as well.

PAST INFOGRAPHICS: here, here, here, here, here, here, and here

Have a look at the full diagram and think about which activities you participate in.

Do you ever consider the greenhouse-gas impact of your activities and your daily life?

For instance, even if you drive a vehicle [] with high fuel efficiency (or a zero-emission vehicle), what industry do you work in? How big is your home? How much do you fly?

None of it's simple, is it?

Leave us your thoughts on the infographic in the Comments below.

[hat tip: Wink Cleary]


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Monday, June 24, 2013

ANS -- Fibromyalgia Mystery Finally Solved!

If this is true, this could be a great breakthrough.  They have figured out what causes the pain in fibromyalgia, which means they may be able to control or even cure it.  Short article.
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Fibromyalgia Mystery Finally Solved!

Researchers Find Main Source of Pain in Blood Vessels
Added by Rebecca Savastio on June 20, 2013.
Saved under Health, Rebecca Savastio, U.S.
Tags: top

Fibromyalgia Mystery Finally Solved! Researchers Find Main Sour

Researchers have found the main source of pain in Fibromyalgia patients, and contrary to what many believe, it does not stem from the brain. The findings mark the end of a decades-old mystery about the disease, which many doctors believed was conjured in patients' imaginations. The mystery of Fibromyalgia has left millions of sufferers searching for hope in pain medications. Up until recently, many physicians thought that the disease was "imaginary" or psychological, but scientists have now revealed that the main source of pain stems from a most unlikely place- excess blood vessels in the hand.

The discovery may lead to new treatments and perhaps even a total cure in the future, bringing relief to as many as 5 million Americans thought to have the disease. To solve the Fibromyalgia mystery, researchers zeroed in on the skin from the hand of one patient who had a lack of the sensory nerve fibers, causing a reduced reaction to pain. They then took skin samples from the hands of Fibromyalgia patients and were surprised to find an extremely excessive amount of a particular type of nerve fiber called arteriole-venule (AV) shunts.

Up until this point scientists had thought that these fibers were only responsible for regulating blood flow, and did not play any role in pain sensation, but now they've discovered that there is a direct link between these nerves and the widespread body pain that Fibromyalgia sufferers feel.

The breakthrough also could solve the lingering question of why many sufferers have extremely painful hands as well as other "tender points" throughout the body, and why cold weather seems to aggravate the symptoms. In addition to feeling widespread deep tissue pain, many Fibromyalgia patients also suffer from debilitating fatigue.

Neuroscientist Dr. Frank L. Rice explained: "We previously thought that these nerve endings were only involved in regulating blood flow at a subconscious level, yet here we had evidences that the blood vessel endings could also contribute to our conscious sense of touch… and also pain," Rice said. "This mismanaged blood flow could be the source of muscular pain and achiness, and the sense of fatigue which are thought to be due to a build-up of lactic acid and low levels of inflammation fibromyalgia patients. This, in turn, could contribute to the hyperactivity in the brain."

Current treatments for the disease have not brought complete relief to the millions of sufferers. Therapies include narcotic pain medicines; anti-seizure drugs, anti-depressants and even simple advice such as "get more sleep and exercise regularly." Now that the cause of Fibromyalgia has been pinpointed, patients are looking forward to an eventual cure. Other expressed frustration about how much they had suffered already:

"When are they ever going to figure out that things are never "all in your head?" said one commenter. "Whenever something doesn't fit in their tiny little understanding, they belittle the patient and tell them they are crazy. People have suffered through this since they were invented. Prescribing SSRIs for everything is not the answer any more than a lobotomy or hysterectomy was."

The announcement has the potential to unlock better future treatments and undoubtedly has patients all over the world rejoicing that the mystery of Fibromyalgia has finally been solved.

By: Rebecca Savastio

Source: Redorbit


Source: Yahoo News

ANS -- The Quote That Should End the Trayvon Trial

Here's a short article about the Trayvon Martin murder case.   If you want to read a lot about it, have a look at the comments -- there's many many of them. (Note the comment by Brad Hicks). There's also a video at the site, but it's 21 minutes.
Bad word warning.
Find it here:    


The Quote That Should End the Trayvon Trial

By John H. Richardson
at 1:32PM

Getty Images


George Zimmerman is going to be found guilty. All the evidence you need ­ all the evidence the cops needed ­ is right there in the interrogation they did with him three days after the shooting. The only thing more shocking than what Zimmerman says in the clip, which was released on the internet one year ago, is how little it has impressed the bloviating jerks who dominate the coverage of this trial.

Why did he follow Martin, a police officer asks.

"These assholes, they always get away," Zimmerman answers.

The officer asks, "What's behind that?"

"These people who victimize the neighborhood," Zimmerman answers.

In Zimmerman's angry mind, without trial or jury, even after he killed him and learned he was a 17-year-old who was legitimately staying in the complex, Martin was an asshole victimizing the neighborhood.

The officer gets a little defensive at this point. "There was an arrest a week ago," he points out, though it is also a gentle reminder that Zimmerman's fear might be a tad misplaced. He continues, skeptically. "How was he running?" Zimmerman describes it and the officer says, "Sounds like he was running to get away... you jumped out of car to see which way he was running? That's not fear … it's going to be a problem."

Then Zimmerman whispers something. "What is that you whispered?" the officer asks. "Fucking what?"

"Punks," Zimmerman says.

This time, the officer seems genuinely taken aback. "He wasn't a fucking punk," he responds.

A few moments later, he asks Zimmerman why he kept following Martin even after the police dispatcher told him not to. Zimmerman's answer is staggering.

"I wanted to give them an address."

An address? This may be the moment that will convict him. It means that even he suspected that Martin was a legitimate visitor to the complex, staying in an apartment and legally on the property, Zimmerman continued to pursue him. And it makes sense that Martin was staying there because of the terrain, the complex being isolated from other complexes and a mile distant from the nearest shopping center. A professional thief would be moving intentionally, not wandering down the middle of the street in the full light of the streetlamps. Although Zimmerman's fear supposedly hinges on the series of robberies that the police believed had been addressed already with an arrest, it seems clear that even Zimmerman didn't really believe his own alibi. More likely, even in his mind, Martin was a kid from the neighborhood out smoking a joint and at the worst, looking for a little illicit excitement ­ a "fking punk."

At this point, the officer asks again why he was following Martin ­ and Zimmerman flat-out lies. "I wasn't following him, I was just going in the same direction he was." The cop just laughs.

The next moment reveals another aspect of Zimmerman's state of mind, flat-out paranoia. The officer plays the tape of him with the police dispatcher, when he refuses to give his address to the dispatcher "out loud" ­ the embattled neighborhood watch volunteer so afraid of the fking punks in his neighborhood that he's afraid of giving the police his address, despite the complete lack of evidence that any of those punks had ever attacked him before. Like these fearsome criminals are tapping the public airwaves and listening to cell phone conversations just to get him.

Again, the officer asks why he didn't get back in his car after being told to, why he was so determined to get Martin that he stood in the rain. "You wanted to catch him, you wanted to catch the bad guy, fking punk."

Zimmerman goes silent. Prodded again, he says, "I felt like I didn't give them an adequate description." There's an edge in his voice at this point like he's starting to get offended. The officer tries to reassure him: "We're working for you here."

But they persist. How could Martin have been smothering Zimmerman at the same time Zimmerman was, as he claimed, screaming his head off for help? (This is on the disputed tape that won't be allowed in court, which foundered because voice experts couldn't agree who was screaming.) This was just before the fatal gunshot.

"It's continuous screaming," another officer asks, "how can you be smothered?"

Damn good question.

"You think he might have seen you had a gun before he punched you?" the first officer asks.

Another damn good question.

"What was the provocation for punching you other than you were following him?" another officer asks.

By this time, Zimmerman is losing his patience. "I've gone through it a million times." Despite his passion for justice, repeated questions about the death of a 17-year-old boy at his own hands annoys him.

Soon after, the interview devolved into pleasantries. Zimmerman says he's taking his wife to the beach for the weekend, and the lead officer asks, "Which beach?"

Then they let him go.

Read more: The Quote that May End the Trayvon Trial - Esquire
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Sunday, June 23, 2013

ANS -- Chris Kluwe: Here’s what’s wrong with Ayn Rand, libertarians

This is a good analysis of Libertarianism.  It's pretty short. 
Find it here:   

Sunday, Jun 23, 2013 09:30 AM PST

Chris Kluwe: Here's what's wrong with Ayn Rand, libertarians

A world full of Ayn Rands would be a terrifyingly selfish place, writes the outspoken NFL star in his new book

By Chris Kluwe

Topics: Chris kluwe, Ayn Rand, John Galt, libertarian, Conservatism, Tea Party, Books, Editor's Picks, Entertainment News, Politics News
Chris Kluwe: Here's what's wrong with Ayn Rand, libertarians Ayn Rand, Chris Kluwe (Credit: OUT/David Bowman)
Excerpted from "Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies"

So I forced myself to read "Atlas Shrugged." Apparently I harbor masochistic tendencies; it was a long, hard slog, and by the end I felt as if Ayn Rand had violently beaten me about the head and shoulders with words. I feel I would be doing all of you a disservice (especially those who think Rand is really super-duper awesome) if I didn't share some thoughts on this weighty tome.

Who is John Galt?

John Galt (as written in said novel) is a deeply flawed, sociopathic ideal of the perfect human. John Galt does not recognize the societal structure surrounding him that allows him to exist. John Galt, to be frank, is a turd.

However, John Galt is also very close to greatness. The only thing he is missing, the only thing Ayn Rand forgot to take into account when writing "Atlas Shrugged," is empathy.

John Galt talks about intelligence and education without discussing who will pay for the schools, who will teach the teachers. John Galt has no thought for his children, or their children, or what kind of world they will have to occupy when the mines run out and the streams dry up. John Galt expects an army to protect him but has no concern about how it's funded or staffed. John Galt spends his time in a valley where no disasters occur, no accidents happen, and no real life takes place.

John Galt lives in a giant fantasy that's no different from an idealistic communist paradise or an anarchist's playground or a capitalist utopia. His world is flat and two-dimensional. His world is not real, and that is the huge, glaring flaw with objectivism.

John Galt does not live in reality.

In reality, hurricanes hit coastlines, earthquakes knock down buildings, people crash cars or trip over rocks or get sick and miss work. In reality, humans make good choices and bad choices based on forces even they sometimes don't understand. To live with other human beings, to live in society, requires that we understand that shit happens and sometimes people need a safety net. Empathy teaches us that contributing to this safety net is beneficial for all, because we never know when it will be our turn.

If an earthquake destroys half the merchandise in my store or levels my house, that's something I can't control; it doesn't matter how prepared I was or how hard I worked. Trying to recover from something like that can cripple a person, both financially and mentally, unless he has some help from those who understand that we're all in this together, we need each other to function as a society, and the next earthquake might hit one of our houses.
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If a volcano erupts and takes out vital transportation and infrastructure, should we just throw our hands up in the air and say, "not my responsibility"? No, because it is our responsibility.

It's our responsibility as members of a societal group to take care of the underlying foundations of peace and security ­ to ensure that the roads and rails are protected because they provide a collective good.

To be fair to John Galt, though, the safety net cannot be a security blanket. if you hand one person everything in life by taking it away from someone else, then the will to succeed rapidly fades on both sides; why work when it doesn't matter? Look at any of the idle rich, the spoiled children of privilege, the welfare collectors who churn out babies because it means another weekly check to buy shoes or purses. Ayn Rand got it right up to that point but fails to make the next logical step.

If you want to get rid of the moocher, you don't do it by excluding everyone you think could be a moocher, by building your own private jail with yourself as both warden and prisoner. No, if you want to rid yourself of the moocher, you do it by focusing on and teaching rational empathy. If you treat other people the way you want to be treated, you'll never want someone else to live your life for you, because shackling others means you've chosen to shackle yourself. We're all free, or we're all slaves.

No one wants to take care of someone who does nothing in return, provides no value for society (I'm ignoring babies and children here, because they're kind of necessary to the long-term survival of humanity), and so the corollary applies ­ if you feel that everyone should be free to live his or her own life, the safety net can never become a permanent solution, because if you rely over-much on it, then you're no longer living your own life.

Just as you don't want other people to be an unnecessary burden on you, you should desire just as much not to be an unnecessary burden on others. if you take handouts when you no longer need them, you've turned yourself into a slave to someone else. If you think that other people have to take care of you but that you don't have to take care of them in return, you're trying to enslave those who would provide for you. If you make people dependent on you by limiting their opportunities for education and work and requiring them to subsist on a dole, you've taken away their chance at free will, at making their own lives.

John Galt as written lacks this rational empathy. John Galt is brilliant but doesn't have the long-term vision to maintain the society that allowed his brilliance to flourish. John Galt is self-motivated but has no concern for the effects of his actions on other people. John Galt is a lone individual living in a world filled with countless teeming masses, and just as John Galt plants his feet on the backs of all those who came before him, he must provide a surface for future generations to plant their feet as well, not through sacrificing everything he owns but by realizing a stable society is ultimately a productive society.

But that's not John Galt. A world full of Ayn Rand's John Galts is a world that will eventually consist of only one person, and then none, once his lifespan concludes. John Galt doesn't care for the disasters that affect his neighbors ­ they can sink or swim on their own (and they'll sink). John Galt doesn't care for the public good, because all he can see is his own good (and he'll wonder why it gets harder and harder to get the resources he needs). John Galt doesn't recognize that genius arises under any circumstances (and he'll never know how many geniuses he excluded from paradise because their parents didn't fit his ideals, or why the population keeps shrinking).

John Galt is a remorseless shark feeding on those unable to get out of his way, the blood-churned waters boiling around him as he takes in everything he requires for his own happiness without thought of the cost to others, rending and tearing the stability of social interactions until his once-teeming world is barren and lifeless, collapsed under the gluttonous appetite of self.

Then he starves, and no one is left to mourn his passing.

Are you John Galt?

Excerpted from the book "Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies" by Chris Kluwe. Copyright © 2013 by Chris Kluwe. Reprinted with permission of Little, Brown and Co.

Monday, June 17, 2013

ANS -- Lawsuit Filed To Prove Happy Birthday Is In The Public Domain; Demands Warner Pay Back Millions Of License Fees

Here is a sweet little article about the song we sing at birthdays.  This is fun.  the 26 page legal paper is there on the website, I don't know if it will come through here.  (I didn't read that part.). Maybe it will actually get into the public domain at last.
find it here:    


by Mike Masnick

Thu, Jun 13th 2013 1:30pm

Filed Under:
copyright, happy birthday, public domain

gmty, good morning to you productions, warner/chappell


Lawsuit Filed To Prove Happy Birthday Is In The Public Domain; Demands Warner Pay Back Millions Of License Fees

from the about-time dept

Happy Birthday remains the most profitable song ever. Every year, it is the song that earns the highest royalty rates, sent to Warner/Chappell Music (which makes millions per year from "licensing" the song). However, as we've been pointing out for years, the song is almost certainly in the public domain. Robert Brauneis did some fantastic work a few years ago laying out why the song's copyright clearly expired many years ago, even as Warner/Chappell pretends otherwise. You can read all the background, but there are a large number of problems with the copyright, including that the sisters who "wrote" the song, appear to have written neither the music, nor the lyrics. At best, they may have written a similar song called "Good Morning to All" in 1893, with the same basic melody, but there's evidence to suggest the melody itself predated the sisters. But, more importantly, the owner of the copyright (already questionable) failed to properly renew it in 1962, which would further establish that it's in the public domain.

The issue, as we've noted, is that it's just not cost effective for anyone to actually stand up and challenge Warner Music, who has strong financial incentive to pretend the copyright is still valid. Well, apparently, someone is pissed off enough to try. The creatively named Good Morning to You Productions, a documentary film company planning a film about the song Happy Birthday, has now filed a lawsuit concerning the copyright of Happy Birthday and are seeking to force Warner/Chappell to return the millions of dollars it has collected over the years. That's going to make this an interesting case.
More than 120 years after the melody to which the simple lyrics of Happy Birthday to You is set was first published, defendant Warner/Chappell boldly, but wrongfully and unlawfully, insists that it owns the copyright to Happy Birthday to You, and with that copyright the exclusive right to authorize the song's reproduction, distribution, and public performances pursuant to federal copyright law. Defendant Warner/Chappell either has silenced those wishing to record or perform Happy Birthday to You or has extracted millions of dollars in unlawful licensing fees from those unwilling or unable to challenge its ownership claims.

Irrefutable documentary evidence, some dating back to 1893, s hows that the copyright to Happy Birthday to You, if there ever was a valid copyright to any part of the song expired no later than 1921 and that if defendant Warner/Chappell owns any rights to Happy Birthday to You, those rights are limited to the extremely narrow right to reproduce and distribute specific piano arrangements for the song published in 1935. Significantly, no court has ever adjudicated the validity or scope of the defendant's claimed interest in Happy Birthday to You, nor in the song's melody or lyrics, which are themselves independent works.

Plaintiff GMTY, on behalf of itself and all others similarly situated, seeks a declaration that Happy Birthday to You is dedicated to public use and is in the public domain as well as monetary damages and restitution of all the unlawful licensing fees that defendant Warner/Chappell improperly collected from GMTY and all other Class members.

The full lawsuit, embedded below, goes through a detailed history of the song and any possible copyright claims around it. It covers the basic history of "Good Morning to You," but also notes that the "happy birthday" lyrics appeared by 1901 at the latest, citing a January 1901 edition of Inland Educator and Indiana School Journal which describes children singing a song called "happy birthday to you." They also point to a 1907 book that uses a similar structure for a song called "good-bye to you" which also notes that you can sing "happy birthday to you" using the same music. In 1911, the full "lyrics" to Happy Birthday to You were published, with a notation that it's "sung to the same tune as 'Good Morning.'" There's much more in the history basically showing that the eventual copyright that Warner/Chappell holds is almost entirely unrelated to the song Happy Birthday to You.

The detail in the filing is impressive, and I can't wait to see how Warner/Chappell replies. As the filing notes, there are a variety of copyright claims around the song, but all are invalid or expired, and the very, very narrow copyright that Warner/Chappell might hold is not on the song itself. In other words, Warner/Chappell is almost certainly guilty of massive copyfraud -- perhaps the most massive in history -- in claiming a copyright it clearly has no right to.
If and to the extent that defendant Warner/Chappell relies upon the 1893, 1896, 1899, or 1907 copyrights for the melody of Good Morning to All, those copyrights expired or were forfeited as alleged herein.

As alleged above, the 1893 and 1896 copyrights to the original and revised versions of Song Stories for the Kindergarten, which contained the song Good Morning to All were not renewed by Summy and accordingly expired in 1921 and 1924, respectively.

As alleged above, the 1899 copyright to Song Stories for the Sunday School, which contained Good Morning to All, and the 1907 copyright to Good Morning to All were not renewed by Summy Co. before its expiration in 1920 and accordingly expired in 1927 and 1935, respectively.

The 1893, 1896, 1899, and 1907 copyrights to Good Morning to All were forfeited by the republication of Good Morning to All in 1921 without proper notice of its original 1893 copyright.

The copyright to Good Morning to All expired in 1921 because the 1893 copyright to Song Stories for the Kindergarten was not properly renewed.

The piano arrangements for Happy Birthday to You published by Summy Co. 111 in 1935 (Reg. Nos. E51988 and E51990) were not eligible for federal copyright protection because those works did not contain original works of authorship, except to the extent of the piano arrangements themselves.

The 1934 and 1935 copyrights pertained only to the piano arrangements, not to the melody or lyrics of the song Happy Birthday to You.

The registration certificates for The Elementary Worker and His Work in 1912, Harvest in 1924, and Children's Praise and Worship in 1928, which did not attribute authorship of the lyrics to Happy Birthday to You to anyone, are prima facie evidence that the lyrics were not authored by the Hill Sisters.

And, now we await Warner/Chappell desperately trying to refute an awful lot of evidence that they've been engaging in millions of dollars worth of copyfraud year after year.

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Sunday, June 16, 2013

ANS -- How the Transition Movement Is Spreading to Towns Across America

Here is an interesting and upbeat article about a quiet movement that has been happening all around the world, to make local communities sustainable and resilient in response to the global crises we face.  (Peak oil, global climate change, the current Republican Depression in our economy, the housing crisis, the crisis in biodiversity, etc.)  If this movement is to succeed, it will also change our culture somewhat because of it's non-hierarchical nature -- we will have to learn how to get things done without an authoritarian hierarchy, and it will change us: I believe it will change us for the better as it should revive community in our fractured culture.  It may even give women more equality.
Find it here:   

In These Times / By Jessica Stites
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How the Transition Movement Is Spreading to Towns Across America

Transition's focus on resilient communities finds a middle ground between the 'drop in the bucket' of personal action and the depressing inertia of government.

Photo Credit:
June 11, 2013 |  

When I set out to investigate the appeal of Transition, a sustainability movement that has spread to 1,105 towns in 43 countries over the past eight years, I started with what I thought was a basic question: What are "Transition Towns" transitioning to?

"Resilience," I was told. "What does that mean?" I asked, thinking vaguely of steel. "The ability to absorb shocks to a system!" was the reply. Well, yes, but …? Pressed for details, Nina Winn, who runs a Transition initiative at the Institute of Cultural Affairs in Chicago, said, "I don't think there's a conclusion. Like when a person's trying to self-improve, it's a constant growth. Our communities would grow to be a lot more intimate. We wouldn't be hesitant to ask for that cup of sugar or tomato. The streets would be narrower instead of expanding; there would be fresh produce on every corner that was grown just down the street. You would see people on the street because of that­because where there's food, there's people."

Such bucolic but fuzzy visions are typical of Transition, which is more about shifting paradigms than prescribing solutions. With an it'll-take-shape-as-we-go ethos, most Transition Town websites sport a "cheerful disclaimer": "Just in case you were under the impression that Transition is a process defined by people who have all the answers, you need to be aware of a key fact. … Transition is a social experiment on a massive scale."

On a basic level, however, the experiment seeks to address what founder Rob Hopkins sees as a source of frustration in the environmental movement: Personal action feels like a drop in the bucket, while governments often move at a glacial pace.

"Until now, there's been the things you can do at home on your own­changing your lightbulbs and sharing your lofts and things­and then there's everything else that someone else is meant to do: the sort of mythical 'they,'" says Hopkins. "Transition is what's in the middle, what you can do with the people on your street."

The seed for Transition came in 2004 when Hopkins, a young teacher with a degree in environmental quality and resource management, encountered the concept of peak oil: the theory that easy-to-reach oil will run out at a specific date­some say 2020­precipitating a rapid decline in oil availability followed by the collapse of civilization as we know it. At the time, Hopkins was teaching a permaculture course at the Kinsale College of Further Education, an alternative school on Ireland's southern coast. Permaculture is another one of these concepts that, as Hopkins notes, is "notoriously difficult to explain in two minutes in the pub," but it's most commonly described as an ecological design movement that sees nature in terms of interlocking systems. Alarmed by peak oil, Hopkins assigned his students to apply the principles of permaculture to the problem.

The result was a concrete plan to make Kinsale dramatically less fossil-fuel dependent, with recommendations such as a green buildings officer and a horse-and-cart taxi. The Kinsale Town Council enthusiastically adopted the plan, and the principles underlying it became the precepts of Transition, as outlined in Hopkins' 2008 Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience and as adopted by Transition Towns worldwide.

But it would be a mistake to think that becoming a Transition Town means setting off on a clear-cut path to energy independence. From permaculture, the movement has inherited a non-linear, bottom-up approach­even the original 12 "steps" outlined in Hopkins' handbook have been renamed "ingredients." If the Transition movement has a sine qua non, however, it is the belief that communities must become more resilient in the face of three catastrophic threats: peak oil, global warming and economic instability. Whether the movement means to avert or adapt to future disasters is ambiguous; when I ask, Transition members tend to respond, "Both!" as though I have just recited their favorite koan.

Practically, this means preparing towns to better survive sudden shortfalls of such necessities as food, oil, water or money. These preparations take many forms, some infrastructural­such as solar energy programs and local economic initiatives­others interpersonal, like the "heart and soul" groups that encourage people to help each other in times of need and open their minds to new solutions.

Totnes, England, declared the first official Transition Town in 2006, offers perhaps the most fully realized example. The town, with a population of 7,400, boasts nearly 30 Transition projects and sub-projects. Some are small-scale, like nut-tree planting and a free "bike doctor," while others are more ambitious, like an incubator for sustainable businesses and a 305-pageEnergy Descent Action Plan to cut the town's energy usage in half by 2030. The movement is enthusiastically backed by the city mayor and the town councilors, one of whom attests that "the [Energy Descent Action Plan] has filtered into everyone's plans for everything, so that's had a major impact." A much-heralded neighborhood-level project has been Transition Streets, which brought residents together, block by block, to support each other in decreasing their home energy use through improvements like insulation and solar panels. On average, each of the 550 participating households cut its annual carbon use by 1.3 tons and its annual energy bill by £570 (about $883).

Hopkins stresses, however, that the Transition movement is not in the business of stamping out cookie-cutter copies of Totnes. Transition spreads primarily through serendipity. One member likens it to a mycelium network, a fungus with underground roots that can sprout new shoots miles away. In effect, this means that someone­often with a background in sustainability­stumbles across Transition online or in print and decides to start a local chapter.

While guidance is available from umbrella support groups such as Transition U.S. and the U.K.-based Transition Network, the movement is intended to mutate as it grows. "We designed it with a simple set of principles and tools and sort of set it off, and it keeps popping up in the most incredible, surprising places, in the most incredible, surprising ways," says Hopkins. "When there's Transition happening in Brazil, it feels like a Brazilian thing, it doesn't feel like an English imported thing."

Indeed, the organizers of Brazil's Transition movement say that two of the three core principles­peak oil and climate change­don't resonate strongly with the Brazilian public, so Transition trainings focus more on "assuring education and health for all, protecting biodiversity and enhancing autonomy of traditional (indigenous or not) local communities." In Brasilândia, one of the slums of São Paulo, Transition primarily fosters social enterprise projects; it has given birth to a community bakery and a business turning old advertising banners into bags.

In parts of Europe, Transition has had to respond to the pressing needs of communities decimated by the ongoing Eurozone crisis. When the city of Coin, Spain, went bankrupt and decided to privatize the water, Coin En Transicion gathered 3,000 signatures to convince the city to squash the plan. Now the movement is working with the city government to design a regional water plan grounded in principles of sustainability and resilience.

In Portugal, where unemployment is at 16.9 percent and climbing, the Transition Town of Portalegre has drawn inspiration from ajujeda, an ancient rural practice of trading chores in the fields. This month, Portalegre em Transição will meet to figure out how to translate the principle of ajujeda into a functioning gift economy, allowing those whose skills are not being used (for instance, the unemployed) to share them with those whose needs are not being met.

Across the pond

In making the leap across the Atlantic to the United States, where more than 139 Transition Towns and 200 unofficial "mullers" have sprouted, Transition has also taken its own, distinct path.

Most of the Transition towns in the United States have popped up in places one might expect: relatively moneyed, green, hippie enclaves like Boulder, Colo. (the first official U.S. Transition Town); Sebastopol, Calif.; Northampton, Mass.; and Woodstock, N.Y. None have taken root so far in any conservative strongholds, although there are a number of urban initiatives, in Boston, Houston, Los Angeles and Cleveland, to name a few.

As in the United Kingdom, members of the U.S. Transition movement tend to split up into working groups around specific projects. A common one is an "emergency preparedness" group, which devises things like phone trees and alternative heating sources for use in the event of disaster. "Yard share" working groups match would-be gardeners to landowners willing to lend a patch of fertile ground. "Heart and soul" or "inner transition" working groups stress psychological and spiritual transformation, drawing on the teachings of thinkers such as Buddhist deep ecologist Joanna Macy. "Reskilling" working groups offer trainings in all manner of practical pre-industrial skills, from cheesemaking to animal husbandry to knot-tying to knitting.

Of course, Transition is not the only sustainability game in town. Wherever it goes, and especially in cities, it enters a terrain thick with environmental non-profits and local government initiatives. More than 1,060 mayors have signed the U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, a pledge to meet the goal of the Kyoto Protocol (the United States was one of only four countries not to join) to reduce carbon emissions below 1990 levels. Some cities have gone beyond that: Last year, Chicago drafted a sustainability plan for the year 2015 that reads something like Totnes's Energy Descent Action Plan­a laundry list of goals such as improving citywide energy efficiency by 5 percent and decreasing water use by 2 percent (14 million gallons a day). To get there, the city has launched numerous projects, such as eco-friendly overhauls of city buses, a "rails-to-trails conversion" of a disused train line into a park (modeled on New York City's High Line), and a Sustainable Backyards Program that urges residents to install compost bins and rainwater collectors.

Given this abundance of initiatives, many Transition movements, especially in cities, take on a networking role to connect existing sustainability projects. Transition Pittsburgh's mission is to offer "resources­such as educators, movie screenings and licenses, and a library of shared knowledge­to various local initiatives, as well as a city-wide community and some of our own projects." Chicago's Transition chapter­called Accelerate 77 after the division of the city into 77 unofficial communities by social scientists at the University of Chicago­set out by creating a dense map of the more than 800 sustainability projects underway in Chicago, which are remarkably evenly spaced throughout the areas of poverty and wealth that stratify the city. It hosted a "Share Fair" in September for the various groups to connect with each other, followed by three neighborhood gatherings on Chicago's South, West and North Sides to connect with residents.

I asked Ryan Wilson of the nonprofit Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT), a sustainability "think-and-do tank" that participated in the Share Fair, whether he thinks Transition has anything to add to Chicago's wealth of sustainability initiatives. "It was helpful to learn what other projects are out there­maybe more helpful for some of the smaller groups," he says. "The Transition folks­I like the people. I like their energy."

This jives with Hopkins' thinking on Transition, which has progressed from seeing "resilience" as a strictly environmental process to a more social one: "We have all the technologies to [achieve sustainability]," he says, "but we don't have the social technologies to make it happen."

The art of hosting

Transition's freewheeling structure, however, does mean that certain problems­or "challenges"­seem to crop up frequently. As with any volunteer-driven movement, members describe burnout and lack of accountability. After a stage of initial enthusiasm, projects can fall dormant. More successful Transition Towns often have paid staff. After observing that most initiatives "were struggling with an all-volunteer leadership team," Transition Sarasota founder Don Hall decided to raise the money to pay himself as a full-time organizer, cobbling together his salary from "a mix of event and workshop fees, donations, local business sponsorships and grants." In many cities, Transition has been adopted by non-profits that provide paid staff, like Chicago's Institute of Cultural Affairs, a 50-yearold organization dedicated to sustainability and social change, and Jamaica Plain's Institute for Policy Studies, the Boston branch of aprogressive , multi-issue D.C. think tank.

The Transition movement also grapples with the challenges of non-hierarchical, collective leadership. When I contacted Transition Sebastopol, in California, a longstanding, apparently thriving Transition town with a busy events calendar, I was surprised to learn that all was not well. A dispute in September had put the central Working Group Council on hold, although several working groups­an elders salon, the "heart and soul" group­are chugging along independently. Former working group member Julia Bystrova ascribes the blow-up to a lack of conflict-resolution mechanisms. She hopes that a fresh team will take over and resuscitate the group.

Hopkins is quick to cop to these pitfalls, and Transition is good at tapping into existing knowledge bases to fix problems. Transition U.S. has partnered with an organization called The Art of Hosting to offer facilitation trainings and will begin hosting regional courses on "effective groups" starting in September. Transition U.K. offers Thrive workshops for the same purpose, and ecofeminist and spiritual activist Starhawk gave a workshop in Totnes last month about clear communication and constructive critique in collective decision-making.

Another common concern about Transition, levied from both within and without, is that it is a movement of "white hippies." While the definition of "hippie" is open to debate, each of the half dozen Transition towns I surveyed in the U.S. indeed lamented a lack of diversity. In addition to being predominantly white, participants in several towns mentioned that their initiative was made up primarily of older women.
While many in the Transition movement said they were working to increase diversity, by far the most impressive effort I encountered is being staged by the Boston branch of IPS' Jamaica Plain New Economy Transition (JP NET), which has hired an organizer to help meet this challenge. Carlos Espinoza-Toro, a Peruvian immigrant with a master's in city planning from MIT, aims to identify spaces where different demographics intersect­farmers' markets, festivals­as well as to find people like himself who enjoy serving as cross-cultural bridges. But he's going beyond mixed-race spaces to foster Transition in the heart of Jamaica Plain's Latino community. A series of IPA-hosted meetings in Spanish (with simultaneous English translation) encourages residents to talk about how they are weathering environmental and economic crises. Espinoza-Toro's bilingual fliers for the first meeting read:
Us Latinos have adapted to economic crises in our countries and in the US for many years. And we have always prevailed! We are creative, resourceful and entrepreneurial. Currently in the US, MA and JP we are experiencing a crisis that challenges our capacity of adaptation. Work opportunities are scarce, rent keeps going up, it becomes more difficult to afford a healthy diet and take the T, the quality of education in our public schools diminishes. …We invite you to share how you are adapting to this crisis or how you have adapted to previous crises. Tell us your stories of adaptation. We could transform your effort into a neighborhood effort with great impact in JP.

Espinoza-Toro anticipates that the needs of Jamaica Plain's Latino immigrant community may be very different from the white, middle-class needs that have prompted JP NET's existing programs, such as garden shares and urban orchards. "Folks in the Latino community may say, 'Well, we cannot do our own gardening if we are getting evicted from our homes,' " he says. JP NET has one program underway to address housing issues, a community land trust called Pueblo, but Espinoza-Toro estimates that it is years from fruition thanks to high property costs in the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood. He hopes other ideas will emerge from the meetings.
Outside of urban areas, the barriers that limit the reach of Transition can be subtler than ethnicity. In New York state's Hudson Valley and other agricultural areas around the United States, Transition is one of many sustainability initiatives to run up against a cultural divide between traditional farmers and those who practice newer, more sustainable methods like organic, permacultural and biodynamic farming.
"You have organic farmers who are pretty disdainful and smug, and traditional farmers who are kind of threatened," says Maria Reidelbach, an artist and member of Transition Marbletown, N.Y., who found herself spanning both sides when she partnered with a 177-year-old local farm to create a mini-golf course featuring entirely edible plants (along with the world's third-largest garden gnome, "Gnome Chomsky"). "When the traditional farmers adopted machinery and pesticides in the 20th century, the yield increased incredibly, and all of a sudden they were able to feed so many more people with the same amount of land and less help," says Reidelbach. "To them, that's great. And then we come along 30 years later and start telling them that they are feeding people poison."
Reidelbach thinks Transition Marbletown has gone some way toward bridging this divide. The movement, she says, managed to "rope in" the local growers' association to cosponsor a "Common Ground Celebration" last fall. At a farmers' market, growers mingled and tasted each other's crops, and  farmers of all stripes were recognized with "Signs of Sustainability Awards."

"There's a value to the farmers listening to each other, humanizing each other," says Reidelbach. "Then they are much less likely to dis each others' methods, modus operandi and motives. I think everybody's got to get down off their high horses. That's one of the things that Transition enables."

Modest expectations, high spirits

Asked if he eventually envisions Transition scaling up and being adopted by regional or national governments, Hopkins assents cautiously, explaining that the goal would be for government to better enable local projects (for instance, by making laws more friendly to small-scale farming). He also hopes that Transition will hit a tipping point at which new solutions seem possible­where, for instance, local governments don't feel that the only solution to economic hardship is to try to attract large corporations in a deregulatory race to the bottom.

Espinoza-Toro says that he chooses Transition over other forms of organizing because he is inspired by the movement's tangibility. "What I find most fruitful and rewarding about my work here is that I'm dealing with folks face-to-face in order to tackle some of these issues," he says.

Again and again, for Transitioners, it seems to come back to that social aspect. "Between you and me, I don't know if we're going to solve the world's problems," says Reidelbach. "[But] the underlying ethos is that the process needs to be fun enough to be worth doing anyway. I love that about it. There's a bit of anarchy, which is wonderful. People who are attracted to it tend to be upbeat, optimistic, joyous people.

"I don't see anything meaningful happening at the top, with governments and multinational corporations," Reidelbach continues. "Whether or not we win, Transition is the only group offering a model where I can deal with fossil fuel depletion and climate change myself."

Jessica Stites is In These Times' Deputy Editor and Web Editor. Before joining ITT, she worked at Ms. magazine and George Lakoff's Rockridge Institute. Her writing has been published in theLos Angeles Review of Books, Ms., Bitch, Jezebel,  and The Advocate.

Friday, June 14, 2013

ANS -- Healthcare Isn't A Free Market, It's A Giant Economic Scam

Here is an article about what's wrong with our current medical system, which the Affordable Care Act doesn't change.  It's the overcharges for what they do.  Read about it.
Find it here:   


by Mike Masnick

Fri, Feb 22nd 2013 10:58am


Healthcare Isn't A Free Market, It's A Giant Economic Scam

from the destroying-us-all dept

Not long ago, someone I know who had no medical insurance, but who had some serious medical issues, ended up in the hospital for a few weeks. Some procedures needed to be done, but nothing that most people would consider too "drastic." Eventually, the bills showed up, and they were in the range of half a million dollars, for someone who did not have anything close to that. You hear stories about crazy medical bills, but what very few people realize is that the reality of hospital bills can often be orders of magnitude more crazy than what most people expect. Just last week, a friend of mine posted the following image to Facebook, noting that when his normal medical insurance billing statement has room for seven digits (i.e., millions of dollars) something is clearly screwed up.
A few years back, the folks at Planet Money tried to dig in and demystify some of the secrets of medical bills, but that only scratched the surface.

Stephen Brill has a very long, but absolutely gripping, detailed analysis of the insanity of medical billing for Time Magazine. It's a truly astounding piece, that hopefully will open many people's eyes. It will take a while, but find some time to read it, just to get a sense of how totally screwed up the entire system is. I've been working on some other stories about some really sketchy activity on the pharmaceutical side of things, but this article really shines a light on the disgusting underbelly of the healthcare system. As Brill notes, so much of the debate about healthcare is really focused on "but who will pay for these things." But what it tends to ignore is why are the prices absolutely insane.
When medical care becomes a matter of life and death, the money demanded by the health care ecosystem reaches a wholly different order of magnitude, churning out reams of bills to people who can't focus on them, let alone pay them. Soon after he was diagnosed with lung cancer in January 2011, a patient whom I will call Steven D. and his wife Alice knew that they were only buying time. The crushing question was, How much is time really worth? As Alice, who makes about $40,000 a year running a child-care center in her home, explained, "[Steven] kept saying he wanted every last minute he could get, no matter what. But I had to be thinking about the cost and how all this debt would leave me and my daughter." By the time Steven D. died at his home in Northern California the following November, he had lived for an additional 11 months. And Alice had collected bills totaling $902,452. The family's first bill ­ for $348,000 ­ which arrived when Steven got home from the Seton Medical Center in Daly City, Calif., was full of all the usual chargemaster profit grabs: $18 each for 88 diabetes-test strips that Amazon sells in boxes of 50 for $27.85; $24 each for 19 niacin pills that are sold in drugstores for about a nickel apiece. There were also four boxes of sterile gauze pads for $77 each. None of that was considered part of what was provided in return for Seton's facility charge for the intensive-care unit for two days at $13,225 a day, 12 days in the critical unit at $7,315 a day and one day in a standard room (all of which totaled $120,116 over 15 days). There was also $20,886 for CT scans and $24,251 for lab work. Alice responded to my question about the obvious overcharges on the bill for items like the diabetes-test strips or the gauze pads much as Mrs. Lincoln, according to the famous joke, might have had she been asked what she thought of the play. "Are you kidding?" she said. "I'm dealing with a husband who had just been told he has Stage IV cancer. That's all I can focus on … You think I looked at the items on the bills? I just looked at the total."

If we want a real fix to the mounting costs of healthcare (which are a massive drain on the economy), we need to start there. Unfortunately, those who are making out like bandits from this system have tremendous political clout, and they have no interest in letting the easy money go away.

Throughout the piece, Brill repeatedly discusses the "chargemaster," which is basically the internal price list at every hospital, which has no basis in reality whatsoever, but which the poorest patients, and those without insurance, or with limited insurance, are often hit over the head with. Throughout the article, Brill details over and over and over again how hospital administrators and spokespeople all refused to address the chargemaster at all, constantly blowing it off as no big deal, because so few people actually pay the list price. But they completely ignore a bunch of points, including that some patients are charged upfront for these things, and no one is ever told that the prices are negotiable, even though they all are.

What you see is a system where supposedly "non-profit" and "charitable" institutions are raking in massive profits -- while still begging the public for donations, and suggesting that any effort to reign in costs would put people at risk by cutting back on necessary hospital services. At times, these statements are so obviously bullshit, that it's really sickening.
In December, when the New York Times ran a story about how a deficit deal might threaten hospital payments, Steven Safyer, chief executive of Montefiore Medical Center, a large nonprofit hospital system in the Bronx, complained, "There is no such thing as a cut to a provider that isn't a cut to a beneficiary … This is not crying wolf."

Actually, Safyer seems to be crying wolf to the tune of about $196.8 million, according to the hospital's latest publicly available tax return. That was his hospital's operating profit, according to its 2010 return. With $2.586 billion in revenue ­ of which 99.4% came from patient bills and 0.6% from fundraising events and other charitable contributions ­ Safyer's business is more than six times as large as that of the Bronx's most famous enterprise, the New York Yankees. Surely, without cutting services to beneficiaries, Safyer could cut what have to be some of the Bronx's better non-Yankee salaries: his own, which was $4,065,000, or those of his chief financial officer ($3,243,000), his executive vice president ($2,220,000) or the head of his dental department ($1,798,000).

Sometimes these stories make you wonder if some of these "charitable" organizations deserve to be called charities at all:
Mercy Hospital is owned by an organization under the umbrella of the Catholic Church called Sisters of Mercy. Its mission, as described in its latest filing with the IRS as a tax-exempt charity, is "to carry out the healing ministry of Jesus by promoting health and wellness.".... The overall chain had $4.28 billion in revenue that year. Its hospital in Springfield, Mo. (pop. 160,660), had $880.7 million in revenue and an operating profit of $319 million, according to its federal filing. The incomes of the parent company's executives appear on other IRS filings covering various interlocking Mercy nonprofit corporate entities. Mercy president and CEO Lynn Britton made $1,930,000, and an executive vice president, Myra Aubuchon, was paid $3.7 million, according to the Mercy filing. In all, seven Mercy Health executives were paid more than $1 million each. A note at the end of an Ernst & Young audit that is attached to Mercy's IRS filing reported that the chain provided charity care worth 3.2% of its revenue in the previous year. However, the auditors state that the value of that care is based on the charges on all the bills, not the actual cost to Mercy of providing those services ­ in other words, the chargemaster value. Assuming that Mercy's actual costs are a tenth of these chargemaster values ­ they're probably less ­ all of this charity care actually cost Mercy about three-tenths of 1% of its revenue, or about $13 million out of $4.28 billion.

While I actually think it's a bit of a cheap shot to repeatedly show CEO salaries, the real issue is how these hospitals can ratchet up the prices with no basis in reality, simply because they know they can do so. Even if they recognize most people don't pay those fees, they still send such bills out there, which creates a tremendous amount of stress.

The stories of obvious overcharging fill the piece and demonstrate a key point in all of this. For all the talk about "free market" healthcare, nothing in our healthcare system is anything resembling a free market. You have truly "captive" customers with almost no price elasticity, combined with a system whereby it's rare for the buyers to actually be the ones "paying." If you were to design the most fucked up economic experiment ever, this might be it. And you can see the results.
Steve H.'s bill for his day at Mercy contained all the usual and customary overcharges. One item was "MARKER SKIN REG TIP RULER" for $3. That's the marking pen, presumably reusable, that marked the place on Steve H.'s back where the incision was to go. Six lines down, there was "STRAP OR TABLE 8X27 IN" for $31. That's the strap used to hold Steve H. onto the operating table. Just below that was "BLNKT WARM UPPER BDY 42268" for $32. That's a blanket used to keep surgery patients warm. It is, of course, reusable, and it's available new on eBay for $13. Four lines down there's "GOWN SURG ULTRA XLG 95121" for $39, which is the gown the surgeon wore. Thirty of them can be bought online for $180. Neither Medicare nor any large insurance company would pay a hospital separately for those straps or the surgeon's gown; that's all supposed to come with the facility fee paid to the hospital, which in this case was $6,289.

Or how about this one:
His bill ­ which included not only the aggressively marked-up charge of $13,702 for the Rituxan cancer drug but also the usual array of chargemaster fees for basics like generic Tylenol, blood tests and simple supplies ­ had one item not found on any other bill I examined: MD Anderson's charge of $7 each for "ALCOHOL PREP PAD." This is a little square of cotton used to apply alcohol to an injection. A box of 200 can be bought online for $1.91.

The article is chock full of these kinds of stories. They're not anomalies, nor are they extreme outlier cases. They happen quite frequently. It's standard operating procedure. And, contrary to what most people think, these things don't just apply to those who are without insurance. While insurance may protect against some of these situations, often people discover that their insurance doesn't cover nearly as much as they expected (in part because they never think that bills could possibly be so high. And, while some hospitals are more open to forgiving massive debt for those who are poor, when those who thought they were comfortably in the middle class suddenly realize they may owe hundreds of thousands of dollars unexpectedly, the hospitals are a lot less sympathetic.

Not surprisingly, nearly every hospital that Brill tried to speak to about all this refused to talk about it. Sometimes they gave completely bogus excuses, such as claiming that it's "against the law" to discuss why they charge massive markups on basic items:
Wright said the hospital's lawyers had decided that discussing Steve H.'s bill would violate the federal HIPAA law protecting the privacy of patient medical records. I pointed out that I wanted to ask questions only about the hospital's charges for standard items ­ such as surgical gowns, basic blood tests, blanket warmers and even medical devices ­ that had nothing to do with individual patients. "Everything is particular to an individual patient's needs," she replied. Even a surgical gown? "Yes, even a surgical gown. We cannot discuss this with you. It's against the law." She declined to put me in touch with the hospital's lawyers to discuss their legal analysis.

In one case where he finally got an administrator to speak about the chargemaster rates, the answers were astounding, and either completely mendacious or disconnected from reality (I'm not sure which one is scarier).
"We think the chargemaster is totally fair," says William Gedge, senior vice president of payer relations at Yale New Haven Health System. "It's fair because everyone gets the same bill. Even Medicare gets exactly the same charges that this patient got. Of course, we will have different arrangements for how Medicare or an insurance company will not pay some of the charges or discount the charges, but everyone starts from the same place." Asked how the chargemaster charge for an item like the troponin test was calculated, Gedge said he "didn't know exactly" but would try to find out. He subsequently reported back that "it's an historical charge, which takes into account all of our costs for running the hospital."

It's fair because we charge absolutely everyone insane amounts that have no basis in reality, and which we mark up ridiculously -- and then we offer discounts to many, but certainly not all patients. This answer is bullshit. Not everyone starts from the same place, but even if we grant that ridiculous claim, having everyone start at insane prices doesn't make it fair. It still makes it a giant scam.

And, of course, the hospitals know they're getting away with all sorts of crap here. Even when they're talking about things like Medicare, where the government is the "buyer," the situation is crazy. While the hospitals, pharma companies and others complain that government supported healthcare artificially deflates revenue and limits their ability to provide patient care, the article goes into a fair bit of detail about how that's hogwash, and the hospitals (and doctors) are massively profiting off of the taxpayer -- sometimes in completely cynical ways.
"One of the benefits attending physicians get from many hospitals is the opportunity to cruise the halls and go into a Medicare patient's room and rack up a few dollars," says a doctor who has worked at several hospitals across the country. "In some places it's a Monday-morning tradition. You go see the people who came in over the weekend. There's always an ostensible reason, but there's also a lot of abuse."

If you know even the slightest bit about basic economics, the deeper you look at this system, the more and more you realize how insane it is. Nearly every single incentive is skewed, often dangerously so. The system is more or less designed to be abused, while making it increasingly difficult for people to get reasonable care. I'd argue that it may be worse than if you asked a bunch of economists to design the worst possible system of incentives.

And we're more or less stuck with it. For all the debate and the fight over reform, the reform package we got really did next to nothing to address any of these kinds of underlying issues. And this has nothing to do with silly claims of whether or not it's "socialist". The entire healthcare system, before and after the recent health reform, does not resemble anything even remotely close to a free market system. And, while there are some who argue that healthcare itself shouldn't be subjected to free market forces, but rather towards what provides the best care, it's not like the system is designed to match up with that belief either.

The system is completely broken. In researching other aspects of the system, I'd already come to the conclusion that it should be scrapped entirely, with something completely different put in its place, but this article just helps take that belief to another level. And, the scary thing is that the chances of that happening are basically zero. We're stuck with this system, in part because the economic incentives are screwed up so much that it's ripe for widespread abuse. And when you have so many billions of dollars flowing, with a small group of folks profiting massively from that, there's simply no chance they'll allow for any real changes.

And, the really scary thing is that the bits I've talked about here really only scratch the surface of Brill's overall article. And, his article really only touches on one part of the problem. It is a key part of the problem, but it's still just one part. And each of the other parts tend to look equally insane when you start digging deeper. We are in the middle of the most horrifying economic experiment ever constructed with our healthcare system, and it's only impacting almost everyone's lives. Oh yeah, and there's no real interest in taking on the actual problems.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

ANS -- 12 Phrases Progressives Need To Ditch (And What We Can Say Instead)

Here's an article that suggests some phrases to use.  Unfortunately, the Right has professionals whose job it is to come up with phrases that frame the ideas the way they want them, and they are really good at it.  We are not so good, and being second time -wise is no help either.  Some of these suggestions are good, some need some work.  What do you think?
Find it here:   

12 Phrases Progressives Need To Ditch (And What We Can Say Instead)

Author: Elisabeth Parker 5:53 am
Progressives shouldn't do this.

See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.

(1). Big Business: (Also referred to as: Corporate America; Multinationals; Corporate Interests) When we use any of these words, we automatically sound pie-in-the-sky liberal. People think, "what's wrong with that?" After all, they'd like their own businesses to get "big" and have no negative associations with the words "corporate" or "multinational" ­ which actually sound kind of exciting and worldly. Instead, try: Unelected Government. This puts them in their proper context as unelected entities with unprecedented powers, whose actions have immense impact on our lives, and which we are powerless to hold accountable.

(2). Entitlements: I keep hearing reporters from National Public Radio and other liberal news outlets use the word "entitlements" and it makes me froth at the mouth. They're not "entitlements" ­ which sounds like something a bunch of spoiled, lazy, undeserving people irrationally think they should get for nothing. Instead, try: Earned Benefits. This term not only sounds better for the progressive cause, it's also more accurate. Programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Unemployment are all forms of insurance that we pay into all of our working lives ­ via a percentage of our income ­ and then collect from when the time comes.

(3). Free Market Capitalism: (Also referred to as: Capitalism, Free Markets, and Supply-Side Economics) Like "Fascism" and "Communism," "Free Market Capitalism" is a 20th-century utopian ideal that has amply been proven an unworkable failure, and damaging to society. Instead, try: Socialized Risk, Privatized Profits. This best describes the dramatically failed experiment in unfettered capitalism, as practiced in the late 20th century and early aughts.

(4). Government Spending: (Also referred to as: Taxes, Burden, and Inconvenient) Conservatives talk about "government spending" like it's this awful thing, but the fact is, communities across America benefit from U.S. tax dollars, especially supposedly anti-government red states, which receive way more federal tax money than they contributeInstead, try: Investing in America. Because, that's what our federal tax dollars do. They invest in education and infrastructure that wouldn't prove profitable for businesses, but which still benefit society in the long-run.

(5) Gay Marriage/Same Sex Marriage: While these phrases are technically accurate, they play into the conservative notion that marriage between two men or two women is somehow different and inferior than a "real" marriage between a man and a woman. Instead, try: Marriage Equality.

(6). Gun Control:
Yikes! That sounds like you want to control people, and all those "freedom loving" folks who want to bully gays and people of color into staying in their place will use that word against you. Instead, try: Gun Safety. It sounds so nice, non-coercive, and reasonable … plus, it's true. Most of us aren't against guns, we just want them used safely. Or, for some added punch, try: Gun Violence Prevention.

(7). Homophobic: People who oppose equal rights for gays, lesbians, and gender atypical individuals are not "afraid," as the "phobic" suffix implies. They are mean, bigoted @ssholes. Instead, try: Anti-Gay.

(8). Illegal Aliens:
It's easy to support draconian laws against people we refer to by such a scary and impersonal term as "illegal aliens." It's way harder to act against our neighbors, friends, the families of our children's classmates, or the nice lady who sells those plump, fragrant tamales on the corner. Plus … are they really "illegal?" If Big Business … Ooops … I mean "Unelected Government" … didn't want them here ­ for their easily-exploited, low-cost, skilled labor (yes, our neighbors from south of the border do offer specialized skills for which U.S. agribusiness refuses to fairly compensate) ­ they'd be gone. Instead, try: Undocumented Residents. Why not? They already do much of what we officially-recognized U.S. citizens do, plus they're having more kids than Anglos are. Seems like immigration provides an ideal way for us to avoid the demographics crisis hitting Western Europe and Japan.

(9). Pro-Life: Ugh. They are NOT pro-life. Once a child takes its first breath, these supposed conservative "pro-lifers" couldn't care less about the quality of life for the child or mother. Let's call them by their true name for once. Instead, try: Anti-Choice. Because, that's what they really are about. They don't care about "life." They only seek to deny choices to women. Not just the choice of whether or not to have a child, but whether a woman can ­ like a man ­ embrace her full sexuality without having to worry about pregnancy, and whether she can make related choices about her body, her career, and when to have children, as men always have.

(10). Right-To-Work: Who came up with the phrase "right-to-work" ANYway? It's total B.S. and doesn't give you the right to do anything, unless you want to reject unions and earn less money than you would in a pro-union shop. In "right-to-work" states, non-union workers in union shops can decline paying union dues. Which sounds fair, but is not, because union shops pay better wages to their employees, and hence should receive dues accordingly. Instead, try: Anti-Union: It's far more accurate, and ­ as unions increasingly gain favor ­ will make conservatives look bad. Because "right-to-work" really does mean: Right to choose amongst sucky wages and benefits packages.  Several readers have also suggested: Right-To-Fire (without just cause), and Right-To-Work-For-Less.

(11). The Environment: When people talk about "the environment," they often sound annoyingly self-righteous, as if lecturing people with dubious hygiene practices. Unfortunately, you can't count on people to make environmentally friendly choices ­ especially when people are struggling financially and these choices cost significantly more. Instead, try: Shared Resources. That makes way more sense. We may not care about some  factory dumping crap into the ocean, but we dang-well care about our neighbors up the river not properly maintaining their septic tank.

(12). Welfare: When conservatives talk about "welfare," they make it sound like this pit people wallow in forever, rather than a source of help that's available when we need it – and that we pay for through our taxes. The majority of us need help at one time or another. Instead, try: Social Safety Net: When people think of a safety net, they're more likely to think of a protection of last-resort, and one that they can instantly bounce out of like circus acrobats. And if we continue to grow the middle class ­ instead of cutting taxes for the rich and allowing companies to pay sub-living wages ­ perhaps the latter will be true again.

NOTE: This piece is updated on an ongoing basis, and new terms will be added as they come to the author's attention.

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