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Jail la la

Dum Dum Girls:

Prescription painkillers

Linked to serious birth defects.

Sen. Dale Schultz

This is the Wisconsin Republican who’s going to vote against Scott Walker’s union-busting budget bill:

Subtropical Wisconsin

Notice the palm trees in the background? That was Sacramento, not Wisconsin. Via Digby:

Crying the blues

At one point in my career, I tried to untangle the business deals of our local Blues, but it was a Herculean task and I didn’t have the time to get very far. I can tell you that they’re not really non-profits — they have a non-profit shell, and a whole lot of for-profit subsidiaries in most states. The non-profits buy services from the for-profits, which is where the really smelly deals get made.

Oh well!

In a filing to the Massachusetts Division of Insurance yesterday, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts revealed it has committed to paying $11.3 million in severance to Cleve L. Killingsworth, an executive they parted company with last year after the organization began to run “staggering losses”. Nice work if you can get it.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts is one of a number of nonprofit insurers called out by Consumer’s Union last year for hoarding excessive amounts of surplus while raising premiums by the double digits. At that time BCBS of Massachusetts defended themselves saying that that level of surplus was necessary to remain sustainable, but this severance package certainly tends to raise the question again – both of regulation of surplus and premium levels, and of the tax exempt status of the organization.

At the moment, these insurers are regulated to ensure that they keep the minimum required in reserves but there is no ceiling set in most states. This has resulted, according to the report, in some plans having five or six times the minimum reserve. Sondra Roberto, a staff attorney for the Consumer’s Union opines, “the mission of a nonprofit is to provide affordable coverage, so we want that mission to be their priority.”

Meanwhile, according to this article in the New York Times yesterday, hundreds of thousands of people across the country are now being cut from the insurance plans that states have been providing for the poor.

Among the states is Pennsylvania where 41,468 people have been cut from the state’s insurance plan for low income people. Governor Rendell had been paying for it partially with payments he had negotiated to be paid into a fund by the four Blue Cross Blue Shields in Pennsylvania. Because they were holding large surpluses, Rendell made the case that the BCBS contributions would prove that they were fulfilling their charitable purpose – but that agreement ran out on December 31 and they stopped making the payments.

From the Times article: “The Blue Cross/Blue Shield plans continue to run substantial surpluses, rising to a cumulative $5.6 billion in 2009 from $3.5 billion in 2002, according to the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, a research group that advocates for low-income families. But the insurers say their obligation to pay for a state program has ended. ‘Our support to adultBasic [Pennsylvania’s subsidized insurance program for low-income people] was always a temporary financing mechanism,” said Aaron Billger, a spokesman for Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, the largest of the state’s plans. “We have long told the state that it was unsustainable.”

Uh huh. Right.

Looking for the silver lining

One thing I like about Europe is their approach to solving problems. It appears that at least most of the time, they identify a problem and then they think, “How do we solve this problem?”

Not, “How do we solve this problem by channeling massive economic subsidies and/or profits to one of our political donors and perpetuating the status quo?” Refreshing!

Europeans left stranded at airports last year as an Icelandic volcano spewed ash across the continent may soon benefit from the power that seethes beneath the remote north Atlantic island.

Iceland is doing a feasibility study into building a 1,170- kilometer (727-mile) power cable to Scotland to send some of its untapped potential of 18 terawatt-hours of geothermal and hydropower — that’s enough for 5 million European homes. The project has the backing of the government, Industry Minister Katrin Juliusdottir said in an interview.

“Icelanders live with earthquakes and volcanic activity but the benefits are that now we can monetize these powers,” said Valdimar Armann, an economist at Reykjavik-based asset manager GAMMA, who estimates annual clean-energy exports could reach about a tenth of the island’s $12 billion economy.

The island is trying to emerge from Europe’s biggest banking meltdown this century to restyle itself as one of the European Union’s main sources of renewable energy. The power cable, which would be the longest of its kind ever built, would come as the EU strives to reach its target of 20 percent clean energy by 2020. In about 20 years, Iceland’s energy revenue per capita may rival that of Norway, where oil income has made its $540 billion sovereign wealth fund the world’s second-biggest, Armann said.

That librul media

I agree with Will Pitt: They’re scared. And that cheers me up!

Remember the first stirrings of what came to be termed as the “Tea Party” uprising? Never mind that it was created by powerful conservative corporate entities like the Koch Brothers. Never mind that the “Tea Party” was nothing more or less than the GOP base with a new coat of paint. Never mind that virtually everything they were yelling about was based on lies and deliberate misinformation. Never mind that most of them really didn’t know what they were talking about, and couldn’t spell to save their lives.

Three blivets wreathed in American flags and automatic weapons could stand on a streetcorner with signs reading “Keep Your Damn Government Hands Off My Medicare,” and they would find themselves surrounded by camera crews from CNN, MSNBC and, of course, Fox News. But put 50,000 people a day out on the streets of Madison, put tens of thousands more on the streets in every state in the union, and those same news cameras are suddenly too busy covering the Oscars and Lindsey Lohan’s ongoing crime spree to make an effort at coverage.

Hm.

I wonder why this is? We have a huge story in the making here, rife with old and new politics that cuts across virtually every segment of American life – blue collar workers, unions, protests, Tea Party governors, fleeing Democratic senators, teachers, budget issues, new media, old media, and the power of simple shoe leather – and yet those who represent the protesters in Wisconsin had to fight like wolverines to get just one of their representatives onto the Sunday political talk shows. Just one. As far as the American “news” media is concerned, Wisconsin simply doesn’t exist.

Know what I think?

I think they’re scared.

I think the corporations behind the “news” media are conservatives down to their DNA, but understanding that is a matter of simple logic and observation. They made the “Tea Party” into a legitimate political phenomenon by dint of total-saturation coverage. But now, they are trying to disappear the Wisconsin protests by ignoring them entirely. Is it because they don’t like the idea of workers having the right to collectively bargain? Definitely. Is it because this national action scares the ever-lovin’ crap out of them?

I think absolutely yes.

Keep it up Wisconsin. Keep it up, alternative media. Keep it up, America.

They are scared down to their corporate-owned socks, and as this movement grows, it will be impossible to ignore.

Deep thought

I have an even better idea for Congress to save money: Really big co-pays and a very high deductible on their health insurance. The thinking behind good benefits was that it was supposed to keep them from being corrupted, but as we see, that’s just not working out.

So it’s time to slash their benefits. Cut, cut, cut!

Stop screwing with Social Security

Via email. One would think the Senate wouldn’t pass this, but who knows? Better not to assume, as we’ve learned. Call your congress critter!

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Rep. Xavier Becerra (CA-31), Ranking Member of the House Social Security Subcommittee, will join a coalition of retiree groups and Social Security Administration workers TODAY, Wednesday, March 2, 2011 at 11:00 a.m. (EST) to oppose deep budget cuts to Social Security contained in the recently-passed House Continuing Resolution. The press conference call will draw attention to informational pickets that will occur outside Social Security Administration offices in 84 cities on March 2 at noon local time.

To reduce the federal deficit House Republicans have cut $1.7 billion from the Social Security Administration budget in 2011. That could result in workers being furloughed for up to 1 month over the next 7 months. As a result, Social Security office doors may be temporarily closed, phones will not be answered, and claims processing will grind to a halt. Hundreds of thousands of Americans will be put at risk, and jobs will be cut.

What a relief

I can’t tell you how happy I am to hear this, because after all, Fox News did so much to harm our democracy and I just assumed they’d get Canada, too:

As America’s middle class battles for its survival on the Wisconsin barricades – against various Koch Oil surrogates and the corporate toadies at Fox News – fans of enlightenment, democracy and justice can take comfort from a significant victory north of the Wisconsin border. Fox News will not be moving into Canada after all! The reason: Canadian regulators announced last week they would reject efforts by Canada’s right-wing Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, to repeal a law that forbids lying on broadcast news.

Canada’s Radio Act requires that “a licenser may not broadcast … any false or misleading news.” The provision has kept Fox News and right-wing talk radio out of Canada and helped make Canada a model for liberal democracy and freedom. As a result of that law, Canadians enjoy high quality news coverage, including the kind of foreign affairs and investigative journalism that flourished in this country before Ronald Reagan abolished the “Fairness Doctrine” in 1987. Political dialogue in Canada is marked by civility, modesty, honesty, collegiality, and idealism that have pretty much disappeared on the US airwaves. When Stephen Harper moved to abolish the anti-lying provision of the Radio Act, Canadians rose up to oppose him fearing that their tradition of honest non-partisan news would be replaced by the toxic, overtly partisan, biased and dishonest news coverage familiar to American citizens who listen to Fox News and talk radio. Harper’s proposal was timed to facilitate the launch of a new right-wing network, “Sun TV News” which Canadians call “Fox News North.”

Harper, often referred to as “George W. Bush’s Mini Me,” is known for having mounted a Bush-like war on government scientists, data collectors, transparency, and enlightenment in general. He is a wizard of all the familiar tools of demagoguery; false patriotism, bigotry, fear, selfishness and belligerent religiosity.

Harper’s attempts to make lying legal on Canadian television are a stark admission that right-wing political ideology can only dominate national debate through dishonest propaganda. Since corporate profit-taking is not an attractive vessel for populism, a political party or broadcast network that makes itself the tool of corporate and financial elites must lie to make its agenda popular with the public. In the Unites States, Fox News and talk radio, the sock puppets of billionaires and corporate robber barons, have become the masters of propaganda and distortion on the public airwaves. Fox News’ notoriously biased and dishonest coverage of the Wisconsin’s protests is a prime example of the brand of news coverage Canada has smartly avoided.

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