Wednesday, March 31, 2021

'Outrageous': 46 Million Americans Say They Would Not Be Able to Afford Healthcare If They Needed It

"The American model of health reform—throwing money at private insurers—cannot solve it."

A nurse comforts a woman who was distraught seeing her husband on a ventilator due to Covid-19.

A nurse comforts a woman who was distraught seeing her husband on a ventilator due to Covid-19. (Photo: Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

A new study released Wednesday morning shows that nearly 50 million Americans would be unable to afford quality healthcare should the need for treatment suddenly arise, a finding seen as further evidence of the immorality of a for-profit insurance system that grants or denies coverage based on a person's ability to pay.

"People can't afford their goddamn healthcare," Tim Faust, a proponent of single-payer healthcare, tweeted in response to the new report. "Families spend less on food so they can make insurance payments. This problem is felt by all, but concentrated among poor people and black people. The American model of health reform—throwing money at private insurers—can not solve it."

"Our system has been structured for many years on the basis of private health plans and very deep dysfunction politically and within the medical industry."
—Dr. Vikas Saini, Lown Institute

"The rot is pervasive and it runs deep," Faust added. "People who can't afford healthcare just don't get healthcare. Wealthy men get to live fifteen years longer than poor men. We have condemned poor children to die from things which do not kill rich children. In America, sickness makes you poor; poorness makes you sick; then you die."

According to the report by Gallup and West Health, 18% of U.S. adults—around 46 million people—say that if they needed access to quality healthcare today, they would not be able to cover the costs. The same percentage of adults report that, amid a deadly pandemic, someone in their household has opted to skip needed care over the past year due to inability to pay.

"The chances of any given household suffering from this form of healthcare insecurity are inversely related to annual household income, with 35% of respondents from low-income households—those earning under $24,000 per year—reporting forgoing care in the prior 12 months," Gallup's Dan Witters notes in a summary of the study's findings. "That is five times the rate reported by those from high-income households (7%), defined as earning at least $180,000."

Dr. Vikas Saini, president of the Lown Institute think tank, told The Guardian on Wednesday that "unfortunately, it's not surprising that millions of Americans can't afford healthcare."

"It is, however, shocking and kind of outrageous," Saini added. "Our system has been structured for many years on the basis of private health plans and very deep dysfunction politically and within the medical industry. Americans have been facing this mammoth problem. It was there during, and looks like it's going to be after, the pandemic...  Americans want, and need I'd say, a radically better healthcare system."

The study comes two weeks after a group of House Democrats led by Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) unveiled the Medicare for All Act of 2021, sweeping legislation that would transition the U.S. to a single-payer healthcare system over a two-year period. The new system would guarantee comprehensive medical care to every person in the U.S. for free at the point of service, eliminating premiums, co-pays, and deductibles.

According to an analysis released by consumer advocacy group Public Citizen earlier this month, a Medicare for All system likely would have prevented hundreds of thousands of coronavirus deaths in the United States, which has the highest Covid-19 death toll in the world.

"There is a solution to this health crisis—a popular one that guarantees healthcare to every person as a human right and finally puts people over profits and care over corporations," said Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. "That solution is Medicare for All—everyone in, nobody out."

In their new study, Gallup and West Health show that over 80% of Americans support "setting caps on out-of-pocket costs for both prescription drugs and general healthcare services for those who are insured by Medicare." Sixty percent of Americans support "making Medicare available to everyone," according to the report.

The study also finds that 65% of U.S. adults support lowering the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 60, a proposal that congressional Democrats are reportedly planning to include in a forthcoming legislative package.

This article originally appeared at CommonDreams.org. Originally published on March 31st, 2021. It is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License. 

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Monday, March 8, 2021

'Shameful': Millionaire Senators Vote Against Popular Minimum Wage Raise That Would Lift Millions Out of Poverty

"It is despicable and unacceptable that there is not unanimous support among Democrats in Congress for a $15 minimum wage," said Rep. Jamaal Bowman.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), worth more than $10 million, was one of eight Democrats to vote against including a federal minimum wage increase in the Senate's coronavirus relief package. (Photo: Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post/AFP via Getty Images)

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), worth more than $10 million, was one of eight Democrats to vote against including a federal minimum wage increase in the Senate's coronavirus relief package. (Photo: Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post/AFP via Getty Images)

After eight members of the Democratic caucus joined all 50 Republicans in the U.S. Senate on Friday to kill an amendment reattaching a $15 minimum wage provision to the Senate's coronavirus relief package, progressives pointed out that nearly every single one of the lawmakers who voted against the raise for low-paid workers nationwide is a millionaire.

"It is baffling that any member of the U.S. Senate could look at the crisis this country is enduring and decide that tens of millions of low-income workers should not get a raise."
—Morris Pearl, Patriotic Millionaires

"Today's vote on Senator Sanders' $15 minimum wage amendment is incredibly sad," Morris Pearl, chair of the Patriotic Millionaires and author of the forthcoming book Tax the Richsaid in a statement.

"$15 per hour is the bare minimum anyone in this country needs to survive," Pearl continued, "and it is baffling that any member of the U.S. Senate, much less a number of Democrats, could look at the crisis this country is enduring and decide that tens of millions of low-income workers, including millions of frontline workers who put their lives on the line every day in the midst of a global pandemic, should not get a raise."

Nina Turner, co-chair of Bernie Sanders' 2020 presidential campaign and current candidate running for election to the U.S. House in Ohio's 11th district, responded to the vote by tweeting: "every single one of the senators who voted against raising the minimum wage is a millionaire."

Journalist Ken Klippenstein shared the net worth, according to the most recent financial disclosures compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, of the eight Democrats who voted against Sanders' (I-Vt.) $15 minimum wage amendment.

While her present net worth may trail that of other lawmakers, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), was especially enthusiastic about denying a raise to millions of poorly paid U.S. workers. With her $174,000 annual salary, Sinema is well on her way to joining her wealthier colleagues in the millionaire ranks.

In his statement, Pearl said that "the Senate failed the American people today."

"Every single Republican Senator who voted against $15 today failed their constituents," he continued. "The Democrats who voted against $15 today not only failed their constituents, the decision they made—to put some ancient Senate tradition ahead of the priorities that they ran on and that they stand for—was wrong economically, morally, and politically."

Pearl was referring to the fact that Senate Democrats removed the $15 minimum wage provision from their version of the Covid-19 relief bill after the White House made clear that Vice President Kamala Harris would not be willing to exercise her authority to override a widely condemned advisory opinion of the Senate parliamentarian—an unelected official with zero constitutional authority—that deemed the proposed pay hike a violation of budget reconciliation rules.

Sanders' attempt to use the amendment process to add a federal minimum wage increase to the coronavirus relief legislation came in the wake of that decision.

"It is despicable and unacceptable," said Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), "that there is not unanimous support among Democrats in Congress for a $15 minimum wage."

"There is no excuse," Pearl added. "Senator Kyrsten Sinema, Senator Jon Tester, Senator Joe Manchin, Senator Chris Coons, Senator Jeanne Shaheen, Senator Tom Carper, Senator Maggie Hassan, and Senator Angus King failed both their people and their party. Neither those voting next year nor those reading the history of the next generation will appreciate those senators who could have changed the course of history—but chose not to."

Undeterred, Sanders said Friday that "if any senator believes this is the last time they will cast a vote on whether or not to give a raise to 32 million Americans, they are sorely mistaken. We're going to keep bringing it up, and we're going to get it done because it is what the American people demand and need."

Joining Sanders was Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), who tweeted that she "will never stop fighting to make the minimum wage a living wage."

"It's long overdue that we give 32 million workers a raise and lift a million people out of poverty," Jayapal added.

This article originally appeared at CommonDreams.org. Originally published on March 5th, 2021. It is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License. 

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Tuesday, February 23, 2021

COVID Misery Feeds the Beast but STARVES WORKING PEOPLE

Words by Charles Brooks

The American pandemic has created a public health and economic crisis felt widely and deeply across the nation. The most recent statistics reveal the crisis and depth of the despair felt by millions. Nearly 900,000 filed for unemployment just in the last week.  Over the past year, millions lost health insurance, and plunged senselessly into poverty, debt and eviction. Meanwhile the number of cases and death continues to tick upward as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) predicts a dire immediate future with up to 699,000 new cases and up to 559,000 deaths by March 13, 2021.  The current data shows over 28 million affected with Covid-19, and over 500,000 dead.

Despite the number of studies confirming the benefit of direct cash payments, Congress more than half of whom are millionaires, just debated the issue for months.  Questions about socialism, and whether the cost is affordable got most of the public's attention while not nearly enough light was shed on prioritized corporate interests. In the last year alone, we've witnessed a litany of corporate bailouts, the controversial Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), along with $4 trillion in leveraged funds for Wall Street firms.  In March 2020, the CARES Act passed with $1200 stimulus checks but since then Congress could only manage to agree on one additional $600 cash payout.  There was an opportunity last year when Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) proposed a federal “paycheck guarantee covering salaries for three months.  The proposal wasn't included for one of two reasons; Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC) says the proposal is too costly while Rep. Pelosi placed blamed on Jayapal's non-compliance with House procedures. 

The new year, 2021 opened with yet another round of debates pushed by Senate Democrats for a $2000 cash payout as Senators prepared to override the presidential veto of the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Senators turned their backs on working people and proceeded to override the veto unleashing $740 billion for military spending and nothing for working folk. 

Bear in mind that defense spending takes up more than half of discretionary spending – that’s $740 billion out of $1.3 trillion. That is considerably less funding available for education, healthcare, infrastructure, and housing, for example.  An amendment was proposed by the new Defense Spending Reduction Caucus to reduce the NDAA bill by just 10% or $74 billion. But the Lee-Pocan amendment failed with 139 Democrats joining 185 Republicans to vote the measure down. 

Consider these costs, an estimated $51.5 billion is spent annually to build and run bases abroad, and more than $150 billion annually to maintain the troops overseas.  The Scientific American says this about military spending: “There are plenty of reasons to cut the Pentagon’s budget, but its track record of profligate spending is among the most obvious. If the Pentagon were a private corporation, gross mismanagement would have forced it into bankruptcy years ago. Dysfunctional internal controls, aided and abetted by years of lax congressional and administration oversight, have enabled it to waste tens of billions of dollars annually, and the last 20 years are littered with a parade of overpriced, botched and bungled projects.

David Vine has written extensively on the pivotal role of military bases to American imperialism with, Base Nation: How U.S. Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World and, The United States of War: A Global History of America’s Endless Conflicts, from Columbus to the Islamic State.  During an interview, Vine is asked about imperialism: “…U.S. military bases are, in my mind, a largely overlooked tool of U.S. imperial power since World War II. U.S. military bases have, since World War II, occupied dozens of countries and, at times, have actually numbered even more than the 800 today, and they’ve been a major tool by which the United States government has been able to exercise power and control over local governments [and] over local people to advance [the] economic and political interests of … U.S. corporations [and] U.S. elites.”

The Black Alliance for Peace (BAP) has been waging a relentless campaign that draws attention to U.S. military intervention, particularly the role of the African Command or AFRICOM, in the affairs of African nations.  Their campaign demands are clear; complete withdrawal of U.S. forces from Africa, demilitarization of the African continent, closure of U.S. bases throughout the world, and that the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) oppose AFRICOM and conduct hearings on AFRICOM’s impact on the African continent, with the full participation of members of U.S. and African civil society.  BAP’s work also includes abolishing nuclear weapons, drone strikes, economic sanctions and the 1033 program that militarizes US police departments.  They recently co-sponsored a virtual webinar, hosted by the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom-U.S. Section, “AFRICOM and Human Rights in Africa addressing US militarism, the $740 billion and its link to the wide disparities suffered by Black working people.  Their webinar reminds us of Congress’ real priorities, as well as the neoliberal forces at work for wealthy and corporate elites.  But more importantly, their campaign continues a tradition in Black Liberation movements that historically critiqued, organized and linked US imperialism, US foreign policy, and inflated military budgets to the daily struggles of the poor and working folk. 

Additional Resources and Reading

"...The Department of Defense is the Federal Government’s largest agency and one of the most complex organizations in the world. With more than 1.3 million active duty service members, 750,000 civilian personnel, and more than 811,000 National Guard and Reserve service members, the DoD is the nation’s largest employer. As one of the nation’s largest health-care providers, DoD’s TRICARE program serves approximately 9.4 million beneficiaries. The DoD, which operated with a base budget of approximately $551 billion in fiscal year (FY) 2017, executes a multibillion-dollar global supply chain and manages a 5 million-item inventory.  DoD is also one of the largest holders of real estate, managing a global portfolio that consists of more than 568,000 assets (buildings and structures), located at nearly 4,800 sites worldwide, covering 27.2 million acres of property..." Defense Department


The Cost of War Project, The Watson Institute for International & Public Affairs at Brown University,

The Cost of War FACT SHEET, The Watson Institute for International & Public Affairs at Brown University

Radical Black Peace Activism in the Black Liberation MovementBy Charisse Burden-Stelly February 2018

Black Alliance for Peace campaign

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Monday, February 8, 2021

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Wednesday, February 3, 2021

The Decline and Fall of the American Empire

Instead of opening doors for American big business or supporting America’s diplomatic position in the world, the U.S. war machine has become a bull in the global china shop, wielding purely destructive power to destabilize countries and wreck their economies.

Even in the American empire’s neocolonial phase, the role of the U.S. military and the CIA was to kick open doors through which American businessmen could “follow the flag” to set up shop and develop new markets. (Photo: Calvin Shen)

Even in the American empire’s neocolonial phase, the role of the U.S. military and the CIA was to kick open doors through which American businessmen could "follow the flag" to set up shop and develop new markets. (Photo: Calvin Shen)

In 2004, journalist Ron Suskind quoted a Bush White House advisor, reportedly Karl Rove, as boasting, “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.” He dismissed Suskind’s assumption that public policy must be rooted in “the reality-based community.” “We’re history’s actors,” the advisor told him, “…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

Sixteen years later, the American wars and war crimes launched by the Bush administration have only spread chaos and violence far and wide, and this historic conjunction of criminality and failure has predictably undermined America’s international power and authority. Back in the imperial heartland, the political marketing industry that Rove and his colleagues were part of has had more success dividing and ruling the hearts and minds of Americans than of Iraqis, Russians or Chinese.

The irony of the Bush administration’s imperial pretensions was that America has been an empire from its very founding, and that a White House staffer’s political use of the term “empire” in 2004 was not emblematic of a new and rising empire as he claimed, but of a decadent, declining empire stumbling blindly into an agonizing death spiral.

Americans were not always so ignorant of the imperial nature of their country’s ambitions. George Washington described New York as “the seat of an empire,” and his military campaign against British forces there as the “pathway to empire.” New Yorkers eagerly embraced their state’s identity as the Empire State, which is still enshrined in the Empire State Building and on New York State license plates.

The expansion of America’s territorial sovereignty over Native American lands, the Louisiana Purchase and the annexation of northern Mexico in the Mexican-American War built an empire that far outstripped the one that George Washington built. But that imperial expansion was more controversial than most Americans realize. Fourteen out of fifty-two U.S. senators voted against the 1848 treaty to annex most of Mexico, without which Americans might still be visiting California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Nevada, Utah and most of Colorado as exotic Mexican travel spots.

In the full flowering of the American empire after the Second World War, its leaders understood the skill and subtlety required to exercise imperial power in a post-colonial world. No country fighting for independence from the U.K. or France was going to welcome imperial invaders from America. So America’s leaders developed a system of neocolonialism through which they exercised overarching imperial sovereignty over much of the world, while scrupulously avoiding terms like “empire” or “imperialism” that would undermine their post-colonial credentials.

It was left to critics like President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana to seriously examine the imperial control that wealthy countries still exercised over nominally independent post-colonial countries like his. In his book, Neo-Colonialism: the Last Stage of Imperialism, Nkrumah condemned neocolonialism as “the worst form of imperialism.” “For those who practice it,” he wrote, “it means power without responsibility, and for those who suffer from it, it means exploitation without redress.” 

Decades ago Martin Luther King Jr. warned us that “a nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

So post-World War Two Americans grew up in carefully crafted ignorance of the very fact of American empire, and the myths woven to disguise it provide fertile soil for today’s political divisions and disintegration. Trump’s “Make America Great Again” and Biden’s promise to “restore American leadership” are both appeals to nostalgia for the fruits of American empire.

Past blame games over who lost China or Vietnam or Cuba have come home to roost in an argument over who lost America and who can somehow restore its mythical former greatness or leadership. Even as America leads the world in allowing a pandemic to ravage its people and economy, neither party’s leaders are ready for a more realistic debate over how to redefine and rebuild America as a post-imperial nation in today’s multipolar world.

Every successful empire has expanded, ruled and exploited its far-flung territories through a combination of economic and military power. Even in the American empire’s neocolonial phase, the role of the U.S. military and the CIA was to kick open doors through which American businessmen could “follow the flag” to set up shop and develop new markets.

But now U.S. militarism and America’s economic interests have diverged. Apart from a few military contractors, American businesses have not followed the flag into the ruins of Iraq or America’s other current war-zones in any lasting way. Eighteen years after the U.S. invasion, Iraq’s largest trading partner is China, while Afghanistan’s is Pakistan, Somalia’s is the UAE (United Arab Emirates), and Libya’s is the European Union (EU).

Instead of opening doors for American big business or supporting America’s diplomatic position in the world, the U.S. war machine has become a bull in the global china shop, wielding purely destructive power to destabilize countries and wreck their economies, closing doors to economic opportunity instead of opening them, diverting resources from real needs at home, and damaging America’s international standing instead of enhancing it.

When President Eisenhower warned against the “unwarranted influence” of America’s military-industrial complex, he was predicting precisely this kind of dangerous dichotomy between the real economic and social needs of the American people and a war machine that costs more than the next ten militaries in the world put together but cannot win a war or vanquish a virus, let alone reconquer a lost empire.

China and the EU have become the major trading partners of most countries in the world. The United States is still a regional economic power, but even in South America, most countries now trade more with China. America’s militarism has accelerated these trends by squandering our resources on weapons and wars, while China and the EU have invested in peaceful economic development and 21st century infrastructure.

For example, China has built the largest high-speed rail network in the world in just 10 years (2008-2018), and Europe has been building and expanding its high-speed network since the 1990s, but high-speed rail is still only on the drawing board in America.

China has lifted 800 million people out of poverty, while America’s poverty rate has barely budged in 50 years and child poverty has increased. America still has the weakest social safety net of any developed country and no universal healthcare system, and the inequalities of wealth and power caused by extreme neoliberalism have left half of Americans with little or no savings to live on in retirement or to weather any disruption in their lives.

Our leaders’ insistence on siphoning off 66% of U.S. federal discretionary spending to preserve and expand a war machine that has long outlived any useful role in America’s declining economic empire is a debilitating waste of resources that jeopardizes our future.

Decades ago Martin Luther King Jr. warned us that “a nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

As our government debates whether we can "afford" COVID relief, a Green New Deal and universal healthcare, we would be wise to recognize that our only hope of transforming this decadent, declining empire into a dynamic and prosperous post-imperial nation is to rapidly and profoundly shift our national priorities from irrelevant, destructive militarism to the programs of social uplift that Dr. King called for.

Nicolas J.S. Davies

Nicolas J.S. Davies is the author of "Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq" (2010). He also wrote the chapters on "Obama at War" in "Grading the 44th President: a Report Card on Barack Obama’s First Term as a Progressive Leader" (2012).

This article originally appeared at CommonDreams.org. Originally published on February 3rd, 2021. It is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License. 

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