The “Affordable” Care Act: The Best Illustration Yet of Why We Need a New Major Political Party

[Note: This article is about a national issue. No, I haven’t forgotten I’m running for a local office. But I couldn’t resist weighing in on what’s wrong with this Act of Congress, why both major parties are to blame for it, and why we need a new major political party like the Populist Party to achieve real health insurance reform in this country.–Jerry]

 

TV, radio, and newspapers are always telling us that the Democrats and Repblicans in Congress are sworn enemies. They are locked in a battle to the death. They despise each other, and they have fundamentally different ideas about where they want to take the country.

It’s a lie.

The truth is, they agree on just about everything, especially when it comes to the big ticket items. They only pretend to disagree. It’s all an act. They’re faking the whole goddamn thing.

They don’t pretend very well—the act is very crude and easy to see through—but they are very consistent and they religiously stick to the script. Only a few members of Congress ever speak the truth about what’s really going on.1 What’s more, major media play along and report all the noisy theatre and windbag rhetoric as if it were an honest debate about real alternatives.

Worst of all, a lot of voters pretend to believe the lies peddled by their own parties. Many “conservatives” pretend to buy the free-market ideology that they get from the Republicans, and “liberals” pretend they’re dumb enough to believe the lies they hear from the Democrats.

But when it comes time for Congress to vote on legislation and for the President to sign it, lo and behold! suddenly the D’s and R’s come together. They always manage to come up with something nice and juicy for the big banks and corporations and the speculators and the war profiteers. Republican or Democrat, they always seem to make sure that the people who are already very rich get even richer. And who gets screwed in the process? The vast majority of Americans—the people who do the work and pay the taxes.

For a list of examples of how this evil practice has worked over the years, see the footnote at the end of this article.2 But for the best example of all, take the Affordable Care Act.

On this issue of healthcare “reform,” what do the Republicans say they want? To de-fund the ACA and stick with the old health insurance system, which has been very profitable for the big insurance companies for decades. What do the Democrats say they want? A new system under which people who have no money get squeezed for an average of $328 a month by a private, for-profit insurance company for a health insurance plan they can’t afford. (Full disclosure: I do not have health insurance coverage of any kind. Neither of my two jobs offers coverage and I don’t have any disposable income, to speak of. I cannot possibly afford a private insurance policy that costs $328 a month or anywhere close to it.)

If these financially strapped people refuse to sign up for one of the plans on offer, they’ll get nailed for a tax penalty by the IRS. If they can’t scrounge the money to pay the penalty by April 15, they will undoubtedly go into debt to the government. More debt! More bills they can’t pay! And all to support a new system that will probably be even more profitable for the big insurance companies than the old system was.

No matter which of the two major parties “wins” this “fight,” the big insurance companies will be the real winners. They will remain very rich or get even richer. Their top directors and shareholders will continue making money hand over fist, as usual, or they’ll also rake in billions of dollars in new profits. And millions of Americans who are already struggling will get even poorer.

That’s a pretty weird outcome for a country that’s supposedly based on democracy and majority rule, isn’t it? But wait. It gets weirder. Because you almost never hear about the best option of all—a Single-Payer national health insurance plan. The U.S. government, under this plan, would be the “single payer” for all health insurance claims, while most physicians and hospitals would remain in the private sector. The plan is often called “Medicare for All” because it would simply extend the very successful Medicare system, which now exists for older people, to everyone.

Under Single-Payer, the high cost of healthcare would disappear because the profiteers—the big insurance companies—would be phased out over a period of 10 to 15 years. And why shouldn’t they be phased out? Their tremendous greed is what caused the healthcare crisis in the first place.

But the Democrats and Republicans in Congress made damn good and sure that Single-Payer did not get any traction, or even a mention. In May 2009, the Senate finance committee held a hearing where 16 groups had been invited to testify about proposals for managing health insurance in the United States. Not one of the 16 would be testifying about Single-Payer.

Luckily, in the gallery were eight people of conscience who made sure that the audience watching the hearings on C-SPAN and the reporters in the hearing room got an earful about Single-Payer. Russell Mokhiber of Single Payer Action, Katie Robbins of HealthcareNOW!, Dr. Margaret Flowers, Kevin Zeese and several others literally stood up for a truly rational and fair national health plan. As the hearings began, they stood up, one after another, and forcefully made their case for Single-Payer before being arrested.

This is how desperate things have become. This is what the two major parties have done highest deliberative body in our supposedly free country. The Senate wouldn’t even allow the best healthcare option to get a hearing! Even if a reasonable person can have doubts about Single-Payer, is it therefore right to keep it from even being discussed? Is it fair? Is it honest? Is it democratic?

Naturally, blaming the two major parties for this state of affairs is not the same thing as blaming all their members in Congress. There are a precious few individual exceptions, a handful of honest, courageous people. Dennis Kucinich really was sincere when he said he was dedicated to a public, not-for-profit health insurance system for this country. He was one of the last hold-outs standing up to the stupendous vote-buying power of the big insurance companies. The very fact that he held out—when most of his colleagues were busy selling out—shows that he was sincere. But during the winter of 2010, as the vote on the ACA approached, Obama and the rest of the Democratic Party leadership all piled on Kucinich and bullied him into voting Yes. They thus destroyed one of the few good people they had left.

A few Republicans are probably just as sincere about their own beliefs—“free” markets, “free” trade, limited government, and so on. Most Republicans, however, don’t believe any such thing. Any candid observer can see that, because their actions speak much louder than their words. If they really did believe their own P.R., they’d fight “big government” by opposing the biggest, costliest armed forces in the world. They’d support an international free market in labor, allowing workers to cross international borders as easily as corporations do. And they’d be honest about their assessment of Obamacare and give up the ludicrous charge that it’s “socialism.”

The Affordable Care Act is not, as the Republicans pretend to believe, a government take-over of the health insurance industry. It’s a health insurance industry take-over of the government. It’s not socialism. It’s fascism.

It’s very instructive to look at how the insurance companies reacted when the ACA was passed. I cannot find a transcript or audio of the interview I heard on NPR the morning after Congress passed the Act, but I do recall the NPR reporter suggesting that this legislation represented a “windfall” for the insurance industry. Did the industry spokesperson respond indignantly and complain about how much money the big insurance companies stood to lose from the enactment of the ACA? No, not at all. She calmly went into an explanation of how the ACA was going to work. And she certainly did not deny that the Act was going to lead to windfall profits for insurance companies.

The name Liz Fowler hasn’t come up much in the few days since October 1, but that name draws over 20,000 hits on Google and 14,000 on Bing, mostly in stories from 2010 and 2012. Take, for instance, a story by progressive stalwart Bill Moyers (with copious quotes from the man who brought us the Edward Snowden revelations on the NSA, Glenn Greenwald; see http://billmoyers.com/2012/12/13/washington%E2%80%99s-revolving-door-is-hazardous-to-our-health/). The story notes that Senator Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee (yes, the same committee at whose hearings the “Baucus 8” caused such a ruckus and got arrested for it), is a big fan of Fowler’s. “After Obamacare passed,” Moyers writes, “Senator Baucus himself, one of the biggest recipients in Congress of campaign cash from the health care industry, boasted that the architect of the legislation was none other than Liz Fowler.” Moyers also informs us that Fowler once worked for WellPoint, the largest health insurance company in America. She then had her brief but momentous stint working for the Obama administration. Where does she work now? Johnson & Johnson.

All this chicanery cries out for action. Yes, we have to keep digging on important issues like health insurance in America, in order to separate the truth from the propaganda. But there comes a time when you have to take action.

The time has come, it seems to me, to go beyond merely “speaking truth to power.” The time has come to simply take the power away from the people who have abused it. This can be done legally, constitutionally, and non-violently. People who support the Medicare for All idea must run for public office. They only need to speak truth not to the powerful, but to the voters.

The voters have gotten so used to being lied to that, at first, they will blow the raspberries and wave these new candidates away. But after awhile they’ll begin to see that these people are really telling the truth. Finally, some of those voters will say to themselves: Hey, what have I got to lose? I think I’ll vote for one of those Single-Payer advocates. Soon the idea will catch on. Hey, you can vote for a decent, honorable person instead of a scoundrel. And you have a shot at sweeping the scoundrel out of office in the process!

It can work. It does mean actually competing with the Democrats and Republicans—not cozying up to them. It means conflict. But, once again: it’s legal, it’s constitutional, and it’s non-violent. And it’s probably the only thing that’s going to work. We must give it a serious try as soon as possible.

 
1 Senator Dick Durbin must have startled quite a few of his colleagues when he said, “Frankly, the banks run this place.”

2 Some of the instances of give-aways to the big corporations and the upper-bracket “earners” include:
—Barack Obama’s refusal to let the Bush-era tax cuts for the rich sunset late in 2010, when he still had a chance to get it passed while the Democrats ostensibly controlled Congress. (See http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/12/16/AR2010121606200.html) Naturally Obama could have let taxes go up on the wealthy and negotiated for preventing them from going up on middle-income taxpayers, but he chose not to do that. If the Democrats–including, of course, the President–can’t deliver on one of their progressive promises even when they have the opportunity to do so, then it’s pretty clear there’s no meaningful difference between the two major parties. And, once again, take note who the real winners were: the fat cats. They did just as well with a Democrat in the White House as they did with a Republican.
—The Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999. The bill was passed by Congress and signed into law by Democrat Bill Clinton, and overturned the Glass-Steagall separation of investment and commercial banking that had worked so well since it was established by Congress in 1933. The FSMA led to a giddy celebration among the Wall Street bankers–and to the Crash of 2008 a few years later.
—The Obama campaign’s promise to end the Iraq war in 16 months. May 2010 came and went seemingly without a soul even whispering about the Democratic President’s obvious failure to do anything to end the occupation of Iraq. Instead, Obama & Co. kept the war going until the end of 2011, exactly as the Republican George W. Bush had arranged, and no doubt pleasing the contractors and mercenaries who got another year-and-a-half to do business in that ruined country.
—The big bank bail-out of 2008. Congress at first rejected the Bush administration’s proposal to gift-wrap $700 billion and send it to the very Wall Street bankers who had caused the crisis. (It’s interesting to note that more Democrats than Republicans in the House voted with a Republican president on this bill. Party lines? What party lines? See http://articles.latimes.com/2008/oct/04/business/fi-bailout4) But within minutes of the vote in the House being announced, the market took a nose-dive and ended the day almost 800 points down. Suddenly both parties got the message. Within a few days the Senate passed, in effect, another version of the bill that the House had already rejected (which may not even have been constitutional, since appropriations bills are supposed to start in the House, not in the Senate; see Article I, Section 7 of the Constitution) and the House dutifully passed it in short order. You’ve hardly ever had a better example of the tail wagging the dog–the tail being the Wall Street gang and the dog being their loyal puppies in the U.S. Congress.
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Oh, those poor rich people.

Sept. 18, 2013

The most important step we need to take in this city in 2014 is to raise taxes on those who can most afford to pay. It’s not a question of if we’re going to do it. Rather, it’s just a question of how.

I have a lot to share about the question of taxation, but not much time to do it just now. I’ll follow up with a longer post later, but for right now let me get the main points down:

1) I’ve proposed that we raise the Personal Income Tax on residents who make more than $500,000 a year. But we keep reading in the papers that this cannot be done because the State Legislature will not approve it. I’m not sure that our state government is that predictable, but if it is, then there’s another possible approach to the problem. It so happens that the City Council and the Mayor can raise property taxes without getting the go-ahead from the State of New York. We should start to talk about ways we can raise taxes on properties of highly assessed value. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

2) I have to point out that I’m the only City Council candidate in District 22 calling for raising taxes on the upper brackets. In any case, I made this point repeatedly at the Zone 126 forum on Aug. 27. All the candidates attended that forum, and none of them was saying what I was saying about raising taxes on rich people. I picked the figure of 1 percent (see my basic, 3-point platform) pretty arbitrarily. I thought that it would at least get the ball rolling, so to say, on the discussion of taxes.

Again, please look for a longer, more expansive post on this issue soon.

Jerry

Regarding some minor changes to the post on Occupy Wall Street, below.

Once again, concern for my professional reputation compels me to point out that I rushed the first version of the post below–the one on Occupy–onto the blog without giving it a final proofreading. This was regrettable but unavoidable, as the Internet cafe I use late nights was closing and I wanted to make sure something was up on the blog in time for the 2nd anniversary of Occupy (yesterday), even if it meant letting a couple of minor errors slip through.

In any case, I’ve now read the version below and cleaned out the errors, and…yes, yes, added a couple of sentences, and a word or two here and there, all in order to make the piece more clear and more emphatic. I made no significant cuts.

One Way or Another, Occupy Will Rise Again

Sept. 17, 2013

September 17 marks the two-year anniversary of the establishment of Occupy Wall Street. This movement captured the attention of the world in the fall of 2011, though it’s almost forgotten now. The gathering at Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan was probably inspired by the occupation of Tahrir Square in Cairo early in the year, and by the occupation of the state capital building in Madison, Wisconsin, soon afterward. But once OWS got rolling, it in turn inspired similar encampments all across America and all over the world.

 For all its considerable imperfections, Occupy performed a very important service for this city. It drew attention to the gravest problem of our times—the concentration of too much money and too much political power in the hands of a very small number of very, very rich people. This is the crisis of democracy, not just here in New York but all over this country.

OWS found bold, creative ways to get the message out—marches, rallies, and civil disobedience all over the city—but the heart of the movement was the encampment at Zuccotti. During that autumn two years ago, evenings often found me at the Outreach table in the park, collecting names and contact information from people who wanted to get involved. I was also very active circulating copies of the movement’s newspaper, The Occupied Wall Street Journal. (And later I joined Occupy Astoria/LIC, our Occupy group here in the neighborhood.)

Everyone who ever saw Zuccotti at that time will remember the Library, the Kitchen, the Spanish Table, the Medical Unit, the Drum Circle, the Media Tent, as well as all the visitors from all around the city and the region, many of whom felt safe enough in the park to bring small children. Dozens—hundreds!—of small committees and working groups sprang up to plan activities around every conceivable issue.

When the Mayor came around one evening to suggest that everybody leave the park, just long enough for Sanitation to get in there and clean the place up, a small army of volunteers with push-brooms and garbage bags worked round the clock to make the City’s official clean-up unnecessary and its likely goal of evacuating the Occupiers impossible. On the morning of Friday, Oct. 14, expecting a real army of cops in riot gear along with the Sanitation workers, everyone rejoiced to see instead hundreds—thousands!—of union members from all over the city converging on the park. Bloomberg was backing off, and the roughly 5000 people there celebrated with a joyous, deafening chorus of the chant: “We—are—the ninety-nine percent! We—are—the ninety-nine percent!…”

Things were not as idyllic as that for much longer, but most of the people who were living at the park were nevertheless talking about ways to keep the encampment going through the winter. Even Police Commission Ray Kelly admitted there was nothing illegal about the encampment itself. “The charter, it gives access to the park 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Kelly told reporters on October 6. “Right now they’re on private property and the people who own that property don’t have the power to eject them.” (http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2011/10/06/kelly-protesters-to-be-met-with-force-if-they-target-officers/) But of course we all know that the army of cops in riot gear did finally arrive, at one o’clock in the morning on November 15, completely destroying the encampment and arresting many peaceful protesters and seven journalists.

Occupy is sort of a shadow of what it was two years ago, or even one year ago. But the crisis of democracy that caused OWS to rise up in the first place—that crisis is still going on. I think eventually that spirit of constructive rebellion will make a comeback.

At least one way this could happen is in the form of a small army of militant candidates for public office. They could be thousands—hundreds of thousands!—of smart, energetic, articulate, angry people all over the country, people who have never held or run for public office, who have no connections as such to the people currently in power, and who will run not as Democrats or Republicans but as independents or as members of small, fully independent parties. It would be a broad movement, acting legally, constitutionally, and nonviolently. But even within that legal, constitutional framework, it would break new ground. It would be a kind of rebellion—a rebellion at the ballot box. It would solve the problem, all right. I think someday it will.

Jerry Kann,

Populist Party candidate for City Council in District 22, Astoria.

KannForCouncil2013.wordpress.com___________________________________________kannforcouncil2013@gmail.com

 Paid for by Kann for Council 2013

Two or Three Things You Should Know about Peter Vallone Jr. (No. 1 in a Series)

In 2001, Peter Vallone Jr. advised the president of a local Astoria environmental group to sign a secret agreement that did a special favor for a big electric power company. SCS Energy (the parent company of “Astoria Energy”) wanted to build a 1000-megawatt power plant in Astoria. But they wanted to get around applying for a Dept. of Environmental Protection “air permit.” This permit is the City’s way of monitoring and controlling air pollution, and it is emphatically required by local law. Yet Vallone Jr. appears to have helped SCS get a free pass around that law, which was designed to protect the health and safety of the residents of Astoria, and of the whole city.

Why did SCS offer the City, in the agreement, $4.8 million to fund some unspecified environmental benefits for Astoria and vicinity? Why would they want to pay out such a large sum when the cost of filing the air permit would have been only $75,000? Why not just comply with local law and file the DEP permit? Why ask for a special deal?

And why the secrecy? We only found out about the deal because of a story that showed up on the front page of the Queens Chronicle  in early December, 2001, about a month after the agreement was signed (and also because I later filed a Freedom of Information request to get a copy of the agreement). These questions still need answers, even now.

The main point is, you live here in Astoria. It’s your neighborhood. You pay the taxes that support the New York City government. You deserve to know what’s going on. Nobody—not the Mayor, not the Governor, and not your elected representative in City Council—has the right to make such important decisions for you.

All the candidates for City Council in District 22 need to say straight-out whether he or she is going to keep doing business the Vallone Jr. way. As for me, you can bet your bottom dollar that I will not  continue the Vallone Jr. “legacy.”

So, if you want your next City Councilmember to be someone who looks the other way when very rich, powerful people abuse their power or break the law, you shouldn’t vote for me. But if you want someone who’s going to keep you in the loop and constantly try to get your input—who’s going to blow the whistle on official corruption, as I already have done by filing formal complaints against Vallone Jr. and Michael Bloomberg—who’s going to make life harder, not easier, for big-shots looking for favors and special deals, well…vote for me.

Vote  Jerry Kann,  Populist Party candidate for City Council, District 22, Astoria, Queens, on Tuesday, November 5.

All yours,

Jerry

“Our” LIC?

“LIC,” for those of you who are new to Queens geography, stands for “Long Island City.” Depending on who you’re talking to, that can mean just the neighborhood around Queensboro Plaza–from, say, 36th Ave. over to 49th or 50th Ave.–or it can mean a bigger piece of turf that includes Astoria and the 22nd City Council district. Even though I’m running for Council in District 22, and even though I was at a candidates forum on August 27th (hosted by a non-profit organization called Zone 126, which focuses on education in the area), I was *not* invited to another candidates event earlier this week. It was a debate held at Bohemian Hall, and I only found out about it the night of the event and only managed to get there just as it was breaking up. The man who put it together, from a trade organization called “OurLIC.com,” told me he simply had not learned about my campaign until that afternoon. He must not have been looking very hard.

Anyway, I thought it might be informative to post my letter to him here on the blog. See the text of the letter, below.

Jerry

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KANN FOR COUNCIL 2013  c/o Jerry Kann  25-60 42nd St., Apt. 1F Astoria, NY 11103

kannorcouncil2013@gmail.com□(646) 724-9983□KannForCouncil2013.Wordpress.com

 

Arthur Rosenfield OurLIC.com c/o Rainbow Pages, Inc. P.O. Box 307 NewYork,NY10021

September 5, 2013

Dear Mr. Rosenfield:

The following is an open letter.  I will post it to my blog, KannForCouncil2013.Wordpress.com, as well as send it to you via regular mail. Since your billing of the September 3rd debate at Bohemian Hall said it featured “all” the candidates for City Council in District 22—and that was obviously wrong—then I figured I should set the record straight, and do it as openly and publicly as possible.

Your organization should have made a better effort to find out about the candidates vying for the City Council spot from Astoria, and hence I should have been invited along with the others. Zone 126, a Long Island City–based organization of the Elmezzi Foundation, didn’t have any trouble learning about my candidacy and inviting me to the forum they held on August 27th at Variety Boys & Girls Club. That event was prominently featured on the front page of the Chronicle  last week, complete with photos of all the candidates, including Yours Truly.

If that wasn’t enough to put you in the know, then you could have made a brief phone call to the city Board of Elections as early as August 26th to find out which candidates had qualified for the ballot in District 22. In short, if you didn’t know that I was a candidate, you should have.

Even though I arrived at the event as soon as I could after finding out about it, unfortunately by then the debate was over. I informally challenged Gus, John, Lynne, and Daniel to another debate later this campaign season—a make-up game, you might call it, for this one that I should have played in. I didn’t get a chance to talk to Costa or Danielle, but the others seemed to be OK with the idea.

I urge your organization to sponsor another debate among the candidates in District 22, after the results of the primary have been verified and before the Queens weekly papers reach their deadlines for their last issues prior to Election Day in November.

I look forward to your response, and I urge you to make it as public as you like.

Sincerely yours,

Jerry Kann

/jk

Here’s what this campaign is all about…

I’m Jerry Kann, Populist Party candidate for New York City Council in District 22, Astoria.

Here’s my basic platform. If elected, I will:

• Propose–and push hard for–raising the city’s Personal Income Tax 1 percent on New York City residents who make more than $500,000 a year

• Introduce legislation to increase the number of representatives for tenants on the Rent Guidelines Board

• Propose the immediate abolition of Stop-and-Frisk

>>>>>$500,000 is a lot of money. People in the upper brackets can afford to pay more, and the city needs the money.>>>>>That are a lot more tenants than landlords. To have equal numbers of representatives for both groups is undemocratic, unfair, and unacceptable.>>>>>City Council has ended Stop-and-Frisk by legislative action, and the courts have found it unconstitutional. But it’s possible–even probable–that the always more conservative appeals court will overturn the lower court’s ruling, and then we’ll be back where we started. I will relish a good fight with the other branches of government on this basic civil liberties question.

When you get a chance, please take a look at my other blog, “Populist Club of New York” (http://populistclubofnewyork.wordpress.com/). On local Astoria concerns, please read the second post down the scroll. This is my proposal for establishing elected “Community Councils” in every City Council district. The idea is to make our city more democratic–to bring decision-making down to the community level and give each resident more power in making the laws that govern New York.

I look forward to your responses. Thanks very much.

Yours,

Jerry

KannForCouncil2013@gmail.com __________________________ (646) 724-9983