Friday, December 18, 2009

Health Care Reform Dirty Tricks

Health insurance companies are using the popular Facebook game, Mafia Wars to generate anti-health care reform letters to Congress from unsuspecting players. MSNBC's Rachel Maddow explains.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Homeowners in Denial? Foreclosure Mediation Program needs to wake up!

An article in today's News Journal really got me mad. In it, Eric Ruth writes that homeowners don't access the Delaware Foreclosure Mediation program - which is designed to help homeowners facing foreclosure - because they are "in denial." Apparently officials who run the program believe the silly homeowners they want to help think they are ostriches - sticking their heads in the sand hoping the threat of losing their homes will go away if they do nothing.

Are they out of their minds? When will these policy makers look at the process instead of blaming the homeowners caught in the middle?

These programs demand homeowners have a perfect credit score to obtain assistance. Yet by the time your home is in foreclosure, your credit score is anything but perfect. One missed credit card payment made to pay your mortgage bill lands your credit score spiraling downward far below any levels that would allow you to take advantage of the program. Add to this the routine slight-of-hand tricks credit card issuers are using to push people into delinquency and the picture becomes even more dismal.

Rather than question why homeowners aren't taking advantage of this program, better to question what a credit score has to do with helping fighting home foreclosure. Rather than assume people with low credit scores aren't deserving of help or can't manage their funds, where is the thorough investigation of the banking industry, and the ways in which they force decent, hardworking, but struggling, individuals into foreclosure.

Homeowners in foreclosure aren't in denial. They are tired of being pawns in an endless game where the only winners are the banks determined to make all they can on kicking people out of their homes.

Link to Delaware Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program (DEMAP)
http://www.destatehousing.com/services/hb_demap.shtml

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Three Cheers for Jackie Ramos: Exposing Shady Bank Lending Practices

Finally, a mainstream publication reporting on the bank card issues I've been pointing out for over a year. Interestingly enough, I believe this is the same woman I spoke to in April of this year, when I discussed Bank of America and its latest shady tactics.

What most reporters seem to miss, however, is the fact that Bank of America and other credit card lenders now actually make money by forcing customers into default. This was one of the insights I gained from listening to Michael Greenberger, who spoke recently at an event sponsored by the Delaware Press Association.

Greenberger frequently testifies before Congressional committees on US economic issues caused by complex and unregulated financial derivatives. He's former Director of the Division of Trading and Markets at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) and formerly sat on the Steering Committee of the President's Working Group on Financial Markets, and as a member of the International Organization of Securities Commissions' Hedge Fund Task Force. He is currently Law School Professor and Director, Center for Health and Homeland Security for the University of Maryland.

In November, Greenberger spoke about the shadow market devoid of rules, reporting and oversight created by bank deregulation which allows banks to, in essence, pen financial deals that gamble on a certain percent of insolvency. Imagine betting on a horse race. The track makes money on the number of people who bet on horses that lose. Similarly banks are selling options on losing portfolios. What happens is, in essence, corporate and shareholder pockets get lined the more cardholders go into default. My analysis may be over simplistic, but you get the gist.

Jackie Ramos, details this graphically in her YouTube posting.

Former Bank of America employee offers inside look at bank's practices


While millions of credit card customers have been through the painful process of negotiating past-due or over-the-limit accounts, few have dealt with their credit company face-to-face. Usually, the conversation is with a customer-service representative in another city who cheerfully outlines the fees and penalties that the cardholder must pay, regardless of whether he or she can afford it.

Jackie Ramos, a former "customer advocate" from the collections department at Bank of America (BAC), posted a video on YouTube on which she offered an inside glimpse into what happens on the other end of the phone. While Ramos notes that her former employer encouraged her to "do the right thing for the customer," she says she soon came to realize that her job was actually to squeeze as much money as possible from the company's cardholders.

In her video, Ramos describes the strategies that Bank of America used to maximize its profitability. From charging a $15 "convenience fee" for payments over the phone to tacking on $39 late fees and $39 overlimit fees, Ramos says her bosses encouraged her to nickel-and-dime customers, drawing out every penny possible.

For some debtors, Bank of America offered "Fix Pay," a program that would effectively transform a credit card account into a loan; in the process, it would eliminate fees and close the account. According to Ramos, customers had to answer what she describes as a series of "irrelevant" questions and meet certain income requirements before they could qualify for the Fix Pay program. Ramos' infraction, which ultimately cost her her job, was that she encouraged some cardholders to lie about their finances in order to get into the program. Her logic was simple: If their accounts were manageable, fewer customers would default on their obligations.

While Bank of America declined The Huffington Post's request for a comment on the video, it did confirm Ramos's account of the firing with the blog.

The fact that Bank of America disagreed with Ramos's actions should hardly come as a surprise for anyone who has held a credit card over the past ten years or so. Late fees, convenience fees, interest rate increases, credit limit decreases, and other gimmicks have become common, effectively transforming credit cards into the economic equivalent of a game of Russian roulette.

Can government regulation save consumers and credit card issuers?

The C-CARD Act, which President Obama signed into law in April 2009, was designed to halt the strategies that credit card companies use to squeeze their consumers. Unfortunately, almost as soon as C-CARD made its way out of Congress, credit card companies began using their nine-month grace period to come up with fresh charges and innovative new ways to cheat consumers. Some, like Bank of America and Citibank are experimenting with annual fees, while others are playing with the idea of charging fees for inactive accounts. Meanwhile, lawmakers are expanding the fight to debit card companies, most of which "double dip" on ATM fees. In fact, as we draw closer to February 22, 2010 -- the date that the Credit CARD Act will go into effect -- it seems likely that debit card fees might be the next tool that banks will use to ensure a fresh stream of charges.

Yet the C-Card Act may be the salvation of the credit card industry. While the methods that Ramos describes have short-term benefits, they ultimately seem designed to push customers into insolvency. In one case, she describes a customer who owed $6,000 on a card. The cardholder, a recent widow facing single parenthood, complained to Ramos that the 29.99% interest rate that Bank of America was charging her, in addition to various fees, made it impossible for her to continue making payments. Unable to qualify for Fix Pay, she had little choice but to default on the debts. Given her situation, it seems unlikely that Bank of America can hope to recoup any of the money she owed.

Ultimately, that may be the lesson of Jackie Ramos: while her willingness to place her morals ahead of her career is inspiring, the truth of the matter may be that she was putting Bank of America's long-term health ahead of its own shortsighted policies.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Radical Right-winged Rhetoric Gets Scarier and Scarier

MSNBC's Rachel Maddow exposes more hateful tactics from the radical "religious" right.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Banks Launch Last Ditch Free-for-all

Before New Rules Kick In Next Year, Banks Take Last Opportunity to Gouge Customers with "Deceptive" Credit-Card Fees and Interest Rates

The nation's largest bank credit-card issuers are taking their last opportunity to gouge customers with inflated fees and interest rates before what the Federal Reserve has called "unfair and deceptive" tactics are officially outlawed in February 2010, according to a new report. The issuers, representing about 400 credit cards in the U.S., are reportedly hiking interest rates, penalties and fees "in full force" ahead of the new regulations.

The new report is from the Pew Health Group's Safe Credit Cards Project. "Until the law takes effect we're seeing that all the major credit-card issuers on the bank side are continuing to engage in these unfair and deceptive practices," said Nick Bourke, project manager of the Safe Credit Card Project, MarketWatch reports. "The numbers of unfair and deceptive practices have grown and in some cases are worse."

There's no question that the economic malaise and the millions of people without jobs has had a damaging effect on credit companies too. Credit-card charge-offs and delinquencies this year have doubled, even tripled in some cases, and are still hovering in record territory at the nation's largest banks with the outlook only worsening, reports MarketWatch writer Jennifer Waters. "Some of (those interest-rate and fee hikes) occurred because of the economic environment we're in," Bourke admitted. "But the timing is pegged at getting a lot of changes in before the bill takes effect."

Here's the article:
http://www.marketwatch.com/story/credit-cards-gouge-consumers-ahead-of-new-law-2009-11-06?siteid=rss&rss=1

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Original "V" series star heads up new internet drama

Marc Singer, star of the original "V" television mini-series, will star in a exciting new internet drama, called The Republic. In the original mini-series, Singer played a reporter who discovers the sinister secret behind seemingly peaceful alien earth invaders.

Singer has also starred in a string of sci-fi hits, including the Beastmaster and Highlander.

tinyurl.com/newrepublicsinger

Monday, November 2, 2009

Fox News: We report, you get it wrong

This is an oldie, but a goodie about the problems with Fox News - bias and inaccuracy.


We report, you get it wrong
By Jim Lobe

WASHINGTON - The more commercial television news you watch, the more wrong you are likely to be about key elements of the Iraq War and its aftermath, according to a major new study released in Washington on Thursday.

And the more you watch the Rupert Murdoch-owned Fox News channel, in particular, the more likely it is that your perceptions about the war are wrong, adds the report by the University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA).

Based on several nationwide surveys it conducted with California-based Knowledge Networks since June, as well as the results of other polls, PIPA found that 48 percent of the public believe US troops found evidence of close pre-war links between Iraq and the al-Qaeda terrorist group; 22 percent thought troops found weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq; and 25 percent believed that world public opinion favored Washington's going to war with Iraq. All three are misperceptions.

The report, Misperceptions, the Media and the Iraq War, also found that the more misperceptions held by the respondent, the more likely it was that s/he both supported the war and depended on commercial television for news about it.

The study is likely to stoke a growing public and professional debate over why mainstream news media - especially the broadcast media - were not more skeptical about the Bush administration's pre-war claims, particularly regarding Saddam Hussein's WMD stockpiles and ties with al-Qaeda.

"This is a dangerously revealing study," said Marvin Kalb, a former television correspondent and a senior fellow of the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

While Kalb said he had some reservations about the specificity of the questions directed at the respondents, he noted that, "People who have had a strong belief that there is an unholy alliance between politics and the press now have more evidence." Fox, in particular, has been accused of pursuing a chauvinistic agenda in its news coverage despite its motto, "We report, you decide".

Overall, according to PIPA, 60 percent of the people surveyed held at least one of the three misperceptions through September. Thirty percent of respondents had none of those misperceptions.

Surprisingly, the percentage of people holding the misperceptions rose slightly over the last three months. In July, for example, polls found that 45 percent of the public believed US forces had found "clear evidence in Iraq that Hussein was working closely with al-Qaeda". In September, 49 percent believed that.

Likewise, those who believed troops had found WMD in Iraq jumped from 21 percent in July to 24 percent in September. One in five respondents said they believed that Iraq had actually used chemical or biological weapons during the war.

In determining what factors could create the misperceptions, PIPA considered a number of variables in the data.

It found a high correlation between respondents with the most misperceptions and their support for the decision to go to war. Only 23 percent of those who held none of the three misperceptions supported the war, while 53 percent who held one misperception did so. Of those who believe that both WMDs and evidence of al-Qaeda ties have been found in Iraq and that world opinion backed the United States, a whopping 86 percent said they supported war.

More specifically, among those who believed that Washington had found clear evidence of close ties between Hussein and al-Qaeda, two-thirds held the view that going to war was the best thing to do. Only 29 percent felt that way among those who did not believe that such evidence had been found.

Another factor that correlated closely with misperceptions about the war was party affiliation, with Republicans substantially "more likely" to hold misperceptions than Democrats. But support for Bush himself as expressed by whether or not the respondent said s/he intended to vote for him in 2004 appeared to be an even more critical factor.

The average frequency of misperceptions among respondents who planned to vote for Bush was 45 percent, while among those who plan to vote for a hypothetical Democrat candidate, the frequency averaged only 17 percent.

Asked "Has the US found clear evidence Saddam Hussein was working closely with al-Qaeda"? 68 percent of Bush supporters replied affirmatively. By contrast, two of every three Democrat-backers said no.

But news sources also accounted for major differences in misperceptions, according to PIPA, which asked more than 3,300 respondents since May where they "tended to get most of [their] news''. Eighty percent identified broadcast media, while 19 percent cited print media.

Among those who said broadcast media, 30 percent said two or more networks; 18 percent, Fox News; 16 percent, CNN; 24 percent, the three big networks - NBC (14 percent), ABC (11 percent), CBS (9 percent); and three percent, the two public networks, National Public Radio (NPR) and Public Broadcasting Service (PBS).

For each of the three misperceptions, the study found enormous differences between the viewers of Fox, who held the most misperceptions, and NPR/PBS, who held the fewest by far.

Eighty percent of Fox viewers were found to hold at least one misperception, compared to 23 percent of NPR/PBS consumers. All the other media fell in between.

CBS ranked right behind Fox with a 71 percent score, while CNN and NBC tied as the best-performing commercial broadcast audience at 55 percent. Forty-seven percent of print media readers held at least one misperception.

As to the number of misconceptions held by their audiences, Fox far outscored all of its rivals. A whopping 45 percent of its viewers believed all three misperceptions, while the other commercial networks scored between 12 percent and 16 percent. Only nine percent of readers believed all three, while only four percent of the NPR/PBS audience did.

PIPA found that political affiliation and news source also compound one another. Thus, 78 percent of Bush supporters who watch Fox News said they thought the United States had found evidence of a direct link to al-Qaeda, while 50 percent of Bush supporters who rely on NPR/PBS thought so.

Conversely, 48 percent of Fox viewers who said they would support a Democrat believed that such evidence had been found. But none of the Democrat-backers who relied on NPR/PBS believed it.

The study also debunked the notion that misperceptions were due mainly to the lack of exposure to news.

Among Bush supporters, those who said they follow the news "very closely", were found more likely to hold misperceptions. Those Bush supporters, on the other hand, who say they follow the news "somewhat closely" or "not closely at all" held fewer misperceptions.

Conversely, those Democratic supporters who said they did not follow the news very closely were found to be twice as likely to hold misperceptions as those who said they did, according to PIPA.

(Inter Press Service)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

House Announces Health Care Bill

Sigh. The House-sponsored health care bill does not include a "robust" public option. In fact, an estimated 90 percent of people won't be able to use it.

The bill does, however, mandate that everyone must carry health insurance. Since the poor already have a "public option," Medicaid, that means the Middle Class, who are already struggling.

I have to ask: Why is it I can choose not to have a credit card that charges me 30 percent interest but now I'll be forced to buy insurance that takes 30 percent off the top --- $$$ that feed the pockets of corporate executives, with no provisions to make sure those companies are kept open, honest and keep costs low.

Just like during the Iraq war, the Democracts have sold their constituents down the river, bowing to the vocal few rather than standing up for what they believe.

I believe the President sincerely wants change. I'm just not sure the rest of the party supports it.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Thought for the day

Why doesn't the Left recognize they are just as guilty as the Right when it comes to unfairly questioning or challenging the knowledge, effectiveness or ability of people of color who sit in positions of authority?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Sorry Rachel, I Gotta Disagree

I agree with the President. Fox is not a news organization. News deals with fact, not fiction. Real news reporters report the news, they don't distort the news. A true news channel wouldn't create promotional ads designed to undermine the federal government.

Yet, the White House press corps balked at the Administration's refusal to grant interviews to Fox News. Why? Because of money. Fox contributes to the costs of the press pool. Money should not be the determiner of who gets to cover issues.

Last night Rachel Maddow also debated whether Fox News is a legitimate news channel. While we both agree that it is not, I disagree with her argument is that the sole reason that makes Fox News not real news is their promotional work to rally anti-government support. While this is a glaring example of one of its problems, I feel it's the real problem is reporting fiction and opinion disguised as fact that makes Fox a station that's truly askew.

While it is true news and opinion often co-exist, it is not true that they are interchangeable. Walter Cronkite didn't routinely offer commentary on current affairs. In fact the clip Maddow played of Cronkite's classic condemnation of the Vietnam War was phenomenal in that it was one of the few times he took his prided newsmans hat off and offered commentary. For me the blurring of the news versus commentary lines is a dangerous trend.

Why Fox News isn't news

Oct. 23: Rachel Re: Rachel Maddow points out what has been largely overlooked in the discussion of the White House feud with Fox News, that explains why Fox is not news.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/26315908/vp/33456104#33456104

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A High Honor, The Nobel Peace Prize. Congratulations to the President

Congratulations to President Barack Obama for winning the Nobel Peace Prize and single-handedly returning the US to a place of admiration and respect around the world.

From the Nobel Committee: Obama has as President created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play. Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts. The vision of a world free from nuclear arms has powerfully stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations. Thanks to Obama’s initiative, the USA is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting.

Monday, October 12, 2009

White House Calls Out Fox News For Lies

From Politico.com
http://www.politico.com/blogs/michaelcalderone/1009/Dunn_slams_Fox_opinion_journalism_masquerading_as_news.html?showall

Dunn slams Fox: 'Opinion journalism masquerading as news'

When the official White House blog recently called out “Fox lies,” I noted that it was unusual for the Obama administration to so strongly condemn a news organization.

Apparently, that's part of the new White House strategy.

Time White House correspondent Michael Scherer writes that in the face of criticism from the right, "the White House decided it would become a player, issuing biting attacks on those pundits, politicians and outlets that make what the White House believes to be misleading or simply false claims.”

White House Communications Director Anita Dunn has been leading the charge, Scherer notes, and while consuming conservative media, she's become a “fierce critic of Fox News.”

"It's opinion journalism masquerading as news," Dunn says. "They are boosting their audience. But that doesn't mean we are going to sit back." Fox News's head of news, Michael Clemente, counters that the White House criticism unfairly conflates the network's reporters and its pundits, like Glenn Beck, whom he likens to "the op-ed page of a newspaper."

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Keith countdowns health care debate

Keith Olbermann dedicates an entire hour discussing health care reform after disclosing his own struggles with father's illness.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The DNC fights Back....finally

This from the Huffington Post

UPDATE: Either sensing an opening to cast the Republican Party as actively rooting against America, or just fed up with the stream of negative responses, the Democratic National Committee put out an unusually blunt statement Friday morning. The gist: that the GOP sides with the terrorists.

"The Republican Party has thrown in its lot with the terrorists -- the Taliban and Hamas this morning -- in criticizing the President for receiving the Nobel Peace prize," wrote DNC Communications Director Brad Woodhouse. "Republicans cheered when America failed to land the Olympics and now they are criticizing the President of the United States for receiving the Nobel Peace prize -- an award he did not seek but that is nonetheless an honor in which every American can take great pride -- unless of course you are the Republican Party. The 2009 version of the Republican Party has no boundaries, has no shame and has proved that they will put politics above patriotism at every turn. It's no wonder only 20 percent of Americans admit to being Republicans anymore - it's an embarrassing label to claim."

FURTHER UPDATE: The progressive outlet Media Matters puts out a telling compilation of the conservative outrage...



Read more at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/10/09/obamas-nobel-prize-inspir_n_315167.html

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

That Representative Speaks My Mind

Republicans shocked by own tactic
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/26315908/vp/33110896#33110896

Sept. 30: Rep. Alan Grayson, D-FL, joins Rachel Maddow to talk about his tongue-in-cheek criticism of Congressional Republicans for failing to produce a health care reform plan.


Senator Tom Carper votes "no" on health care public option

Delaware Senator Tom Carper votes on the wrong side of health care reform.
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/26315908/#33080785


Saturday, September 12, 2009

Tim Wise Discusses the Racial Undertones of Health Care Reform

Tim Wise talks about the "elephant-in-the-room" in health care reform debate, as he discusses a woman dragged from a town hall meeting when her Rosa Parks poster is destroyed.



Friday, September 11, 2009

Who lied? Wilson lied. He must do more than apologize. He should recant his slanderous charges.

South Carolina senator Joe Wilson made a spectacle of himself by disrespecting the office of the President and the entire United States of America by shouting out in formal Congressional session, "You lie."

It was both obnoxious and unconscionable. The health care reform bill before Congress specifically prohibits federal payment for undocumented immigrants. While I personally feel this clause should be removed, but it's wrong to claim it does anything but forbid this the way its currently drafted.


SEC. 246. NO FEDERAL PAYMENT FOR UNDOCUMENTED ALIENS.
Nothing in this subtitle shall allow Federal payments for affordability credits on behalf of individuals who are not lawfully present in the United States.


Wilson has already apologized for the inappropriateness of his outburst. But he has yet to apologize for the slanderous statement he made.

He should own up to the truth immediately. Call his office at (202) 225-2452 in Washington or in Charleston (803) 939-0041 and demand he tell the truth, and recant his slanderous statements against the President.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Living in a Culture of Cruelty: Democracy as Spectacle

This is very sad, very scary, but also very true.

From Truthout
http://www.truthout.org/090209R?n

Friday, September 4, 2009

AL Franken To the Rescue

Thank you, Al Franken. At last. A health care discussion with some decorum. I have one question: Who out there is planting misinformation about there not being enough doctors to deal with universal health care?

You Tube: Franken Talks Down Angry Mob

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Standing Up Against Big Drug Companies

Taking a principled stand is seldom easy, but just...

In the Army I was expected to protect people at all costs," Kopchinski said in a statement. "At Pfizer I was expected to increase profits at all costs, even when sales meant endangering lives
.

From Reuters: Pfizer whistleblower's ordeal reaps big rewards
http://finance.yahoo.com/news/Pfizer-whistleblowers-ordeal-rb-1977940162.html?x=0&.v=1


... whistleblowers must endure, often for many years, after complaints within the company go unheeded...it's no secret that it's an industry that can blackball former employees," Kelton said, "encourage people to step forward."

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Things that make you go hmmmm....

When thinking about the health care debate, it's important to note that the Republican right fought against Medicare and Social Security in the 60s, calling them "socialist." Some even want to end those popular, government-run programs today. Fed Ex and UPS are in competition with the government-run post office and seem to do quite well.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Obama on Death Panels: 'An Extraordinary Lie'

This conference call was truly extraordinary. The sad thing to note is how 30 religious organizations are labeled "liberal."


Obama on Death Panels: 'An Extraordinary Lie'

From Politics Daily
http://www.politicsdaily.com/2009/08/19/obama-on-death-panels-an-extraordinary-lie/

President Obama accused some health reform critics of "bearing false witness" during a live conference call and webcast Wednesday with tens of thousands of clergy and people of faith.

Using strong language, Obama told the religious leaders that some claims about health reform are "ludicrous." In particular, he said, "This notion that somehow we are setting up death panels" that would decide whether old people get to live or die is "an extraordinary lie."

The death panel idea has been advanced by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and dismissed as fiction by, among others, fact-checkers and some of her fellow Republicans. Obama said the provision in question -- allowing Medicare reimbursements for discussions of end-of-life care between doctors and patients -- is "entirely voluntary" and would provide an option now reserved for those who can afford "fancy lawyers."

Obama said that's only one distortion of many. He said it's also not true that the government would take over health care or fund abortions, or that illegal immigrants would get health insurance. "These are all fabrications that have been put out there in order to discourage people from meeting what I consider a core ethical and moral obligation, and that is that we look out for one another," Obama said. He added that "in the wealthiest nation on Earth right now, we are neglecting to live up to that call."

The call was organized by a liberal group called Faith In Public Life and sponsored by more than 30 denominations and religious groups across the country. Speakers on the call spanned the political and religious spectrums. The denominations and groups on the call represented "millions of people of faith from the Evangelical, Catholic, mainline Protestant, Jewish and Muslim traditions," Faith in Public Life said.

Update: The group says 140,000 people participated in the call.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Busting the Myths

The real danger of lies now being planted into the health care debate by the radical right in partnership with big insurance company interests, is that the public can't make informed decisions about what is best for them. Case in point:

A man from Doniphan, Neb. asks the following question at a recent AARP gathering:
Who will decide which tests, procedures, and medications are wasteful, inefficient, or unnecessary? In my opinion, these decisions must be made by the physician and patient. Third party interference is rationing. To say that Medicare spending will be cut by 10 per cent WITHOUT rationing is a BIG FIB.


Here's the response by David Certner, AARP legislative policy director at AARP:
We completely agree that decisions should be made by the patient and the doctor -- without the interference of government or your insurance company. Rationing is not a part of these bills, and if it were, AARP would reject it. We do believe -- and our members who have had experience with the health care system generally agree -- that health care is delivered inefficiently today, with too many wasted tests and procedures that not only do not improve health, but often harm it
.

Responding to this question from Arizona, Certner goes on to talk about the real "death panels" out there: Exclusion of coverage by insurance companies for pre-existing conditions.

Mr. Certner: Do your loyalties lie with seniors' best interests or with AARP's insurance sales? I had a very bad experience with United Healthcare in 2000 when they kicked out individual policy holders. (7,500 of us in Arizona alone!) As a breast cancer survivor, I could not buy health insurance at any price. For several years I had to be without insurance -- SCARY! Needless to say, I'm extremely thankful for Medicare and I am hoping that we will pass STRINGENT regulations against discriminating for previous disease AND that we will have a public option. Without regulation, the insurance companies will stick the government with all of the "risky" people.


Cernter responds:

AARP is driven by its members best interests, as it is with every debate. We have both those who are on Medicare, and who are looking to strengthen the program, including looking to lower their costs, keep their doctors, and get better drug coverage. And as you note, we have members who are not yet eligible for Medicare, who either want to keep the insurance they have, or who are desperately trying to find insurance in the individual market. About 1 of every 4 60-year-olds can't even get insurance because of a pre-existing medical condition -- and we agree with you that this must change.


There you have it. No matter how many times the Rush Limbaughs and Sean Hannity's of the world falsely claim it, the government WILL NOT have a say in private health care decisions with the proposed public health care option. The proposed plan will run like Medicare currently, and the loophole in Medicare part D, the so-called doughnut hole, (or coverage gap) will be closed in the provision now included in the House bills. The proposed legislation also eliminates refusal of coverage for pre-existing conditions.

From the Washington Post
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/discussion/2009/08/18/DI2009081802851.html

Liberals Sick of Health Care Compromises

By CHARLES BABINGTON and RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR
AP

WASHINGTON (Aug. 19) - Frustrated liberals have a question for President Barack Obama and Democratic lawmakers: Isn't it time the other guys gave a little ground on health care? What's the point of a bipartisan bill, they ask, if we're making all the concessions?

A case in point:

Sen. Charles Grassley, a key Republican negotiator on health care, was on a winning streak as Congress recessed for August, having wrung important concessions from Democrats, including an agreement not to tax employer-provided health insurance and a limit to demands on drug companies.

How did Grassley reciprocate? With an attack that struck Democrats as stunning and baseless. Grassley told an Iowa crowd he would not support a plan that "determines when you're going to pull the plug on Grandma." The remark echoed conservative activists who wrongly claim a House health care bill would require Medicare recipients to discuss their end-of-life plans with doctors.

For liberals supporting far-reaching changes to the nation's health care system, it was another sign that months of negotiations have been a one-way street. It's time to move on without Republicans, they say.

On Tuesday, liberals were fuming over Obama's recent remarks suggesting he might also yield on the federally run insurance option he's been promoting. Many saw it as a huge concession that could leave them with nothing more than watered-down insurance cooperatives.

But the Senate's second-ranking Republican, Jon Kyl of Arizona, dismissed even such co-ops as a "Trojan horse" leading to government control of health care.

Many liberals are fed up.

"It is clear that Republicans have decided 'no health care' is a victory for them," Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union, said in an interview. "There is a point at which bipartisanship reaches a limit, and I would say it's reaching that limit."

The growing liberal unhappiness sets a difficult stage for Obama this fall. Political pragmatists want him to keep seeking a middle ground that will attract at least a few Republican lawmakers as well as moderate Democrats who could prove crucial to passage in the House and Senate. Even modest achievements, such as preventing insurers from refusing to cover pre-existing medical conditions, would allow Obama to claim a victory and perhaps try for more later, they say.

Liberal activists say there's no point in the Democrats winning the House, Senate and White House unless they use their clout to enact the major measures that Obama campaigned for — with or without some Republican support.

For now, Obama seems on the defensive. He spent valuable time this month knocking down claims that Democratic plans could lead to euthanasia of the elderly. And his chief spokesmen spent much of Monday and Tuesday insisting that Obama still supports a government-run health insurance option despite mixed signals from the administration.
On Saturday, Obama told a Colorado crowd: "The public option, whether we have it or we don't have it, is not the entirety of health care reform. This is just one sliver of it."

While liberals are discouraged, the endgame remains unclear. Some still hope that Obama and congressional Democratic leaders will use all their parliamentary powers — which could prove especially divisive in the Senate — to pass a far-reaching bill that would include a public option for health insurance and more palatable consumer costs for prescription drugs and other needs.

The pivotal decisions will be made this fall, with administration officials saying the debate cannot lapse into the midterm election year of 2010.

What seems clear is that the room for compromise between Republicans and Democrats is shriveling to almost nothing. Some Democrats found Kyl's remarks particularly galling. Even if Democrats manage to produce a health care bill that won't increase the federal deficit over 10 years, Kyl said, "that doesn't mean Republicans would support it."
And Grassley has said he's uninterested in a compromise that draws only three or so Senate Republicans' votes.

The continued outreach to Republicans, meanwhile, is testing Democrats' unity. This week, more than 50 House Democrats issued a letter saying, "Any bill that does not provide, at a minimum, for a public option with reimbursement rates based on Medicare rates — not negotiated rates — is unacceptable."

Some of them told House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., in a conference call Tuesday that discussions with Republicans are pointless.

White House spokeswoman Linda Douglass played down the intraparty fuss, noting that it's far from clear how the final legislation will turn out. She said negotiations involving Obama have led drug manufacturers to agree to reduce costs for the nation's health care system by $80 billion over 10 years, while hospitals have agreed to an additional $155 billion.

Those concessions will carry weight with lawmakers as they "look at enacting reform that will lower costs and increase stability and security," Douglass said in an interview.

But such concessions cut several ways. Pharmaceutical industry leaders say the $80 billion agreement should end efforts to allow the government to negotiate lower prices for prescription drugs used in Medicare and other programs.
Liberals say such price reductions are precisely the type of change Obama called for in his presidential campaign. And now, they say, is the time to turn those promises into reality.

EDITOR'S NOTE — Charles Babington and Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar cover the White House and health policy for The Associated Press.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Lies Sean Hannity Told Me

8 COMMON MYTHS ABOUT HEALTH INSURANCE REFORM

1. It's a myth that reform will mean a "government takeover" of health care or lead to "rationing." To the contrary, reform will forbid many forms of rationing that are currently being used by insurance companies.

Why We Need Health Care Reform

I've listened to health care reform opponents claim they wish the President would give them full story. Say what? When pressed to identify what exactly they're talking about, they invariably cite something that is not in either version of the reform bill. One person even claimed the proposed health care bill would allow government to spy on your kids in school.

None of it is true. One has to wonder how long before believers in the "party of no" realize they have once again been Swift-boated -- this time on health care reform.

Here's the deal: There were no WMDs. Iraq had nothing to do with 9-11. And no matter how you slice and dice it, there are no Medicare cuts, death panels or health care rationing proposed in either version of the health care bill.

Here's a point by point synposis from the President of what actually is in the bill.


Why We Need Health Care Reform

By BARACK OBAMA
Published: August 15, 2009

From the New York Times
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/16/opinion/16obama.html?_r=1

OUR nation is now engaged in a great debate about the future of health care in America. And over the past few weeks, much of the media attention has been focused on the loudest voices. What we haven’t heard are the voices of the millions upon millions of Americans who quietly struggle every day with a system that often works better for the health-insurance companies than it does for them.

These are people like Lori Hitchcock, whom I met in New Hampshire last week. Lori is currently self-employed and trying to start a business, but because she has hepatitis C, she cannot find an insurance company that will cover her. Another woman testified that an insurance company would not cover illnesses related to her internal organs because of an accident she had when she was 5 years old. A man lost his health coverage in the middle of chemotherapy because the insurance company discovered that he had gallstones, which he hadn’t known about when he applied for his policy. Because his treatment was delayed, he died.

I hear more and more stories like these every single day, and it is why we are acting so urgently to pass health-insurance reform this year. I don’t have to explain to the nearly 46 million Americans who don’t have health insurance how important this is. But it’s just as important for Americans who do have health insurance.

There are four main ways the reform we’re proposing will provide more stability and security to every American.

First, if you don’t have health insurance, you will have a choice of high-quality, affordable coverage for yourself and your family — coverage that will stay with you whether you move, change your job or lose your job.

Second, reform will finally bring skyrocketing health care costs under control, which will mean real savings for families, businesses and our government. We’ll cut hundreds of billions of dollars in waste and inefficiency in federal health programs like Medicare and Medicaid and in unwarranted subsidies to insurance companies that do nothing to improve care and everything to improve their profits.

Third, by making Medicare more efficient, we’ll be able to ensure that more tax dollars go directly to caring for seniors instead of enriching insurance companies. This will not only help provide today’s seniors with the benefits they’ve been promised; it will also ensure the long-term health of Medicare for tomorrow’s seniors. And our reforms will also reduce the amount our seniors pay for their prescription drugs.

Lastly, reform will provide every American with some basic consumer protections that will finally hold insurance companies accountable. A 2007 national survey actually shows that insurance companies discriminated against more than 12 million Americans in the previous three years because they had a pre-existing illness or condition. The companies either refused to cover the person, refused to cover a specific illness or condition or charged a higher premium.

We will put an end to these practices. Our reform will prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage because of your medical history. Nor will they be allowed to drop your coverage if you get sick. They will not be able to water down your coverage when you need it most. They will no longer be able to place some arbitrary cap on the amount of coverage you can receive in a given year or in a lifetime. And we will place a limit on how much you can be charged for out-of-pocket expenses. No one in America should go broke because they get sick.

Most important, we will require insurance companies to cover routine checkups, preventive care and screening tests like mammograms and colonoscopies. There’s no reason that we shouldn’t be catching diseases like breast cancer and prostate cancer on the front end. It makes sense, it saves lives and it can also save money.

This is what reform is about. If you don’t have health insurance, you will finally have quality, affordable options once we pass reform. If you have health insurance, we will make sure that no insurance company or government bureaucrat gets between you and the care you need. If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan. You will not be waiting in any lines. This is not about putting the government in charge of your health insurance. I don’t believe anyone should be in charge of your health care decisions but you and your doctor — not government bureaucrats, not insurance companies.

The long and vigorous debate about health care that’s been taking place over the past few months is a good thing. It’s what America’s all about.

Barack Obama is the president of the United States.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Meet the Press: Health care savings vs. a lack of choice?

How do you have an honest and productive discussion about health care reform when one side views existing government-run health care programs, like Social Security and Medicare, as tyranny? Do the majority of Americans really think Medicare is tyranny? Do they really want Medicare dismantled and rolled into a private insurance plan?

On Meet the Press last Sunday, one of the key organizers against health care reform, Former Rep. Dick Armey, unviels the true underlying goal of the far right, arguing that the current system of Medicare and Medicaid is "oppressive" and doesn't allow seniors to opt-out. In contrast, Rachel Maddow and Sen. Daschle say a new public health care infrastructure will yield long-term savings.


http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21134540/vp/32436810#32436810

At What Price Affordable Health Care?

Proponents say the government-funded option would come at a lower price and would keep the market competitive, preventing private firms from driving up costs. The public plan would be available for individuals and small business owners who fall short of a predetermined income level.


Health Care in US? A Matter of Debate
http://news.aol.com/article/health-care-concerns-for-individuals-and/610094

EIGHT FACTS ABOUT PROPOSALS ON HEALTH CARE REFORM

Fact #2. Ends Exorbitant Out-of-Pocket Expenses, Deductibles or Co-Pays: Insurance companies will have to abide by yearly caps on how much they can charge for out-of-pocket expenses.

The Swiss Menace

Every wealthy country other than the United States guarantees essential care to all its citizens. There are, however, wide variations in the specifics, with three main approaches taken.


From by Paul Krugmam, The New York Times
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/17/opinion/17krugman.html?_r=1

It was the blooper heard round the world. In an editorial denouncing Democratic health reform plans, Investor’s Business Daily tried to frighten its readers by declaring that in Britain, where the government runs health care, the handicapped physicist Stephen Hawking “wouldn’t have a chance,” because the National Health Service would consider his life “essentially worthless.”

Professor Hawking, who was born in Britain, has lived there all his life, and has been well cared for by the National Health Service, was not amused.

Besides being vile and stupid, however, the editorial was beside the point. Investor’s Business Daily would like you to believe that Obamacare would turn America into Britain — or, rather, a dystopian fantasy version of Britain. The screamers on talk radio and Fox News would have you believe that the plan is to turn America into the Soviet Union. But the truth is that the plans on the table would, roughly speaking, turn America into Switzerland — which may be occupied by lederhosen-wearing holey-cheese eaters, but wasn’t a socialist hellhole the last time I looked.

Let’s talk about health care around the advanced world.

Every wealthy country other than the United States guarantees essential care to all its citizens. There are, however, wide variations in the specifics, with three main approaches taken.

In Britain, the government itself runs the hospitals and employs the doctors. We’ve all heard scare stories about how that works in practice; these stories are false. Like every system, the National Health Service has problems, but over all it appears to provide quite good care while spending only about 40 percent as much per person as we do. By the way, our own Veterans Health Administration, which is run somewhat like the British health service, also manages to combine quality care with low costs.

The second route to universal coverage leaves the actual delivery of health care in private hands, but the government pays most of the bills. That’s how Canada and, in a more complex fashion, France do it. It’s also a system familiar to most Americans, since even those of us not yet on Medicare have parents and relatives who are.

Again, you hear a lot of horror stories about such systems, most of them false. French health care is excellent. Canadians with chronic conditions are more satisfied with their system than their U.S. counterparts. And Medicare is highly popular, as evidenced by the tendency of town-hall protesters to demand that the government keep its hands off the program.

Finally, the third route to universal coverage relies on private insurance companies, using a combination of regulation and subsidies to ensure that everyone is covered. Switzerland offers the clearest example: everyone is required to buy insurance, insurers can’t discriminate based on medical history or pre-existing conditions, and lower-income citizens get government help in paying for their policies.

In this country, the Massachusetts health reform more or less follows the Swiss model; costs are running higher than expected, but the reform has greatly reduced the number of uninsured. And the most common form of health insurance in America, employment-based coverage, actually has some “Swiss” aspects: to avoid making benefits taxable, employers have to follow rules that effectively rule out discrimination based on medical history and subsidize care for lower-wage workers.

So where does Obamacare fit into all this? Basically, it’s a plan to Swissify America, using regulation and subsidies to ensure universal coverage.

If we were starting from scratch we probably wouldn’t have chosen this route. True “socialized medicine” would undoubtedly cost less, and a straightforward extension of Medicare-type coverage to all Americans would probably be cheaper than a Swiss-style system. That’s why I and others believe that a true public option competing with private insurers is extremely important: otherwise, rising costs could all too easily undermine the whole effort.

But a Swiss-style system of universal coverage would be a vast improvement on what we have now. And we already know that such systems work.

So we can do this. At this point, all that stands in the way of universal health care in America are the greed of the medical-industrial complex, the lies of the right-wing propaganda machine, and the gullibility of voters who believe those lies.

Correction: In Friday’s column I mistakenly asserted that Senator Johnny Isakson was responsible for a provision in a House bill that would allow Medicare to pay for end-of-life counseling. In fact, he is responsible for a provision in a Senate bill that would allow a different, newly created government program to pay for such counseling.

8 FACTS ABOUT HEALTH CARE REFORM:

Fact #1. Insurance companies will not be allowed to refuse coverage for pre-existing conditions. http://tinyurl.com/lyxel4

Sunday, August 16, 2009

8 FACTS AND 8 MYTHS ABOUT HEALTH CARE REFORM

Here's a very simple synopsis of about what health care reform really means:

http://www.democraticunderground.com/discuss/duboard.php?az=view_all&address=389x6296060

8 WAYS HEALTH INSURANCE REFORM PROVIDES SECURITY AND STABILITY TO ALL AMERICANS

1. Ends Discrimination for Pre-Existing Conditions: Insurance companies will be prohibited from refusing you coverage because of your medical history.

2. Ends Exorbitant Out-of-Pocket Expenses, Deductibles or Co-Pays: Insurance companies will have to abide by yearly caps on how much they can charge for out-of-pocket expenses.

3. Ends Cost-Sharing for Preventive Care: Insurance companies must fully cover, without charge, regular checkups and tests that help you prevent illness, such as mammograms or eye and foot exams for diabetics.

4. Ends Dropping of Coverage for Seriously Ill: Insurance companies will be prohibited from dropping or watering down insurance coverage for those who become seriously ill.

5. Ends Gender Discrimination: Insurance companies will be prohibited from charging you more because of your gender.

6. Ends Annual or Lifetime Caps on Coverage: Insurance companies will be prevented from placing annual or lifetime caps on the coverage you receive.

7. Extends Coverage for Young Adults: Children would continue to be eligible for family coverage through the age of 26.

8. Guarantees Insurance Renewal: Insurance companies will be required to renew any policy as long as the policyholder pays their premium in full. Insurance companies won't be allowed to refuse renewal because someone became sick.

Learn more and get details:
http://tinyurl.com/nbn5fg


8 COMMON MYTHS ABOUT HEALTH INSURANCE REFORM

1. It's a myth that reform will mean a "government takeover" of health care or lead to "rationing." To the contrary, reform will forbid many forms of rationing that are currently being used by insurance companies.

2. It's a myth that reform will bust the budget. To the contrary, the President has identified ways to pay for the vast majority of the up-front costs by cutting waste, fraud, and abuse within existing government health programs; ending big subsidies to insurance companies; and increasing efficiency with such steps as coordinating care and streamlining paperwork. In the long term, reform can help bring down costs that will otherwise lead to a fiscal crisis.

3. It's a malicious myth that reform would encourage or even require euthanasia for seniors. For seniors who want to consult with their family and physicians about end-of life decisions, reform will help to cover these voluntary, private consultations for those who want help with these personal and difficult family decisions.

4. It's a myth that health insurance reform will affect veterans' access to the care they get now. To the contrary, the President's budget significantly expands coverage under the VA, extending care to 500,000 more veterans who were previously excluded. The VA Healthcare system will continue to be available for all eligible veterans.

5. It's a myth that health insurance reform will hurt small businesses. To the contrary, reform will ease the burdens on small businesses, provide tax credits to help them pay for employee coverage and help level the playing field with big firms who pay much less to cover their employees on average.

6. It's myth that Health Insurance Reform would be financed by cutting Medicare benefits. To the contrary, reform will improve the long-term financial health of Medicare, ensure better coordination, eliminate waste and unnecessary subsidies to insurance companies, and help to close the Medicare "doughnut" hole to make prescription drugs more affordable for seniors.

7. It's myth that reform will force you out of your current insurance plan or force you to change doctors. To the contrary, reform will expand your choices, not eliminate them.

8. It is an absurd myth that government will be in charge of your bank accounts. Health insurance reform will simplify administration, making it easier and more convenient for you to pay bills in a method that you choose. Just like paying a phone bill or a utility bill, you can pay by traditional check, or by a direct electronic payment. And forms will be standardized so they will be easier to understand. The choice is up to you - and the same rules of privacy will apply as they do for all other electronic payments that people make.

Learn more and get details:
http://tinyurl.com/lyxel4

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Top Five Health Care Reform Lies—and How to Fight Back

Lie #1: President Obama wants to euthanize your grandma!!!

The truth: These accusations—of "death panels" and forced euthanasia—are, of course, flatly untrue. As an article from the Associated Press puts it: "No 'death panel' in health care bill." What's the real deal? Reform legislation includes a provision, supported by the AARP, to offer senior citizens access to a professional medical counselor who will provide them with information on preparing a living will and other issues facing older Americans.

Lie #2: Democrats are going to outlaw private insurance and force you into a government plan!!!

The truth: With reform, choices will increase, not decrease. Obama's reform plans will create a health insurance exchange, a one-stop shopping marketplace for affordable, high-quality insurance options. Included in the exchange is the public health insurance option—a nationwide plan with a broad network of providers—that will operate alongside private insurance companies, injecting competition into the market to drive quality up and costs down.

If you're happy with your coverage and doctors, you can keep them. But the new public plan will expand choices to millions of businesses or individuals who choose to opt into it, including many who simply can't afford health care now.

Lie #3: President Obama wants to implement Soviet-style rationing!!!

The truth: Health care reform will expand access to high-quality health insurance, and give individuals, families, and businesses more choices for coverage. Right now, big corporations decide whether to give you coverage, what doctors you get to see, and whether a particular procedure or medicine is covered—that is rationed care. And a big part of reform is to stop that.

Health care reform will do away with some of the most nefarious aspects of this rationing: discrimination for pre-existing conditions, insurers that cancel coverage when you get sick, gender discrimination, and lifetime and yearly limits on coverage. And outside of that, as noted above, reform will increase insurance options, not force anyone into a rationed situation.

Lie #4: Obama is secretly plotting to cut senior citizens' Medicare benefits!!!

The truth: Health care reform plans will not reduce Medicare benefits. Reform includes savings from Medicare that are unrelated to patient care—in fact, the savings comes from cutting billions of dollars in overpayments to insurance companies and eliminating waste, fraud, and abuse.

Lie #5: Obama's health care plan will bankrupt America!!!

The truth: We need health care reform now in order to prevent bankruptcy—to control spiraling costs that affect individuals, families, small businesses, and the American economy.

Right now, we spend more than $2 trillion dollars a year on health care. The average family premium is projected to rise to over $22,000 in the next decade—and each year, nearly a million people face bankruptcy because of medical expenses. Reform, with an affordable, high-quality public option that can spur competition, is necessary to bring down skyrocketing costs. Also, President Obama's reform plans would be fully paid for over 10 years and not add a penny to the deficit.

We're closer to real health care reform than we've ever been—and the next few weeks will decide whether it happens. We need to make sure the truth about health care reform is spread far and wide to combat right wing lies.

Check out the Top 5 Health Care Lies—and How to Fight Back From MoveOn.org. http://bit.ly/Bncs5

Friday, August 14, 2009

Health Care Town Meetings: Political outrage for hire

Rachel Maddow welcomes Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT, to talk about an anti-health care reform web site that is actually run by a high profile Republican P.R. firm.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/26315908/vp/32411154#32411154

False "death panel" rumor has familiar roots

"There is nothing in any of the legislative proposals that would call for the creation of death panels or any other governmental body that would cut off care for the critically ill as a cost-cutting measure."


From the New York Times
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/14/health/policy/14panel.html

Why health care reform matters

This article from the Wall Street Journal pretty much sums up my take on health care reform. The headline says it all: without the government as competition, private insurers have little reason to improve.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124580516633344953.html

Friday, August 7, 2009

NABJ Convention Day 3

It's been a great conference at the NABJ convention in Tampa, Florida. Today spent most of the day in a workshop on Final Cut Pro, and an early afternoon seminar on moving from journalism into the classroom. Yesterday, I worked on social media tools and techniques. During Wednesday's plenary session, I took a minute to chat with the general manager of CNN and reporter/anchor Roland Martin regarding CNNs Michael Jackson coverage.

It's been great and I'm looking forward to updating some photos when I return.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Top Ten Reasons Delaware Needs Live, Local Television

Reason Number 1: Philly heeds, but only if it bleeds, burns or looks like a corporate take-over.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Top ten reasons Delaware needs live, local television

Reason Number 2: Next month, one of the oldest cultural celebrations in the country happens here, but you won’t find coverage on the CW Philly.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Clamping Down on Credit Card Companies

We can help fix the broken credit card industry. And I can sum up how in four words: Consumer Financial Protection Agency"

- Elizabeth Warren on the Rachel Maddow Show, MSNBC

The credit card industry is gearing up to fight real truth in lending guidelines being developed in an effort to clamp down on unsavory lending practices.

Among provisions being discussed? Credit agreements that people can read and that provide clear, concise detail on interest rates and what triggers a fee.

Interestingly enough I last week I received a notice from Bank of America informing me that the credit card I closed months ago was converting to a variable interest rate and there was nothing I could do about it....even though I closed the account a while ago because of its quadrupled minimum payment.

Other shady bank "tricks and traps":
a. Banks that refuse mortgage or other payments, citing returned checks, where returned simply means they sent your check back to you without ever presenting it to your bank for payment.

b. Banks that arbitrarily move payment due dates with little notice in effort to prompt a late payment.

c. Residual interest charges on payments made before the due date.

Here's an article from the New York Times about the effort to crack down on these shady practices and more.


June 17, 2009, 9:48 pm
Elizabeth Warren on Consumer Financial Protection

By Catherine Rampell


The new financial regulatory proposal released Wednesday by the White House would create a new consumer financial protection agency. It would have broad new authority to protect homeowners from unsuitable loans.

The idea is the brainchild of Elizabeth Warren, who is also reportedly being considered to head the new agency. Ms. Warren, a professor at Harvard Law School, is currently chairwoman of the Congressional Oversight Panel created to oversee the banking bailouts.

In addition to her academic research, Professor Warren has left a long record in the popular press on her own views about consumer debt and the government’s role in consumer financial protection — both on her blog, Credit Slips, and elsewhere. In recent years she has written relevant op-eds for The Chicago Tribune, The New York Times and The Boston Globe, among other publications. She has also done TV interviews about these ideas.

Most notably, she laid out the argument for a new agency in the journal Democracy in summer 2007. Presumably taking a cue from Ralph Nader, the essay was titled, “Unsafe at Any Rate.”

Some excerpts:

Consumers can enter the market to buy physical products confident that they won’t be tricked into buying exploding toasters and other unreasonably dangerous products.

They can concentrate their shopping efforts in other directions, helping to drive a competitive market that keeps costs low and encourages innovation in convenience, durability, and style. Consumers entering the market to buy financial products should enjoy the same protection. Just as the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) protects buyers of goods and supports a competitive market, we need the same for consumers of financial products — a new regulatory regime, and even a new regulatory body, to protect consumers who use credit cards, home mortgages, car loans, and a host of other products. The time has come to put scaremongering to rest and to recognize that regulation can often support and advance efficient and more dynamic markets.

She notes that not all of consumers’ credit problems can be wrung out of the system, given some consumers’ irresponsibility:

Indeed, there can be no doubt that some portion of the credit crisis in America is the result of foolishness and profligacy. Some people are in trouble with credit because they simply use too much of it. Others are in trouble because they use credit in dangerous ways. But that is not the whole story. Lenders have deliberately built tricks and traps into some credit products so they can ensnare families in a cycle of high-cost debt.

She argues that some consumers who do try to protect themselves often get taken advantage of by untrustworthy “experts,” whether in the mortgage market or at payday lending institutions:

Even worse, consumers wary of creditor tricks may look for help, only to rush headlong into the waiting arms of someone else who will fleece them – and then hand them over to the creditors for further fleecing.

She also describes problems she sees with the existing regulatory system, among them a “regulatory jumble” wherein consumer financial products (like subprime mortgages) “are regulated based, principally, on the identity of the issuer, rather than the nature of the product.”

She describes what her ideal consumer financial product safety commission (F.P.S.C.) would do:

Like its counterpart for ordinary consumer products, this agency would be charged with responsibility to establish guidelines for consumer disclosure, collect and report data about the uses of different financial products, review new financial products for safety, and require modification of dangerous products before they can be marketed to the public. The agency could review mortgages, credit cards, car loans, and a number of other financial products, such as life insurance and annuity contracts. In effect, the F.P.S.C. would evaluate these products to eliminate the hidden tricks and traps that make some of them far more dangerous than others.

An F.P.S.C. would promote the benefits of free markets by assuring that consumers can enter credit markets with confidence that the products they purchase meet minimum safety standards.

She also responds to anticipated arguments that such an agency might over-reach, over-regulate or at the very least regulate poorly:

With every agency, the fear of regulatory capture is ever-present. But in a world in which there is little coherent, consumer-oriented regulation of any kind, an F.P.S.C. with power to act is far better than the available alternatives.

While Professor Warren acknowledges that consumers can still do stupid things and get themselves into trouble, in the end, of course, she concludes that a new agency and/or regulatory structure aimed at safeguarding consumer interests would “eliminate some of the most egregious tricks and traps in the credit industry.”

Not surprisingly, the financial services industry has pushed back against many of Professor Warren’s ideas about consumer protection.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Top Ten Reasons Delaware Needs Live, Local Television

Reason Number Four: When the VeeP, Spike Lee, Ryan Phillippe or Bill Cosby comes to call, Philly has no film at 11.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Top Ten Reasons Delaware Needs Live, Local Television

Reason Number 5. A Delaware icon dies and an entire state mourns, but Philly coverage is hard to find.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Top ten reasons Delaware needs live, local television.

Reason Number 6: In Delaware, fun in the sun means a trip to the beach -- not the shore.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Top ten reasons Delaware needs live, local television.

  1. Philly heeds, but only if it bleeds, burns or looks like a corporate take-over

  2. One of the oldest Black cultural celebrations in the country happens here, but you won’t find coverage on the CW Philly.

  3. Paris Hilton at Toddler’s Tech.

  4. When The VeeP, Spike Lee, Ryan Phillippe or Bill Cosby comes to call, Philly has no film at 11

  5. A Delaware icon dies, an entire state mourns, but Philly coverage is hard to find.

  6. In Delaware, fun in the sun means a trip to the beach -- not the shore.

  7. Our world-class bikers bank down Market Street, not Manayunk.

  8. Great jazz at the Clifford Brown Festival - one of the largest in the Northest - but you won't see TV-10 news.

  9. An estimated 65-thousand attended St. Anthony's Italian Festival last year, but where-o-where is that Action News van?

  10. We celebrate Memorial Day on May 30!!!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Today's Matt Lauer Visits Neverland; Interviews Jermaine Jackson

Okay. There's no secret that I've always been fond of Jermaine Jackson. I found this interview with Jermaine by Today's Matt Lauer to be heartbreaking. Jermaine vehemently states he doesn't believe Michael abused prescription drugs, even when pushed by Laurer to acknowledge the possibility. Interestingly enough while the media vultures are having a field day with police accounts they found drugs at Michael's residence, there has been no inquiry why it took the LA police department -- which has previously sworn under oath in previous cases to have planted evidence at the scene -- two days after their initial swarm of the premises to allegedly discover these secret meds. Again, thank goodness for Jackson's family having the where-with-all to conduct their own autopsy separate from the one conducted by LA police.

It should all be familiar. The LA police pulled no punches trying to convict MJ of child molestation, a charge from which Jackson was later ACQUITTED. Reportedly the investigation was one of the most costly to the state. The tab media has been quick to mention Jackson's child molestation charges, but slow to remind us he was ACQUITTED of these charges. Similarly, the fact that one of Jackson's accusers has rescinded his charge remains missing in recent press reports as well.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Boy Admits Sex Charges Against Jackson Were False

This was virtually buried in the press, amid stories about a nurse no one knows making accusations that no one can verify. Meanwhile the tabs stoop even lower by trying to spreading rumors about who is or is the biological parent of Prince Michael, Paris and Michael II, as if those children didn't have enough to deal with after the death of their father.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Deepak Chopra Talks to CBS News

Deepak Chopra continues to wax on about MJ's Lupus, linking his accounts of a troubled childhood to developing both vitiligo and lupus.

Chopra says: "[Studies show links betwwen] accumulated childhood stress with autoimmune disorders, including lupus, which he had, and vitiligo, which he had. He had huge patches of discoloration....and he had a lot of shame about it. He became an isolationist. He hid from people. And the more he hid, the more cruel the media frenzy about his hiding and his covering up, You know, he used to wear clothes to cover up his disfiguration. That really actually hurt him a lot."

"He was a delicate soul in a cruel world," Chopra said.

Deepak Chopra Talks to People Mag about MJ

Deepak Chopra also apparently discussed Michael Jackson's struggles with Lupus with reporters at People magazine. The speculation about the links to lupus and child abuse is very intriguing.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Goodbye, Michael Jackson

Rest in peace, Michael. You gave so much joy to so many, only to be given back such venom and hatred from those jealous of who you were and what you accomplished. Your philanthropy to so many causes lives on.

You lived your life spreading love through your music and working to heal those sick and wounded by life by the numerous causes you supported. Yet so many tried to take advantage of your gifts of generosity. So many motivated by greed and jealously tried to bring you down.

You were proven innocent of the lies they tried to link you to. Unfortunately fueled by a press focused more on sensation than facts, some latch on to the lies because they cannot stand the truth -- that you were a visionary, affected by a disfiguring skin ailment and suffering like many of those who suffer from vitiligo do.

You were a former child star suffering like many who attained super-stardom before coming of age --but one who turned that anguish into creative brilliance.

You were a dedicated entertainer, afflicted with Lupus, a painful, autoimmune disease. Yet you carried on.

And because you were affected by two diseases that primarily strike African Americans, those who did not understand those diseases mercilessly mocked and mimicked you. What would happen if the cards were turned, if the press suddenly started to mock and tease those suffering from osteoporosis, a disease that rarely strikes Africans Americans. We'd be appalled, as we should be, when lack of understanding about any disease prompt public ridicule on the scale of that Jackson has faced.

Lupus is a painful, autoimmune disease -- where your own body attacks itself, including the joints, skin, heart and lungs. It is marked by chronic fatigue, swelling of the heart and lungs. Yet many wonder why someone who makes a living performing might wear surgical masks to avoid germs and infection or someone chronically fatigued might show up in court in pajamas.

Vitiligo is a disfiguring skin ailment that leaves its victims stripped of pigment in the skin. It also has origins as an autoimmune disease.

Friday night on MSNBCs Countdown with Keith Olbermann, author and TV talk show host Deepak Chopra was overcome with grief as he spoke of his friend Michael Jackson. He stated:

"Studies show…children [of abuse] will go on to develop auto-immune diseases, like Lupus and vitiligo, both of which he had, he was quite disfigured so he would avoid being seen, at least his body and therefore he would cover himself and that would lead to people making all kinds of fun of him and calling him all kinds of things, he would feel the cruelty of that, he didn’t understand that. And there no way -- people who knew the context of his behavior would have had a more compassionate understanding of why he did the things he did."

Thank you, Mr. Chopra. People who suffer from either are not "weird" or "freakish." They are not "wacky" any more than anyone that deals with any other pervasive illness is weird, freakish or wacky.

The real tragedy here is that someone with a chronic illness, namely Michael Jackson, who suffered from both vitiligo and Lupus, can be so dismissively labeled as "weird." Ailments that impact African Americans pretty much exclusively do not deserve to be summarily dismissed with awful labels simply because the mainstream population doesn't understand them.

As a performer, it makes perfect sense that Jackson might wear surgical masks to protect himself. When you suffer from a disease where your body attacks itself, one that's marked by fatigue, swelling of the heart, skin lesions and chronic pain, it makes sense to do so. When you so publicly suffer from a disease like vitiligo, that strips away the pigment of your skin, being a recluse again makes sense.

So many people who suffer from skin ailments hide away from the spotlight, something Jackson could ill afford to do.

It's all so sad and tragic, especially because your music begs for understanding and acceptance of differences among people. Your songs beg love and generosity, yet so many -- including the press -- gave you none in return.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Top Ten Reasons Delaware needs live, local TV programming.

Number 9: An estimated 65-thousand people attended St. Anthony's Italian festival last year. But where, oh where was that Action News van?

Top ten reasons Delaware needs live, local TV programming.


Number 10: We celebrate Memorial Day on May 30!

Here are photos from the Delaware Memorial Day parade, Veterans Cemetery and Delaware Memorial Bridge commemorations you won't see on Philly television.


Monday, June 8, 2009

Carper Says Health Care Reform Not Necessary

On Memorial Day, at the annual recognition held at the Delaware Memorial Bridge, my 86 year old mom cornered Senator Carper after his presentation and urged him to support health care for seniors. He said he would.

Aparently, after looking at Carper's comments in today's News Journal, he forgot that promise.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Presidential Proclamation Prayer for Peace, Memorial Day

A peace proclamation. What a change from the previous administration...

Thursday, May 21, 2009

What the New Credit Card Change Could Mean to You

Personally I think the "late payment" provisions of this legislation need to be made clearer. Some of the concerns raised in my previous credit card post, about companies arbitrarily moving payment due dates, have been addressed.

In theory, it looks like the concept of grace periods have been re-established, but to say payment must be due "21 days after mailing" seems strange.

There also needs to be some consistency about what constitutes being "30-days delinquent." Suppose I charge something on the 1st, the day before my statement cycles. I get a statement the following week with a payment due date of the end of the month. If miss that payment, am I really 30 days delinquent?

Yes, according to Bank of America, which holds my FIA card services credit card. For the record, overnight FIA recently nearly doubled my monthly payment, changing it from normally ranging around $125 to a whopping $250 a month. While they were at it they also increased my interest rate to 28 percent.

When I asked why, they claimed there was something "strange" in my credit profile. Knowing that not to be true, I challenged that assessment, they later claimed made a late payment -- a payment received after the due date. They failed to mention that yes, I missed the due date, but I also paid off the balance. My pay off check arrived a day or so after the due date. The next month, I used the card again.

For me the fundamental principle of offering credit cards with hopes they go into default should be outlawed. To design cards in a way that rewards looking for creative ways to make consumers delinquent is not only unfair but should be unethical. I don't care that card companies make money on getting investors to buy their credit portfolios.

Still checking for a list of congressmen who voted "no" on the house version of this bill.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Congress Passes Credit Card Bill

I want a list of the 64 congressmen who voted against this bill.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Reflections on Michael Steele's Press Conference

See: Steele says time to focus on future. From the Boston Globe

Today, while talking on the phone to a friend, I stumbled on Michael Steele's press conference as it aired on CNN. I was infuriated, as so often the far right-winged Republican rhetoric tends to send me these days.

Sadly Michael use to be his own person. But after his oh-so-public Rush Limbaugh smack-down, he has lost his own voice. And today, it was even more obvious that Rush, the newly throned party King as annointed by Dick Cheney, has Steele on a very short lead. No wonder rational Republicans, like Arlen Specter, (and Colin Powell, according to Cheney) are fleeing the party.

First let me say I am so very disappointed that the far-right-winged arm of Republican party continues to pit one person of color against another. Next, we can be sure to look for Bobby Jindal --coming soon to a press conference near you. Their tactics are so transparent, and I like most Americans feel it's really getting old.

Getting back to Steele's press conference. In it he claims: "the era of apology for Republican mistakes of the past is officially over." How convenient. Let's just forget about an illegal war and war crimes seemingly commited by the Bush administration along with it. Let's forget about the multi-billion dollar deficit.

How about this: the next time a criminal goes on a robbery spree, selling all the loot and covering up his tracks, he just washes his hands, sits back and decides to be done with the past and simply move forward. He can indeed move forward, but not before paying for the crimes of the past.

Steele then dares call the Obama first 100 days a reigh of "error." As if launching an entire war search for non-existant 'weapons of mass destruction' and even more non-existant links to al-Queda -- making the entire world less safe in the process -- wasn't enough.

"American needs us now more than ever," he quips. Why?

Steele says that Republican ideas are "being delivered to Washington in a tea bag." Ideas like having Texas succeed from the union? Like pitting Steele, a black man, against the President, another black man, while reducing Steele to simply becoming the public mouthpiece of Rush Limbaugh?

"We continue to borrow money we do not have," he ascerts. You mean like the 720 billion spent waging the Iraq war? Or like squandering the budget surpus left to us by the Clinton administration?

But most appalling was Steele's use of the phrase speaking truth to power. Exactly where was the truth in Steele's speech?

Let's face it. If there was any truth to Steele's ascertions, he would have preferenced his analogies this way:

Because of the Republicans we have: "spen(t) our country into the abyss,"

Because of the Republicans we have: "borrow(ed) money we don't have"

Because of the Republicans we were: forced to "usher in the most massive expansion of federal government control in the history of our Republic."

How about this, Steele. Let's stop this revisionist history once and for all. Go back to navel gazing. That was far more productive and much less scary.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Mortgage Crisis: Where's Carper when you need him?

I'm really disappointed with Senator Carper's vote on this one. A judge should be able to distinguish whether a case involves fraud or not. Punishing everyone for the indiscretion of a few makes no sense at all.If you are disappointed too, pick up the phone and call his office at 202-224-2441.

US Senate defeats mortgage relief measure
http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20090430/pl_afp/useconomyhousingpoliticscongress

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The US Senate on Thursday defeated a measure that could have helped millions of Americans avoid foreclosure by letting bankruptcy judges cut their mortgage payments.

The White House-backed proposal, an amendment to another bill, fell in a 51-45 vote that failed to reach the 60-vote threshold needed to ensure passage.

The legislation, popularly known as the "cram-down" bill, drew fire from the banking industry and from Republicans who alleged that it lacked safeguards to prevent borrowers who used bad judgement or outright fraud from benefiting.

Assistant Democratic Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin, the measure's chief champion, expressed disappointment at the result but voted to push the issue "until the Senate decides to put the interests of homeowners above the interests of bankers."

"We?ve given the bankers who got us into this crisis every opportunity to responsibly address this crisis and they have failed. I?ll keep working to give homeowners every legal means to save their homes," said Durbin.

Durbin said more than eight million homeowners were at risk for foreclosure.

The US House of Representatives had approved its version of the legislation by a 234-191 margin on March 5.