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Member since: Thu May 7, 2009, 11:59 PM
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The Vatican's Journey From Anti-Communism to Anti-Capitalism

It is funny how the Atlantic, which is sometimes portrayed as liberal, seems to describe the Pope's statements on capitalism as almost being revolutionary when in truth it simply brings Catholic doctrine more in line with actual scripture, which repeatedly discusses the plight of the poor, rather than spending much time on abortion or gay marriage, which preoccupies most of the religious right.


Pope Francis is once again shaking things up in the Catholic Church. On Tuesday, he issued his first “apostolic exhortation,” declaring a new enemy for the Catholic Church: modern capitalism. “Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world,” he wrote. “This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system.”

He couldn't be much clearer. The pope has taken a firm political stance against right-leaning, pro-free market economic policies, and his condemnation appears to be largely pointed at Europe and the United States. His explicit reference to “trickle-down” economic policies—the hallmark of Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and their political successors—is just the beginning: Throughout 224 pages on the future of the Church, he condemns income inequality, “the culture of prosperity,” and “a financial system which rules rather than serves.”

Taken in the context of the last half-century of Roman Catholicism, this is a radical move. Fifty years ago, around the time of the Second Vatican Council, Church leaders quietly declared a very different economic enemy: communism. But Pope Francis’s communitarian, populist message shows just how far the Church has shifted in five decades—and how thoroughly capitalism has displaced communism as a monolithic political philosophy.

* * *
While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few… Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control. A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules.

Dems Say Boehner Blocking Farm Bill, Wants More Food Stamp Cuts

Source: Mother Jones

Over the past month, the House and Senate have been working to come up with a compromise farm bill—the five-year piece of legislation that funds agriculture and nutrition programs. The main sticking point is the level of cuts to the food stamp program. House Republicans want to cut $40 billion from the program, while the Senate wants to trim $4 billion. Last week, the talks fell apart, and the two sides are fighting over why.

A Democratic aide tells Mother Jones that House Speaker John Boehner shot down several informal compromise farm bill proposals because the food stamps cuts were not deep enough. Boehner's spokesman denies this.

The Democratic aide says the joint House-Senate panel that is trying to work out a deal presented Boehner with a few proposals that contained food stamps levels close to what the Senate wants. Even though Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.)—the chairman of the House agriculture committee and a top member of the compromise panel—was willing to give a lot of ground to the Senate on food stamps, he says, Boehner rejected the proposals. "Boehner is playing spoiler," he adds. "That's why [negotiations] fell apart."

Another source familiar with the negotiations echoes the Dem aide's claim, saying that the House leadership has Lucas on a tight leash. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who is on the compromise committee, told Congressional Quarterly the same thing last week. "I'm hearing that the speaker still keeps inserting his people into the process," and that House members on the farm bill compromise panel "have to go and check with the speaker’s people [who] say they want this and this and this. I hear that's one of our major problems."

Read more: http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2013/11/john-boehner-farm-bill-food-stamps

Stores selling Obamacare policies popping up across California

Source: LA Times

With enrollment deadlines looming, California officials, insurance companies and agents are staking out retail space to sign up thousands of people as part of the Affordable Care Act. These sales tactics reflect how dramatically the healthcare law is changing the insurance industry.

Until recently, most health insurance companies and agents didn't put much time into selling policies to individuals and focused more on catering to employers and large groups in the workplace. But the health insurance mandate and billions of dollars in federal premium subsidies have made individual policies a far more attractive market.

* * *

The Covered California exchange has posted solid enrollment since opening Oct. 1, primarily through its website and call centers. It has signed up nearly 80,000 people in private health plans through Nov. 19 and an additional 135,000 people have applied for Medi-Cal, the state's Medicaid program for the poor.

But the exchange estimates that about 80% of people will want in-person help to figure out their insurance options. Rather than set up storefronts itself, Covered California has focused more on training people who then go out to farmers markets and health fairs to promote the exchange and do enrollment.

Read more: http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-exchange-retail-20131128,0,380583.story#axzz2ltqx9x4E

California is leaving Texas in the dust when it comes to implementing the ACA and addressing the needs of those who lacked access to affordable healthcare coverage, so Rick Perry can suck it.

LA Times - "The Obamacare success stories you haven't been hearing about"

Even in California, FM 98.7's news described the Iran nuclear deal as an obvious effort to distract from the federal website problems. Thankfully, the print media does offer occasional glimpses of the reality that the ACA has been having a positive impact.


Last summer Ellen Holzman and Meredith Vezina, a married gay couple in San Diego County, got kicked off their long-term Kaiser health plan, for which they'd been paying more than $1,300 a month. The cause wasn't the Affordable Care Act, as far as they knew. They'd been living outside Kaiser's service area, and the health plan had decided to tighten its rules.

That's when they discovered the chilly hazards of dependence on the individual health insurance market. When they applied for a replacement policy with Anthem Blue Cross of California, Ellen, 59, disclosed that she might have carpal tunnel syndrome. She wasn't sure--her condition was still being diagnosed by Kaiser when her coverage ended. But the possibility was enough to scare Anthem. "They said, 'We will not insure you because you have a pre-existing condition,'" Holzman recalls.

But they were lucky, thanks to Obamacare. Through Covered California, the state's individual insurance marketplace, they've found a plan through Sharp Healthcare that will cover them both for a total premium of $142 a month, after a government subsidy based on their income. They'll have a higher deductible than Kaiser's but lower co-pays. But their possible savings will be impressive.

More important than that was knowing that they couldn't be turned down for coverage come Jan. 1. "We felt we didn't have to panic, or worry," Holzman says. "If not for the Affordable Care Act, our ability to get insurance would be very limited, if we could get it at all."

Slate - "Corporations Are People, the Biblical Sequel" by Dahlia Lithwick

The Supreme Court will decide whether companies don’t have to cover contraception because they have religious beliefs. Of course, I always understood that the reason why owners of a corporation's stock are not liable for a corporation's debts is that the corporation is separate entity from the stock holders. However, if we are going to pierce the corporate veil and say that corporations have the same religious beliefs as a majority of its stock holders, why not just ignore the whole corporate structure for purposes of liability? In other words, it seems like the right happily cherry picks when the corporation is a separate entity from its owners and when it should be treated as a mere alter ego of the owner.


On Tuesday morning, the Supreme Court announced that it would hear a pair of religious freedom cases: Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius. The question is whether for-profit corporations may deny contraceptive coverage to their employees—coverage that the Affordable Care Act requires—based on their owners’ religious objections. As court-watchers have been predicting for months, the case will prove to be an unholy alliance of corporate personhood doctrine, religious freedom claims, and abortion rights. What, I ask, could possibly go wrong?

The court agreed to hear an appeal from the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which sided with Hobby Lobby, an Oklahoma-based chain of craft stores owned by a Christian family who claimed that the birth-control mandate violated their company’s religious freedom. The court also agreed to hear an appeal from the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which went the opposite way, finding that Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp., a cabinet manufacturer, did not have the same religious conscience rights as an individual. The split between these two circuit courts and other appeals courts, plus almost 50 other cases in the pipeline, meant that the Supreme Court was almost forced to weigh in.

The case raises critically important questions under both the religious freedom clauses of the First Amendment and a 1993 law called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. RFRA was passed, as David Savage explains here, in response to a 1990 Supreme Court decision holding that neutral, generally applicable laws, if they only incidentally burden religious practice, may stand if the government has a rational basis for passing them (the lowest bar for courts to impose). RFRA effectively reinstated strict scrutiny—a higher standard for the government to meet—for laws that substantially burden religious exercise.

But do corporations have a right to religious freedom? Can they truly count as “persons” for getting the protections promised by RFRA? That’s the word the law uses, and these claims are novel, to say the very least. Since the Affordable Care Act was passed, various Christian employers have challenged the birth-control mandate under RFRA, claiming that providing certain specified "abortion causing" drugs (this is their scientifically contested claim about the effects of the morning-after pill) violates their most deeply held religious convictions. Exemptions to the contraception mandate in Obamacare already exist for explicitly religious organizations and various other employers but not for the type of for-profit corporations at issue in the two cases the Supreme Court has agreed to hear. The Obama administration also changed the birth-control requirement to allow certain nonprofits to opt out of paying for insurance directly and pass the costs on to their insurance provider. But again, that doesn’t apply to the big for-profit companies like Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood.

WaPo - "In rural Kentucky, health-care debate takes back seat as the long-uninsured line up"

This is the story that MSM refuses to cover, thousands of people finally gaining access to health care in Kentucky, home to two Senators who are vigorously trying to repeal the ACA. Thus, while the ACA improves the lives of thousands of Kentucky residents, Senators McConnell and Paul sell out their constituents to gain access to millions of corporate right wing campaign support.


This is how things are going in Kentucky: As conservatives argued that the new health-care law will wreck the economy, as liberals argued it will save billions, as many Americans raged at losing old health plans and some analysts warned that a disproportionate influx of the sick and the poor could wreck the new health-care model, Lively was telling Noble something he did not expect to hear.

“All right,” she said. “We’ve got you eligible for Medicaid.”

* * *
The per-capita income in Breathitt is about $15,000, and the rates of diabetes, hypertension and other health problems earned this part of Kentucky the nickname “Coronary Valley.”

Lively, who has been signing people up since the exchanges opened in early October, said one woman cried when she was told she qualified for Medicaid under the new law. She said people have been “pouring in” to her office, an unused exam room in the back of the clinic, where her set-up includes a table, a two-drawer filing cabinet, manila folders, a planner to track her schedule, a notebook to track her numbers and a laptop that connects to the state health-insurance exchange, Kynect.

CNN - "Koch Bros.-backed group gave millions to small business lobby" - Koch? A small business?

Just in case you needed to know that many so-called "small business" advocates are just sock puppets for billionaires who are definitely not small businesses.


(CNN) -- The National Federation of Independent Business is one of the most influential small-business advocacy groups in the country. They battle against government regulation, higher taxes and, perhaps most famously, Obamacare. And they do it all as the self-described "voice of small business."

But it turns out that the champions of Main Street America got more money last year from a group backed by billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch than any other single source.

NFIB and its affiliated groups received $2.5 million from Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, a conservative advocacy group with deep ties to the Koch empire. Of the five men that sit on the group's board, four are current or former employees of Koch companies and one is a friend of Charles Koch's.

Freedom Partners gave the NFIB $1.5 million last year, the biggest single contribution the federation received, according to tax records. The Koch-backed group gave three other NFIB-affiliated group another $1 million, making Freedom Partners among the top two biggest contributors to those groups, records show.

Healthcare.gov - Nov. 22 - "Progress on Capacity"

The latest update on Healthcare.gov regarding improvements being made to the federal website:


Today, Jeff Zients offered an update on our efforts to improve HealthCare.gov; data on key metrics on site performance, the progress made this week and the view looking forward.

In late October, we appointed QSSI as the general contractor to deploy their expertise in technology and program management to lead this project forward.

The team from QSSI continues to work with people from CMS and other contractors around the clock to troubleshoot the system, prioritize fixes, and provide real-time management decision making.

Thanks to this team effort, we have made measurable progress.

Before providing some specifics on this week, remember what we said at the end of October: HealthCare.gov will work smoothly for the vast majority of users by the end of November.

We’re on track to do so.

We have two objectives: addressing capacity shortfalls and managing volume, and improving user experience.

Both are necessary to support the President’s goal that every American has access to affordable quality health coverage.

In terms of capacity, HealthCare.gov will be able to operate at the capacity that was originally intended: a rate of approximately 50,000 users on the site at the same time.

It’s important to keep in mind here, that this is not a simple website. Rather, it’s a complex system doing complicated work.

The system needs to process the millions upon millions of unique circumstances that consumers present. It needs to determine eligibility for hundreds of state and county-level programs and all their permutations. And it needs to factor in subsidy levels based on family size, income, and plan selection.

This is much more than a website for browsing or conducting routine transactions.

With that context, and the capacity we will have by the end of the month, this means the system will be able to accommodate more than 800,000 visits a day from consumers who are seeking information, filling out applications, shopping, and enrolling.

In terms of our second objective, improving the site experience, the vast majority of users will not experience the error messages, slow response times, and system outages that characterized their experience in October.

The system will not work perfectly. But it will operate smoothly for the vast majority of users.

We have said from the beginning that HealthCare.gov is fixable. And we are working around the clock to do just that.

While there will not be a magic moment at the end of the month when the work will be complete, users coming to the site today are already having a greatly improved experience. The site will be better at the end of the month than it is today, and it will continue to improve thereafter.

This past week HealthCare.gov was stable, with the exception of an unscheduled outage on Wednesday and a short period on Tuesday.

On our key operating metrics, response times and error rates, we continue to make progress. For most users, speed and response times were good and error rates were low.

This past week, average response time for most users has been under 1 second. That compares to the first few weeks after the site launched when we estimate that users were waiting an average of eight seconds for pages across the site to load.

Having response time under one second is a significant improvement.

In terms of the site’s error rate, last week we reported it was 1percent. This week, we’ve driven it down to .75 percent. As a reminder, a few weeks ago the error rate was 6 percent.

We are also seeing marked improvements as a result of the more than 300 software improvements, bug fixes, and hardware upgrades we’ve made across the last several weeks.

We have a new prioritized list of 50 additional fixes and improvements that we’re focused on for the upcoming week.

Notably, while we will continue to fix bugs and make improvements throughout the system, the priority fixes we’re focused on now are mostly aimed at improving the user experience further along in the process: in Plan Compare, in Shopping; and in Enrollment.

During peak periods of volume, some users still experience slower response times. Right now, the system is able to maintain good performance with about 25,000 users in the system at the same time. This compares favorably to a few weeks ago when, at lower volumes, the system was often unstable.

This increase in performance results from hardware, software and infrastructure upgrades and fixes that we have implemented to increase the system’s capacity.

These improvements will continue this weekend as the team will be installing additional hardware capacity in the computing, storage, and database environments.

These upgrades, and others planned for next week, will allow us to serve increasingly higher volumes and to double the current capacity to 50,000 users at the same time.

HealthCare.gov was originally intended to handle this load and the improvements we’re making will bring it up to this level so that the site will have the capacity that was intended. We will continue to evaluate ongoing capacity needs.

Now, to be clear, there will be times that volume on HealthCare.gov will exceed this capacity. To specifically prepare for those times when spikes in user volume outstrip the systems’ expanded capacity, we will deploy a customer-friendly queuing system to handle these spikes by serving consumers in an orderly fashion and by allowing consumers to request email notifications when it’s a better time to come back to the site.

Stepping back, we’ve made a lot of progress working through our punch list, and the consumer experience is much better.

We’re on track to more than double today’s capacity, so that each day, the site will be able to accommodate more than 800,000 visits from consumers who are seeking information, filling out applications, shopping, and enrolling.

We have work to do to further improve the system and user experience. It’s likely as we move forward, we’ll find additional glitches and experience intermittent periods of sub-optimal performance.

Our bottom line is that we’ve made measurable progress in getting the site working smoothly for the vast majority of users.

California: 10K a day applying for Obamacare

Source: CNN Money

Californians are flocking to the Obamacare health exchange there, with 10,000 a day registering on the web site last week.

* * *

More than 360,000 people have created accounts on the Covered California website, through Nov. 19, according to health exchange officials. Some 39% of them are eligible for Medi-Cal. The rest can pick a private insurance policy on the exchange, with about half of them eligible for federal subsidies to defer premiums or out-of-pocket expenses. Nearly 80,000 residents have signed up for a policy, the final step on the exchange before working out payment with the insurance company. That's up from 59,000 in mid-November.

"What we're seeing is people signing up," said Peter Lee, Covered California's executive director.

Younger Californians age 18 to 34 account for about 22.5% of the sign ups in October, just about the share they represent in the state population. Luring in younger and healthier consumers, who use fewer medical services and would offset older, costlier policyholders, are vital to the health of the state exchange. If young people don't enroll, then rates could soar for 2015.

Read more: http://money.cnn.com/2013/11/21/news/economy/obamacare-california/

The House Republicans may be distributing their talking points to the MSM to dutifully repeat and spread, but in the real world, ACA enrollment continues to pick up steam and accelerate in the face of a Koch funded campaign to convince people go without insurance.

Wonkblog - "Wonkbook: Change is painful. But the health-care status quo is a complete disaster."

The MSM has largely ignored the latest news that the rise in healthcare costs is among lowest in memory due in large part to the ACA. Likewise, while the media repeatedly repeats Darrell Issa's talking points about the ACA website, it never considers or discusses the pre-ACA status quo that lead to the passage of the ACA.


As often happens, the prospect of reform has led to a sudden eruption of affection for the health-care status quo. The airwaves are alive with impassioned protests against the idea that anyone might change a market that relies on discriminating against the old, the sick, the female, and people who don't read the fine print of insurance policies. This is the best health care in the world, you know.

The Commonwealth Fund's latest survey of international health systems stands as a refreshing reality check. Their data compares the U.S. to Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom on a host of health-system measures, both objective (like diabetes amputations) and subjective (like satisfaction). The results are a reminder of why reform is so badly needed.

Start with cost. Americans spend 17.7 percent of GDP on health care. No one else spends even 12 percent. Let's make that more concrete: If Americans only spent 12 percent of GDP on health care we would have saved $893 billion in 2012.

The reason isn't that Americans get more health care than anyone else. We have more uninsured than anyone else. We have fewer physicians per capita than anyone but the Japanese. We go to the doctor less often than anyone but the Swiss. We don't have more hospital beds than other developed countries, and when we do go to the hospital, we don't stay longer.
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