Government Run Like A Business Led To Lead In Flint’s Water

“If the kids in a rich suburb of Detroit had been drinking contaminated water, we would have done something about it.”
– Hillary Clinton

“There are no excuses. The governor long ago knew about the lead in Flint’s water. He did nothing. As a result, hundreds of children were poisoned. Thousands may have been exposed to potential brain damage from lead. Gov. Snyder should resign.”
– Bernie Sanders

You might have heard that there is lead in Flint’s water. You’re not going to believe how much. And you’re not going to believe how bad lead exposure is for people. But you’ll probably believe it happened because government-hating Republicans set aside democracy so Flint’s residents couldn’t stop them from running government “like a business” and cutting government spending.

Trade Policies Sent The Jobs Away

Michigan is one state that has been hard hit by our country’s trade policies. Once considered the center of the automobile industry, factories and jobs were sent out of the country to places where people are exploited and barely paid, and the environment is not protected. (Yes, we let them do that.)

The result has been absolutely devastating (see “ruin porn“) to Michigan cities like Detroit and Flint as jobs disappeared and people who could afford to move to try to find jobs did just that. The rest of the city’s residents are left in poverty amidst miles of boarded-up, abandoned and falling-down buildings and homes, empty storefronts, and absolutely overwhelmed and underfunded public services. Help from the state and federal governments is not forthcoming.

Run Government Like A Business

Rick Snyder is a businessman (CEO, venture capitalist) who in 2010 campaigned for governor on running government like a business, promising to be the CEO governor who would create jobs. Michigan was starved for jobs, first from Wall-Street-sponsored deindustrialization, then from the Wall-Street-caused crash and recession/depression. So any promise of jobs went a long way. Maybe it was time to try turning government over to someone wealthy from outside government who said he knew better than government how to run government. Daily Beast noted at the time, “there is a more than a hint of plutocrats-know-best in Rick Snyder’s campaign pitch.”

But government in a democracy is nothing like a business. It is supposed to organize itself to deliver services and make people’s lives better, not profit off the people. Managing government and business requires entirely different skill sets and mindsets. (Also, that thing about businesses “creating jobs?” That’s not what businesses strive to do; they strive to cut costs and eliminate jobs. According to the Daily Beast, “While Snyder was on the board of Gateway [a U.S.-based computer company that had its heyday in the 1990s but ceased independent operations in 2007], the company’s workforce contracted from 21,000 American workers in 2000 to 7,400 workers in 2003.”)

Emergency Manager Law, Setting Aside Democracy

In 2011, Republicans passed a controversial law allowing the governor to run government like a business and appoint a CEO-style “emergency manager” when a city is considered to be financially irresponsible (i.e., too black). Under the law, it does not matter that the people of the city already elected a mayor, council and other leaders. The governor sets the election aside, brings in an emergency manager to take control of the local government, reduce its size and cost, and privatize public property, no matter the effect on the people there.

Like a turnaround CEO brought in from another company, the emergency manager has few connections to the community. Cut services, cut costs, strip, streamline, just like a business would do. (Such cities are typically surrounded by well-off “white-flight” suburban areas that are not required to financially or otherwise participate in solving the problems.)

The affected communities didn’t like that, and, unlike a business, could still do something about it. Michigan’s emergency manager law was repealed by referendum in 2012. So Republicans re-passed it in a lame duck legislative session. But this time they included a small appropriation, which under Michigan law meant it cannot be subject to a voter referendum. That’s that; the board has spoken, everybody get in line, all row in the same direction, play on the same team, run the ball down the field, just like in a business, or get out. Except unlike in a business there is no “get out” – you still live there.


Public Health Emergency

Flint’s public health emergency started when the city’s emergency manager “saved money” ($8.5 million over 5 years) by switching the city’s water source from Detroit via a pipeline to drawing water from the polluted Flint River. People involved in water systems will tell you that river water is acidic, which leaches lead and other metals from pipes, but they were not asked. The emergency managers could have added corrosion control chemicals to the water, but that would be more “government spending,” and they didn’t.

This happened in April 2014. Immediately people started complaining about the taste and smell of the now-brown water that was coming into their homes. For 18 months people complained. They started getting rashes. People’s hair was falling out. The government, run like a business, did what businesses do: they entered “damage-control mode,” denied there was a problem, blamed the messengers and tried to spin things their way. City and state officials said the water was OK. But there were growing concerns that there was a problem.

A Flint pediatrician, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha of Hurley Children’s Hospital, compared blood test results for 1,746 children in Flint before and after April 2014 and discovered an increase in lead levels. “But when we announced the results, the state called me ‘an unfortunate researcher causing near hysteria,’ an ‘irresponsible researcher.’”

Then, in September, 2015, a study from Virginia Tech‘s Marc Edwards was released showing dangerous levels of lead in the water. Then in October city officials finally said, yes, something is wrong with the water and people should not drink it.

What was happening? Lead and other metals were “leaching” into the water as corrosion affected old pipes. From April 2014 until October 2015 the people of Flint were forced to drink contaminated water, filled with toxic amounts of lead and other metals.

How Much Lead Are We Talking About?

How much lead is in Flint’s water? Brace yourself.

The Washington Post provided a way to understand just how much lead, in “This is how toxic Flint’s water really is“:

In the spring of 2015, city officials tested water in the home of LeeAnne Walters, a stay-at-home mother of four and a Navy wife. They got a reading of 397 ppb, an alarmingly high number.

But it was even worse than that. Virginia Tech’s team went to Walters’ house to verify those numbers later in the year. They were concerned that the city tested water in a way that was almost guaranteed to minimize lead readings: They flushed the water for several minutes before taking a sample, which often washes away a percentage of lead contaminants. They also made residents collect water at a very low flow rate, which they knew also tended to be associated with lower readings.

So the Virginia Tech researchers took 30 different readings at various flow levels. What they found shocked them: The lowest reading they obtained was around 200 ppb, already ridiculously high. But more than half of the readings came in at more than 1,000 ppb. Some came in above 5,000 — the level at which EPA considers the water to be “toxic waste.”

The highest reading registered at 13,000 ppb.

Five parts per billion of lead are a concern. When lead reaches 15 parts per billion, the EPA says you are in trouble. 5,000 parts per billion is considered “toxic waste.”

From April 2014 until October 2015 (and later, and still) the people of Flint were drinking water with up to 13,000 parts per billion of lead in it.

What Lead Does To Health, Especially Children

Lead has terrible and irreversible effects on people’s health, especially children. Even low levels – 5 parts per billion – of exposure have been shown to have many subtle health effects.

According to the CDC, short-term exposure can cause people to feel:
● Abdominal pain
● Constipated
● Tired
● Headaches
● Irritable
● Loss of appetite
● Memory loss
● Pain or tingling in the hands and/or feet
● Weak

But if a pregnant woman is exposed, it can damage a developing baby’s nervous system. “Even low-level lead exposures in developing babies have been found to affect behavior and intelligence. Lead exposure can cause miscarriage, stillbirths, and infertility (in both men and women).”

In children lead exposure has “lasting neurological and behavioral damage.” It leads to intellectual disabilities, serious difficulty controlling impulses, retaining information and learning in school. It is difficult or impossible for them to later have thought-intensive jobs.

Lead can also keep the body from getting nutrients required for cell development and the growth of strong teeth and bones. (One way it does this is to “inhibit or mimic the actions of calcium.”)

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) “How Lead Poisons the Human Body,” “The lead builds up in soft tissue — kidneys, bone marrow, liver, and brain — as well as bones and teeth. … Some scientists believe that low-level chronic lead exposure in childhood can alter secretion of the human growth hormone, stunting growth and promoting obesity.”

The NRDC document has a warning for the future: “Unfortunately, most children do not present overt symptoms of poisoning. Because their symptoms (ranging from irritability to stomach upset) may not be immediately recognizable as lead-related the majority of cases go undetected.”


Cover Up?

Between April 2014 and October 2015, when studies confirmed that the water was poisoning people in Flint, people fought to get the city and state to do something. The water smelled, was brown, tasted bad and people were experiencing symptoms from it. And doctors were warning that people were showing signs of lead poisoning but could not yet confirm from where it was coming. All along the state kept saying this was not the result of the emergency manager’s decision to switch Flint’s water source to cut government spending, business-style.

It’s not as if people around the country were not trying to sound the alarm.

In May 2014, just a month after the water switch, the city learned that trihalomethanes ( TTHMs) were above levels allowed in the Clean Water Act, but did not inform residents until January 2015, and did not switch back to safe water.

In October 2014, GM noticed that the water was corroding engines and started trucking water in from elsewhere.

In March 2015, The New York Times reported:

After Flint changed the source of its drinking water last spring, Ms. Mays said, she noticed a change in the water’s color and odor. Then she started having rashes, and clumps of her hair fell out. When the city issued a boil order, she stopped using the water for drinking and cooking. Now her family spends roughly $400 a month on bottled water.

… Flint officials insist that the city’s water is safe. They say that the issues of odor and color are separate from the question of whether the water meets federal standards, and that no link to health problems has been proved.

…“I don’t feel hopeful,” Mr. Palladeno said. “At one time, I loved this town. I still love it. There’s good people here. But the governing is killing us. I think we need a federal intervention.”

The Atlantic wrote in July 2015:

Melissa Mays looks around the emergency room at a frail, elderly man in a wheelchair and a woman with a hacking cough and can’t quite believe she’s here. Until a few months ago, she was healthy—an active mother of three boys who found time to go to the gym while holding down a job as a media consultant and doing publicity for bands.

But lately, she’s been feeling sluggish. She’s developed a rash on her leg, and clumps of her hair are falling out. She ended up in the emergency room last week after feeling “like [her] brain exploded,” hearing pops, and experiencing severe pain in one side of her head.

Mays blames her sudden spate of health problems on the water in her hometown of Flint. She says it has a blue tint when it comes out of her faucet, and lab results indicate it has high amounts of copper and lead. Her family hasn’t been drinking the water for some months, but they have been bathing in it, since they have no alternative.

The State of Michigan, under the direction of Governor Rick Snyder, tried to keep the story under wraps, and deny there was a problem, apparently even after they knew there was a serious problem. As late as September the state was still denying there was a problem with the water from the Flint river, and taking issue with the studies saying otherwise. Michigan Live wrote, “State says data shows no link to Flint River, elevated lead in blood“:

Angela Minicuci, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said blood lead levels in Flint have remained fairly steady for children under 16 years old since the city switched from Lake Huron water to the river.

However, while denying there was a problem, the governor’s office was secretly ordering filters be supplied to Flint.

Professor Marc Edwards from Virginia Tech University says the reason the state was still denying the link could be that they altered data from samples. CNN reports in “Did Michigan officials hide the truth about lead in Flint?

Documents and emails show discrepancies between two reports detailing the toxicity of lead samples collected by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the city of Flint between January and June 2015, Professor Marc Edwards from Virginia Tech University said.

… According to Edwards, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the city of Flint collected 71 lead level samples from homes when they were required to collect 100. The final report from the Department of Environmental Quality however, only accounted for 69 of those 71 samples.

Edwards said those two discarded samples were “high-lead” and would have lifted the “action level” above 15 parts per billion.

But wait, there’s more,

Edwards said the samples should have been taken from homes with lead pipes. The reports say they were, but Michael Glasgow, then-assistant supervisor of the Flint water plant, said this is not true. Glasgow told CNN the records were not complete, and the sampling teams did not know which homes had lead pipes.

“In essence, the state took an ‘F-grade’ for Flint water’s report on lead and made it into an ‘A-grade,'” Edwards told CNN.

But wait, there’s more,

The memo notes that residents were instructed to “pre-flush” taps before samples were taken, a practice that has been shown “to result in the minimization of lead capture and significant underestimation of lead levels.”

Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality notified the city on June 25, 2015 that they had found high lead levels in some of the samples. It was after that notification that the samples changed, and showed no more lead.

Now Legionnaire’s Disease, Too

On top of the lead crisis, Legionnaire’s disease is breaking out in Flint, also apparently a consequence of the problems with Flint’s water. So far 87 cases of Legionnaire’s Disease, 10 of them fatal, have turned up.

Federal Emergency

Saturday President Obama declared a federal emergency in Flint. This means the federal government, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other agencies can start to help the people there. FEMA will provide water, filters and cartridges and other items, up to $5 million. However, he did not declare Flint and its county, Genesee, to be disaster areas, which would bring additional funds and assistance, because that status has always been used for natural disasters rather than man-made (in this case we should say Republican-made) ones.

This crisis is terrible news for Flint. It comes as Flint was entering a period of revival. The University of Michigan had opened dormitories for its Flint campus and the result was new restaurants and shops springing up. Housing prices were finally stabilizing and increasing.

What Must Be Done

Michael Moore wrote a public letter to President Obama (with a petition, click through) asking for President Obama to provide federal assistance:

● The CDC here at once to truly assess all of the disease and damage that has been forced upon the people of Flint.

● FEMA has to supply large water containers in every home in Flint — and they must be filled by water trucks until the new infrastructure is resolved.

● The EPA must take over matters from the State (can the governor be removed and replaced like he did to the mayor of Flint?). Immediately.

● You must send in the Army Corps of Engineers to build that new water infrastructure. Otherwise, you might as well just evacuate all the people from Flint and move them to a white city that has clean drinking water — and where this would never happen.

The people in Flint are going to need complete health evaluations and care for any problems that show up. But this is also a long-term public health crisis. People will need evaluation and care for years.

Flint’s children that have been affected are going to need special teaching and other assistance, as well as other help for the rest of their lives.

Rachel Maddow

The reason this story has come to the attention of the nation is because Rachel Maddow has been pounding on it and making people listen. Here are links to some of the segments Maddow has shown. (If you only watch one, watch this one.)

● Dec. 15, 2015 Lead-poisoned children prompt emergency declaration from mayor

● Dec. 18, 2015, Kids’ toxic test results raised alarm over water supply: Doctor

● Dec. 19, 2015, Flint toxic water tragedy points directly to Michigan Gov. Snyder

● Dec 22, 2015, Snyder admin allowed Flint to drink toxic water despite warnings

● Dec. 23, 2015, Flint community scrambles to cope with state’s water error

● Dec. 29, 2015, Michigan governor apologizes for Flint water

● Jan. 4, 2016, New calls for federal probe of Snyder admin in Flint water fiasco

● Jan. 6, 2016, Flint water concerns ‘blown off’ by state: Snyder staffer e-mail

● Jan. 7, 2016, Water donations run dry in Flint, no action from Governor Snyder

● Jan. 11, 2016, Meager progress in Flint toxic water crisis by Michigan’s Snyder

● Jan. 13, 2016, Spike in cases of Legionnaires’ eyed for tie to Flint toxic water

● Jan. 15, 2015, Clinton chastises Snyder on Flint, state calls for federal help

Other Resources

Listen to “Not Safe to Drink,” a special documentary about the Flint water crisis

● Daily Kos, Anatomy of a community poisoned: The water disaster in Flint, Michigan

How To Help

How to help Flint, Michigan

How you can help people in Flint during the water crisis

Ways to help Flint residents during water crisis

Bottles for the Babies

One more thing. Like a business, Flint is telling customers they still owe for the poisoned water. They are sending shut-off notices to residents telling them they will be cut off if they do not pay up.

Government is not a business. It shouldn’t be thought of as a business and especially not run like a business. Government is supposed to represent us, We the People, and help us have better lives. It should serve us, not profit off of us and disregard our lives.


This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary and/or for the Progress Breakfast.

Is The Sanders Campaign “Going Negative?

The Clinton campaign is accusing the Sanders campaign of “going negative.” It’s all over the news. Did Sanders really “go negative”? Or is this Clinton accusation just an attempt to “muddy the waters” as Clinton’s attacks on Sanders’ health care plans backfire?

In The News: Clinton Campaign Says Sanders “Going Negative”

The Clinton campaign has accused the Sanders campaign of “going negative.” Here are a few examples of what’s going on in the news:

ABC: Clinton Campaign Accuses Bernie Sanders of Breaking Pledge Not to Go ‘Negative’,

The Clinton campaign held an abruptly scheduled conference call with reporters this afternoon to respond to the ad.

“We were very surprised today to see that Bernie Sanders had launched a negative television advertisement against Hillary,” Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook said.

“This ad does something that Bernie said he wouldn’t do,” campaign pollster Joel Benenson added, referring to how the Vermont Senator has said he will not run negative campaign ads.

Similar story in The Guardian: Clinton campaign ‘surprised’ over Bernie Sanders’s new ‘negative’ TV ad

The Hill: Clinton campaign decries Sanders’s ‘negative ad’

What Are They All Talking About?

Here is what they’re talking about. The Sanders campaign is running this ad.

Negative? You might have to play that ad a few times to even get what the Clinton people are upset about. MSNBC explains what it is, in, New Sanders ad takes aim at Clinton’s Wall Street donors,

In what is by far his most toughest TV ad yet, Bernie Sanders took a not-so-subtle swipe at rival Hillary Clinton’s Wall Street donations in a new spot that will soon be broadcast in Iowa and New Hampshire.

“There are two Democratic visions for regulating Wall Street,” Sanders says, looking straight at the camera. “One says it’s okay to take millions from big banks and then tell them what to do.”

“My plan: break up the big banks, close the tax loopholes, and make them pay their fair share. Then we can expand health care to all and provide universal college education,” he continues. “Will they like me? No. Will they begin to play by the rules when I’m president? You better believe it.

The Clinton campaign is upset that the Sanders ad refers to the millions of dollars Clinton has received from Wall Street firms for “speaking fees” in the last several years.

That is the basis for the accusation that Sanders is “going negative.” The Clinton campaign is complaining that it is out-of-bounds to say Clinton has received millions of dollars in “speaking fees” from the companies she will be responsible for regulating if she becomes President. They are upset over the implication that this is a conflict of interest.

Clinton Healthcare Accusations Backfiring

These attacks on the Sanders campaign come just as an earlier attack appears to be backfiring. Over the last week the Clinton campaign has made a number of accusations over Sanders’ “Medicare-for-All” single-payer universal health care plan. Because it combines all current healthcare programs (Obamacare, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program known as “CHIP”, etc.) into a single Medicare-style plan they said it “dismantles” those programs. They said it will “strip millions and millions and millions of people off their health insurance.”

The Clinton campaign has even gone so far as to accuse Sanders of lying, saying Sanders “can’t level with the American people” about his healthcare plan because it means there will be taxes to pay for it even though almost all of the public will have more money in their pocket at the end of the day because it eliminates premiums, co-pays and deductibles, as well as ends the necessity for employers to provide health insurance.

The Clinton accusations appear to have backfired on Clinton because 81% of Democrats favor the idea (and 58% of the public-at-large). There is widespread outrage at the Clinton campaign for “attacking” an idea so favored by so many.

In a Thursday Clinton interview on the Rachel Maddow show, Maddow confronted Clinton on thsee accusations, saying, “He’s a very well respected figure. Your campaign is essentially fighting with him now in a way that is casting aspersions on his character, calling him dishonest.” Maddow pointed out the Clinton campaign has said Sanders “has not done what he has promised,” and “has shifted answers.”

Muddying The Waters?

In the middle of this controversy it appears that the Clinton campaign is trying to turn things around and “muddy the waters” by accusing the Sanders campaign of being the ones who are “going negative.” CNN sums it up, in Bernie Sanders grapples with promise not to go negative against Hillary Clinton

[A]s the race for the Democratic nomination gets tighter and nastier, Sanders’ campaign is confronting that promise when it considers how to respond to attacks from the Clinton campaign, walking the fine line between drawing contrasts with the former secretary of state and outright attacking her.

Old-Style Politics VS A New Politics Of Issues

The Sanders campaign has brought a new style of campaigning to our country’s politics. Sanders is campaigning entirely on issues. He refuses to play along with the corporate media’s politics-as-entertainment style of covering the “horse race” aspect of campaigns. He does not get involved with personality discussions, etc, always reverting to his “message.” This is winning him converts.

The Clinton campaign is a perfection of an older style of politics. They are raising tremendous amounts of campaign cash, they have a “SuperPAC” that is raising a tremendous amount more, they have built up a solid “machine” in the states, they are racking up “top-down” endorsements, and doing what they can to bring a sense of “inevitability” to her nomination.

These are contrasting styles, and it is not clear which is the best approach to winning a campaign in the modern United States with its entrenched corporate media fixated on entertainment-style coverage. The Clinton campaign might just be doing what it takes to win an election. This may be especially the case as the election draws near and the less-informed voters, with little time or inclination to study the many issues involved, look for the kinds of queues on who to trust and who will deliver.

On the other hand, we might be entering a new era when people are “fed up,” are paying more attention, studying the issues and seeing through the old-style manipulations that have defined our country’s political process for so long.

With the Republicans looking more and more like they are going to nominate Donald Trump, and with Ted Cruz running second it is vitally important to Democrats, the country and the world to win the November election.

So will that take the old-style politics, or will the new issues-oriented politics take over? We will see between now and November and we had better be right.


This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary and/or for the Progress Breakfast.

Clinton’s Pre-Iowa Assault On Sanders’ Medicare-For-All Plan

As the Iowa caucuses draw near and as Bernie Sanders closes in on Hillary Clinton in the polls, Clinton has started “attacking” (media word) Sanders’ proposals for providing universal health care through a Medicare-for-All plan.

The corporate media largely covers the horse-race aspect of this as an entertainment item. Here is a look at the substance of Clinton’s assertions.

Medicare For All

Sanders has proposed replacing “Obamacare,” the Affordable Care Act mandate to purchase insurance from private companies, with a Medicare-for-All, “single-payer,” “universal heath care” plan. In other words, he proposes to extend (and expand) the current Medicare system to cover every American so they can stop having to locate and purchase private insurance policies. Sanders’ plan would also end the need for other government health programs, including Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

Medicare for All is very popular, especially among Democrats. The December 2015 Kaiser Health Tracking poll found that 58 percent of Americans support it (34 percent strongly), with 81 percent of Democrats and 6 in 10 independents saying they favor the idea. “This is compared to 34 percent who say they oppose it, including 25 percent who strongly oppose it,” the poll said. Among Republicans, 63 percent say they oppose it.

Proposing Medicare for All is not just the right policy for the country, it is very smart politics.

Clinton Attacks

Clinton claims that Sanders’ plan would require a big tax hike. Politico reports this claim, in “Clinton hits Sanders on middle class tax hikes“:

“Bernie Sanders has called for a roughly 9-percent tax hike on middle-class families just to cover his health-care plan,” said Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon, referring to legislation Sanders introduced in 2013, “and simple math dictates he’ll need to tax workers even more to pay for the rest of his at least $18-20 trillion agenda. If you are truly concerned about raising incomes for middle-class families, the last thing you should do is cut their take-home pay right off the bat by raising their taxes.”

More recently, Clinton’s daughter Chelsea claimed that Sanders’ Medicare-for-All plan would “dismantle Medicare” and “strip millions and millions and millions of people off their health insurance.” (Clinton later stood by her daughter’s statement.) The Huffington Post reported:

“Sen. Sanders wants to dismantle Obamacare, dismantle the [Children’s Health Insurance Program], dismantle Medicare, and dismantle private insurance,” she said, according to an account from NBC News. “I worry if we give Republicans Democratic permission to do that, we’ll go back to an era – before we had the Affordable Care Act – that would strip millions and millions and millions of people off their health insurance.”

The Clinton campaign also said that Sanders’ plan would “send health insurance to the states, turning over your and my health insurance to governors” including Republican governors like Iowa’s Terry Branstad. “I don’t believe number one we should be starting over. We had enough of a fight to get to the Affordable Care Act. So I don’t want to rip it up and start over,” Clinton said.

Sanders Campaign’s Response

Sanders campaign spokeswoman Ariana Jones responded:

“It is time for the United States to join the rest of the industrialized world and provide health care as a right to every man, woman, and child. A Medicare-For-All plan will save the average middle-class family $5,000 a year. Further, the Clinton campaign is wrong. Our plan will be implemented in every state in the union regardless of who is governor.”

Sanders himself explained his health care plan and his strategic thinking behind it in an interview Wednesday with MSNBC’s Chris Hayes. The claim of $5,000 a year in savings for average middle-class families refers to the plan’s elimination of ever-increasing private insurance premiums, co-pays and deductibles that people currently have to pay under Obamacare. People would end up paying less and in many cases much less – an average of $5,000 each year. Companies would also no longer have to provide health insurance coverage for employees.

On the claim that Sanders’ has a “$18-20 trillion agenda,” switching to Medicare for All would replace the current costs of Medicaid, CHIP, Obamacare and other healthcare programs. Sanders’ plan would actually cost fewer trillions in the future than continuing the current system. The large “trillions” figure is misleading because it does not take into account the cost of the current system of Medicare for people over 65, Medicaid, CHIP, current Obamacare subsidies and other government health programs that would be replaced by Sanders’ plan. Left alone these would add up to more than Sanders’ plan.

Since Sanders’ plan also removes private-company profits from the system, this “Sanders agenda” amount is actually lower than the cost of continuing with the current system. (It also includes Sanders’ plans to repair the country’s infrastructure, cut college costs, and the rest of his proposals. Note that Sanders has outlined specific revenue sources to cover the costs of the proposals.)

The claim that Sanders’ plan would “strip millions and millions and millions of people off their health insurance” is perhaps the most misleading and disingenuous claim of all. People would not be “stripped” of their insurance; everyone would get Medicare instead so people would not need “insurance.” Clinton’s “strip” wording here implies that millions of people would lose health care, when in fact they would only lose the need to pay insurance premiums, co-pays and deductibles.


Sanders responded to this respectfully, saying, “As much as I admire Chelsea Clinton, she didn’t read the plan.”

Old-Style Politics

Clinton’s accusations over Sanders’ Medicare-for-All proposal are not based on the actual policy proposals. They misrepresent the positions and are misleading at best. Some call this “blatantly dishonest.”

“Muddying the waters” by implying that “millions and millions and millions” of people will be “stripped” of their insurance, when the proposal actually replaces insurance is the kind of politics-of-the-past that people have rejected, even come to despise. Telling people they will have to pay a “tax” when the proposal actually reduces the amounts people will pay out of their pocket is misleading at best.

These accusations come out of an old style of politicking that is void of substance and depends on manipulation of people’s understanding of issues. Misleading people by misrepresenting the policy positions in this way borders on a character attack instead of contrasting policy positions. It is a politics of personality versus the politics of issues that Sanders is popularizing.

Here is Clinton in 2008, talking about Democrats who attack proposals for universal health care, as Clinton has done to Sanders’ plan this year:


Sanders is campaigning on what the country should be doing. Clinton is now campaigning on why she should be president instead of on what she would do as president. She is trying to turn people against Sanders instead of winning them over to her. She is using misrepresentations and deceptions, not serious and constructive policy disputes. This should be rejected by voters.

Worse, misrepresenting Sanders’ positions in this way risks reinforcing voter apprehension about Clinton’s “trustability” as well as about the entire political process. At a time when voters crave honesty, Clinton’s attack reinforces arguments that Sanders offers an “authenticity” and consistency that Clinton does not. Clinton should return to offering policies to solve the country’s actual and important problems and stop trying to turn voters against opponents and the process itself.


This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary and/or for the Progress Breakfast.

Lack Of Public Options Shows How The Economy Gets Rigged Against Us

In a country with a Constitution beginning with the words, “We the People,” should our economy work for all of us instead of just a few of us? You would think it should work for We the People, but example after example shows how it is actually rigged to work for only a few people.

Postal Banking

Last week, in “Citizens Deliver 150K Petitions Demanding Postal Banking,” made the point: “We can continue to have a rigged system that enables and encourages predators to take advantage of the public, or we can offer public options that protect and provide services for the public.”

Here is a new video of the speakers at the Postal Banking petition delivery:


Nearly 28 percent of U.S. households (54 percent of African-American households) are forced to turn to payday lenders, check-cashers and other financial predators, because they can’t get accounts at private banks. Postal banking — having the post office offer simple savings accounts, bill paying, debit card and ATM services and small loans — would provide low-cost financial services through the nation’s 30,000 U.S. Post Offices.

Every other developed country has a postal banking option to serve their people. We do not. Because we do not, if Americans can’t get a bank account they are forced to rely on predatory services. That rigs the financial services game against We the People.

Health Care

If you need to see a doctor in England you just do, and you don’t have to pay to do it. Almost every other developed country provides health care to serve their people. We do not. We are instead on our own — forced to purchase private insurance with its high deductibles and co-pays.

We are banned by law from buying into Medicare until we are 65 — and Republicans are trying to get rid of that by turning Medicare into a limited voucher to buy private scam insurance. That rigs the health care game against We the People.


How about our internet service? Did you know that municipalities — or the Post Office — could offer us “public option” high-speed internet at a very low cost? (In many countries their Post Office offers internet and phone options to the people.) But by and large we don’t get a public option. Instead we have to rely on telecommunications monopolies who deliver slow broadband speeds and make us pay whatever they say we have to pay. (And don’t forget the fees!) This rigs the internet/telecommunications game against We the People.

Public Options Forbidden

We have been through decades of “privatization” – turning public services over to private enterprise. They lay off the well-paid, unionized public employees and hire people at minimum wage. This cuts the tax base, hits local businesses, and forces foreclosures. On top of that, minimum-age employees require public services like food stamps just to get by.

The privatizers justify that by saying that private businesses always do everything better than government. But if We the People decide that we want to provide ourselves with a public option for a service, this is banned because it would be “unfair competition” with the private sector.

Why would it be unfair competition? Because government offers economy of scale, public oversight of operations, transparency, higher standards, good service, and most of all doesn’t have to push all the gains to a few people at the top. This last is, by the way, the real reason for privatization — to push all the gains to a few people at the top.

Our government is meant to serve We the People, instead of just some people. When We the People are not allowed to offer each other public options, it rigs the economy against us and in favor of an already-wealthy few.


This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary and/or for the Progress Breakfast.

What Is This ‘Cadillac Tax’ Health Insurance Thingy?

You may have heard about the “Cadillac tax” health insurance thing. As with so much else involved with the health care/insurance discussion, policymakers have chosen wording that causes most people to tune out. Terms like “Cadillac tax” have little meaning to regular people because they convey very little information – or they evoke an image that masks its true impact.

When policymakers talk about a “Cadillac tax” on health insurance plans, what they are referring to is an upcoming tax on employers who provide really good health insurance plans that cover lots of things without requiring employees to pay large co-pays and deductibles when they get medical care. These plans cost more, so they are compared to luxury cars that cost more, hence “Cadillac.”

The tax was written into the Affordable Care Act with the consent of the Obama administration, which saw it as a way to limit federal government spending on health care reform. There are people who thing this tax is a good idea, and people who want the tax repealed.

Arguments In Favor Of The Tax

Those in favor of the tax are “market” economists who believe that people’s decisions, even about health care choices, are mostly driven by economic motives. They believe that people are “homo economicus” – a species of people who have good information and make rational decisions based on what will make them (or save them) the most money. These people are seen as “consumers” who respond to prices over other priorities in their lives.

They claim that with good health insurance, “consumers have little incentive to insist on cost-effective care and providers have little incentive to provide it.” The idea is that a tax on employers who offer good health insurance will benefit the country and:
1) create market forces that will reduce the country’s health care costs over time, and,
2) Translate as higher pay to employees because the employers are spending less on health insurance.

These economists believe that the better the health care plan, the more people will go to doctors and specialists when they don’t really have to. They believe people use high-cost medical procedures and drugs because they do not shop around for the lowest-priced alternatives. They believe that making people pay higher co-pays and/or deductibles and limiting which doctors they can see will cause them to “consume” less and stop “overutilizing” expensive medical care.

They say that setting high co-pays and deductibles, and limits on doctors, will make people put “skin in the game” and:

1) Stop knowingly using medical services needlessly. People know when they don’t really have to see a doctor but do so anyway because they don’t have to pay too much.
2) “Shop around” for the lowest-cost doctors (of those offered) when they do need medical care.
3) “Shop around” when a drug or procedure is needed, whether it’s for fixing a broken arm or treating cancer, and will choose the lowest-cost options.

The Argument For Repealing This Tax

That was the market economist side of the “Cadillac Tax” argument. They want the tax to take effect starting next year, as planned. The other side is people who want to repeal the tax. They want citizens to have more access to good health care, with low co-pays and low deductibles and a wide choice of doctors and care options.

On a conference call Thursday, Economic Policy Institute (EPI) Research Director Josh Bivens and Senior Economist Elise Gould outlined arguments against this tax. They explained that research (and basic common sense) shows that consumers are not equipped with information and knowledge that enables them to cut back only on unnecessary or ineffective care. In other words, people go to doctors to find out if they need medical care, because the doctors are the ones trained in medicine, not regular people.

With high deductibles and co-pays, people cut back on health care across the board. They don’t see a doctor when they need to, which can cause them to be sicker when they finally do see a doctor (which is more expensive and undoes the money-saving efforts) or just suffer, which should not be a policy goal (unless you are a conservative or a psychopath).

In EPI’s “Tax on Expensive Health Insurance Plans Could Cut Care Along With Costs,” Bivens and Gould write,

Evidence shows that making health care more expensive does induce people to consume less of it. But the same evidence shows that people do not cut back only on care that is ineffective or somehow luxurious; instead, they cut back across the board. Expecting sick Americans to decide on the fly in an opaque and uncompetitive marketplace what health care is cost-effective–and what is not–is an unrealistic and unfair approach to containing costs.

While overall costs may be pushed down by the excise tax, this is a good outcome only if one believes that the health care squeezed out is merely the ineffective kind. But a lot of welfare-improving care may also be a casualty, and for some patients, cutting back on medically indicated care because of the increased cost-sharing could increase their overall spending. For example: some patients who cut back on low-cost pills to contain cholesterol end up in emergency rooms.

Cutting utilization is also a limited cost-containment strategy…

One more thing: the market economists claim that employers will pass along savings from lower-cost plans to employees as higher pay. What is the fat chance of that? What world do they live in? World economicus? I mean, really.


This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary and/or for the Progress Breakfast.

Warning: Insurance Companies Scamming Obamacare Policyholders

Warning: If you have an insurance policy purchased at an Obamacare “exchange” last year and the price is going up you should shop around for a new one. If you just let the plan renew your insurance company might be screwing with you.

Don’t be fooled, prices are not going up much under Obamacare. If you go to the exchanges and shop around you’ll see that.

But if you just let your insurance company renew your existing policy they will scam you with a price increase as much as 20% — even more.

See How To Avoid Paying More For Obamacare Next Year.

Consumer advocates and Obamacare officials are urging the more than 7 million people who enrolled into health insurance for this year using one of the health insurance exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act to come back and look for a better deal.

… Why bother if you like your health plan? Because there’s a pretty good chance keeping your current policy will squeeze your budget, even though premiums nationwide are rising by a small amount on average.

[. . .] In 48 cities, the cost of the benchmark plan is actually going down next year by 0.2 percent before subsidies, according to data analyzed by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Also see Cost of Coverage Under Affordable Care Act to Increase in 2015,

“Consumers should shop around,” said Marilyn B. Tavenner, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which runs the federal insurance exchange serving three dozen states. “With new options available this year, they’re likely to find a better deal.” She asserted that the data showed that “the Affordable Care Act is working.”

Of course, if they had included a “public option” where you can just buy into Medicare, none of this would be happening. But We the People are not allowed to do that, because capitalism.

Republican Cuts Kill

‘Republican Cuts Kill,’ which was produced by the Agenda Project Action Fund, mixes disturbing footage of the Ebola outbreak—including images of body bags, hazmat suits, and corpses—with clips of Mitch McConnell, Pat Roberts, Rand Paul, and Republicans in some of the most competitive races around the country demanding more spending cuts. The demand for cuts is juxtaposed against testimony from top CDC and NIH officials detailing how budget cuts substantially hampered their ability to address the crisis.

Please support the mission of the Agenda Project Action Fund by clicking on the link and donating here!

Why Are Planes Leaving Liberia?

Dr. Tom Frieden, Director of the Centers for Disease Control, speaking on the newshour:

“We have two things in this country that they don’t have and they need in West Africa. One is good infection control in health care facilities so it doesn’t spread there. And the second is good, core, tried and true public health, find contacts, trace them, monitor them, if they’re sick isolate them. If you do those two things you can stop ebole.”

Exactly. We have that, they don’t. So why are people getting on airplanes there, in a country that does not have the ability to stop the spread of this disease?

Frieden says if flights are stopped more people will want to leave. I don’t get that. Imagine what happens when someone gets off a plane in … pick your poor country with poor infection control.

One thing he says — to keep safe we have to help stop the outbreak there. Of course.

What Are We All Supposed To Be Afraid Of This Week?

Is it still ISIS? It’s not Syria anymore … right … it’s the other side now.

Previous weeks’ scare stories: Children coming from Central America? Ebola? Black mobs playing “knockout game”? Remember the smallpox scare? Remember the fear during the “runup” to the Iraq war?

Remember that fear causes people to be more conservative.

For some perspective (before we start bombing someone) on things to be afraid of, tobacco kills more than 480,000 Americans each year. And you don’t have to be the one smoking to be hurt or killed by the smoke.

One More Complete Media Fail: Health Insurance “Deadline”

How many news stories have you seen telling people that the Obamacare “deadline” has passed? For example, this from AP,

The deadline has passed, and so too the surprise grace period, for signing up for health insurance as part of the nation’s health care law.

How can you avoid thinking, “Wow, I missed the ‘deadline’ and now I can’t get insurance!”?

Here’s the deal: You can still get insurance, it just won’t start on Jan. 1. That’s it. Big deal.

Yes, you haven’t been able to get insurance until now and you really want to be covered. Yes you wanted to start on the very first day. But don’t worry, you can still get insurance. And you may have heard that there is a penalty for not having insurance? This is how that works: If you are uninsured for 3 or more months in a year you have to pay a penalty of $95 this year, more in following years. So get your insurance by the end of March to avoid the penalty.

Don’t let stories like this trick you into thinking you missed out and can’t get insurance.