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Editor, The Konformist
18 veterans commit suicide each day
By Rick Maze - Staff writer
Monday Apr 26, 2010
Troubling new data show there are an average of 950 suicide attempts each month by veterans who are receiving some type of treatment from the Veterans Affairs Department.
Seven percent of the attempts are successful, and 11 percent of those who don't succeed on the first attempt try again within nine months.
The numbers, which come at a time when VA is strengthening its suicide prevention programs, show about 18 veteran suicides a day, about five by veterans who are receiving VA care.
Access to care appears to be a key factor, officials said, noting that once a veteran is inside the VA care program, screening programs are in place to identify those with problems, and special efforts are made to track those considered at high risk, such as monitoring whether they are keeping appointments.
A key part of the new data shows the suicide rate is lower for veterans aged 18 to 29 who are using VA health care services than those who are not. That leads VA officials to believe that about 250 lives have been saved each year as a result of VA treatment.
VA's suicide hotline has been receiving about 10,000 calls a month from current and former service members. The number is 1-800-273-8255. Service members and veterans should push 1 for veterans' services.
Dr. Janet Kemp, VA's national suicide prevention coordinator, credits the hotline with rescuing 7,000 veterans who were in the act of suicide in addition to referrals, counseling and other help.
Suicide attempts by Iraq and Afghanistan veterans remains a key area of concern. In fiscal 2009, which ended Sept. 30, there were 1,621 suicide attempts by men and 247 by women who served in Iraq or Afghanistan, with 94 men and four women dying.
In general, VA officials said, women attempt suicide more often, but men are more likely to succeed in the attempt, mainly because women use less lethal and less violent means while men are more likely to use firearms.
Suicide attempts among veterans appear to follow those trends, officials said.
Great Quotes: Upton Sinclair
"Fascism is capitalism plus murder."
Socialism vs. Corporatism
By Ron Paul
Lately many have characterized this administration as socialist, or having strong socialist leanings. I differ with this characterization. This is not to say Mr. Obama believes in free-markets by any means. On the contrary, he has done and said much that demonstrates his fundamental misunderstanding and hostility towards the truly free market. But a closer, honest examination of his policies and actions in office reveals that, much like the previous administration, he is very much a corporatist. This in many ways can be more insidious and worse than being an outright socialist.
Socialism is a system where the government directly owns and manages businesses. Corporatism is a system where businesses are nominally in private hands, but are in fact controlled by the government. In a corporatist state, government officials often act in collusion with their favored business interests to design polices that give those interests a monopoly position, to the detriment of both competitors and consumers.
A careful examination of the policies pursued by the Obama administration and his allies in Congress shows that their agenda is corporatist. For example, the health care bill that recently passed does not establish a Canadian-style government-run single payer health care system. Instead, it relies on mandates forcing every American to purchase private health insurance or pay a fine. It also includes subsidies for low-income Americans and government-run health care "exchanges". Contrary to the claims of the proponents of the health care bill, large insurance and pharmaceutical companies were enthusiastic supporters of many provisions of this legislation because they knew in the end their bottom lines would be enriched by Obamacare.
Similarly, Obama's "cap-and-trade" legislation provides subsidies and specials privileges to large businesses that engage in "carbon trading." This is why large corporations, such as General Electric support cap-and-trade.
To call the President a corporatist is not to soft-pedal criticism of his administration. It is merely a more accurate description of the President's agenda.
When he is a called a socialist, the President and his defenders can easily deflect that charge by pointing out that the historical meaning of socialism is government ownership of industry; under the President's policies, industry remains in nominally private hands. Using the more accurate term -- corporatism -- forces the President to defend his policies that increase government control of private industries and expand de facto subsidies to big businesses. This also promotes the understanding that though the current system may not be pure socialism, neither is it free-market since government controls the private sector through taxes, regulations, and subsidies, and has done so for decades.
Using precise terms can prevent future statists from successfully blaming the inevitable failure of their programs on the remnants of the free market that are still allowed to exist. We must not allow the disastrous results of corporatism to be ascribed incorrectly to free market capitalism or used as a justification for more government expansion. Most importantly, we must learn what freedom really is and educate others on how infringements on our economic liberties caused our economic woes in the first place. Government is the problem; it cannot be the solution.
APRIL 26, 2010
About those lower insurance costs we promised...
When President Obama signed his health-care reform last month, he declared it will "lower costs for families and for businesses and for the federal government." So why, barely a month later, are Democrats scrambling to pass a new bill that would impose price controls on insurance?
In now-they-tell-us hearings on Tuesday, the Senate health committee debated a bill that would give states the power to reject premium increases that state regulators determine are "unreasonable." The White House proposed this just before the final Obama- Care scramble, but it couldn't be included because it violated the procedural rules that Democrats abused to pass the bill.
Some 27 states currently have some form of rate review in the individual and small-business markets, but they generally don't leverage it in a political way because insolvent insurers are expensive for states and bankruptcies limit consumer choices. One exception is Massachusetts: Governor Deval Patrick is now using this regulatory power to create de facto price controls and assail the state's insurers as cover for the explosive costs resulting from the ObamaCare prototype the Bay State passed in 2006.
National Democrats now want the power to do the same across the country, because they know how unrealistic their cost-control claims really are. Democrats are petrified they'll get the blame they deserve when insurance costs inevitably spike. So the purpose of this latest Senate bill is to have a pre-emptive political response on hand.
ObamaCare includes several new cost-driving mandates that take effect immediately, including expanding family coverage for children as old as 26 and banning consumer co-payments for preventive care. Democrats are bragging about these "benefits," but they aren't free and their cost will be built into premiums. And those are merely teasers for the many Washington-created dysfunctions that will soon distort insurance markets.
In Massachusetts, Mr. Patrick says his price-control sally will be followed by reviewing what doctors and hospitals chargeor in other words for price controls on the medical services that make up most health spending. ObamaCare will gradually move in the same direction.
Or maybe not so gradually, judging by the study released last last week by Richard Foster, the Obama Administration's Medicare actuary. Mr. Foster predicts net national health spending will increase by about 1% annually above the status quo that is already estimated to be $4.7 trillion in 2019. This is one more rebuke to the White House fantasy that a new entitlement will lower health costs.
"Although several provisions would help to reduce health care cost growth, their impact would be more than offset through 2019 by the higher health expenditures resulting from the coverage expansions," Mr. Foster writesand that's assuming everything goes according to plan. He considers it "plausible and even probable" that prices in the private market will rise as greater demand due to subsidized coverage runs into the relatively fixed supply of doctors and hospitals.
Most of ObamaCare's unrealistic "savings" come from cranking down the way Medicare calculates its price controls, and Mr. Foster writes that they'll grow "more slowly than, and in a way that was unrelated to, the providers' costs of furnishing services to beneficiaries." He expects that 15% of hospital budgets may be driven into deficits, thus "possibly jeopardizing access to care for beneficiaries." Isn't reform grand?
The official who will preside over this fiscal trainwreck is Donald Berwick, the Harvard professor and chief of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement who the White House has nominated to run Medicare. Dr. Berwick explained in an interview last year that the British National Health Service has "developed very good and very disciplined, scientifically grounded, policy-connected models for the evaluation of medical treatments from which we ought to learn." He added that "The decision is not whether or not we will ration carethe decision is whether we will ration with our eyes open. And right now, we are doing it blindly."
In fact, the real choice with medical care, as with any good or service, is between rationing via politics and bureaucratic lines or via a competitive market and prices. As Democrats are showing by trying to pass a new insurance bill, they want all U.S. health care to function like price-controlled Medicare. Dr. Berwick's job as the country's largest purchaser of health care will be to find ways to offset the higher insurance and medical costs that ObamaCare's subsidies and mandates will cause, which will inevitably mean political rationing of care.
In a 17-minute, 2,600-word answer to a question about tax increases in Charlotte, North Carolina earlier this month, Mr. Obama mentioned that "what we've done is we've embedded in how Medicare reimburses, how Medicaid reimburses, all these ideas to actually reduce the costs of care." The embedding via price controls is already underway.
The right court fight
By E.J. Dionne Jr.
Monday, April 26, 2010
The genius of American conservatives over the past 30 years has been their understanding that the most effective way to change the country is to change the terms of our political debate. On issue after issue, they have done just that.
Sensible regulation was cast as a dangerous quest for government control. Modest measures to alleviate poverty became schemes to lock the poor into "dependency." Advocates of social insurance were condemned as socialists. Government was said to be under the sway of a distant "them," even though in a democracy, government is the realm of "us." And attempts to achieve a bit more economic equality were pronounced as assaults on liberty.
Nowhere has the conservative intellectual offensive been more effective than in transforming our discussion of the judiciary. That is why the coming clash over President Obama's next Supreme Court nominee is so important.
The test of success for liberals should not simply be winning the confirmation battle. This fight must be the beginning of a long-term effort to expose how radically conservatives have altered our understanding of what the Supreme Court does and how it does it.
Above all, it should become clear that the danger of judicial activism now comes from the right, not the left. It is conservatives, not liberals, who are using the courts to overturn the decisions made by democratically elected bodies in areas such as pay discrimination, school integration, antitrust laws and worker safety regulation.
If anyone doubted that the Supreme Court's current conservative majority wants to impose its view no matter what Congress or state legislatures decide -- or what earlier precedents held -- its decision in the Citizens United case should end all qualms.
In granting corporations an essentially unlimited right to spend money to influence the outcome of elections, that ruling defied decades of legal precedents and congressional enactments. The non-elected branch of government decided it didn't like existing legislation, so it legislated on its own.
Justice John Paul Stevens, whose retirement will open up a seat on the court, offered one of the finest dissents of a distinguished career when he noted that to arrive at the result it did, the court majority not only violated precedent but also had to reach beyond the case at hand to do so.
"Essentially, five Justices were unhappy with the limited nature of the case before us, so they changed the case to give themselves an opportunity to change the law," Stevens wrote. Now that is judicial activism.
Stevens added: "In a democratic society, the longstanding consensus on the need to limit corporate campaign spending should outweigh the wooden application of judge-made rules." Citizens United is an extreme case of a general tendency: Conservative judges are regularly invoking their alleged fealty to the "original" intentions of the Founders as a battering ram against attempts to limit the power of large corporations. Such entities were not even in the imaginations of those who wrote the Constitution. To claim to know what the Founders would have made of Exxon Mobil or Goldman Sachs or PepsiCo is an exercise in arrogance.
What liberals forgot during the years when their side dominated the judiciary is that for much of our history, the courts have played a conservative role. But today's conservatives have not forgotten this legacy. Their goal is to overturn the past 70 years of judicial understandings and bring us back to a time when courts voided minimum-wage laws and all manner of other economic regulations.
In his eerily relevant new book on the struggle between Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Supreme Court, "Supreme Power," Jeff Shesol reminds us that the conservatives of that day were "imbued with a sense that they were saving civilization from Bolsheviks, collectivists and other sundry radicals." One suspects that the current conservative court majority has a similar view of its mission.
So this time around, let's have a new court debate that focuses on more than just where a nominee stands on Roe v. Wade. Let's remember that the truly "elitist" judges are the ones who protect the privileges of the powerful over the right of Congress to legislate on behalf of workers, consumers and the environment. Let's ignore the claims of conservatives that they are opposed to "legislating from the bench," since it's their judges who are now doing the legislating. If liberals can't successfully challenge conservatives on first principles, they'll never win the fights that matter.
EU/IMF want tougher Greek austerity for deal - union
Wed, Apr 28 2010
* Proposals target bonuses, some worth a month's pay
* Hikes to VAT, excise taxes, also under discussion
* EU/IMF deal expected to be finalised within days
By Lefteris Papadimas and Dina Kyriakidou
ATHENS, April 29 (Reuters) - Greece will impose steeper salary cuts and new austerity measures to clinch a three-year, multi-billion euro aid deal and avoid default, union officials said on Thursday, vowing protests.
Prime Minister George Papandreou met unions to discuss the European Union and International Monetary Fund bailout, expected to be finalised within days, to prepare the ground for what are set to be unpopular measures.
"We realised we stand before a done deal," said Ilias Iliopoulos, secretary general of the ADEDY public sector union after the meeting. "This will acutely burden people, and what is worse, unfairly."
Unionists said Papandreou told them measures requested by the EU/IMF team include abolishing Christmas and Easter bonuses together worth two months' pay, a rise in VAT and other steps to cut the budget deficit by 10 percent of GDP in 2010 and 2011.
"They want Greece to cut the deficit by 10 percentage points in 2010 and 2011 ... so that Greece can go back and borrow on markets in the third year of the programme," said one union official who requested anonymity.
Revelations in October by the new socialist government that the budget deficit was much bigger than expected launched Greece into a debt crisis that is threatening global markets.
The initial 12.7 percent deficit of gross domestic product for 2009 was revised to 13.6 percent last month, undermining Greek targets to bring the gap below 3 percent of GDP by 2012 by cutting it to 8.7 percent in 2010 and 5.6 percent in 2011.
Investors are closely watching the talks for details on whether the aid will start in time for Greece to refinance an 8.5 billion euro bond coming due on May 19 and if the deal will be big enough to handle Athens' 300 billion euro debt pile.
Greek bond interest rates have hit record highs as a result of the crisis, making borrowing on markets prohibitive.
The euro zone member state has already cut public sector wages, hiked taxes, frozen pensions and taken other steps to cut the deficit by around a third this year, despite widespread opposition from Greeks.
Sources close to the talks said earlier on Thursday the measures being discussed include hiking Value Added Tax by 2-4 percentage points from 21 percent currently, and a rise of at least 10 percent on fuel, tobacco and alcohol taxes.
"All these are on the table," said one of the sources, who requested anonymity. "They are not final yet."
Union officials said a three-year public sector wage freeze was also being discussed.
The elimination of Christmas and Easter bonuses, the equivalent to 13th and 14th monthly salaries, would mean an additional 10 percent cut in public sector base salaries over an already agreed 4 percent cut, saving the state about 1.4 billion euros a year.
"The talks are tough," government spokesman George Petalotis told reporters. "No one can guarantee anything, we know how difficult the country's situation is."
In Brussels, Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn said the EU should complete talks with Greece "within days" on a financial aid package, conditional on Greece cutting its deficit. He gave no details of the package.
On Wednesday, Germany's Green party parliamentary leader cited IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn as saying the aid package would be worth 100-120 billion euros ($133-160 billion) over three years, with 45 billion euros expected in the first year.
Cuts were also aimed at Greece's system of public wage allowances, which often include generous extra pay for activities such as using computers or getting to work on time.
These are primarily meant to keep base salaries and pensions low, and a 5-15 percent cut could save the state about 300 million euros a year.
More measures are bound to meet resistance. Opinion polls show a majority of Greeks oppose outside aid and expect the rescue package to hit living standards. Unions have pledged strikes and many analysts fear violent protests come autumn.
"It's a disaster! The government has crossed the line," said Despina Spanou, a member of the public sector union ADEDY board. "We can't live this way. We will fight these measures with all our might, because this is a battle for survival."
(Additional reporting by Renee Maltezou; writing by Dina Kyriakidou; editing by Stephen Nisbet)