Monday, August 31, 2009

Murky Waters

I used to have some respect for Senator Lisa Murkowski. Although she has had a (right of) centrist voting record she did seem to be more interested in having an honest and thorough take on issues. While there was a lot I didn’t agree with, it is the way politics should work. Things have changed since she has been elevated to a republican leadership position. I suppose she now has to engage in partisan politics to keep climbing that ladder, but it doesn’t serve the citizens of Alaska or of the US to engage in the tactics of fear, distortion, and outright lies as she did here in Soldotna on Saturday.

I do suggest that everyone visit the site, an independent organization that, well, checks the facts about various claims that both political parties make. Not surprisingly, Factcheck has been a bit busy refuting the misinformation about health care reform that the conservative media and the repubs have been spreading these past few months. They occasionally have caught President Obama stretching the truth too, but nowhere near the pace and toxicity of those from across the aisle and perpetuated by Murkowski.

About 400 folks showed up at the Soldotna Sports Center for Lisa Murkowski’s town hall meeting on Saturday. The Senator began with her observation of how polite the audiences have been in similar sessions around the state. With one exception, the crowd followed the rules set out – no interruptions and no shouting. There wasn’t a gun in sight, although one speaker did imply that an armed revolution was in the works.

Despite voting against letting a version of the bill out of her committee, Lisa said that she still had an open mind about health care reform, but aside from those words, the morning was more-or-less an opportunity to swiftboat health care reform and stifle any sort of meaningful debate.

The literature that was passed out was informative, but was slanted to lead the reader to one conclusion – that any sort of health care reform will break the bank and cut the level of care we have now. The first two charts demonstrated the exponential growth that the nation will spend on health care in general and government programs like Medicare if there were no reforms. So far, so good, these stats are not new; something has to be done. The population of the US is rapidly aging and no one argues the fact that health care costs, as high as they are now, will soon explode as the baby boomers become enfeebled.

The propaganda began on third graph that listed federal spending and the national debt. The stimulus, bailouts, TARP and cash for clunkers were highlighted as the big-ticket items, along with an estimate of the cost the proposed health care bill as the major contributors to the budget deficit. Absent from the list were the staggering costs of the Iraqi war, Homeland Security, the missile defense program (that doesn’t work), and the loss of revenue from the tax breaks given to the super rich. Upfront costs for the wars will exceed a trillion dollars by the end of this fiscal year – but that doesn’t include the costs of replenishing equipment, paying for health care of wounded veterans, paying the interest on the borrowing the money to fund the war. The estimates now are that by 2017,the wars will have cost $3.5 trillion dollars.

Using Murkowski’s estimates for the cost of health reform, for the price of Bush’s wars, we could have had complete coverage for all for the next 25 years without paying another dime. No wonder she left out that little detail.

The next section cherry-picked and out-of-context statements from the Congressional Budget Office about the costs implications of the health bill – federal spending will go up, the deficit will increase, some will lose their private coverage, and employers and small businesses will face higher taxes. Absent were quotes from the same office that noted that costs to individuals would go down, and that more people would be covered.

Another Murkowski graph takes issue with the estimate that 47 million Americans are uninsured. It grants that only 12 million of that 47 million cannot afford it. It claims that 6 million are eligible for a company sponsored plan, but haven’t purchased it (could it be that they too can’t afford it?), some 9 of those 47 million make over $75K/year (and implies that they can afford it, but are choosing not to?). Nearly 10 of the 47 million are already eligible for a government sponsored plan, but haven’t enrolled. Another 9 million are not citizens and may or may not be eligible. Of course, the implication is that these are illegals, but there are millions of legal aliens in the country that are entitled to receive services – think students, guest workers, refugees, legal immigrants and family members of citizens that have legally entered the country. This became an opening for the xenophobes in the audience and sure enough a person announced that the health bill covers illegals

Despite the very plain and clear language of the bill: Nothing in this bill shall allow federal payments for affordability credits on behalf of individuals who are not lawfully present in the US, Lisa agreed with the man who spoke. Lisa also completely ignored that current law already prohibits illegals from participating in government sponsored health programs. But Lisa chose to stir the crowd up and play into the fears and paranoia that so define too many of the residents of the Kenai.

As Murkowski answered questions, it removed any doubt that her mission, and the mission of republicans is to sabotage health reform. She kept saying that Obama was ramming this bill down our throats by insisting that we move forward with the bill this summer and fall. One attendee did point out that we’ve been trying to reform health care since Truman was president, so it really wasn’t like all of a sudden. Lisa owned up to the fact that unless some sort of deadline was put forth, probably nothing at all would be done –but that still didn’t change her tone or language.

Two of the random people chosen to ask questions told Lisa about their personal problems with the current system. One lady, a victim of a stroke, noted how difficult it was to see a new doctor as so many will no longer accept new medicare patients. She asked Lisa what she could do a she is not able to receive treatments for her condition. Lisa couldn’t/didn’t offer her any advice, but used the opportunity to deride Medicare and warn that this was in store for everyone if we went with the current bill. The other lady, a young mother, said that both she and her husband worked, but didn’t have health insurance. One of her children had severe allergies and that her family simply could not afford the medication. She spoke of the humiliation of being asked about payment before her child could be seen as she was holding her barely breathing kid. She asked Murkowski what she could do. Again, no actual answer from Murkowski. It took another person from the audience to stand up and tell the mother to see her after the meeting to let her know of the specific services available in the community.

We all know of how many of the local working families deal with these catastrophic medical costs – a spaghetti feed and a donation jar at the convenience store.

Let’s get this straight. Right now we have rationing of health care. If you are poor, if you are disabled, if you have a catastrophic illness, if you need long-term care, if you lost your job, or if you are elderly, there’s a good chance that you are not getting the treatment you need. Yet, Lisa, the republicans and the conservative media are telling us that the bill will ration health care. Of course, what they don’t say is that for 20 of the past 22 years, the Republicans have controlled congress and for 20 of the past 28 years, have had the presidency. It is because of their votes that Medicare and Medicaid have been underfunded. The only major health care bill passed during this time was the prescription drug provision that created a huge donut hole where retirees purchase prescription drug services and have minimal amounts and catastrophic costs covered, but leaves a huge gap in the middle that has to be paid out of pocket. The big winners have been the pharmaceutical industry. Has the public forgotten that the republican answer to health care reform has always been to cut services? But they are now pulling a tactic from the Democrats playbook and telling those who are easily frightened that these new reforms will cut services. Hmmm…only if republicans get their way.

Another person in the audience mentioned that essential services like fire and police protection are essentially a form of socialism. The public pays for it and we all receive services. The police and fire departments don’t ask you if you have insurance or how you are going to pay as they come around to help you out. The person said it just made sense to have that same sort of system for health care. Lisa responded by railing against the government bureaucracy – there’s no way that government could be more efficient than private industry. She must have forgotten about the Medicare Advantage program that Medicare contracts out to private business. Medicare Advantage offers the same care as Medicare. Oh, the cost? 14% more than Medicare.

This blog entry is way too long, but I have only given a brief overview of the meeting. What continues to be the most frightening is that the crowd – and that apparently would be the majority of the people in the central peninsula - have accepted as fact every lie and distortion the republicans and the conservative media have put out on this topic. I am not naïve and am quite aware that the Dems have done their share of propaganda too. As I said at the top of this blog, go to and check to see if those claims people are making really are true.

My own opinion is that we as individuals have caused a lot of our own problems. Many preventable illnesses have been brought around by our sedentary and gluttonous lifestyle. Why should my tax dollars go into treating those who smoke and now suffer from respiratory problems, heart disease and cancer? Diabetes and other debilitating illnesses can largely be prevented by diet and exercise. We all have a responsibility to live healthy. From there, why do we pay doctors by procedure? The more tests they perform, if needed or not, the more they make and the more the health industry makes and the more it costs us all.

As JFK said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” I would be willing to pay taxes for universal coverage for those who don’t smoke, stay within 15 % of their weight range, and exercise regularly. Aside from meeting the healthy lifestyle criteria, I think everyone who wants a national health policy needs to contribute to it – albeit on a sliding scale. I think those who volunteer for the military or Americorps or Peace Corps should have further reductions in costs. Full time students shouldn’t have to pay a dime. Anyone should be able to opt out and take care of your own insurance if that’s what you want. I think certain costs should be excluded – such as most cosmetic procedures (but including reconstructive costs for those disfigured by accidents and burns of course). Families should have up to two children covered for free, but then fees would kick in when families exceed that. After all, an increasing population is exacerbating the high costs of health. With all of that and with a restructuring of how we deliver services, it won’t solve all of the problems, but it would be a huge start and would add the notion of personal responsibility into the mix. Nothing more American than that.

And personally, I don’t want to end my life as a vegetable hooked up to obscene life-support mechanisms. Aside from the huge and wasted costs associated with it, don’t let the death panel scare tactics keep us from having discussions about dieing with dignity. How come the ‘Christian’ right wingers are so afraid of dieing a natural death? Are they having doubts about going to heaven? Maybe they have a good reason for they are Christian not by deed, only by cheap words. “JC is my personal savior, now can we get back to torturing, making war, polluting, cheating and imprisoning the poor and other such conservative values?” My mother, who has voted republican in every election and who has attended church religiously her whole life, and put her faith in action by volunteering at soup kitchens, put a death with dignity clause in her living will. She did this when she was in her 50s, well before this issue became such a scare tactic (she is in her late 80s and still with us). But we see how the radical right has made this a ‘moral’ issue with the Terri Schiavo case.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Town Hall With Sen. Murkowski

Lisa Murkowski will host a town-hall style meeting on health care this Saturday, Aug 29 from 10 AM-noon at the Soldotna Sports Center on K-Beach Road.

Murkowski released this statement on the meeting:

I have heard from thousands of Alaskans about the health care proposals currently being debated in Congress,” said Murkowski. “As a member of the Senate Health Committee, I voted against the Democrat bill that passed the committee last month. There were many problems with that bill, the biggest being the staggering cost – over $1 trillion dollars that would leave as many as 34 million people without coverage. Health care will be at the top of our agenda when Congress returns from recess in September and I want to meet with as many Alaskans as I can in August to hear their thoughts before returning to Washington.

What she doesn't address is the staggering costs of doing nothing - Medicare is facing a growing aging population, medicaid has been underfunded for years, and some 47 million Americans are currently without coverage. For those with insurance, we've seen copays grow and charges challenged.

A debate is needed and I just hope that this Saturday's debate is civil.

Ms. Murkowski rebuffed Sarah Palin's 'death panel' claim and called for all to stick to the facts. That's good advice, but as we all know you can spin anything by not only giving false information, but by conveniently leaving out information or by putting out misleading statements. Murkowski's opinion piece in the PC is an example.

She states that Medicare is broken - but leaves out that under the Bush Adminstration and the republican controlled congress (that she was a part of), they prohibited the government to negotiate for lower prices. In those 6 years, nothing was done to lower costs to taxpayers, but plenty was done to increase profits for private insurance companies. Murkowski notes that we don't buy a home without knowing the price. that's true, but it would sure be nice if that same sort of mentality went into questioning the need for the Iraq war which turned out to be a blank check for military industrials.

Let's hope we can avoid the socialism scares. If you are on medicare, medicaid, or a federal (including Lisa), state, borough or city employee, if you are a school district employee or a veteran or a native, you already receive some sort of 'socialized' medical coverage. If you are a taxpayer, you are already funding all of this and more. On the peninsula, taxpayers cover about $600,000 in unpaid/not covered medical bills for the 2 borough hospitals.

I encourage all those who intend to attend to do some homework beforehand. Get your news from more than one source. Learn the concern that the other side has. Paying for coverage IS a problem. Having millions without coverage is also unacceptable.

And how about walking or biking to the Sports Center? Do something healthy for yourself if you can. Just leaves your guns at home.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Politics not as Usual

It's good to see that there are challengers for every seat on the Soldotna City Council. Nels Anderson is running against Jim Stogsdill for Seat A, Brenda Hartman will attempt to oust the appointed Eugene Fowler for Seat B, former borough mayor Dale Bagley is taking on Jay Rohloff for Seat C and homesteader Peggy Mullen will try her luck against M. Scott McLane for Seat D.

Could it be that some SOLdotnans are not happy with the way the cemetery issue has been handled? I really don't know for sure, but certainly Dale and Peggy have been vocal proponents of the Redoubt site and of course, Jay R has been a leader in the Mooring on the River subdivision's NIMBY campaign against that location. Dr. Nels has long been involved in local politics as a former school board member and unsuccessful candidate for the state senate. I don't know Brenda at all. It will be interesting to see what issues will be brought up.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Time to Step Up

The deadline for becoming a candidate for the various borough and city offices and service area boards is this Monday, August 17. You can find out about how to file here.

It is good to see that Jane Stein is running for seat G on the Central Peninsula Hospital Board. This is the seat currently held by Norm Olson, an avowed racist and the anti-government former head of the Michigan Militia. As of today, Norm has not filed for the election.

If you have been following the SOLdotna Cemetery debacle, you might be interested that Jay Rohloff is the sole candidate for Seat C on the Soldotna City Council. Jay has been one the chief propagandists leading the fight against the Redoubt site. None of Jay's arguments have held up under any sort of rational light. If elected, Jay would represent those who promote their narrow, but well-connected and funded point of view over the wishes of the community.

So - if you are one of the 63% of the folks that voted for the Redoubt site for the cemetery, it's time to file for a seat on the council!

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Stars and Bars and Right Wing Conspiracies

Have you noticed the number of vehicles (mostly pickups) around town sporting confederate flags or decals? I don't quite know what to make of that - is it some sort of statement or just a bit of nostalgia for the ancestral homeland? If it's a statement, get over it. The civil war ended almost 150 years ago and it marked the beginning of the end of state supported oppression. Yes, it was about states' rights - but the one right that war was about was slavery, how can you be nostalgic for that? States' rights continues to be a rally cry for certain conservatives, but of course they only want states to have rights they agree with. If a state OKs gay marriage, tighter environmental laws and other such policies, those same conservatives are ready to pass federal legislation to take away those state rights.

I was enjoying some java at K-Bros the other day and at the next table there were some regulars (loudly) going on about the president and his attempt to reform health care. A few minutes of their conversation was devoted to their certainty that Obama was not born in the US (despite irrefutable evidence that he indeed was). Then a few minutes were consumed by hateful talk that linked the president to satanic/communist organizations. A couple (but not all) of people at this table made overtly racist comments. Some of the folks at the table regularly bring their bibles and I can't help but wonder how they then can tolerate so much hate. The thing is that none of their beliefs are at all accurate, and some are outright lies that are easily disproved by any sort of casual research. Their talk tends to feed upon itself and in the absence of another point of view to provide some checks and balances, it creates a hysteria that stymies the legitimate and needed debate of issues. Sarah Palin's recent Facebook post where she says the Obama health plan will have a death panel that decides who will receive care and who won't is an over-the-top example of the irresponsible propaganda that the radical right is using to scare those who are easily manipulated.

I am in no way suggesting that people shouldn't express their ideas - even if they are repulsive to me. Can a free country keep someone as extreme as Norm Olson (see related post) out of politics? I hope not, but I do hope that more balanced individuals then become motivated to get involved and refuse to let someone like him make decisions for the community.

New ideas need to be practical. Established practices need to be modified as new information comes to light. We all need to work together.

But with that said, I think it is important to stand in the place where you live and refuse to be intimidated and silenced by the voices of ignorance and hate.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Seward Highway Tragedy

Once again, an accident on the Seward Hwy around Turnagain Arm has claimed some lives. Once again the victims were from the central Kenai peninsula - two teens from Soldotna this time. Condolences to the family and friends of these young men.

The drive to and from Anchorage has always been a game of Russian roulette. Over the years the road has been widened and straightened. Passing lanes have been put in and additional troopers occasionally patrol this stretch. Time and several tons of money will be needed to widen the road and maybe create a divided highway in that section.

But the uncontrollable factor is the individual driver and how do you prevent someone from making an idiotic decision? Maybe passing in no-passing zones along certain areas should become a felony. Maybe have troopers arrest the unsafe passer on the spot and place offenders in the pokey. That might get the message through to folks.

Until something changes, the best bet is to drive defensively. Don't tailgate as you wait for a place to pass and then let the moron who tried to pass back in the traffic lane. Expect an on-coming car to be in your lane every time you come around a bend.

And just don't be in a hurry.

Redoubt Reporter 1 Year Anniversary

Congratulations to Jenny Neyman and the Redoubt Reporter for reaching the first year of publication. The Mouth of the Kenai presents some in-depth reporting - their multi-issue examination of the issues behind the SOLdotna cemetery offered a thorough examination of the history, personalities and politics behind the decisions that have been made.

If you haven't picked up a copy, they are free and available all around town (library, Kaladi Bros. etc)

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

ACT Won: A Peninsula Travesty

At last night's borough assembly meeting, upon reconsideration, the assembly defeated the measure that would have put the mayor vs manager style of government on the ballot this fall. Homer's Bill Smith was the swing vote, as he changed his mind from last month. He noted that no one from the public came to an assembly meeting and spoke in favor of having a borough manager over a strong mayor.

ACT, however, testifies at every borough assembly meeting held in Soldotna and their message is that they are the voice of the people of Kenai.

They sure as hell don't speak for me. Here's a sampling of some of their testimony.

Viki Pate has no trouble justifying ACT's flip-flop on this issue (remember, ACT was for having a manager before they were against it). She stated that when ACT was for it, it was because they wanted competent government. But when the assembly tried to move the issue to the ballot for people to actually decide for themselves, Pate accused the assembly of being fascists. Huh?!?

Fred Sturman attempts to come across as a folksy voice of reason but is full of unsubstantiated statistics to support his idea that borough needs to cut the budget. He never offers any specific cut options and is blind to pay raises Mayor Carey gave to his staff and the deficit spending budget Carey proposes. Fred offers the occasional verbal gems like last night's declaration that the 80s were so like the.....80s.

Debbie Holle Brown only speaks to the assembly when something is very dearly important to her - but she seems to have something to say about everything even when she has noting to say. Well, maybe she has something to say, but darn if I've been able to figure out exactly what that is. She usually tries to make her point by yapping on about something else and then as her 3 minutes are winding down, rushes to tie together the loose ends that she spun. Last night she even had the audacity to ask for "A special eduction IEP for testifying"so that people like her could ramble on forever. So, she spent about 2 minutes saying that she couldn't get her point across in 3 minutes. Geez, just stick to what is pertinent and maybe you could.

The angry Kasilof woman who sometimes is in too much of a hurry to put all of her clothes on is another example of those speaking as the voice of the Kenai. When I hear her rage, I wonder if there should be a metal detector at these meetings.

These folks have become the most powerful force on the Kenai - but just what are they promoting? Viki Pate would do away with all public schools, Fred Sturman would eliminate most all borough services. It's a mystery what Debbie Brown wants as she is not capable of articulating a clear thought. Those who have followed her political career when she was a member of the school board know that she doesn't know much of anything. And those whose nuts are about to slip off of the remaining threads of their sanity are easily manipulated. The Kenai is not immune to crazed gun-wielding whackos.

In other assembly news, the ordinance that would have put the sports dome on the ballot this fall was tabled after the group that brought the measure forward withdrew their support for now. Despite being tabled (and any attempt to bring it back would have to start the process anew), Debbie Brown and others spoke against it, maybe just to hear themselves talk. I don't think the ordinance would stand a chance to pass and I wouldn't support it because there are so many winter sports to enjoy here - why create an expensive artificial indoor environment in these days of high fuel costs. We are a northern state with tremendous winter sport opportunities.

Oh no, did I just agree with ACT on something?

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Pay Day at the Borough Building

One thing I don't get about Mayor Carey's support by ACT is Dave's generosity with the tax-payer's money when it comes to pay for staff. Both Hugh Chumley and Susan Wilcox pull in over $90K a year - in comparison, William's Chief of Staff, Tim Navarre, drew a salary in the $70K range. In addition, his Administrative assistant, draws a salary about $10K more than anyone in the borough that does a similar job.

How can ACT champion Mayor Dave as a fiscal conservative, while ignoring this administrative excess?

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