Tax Day was approaching and the righties were out to denigrate government workers and government spending. Sarah Palin, former Governor of Alaska who quit her job in 2009, headlined a rally in Madison, Wisconsin, bought and paid for by the front-group Americans for Prosperity (AFP), but billed as a "grassroots" Tea Party event.
This week I received a Ridenhour Prize for my book, Deadly Spin. I'm honored to receive the award, especially in light of my fellow recipients: former Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin; the producers of a film called Budrus, about attempts to find non-violent solutions to the strife in the Middle East, and Thomas Drake, an National Security Agency contractor who blew the whistle on what he believed were corrupt practices. Past honorees have included Bill Moyers and Bob Herbert. Elite company.
It is always nice to be recognized for one's work. The prizes are supposed to honor those "who speak truth to power." But the honor is also ironically unfortunate. The need to write the book at all, to illustrate how selfish profit motives too frequently take precedence over the health care needs of real people, remains a tragedy. And sadly, that continues to be the case, even after so much has been revealed about the inner workings of insurance giants and even after a bruising political battle has been waged to change how health care is delivered in America. The fact is, I shouldn't have had to write the book. There shouldn't have to be an award for people who simply do what is simply right.
Many voters went to sleep in Wisconsin and thought they woke up in Florida on Friday after a "Republican activist" county clerk announced that she discovered an extra 14,315 votes in a hotly contested Supreme Court race. Not surprisingly, the votes went to the conservative candidate giving incumbent justice David Prosser a 7,500 vote lead over challenger Joanne Kloppenburg.
Now, let me say as I move to my conclusion that we've got to give ourselves to this struggle until the end. Nothing would be more tragic than to stop at this point, in Memphis. We've got to see it through. And when we have our march, you need to be there. Be concerned about your brother. You may not be on strike. But either we go up together, or we go down together. –- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in his last speech in Memphis
When Republicans talk about how the American health care system should be reformed, they typically mention two things: allowing insurance firms to sell policies across state lines, which I wrote about last week; and malpractice reform.
Newly-elected Republican governors, like Bill Haslam in Tennessee, are also pushing malpractice reform at the state level. They contend that such reform — favored by businesses and medical associations — would not only bring down the costs of health insurance premiums, it would also bring doctors flocking to their states to practice. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who is considering another run for the White House, has touted malpractice reform as one of the primary "solutions" he would pursue if elected president. He claimed during a GOP-sponsored panel last week that malpractice reform would nearly eliminate unnecessary care that results from all those tests doctors order and drugs they prescribe just because they fear being sued. "The cost of defensive medicine," he claimed, "is $800 million a year."
Since you likely don't pay as much attention to the behavior of insurance companies as I do, you probably are not aware that CIGNA, my last employer, was fined $600,000 by the North Carolina Department of Insurance earlier this week for, among other things, not charging its customers correctly.
It was the second largest fine ever levied by the state's regulators, the largest being a $1.8 million fine in 2003 against Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina for underpaying claims for emergency care. The news about the CIGNA fine was picked up by a few media outlets in the state, but not many, and it got almost no press coverage outside of the state. In addition to the fine CIGNA has been ordered to pay, the company will have to shell out several hundred thousand dollars in refunds to North Carolina employers whom regulators say were charged too much over a three-year period.
Wisconsin continues to spin out of control and a constitutional crisis looms as a judge this week again ordered Walker's administration to halt implementation of his bill stripping Wisconsin public workers of collective bargaining rights. Walker's team moved to publish the law in defiance of the court order last Friday night and began implementation of the bill on Saturday. These actions prompted an irate judge this week to clarify her previous standing order, making it "crystal clear" that "further implementation of the Act is enjoined."
MADISON--Is your underwear undermining your values? The new scrutiny of CEOs that has been ignited by the historic Wisconsin labor protests has turned up concerns close to home, very close to home--for the vast majority of people who wear underwear. To take a page from the ubiquitous Capitol One ad campaign, what's in your blue jeans? Is your underwear choice unwittingly paying the salary of a CEO who shares your values or who actively works against them?
William Cronon is a professor of history, geography and environmental studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is the prize winning author of many books such as Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England, which revolutionized the study of environmental history. He is known as a guy with such a deep and abiding love of Wisconsin and its traditions that he leads the "get to know us" bus tour of the state offered to new faculty each year. Glaciers, rocks and history are on his agenda; politics and cheese he leaves to fellow-Wisconsinite and Capital Times editor John Nichols.
But this mild-mannered professor kicked a hornet's nest this week with an op-ed in the New York Times on Governor Scott Walker, and the push back was immediate. The Wisconsin GOP is now demanding his emails.
Is the health care reform law a good deal for Americans, or is it so badly flawed that Congress should repeal it? Now that the measure is one year old -- President Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to law on March 23, 2010 -- I humbly suggest we attempt an unbiased assessment of what the law really means to us, and where we need to go from here.
To do that in a meaningful way, we must remind ourselves why reform was necessary in the first place. I believe the heated rhetoric we've been exposed to since the reform debate began has obscured the harsh realities of a health care system that failed to meet the needs of an ever-growing number of Americans.