Tuesday, June 30, 2009

We Must Stop the Rampant Fraud in the Health Care Industry

Sen. Bernie Sanders
Independent U.S. Senator from Vermont

As a member of the Senate health committee, one of two Senate panels dealing with health care reform, it has become apparent to me that real health care reform must address the billions of dollars in fraud and abuse that comes from the major corporations in the health care industry.

What we have seen over the last several decades is the systemic fraud perpetrated by private insurance companies, private drug companies, and private for-profit hospitals ripping off the American people and the taxpayers of this country to the tune of many billions of dollars.

The rampant fraud is another reason why our current health care system, dominated by private insurance companies, is the most costly, wasteful, complicated and bureaucratic in the world. Its function is not to provide quality health care, but to make huge profits for those who own the companies. With 1,300 private insurance companies and thousands of different health benefit programs designed to maximize profits, our country spends an incredible 30 percent of each health care dollar on administration and billing, exorbitant CEO compensation packages, advertising, lobbying and campaign contributions. Public programs like Medicare, Medicaid and the VA are administered for much less.

In recent years, not only have we seen massive fraud by the health care industry, but we also have been paying for a huge increase in health care bureaucrats and bill collectors. Over the last three decades, the number of administrative personnel has grown by 25 times the number of physicians. Doctors and nurses in Vermont have described to me in painful detail the amount of time and money they are forced to waste negotiating with insurance companies about how they can treat their patients.

Not surprisingly, while health care costs are soaring, so are the profits of private health insurance companies. From 2003 to 2007, the combined profits of the nation's major health insurance companies increased by 170 percent. And the top executives in the industry are receiving lavish compensation packages -- averaging $14.2 million for the top seven companies.

On top of all of this, a review of court records and other public documents shows that billions more dollars are being lost to fraud and outright corruption. Importantly, this is not the case of "one bad player" acting illegally. This is a situation where fraud appears to me part of the normal business model. It is the rule and not the exception.

There is example after example indicating that virtually all of the major pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies and private hospital chains have been involved in massive health care fraud over the past decade.

Health and Human Services Department investigators earlier this year found that 80 percent of insurance companies participating in the Medicare prescription drug benefit overcharged subscribers and taxpayers by an estimated $4.4 billion.

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The evidence is overwhelming that we must end the for-profit private insurance company domination of health care in our country and move toward a publicly-funded, single-payer Medicare for All system. ~ Sen. Bernie Sanders

Sunday, June 21, 2009


Warmest Greetings

Thich Nhat Hanh is an amazing human being. Whether reflecting on my own heart, the heart of others, or the heart of our nation and beyond, I find the deep wisdom of Thich Nhat Hanh a source of great inspiration. I recently heard him interviewed on NPR, which moves me today to post something by this great teacher. As many of you know, Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, teacher, author, poet and peace activist who was nominated by Martin Luther King, Jr. for the 1967 Nobel Peace Prize. The following transcription is of Thich Nhat Hanh's introductory talk and the initial Proposal to Listen For Peace and Security. The talk was made September 2002 at Naropa University's School of Extended Studies in Boulder, Colorado. I see this talk as continuing to have great wisdom and relevance to where we find ourselves today.

Peace ~ Molly

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Thich Nhat Hahn

In the past three years we have sponsored many groups of Palestinians and Israelis to come to Plum Village, to practice with us. All of them have big pain and suffering within. Most of them did not know how to breathe, recognize and embrace the fear, the anger, the frustration, the despair in them.

They could not look at each other. They could not talk to each other, because their fear is huge, their anger is so huge. With Buddha Sangha supporting, they are able to breathe in and out, generating the energy of mindfulness and embrace tenderly their anger, their fear, their frustration.

They learned to breath with us. They learned to walk with us. They learned to sit down finally with us. They learned to eat mindfully, wash the dishes mindfully with us, and finally we helped them to practice, the practice of deep compassionate listening to the other group of people. And we helped the other group of people to practice gentle speech, loving speech, so that they can empty their heart. They came to express everything that is in their heart, their fear, their suffering, their anger and so on.

The practice is having an opportunity to speak out everything in your heart because you can get relief when you do so. But you should be trained to speak in such a way that the other group of people can listen and understand. Therefore calm, gentle speech must be learned.

It is very moving to be there and to listen to them, listening to each other and speaking to each other.

And after several sessions of deep compassionate listening, transformation took place. This group realized that the other group is made also of human beings and they have also suffered very deeply. They tell us how they suffer, how their children suffer, how they are victims of discrimination and fear and injustice.

The practice of gentle speaking, loving speech and deep listening have brought about wonderful results.

These Palestinians and Israeli's have become brothers and sisters to each other in the practice. And for the first time they said, for the first time, they believed peace in the Middle East is possible.


You cannot love, you cannot love unless you understand. You cannot be compassionate and accept the other person unless you understand him, her or them.

But understanding what? Understanding their suffering, their difficulties, their obstacles, their despair. Once you have understanding, your heart opens. The nectar of compassion springs up. And you don't suffer any more because compassion has been born in your heart.

And when you have compassion in your heart you can help the other person to suffer less. You are able to use gentle speech, loving speech. You are able to help him or her to remove the wrong perceptions. Because these wrong perceptions have led to anger, hatred and fear and a willingness to punish.

The purpose of mindfulness and concentration leads to insight. The practice of deep listing and loving speech helps to remove wrong understandings, wrong perceptions. Because wrong perceptions are the very ground of violence and terrorism.

You don't want to destroy them. You don't want to annihilate them as a people, as a nation, as a culture, as a religion, but they believe that you want to destroy them. And that is why they want to punish you, they want to destroy you, so you won't destroy them.

I was there when the event of September 11, happened.

On the 13th of September I gave a dharma talk in Berkeley for 4,000 people. I only said that violence cannot respond to violence, hatred cannot respond to hatred, only compassion can respond to hatred and violence.

It is my conviction that America is capable of being compassionate and understanding.

On the 25th of September again I spoke, in New York City. And I repeated, I brought the same kind of message. And I made a very concrete proposal for America so that American can overcome her suffering. And if America can overcome her suffering she can help others to overcome their suffering also.


And this is what I proposed. First America has to listen to her own suffering, because there is suffering in America. There are sections of the population who believe, who feel that they are victims of discrimination and injustice. There are sections of the population who feel that they have never been listened to, they have never been understood.

It is my conviction that in America there are those of you who are very capable of listening deeply and with compassion. We have to identify them. We have invite them to come and form a kind of council, kind of parliament for compassionate deep listening.

There is a vast resource of peace in America. We have to identify these resources. Especially the people who know. Who are capable of understanding with compassion. Who are capable of listening deeply with compassion. And after we have formed that council of sages we will invite the sections of the population who have felt they have been discriminated against.

We can invite them to come and will assure them they are safe. If they want to speak out they are safe, provided that they learn how to speak with gentle speech. That those of us who can come and help them to breath, to walk, to embrace their suffering so that they can express themselves peacefully, the suffering in their heart.

The way we do in Plum Village for our friends from the Middle East. We help them to breathe, to calm, to embrace their suffering and their fear and their anger. Sessions of deep compassionate listening like that can be televised to the whole population of America.

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Peace begins with each one of us. We recognize that the peace, well being, and safety of the people within the United States and the peace, well being and safety of rest of the world are inextricably interwoven. ~ Thich Nhat Hahn

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Speech President Obama Should Deliver… But Won't

by David Korten

David Korten's new book Agenda for a New Economy: From Phantom Wealth to Real Wealth outlines an agenda to bring into being a new economy—locally based, community oriented, and devoted to creating a better life for all, not simply increasing profits.

In this special pre-publication excerpt, Korten summarizes his version of the economic address to the nation he wishes Barack Obama were able to deliver.

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Barack Obama was elected to the U.S. presidency on a promise of change. Before his inauguration, indeed before his election, I drafted the following as my dream for the economic address he might deliver to the nation during his administration in fulfillment of the economic aspect of that promise. It is the New Economy agenda presented in the style of candidate Obama’s political rhetoric.

I suffer no illusion that he will deliver it. He has surrounded himself with advisers aligned with Wall Street interests in an effort to establish public confidence in his ability to restore order in the economy. Because there has been no discussion of any other option, to most people “restoring order” means restoring the status quo with the addition of a job-stimulus package, and that is most likely what he will try to do.

This speech presents the missing option—the program that a U.S. president must one day be able to announce and implement if there is to be any hope for our economic, social, and environmental future.

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It is interesting to note that the 200 richest people have more assets
than the 2 billion poorest. ~ David Korten

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Most Peaceful Nations On Earth

New Zealand is the world's most peaceful country,
according to a newly published global survey.

The South Pacific nation of four million people and 40 million sheep has knocked Iceland off its perch after violent demonstrations followed the collapse of Reykjavik's banking system.

The Global Peace Index, a report prepared for the Australia-based Institute for Economics and Peace in conjunction with the Economist Intelligence Unit, ranks 144 countries in a league table of peacefulness.

The index defines peace as "the absence of violence".

Twenty-three criteria on which the league table is compiled include political stability, risk of terrorism, murder rate, likelihood of violent demonstrations, respect for human rights, internal conflicts, arms imports and involvement in foreign wars.

It will be a source of quiet satisfaction for New Zealanders that Australia, their great rival across the Tasman Sea, managed to score only 19th place.

Nordic countries Denmark and Norway took their accustomed positions near the top of the table.

Britain, by comparison, was 35th, slightly higher than last year but one place below Botswana and one higher than Italy. Britain also ranks below most of the rest of Europe.

The United States came 83rd, dragged down by two foreign wars, a high prison population, and the wide availability of guns.

Its position did, however, mark a rise of six places, attributed to the number of years that have passed since 9/11 without suffering another terrorist attack.

Iraq was last for the third of the three years since the index was launched.

The report says the global economic recession and an increase in violent conflict and political instability around the planet took a toll on world peacefulness in 2008.

Clyde McConaghy of the Institute for Economics and Peace said: "Peace is a concrete aim that can be measured and valued, not just in social terms but in economic terms.

"There is a clear correlation between the economic crisis and the decline in peace."

In New Zealand, the report says last year's election of a Centre-Right government "with a strong popular mandate and a robust parliamentary majority" was a factor contributing to peacefulness.

Analysts also attribute the country's relative racial harmony in part to a now well-established institutional system for addressing historic Maori grievances.

Professor Kevin Clements, of Otago University in Dunedin, said: "The index is a pretty good reflection of countries people want to live in, because on bicultural issues and a variety of factors we are scoring well.

"If you look at the top 20, they are all small nations based on strong welfare principles, all with good and relatively uncorrupt governance."

Top 10 most peaceful nations:
1 New Zealand, 2 Denmark, 3 Norway, 4 Iceland, 5 Austria, 6 Sweden, 7 Japan, 8 Canada, 9= Finland, 9= Slovenia.

Ten least peaceful:
1 Iraq, 2 Afghanistan, 3 Somalia, 4 Israel, 5 Sudan, 6 Democratic Republic of the Congo, 7 Chad, 8 Pakistan, 9 Russia, 10 Zimbabwe.

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Responsibility does not only lie with the leaders of our countries or with those who have been appointed or elected to do a particular job. It lies with each of us individually. Peace, for example, starts within each one of us. When we have inner peace, we can be at peace with those around us.

When our community is in a state of peace, it can share that peace with neighboring communities, and so on. When we feel love and kindness towards others, it not only makes others feel loved and cared for, but it helps us also to develop inner happiness and peace. And there are ways in which we can consciously work to develop feelings of love and kindness. For some of us, the most effective way to do so is through religious practice. For others it may be non-religious practices. What is important is that we each make a sincere effort to take our responsibility for each other and for the natural environment we live in seriously.

~ H. H. Dalai Lama