Thursday, April 29, 2010

Power9: 9 Habits of the World's Healthiest People

Power9: 9 Habits of the World's Healthiest People: "

Happy senior couple


The United States is facing a health crisis of unprecedented proportions: Two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese. Diabetes and heart disease rates are on the rise. For the first time in living history, the life expectancy of America’s children is less than that of their parents.

In other parts of the world, however, people are living longer, healthier lives. In certain areas known as Blue Zones, people tend to live well into their 90s and beyond while remaining mentally and physically vibrant. It’s no coincidence that people in these regions share several lifestyle traits.

The Blue Zones

  1. Sardinia, Italy: a mountain village where researchers encountered a 102-year-old man who hikes at least 6 miles a day.
  2. Okinawa, Japan: home to some of the world’s longest-lived people.
  3. Loma Linda, California: where a group of Seventh Day Adventists commonly live to 100 years old and enjoy more healthy years of life than the rest of the United States.
  4. Icaria, Greece: a tiny island with 20 percent lower rates of cancer, 50 percent lower rates of heart disease, and almost no dementia.
  5. Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica: where residents enjoy lower levels of obesity and longer lives than the rest of Costa Rica.

Dan Buettner, explorer and writer for National Geographic, has worked with longevity researchers to identify the habits that allow Blue Zone inhabitants to reach the age of 100 at ten times greater rates than most of the United States, while suffering a mere fraction the rate of heart disease and cancer as the rest of the world.

The key to living longer, fuller lives, says Buettner, is to create an environment of health. Science has determined that less than 25% of a person’s lifespan is determined by genes. The rest can be influenced by lifestyle factors.

Healthy Lifestyle Habits

Buettner and his team of researchers have identified nine lifestyle factors common among Blue Zone inhabitants, all of which are associated with an extra 3-6 years of quality life. The secret to vitality and longevity is incorporating these habits into your daily life. Adopting all nine of these habits — known as the Power9 — is not necessary to experience the benefits of increased health and longevity; according to Buettner, practicing just six of the Power9 will deliver 90% of the benefits. His book, The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest, provides practical guidelines for setting up your home, your social life, and your work place to help add more quality years to your life.

Surprisingly, only one of the Power9 deals with exercise, and a full third involve social factors. In fact, says Buettner, the single most important thing you can do is extend your life is to build your own “Right Tribe.” The world’s longest-lived people were either born into or choose to associate with the right people — those who provide emotional support and the motivation to engage in healthy activities. Research shows that if you surround yourself with people who are active and eat healthy foods, you are more likely to adopt these habits yourself.

The Power9

1. Move naturally

Find ways to move mindlessly and adopt a lifestyle that makes moving unavoidable. In many Blue Zones, walking is the main mode of transportation. People also engage in some sort of moderate daily activity such as gardening, walking, or playing with their children. Buettner believes that many Americans exercise too hard; our bodies were not made to withstand years of heavy pounding and high-intensity physical activity. Regular, low-intensity activity — doing something light every day — may be more beneficial. Focus on activities you enjoy — even something as seemingly simple as a daily walk can provide health benefits.

2. Know your purpose in life

Having a meaningful reason to get out of bed in the morning can help reduce stress and ward off disease. Studies show that people who retire early often see a decline in their health and even experience higher mortality rates than those who continue to work. If you enjoy your job, keep working as long as possible. Volunteer work and community service can also help provide a sense of purpose.

3. Downshift

People in Blue Zones typically have less stress in their lives. Look for ways to simplify your life: slow down, get plenty of rest, and take vacations. Try to punctuate your day with periods of calm, whether that means meditating, taking a relaxing bath, or carving out some time for yourself to engage in a hobby.

4. Follow the 80% Rule

As Americans, we’re used to eating until we’re full, but allowing yourself to feel hunger can actually be beneficial. A study involving mice revealed that the appetite-stimulating hormone ghrelin may help fight stress and depression. People in Blue Zones typically stop eating when they are 80% full. Buettner’s book and the Blue Zone web site provide advice on adopting healthier eating habits.

5. Eat a plant-based diet

People in Blue Zones don’t diet; they eat wisely. Blue Zone diets consist of large amounts of locally grown vegetables and less protein than the average American diet. Limit processed foods, meats, fats, and sweets as much as possible. Also drink plenty of fresh water and herbal teas. In Icaria, residents drink high levels of herbal teas that act as diuretics, lower blood pressure, and prevent heart disease.

6. Drink red wine

Red wine is high in powerful antioxidants that can help fight cancer, reduce inflammation, and lower cholesterol. In Sardinia, researchers found a red wine with the world’s highest-known levels of antioxidants. Drink red wine consistently and in moderation — a glass or two a day is recommended.

7. Belong to a healthy social network

Having a strong and supportive social system is key to reducing stress and living a healthy life. There is a biological link between social connection and how well our bodies function. Fifteen years ago, the average American had three good friends; that number is now down to two. Our increasingly wired society and busy lifestyles have made us more isolated, which can shave years off our lives. Make an effort to spend time with friends and nurture a face-to-face network instead of just connecting with people online. Proactively build friendships with people who practice healthy habits. Participating in social exercise groups or volunteering are great ways to meet healthy, like-minded individuals.

8. Have a belief system

Having some sort of faith system or spiritual practice has been shown to have health benefits. Participating in a belief system doesn’t have to mean organized religion: Okinawans believe in ancestral worship; yoga and meditation are also forms of non-religious spiritual practices. “People who feel their life is part of a larger plan and are guided by their spiritual values have stronger immune systems, lower blood pressure, a lower risk of heart attack and cancer, and heal faster and live longer,” says Harold G. Koenig, M.D., professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University Medical Center.

9. Put your family first

People in Blue Zones make family a priority and nurture supportive relationships with their loved ones. Studies have shown that the average working American parent spends just 19 minutes a day engaged in childcare. As you work on simplifying your routine, look for new, beneficial activities you can do with your children and extended family members. Complete a craft project together, get the family together for a bike ride, or involve the children in making dinner and choosing healthy foods for the family.

For more information, visit the Blue Zones web site, which features a Vitality Compass for gauging your current state of health and life expectancy.

This is a post from our sister blog, Healthy Theory. Visit Healthy Theory for more health tips and news.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Republicans up to their SOP Version 2 (Version 1 try to create fear)

Dems accuse GOP of 'lies' on bill

Posted: Thursday, April 22, 2010 1:59 PM by Mark Murray
Filed Under: , , ,

From NBC's Ken Strickland, Sarah Blackwill, and Mark Murray
Since the financial regulatory debate began, Democratic leaders have accused Republicans of misrepresenting the facts about their bill. But in a news conference today, Senate Democratic leaders turned up the heat with a video presentation of Republican "lies" and alleged mischaracterizations.

Majority Leader Harry Reid, and Sens. Dick Durbin and Chuck Schumer played clips showing Republican statements and speeches about the reform bill. One clip featured Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell saying that "this bill not only allows for taxpayer bailouts; it institutionalizes them."

Responded Durbin: "So if you listen to this comment by the minority leader of the United States Senate, you wonder if he's read the bill -- particularly if he's read the section between pages 110 and 295, which is entitled orderly liquidation authority. Liquidation. Liquidation is the end of the bank, not a bailout that it can continue in business."

Durbin continued, "No matter how many times the minority leader says endless bailout, the fact is the clear language of this legislation says just the opposite. What he's reading to us is not from the bill. It's from a memo prepared by [GOP pollster] Frank Luntz, prepared even before this bill was written."

Reid added: "The Republican leadership has so far decided to be against reform, to in effect kill reform. They're betting on failure again. They decided the best way to stop us from cleaning up Wall Street is by polluting the debate with myths and mischaracterizations."

And Schumer said: "On the health-care bill, we allowed too many lies to get out there without rebuttal, because we thought they were so obviously untrue. But we've learned our lesson. And the minute these things come out of the mouths of some of our Republican colleagues, we rebut them. And we rebut them again and again. And fortunately, these lies are not taking hold.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

A Practice That Will Soon Be Illegal

A Practice That Will Soon Be Illegal: "

Just yesterday, we read with great alarm a news report that WellPoint, one of the country’s largest health insurers, is routinely dropping coverage for women that are diagnosed with breast cancer.

These are the kinds of scenarios that motivated the President to work so long and so hard to pass health reform. And because of the health reform legislation passed last month, the worst excesses and abuses of the insurance industry – including what WellPoint is said to have done -- will soon be reined in by new tough consumer protections.

Yesterday, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius wrote a letter to WellPoint’s CEO urging her company to immediately end this harmful practice:

April 22, 2010

[To: Angela Braly, WellPoint]

Dear Ms. Braly:

I was surprised and disappointed to read media accounts indicating that WellPoint routinely rescinds health insurance coverage from women recently diagnosed with breast cancer. Today’s report from Reuters indicating that your company “has specifically targeted women with breast cancer for aggressive investigation with the intent to cancel their policies” is disturbing, and this practice is deplorable.

As you know, the practice described in this article will soon be illegal. The Affordable Care Act specifically prohibits insurance companies from rescinding policies, except in cases of fraud or intentional misrepresentation of material fact.

WellPoint should not wait to end the unconscionable practice of deliberately working to deny health insurance coverage to women diagnosed with breast cancer. I urge you to immediately cease these practices and abandon your efforts to rescind health insurance coverage from patients who need it most.

Breast cancer is the second-leading type of cancer among women, has touched millions of families, and will affect one in eight American women during their lifetime. This year alone, an estimated 192,000 American women will be diagnosed with breast cancer.

I hope you will consider these women and their families as you work to end this harmful practice.


Kathleen Sebelius
Dan Pfeiffer is White House Communications Director"

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Who Is Really Fighting for Perpetual Bailouts?

Who Is Really Fighting for Perpetual Bailouts?: "

As we noted earlier this week, the attacks from some quarters that the President’s Wall Street Reform proposal somehow opens the door to perpetual bailouts comes straight out of a now-infamous polling memo on how to defeat reform by pretending it doesn’t go far enough. A column from Paul Krugman in the New York Times today explains why this not only empty poll-driven rhetoric, but an absurd case of up-is-downism:

On Tuesday, Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, called for the abolition of municipal fire departments.

Firefighters, he declared, “won’t solve the problems that led to recent fires. They will make them worse.” The existence of fire departments, he went on, “not only allows for taxpayer-funded bailouts of burning buildings; it institutionalizes them.” He concluded, “The way to solve this problem is to let the people who make the mistakes that lead to fires pay for them. We won’t solve this problem until the biggest buildings are allowed to burn.”

O.K., I fibbed a bit. Mr. McConnell said almost everything I attributed to him, but he was talking about financial reform, not fire reform. In particular, he was objecting not to the existence of fire departments, but to legislation that would give the government the power to seize and restructure failing financial institutions.

But it amounts to the same thing.

If there is a position that supports perpetual bailouts, it is protecting the status quo, where without reform government will be forced to make the awful choice between helping banks and letting the economy collapse over and over again. That's what led financial reporter John Harwood to say that "Senator McConnell’s argument is a little silly when you look at the text of the bill." So let's do exactly that and leave no doubt about who is really fighting to prevent the need for any more bailouts:

1) “This bill not only allows for taxpayer-funded bailouts of Wall Street banks; it institutionalizes them.”

Incorrect: Under Chairman Dodd’s bill major failed financial firms will be sold off, broken apart, or otherwise liquidated; management will be fired, creditors will suffer losses, and shareholders will be wiped out. Wall Street, not taxpayers, will pay for any losses.

Chairman Dodd’s bill specifically prohibits the use of any funds for “bailing out” financial institutions. Under Chairman Dodd’s proposed resolution authority, large, interconnected financial firms facing insolvency would be sold off, broken apart, or otherwise liquidated over a limited time period. In that process, culpable management would be replaced, shareholders would suffer losses, and there will be clear authority to impose losses on unsecured creditors in accordance with the priority of claim provisions in the bill. . In addition, by requiring post-resolution assessments on the financial industry to recoup any losses, Chairman Dodd’s bill makes it absolutely clear that large financial firms – not taxpayers – would bear any costs associated with the resolution of a failed financial firm.

Must liquidate. Section 210(a)(1)(D) of the bill passed by the Senate Banking Committee (page 145, as modified by the Manager’s Amendment on page 54, line 16).

The Corporation shall, as receiver for a covered financial company, and subject to all legally enforceable and perfected security interests and all legally enforceable security entitlements in respect of assets held by the covered financial company, liquidate, and wind-up the affairs of a covered financial company, including taking steps to realize upon the assets of the covered financial company, in such manner as the Corporation deems appropriate, including through the sale of assets, the transfer of assets to a bridge financial company established under subsection (h), or the exercise of any other rights or privileges granted to the receiver under this section.

Mandatory terms and conditions--wipe out shareholders, fire management, creditors suffer losses; Section 206; Page 140, lines 3-19.

“In taking action under this title, the Corporation shall—

(1) determine that such action is necessary for purposes of the financial stability of the United States, and not for the purpose of preserving the covered financial company;

(2) ensure that the shareholders of a covered financial company do not receive payment until after all other claims and the Fund are fully paid;

(3) ensure that unsecured creditors bear losses in accordance with the priority of claim provisions in section 210; and

(4) ensure that management responsible for the failed condition of the covered financial company is removed (if such management has not already been removed at the time at which the Corporation is appointed receiver).”

Financial industry held responsible for any losses; subparagraph (C) of Section 210(o)(1); Page 280, line 8 to Page 281, line 2.

“(C) Additional Assessments. The Corporation shall charge one or more risk-based assessments in accordance with the provisions of subparagraph (E), if—

(i) the Fund falls below the target size after the initial capitalization period, in order to restore the Fund to the target size over a period of time determined by the Corporation;

(ii) the Corporation is appointed receiver for a covered financial company and the Fund incurs a loss during the initial capitalization period with respect to that covered financial company; or

(iii) such assessments are necessary to pay in full the obligations issued by the Corporation to the Secretary within 60 months of the date of issuance of such obligations.

2) “The bill gives the Federal Reserve enhanced emergency lending authority that is far too open to abuse.”

Incorrect: The Federal Reserve’s emergency lending authorities are restricted, not expanded, under Chairman Dodd’s bill.

Chairman Dodd’s bill eliminates the ability of the Federal Reserve to provide firm-specific assistance, requires prior approval from Treasury of any emergency lending program, and imposes strict congressional reporting requirements. Under Chairman Dodd’s bill, the Federal Reserve may not use its emergency authorities to aid failing financial firms, and those authorities will be subject to new approvals and significant reporting to Congress.

Chairman Dodd’s bill, in unequivocal terms, states that the Federal Reserve may not use its 13(3) lending authorities to “aid a failing financial company” and requires that the collateral received for any such emergency loans be of “sufficient quality to protect taxpayers from losses.” Failing firms will receive no protection from the emergency lending authorities of the Federal Reserve.

No aid to a failing financial firm; Section 1151; Page 1304, lines 1-8. “Such policies and procedures shall be designed to ensure that any emergency lending program or facility is for the purpose of providing liquidity to the financial system, and not to aid a failing financial company, and that the collateral for emergency loans is of sufficient quality to protect taxpayers from losses.”

Treasury approval prior to using emergency authorities; Section 1151; Page 1304, line 9-12. “The Board may not establish any program or facility under this paragraph without the prior approval of the Secretary of the Treasury.”
Enhanced congressional reporting requirements; Section 1151; Pages 1304, line 12 to 1308, line 17.

“The Board shall provide to the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs of the Senate and the Committee on Financial Services of the House of Representatives—

(i) not later than 7 days after providing any loan or other financial assistance under this paragraph, a report that includes—

(I) the justification for the exercise of authority to provide such assistance;

(II) the identity of the recipients of such assistance, subject to subparagraph (D);

(III) the date and amount of the assistance, and form in which the assistance was provided; and

(IV) the material terms of the assistance, including—

(aa) duration;

(bb) collateral pledged and the value thereof;

(cc) all interest, fees, and other revenue or items of value to be received in exchange for the assistance;

(dd) any requirements imposed on the recipient with respect to employee compensation,

19 distribution of dividends, or any other corporate decision in exchange for the assistance; and

(ee) the expected costs to the taxpayers of such assistance; and

(ii) once every 30 days, with respect to any outstanding loan or other financial assistance under this paragraph, written updates on—

(I) the value of collateral;

(II) the amount of interest, fees, and other revenue or items of value received in exchange for the assistance; and

(III) the expected or final cost to the taxpayers of such assistance.

(D)(i) The Board shall disclose, not later than 1 year after the date on which assistance was first received under the facility, unless the Board determines that such disclosure likely would reduce the effectiveness of the program or facility in addressing or mitigating the financial market disruptions, financial market conditions, or other unusual and exigent circumstances sought to be addressed or mitigated by the program or facility, or would otherwise have a significant effect on the economic or financial market conditions—

(I) the identity of the participants in an emergency lending program or facility commenced under this paragraph after the date of enactment of the Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010;

(II) the amounts borrowed by each participant in any such program or facility and

(III) identifying details concerning the assets or collateral held by, under, or in connection with such a program or facility within 1 year of the date on which assistance was first received under the program or facility.

(ii) If the Board determines not to make the disclosures required in clause (i) within 1 year of the date on which a participant first received under a program or facility, then the Board shall—

‘‘(I) provide to the Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs and the Committee on Financial Services a written report explaining the reasons for delaying the disclosures about such program or facility within 30 days of making such a determination; and

‘(II) provide to the Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs and the Committee on Financial Services each year thereafter a written report explaining the reasons for continuing to delay disclosure, until the disclosures are complete.

(iii) The disclosures required in clause (i) shall be made not later than 12 months after the effective date of the termination of the facility by the Board.

(iv) If the Board determines not to make the disclosures required in clause (i), then the Comptroller General shall issue a report to the Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs and the Committee on Financial Services evaluating whether that determination is reasonable.’’

3. “…the mere existence of this fund will ensure that it gets used. And one it’s used up, taxpayers will be asked to cover the balance. This is precisely the wrong approach.”

Incorrect. Under Chairman Dodd’s bill, FDIC and Treasury may only use the resolution authorities to protect the U.S. taxpayer from a financial crisis in connection with the failure of a major financial firm; and they have no authority to use the Orderly Liquidation Fund for any other purpose.

First, the bill provides no authority whatsoever for Treasury or the FDIC to expend funds from the Orderly Liquidation Fund, other than in exercising the resolution authority established in Title II of the bill – that is, only in connection with the resolution of a failed financial firm. There would be no reason and no authority to “use” the funds other than for their intended purpose.

Second, the bill mandates that financial firms be assessed fees to establish a $50 billion resolution fund. And the bill mandates that, if the costs of resolving a financial firm exceed that amount, the additional costs will be paid by additional fees assessed on the largest financial institutions so that Wall Street, not taxpayers, will pay the price of financial failure.

Use of Orderly Liquidation Fund is limited to winding down failed firms; Section 210(n)(1); Page 272, line 21 to Page 273, line 6.

“There is established in the Treasury of the United States a separate fund to be known as the ‘‘Orderly Liquidation Fund’’, which shall be available to the Corporation to carry out the authorities contained in this title, for the cost of actions authorized by this title, including the orderly liquidation of covered financial companies, payment of administrative expenses, the payment of principal and interest by the Corporation on obligations issued under paragraph (9), and the exercise of the authorities of the Corporation under this title.”

Fund amounts not needed for resolution can only be invested in U.S. Government securities; Section 210(n)(8); Page 274, line 21 to Page 275, line 4.

“(8) Investments.—At the request of the Corporation, the Secretary may invest such portion of amounts held in the Fund that are not, in the judgment of the Corporation, required to meet the current needs of the Corporation, in obligations of the United States having suitable maturities, as determined by the Corporation. The interest on and the proceeds from the sale or redemption of such obligations shall be credited to the Fund.”

Financial industry held responsible for the initial fund and any losses; subparagraphs (C) and (D) of Section 210(o)(1); Page 280, line 8 to page 281, line 2.

“(C) Additional Assessments. The Corporation shall charge one or more risk-based assessments in accordance with the provisions of subparagraph (E), if—

(i) the Fund falls below the target size after the initial capitalization period, in order to restore the Fund to the target size over a period of time determined by the Corporation;

(ii) the Corporation is appointed receiver for a covered financial company and the Fund incurs a loss during the initial capitalization period with respect to that covered financial company; or

(iii) such assessments are necessary to pay in full the obligations issued by the Corporation to the Secretary within 60 months of the date of issuance of such obligations.

Jen Psaki is Deputy Communications Director"

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Dennis A. Henigan: How Justice Stevens May Have Saved Our Gun Laws

Dennis A. Henigan: How Justice Stevens May Have Saved Our Gun Laws: "

As the nation contemplates Justice Stevens' impending retirement and its implications, all Americans concerned about the daily tragedy of American gun violence should pause to recognize their debt of gratitude to him for his penetrating dissent in District of Columbia v. Heller.

In Heller, Justice Stevens wrote for the dissenters from the Court's landmark 5-4 ruling recognizing, for the first time in our history, a Second Amendment right to possess guns for self-defense in the home. In so doing, Stevens brilliantly exposed the faux originalism and faux textualism of Justice Scalia's majority opinion, demonstrating that these oft-claimed 'neutral principles' of constitutional interpretation were, in Heller, a thin disguise for a deeply ideological reading of the Second Amendment.

For example, Stevens' dissent laid bare the artificiality of Justice Scalia's approach to the text, in which the meaning of the 'right of the people to keep and bear Arms' is determined before any consideration is given to the impact of the first thirteen words of the Amendment about 'a well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State.' This allows Scalia to assert the relevance of various 18th and 19th century examples of the phrases 'keep arms' and 'bear arms' denoting private conduct with guns unrelated to participation in a 'well regulated Militia.'
But, of course, the issue is not whether 'keep arms' or 'bear arms' could have a non-militia meaning in some conceivable context, but rather the meaning of the phrase 'keep and bear Arms' in the specific context of a provision referencing the importance of a 'well regulated Militia' to the 'security of a free State.' Justice Stevens carefully documents that 'bear Arms' had a predominately military meaning at the time of the Founding, and 'keep Arms' was a common phrase in state statutes specifying the duties of militiamen during the period. Thus, Justice Stevens shows that, taken in proper context, the Second Amendment right secured 'to the people a right to use and possess arms in conjunction with service in a well-regulated militia.'
Instead, the Scalia majority manages to conclude that the Second Amendment 'surely elevates above all other interests the right of law-abiding, responsible citizens to use arms in defense of hearth and home' in a text in which this interest is entirely hidden and in which the 'security of a free State,' not the security of 'hearth and home' is the only expressed purpose of the guarantee. 'The right the Court announces was not 'enshrined' in the Second Amendment by the Framers,' writes Justice Stevens. Rather, 'it is the product of today's law-changing decision.'
In addition to exposing the flaws in Scalia's version of original meaning, Justice Stevens' dissent spins out the dangerous implications of reading the Second Amendment to permit excessive second-guessing by courts of the considered judgments of elected officials on the regulation of guns to protect public safety. Justice Stevens warns that the Heller decision 'will surely give rise to a far more active judicial role in making vitally important national policy decisions than was envisioned at any time in the 18th, 19th, or 20th centuries,' expressing his fear that the District of Columbia's gun law struck down by the Court 'may well be just the first of an unknown number of dominoes to be knocked off the table.'

It seems reasonable to assume that this powerful warning from the dissenters was a primary reason for the extraordinary language in Justice Scalia's opinion offering reassurances about the limited effect of the Court's decision. This section of the majority opinion -- the now famous Part III -- effectively pulls the dominoes away from the edge of the table. The right to keep and bear arms, according to Scalia, 'was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.' Indeed, he adds, 'nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt' on a wide range of gun restrictions, including such categories as 'laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of firearms,' 'prohibitions on carrying concealed weapons,' and prohibitions on 'dangerous and unusual weapons,' a listing of 'presumptively lawful regulatory measures' that 'does not purport to be exhaustive.'

In the two years since Heller, the lower courts consistently have relied on this language to uphold all manner of federal gun laws as consistent with the new Heller right. The categories of 'presumptively lawful' regulations laid out in Heller so far have functioned as 'safe harbors' for existing laws. As UCLA Law Professor Adam Winkler has put it, 'The Heller case is a landmark decision that has not changed very much at all.' This result is a tribute to the impact of Justice Stevens' dissent.
Of course, if the Supreme Court decides, in the pending McDonald v. Chicago case, to incorporate the Second Amendment right as a restraint on the states, this will prompt an avalanche of additional legal challenges to state and local gun laws. But even if it endorses incorporation, and strikes down Chicago's handgun ban, it seems unlikely that the Court will say anything in McDonald to weaken the 'safe harbors' it constructed in response to Justice Stevens' dissent. Comments made during the McDonald argument indicate that those in the Heller majority remain sensitive to the charge of judicial activism, especially the suggestion by Justice Kennedy (the swing vote in Heller) that states should retain 'substantial latitude and ample authority to impose reasonable regulations' on firearms.

By putting the Heller majority on the defensive with his implicit charge of judicial activism, prompting the language of Part III, Justice Stevens may well have saved countless lifesaving gun laws against attack. For that, and for much more in his distinguished career as a jurist, we should all be grateful. And to President Obama, we should say -- send us more like John Paul Stevens.

For more information, see Dennis Henigan's Lethal Logic: Exploding the Myths that Paralyze American Gun Policy.


Rep. Barney Frank: A Key Part of Wall Street Reform Contains What the Republicans Want: Death Panels

Rep. Barney Frank: A Key Part of Wall Street Reform Contains What the Republicans Want: Death Panels: "

During the overheated debate on health insurance reform, the Republicans stated the bill would create death panels that would kill grandma. They made it up, of course, but now they are ignoring a key aspect of the House and Senate Wall Street reform bill proposed by Democrats: death panels to shut down failing financial institutions.

In fact, yesterday, Senator McConnell took to the Senate floor to say the following: 'We cannot allow endless taxpayer-funded bailouts for big Wall Street banks,'' McConnell said. 'The way to solve this problem is to let the people who make the mistakes pay for them. We won't solve this problem until the biggest banks are allowed to fail.''The House bill does just that. The bill creates a Financial Stability Oversight Board that will monitor the activities and practices of large financial institutions, but if they run into trouble the Board becomes a death panel. If a Wall Street bank or investment bank begins to fail, threatening the safety of the financial system, it will be put to death. End of story. Shareholders are wiped out, unsecured creditors are out of luck, management and every employee that is not required to shut down the company is fired. And even secured creditors may be required to take haircuts. The industry pays into a fund to put the institution to death, and this fund is only used to protect the system and our economy when the bank fails. Republicans just don't want to believe it: Under the Democratic plan, the taxpayer is not put on the hook. Not now, not ever. Taxpayer bailouts, like the one President Bush authorized, are over.
Senator McConnell and every Republican member of the House should know that the cost of doing nothing is more bailouts. Republicans had every opportunity during President Bush's two terms to regulate derivatives, rein in subprime lending, end 'too big to fail' financial institutions and restrict bank practices. Unfortunately for the American people, Republicans failed time and time again. The result: President Bush's bailouts.
In December, the House passed the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, legislation that will protect Main Street from the worst of Wall Street abuses after years of non-existent regulation and oversight by the Bush Administration and Congressional Republicans. Details on how the Democrats end bailouts and protect taxpayers can be found here.


just pay your taxes....

Tea Parties

On the right, a taxing myth-understanding

Tea Party types love to play victim, which has given rise to some ugly myths about who is and isn't paying taxes

AP/Gerald Herbert
Former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., speaks at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans on Saturday, April 10.

Journalists often look askance at politicians who opportunistically praise the wisdom and common sense of the voters. Granted, some office-seekers can be as obsequious as waiters at fancy French restaurants.

Reporters and pundits, however, can also be flatterers, rarely more so than on Tax Day, April 15. Perhaps because they, too, have spent the previous weekend digging through canceled checks for itemized deductions, many join the yearly lament about sky-high taxes and runaway government spending.

This season's caterwauling, however, has taken an even more self-pitying tone. The Associated Press ran a feature headlined, "Nearly half of U.S. households escape federal income tax." For them, the dreaded April 15 deadline "is simply somebody else's problem ... About 47 percent will pay no federal income taxes at all for 2009. Either their incomes were too low, or they qualified for enough credits, deductions and exemptions to eliminate their liability."

Paradoxically, this revelation set off weeping on the right. After campaigning for generations to slash tax rates, many conservatives now see themselves as victims. Washington Monthly's Steve Benen chronicled the lamentations: "Rob Thy Neighbor," headlined the Drudge Report, "Half of Households Pay No Fed Income Tax."

On Fox News, former GOP Sen. Rick Santorum explained that when "people feel like ... they're getting money out of the Treasury for nothing, then there's no end to the amount of government that people want."

Needless to say, we heard nothing like this when the government Santorum wanted invaded Iraq and Afghanistan on credit.

But Democrats hold the White House, so "fiscal restraint" is all the rage among Republicans. Some of it's not real subtle. One North West Arkansas Times columnist, for example, explains that black voters "share the collectivist, welfare-state vision of Obama because they are net recipients from rather than contributors to welfare state programs." In contrast, "middle-class whites suspect that they are the ones who will end up paying for Obama's governmental largesse."

Nothing racial about it, of course. Perish the thought! Reading it, one couldn't guess that more than 80 percent of Arkansas voters, hence the vast majority of the state's Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, Unemployment Insurance and Food Stamp recipients are as white as the buttocks the columnist inadvertently displayed.

But then hypocrisy and a determined refusal to think seriously about taxes and government spending characterize much of the U.S. electorate. Back to those households escaping income tax, for example: How many are retirees living on savings and Social Security? How many soldiers? Students? How many are unemployed amid the current recession, thus have no income to tax?

Notwithstanding Santorum's lament, it's also false to imply that households paying no income tax escape federal taxation altogether. Social Security and Medicare payroll deductions, for example, add up to a nonrefundable 15.3 percent -- a slightly higher rate than wealthy citizens pay on income from dividends and capital gains. Low-income earners, meanwhile, pay the same gasoline and sales taxes as everybody else.

Meanwhile, ever since the "Reagan Revolution" of story and song, income distribution in the United States has grown steadily more unequal. A graphic produced by the Institute for Policy Studies documents that in 2007 the bottom 50 percent of American taxpayers possessed a combined 2.5 percent of the wealth. They're scraping to get by. The top 1 percent, meanwhile, control 34 percent of the nation's wealth, the top 10 percent more than 70 percent altogether.

Meanwhile, the gap between the super-rich and everybody else grows ever wider. According to the same study, the top .01 percent of U.S. families currently enjoy an average income 976 times that of the bottom 90 percent; in 1928, a year before the Great Depression, the ratio was a mere 892-to-1. Political democracies are hard to sustain amid such economic inequality.

The Bush/Obama TARP bailout of Wall Street banks, while necessary to salvage the financial system in the short term, was yet another example of a large wealth transfer from middle-class taxpayers to the super-rich. They don't appear particularly grateful, do they?

Anyway, still worried about those low-income lucky stiffs who paid no income tax this year?

If so, then you must be a Tea Party member, a group of anti-tax activists like Tennessee GOP congressional candidate Stephen Fincher, a dedicated fiscal conservative who the Washington Post learned receives $200,000 in subsidies from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

A cheap shot? Then check out Bruce Bartlett's fascinating Forbes article "The Misinformed Tea Party Movement." Polled, most attending a Washington demonstration overestimated federal taxes by a factor of three.

Moreover, like most Americans, and virtually all Republicans, they opposed increased government spending in general. But when quizzed on particulars such as highways, defense, education and healthcare, they advocate more spending. On the three big deficit drivers -- Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security -- fewer than 10 percent of Americans advocate serious cuts.

So pay up, and count your blessings.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Weekly Address: Relief for the Middle Class at Tax Time

Weekly Address: Relief for the Middle Class at Tax Time: "

As April 15th approaches, the President discusses several of the tax breaks for middle class families he has signed into law. Find out more about the Making Work Pay tax credit, breaks for first-time homebuyers, rewards for making your home more energy efficient and more through our Tax Savings Tool.


Borrowing from our Children

Borrowing from our Children: "Last night I heard on television for the millionth time that our national debt is like borrowing from our children. Millions of viewers from around the country were probably nodding their heads in agreement. That saying has been around so long that we accept it as a simple statement of fact.

But are we borrowing from our children or investing in them? Suppose we decide to stop spending money so our children will have lots of money for themselves. That would be generous of us, right?

I don't think so.

I think future generations might like to have most of the things we're investing in, such as infrastructure, healthcare, schools, a clean environment, energy sources, and freedom, to name just a few. No one wants to inherit a country full of sickly, uneducated hobos, on the verge of being conquered by Cuba.

Obviously there's a middle ground, where we spend our money as wisely as possible in the present for the benefit of all. But stop making me feel guilty about leaving future generations a clean, educated, healthy, well-defended country with a vigorous economy, even if it comes with some debt attached. It still seems like a bargain.

And perhaps we should stop talking about the future debt in absolute dollars, because "trillions" scares the food out of my esophagus, through my large and small intestines, and about four feet into the surface of the earth. I prefer to hear our national debt expressed as percentages of, for example, our next 30 years of projected GDP. That way it doesn't seem so scary.

Future generations should go get a job. And a haircut. And stay off my lawn!


Saturday, April 03, 2010

Jobs Are Coming Back. Will Energy Reform Come With Them?

Jobs Are Coming Back. Will Energy Reform Come With Them?: "america-job-recovery.jpg
Images via Climate Progress

You've likely heard the big news today that 162,000 new US jobs were added in March, which marks the biggest gain in employment in 3 years. Some 40,000 of those were attributed to the Census, but the rest was true private sector growth. Since the boilerplate (but untrue) talking points opponents of energy reform use was that it would kill jobs and burden the fragile economy, and now we're finally seeing distinct job growth again, is there a better chance that the beleaguered clean en...Read the full story on TreeHugger


Health Care Reform: Good for People Like Me

Health Care Reform: Good for People Like Me: "

By Philip Brewer

Caduceus: Detail Of Giuseppe Moretti's 1922 Bronze "Hygeia" Memorial To World War Medical Personnel (Pittsburgh, PA)

A long time ago, I had an idea. I was working a regular job, but I realized that what I wanted to do was be a writer. I figured that I could make some money writing, but not necessarily enough to support myself. So, I came up with a naive plan. It started with living more frugally.

I did all the ordinary frugal stuff. I ate out less. I bought fewer gadgets. I moved into a cheap apartment. I drove less.

Living more frugally did two things. First, it narrowed the gap between what I figured I could earn as a writer and what I was spending. Second, it freed up cash for saving and investing — and investing let me fill the gap from the other side, augmenting my potential writing income with interest and dividends.

You'll have already seen why I call it a naive plan. When I first started, I figured all I had to do was build my investments to the point where my investment income filled the gap between my writing income and my spending. But in the United States, that didn't work — because of health insurance.

Now, I was prepared to include the cost of health insurance in my plan, just like I was willing to include rent, groceries, and my internet connection. But there's no way to budget for the cost of health insurance: it's cheap enough if you're healthy, but spikes up toward infinity if you get sick. Worse, there's every reason to worry that getting sick will prompt your insurance company to go over your medical history with a fine-tooth comb, and then use any omission or error in your insurance application as an excuse to rescind your policy.

The upshot, as I wrote a while back in an article called Not Free to Be Poor, was that health insurance in the U.S. wasn't really insurance at all. That is, it didn't protect your finances from the huge contingent expenses that would hit if you got sick.

Health care reform is fixing that. The first big change is that in just six months, insurance companies can no longer rescind policies just because you made some mistake on your application.

To people like me, that's a really important part. Right now (for the next six months) my whole financial future is riding on a bet: I'm betting that I'll only get seriously ill or badly injured one time in my whole life. Since I'm healthy, I've been able to get a good health insurance policy. And, since I'm healthy, and could get a good policy from a different insurance company, I'm in a position to shop around for a better rate. But getting sick would mean losing the bet. I wouldn't be able to get a new policy, so I'd be stuck with the old policy — which would immediately start getting more expensive, a process that would accelerate as healthy people shopped around and found cheaper policies to switch to, leaving only sick people behind, paying ever higher premiums.

There'll be future good things, too. In four years insurance companies won't be able to deny coverage just because you're sick. The health insurance exchanges will make it a lot easier to shop around for a policy. People who are really poor (earning less than 133% of the poverty level) will get free insurance through Medicaid, and people who are a bit less poor (up to 400% of the poverty level) will get a subsidy for the cost of their insurance.

So, health care reform is good for people like me. And there are a lot of us:

  • How many potential entrepreneurs would be willing to take the risk of starting a small business, but not the risk of going without insurance?

  • How many workers at big companies would be happier at a small company, but have a sick spouse or sick child and need the big company's insurance plan?

  • How many creative types (writers, artists, musicians, actors, dancers, filmmakers) would be willing to eke out a meager existence on what they can earn from their art, but aren't willing to bet their entire financial future that they won't get sick?

  • How many people just want to try something different, but have been sticking to their old job because it's got good insurance?

I look forward to the unleashing of all that talent and energy, once all the people like me are able to do what they're called to do, without worrying that one serious illness would bankrupt them. I think there's a lot of us.

I think we'll do great things.

Permalink | 42 comments | Philip Brewer's blog | Channel: Personal Finance, Health and Beauty

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This article is from Wise Bread.