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Half a dozen new paintings by George Scribner

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Miraflores
4:30 a.m. at the Miraflores Locks. 12″ x 24″

Scribner’s back in Panama to teach some classes and maybe sell some paintings

artwork by local and world stage artist George Scribner

Greetings amigos!

I’m in Panama teaching some painting workshops and brought down some new paintings of Panama and the Panama Canal.

If you have any interest in purchasing, please contact my representative in Panama, Nancy Calvo at gabynancyc@gmail.com, +507 6112 5944 for pricing and delivery.

Also, here’s a catalog of additional paintings still available in Panama as well.

Thanks for looking!

All my best,
George

 

Pollera study, 9″ x 12″ — I was playing around with leaving a lot of very loose edges to suggest motion.

 

Miraflores at Dusk 18″ x 24″ — Painted from a shot I took after painting a small study on the center wall at Miraflores Locks.

 

Pipa! 9” x 12” — From a shot I took in the Casco Viejo during my show at the Museo del Canal last year.

 

Change of Pilots 9” x 12”

 

Portrait of Manuel Amador Guerrero, Panama’s first president. 9″ x 12″

 

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Editorials: Panama City tax hike takes effect; and Puffed-up balloon rhetoric

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tax bills
How people didn’t see this last August is a matter for introspection among the news media, a shock to little businesses in the capital, but probably not a fleeting incident for the incumbent mayor and representantes. Photo from Mr. Cubilla’s Twitter feed, the business’s name intentionally withheld.

Not at all the end of it

Slick maneuvers! With no debate and nobody sounding the alarm, Panama City’s representantes and mayor passed a hefty increase in relatively small taxes that mostly affect the smaller businesses in the capital. That was in August, and it wasn’t until this year’s tax bills arrived that many people noticed it.

It wasn’t until after the nation’s largest political party — the one to which President Cortizo, Mayor Fábrega and a working majority of the city council belong — got into an internal argument about the in crowd of incumbents avoiding primaries that people started saying things about this. How could this happen?

It’s easy to see, but let’s first look in mirrors. If journalism is the collective watchdog, there were reasons not to bark. The first of which is that this tax hike was jammed through in a time and manner with the intention of it not being noticed.

A second suspect has to do with the economics of news media organizations, including tiny operations like The Panama News. The corporate mainstream cuts costs by not hiring capable people to pore over each issue of the Gaceta Oficial and flag things like this for coverage and commentary. Small, largely volunteer operations don’t have somebody doing this either.

Also under the media business heading there is the outrageous but very real question of who matters. A tax hike that’s going to put a medium’s major advertiser out of business would matter. But to wealthy business owner this up to 200 percent tax hike is, in the grand scheme of things, a petty annoyance at worst. To a little fonda that’s hanging on the edge it might make a huge difference, but these businesses can’t afford to advertise in the large media so the tiny establishment’s cause for alarm will not immediately register in the corporate mainstream. Just another small business forced out, or if the proprietor is stubborn enough, will be forced to retreat into informality in order to continue. Nothing of concern to someone with the “proper” surnames.

Then, slightly more justifiably among both the media and political elites — including the opposition on city council as well — there is the slightly more justified argument to avoid demagoguery. At all levels, in public and private sectors, for individuals as well as organizations, our economy was in bad shape four years ago, then a pandemic hit us, then a far-away war disrupted the growing and shipment of some of the world’s more basic food staples and thus drove inflation through the roof. We could bring in all sorts of extraneous if valid arguments but pare it down to basics and the city and those who work for it need the money. To recognize that reality and not scream about it is no great journalistic sin, nor the most impeachable offense for an anti-PRD representante. It still should have been noted and commented upon last August.

The worst sins are about the mayor and representantes engaging in stealth politics, and the PRD move to exempt many of the participants from facing primary challenges. It should be noted that in the other parties there are also various moves to protect incumbents and hand-pick challengers in races thought winnable.

Let’s consider, aside from the legal challenge brought by former PRD secretary general Pedro Miguel González and the angry criticism leveled by former President Martín Torrijos, how it might actually work.

Eliminating a primary in a multi-member legislative circuit leaves open the option for annoyed members of the party faithful to vote for another PRD candidate but not the incumbent. It may not be such effective incumbent protection at all.

If the legal challenges fail, most of those getting free passes past the primaries will be local officials, mayors and representantes, in races where there is only one person to be elected. However, there really aren’t that many jurisdictions in which one party has a lock. There are more places in which one individual may have a lock, on whatever ticket that person may run. History suggests that the PRD will not hold onto the presidency for a consecutive term. With all of his gaffes and nonstarters, it’s difficult to imagine another term for “Tank of Gas” Fábrega. Will we see another election in which voting against all incumbents is a noteworthy trend? People with reason to promote that idea could have great success with, using, among other things, this stealthy tax increase to sweep away the majority of PRD members and those non-PRD members who voted with them last August out of office. 

It’s possible, even likely, that the PRD loses control over the Panama City municipal government over this stunt. Not that there aren’t other compelling reasons. Not that this tax hike directly affects most city residents. However, it’s a good reminder of with whom and what the voters will have to deal.

  

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Well, that’s ONE hypothesis about the case. It’s not more notably divorced from reality than the things many Republican elected officials and acolytes have been saying.

Yeah, THAT’S the ticket!

Kari Lake, crouched in a field and looking up with her goose gun. Rather immediately, folks who live a bit closer to reality started to post jokes about it.

Delusional acolytes still glom onto Ms. Lake, from coast to coast.

PAUSE to delete and erase foolish things Republicans said about the Chinese observation balloon. ESPECIALLY now that it turns out that Trump ignored several of these during his administration. Except that Kari Lake is slow on the switch, being obsessed with other things. 

Time for new spins, new denials! But hey, that’s no huge deal. Most of the “fine people” — as Trump put it back in 2017 — who deny that the Holocaust ever happened vote with the MAGAs no matter what.

There are particular details about the purposes and effects of those balloon overflights that will not be made public information for many years to come. But Joe Biden promptly issued a ‘look and see and bring it down when it’s safe to do so’ order. The MAGAs may bait him and accuse him of being a senile old man. Biden showed us that he’s got his wits about him and he makes prudent decisions.

 

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Malcolm X in Mecca.

When I was born, I was black. When I grow up, I’m black. When I’m ill, When I die, I’m black. But you – When you’re born, you’re pink. When you grow up, you’re white. When you’re ill, you’re green. When you go out in the sun, you go red. When you’re cold, you go blue. When you die, you’re purple. And you have the nerve to call me Colored?

Malcom X

Bear in mind…

Tolerance is forever a work in progress, never completed, and, if we’re as intelligent as we like to think we are, never abandoned.

Octavia E. Butler

I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.

Galileo Galilei

We get a lot of strength from many principles including reciprocity (you are me and I am you) and that gives us strength as women and this connection with life and the web we have among each other.

Aura Lolita Chávez

 

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Ruins in Colon’s city center

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church

What remains of Colon’s old Greek Orthodox Church

photos by Milton Heriberto Roldan

 

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¿Wappin? Black music on a Friday when the Google feed is down

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Lionel Hampton
Lionel Hampton. Photo by Helmut Montag / CC BY 3.0

Black history is American history, Black music is American music

Stevie Wonder Live in London 2008
https://ok.ru/video/27056343644

Aretha Franklin – Think Freedom
https://vimeo.com/285718829

Playing for Change – One Love
https://vimeo.com/3097281

Lionel Hampton Band – Blues Up and Down
https://vimeo.com/197282095

Amina Claudine Myers – Arts for Art
https://vimeo.com/526275383

Tracy Chapman – Fast Car
https://vimeo.com/168757603

John Coltrane Quartet Live in Belgium 1965
https://vimeo.com/734810729

 

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Evans, The Black Church in the USA

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The exterior view of the Bethel African American Methodist Episcopal Church at 125 S. 6th St. in Philadelphia. Graphic by  Breton, William L., circa 1773-1855 Artist via the Library of Congress, World Digital Library

A brief history of the Black church’s diversity, and its vital role in American political history

by Jason Oliver Evans, University of Virginia

With religious affiliation on the decline, continuing racism and increasing income inequality, some scholars and activists are soul-searching about the Black church’s role in today’s United States.

For instance, on April 20, 2010, an African American Studies professor at Princeton, Eddie S. Glaude, sparked an online debate by provocatively declaring that, despite the existence of many African American churches, “the Black Church, as we’ve known it or imagined it, is dead.” As he argued, the image of the Black church as a center for Black life and as a beacon of social and moral transformation had disappeared.

Scholars of African American religion responded to Glaude by stating that the image of the Black church as the moral conscience of the United States has always been a complicated matter. As historian Anthea Butler argued, “The Black Church may be dead in its incarnation as agent of change, but as the imagined home of all things black and Christian, it is alive and well.”

As a scholar of Christian theology and African American religion, I’m aware of this long history of the Black church and its contribution to American politics. Its story began in the 15th and 16th centuries, when European empires authorized the capture, auction and enslavement of various peoples from across the coast of Western and Central Africa.

Origins of African American Christianity

As millions were transported through the “Middle Passage” to the Americas, Europeans forcefully baptized the enslaved into the Christian faith despite many of them adhering to traditional African religious systems and Islam. European slave traders dismissed Africans as “heathenish” to justify their enslavement of Africans and the coercive proselytization to Christianity.

In the 1600s, British missionaries traveled throughout the American Colonies to convert enslaved Africans and the Indigenous peoples of the continent. Originally, however, white slaveholders were hesitant to convert enslaved Africans to Christianity because they feared that Christian baptism would lead to the enslaved Africans’ freedom, causing both economic ruin and social upheaval. They widely supposed that British laws mandated the freedom of all baptized Christians, and thus white slaveholders initially refused to grant missionaries permission to instruct enslaved Africans into the Christian faith.

By 1706, six Colonies had passed laws that declared that Africans’ Christian status did not alter their social condition as slaves. Consequently, missionaries created “slave catechisms,” modified religious instruction manuals that instructed enslaved Africans about Christianity while reinforcing their enslavement.

Over time, evangelical Protestant groups followed suit in their proselytization of the enslaved community, most notably during the First and Second Great Awakenings, the Protestant religious revivals that swept across the American nation in the mid-18th and early 19th centuries.

Denominations that form the Black church

Both during and after the end of slavery, African Americans began to establish their own congregations, parishes, fellowships, associations and later denominations. Black Baptists founded first the National Baptist Convention USA, in 1895, the largest Black Protestant denomination in the United States. The National Baptist Convention of America International and the Progressive National Baptist Convention were founded years later.

The first independent Black denomination, the African Methodist Episcopal Church, which was formalized in 1816, grew out of the Free African Society founded by Richard Allen, a former enslaved man and Methodist minister, in the city of Philadelphia in 1787. Allen and his colleague Absalom Jones walked out of St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church after white members demanded that Allen and Jones, who had been kneeling in prayer, leave the ground floor and go to the upper balcony, which was designated for Black worshippers.

Other Black Methodists founded two other denominations – the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in 1821 and the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church in 1870. The Church of God in Christ, the largest Black Pentecostal denomination in the United States, was founded by Charles Harrison Mason, a former Baptist minister, in 1897 and incorporated in 1907.

Other Black Christians belong to mainline Protestant denominations. Additionally, there are 3 million Black Roman Catholics in the United States, and a smaller number of African Americans who attend Eastern Orthodox churches. Moreover, a number of African Americans belong to independent nondenominational congregations, while others belong to white conservative evangelical, Pentecostal and charismatic churches.

Contributions to American politics

The Black church has played a vital role in the shaping of American political history. African American churches provided spaces for not only spiritual formation but also political activism.

Black churches were spaces where slave abolitionism was envisioned, and insurrections were planned. Black preachers such as Denmark Vesey and Nat Turner were actively involved in attempted and successful slave insurrections in the South

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Ida B. Wells organized and led Bible study classes for young Black men. Graphic from the University of North Carolina archives.

During the Reconstruction era, the African Methodist Episcopal Bishop Henry McNeal Turner served as one of the first African American legislators for the state of Georgia. Turner was famous for his scathing critiques of American Christianity and the nation at large. Ida B. Wells was an investigative journalist and educator who wrote extensive accounts of the lynchings of Black people in the South, fought against Jim Crow policies, and advocated for Black women’s right to vote. An active churchgoer, Wells also organized and led Bible study classes for young Black men at Grace Presbyterian Church, a predominantly Black church founded in 1888 in the city of Chicago.

Many Black Christians participated in the Civil Rights movement, including Bayard Rustin, an openly gay Quaker, who was instrumental in organizing the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on Aug. 28, 1963. Despite his contributions to advancing Black people’s freedom, Rustin was pushed to the background by his peers because of his homosexuality.

Pauli Murray, the first Black woman to be ordained in the Episcopal Church, was a lawyer, legal scholar, civil rights and gender equality advocate and poet. Murray compiled an extensive collection of laws and ordinances that mandated racial segregation and wrote extensively on women’s rights.

An influential institution

The Black church is far from monolithic. Its members hold different theological positions and hail from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds, education levels and political affiliations.

Some African American Christians did not participate in efforts to end racial segregation, fearing violent backlash from white people. Today, Black Christians are divided over other social justice issues, such as whether to support LGBTQ equality. Nevertheless, African American Christians have drawn insights from their experience of enduring racism and their Christian faith to contest racial subjugation and advocate for their freedom and human dignity.

Despite the rise of the religiously unaffiliated or “Nones” within the African American community, the Black church, I believe, continues to be an influential institution.The Conversation

Jason Oliver Evans, Ph.D. Candidate in Religious Studies, University of Virginia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

 

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Nine organizations: Minera Panama’s mockery and environmental threat

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Joint communique about First Quantum / Minera Panama

by Antónima, Polo Ciudadano, ASOPROF capítulo de la Universidad de Panamá, Sindicato de Trabajadores de la Educación Nacional (SITEN), Colegio de Sociología y Ciencias Sociales de Panamá (CoSCiesPa), Servicio Paz y Justicia (SERPAJ-Panamá), Movimiento Alternativa Socialista, Juventudes Revolucionarias de Panamá & Reforma Estudiantil (et al)

The signatory individuals and organizations, motivated by the serious events that are taking place regarding the negotiation of a new contract with the transnational company First Quantum Minerals (FQM), registered in our country as Minera Panamá, point out:

  1. Panama is a country whose biophysical characteristics (such as being part of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor) make it incompatible with mining, an economic activity whose sustainability is impossible, contrary to FQM’s propaganda. In turn, the Isthmus, according to Cepal (2020), has a “severe” level of vulnerability to climate change by 2030. During all the years of operating in the country, the company has used drastic open-air extraction methods, with which they have destroyed hundreds of hectares of tropical forest in the Donoso district, in addition to incurring more than 200 registered environmental violations, despite which they continue to demand even more hectares each year. Despite all of the above, more than 50% of the isthmian territory remains open to mining exploration and exploitation concessions.
  2. Although the economic aspect is important, it is a mistake to continue focusing it on GDP, an obsolete and insufficient indicator, both to measure the well-being of the population and make decisions that respond to their needs, and to face a climate crisis that continues without being discussed in Panama with the breadth and seriousness it deserves.
  3. Since it began operations, FQM has violated the constitution and the laws of the country in every possible way: its concession did not go through a tender and also violates article 290 of the constitution, which prohibits companies owned by foreign states from operating, as is the case of FQM, whose shares are 60% in the hands of China, Singapore and South Korea.
  4. After being approved under dubious circumstances in the National Assembly, the FQM contract law was immediately challenged, but it took the Supreme Court almost 20 years to issue a ruling of unconstitutionality. The ruling was issued only in 2017 (and hidden by the government of J.C. Varela), with which the company has continued to operate unconstitutionally. The foregoing turns their profits into a vile robbery of the country.
  5. FQM has looted not only copper from Panama, but also gold, paying 2% crumbs on huge multi-billion dollar royalties, (compared to what similar companies and the same company pay in other countries), while enjoying other large exemptions. At the same time, it is an extraction that does not generate real well-being (in the long term and with autonomy) for the populations that depend on the environmental services provided by the rich biodiversity of the areas devastated by FQM.}
  6. The multinational FQM has systematically violated the Panamanian Labor Code, with gangster methods and even firing part of the union leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic. To this day, FQM refuses to abide by the rulings of the labor courts that require their reinstatements.
  7. FQM has become a mining enclave that the Panamanian authorities cannot access without authorization from the company’s managers, as if it were a foreign country or the former Canal Zone.
  8. Since the publication of the unconstitutionality ruling, FQM pretended to negotiate a new contract, making the president of the republic, Laurentino Cortizo, look ridiculous, since now the company refuses to sign and shamelessly asks for more onerous concessions of Panamanian territory.
  9. Faced with the mockery of the feigned negotiation, aggravated by more than a year without paying royalties to the country, while the company continues extracting ore, the Cortizo government took lax and inconsistent measures by decreeing the suspension of commercial operations, with the subsequent appeal of the company to continue as if nothing happened.
  10. We understand that the lukewarm and inconsistent action of the current government against FQM is due to the fact that it is leaked by people related to the mining business, beginning with Vice President José Gabriel Carrizo, former attorney for Petaquilla Minerals, a company that “transferred the rights” to FQM.

For all the above considerations, the environmental, labor union and popular organizations, among other signatories, DEMAND that the Panamanian government:

  1. Declare a moratorium for new concessions throughout the national territory, allowing the country to safeguard water, forests and wildlife, whose protection is imperative in the face of the climate emergency that the planet is experiencing and to which the Isthmus is no stranger.
  2. Proceed to the nationalization of the mine to enforce the constitution, the environmental and labor laws of Panama against the abuses of this multinational. The foregoing would imply exploring the possibility of declaring compensation to the multinational inadmissible, taking into account the incalculable value of the devastated natural environments for its benefit and the exorbitant profits obtained (and not taxed) with an unconstitutional contract for more than five years.
  3. Conduct a broad and democratic debate that allows the Panamanian people to decide how to use the post-nationalization income and how to manage and mitigate the effects of the eventual closure of the mine. We propose to stimulate other economic activities in harmony with nature and use policies focused on the situation of workers and communities, whose systematic abandonment has served FQM to make them dependent on extractivism. The eventual total closure is unavoidable if the country assumes a true commitment in the face of the global environmental crisis and its effects on the Isthmus.
 

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CIAM, Denuncia penal por el caso Minera Panamá

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CIAM
Foto de la cuenta de Twitter de CIAM.
ciam

 

Contact us by email at / Contáctanos por correo electrónico a fund4thepanamanews@gmail.com

 

To fend off hackers, organized trolls and other online vandalism, our website comments feature is switched off. Instead, come to our Facebook page to join in the discussion.

Para defendernos de los piratas informáticos, los trolls organizados y otros actos de vandalismo en línea, la función de comentarios de nuestro sitio web está desactivada. En cambio, ven a nuestra página de Facebook para unirte a la discusión.
 

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About Medicare privatization

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them
Sadly, getting the fraudsters out of ACO REACH will not improve a program designed to enrich corporations and harm patients. This entire apple cart needs to be overturned. Graphic from an Indivisible Twitter feed.

No amount of fraud deters government
agencies when it comes to privatizing Medicare

by Ana Malinow & Kay Tillow — Common Dreams

On January 17, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) announced 48 new model participants in a controversial pilot program called Accountable Care Organization: Realizing Equity, Access, and Community Health, better known as ACO REACH. CMMI, created by the Affordable Care Act, is supposed to test alternative payment models for Traditional Medicare to lower costs and improve, or at least not worsen, the care of 30 million seniors and people with disabilities.

The program, launched in the waning days of the Trump Administration as Direct Contracting, was greenlighted by the Biden Administration in 2021 and renamed ACO REACH in 2022. The model, which started with 53 contracting entities under Trump has grown to 132 participants with 131,772 health care practitioners and organizations providing care to over 2 million beneficiaries on Traditional Medicare under President Biden. Startling research found many of the ACO REACH participants have a history of Medicare fraud. Nevertheless, Medicare continues to sign contracts with them.

ACO REACH is a program designed to privatize what is left of public Medicare. Half of Medicare has been privatized through Medicare Advantage plans, which receive up-front “capitated” payments for Medicare beneficiaries from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and have the power to decide whether and how much of those Medicare dollars to spend on the beneficiaries who signed up for their plan. The Affordable Care Act allows Medicare Advantage plans to keep up to 15% of these Medicare dollars for administrative fees and profit (although they have clever ways to get around this restriction). To make these profits, Medicare Advantage plans create narrow networks for their beneficiaries, deny and delay care, and get overpaid by CMS, cashing in on billions of Medicare dollars.CO REACH uses similar tactics to those found in Medicare Advantage to profit from Medicare by overcharging Medicare, financially incentivizing providers to control healthcare costs for beneficiaries, and increasing the number of beneficiaries in their plans. But while some seniors “choose” to participate in Medicare Advantage, seniors and people with disabilities are auto-enrolled into an ACO REACH through their primary care physicians (PCPs). Thus, it is physicians and physician practices which are being lured into or forced to join the ACO REACH (Many physician practices are being swooped up by private equity or created whole-cloth). Physician practices, or their controllers, are enticed by the “shared savings” they will collect if they save money on their patients, shredding the trust between doctors and patients.

Once the PCP joins, their patients are automatically enrolled into the ACO REACH, without their informed knowledge or consent. While Medicare Advantage plans are allowed to keep 15% of the capitated fee for profits and administration, ACO REACH organizations, which include private equity and venture capital firms, as well as Medicare Advantage plans and insurance companies, can keep up to 40% of the capitated, up-front fees from Medicare as profit, guaranteeing themselves excessive payouts as they play out the eventual demise of the Medicare Trust Fund.

We were assured by CMMI that the new vetting process for all applicants was supposed to “ensure participants’ interests align with CMS’s vision.” They promised to protect beneficiaries and the model with “more participant vetting, monitoring, and greater transparency.” They pledged to employ “increased up-front screening… monitoring… and stronger protections against inappropriate coding and risk score growth.”

Yet, in a letter sent by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) to CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure in December 2022, they called on CMS to investigate nine organizations that had signed contracts to become an ACO REACH: Centene, Sutter Health, Clover Health, Adventist Health System/AdventHealth, Humana, Vively Health, Cigna/CareAllies, Bright Health/NeueHealth, and Nivano Physicians. The letter pointed out that all these organizations have been accused, investigated, settled claims, and/or sanctioned by governmental agencies for Medicare fraud and abuse.

Recently, CMMI Director Liz Fowler—a poster child for the revolving door in D.C.—was a guest speaker at the ACO REACH educational forum held by the California Public Employees Retirement System, the largest public pension fund in the country. When asked about private equity in ACO REACH, Fowler responded, “My personal opinion, you can’t say that private equity is inherently bad or good, but the way we viewed it, we want to make sure that the organizations in our program are in it for the right reasons.” And the right reasons for Fowler might very well be profit, given that six of the nine organizations identified by Warren and Jayapal are publicly traded in the stock market.

Given Director Fowler’s personal opinion of private equity firms, it comes as no surprise that most of the Medicare fraudsters—including: Cigna/CareAllies, accused by the Justice Department of using a primary care program to defraud Medicare; Bright Health/NeueHealth, fined $1 million by the Colorado Division of Insurance for complaints from consumers and providers; Clover Health, which failed to let investors know it was under investigation by the DOJ as it was going public and even fined by CMS in 2016 for engaging in marketing activities that misled their beneficiaries; AdventHealth (formerly Adventist Health System), that paid $115 million to settle allegations of improper financial arrangements with referring physicians and for miscoding claims; Humana that overcharged Medicare by $200 million according to a federal audit; and Nivano Physicians, previously under a corrective action plan with the Department of Managed Health Care for lacking financial solvency—all made it through and became approved as ACO REACH.

Only three of the original nine identified in the Warren-Jayapal letter failed to get a contract with CMS: Centene, Sutter Health, and Vively Health. Fowler refuses to say whether these corporations pulled out on their own or were rejected.

The Centene Corporation, with Medicaid contracts in 29 states, settled potential fraud claims in a dozen states to resolve Medicaid fraud claims for an estimated $1.25 billion. Sutter Health, a major California-based healthcare system, agreed to pay $90 million to settle allegations of knowingly submitting inaccurate information about the health of beneficiaries in the Sutter Medicare Advantage plans. DaVita HealthCare Partners Inc., one of the largest for-profit kidney dialysis providers and parent company of Vively Health, paid $450 million in 2015 to settle a whistleblower lawsuit, which accused DaVita of “intentionally wasting medications in order to overbill Medicare.”

What earthly reason would there be to exclude companies from ACO REACH but allow them to continue their plunder in Medicaid, Medicare Advantage, and subsidized on the ACA Exchanges?

The hypocrisy of CMS and CMMI is on full display. As is their collusion with the profiteers. Sadly, getting the fraudsters out of ACO REACH will not improve a program designed to enrich corporations and harm patients. The entire apple cart needs to be overturned and replaced with a national, non-profit, single-payer healthcare system that covers everyone from birth to death with all necessary medical services including long-term care, hearing, vision, dental, and prescription drugs. Only then can we stop worrying about the fraudsters.

 

Dr. Ana Malinow is a retired pediatrician living in San Francisco. She is one of the lead organizers for National Single Payer, an organization that works locally for national single payer health care.

Kay Tillow is the coordinator of the All Unions Committee for Single Payer Health Care, which builds union support for national single payer health care. She lives in Louisville, Kentucky.

 

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New phase for violence between Israelis and Palestinians?

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Nabulsi
The late Ibrahim al-Nabulsi, in the center with the weapon, the memory or legend of whom has been seized upon by a new generation of Palestinian militants. This photo is from Jerusalem24, a Palestinian radio station and news agency that publishes in English and Hebrew. They don’t claim a copyright or credit a photographer. To take such a picture is to risk being killed and having one’s family home demolished by the Israelis.

Why violence between Israelis and Palestinians
may be entering a devastating new phase

by Susan de Groot Heupner, Griffith University

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken rushed to the Middle East this week to make yet another push for a negotiated settlement between Israel and the Palestinians following yet another dramatic escalation in violence between the two sides.

Blinken urged peace in his meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, but the prospects could hardly be dimmer.

More than 30 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank since the beginning of this year, mostly at the hands of Israeli security forces. And last Friday, a Palestinian gunman killed seven Israeli civilians outside a synagogue in the Israeli settlement of East Jerusalem, one of the worst attacks in the city in years.

This follows the deadliest year in the West Bank since the UN started tracking deaths in 2005, with 154 Palestinians killed by Israeli security forces in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

I spent a month in the West Bank in October as part of research for a book on far-right and Islamist politics. Within the first ten days after I arrived, seven children under the age of 18 were reported to have been killed. Over the course of one month, I documented 29 Palestinian deaths in total – and two killings of Israeli soldiers – most of whom under the age of 30.

Because the mainstream English media does not consistently report on these killings, I relied on several social media channels to cross-check names and pictures. And because of regular censorship on these platforms of Palestinian news sources, such as the Hamas-affiliated Quds News Network, the death toll is likely to have been even higher.

While peace has long been elusive in the occupied Palestinian territories, there is a new dimension to the latest violence in the West Bank, which some observers believe could now spiral out of control.

Unlike previous unrest, newly emerging Palestinian militant groups are increasingly fragmented and calling for a popular uprising. This demand, in turn, coincides with a radical shift to the extreme right in Israel’s government.

The emergence of the Lion’s Den

Many Palestinians, and the young in particular, have lost trust in the governing body of the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority, and other local factions to protect them from expanding Israeli settlements and suppression by Israeli security forces.

This new phase of resistance aims to unite these disaffected youths who are seeking an alternative to the traditional Palestinian power structures.

Several new armed groups have emerged in the past year and a half as the public support for armed resistance has grown stronger. Israeli security forces responded in early 2022 with an operation called “Break the Wave,” which targeted fighters in two West Bank cities, Nablus and Jenin.

This operation, which has paralyzed the security apparatus of the Palestinian Authority in these areas, was followed by many more raids by security forces throughout 2022 and a deadly start to 2023. This has only amplified the anger of Palestinians.

At the vanguard of this uprising is one group called the Lion’s Den. It is believed to have evolved as an offshoot of an earlier group, the Nablus Brigade (an affiliate of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades).

The Lion’s Den has gained strength since the August killing of one of its founders,
Ibrahim al-Nabulsi, a charismatic fighter also known as the Lion of Nablus. He was reported to be either 18 or 19 at the time of his death.

As an alternative to more established groups, such as the Islamic Jihad, the Lion’s Den has a relative lack of structure and organization. This disruptive appeal is part of what draws people to the group. Each time a notable member of the Lion’s Den is targeted and eliminated, the group loses strength in numbers and organization, but is boosted in its overall appeal.

As one fighter told Al Jazeera,

We are a group and not an organization. Anyone who wants to resist the occupation is welcome. […] It’s about sending a message [to Israel], that we will not sit idly by.

A right-wing government in Jerusalem

The pendulum of violence is also becoming less predictable with the establishment of an unprecedented far-right government in Israel.

The re-election of Netanyahu and the formation of a new coalition government with the ultra-orthodox and anti-Arab parties, the Religious Zionist Party and Otzma Yehudit, is likely to further legitimize support for de-centralized groups such as the Lion’s Den.

The appointment of Itamar Ben-Gvir as national security minister could inflame tensions even further. Ben-Gvir has previously been convicted for incitement of racism and unashamedly promoted violence against Palestinians in the weeks leading up to taking office.. He is also an outspoken advocate for settlement expansion and the ultimate annexation of the West Bank.

Israel’s Security Cabinet has also announced a series of harsh responses to the latest outbreak of violence in the West Bank. These include strengthening Jewish settlements in the West Bank, along with cancelling the social security benefits for families of attackers and making it easier for Israeli citizens to obtain gun licenses.

Whether it is the Lion’s Den or another group that takes the lead in the uprising, it is clear young Palestinians in the West Bank will no longer take a passive role when it comes to the actions of Israeli security forces or politicians.

With Abbas lacking any control over the new armed Palestinian groups and Israeli political leaders such as Bezalel Smotrich (head of the Religious Zionist Party) and Ben-Gvir shaping the narrative of Israeli politics, discussions of a two-state solution and peace in the Palestinian territories are likely to take a backseat for the foreseeable future.The Conversation

Susan de Groot Heupner, Senior Research Fellow, Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

 

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Muendler & Góes: Lula faces a worse economy this time

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Lula and the neighbors
Lula and the neighbors: Brazilian President Lula da Silva in the presidential sash, with Uruguayan President Luis Alberto Lacalle Pou to his left and to his right to former presidents of Uruguay, Pepe Mujica and Julio Sanguinetti. Photo by the Brazilian Presidency.

Brazil’s economic challenges are again Lula’s to
tackle – this time around they’re more daunting

by Marc-Andreas Muendler, University of California, San Diego and Carlos Góes, University of California, San Diego

Even when they’re in trouble, Brazilians rarely lose their sense of humor. But in recent years, their joviality has often given way to political division everywhere from social media to the dinner table.

One familiar quip – that Brazil is the country of the future and always will be – has lost its levity as Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva begins his third presidential term. Lula previously led his country from 2003 to 2010. The president, who was sworn in again on Jan. 1, 2023, promised on the campaign trail that Brazil’s future can be like its past again: more prosperous and less polarized.

Having studied Brazil in our economic research, and having lived in the country for several years by birth or by choice, we argue that it will not be easy for Lula to fulfill his economic promises.

Unlike in his first two terms, when domestic and foreign markets helped the economy along, Lula now faces strong headwinds at home and abroad – and that means sound policies are even more important this time around.

Good times, bad times and economic choices

Brazil shot up from the world’s 14th-largest economy in 2003 to the seventh-biggest in 2010, during a boom that largely coincided with Lula’s prior presidency. At the same time, the country’s poverty rate, which the World Bank today pegs at the share of the population living on less than US$3.65 a day, fell sharply, from 26% to 12%.

Brazil exports so many gallons of orange juice, bags of coffee, bushels of wheat and other commodities that it’s serving up the world’s breakfast. Global growth during those years boosted the demand for these commodities as well as for Brazil’s processed goods. Manufacturing exports fueled Brazil’s growth in the decade following the year 2000 for the first time, led by sales of products like steel, car parts and cars, and aircraft made by Embraer.

During these boom years, Lula ran a balanced government budget, held inflation low and kept the Brazilian real’s exchange rate with other currencies under control – macroeconomic policies that he maintained from his predecessor, Fernando Henrique Cardoso. Lula also bundled Cardoso’s popular anti-poverty programs into Bolsa Família, a successful conditional cash transfer program. To remain enrolled and receive the monetary benefits, low-income families had to get their children vaccinated against diseases, keep them in school and meet other requirements.

Cynthia Benedetto, Embraer’s chief financial officer, observed in 2011: “Since my childhood I heard that Brazil is the country of the future,” and then warned, “Now the future has arrived, and I start to fear that it is short.”

She was right. The good times didn’t last.

During the second decade of this century, the prices of many of the commodities that Brazil exports fell or even plummeted. The country experienced two of the worst recessions in its history. In the downturn that lasted from late 2014 to mid-2016, nearly 5 million Brazilians lost their jobs. After a sluggish recovery, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and 10 million Brazilians became jobless in another big downturn.

Political upheaval

Bad choices made tough and unlucky times worse.

A combination of economic mismanagement, widespread corruption, political turmoil and a global pandemic all contributed to 10 years of backward sliding after a decade of progress.

Lula’s allies, including some in his inner circle, were found to be part of one corruption scheme after another. Lula himself ended up in prison for corruption until Brazil’s Supreme Court declared the case a mistrial because the presiding judge was determined to have been biased.

Brazilians elected Lula’s hand-picked successor, Dilma Rousseff, in the 2010 and 2014 presidential races. She cast aside some of her predecessors’ policies that had buttressed economic stability.

Rousseff ended the central bank’s de facto independence and lowered interest rates in an abrupt turnaround that sparked inflation. She gave up on balancing the budget.

Once corruption was exposed in state-owned oil company Petrobras, the construction industry and at Brazil’s massive state-run development bank, economic activity slowed across the board. Rousseff oversaw one of Brazil’s most severe economic contractions in memory: GDP shrank by 7% and public debt increased 20 percentage points as a share of GDP from 2014 to 2016.

Brazil’s Congress impeached and convicted Rousseff in 2016 for fiscal improprieties. Her vice president, Michel Temer, served out the rest of her term and appointed Lula’s central bank chair, Henrique Meirelles, as minister of finance to help rein in public debt.

Jair Bolsonaro, a vocal admirer of Brazil’s 20th-century military dictatorship, became president in 2019 by riding the wave of widespread sentiment against Lula’s and Rousseff’s Workers’ Party. Bolsonaro prioritized short-term political gain over long-term adjustment, often clashing with his own economic aides and dodging rules meant to curb government spending.

By 2020, Brazil’s economy ranked No. 12 in the world in terms of GDP, and living conditions deteriorated. In 2021, the poverty rate likely hit the highest level in a decade, according to estimates by researchers at IPEA, a government think tank, as well as IBGE, Brazil’s statistics agency.

The pandemic and the social spending fluctuations it brought about have made it hard to accurately track economic trends in recent years. But the numbers suggest that Brazil is close again to where it started the 21st century.

Back to the future

Lula’s economic challenges are daunting, over and above the political crisis after the riots by opposition supporters in Brasília.

First, the economic outlook is gloomy. Inflation has led central banks worldwide to increase interest rates, and the International Monetary Fund forecasts a global slowdown in 2023.

Even if the world still wants Brazil’s coffee, orange juice and cereal from wheat or corn for breakfast, we doubt that foreign demand for Brazil’s exports will bounce back to the levels seen in past boom years.

Global prices for many of the commodities Brazil exports have been sliding downward for the past 15 years. They briefly reached their 2008 peak level again in mid-2022, partly driven by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the ensuing global turmoil that drove food prices up.

But the prices of commodities that are particularly important to Brazil, such as soybeans, corn and coffee, are all down significantly from their recent peaks.

During his 2022 campaign, Lula promised to slash taxes on the upper-middle class and increase benefits for the poor while keeping government finances under control.

This arithmetic is feasible in an era of rapid growth, when newly generated wealth can finance public transfers. At times of slow or no growth, like today, it becomes much harder to pull off.

Second, unlike when Lula first took office following a period of fiscal stability, this time he must credibly rebuild much of the fiscal framework.

After boosts to benefits, tax cuts and some unfunded pension commitments to retirees, it’s become hard to balance Brazil’s budget. In response to the crisis in the mid-2010s, Brazil’s Congress passed a spending cap that gradually rises so as to foster slow fiscal adjustment while avoiding harsh austerity. But Bolsonaro essentially got rid of the cap by circumventing it.

One example is the federal government’s obligation to cover court-mandated payments: Bolsonaro delayed the disbursement of 110 billion reais ($21.6 billion), equal to more than 1% of Brazil’s GDP, in 2022. That means the new government has to pay this year’s and some of last year’s bills at the same time.

While Bolsonaro dismissed the severity of COVID-19 when it was spreading uncontrolled through his country, his government did help people cope with its economic fallout by allowing emergency spending that breached Brazil’s spending cap. However, his administration maneuvered to perpetuate the state of emergency and kept spending levels higher than the cap would allow long after Brazilians stopped staying at home for public health reasons.

Third, we expect political divisions, including some within Lula’s administration, to be another obstacle. Different factions on his economic team are likely to be at loggerheads for the foreseeable future because they prefer starkly different policies.

Simone Tebet, the new economic planning minister who is in charge of coordinating spending, has several fiscal conservatives on her team.

Finance Minister Fernando Haddad, in contrast, has appointed undersecretaries known to invariably advocate for more spending. Plans for taxes and spending released to date set a budget surplus of 0.5% of GDP as the new government’s target, primarily financed with more tax collection.

Using budget projections by the International Monetary Fund, we consider those revenue projections overly optimistic.

To be sure, any new government deserves time to prove itself, especially under tough circumstances. But patience is rarer in Brazil than humor – and always has been.The Conversation

Marc-Andreas Muendler, Professor of Economics, University of California, San Diego and Carlos Góes, Doctoral Candidate in Economics, University of California, San Diego

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

 

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