Article 43

 

Thursday, March 31, 2022

Are We Looking At Another Shadow Inventory?

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[During the Great Recession], lenders nationwide are sitting on hundreds of thousands of foreclosed homes that they have not resold or listed for sale, according to numerous data sources. And foreclosures, which banks unload at fire-sale prices, are a major factor driving home values down.

“We believe there are in the neighborhood of 600,000 properties nationwide that banks have repossessed but not put on the market,” said Rick Sharga, vice president of RealtyTrac, which compiles nationwide statistics on foreclosures. “California probably represents 80,000 of those homes. It could be disastrous if the banks suddenly flooded the market with those distressed properties. You’d have further depreciation and carnage.”
- Shadow Inventory, 2009

Even in the face of rising mortgage rates and stagnating construction numbers, the housing market is still scorching hot. Because of this, it may be difficult to believe that more than 16 million homes across the U.S. are sitting vacant.

But this doesn’t mean millions of abandoned and dilapidated homes are withering away in the suburbs. Vacant homes can be unoccupied for many reasons beyond being uninhabitable. For example, a house can be vacant because it’s still on the market to be sold or rented or its a vacation home not currently in use.
- LendingTree Home Vacancy Study, March 2022

It’s hard for me to see it, when someone else owns it and I am homeless with nothing.
- Foreclosure victim

More than 1.6 million homes in Florida sit vacant; highest in U.S., study says

By Justin Matthews
FOX 35 News Orlando
March 30, 2022

A new study found that over 16 million homes are sitting empty across the United States—and Florida has more of those vacant houses than any other state.

The STUDY BY LENDING TREE says nearly 1.7 million homes in the Sunshine State are vacant, even outpacing larger states like California and Texas.

Researchers used the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau to determine the states with the highest number of vacant homes:

1. Florida: 1,680,844

2. California: 1,248,161

3. Texas: 1,216,084

4. New York: 955,437

5. Michigan: 631,361

However, when it comes to the vacancy rate, or a state’s share of unoccupied homes, Florida comes in at No. 6:

1. Vermont (22.86%)

2. Maine (22.68%)

3. Alaska (20.51%)

4. West Virginia (18.12%)

5. Alabama (17.69%)

6. Florida (17.13%)

7. New Hampshire (16.74%)

8. Mississippi (16.26%)

9. Louisiana (16.21%)

10. Wyoming (15.88%)

Researchers noted that the national average vacancy rate is 11.66%.

So why are home prices still so high?

If Florida has one of the hottest housing markets in the country, why are there so many vacant homes here? The study’s authors noted that other factors are at play when it comes to real estate.

“High vacancy rates and high home prices can suggest that an area has unique characteristics, such as being a vacation hot spot or targeted by investors,” researchers wrote - an apt description of the Florida housing market.

For other areas of the country, they note that low vacancy rates and high housing prices could suggest a highly competitive market, which would make it tougher for lower-income families to find a home to buy.

Locally, the housing market has shown no signs of slowing down. Tampa made the number three spot for U.S. cities people are moving to, according to a recent study by the Seattle-based real estate brokerage firm Redfin.

Redfin’s study ranks Miami at number one, followed by Phoenix, Tampa, Sacramento, and Las Vegas to round out the top five.

This is having a significant impact on Tampa Bays housing market with Tampa forecasted to be the hottest housing market in the country in 2022, according to Zillow.

Last month, an analysis by Zillow found that housing inventory in the region is down 46% from pre-pandemic levels.

SOURCE

Posted by Elvis on 03/31/22 •
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Florida Homeowners Skyrocketing Insurance

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Why Has My Florida Home Hazard Insurance Policy Risen So Much?

By Frank Plesko
Watson Realty
October 28, 2021

You may have noticed that your annual renewal for your home hazard insurance policy has either been creeping higher, or has drastically risen over the past couple years.  Here is a brief history on why insurance costs have gone up in Florida, and what is being done about it.

What has caused insurance rates to skyrocket in Florida?

The initial reason was steadily rising rates due to Hurricanes, especially Hurricane Irma in 2017. The original statute of limitations for filing Hurricane claims was 3 years, so many claims concluded in 2020, with many still in litigation.

The rising cost of “re-insurance”, which insurers pay to ensure they can cover all claims after a catastrophic storm event.

A combination of well-meaning court rulings and changes in state laws over the years has created a “litigation economy” that gives financial incentives to attorneys to file lawsuits against insurers:

A 2016 Florida Supreme Court ruling said: “If 25% or more of a roof is damaged by a problem covered by the policy, the entire roof must be replaced and insurer must pay for it."This created the ‘door-knocking’ public adjusters that do free inspections, to find loose shingles, wind damage, hail damage and old hurricane damage.  Then they get a homeowner to sign an AOB (assignment of benefits), essentially hiring the agent to act on their behalf including hiring an attorney to sue the insurer if they don’t comply. Florida is one of the most litigious states in the country.

Another State Law called “one-way attorney fees”. It says, “if the contractor can win ‘one penny more’ than the insurer’s initial offer, the insurance company must pay the legal fees for both sides.” In one case a homeowner received $35,000 while the attorneys netted $750,000.

What was the result of all this?

Of 15 billion that went to litigated claims since 2015, only 8% was paid out to policy owners. Plaintiff’s attorneys received 71%, and insurer’s defense attorneys accounted for 21%.  That’s 92% paid to attorneys, and 8% paid on policy owner’s claims - for roof repairs or replacements.

Of the average premium paid to insurers, about 30-35% of that goes toward their expected legal fees in fighting fraudulent claims. This is essentially a “hidden tax” that covers the costs of additional litigation that occurs in Florida compared to other states.

Homeowner’s have seen their insurance rise as much as 40% as insurers pass on the costs of settling an ever-increasing number of lawsuits.

Insurers have become unwilling to insure roofing structures over 15 years old, and some won’t even cover those that are over 10 years old! As a Realtor, we now have a very difficult (to impossible) time in assisting our buyers to find insurance on homes with roofs that are over 15 yrs of age.

What is the State of Florida doing about the problem?

The Florida State Senate passed “Senate Bill 76” in April 2021, which addresses several issues surrounding the rising costs of property insurance in Florida. On June 11 2021, Governor DeSantis signed the bill into law.  The bill provides that:

Restricts the ability of roofers to solicit claims by door-to-door solicitations, and slaps legal and financial penalties on attorneys who work with these contractors, frequently filing on their behalf.

Creates a uniform claim filing period (2 years after storm event, not 3).

A policy holder/claimant must notify the insurance company before filing a lawsuit, to give the insurance company sufficient time to inspect the property before a lawsuit is filed.

Changes how attorney fees are awarded in property insurance litigation: Attorney’s fees will be directly related to how successful the insured was in recovering the amount demanded in their litigation.  If the claimant receives a least 80% of the claim, the insurance company must pay all reasonable attorney’s fees.  If the claimant recovers at least 20%, but less than 80%, the insurer will be required to pay the same percentage of fees related to the recovery that was recovered in the action. Adopts federal court standard for awarding attorney fee “multipliers” in claims arising under the property insurance policies and directs courts to presume the “Lodestar Fee” is reasonable, and provides that multipliers will only be awarded in rare circumstances.  Multipliers WERE previously allowed when homeowners had a hard time finding an attorney who would work their claim.

Ensures there is a clear understanding between homeowners and insurance companies regarding when a roof replacement will be covered in full, or not. Limits will be based upon the age and type of roof. 

Insurers to only offers policies that adjust roof claims to “actual cash value” if the roof is older than 10-years old. This means replacement cost depreciation = cash value. 

Allows insurers to offer options of purchasing a “stated value limit” for roof coverage.

So where are we now?  What can I do to help?

There are additional bills in the Florida Senate & House of Representatives that seek to modify or improve on SENATE BILL 76.  Governor DeSantis is firmly for reducing and eliminating insurance fraud and unnecessary legal fees in order to help bring down Florida homeowner’s insurance rates.

You can learn more about “Tort Reform”, and even take action HERE. The insurance industry backs this as a way to rein in the ever rising costs of insurance in our state.

SOURCE

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Florida’s homeowners insurance market continues to spiral with 9 companies in liquidation

By Christopher Heath
WFTV Orlando
March 30, 2022

Critics say whatҒs driving this crisis is a pair of things: lawsuits and fraud. Last year more than 100,000 lawsuits were filed for property claims. Thats 130-times more than any other state in the country.

“It’s just becoming a financial burden to homeowners that is above and beyond,” says Chris Cury of the Florida Association of Public Insurance Adjusters.

Across the state, nine property insurance companies have entered liquidation with some of their policies being picked up by other carriers, while thousands pour into the state-backed Citizens Property Insurance, with the insurer of last resort now above 1 million policies after being at just 400,000 a few years ago.

On Tuesday, the Florida Cabinet received a briefing on the homeowner’s insurance market with leaders saying that a bill passed in 2021 (SB76) is showing some improvement, but leaders concede that more needs to be done and the Florida Legislature will have to act. The governor has indicated hell sign a bill dealing with the crisis has stopped short of calling a special session to deal with the issue, instead indicating he’d like the House and Senate to come to an agreement on a solution first.

Here are the nine companies in liquidation, according to the Chief Financial Officers office.

American Capital Assurance Corporation

Avatar Property and Casualty Insurance Company

Florida Specialty Insurance Company

Guarantee Insurance Company

Gulfstream Property and Casualty Insurance Company

Sawgrass Mutual Insurance Company

St. Johns Insurance Company

Sunshine State Insurance Company

Windhaven Insurance Company

SOURCE

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What’s next for tens of thousands of Florida homeowners dropped by insurance

By Dave McDaniel
WESH News Orlando
March 30, 2022

Getting insurance for homes these days is difficult and often pricey.

“Make sure the people who are giving us advice have our best interests in mind, according to independent agent James Cleveland.

Cleveland says he’s hearing from three to five people daily who have had their policies canceled, meaning his group, Insurance Services of Central Florida, has to search for new coverage for them.

ԓIf it’s a shingle roof house and it’s over ten years old, most carriers don’t want it, Cleveland said.

Companies already struggling because of major storm claims in past years and skyrocketing costs of roofs and other construction are scaling back who they’ll writepolicies for.

Cleveland says having access to multiple companies can be a benefit.

“"Not every company is writing in your neighborhood or your zip code, so having the ability to market to multiple carriers is really important,” Cleveland said.

Cleveland says with insurance rates going up the temptation is to get a lower premium by agreeing to actual cash value for a roof replacement. He suggests you insist on a replacement value.

“After you’ve had that roof for five or 10 years, now you have a $20,000 replacement, and the insurance company’s only going to writeyou a check for three or four grand,” Cleveland said.

He says paying for a four-point and a wind mitigation inspection might cost you a couple of hundred bucks, but it could make you more attractive to a new company.

“Sometimes it doesn’t net the premium savings we want it to, but in most cases it does,” Cleveland said.

He says to read past the deductible and premium page. Know what’s covered and what’s not long before you’ve got damage.

“You’re buying a promise, it’s a piece of paper, a promise, but you want to make sure it’s the right promise,” Cleveland said.

Cleveland says while a new roof is expensive, it makes your home easier to insure.

SOURCE

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Florida passes homeowners insurance bill including $10k for home hardening

Live Insurance News
May 30, 2022

State residents could receive $2 for every $1 they pay for upgrades to protect their homes from damage.

Florida state lawmakers have passed a bill to update homeowners insurance regulations and bring back a 16-year-old program that would pay an owner as much as $10,000 for home hardening upgrades.

The goal of the legislators was to help ease the sharply increasing rates residents are paying for coverage.

The new program meant to help reign in the skyrocketing homeowners insurance rates is called MY SAFE FLORIDA HOME. It has been designed to assist thousands of property owners across the state in receiving free home inspections. On top of that, they CAN RECEIVE AS MUCH AS $10,000 FOR THE REPLACEMENT OF THEIR ROOFS, WINDOWS AND DOORS. That said, a program of this nature has yet to prove itself in terms of being able to rapidly control rapidly increasing premiums.

The last time the program was active, it faced substantial struggles throughout those two years. Moreover, this newer version of the MY SAFE FLORIDA HOME program is offering 40 percent less money than the original. The original was created in response to a similar struggle with HOME COVERGE RATES following a number of hurricanes.

Bringing My Safe Florida Home back was a part of broader legislation focused on homeowners insurance.

Even after having made broad changes with the legislation, they acknowledged that it likely wouldnt cause rates to fall for at least another 18 months, if they decrease at all. They have included certain short-term measures that could ease some of the coverage crisis’ impact.

Among those measures included prohibiting insurers from refusing coverage to a home due to the age of its roof, if that roof is 15 years old or newer. For homes with a roof 15 years old or more, the homeowner can still obtain insurance by requesting an inspection to confirm its condition. The bill also leaves room for a roof with over 25 percent damage to be repaired instead of being completely replaced.

The bill has also formed another $2 billion REINSURANCE FUND. Insurers benefiting from the fund will need to reduce their rates.

Finally, the bill restricts the amount attorneys can collect in the case of lawsuits against homeowners insurance companies. Officials have pointed to a trend that is highly litigious as a major reason for the rising rates.

SOURCE

Posted by Elvis on 03/31/22 •
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Monday, March 28, 2022

Bad Moon Rising Part 83 - Russia-China Partnership and Ukraine

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Washington is picking a fight with Russia, because Washington is committed to the neoconservative doctrine that History has chosen Washington to exercise hegemony over the world. The US is the “exceptional and indispensable” country, the Uni-power chosen to impose Washington’s will on the world.

Washington plans to turn Ukraine into Chechnya or the old Afghanistan, when the Carter administration, under the influence of the Svengali-like National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, equipped and armed the radical jihadists that would morph into the Taliban and al Qaeda in the fight against the Soviets. It will not be good for Russia. It will not be good for the United States. It will not be good for Ukraine, as making Russia bleed will require rivers of Ukrainian blood. The decision to destroy the Russian economy, to turn the Ukrainian war into a quagmire for Russia and topple the regime of Vladimir Putin will open a Pandora’s box of evils. Massive social engineering - look at Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya or Vietnam - has its own centrifugal force. It destroys those who play God.

This ideology governs US foreign policy and requires war in its defense. In the 1990s Paul Wolfowitz enshrined THE WOLFOWITZ DOCTRINE into US military and foreign policy. In its most bold form, the Doctrine states:  “Our first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival, either on the territory of the former Soviet Union or elsewhere, that poses a threat on the order of that posed formerly by the Soviet Union. This is a dominant consideration underlying the new regional defense strategy and requires that we endeavor to prevent any hostile power from dominating a region whose resources would, under consolidated control, be sufficient to generate global power.”
- A Prescription for Peace and Prosperity, Paul Craig Roberts, 2015

President Biden on Saturday [March 26, 2022] said that Russian President Vladimir Putin can’t remain in power, hitting the autocrat over the destruction the American leader says Putin is wreaking on the Ukrainian people.

“Ukraine will never be a victory for Russia, for free people refuse to live in a world of hopelessness and darkness. “We will have a different future, a brighter future, rooted in democracy and principles, hope and light, of decency and dignity, of freedom, and possibilities,” Biden said during a SPEECH in front of the Polish presidential palace Saturday night, local time. “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.”
- Biden declares Putin ‘cannot remain in power’ in fiery Warsaw remarks, The Hill, March 26, 2022

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Russia-China Partnership Agreement

Asia Today
February 11, 2022

On February 4, 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping have signed a joint statement in Beijing before the Winter Olympics opening ceremony held in China. This statement was accepted as a bold declaration of the “New World Order” and the partnership between the two states WITHOUT ANY LIMITATIONS. The statement can be divided into four parts: the manifest on the new world order, Grand Eurasian Partnership, the United States (US) aggression, and cooperation against US aggression. It should be noted that it is much more an inclusive agreement and will change the balance of power in world politics. THE CONTENT OF THE CONTRACT can be summarized as in the following:

· About the New World Order, the sides believed that a new period has started in international relations, and global society demands a new international order based on development in a multi-polar world. Also, the sides suggested that multi-lateral ties have been quite significant in foreign policy and aimed at developing global governance. In addition to that, they offered a powerful United Nations is needed to provide multi-polar in international relations. In addition to that, the G20 format was supported instead of G7 since it is much more inclusive. Also, China and Russia believed that they played and will play an active role in the WTO.

· On Grand Eurasian Partnership, the sides have declared that the relations between the two countries are much stronger than it was in the Cold War Period. Also, China’s continuing economic and political project is known as the “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI). In the statement, it was claimed that following the BRI, a new Grand Eurasian Partnership would be established, contributing to cultural, economic, political, and historical relations of the region.

· China and Russia have declared that they are against the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as it approached the Black Sea region and started to try to contain Russia in the latest UKRAINE-RUSSIA CONFLICT. The sides believe that NATO is following the mentality of the Cold War period; however, as mentioned before, the world order is changing, as they suggested. Besides NATO, the sides indicated that the policies of the US in the India-Pacific region are dangerous and threatening the peace-building attempts in the Asia-Pacific region. They claimed that Russia and China are concerned about the trilateral security partnership between Australia, the United States, and the United Kingdom (AUKUS), which provides for deeper cooperation between its members in areas involving strategic stability, in particular their decision to initiate collaboration in the field of NUCLEAR POWERED SUBMARINES.

· On the other hand, the most crucial element of the joint declaration was the alliance against the US. The sides declared that the US could escalate the colorful revolutions in the region and stand against that. Also, the sides have put their views on contrasting against terrorism, that they will not let politicization of terrorism, and using terrorism as a tool of interrupting the domestic politics of any country. The two countries highlighted that they would stand against the sanctions of the US by struggling with economic inequality.

Some responses were given after the declaration of that Joint Statement. The US officials stated that, with the Joint Statement, China’s Xi Jinping could not protect Russia from sanctions. On the other hand, Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs Marise Payne criticized the alliance by saying, “The joint statement lays out a vision of the world that differs from Australia’s and our allies and partners, and I’m convinced it includes all of our Quad partners.” Also, in an interview with the ABC on Wednesday, she claimed that the tight security situation at the Russia-Ukraine border did not overshadow the importance the US places on the Indo-Pacific region. Further, Russia and China have slammed the United States’ Indo-Pacific Strategy, rejecting the establishment of closed bloc structures and opposing camps in the Asia-Pacific region. She said Australia is very worried about the Russian military build-up along the Ukraine border and called for a reciprocal conversation to de-escalate the situation. The chair of the UK’s parliamentary defense committee, Tobias Ellwood, also claimed that “Russia provides oil, gas and military hardware. China, in return, provides advanced technology, he wrote, adding that: “Today, we are seeing the birth of a potent anti-democratic alliance. It is on track to see the world shear into two spheres of competing influence. And we have let it happen.”

SOURCE

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A Manufactured World Crisis

By Ron Raul
Ron Paul Institute
March 27, 2022

Few people today ask the most important question about the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Many people want America to stay out of the fight, but even they don’t ask the vital question. Why does the world face a crisis today? Why has a border dispute between Russia and Ukraine escalated to the point where people fear nuclear war?

The answer is simple. America, under the “leadership” of brain-dead Biden and the forces controlling him, has done this and, by doing so, brought the world to the brink of disaster. As always, the great Dr. Ron Paul gets it right:

Three weeks into this terrible war, the US is not pursuing talks with Russia. As AS ANTIWAR.COM RECENTLY REPORTED, instead of supporting negotiations between Ukraine and Russia that could lead to a ceasefire and an end to the bloodshed, the US government is actually escalating the situation which can only increase the bloodshed.

The constant flow of US and allied weapons into Ukraine and talk of supporting an extended insurgency does not seem designed to give Ukraine a victory on the battlefield but rather to hand Russia what Secretary of State Blinken called “a strategic defeat.”

It sounds an awful lot like the THE BIDEN ADMINISTRATION INTENDS TO FIGHT RUSSIA DOWN TO THE LAST UKRANIAN. The only solution for the US is to get out. Let the Russians and Ukrainians reach an agreement. That means no NATO for Ukraine and no US missiles on Russia’s borders? So what! End the war then end NATO.

Let’s look at an analogy that will help us understand Dr. PaulҒs point. For years, the Ukrainian government has attacked an area in the Donbas region that has seceded from Ukraine and formed an independent, pro-Russian, republic. Just before Putin moved against Ukraine, Ukraianians increased the scale and scope of their attack. Rick Rozoff describes what they did:

“Two-thirds of Ukrainian army servicemen have been amassed along the Donbas contact line, Eduard Basurin, spokesman for the self-proclaimed Donetsk Peoples Republic (DPR) militia, said on Thursday.

Another three brigades are on their way [to Donbas], which is 20,000 to 25,000 troops more. The total number will reach 150,000, not to mention the nationalists. This is about two-thirds of Ukrainian Armed ForcesҒ personnel, Basurin said on the Rossiya 1 television channel (VGTRK) on Thursday.”

Unlike what has just happened, the Ukrainian attack did not result in US sanctions on Ukraine. There were no meetings of the UN to condemn Ukrainian aggression. There was no talk of world war. On the contrary, UkraineҒs government used American weapons in its attack and asked America for more weapons to continue their attack. Lets listen to Rick Rozoff again:

“The Armed Forces of Ukraine used the American anti-tank missile system Javelin in the hostilities in Donbas. This was announced by the head of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine Kirill Budanov in an interview.

Budanov said that ideally, the U.S. would help deter any Russian incursion, through additional military aid and increased diplomatic and economic pressure, including more sanctions against Russia and the seizure and blocking of Russian banking accounts.

Also, in addition to U.S. aid already promised and delivered, including Mark VI patrol boats, Javelin anti-armor systems and AN/TPQ-53 light counter-fire radar systems, Ukraine seeks additional air, missile and drone defense systems and electronic jamming devices, Budonov said. Patriot missile batteries and counter rocket, artillery and mortar systems are on Ukraine’s wish list.

The AN/TPQ-53 systems were used to great effect, Ukraine military officials have PREVIOUSLY REPORTED. Budanov said the Javelin systems have also been used against Russian forces. Those, along with Turkish-manufactured drones, used against Russian-aligned separatist artillery troops, have a significant psychological deterrent value, said Budanov.

Why the difference? We think that the US should not have shipped arms to Ukraine. Doing this made the situation worse. But for what we’re saying now, it doesn’t matter what you think of the policy. The key point is that because there was no international outcry and no sanctions, the matter remained a local fight. If brain-dead Biden and his gang had reacted to the so-called “Russian invasion” in the same way, the matter would have remained a local quarrel. Russia and Ukraine would have made a deal and that would be that.

The neocon warmongers and other defenders of “democracy,” who unfortunately include some deluded “libertarians” object. Don’t we have a duty to resist “aggression?” The answer is clear: No, we don’t. We do not have a duty to evaluate every foreign quarrel and assess who is at fault. We do not have a duty to require leaders of regimes we, or rather our masters in Washington, don’t like to accept existing boundaries of countries as unchangeable. We should reject the false doctrine of “collective security,” which makes every border dispute a world war. The great American historian Charles Beard recognized what was wrong with “collective security” in the 1930s. In his article, GIDDY MINDS AND FOREIGN QUARRELS he asked:

“On what should the foreign policy of the United States be based? Here is one answer and it is not excogitated in any professor’s study or supplied by political agitators. It is the doctrine formulated by George Washington, supplemented by James Monroe, and followed by the Government of the United States until near the end of the nineteenth century, when the frenzy for foreign adventurism burst upon the country. This doctrine is simple. Europe has a set of ‘primary interests’ which have little or no relation to us, and is constantly vexed by ‘ambition, rivalship, interest, humor, or caprice.’

The United States is a continental power separated from Europe by a wide ocean which, despite all changes in warfare, is still a powerful asset of defense. In the ordinary or regular vicissitudes of European politics the United States should not become implicated by any permanent ties. We should promote commerce, but force ‘nothing.’ We should steer dear of hates and loves. We should maintain correct and formal relations with all established governments without respect to their forms or their religions, whether Christian, Mohammedan, Shinto, or what have you.

BEARD THEN RESPONDED to those who wanted to scrap our traditional policy of non-intervention with “collective security”:

“In the rest of the world, outside this hemisphere, our interests are remote and our power to enforce our will is relatively slight. Nothing we can do for Europeans will substantially increase our trade or add to our, or their, well-being. Nothing we can do for Asiatics will materially increase our trade or add to our, or their, well-being. With all countries in Europe and Asia, our relations should be formal and correct. As individuals we may indulge in hate and love, but the Government of the United States embarks on stormy seas when it begins to love one power and hate another officially.”

We should heed Beard’s wisdom today. Otherwise, the world may go up in flames.

SOURCE

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Waltzing Toward Armageddon with the Merchants of Death
The doctrine of permanent war dominated our lives during the Cold War and dominates our lives now.

By Chris Hedges
Sheerpost
March 14, 2022

The Cold War, from 1945 to 1989, was a wild Bacchanalia for arms manufacturers, the Pentagon, the CIA, the diplomats who played one country off another on the worlds chess board, and the global corporations able to loot and pillage by equating predatory capitalism with freedom. In the name of national security, the Cold Warriors, many of them self-identified liberals, demonized labor, independent media, human rights organizations, and those who opposed the permanent war economy and the militarization of American society as soft on communism.

That is why they have resurrected it.

The decision to spurn the possibility of peaceful coexistence with Russia at the end of the Cold War is one of the most egregious crimes of the late 20th century. The danger of provoking Russia was universally understood with the collapse of the Soviet Union, including by political elites as diverse as Henry Kissinger and George F. Kennan, who called the expansion of NATO into Central Europe “the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-Cold War era.”

This provocation, a violation of a promise not to expand NATO beyond the borders of a unified Germany, has seen Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Albania, Croatia, Montenegro, and North Macedonia inducted into the Western military alliance. This betrayal was compounded by a decision to station NATO troops, including thousands of US troops, in Eastern Europe, another violation of an agreement made by Washington with Moscow. The Russian invasion of Ukraine, perhaps a cynical goal of the Western alliance, has now solidified an expanding and resurgent NATO and a rampant, uncontrollable militarism. The masters of war may be ecstatic, but the potential consequences, including a global conflagration, are terrifying.

Peace has been sacrificed for US global hegemony. It has been sacrificed for the billions in profits made by the arms industry. Peace could have seen state resources invested in people rather than systems of control. It could have allowed us to address the climate emergency. But we cry peace, peace, and there is no peace. Nations frantically rearm, threatening nuclear war. They prepare for the worst, ensuring that the worst will happen.

So what if the Amazon is reaching its final tipping point where trees will soon begin to die off en masse. So what if land ice and ice shelves are melting from below at a much faster rate than predicted. So what if temperatures soar, monster hurricanes, floods, droughts, and wildfires devastate the earth. In the face of the gravest existential crisis to beset the human species, and most other species, the ruling elites stoke a conflict that is driving up the price of oil and turbocharging the fossil fuel extraction industry. It is collective madness.

The march towards protracted conflict with Russia and China will backfire. The desperate effort to counter the steady loss of economic dominance by the US will not be offset by military dominance. If Russia and China can create an alternative global financial system, one that does not use the US dollar as the world’s reserve currency, it will signal the collapse of the American empire. The dollar will plummet in value. Treasury bonds, used to fund America’s massive debt, will become largely worthless. The financial sanctions used to cripple Russia will be, I expect, the mechanism that slays us, if we don’t first immolate ourselves in thermonuclear war.

The march towards protracted conflict with Russia and China will backfire. The desperate effort to counter the steady loss of economic dominance by the US will not be offset by military dominance. If Russia and China can create an alternative global financial system, one that does not use the US dollar as the worlds reserve currency, it will signal the collapse of the American empire. The dollar will plummet in value. Treasury bonds, used to fund America’s massive debt, will become largely worthless. The financial sanctions used to cripple Russia will be, I expect, the mechanism that slays us, if we dont first immolate ourselves in thermonuclear war.

Washington plans to turn Ukraine into Chechnya or the old Afghanistan, when the Carter administration, under the influence of the Svengali-like National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, equipped and armed the radical jihadists that would morph into the Taliban and al Qaeda in the fight against the Soviets. It will not be good for Russia. It will not be good for the United States. It will not be good for Ukraine, as making Russia bleed will require rivers of Ukrainian blood. The decision to destroy the Russian economy, to turn the Ukrainian war into a quagmire for Russia and topple the regime of Vladimir Putin will open a Pandoras box of evils. Massive social engineering - look at Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya or Vietnam has its own centrifugal force. It destroys those who play God.

The Ukrainian war has silenced the last vestiges of the Left. Nearly everyone has giddily signed on for the great crusade against the latest embodiment of evil, Vladimir Putin, who, like all our enemies, has become the new Hitler. The United States will give $13.6 billion in military and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine, with the Biden administration authorizing on Saturday an additional $200 million in military assistance. The 5,000-strong EU rapid deployment force, the recruitment of all Eastern Europe, including Ukraine, into NATO, the reconfiguration of former Soviet Bloc militaries to NATO weapons and technology have all been fast tracked. Germany, for the first time since World War II, is massively rearming. It has lifted its ban on exporting weapons. Its new military budget is twice the amount of the old budget, with promises to raise the budget to more than 2 percent of GDP, which would move its military from the seventh largest in the world to the third-, behind China and the United States. NATO battlegroups are being doubled in size in the Baltic states to more than 6,000 troops. Battlegroups will be sent to Romania and Slovakia. Washington will double the number of U.S. troops stationed in Poland to 9,000. Sweden and Finland are considering dropping their neutral status to integrate with NATO.

This is a recipe for global war. History, as well as all the conflicts I covered as a war correspondent, have demonstrated that when military posturing begins, it often takes little to set the funeral pyre alight. One mistake. One overreach. One military gamble too many. One too many provocations. One act of desperation.

Russias threat to attack weapons convoys to Ukraine from the West; its air strike on a military base in western Ukraine, 12 miles from the Polish border, which is a staging area for foreign mercenaries; the statement by Polish President Andrzej Duda that the use of weapons of mass destruction, such as chemical weapons, by Russia against Ukraine, would be a “game-changer” that could force NATO to rethink its decision to refrain from direct military intervention - all are ominous developments pushing the alliance closer to open warfare with Russia.

Once military forces are deployed, even if they are supposedly in a defensive posture, the bear trap is set. It takes very little to trigger the spring. The vast military bureaucracy, bound to alliances and international commitments, along with detailed plans and timetables, when it starts to roll forward, becomes unstoppable. It is propelled not by logic but by action and reaction, as Europe learned in two world wars.

The moral hypocrisy of the United States is staggering. The crimes Russia is carrying out in Ukraine are more than matched by the crimes committed by Washington in the Middle East over the last two decades, including the act of preemptive war, which under post-Nuremberg laws is a criminal act of aggression. Only rarely is this hypocrisy exposed as when US Ambassador to the United Nations LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD TOLD THE BODY: “Weve seen videos of Russian forces moving exceptionally lethal weaponry into Ukraine, which has no place on the battlefield. That includes cluster munitions and vacuum bombs which are banned under the Geneva Convention.” Hours later, the official transcriptof her remark was amended to tack on the words ”IF THEY ARE AGAINST CIVILIANS.” This is because the U.S., which like Russia never ratified the Convention on Cluster Munitions treaty, regularly uses cluster munitions. It used them in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Iraq. It has provided them to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen. Russia has yet to come close to the tally of civilian deaths from cluster munitions delivered by the US military.

The Dr. Strangeloves, like zombies rising from the mass graves they created around the globe, are once again stoking new campaigns of industrial mass slaughter. No diplomacy. No attempt to address the legitimate grievances of our adversaries. No check on rampant militarism. No capacity to see the world from another perspective. No ability to comprehend reality outside the confines of the binary rubric of good and evil. No understanding of the debacles they orchestrated for decades. No capacity for pity or remorse.

Elliot Abrams worked in the Reagan administration when I was reporting from Central America. He covered up atrocities and massacres committed by the military regimes in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and by the US-backed Contra forces fighting the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. He viciously attacked reporters and human rights groups as communists or fifth columnists, calling us “un-American” and “unpatriotic.” He was convicted for lying to Congress about his role in the Iran-Contra affair. During the administration of George W. Bush, he lobbied for the invasion of Iraq and tried to orchestrate a U.S. coup in Venezuela to overthrow HUGO CHAVEZ.

“There will be no substitute for military strength, and we do not have enough,” writes Abrams for the COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS, where he is a senior fellow: “It should be crystal clear now that a larger percentage of GDP will need to be spent on defense. We will need more conventional strength in ships and planes. We will need to match the Chinese in advanced military technology, but at the other end of the spectrum, we may need many more tanks if we have to station thousands in Europe, as we did during the Cold War. (The total number of American tanks permanently stationed in Europe today is zero.) Persistent efforts to diminish even further the size of our nuclear arsenal or prevent its modernization were always bad ideas, but now, as China and Russia are modernizing their nuclear weaponry and appear to have no interest in negotiating new limits, such restraints should be completely abandoned. Our nuclear arsenal will need to be modernized and expanded so that we will never face the kinds of threats Putin is now making from a position of real nuclear inferiority.”

Putin played into the hands of the war industry. He gave the warmongers what they wanted. He fulfilled their wildest fantasies. There will be no impediments now on the march to Armageddon. Military budgets will soar. The oil will gush from the ground. The climate crisis will accelerate. China and Russia will form the new axis of evil. The poor will be abandoned. The roads across the earth will be clogged with desperate refugees. All dissent will be treason. The young will be sacrificed for the tired tropes of glory, honor, and country. The vulnerable will suffer and die. The only true patriots will be generals, war profiteers, opportunists, courtiers in the media and demagogues braying for more and more blood. The merchants of death rule like Olympian gods.  And we, cowed by fear, intoxicated by war, swept up in the collective hysteria, clamor for our own annihilation.

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Posted by Elvis on 03/28/22 •
Section Bad Moon Rising • Section Revelations
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Sunday, March 27, 2022

UK living standards to fall at fastest rate since mid-1950s

image: middle class squeeze

UK living standards to fall at fastest rate since mid-1950s

“Like US, UK economy very bad shape: inflation outruns wages, workers’ living standards drop fast and far, Brexit’s disastrous results, a botched Covid response, etc. Some major UK papers, politicians say so. Not US where Biden’s media chorus says ‘great economic recovery.’
- Richard Wolff

By Richard Partington
The Guardian
March 23, 3022

Living standards in Britain are expected to fall at the fastest annual rate since the mid-1950s and will take until at least 2024 to return to pre-Covid levels, according to the governments independent economic forecaster.

Despite the measures announced by Rishi Sunak at his spring statement, the OFFICE FOR BUDGET RESPONSIBILITY (OBR) said real household disposable incomes per person would fall by 2.2% in 2022-23 as earnings from work fail to keep pace with soaring inflation.

It said the fall would be the biggest in a single financial year since modern records began in 1956-57, and that it would take until 2024-25 for inflation-adjusted living standards to return to their pre-pandemic level.

Highlighting an unprecedented squeeze on households as inflation soared after the Covid pandemic, made worse by the further rise in global energy prices after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the OBR said the damage for families would mean lower levels of consumer spending in the UK economy.

With households expected to tighten their belts as wage growth fails to match high rates of inflation, the tax and spending watchdog issued a sharp growth downgrade for this year to 3.8%, down from a previous estimate for growth of 6%.

Inflation is forecast to peak at 9% later this year, its highest rate in four decades, the OBR said. The figure was calculated a week after the Russian invasion of Ukraine - meaning the estimate takes into account the large increases in global energy prices triggered by the conflict and retaliatory sanctions.

Oil and gas prices have fallen back on international markets in recent days amid hopes for a breakthrough in peace talks, although they remain at historically high levels.

In his update to the Commons, Sunak said he would ‘stand by’ households by launching an immediate cut in fuel duty and raising the threshold at which workers begin to pay national insurance contributions.

With households expected to tighten their belts as wage growth fails to match high rates of inflation, the tax and spending watchdog issued a sharp growth downgrade for this year to 3.8%, down from a previous estimate for growth of 6%.

Inflation is forecast to peak at 9% later this year, its highest rate in four decades, the OBR said. The figure was calculated a week after the Russian invasion of Ukraine - meaning the estimate takes into account the large increases in global energy prices triggered by the conflict and retaliatory sanctions.

Oil and gas prices have fallen back on international markets in recent days amid hopes for a breakthrough in peace talks, although they remain at historically high levels.

However, the OBR said the support measures worth a combined L17.6bn - would only cushion about a third of the hit to living standards, while the chancellors tax cuts would only undo about one-sixth of the total tax increases he had previously announced.

Despite a stronger than expected performance in the public finances over recent months, analysts suggested Sunak had banked much of the gains for future, potentially for a pre-election giveaway.

Government borrowing in the current financial year would come in about L55.2bn lower than it estimated in October, the OBR said, suggesting Sunak would still have about L30bn of headroom within his self-imposed tax and spending limits.

However, it warned borrowing was expected to rise next year as high inflation pushes up the cost of servicing the UKҒs national debt to L83bn, double its previous estimate and the highest level on record.

Although Sunak sought to position himself to the nation as a tax-cutting chancellor by promising a 1p reduction in income tax from 2024, the OBR said that other changes would more than offset the giveaway by lifting the UK tax burden to the highest level since the 1940s.

The watchdog warned the inflation risk from Ukraine meant there was a high degree of uncertainty about its forecasts.

However, it suggested the squeeze on living standards would ease in future as global energy prices eventually drop back.

“Although low rates of unemployment after the end of furlough are likely to persist as companies struggle to find workers p fuelling growth in wages this year of about 5.3% - a wage-price spiral was unlikely to take hold,” the OBR said, “with inflation forecast to fall back below 2% in late 2023.”

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Posted by Elvis on 03/27/22 •
Section News
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Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Biden’s Medicare Privatization Scheme

image: save medicare

On January 19th [2021], The Daily Poster - which is by far the best news-source reporting on the Biden Administration - headlined BIDEN LIFTS HEALTH CARE PLAN FROM INSURANCE LOBBYISTS and reported that “the health-care plan that President Joe Biden will be proposing was written by the lobbyists for the mega-health-insurance companies and will include no public option and will include Nightmare Deductibles And Widespread Claim Denials.”
- Will President Biden Sell Us Out?

Dore argued that AOC and her progressive allies can best advance the cause of universal health care by denying Nancy Pelosi the support she needs to retain the Speakership - until she agrees to hold a House vote on Medicare for All
- The Left’s Most Naive Cynics Have Turned on AOC

Legislators don’t care if their constituents support X or Y policy. They start to care if they know that you have the capacity to hold them accountable and that you intend to carry out a public pressure campaign in response. Of course, the power of constituents also competes with the pressure House members receive from the health care industry.
- The Path to Winning a Floor Vote for Medicare for All in Congress

Health care coverage purchased through the ACA marketplace costs 83 percent more than Medicaid coverage, and ACA plans leave patients with ten times the amount of out-of-pocket costs, according to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
- Biden Lifts Health Care Plan From Insurance Lobbyists

The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services INNOVATION CENTER recently ANNOUNCED that by 2030, they will move all Traditional Medicare enrollees into a “care relationship” with a 3rd party middleman, without seniors knowledge or consent, and without Congressional oversight.
- Direct Contracting: Quietly Handing Medicare to Wall Street

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The hidden war on Medicare

Cuts to pathology and diagnostic imaging affecting the most vulnerable.

The Medicare rebate has been frozen pushing up costs for GPs and other health professionals. Reducing bulk billing as costs rise.

The proposed privatisation of Medicare billing would have affected service levels. YOUR PERSONAL RECORDS would have been handed to private companies and possibly ended up overseas. The government had refused Freedom Of Information requests for details of their studies:  external link FOI THE AUSTRALIAN. After the 2016 election, external link: THE GOVERNMENT DISBANDED THE MEDICARE OUTSOURCING UNIT

Billions of dollars have been cut from grants to hospitals

and much more

Save Medicare

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image: biden image

Critics Blast Biden Rebrand of Trump’s Medicare Privatization Scheme

By Jake Johnson
Common Dreams
February 22, 2022

Rejecting pressure to terminate the program in its entirety, the Biden administration on Thursday announced it is redesigning a TRUMP-ERA EXPERIMENT that physicians and progressive lawmakers have criticized as a scheme to fully privatize Medicare.

Instead of ending what’s known as the Direct Contracting model, which the Trump administration officially launched in 2020, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) gave the program a new name: ACO REACH, which stands for Accountable Care Organization Realizing Equity, Access, and Community Health.

In addition to the name change and fresh veneer - a step in line with the healthcare industry’s CALL for a “rebranding” - CMS said the program will now span four years instead of eight and will include requirements aimed at ensuring “transparency” and “equity.”

The CHANGES are slated to take effect on January 1, 2023.

Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), a doctor-led group that has SPEARHEADED the opposition to Direct Contracting, was far from satisfied with the Biden administration’s changes, which the organization argued are more cosmetic than substantive.

“ACO REACH is Direct Contracting in disguise,” SAID Dr. Susan Rogers, an internal medicine physician and president of PNHP. “This new model doubles down on Direct Contracting’s fatal flaws, inserting a profit-seeking middleman between beneficiaries and their providers.”

Under Direct Contracting, so-called Direct Contracting Entities (DCEs) were paid monthly by CMS to cover a specified portion of a patient’s medical care. DCEs - the MAJORITY of which are currently controlled by investors, not healthcare providers - are allowed to pocket funds they didn’t spend on care.

In a STATEMENT, PNHP - which has implored the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to fully halt the program - outlined how the revamped pilot “perpetuates the dangerous flaws” of the Trump administration’s Direct Contracting experiment:

First, like the DC model, ACO REACH will pay middlemen a flat fee to “manage” seniors’ health, allowing them to keep 40% of what they dont spend on care as profit and overhead.

Next, Traditional Medicare beneficiaries will still be automatically enrolled into ACO REACH entities without their full understanding or consent, and once enrolled cannot opt out of an ACO REACH entity unless they change primary care providers.

Like DCEs, the ACO REACH program has virtually no limits on what type of company can participate; entities can be owned by commercial insurers, private equity investors, and other profit-seeking firms, including current Direct Contracting entities.

The new program increases provider governance from 25% to 75% (with loopholes built into the application process), but ACO REACH entities are ultimately accountable to investors.

“You can’t slap a band-aid on a tumor and call it cured,” said Rogers. “Direct Contracting - and now ACO REACH - threatens the health of beneficiaries and the future of Traditional Medicare. As physicians committed to the health of our patients, we urge HHS to abandon this rebranding effort and focus the agency’s efforts towards strengthening and protecting Traditional Medicare.”

CMS unveiled its raft of changes to the Medicare experiment just over a week after a coalition of industry groups - including active participants in the Direct Contracting program - requested that the Biden administration “fix” the model instead of ending it.

The industry organizations suggested that “a rebranding and name change would… help communicate how this model is part of the evolution to accountable care.”

CMS is headed by Elizabeth Fowler, who has previously worked at Johnson & Johnson and WellPoint, Inc. - now known as Anthem, one of the largest private health insurance companies in the United States.

While CMS said Thursday that it took into account “feedback received from participants and stakeholders,” the new ACO REACH program is more in line with industry demands than those of physicians, grassroots advocacy groups, and progressive lawmakers.

“Changing the name doesn’t change the fact that the Direct Contracting program is backdoor privatization of Medicare,” Alex Lawson, executive director of Social Security Works, SAID in a statement. “This dangerous experiment must be stopped before it further harms the health of vulnerable seniors, eats into the Medicare Trust Fund, and destroys traditional Medicare.”

“DCEs and their investors - which include private equity firms - are focused on generating profits,” added Lawson. “They are incentivized to deny and delay care as much as possible. There are no changes that can address that fundamental flaw at the heart of the program. President Biden must protect older adults and people with disabilities by ending the direct contracting program immediately.”

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), who earlier this month LED MORE THAN 50 HOUSE DEMOCRATS in urging Biden to cut off the program, said Thursday that she will “continue to fight tooth and nail against any and all efforts to privatize Medicare.”

SOURCE

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As Biden Continues Privatization Ploy, Sanders Vows to Reintroduce Medicare for All

By Jake Johnson
Common Dreams
March 21, 2022

Sen. Bernie Sanders on Sunday said he intends to reintroduce Medicare for All legislation in the U.S. Senate in the coming days as the Biden administration moves ahead with a Medicare privatization scheme and millions of Americans remain at IMMINENT RISK of losing their insurance once pandemic protections expire.

“In the midst of the current set of horrors - war, oligarchy, pandemics, inflation, climate change, etc. - we must continue the fight to establish healthcare as a human right, not a privilege,” Sanders (I-Vt.), the chair of the Senate Budget Committee, WROTE in a Twitter post. “I will soon be reintroducing our Medicare for All legislation.”

Sanders’ announcement came weeks after Biden’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) SAID that instead of terminating a Medicare PRIVATIZATION EXPERIMENT hatched under the Trump administration, it would rebrand the pilot program and make minor changes that critic - including physicians and Medicare for All advocates - say would leave the scheme’s most dangerous components intact.

Meanwhile, millions of people across the U.S. are set to lose Medicaid benefits once the federally declared coronavirus public health emergency (PHE) expires. In January, the Biden administration extended the PHE through April 16, but it’s unclear whether there will be another extension.

Writing for The Daily Poster earlier this month, healthcare policy writer Libby Watson WRNED that “the potential scale of this mass disenrollment could be huge: The Urban Institute ESTIMATED in September that up to 15 million people could lose their Medicaid coverage when the PHE ends.”

“The Georgetown Center for Children and Families estimated in a REPORT released in February that 6.7 million children are likely to lose coverage,” Watson added. “Many of the new enrollees over the past few years will genuinely no longer be eligible - not a surprise, since the income limits for Medicaid are very low - but many others who are eligible will lose coverage anyway.”

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, progressives have argued that the best way to prevent such disastrous HEALTH INSURANCE CHURN is to establish a single-payer system under which everyone is guaranteed comprehensive coverage regardless of income or other factors.

LAST MARCH, Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) REINTRODUCED Medicare for All legislation in the House with the backing of more than half of the chamber’s Democratic caucus. Despite strong support for the bill, House Speaker NANCY PELOSI (D-Calif.) has YET TO ALLOW FOR A FLOOR VOTE.

Jayapal and Dingell are AMONG THE PROGRESSIVE LAWMAKERS urging President Joe Biden to terminate the Medicare privatization experiment, which is now known as ACO REACH.

In an ANALYSIS released just before Jayapal and Dingell re-upped their bill last year, the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen estimated that hundreds of thousands fewer people would have died of Covid-19 in the U.S. if the country had a Medicare for All system.

“Under Medicare for All, everyone would have consistent coverage regardless of their employment status or employer,” Public Citizen’s report noted. “And because Americans would have their choice of providers, instead of facing the narrow networks their employers choose for them, they would face fewer challenges getting care, especially during a pandemic where some hospitals and providers are overwhelmed by demand.”

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Posted by Elvis on 03/22/22 •
Section Dying America
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