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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Issue of the Week: Paul Ryan’s Insurance Industry Donations

Plus Heroes and Jerks of the Week

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Congressman Paul Ryan has been critical of the different health reform plans moving through the various congressional committees. On TV and in newspaper op-ed pages, the ubiquitous Janesville Republican is painting an ominous picture of what will happen if a public health insurance plan is allowed to compete with the private insurance industry. He also talks about wanting to empower both the patients and the doctors. We certainly all agree with that notion, but the current system that Ryan is trying to put Band-Aids on isn’t centered on decisions made by doctors and patients. It is a system where the real life-and-death decisions are made by insurance companies that are focusing on their profit margins, not what’s best for the patient.

So why is Congressman Ryan so worried about protecting the financial interests of insurance companies? Why is he so concerned that a public option would expose the gross inefficiencies and abuses of the private health insurance industry? Well, follow the money. According to Opensecrets.org, the insurance industry has been Ryan’s top contributor over the course of his entire career. Since 1989, Ryan has raised $475,401 from insurance interests. Add in the money from health professionals ($258,240), Big Pharma ($155,392), hospitals and nursing homes ($136,577) and health services/HMOs ($116,950), and it’s no wonder why Ryan’s happy with the status quo.

So the next time you see Ryan defend the current deeply flawed health care system and private insurance companies’ central role in it, ask yourself if he’s truly representing his constituents’ best interests—or his biggest donors’ bottom line.


Heroes of the Week: Dan Van Buskirk and Patrick Nettesheim

When Dan Van Buskirk and Patrick Nettesheim made a commitment to help disabled veterans, they followed through in a big way—and that’s music to our ears. Van Buskirk and Nettesheim drew upon their experiences, talents and materials to found Guitars for Vets, which is designed to enhance the lives of injured and ailing veterans by providing them with free guitars and music instruction. The idea started in 2007, when Van Buskirk, a Vietnam vet, noticed that his guitar lessons with Nettesheim had helped him manage his post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a common affliction among combat veterans. The pair thought that other vets might benefit from similar therapy, and they began offering instruments and lessons at Milwaukee’s V.A. Medical Center. The program proved to be a hit, and has expanded to serve Wisconsin vets in La Crosse, Tomah and Madison, as well as satellite programs in Houston and Boulder, Colo. Nettesheim describes the program as “the healing power of music in the hands of heroes.” Instruments donated to the group are either presented directly to vets or, if especially valuable, sold to purchase more guitars. We salute Van Buskirk and Nettesheim for taking the initiative to help our servicemen and women. Readers wishing to donate instruments or provide instruction are directed to www.guitarsforvets.org.



Jerk of the Week: Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman

Once again, Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman has managed to stay one step ahead of the law. State regulators chose not to pursue charges against Gableman for allegedly making political fund-raising calls from his office while serving as Ashland County district attorney in 2002. The fund-raising calls were said to have asked for political contributions to then-Gov. Scott McCallum, who had the power to appoint Gableman as a circuit judge. When McCallum did indeed appoint Gableman, critics said his actions amounted to buying a judicial appointment. And by making fund-raising calls from a political office, it was alleged that Gableman committed the same crimes that caused a number of state legislators to be charged with felonies, lose their law licenses and spend time in jail. While others ended up in big trouble, Gableman ends up on the Supreme Court.

How can anyone expect the general public to take our court system seriously when it is OK for Supreme Court justices to get by with acts that send others to jail? In dismissing the complaint brought by One Wisconsin Now, the Office of Lawyer Regulation concluded that Gableman used “poor judgment.”

And speaking of poor judgment: On a separate set of issues, Gableman is currently facing possible removal from the bench for ethics violations after allegedly running knowingly false statements in campaign ads about his opponent, Justice Louis Butler, during the 2008 campaign for Wisconsin Supreme Court.

Doesn’t Wisconsin deserve better than a Supreme Court justice who consistently displays poor judgment?