Upton’s opponent brings campaign to Dowagiac

Published 4:26 am Monday, October 27, 2008

By By JOHN EBY / Dowagiac Daily News
Don Cooney dashes in out of the rain Friday at Moore Products, a custom door maker in Pokagon Township, southwest of Dowagiac.
The Western Michigan University social work associate professor and Kalamazoo city commissioner since 1997 wants to consult "ordinary people" instead of lobbyists about issues such as health care costs and wars sapping America's economic strength.
Paul Moore and two of his three employees each logged more than 20 years at Jessup Door before it folded.
Ten years ago they set up their own shop, but Moore told Cooney if health care costs continue to climb, his business won't survive another 10 years, even though after its worst August in the decade, "we're running full-tilt" after periods with layoffs and partial work weeks.
Cooney, accompanied by fellow WMU instructor Chris Hodshire, who grew up in Dowagiac, believes "we need to change the agenda in Washington, D.C., and that most of the challenges we encounter locally are rooted in the failed policies of the Bush administration and his Republican counterparts in Congress," such as his opponent, 12-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph.
Cooney puts forth a four-plank platform as his prescription for southwest Michigan: first, create an economy that works for everyone – especially working families, the middle class and the poor; second, achieve energy independence by investing in renewable energy, increased efficiency, conservation and mass transit; these energy policies would create green jobs, curb global warming and protect the environment; third end the U.S. occupation of Iraq; and fourth, institute universal health care and affordable prescription drugs.
"We ship all over the Midwest," Moore tells Cooney. "Grand Rapids. Detroit. Indianapolis. Chicago. Cleveland. I also have customers in Iowa and we've had doors go as far as Alaska, Florida and Canada. We can reproduce old doors from the 1930s.
"We're building 4-foot-wide cherry doors, 93 1/2 inches tall and 2 1/4 inches thick. We'll have quarter-inch plywood in the middle, then solid cherry panels on both sides. It's a real stable core and we don't have to worry about warping and twisting. And we're ecology friendly in that we don't have solid cherry, a high-priced wood, so it goes further, by also using knotty pine."
Cooney, who has a doctorate from Bryn Mawr, pores over Moore's health care figures.
"At my renewal last year," Moore said, "they proposed an increase of 31.9 percent. I can't live with that, so I negotiated with the insurance company to bring it down to something manageable. We ended up with a 7.5-percent increase by giving up more items. We originally had prescriptions. We don't have dental or optical. Our deductible was originally $500. It's now $2,500, and we pay 30 percent after that. When we started 10 years ago, one person was $137 and two people were less than $200. If I didn't have this big increase, I could afford to put more equipment in here and we could put more people to work in here. (Health care) is like the big monster. My question is, is it going to do this for another 10 years? If it does, I'm out of business."
Cooney commiserates with his own anecdote about a man he met with a genetic predisposition to a disease which killed his father. He was supposed to be tested every two years, but he lost his job, lacked health insurance and skipped the $2,000 test.
"We should never put people in that position," Cooney said.
Cooney, who taught high school six years and at the college level for 33 years, was a runner who competed in the Boston Marathon until his legs "gave out" and he got two artificial hips.
"But I've got a brother-in-law who's 20 years younger than me. Same thing happened to him that happened to me – the cartilage between the leg bones and hip bones disintegrated. He used to repair trucks. The truck company went out of business, so now he has no health insurance. He's been walking around for three years because he can't get his hips replaced. Why should I be fine when he isn't?"
It's clear to Cooney that the United States needs universal health care coverage.
"We're the only industrialized country in the world that doesn't have universal health care," Cooney said, "I favor a single-payer system similar to Canada. We already have the most expensive health care in the world. We spend $2 trillion. Twenty-five percent is in administrative costs. Insurance companies' job is to keep you away from health care so they can make money for their company. If we had universal health care and don't have to deal with all the insurance companies, we can use that money for health care. That's what Canada and other industrialized countries do. Twenty-percent of $2 trillion is a lot of money. If you ask the people in Canada, 85 to 90 percent of them want their health care system over ours."
A suitable health care system contains five components, in Cooney's estimation:
Emphasize prevention. "Our people are not healthy. We've got childhood obesity and smoking."
Universal coverage. "It might not be fancy, with a flat-screen TV in your hospital room, but it takes care of you and makes sure you're okay."
Comprehensive. "By that, I mean it's got to cover mental health as well as physical health. A lot of insurance companies don't cover mental health or only a small piece of it. That's not right. It's a disease. It has to include dental" and vision "because that's all part of what people need."
Accessible. "We've got veterans in Kalamazoo with post-traumatic stress disorder, but to get treatment they've got to go from Kalamazoo to Battle Creek. It gets discouraging, so they stop doing it."
Affordable. "We pay twice as much for health care as Canada does and we've got lousy health care. Going to a universal system would save a huge amount of money and then be able to take care of everyone. Social Security administration costs 1 percent. We're spending 25 percent on administrative costs for health insurance. Barack Obama is talking about this, although I don't think his plan goes far enough. I'd like to see it go farther. He's got a plan to cover everybody that would be much less expensive than it is now."
Cooney told Moore, "Putting you out of business here would be terrible and crazy because people need jobs. You're contributing to the economy. We lose as a nation when things like that happen. Doctors very much favor universal health. One of my colleagues at Western, his son just got admitted to Michigan State's medical school. He'll get out owing $250,000 he's got to make back. There's too much money involved. We've got to adjust it to a way it's affordable for everyone. The leading cause of bankruptcy in the United States is people who can't pay their health bills. General Motors says it costs more for the insurance for the guys who make a car than for the steel in a car. They're competing with other countries that have got universal health care, so you can't do it. The reason we haven't moved to that is the power of the medical lobbies."
Moore recently had his annual physical at a doctor's in St. Joseph.
He marveled at the foot-thick medical code book the three-person office staff turned to to complete paperwork.
"I don't go to doctors too much," said Cooney, who has a son, Nathaniel, "but my wife (Kathy) goes three times back and forth, corresponding, because they won't pay for the right thing. All that is money we spend for no health care. We've got 47 million people with no health care at all. That's almost five times the population of Michigan. Another 50 million have lousy health care."
"That's where they've pushed us to in my opinion," Moore said. "Lousy health care. Every year the coverage goes down, the deductible goes up and my premium still goes up. That premium is what stops us from expanding."
Moore also complained to Cooney that Cass County is discriminated against because of its older population.
His wife works for a Berrien County company with the same carrier. "Their increase was less than 15 percent while mine was almost 32 percent. I wanted to drag my plant six miles across the county line."
"The government should be working for the people," the candidate said. "It's working for the big companies. We can turn that around. That's what this campaign is about."
One of Moore's employees said, "We've got to have people in the state and in Washington who are really interested in this country and Americans. Other countries are second. It's wrong right now. I just saw on TV that 60 to 70 percent of the oil produced here in the United States is sold overseas. Keep that oil here. My personal opinion is that none of them in Washington care about America because they give too much away overseas. Yeah, people over there need help, but every time in history the United States has intervened in a country, such as Iraq, they all have oil. Those that don't have oil, we do nothing. We don't belong in Iraq. Afghanistan, yes. Get Osama bin Laden. You have to be proud of the soldiers fighting in Iraq. They're doing their duty. But none of the stuff we went went there for, they didn't have it. We're there under false pretenses. We invaded that country. We have to make restitution for what we destroyed, but then we should have gotten out of that country. That isn't what's happening. These soldiers fighting and dying should not be there. I agree wholeheartedly with Obama that if we get Osama bin Laden in our sights on the Pakistan side of the border, take him out and strike a blow to al Qaeda."
"Iraq is one of the biggest problems we've got right now," according to Cooney. "I opposed this war since the beginning. We passed two resolutions against the war on the city commission – one before it started and another. I went to Washington to meet with our congressman to try to convince him to stop this war, which is killing us economically. We spend $15 million an hour, 24 hours a day, seven days a week in Iraq, and for what? There were no weapons of mass destruction. (Saddam Hussein) was not tied to Osama. You're right. It was about oil. The war is illegal. We signed on to the United Nations charter, which says there are only two reasons a country can go war. One is if you're under an immediate threat. We were not. Second, if you bring your case to the UN and nations agree. Bush should have been impeached for lying to the American people and he should have been impeached for the torture.
"I'm running in a district that's mostly Republican, but I've got a good chance to win because people are hurting so bad," Cooney said.
"Oil, and it's what Bush wanted," an employee said. "When he first ran for office, I told my wife, 'If he gets elected, he's going to have us in a war with Iraq.' George Bush wanted this war."
"He authorized torture," Cooney added, "which is against everything we believe in."
Moore said his daughter, who went to Africa last summer, hides her American identity by saying she's Canadian.
"I can't blame" those around the world who hold the United States in low regard, Moore said. "When you look at what we've done in the last 10 years, it's outrageous."
"I think Obama's going to win," Cooney stated. "McCain's talking nonsense. He doesn't have a plan for universal health care. He says he'll give individuals a $2,500 tax credit toward health insurance, $5,000 for a family. But the average cost for family health insurance is $10,000 to $12,000. It doesn't add up. We need a plan that moves us in that direction. We've lost 1 million jobs since January. Since 2000, we've lost 3 million manufacturing jobs. Michigan's unemployment rate is 8.7 percent. The economy's in really bad shape. We've lost 5 million people out of the middle class into poverty. The rest are hanging on by their fingernails."
Moore agrees that the middle class needs to rebound if the country is to prosper.
"It's a myth that this country doesn't have any money," Cooney said. "Our gross national product is $14 trillion. The problem is the massive shift of wealth to the richest people in the country. Since 2000, middle class people have been losing their health insurance, losing their jobs. The richest 1 percent quadrupled their wealth" even before the $700 billion bailout, which the candidate blasted as "taking tax money from people making $35,000 to $40,000 a year and giving it to banks and financial institutions where the CEOs make millions. The CEO of Goldman Sachs took home $68 million. That's crazy. We've got to turn it around. We should be investing in the human and physical infrastructure of the country. One thing we could do to generate jobs that Obama's been talking about is a 10-year plan to energy independence. We get to renewable energy, we do insulation and conservation to protect what we've got, we rebuild how we make cars and mass transit. That would generate a huge amount of jobs. We're spending now almost $250 billion right out of the country to buy oil. Battle Creek last week opened a factory that makes photovoltaic cells for solar energy. That generated 325 jobs. The more we move in that direction, Michigan has the power to generate just by windmills six times the electricity we now use in the state, but you can't meter that, which is why these guys are fighting against it."
"One of the biggest problems we've got," Cooney said, "is the 35,000 lobbyists in Washington. "The pharmaceutical companies and the oil companies each have two lobbyists for each member of Congress. Those guys get their issues on the table."
"It's nice to hear someone wants to look out for the little guy," Moore said. "For the longest time, we haven't seen it coming out of Washington."
"My opponent has $600,000 in PAC money. I don't have any," Cooney said. "To get on the city commission I spent $5,000. I was outspent 5-1."