Let it be borne on the flag under which we rally in every exigency, that we have one country, one constitution, one destiny. -- Daniel Webster

Monday, July 27, 2009

Up-date on the Des Moines Nine

This evening I received a press release from Mona Shaw, one of the courageous Des Moines Nine who were arrested for demanding fair treatment for Iowans by Wellmark, a health care concern operating in that state. I am proud to bring this press release to you now:

Eight people including four Catholic Workers were charged with criminal trespass in the lobby of Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield today. They are:

Ed Bloomer, 62, Des Moines Catholic Worker,

Kirk Brown, 29, former Catholic Worker of Waukee, Iowa,

Robert Cook, 66, Des Moines, Iowa,

Frank Cordaro, 58, Des Moines Catholic Worker,

Renee Espeland, 48, Des Moines Catholic Worker,

Christine Gaunt, 50, Grinnell, Iowa,

Mona Shaw, 58, Des Moines Catholic Worker,

Leonard Simons, 67, Athol, MA,

Frankie Hughes, 11, Des Moines Catholic Worker.

Those arrested were part of a group of about forty that filled the lobby at Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield to "hold Wellmark accountable for the suffering denying claims and coverage of Iowans." The group walked to the lobby after a 1:00 p.m. rally in Nollen Plaza on Monday, July 27, 2009. When the group arrived, several Wellmark employees as well as several police officers were waiting in place. Frank Cordaro, a member of the group asked to see John Forsyth CEO of Wellmark, Inc., to ask him for the corporate information they had requested weeks earlier by letter. Then the group read a statement that included the comment, "It is our moral responsibility, as involved residents of Iowa, including previous and current policy holders, to examine and evaluate the competence of your stewardship over such a large and pervasive public trust."

The statement also reiterated the information they had requested in the previously-sent letter. The statement also said there were some present who would not leave until their questions were answered.

After reading their statement, the group was advised by Richard Werth, Director of Physical Security, that neither Forsyth nor any of Wellmark's Board of Directors or Financial Officers were available. Werth then went on to inform the group that if they did not disperse and leave immediately the Des Moines Police would be instructed to arrest them. All but nine of those who had filed into the lobby then left, and the remaining nine were arrested and taken to the Des Moines Police office where they were processed and released. All but one is scheduled to appear for arraignment on August 3, 2009. Leonard Simons was given an August 10, 2009, appearance date.

On Friday, June 19, 2009, Des Moines Catholic Workers and other activists went to Wellmark headquarters in downtown Des Moines and hand-delivered a letter addressed to John Forsyth. The letter was handed to an administrative assistant on the second-floor lobby of the Wellmark offices. The letter demanded transparency and accountability for the profits gained and the decisions made for the health care needs of the Iowans Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield serve. The letter gave Forsyth until July 20, 2009, to respond. To date, Forsyth has not responded to or acknowledged the letter.

A copy of the letter is at this link: http://www.desmoinescatholicworker.org/page69.html

Featured speaker at the 1:00 p.m. rally was Dr. Margaret Flowers, the pediatrician arrested May 5, 2009, at Senate Health Care Reform hearings, and who appeared on "Democracy Now" and MSNBC's "The Ed Show" about her own arrest for urging Senators to consider single-payer at a Senate Health Care Reform hearing in April. Dr. Flowers also gave a talk on Sunday, July 26 at 7:30 p.m. at the Highland Park Presbyterian Church, 321 Euclid Ave., Des Moines.

Related Links




Breaking News: Nine Arrested in Health Care Protest

Nine persons, all with the Des Moines Catholic Workers were arrested at 2:00 this afternoon in the offices of the Wellmark Blue Cross/Blue Shield in Des Moines, Iowa. This writer just spoke with one of those arrested, Mona Shaw. She confirmed that one of those arrested was an 11-year-old girl. The nine were cited for criminal trespass and released.

The protesters were demonstrating on behalf of a single-payer system. Some one needs to begin taking a count of all those persons arrested for standing up for a sane and just economic system in this country, including health care for all.

The Des Moines Nine are to be congratulated for their efforts on behalf of us all.


Eliot Spitzer Speaks the Truth

Today I have a quote of former New York governor Eliot Spitzer, who whatever his former troubles, maintains credibility on financial matters. I have not confirmed this quote but it comes from a usually reliable source.

Gov. Spitzer's comments follow:

"The Federal Reserve has benefited for decades from the notion that it is quasi-autonomous, it's supposed to be independent. Let me tell you a dirty secret: The Fed has done an absolutely disastrous job since Paul Volcker left. The reality is the Fed has blown it. Time and time again, they blew it. Bubble after bubble, they failed to understand what they were doing to the economy. The most poignant example for me is the AIG bailout, where they gave tens of billions of dollars that went right through — conduit payments — to the investment banks that are now solvent. We didn't get stock in those banks, they didn't ask what was going on — this begs and cries out for hard, tough examination. You look at the governing structure of the New York Federal Reserve, it was run by the very banks that got the money. This is a Ponzi scheme, an inside job. It is outrageous, it is time for Congress to say enough of this. And to give them more power now is crazy. The Fed needs to be examined carefully."


Many people feel the Federal Reserve has out-lived its usefulness, Ben Bernanke's publicity tour notwithstanding. I agree and believe it is time to abolish the Federal Reserve and replace it with a national bank which would have authority to directly over-see the nation's financial health, not through monopolistic control, but through serious oversight to ensure sound practices are being followed at all times. This oversight has been sorely lacking.

Friday, July 24, 2009

The President Must Be Held Accountable

I am today posting an article by David Swanson, the former press secretary for Dennis Kucinich. It was posted on the Voters for Peace web list.

In this article Mr. Swanson goes through numerous promises made by candidate Obama and compares them to the actions of President Obama. It is a startling list. In the article Swanson gives credit to The St. Petersburg Times for much of the research. I thank a friend for sending me this.

(In the original on-line posting there were video links.)


For Your Consideration

By David Swanson

In six months as president, Barack Obama has aggressively done the opposite of many specific things he explicitly and unequivocally promised as a candidate. A lot of these were things Obama's fiercest opponents never wanted. And Obama's fiercest supporters favor censoring this information. But if we expect public servants to be public servants, the public must know the facts, make of them what it will.

Here's a video of candidate Obama promising not to change laws with signing statements and denouncing that practice as unconstitutional. In 2007, Obama filled out a questionnaire for the Boston Globe in which he said "It is a clear abuse of power to use such statements as a license to evade laws that the president does not like or as an end-run around provisions designed to foster accountability. I will not use signing statements to nullify or undermine congressional instructions as enacted into law." Obama now does this routinely. His nominee for the Supreme Court (verbosely) refused to answer a question on the constitutionality of signing statements. She should have asked pre-election Obama to share with her his clear and compelling analysis.

Candidate Obama went beyond promising to sign and enforce laws as written (or veto them). He also promised to take each new bill that reached his desk and post it online for five days before signing or vetoing it, to give the public a chance to review it and weigh in (video). This promise was posted on Obama's campaign website. Of course, it would make far more sense for Congress to take this step before voting on legislation, but the president's doing it would be a good thing. Obama hasn't taken this step with a single bill and has tended to sign them within hours. In the same video, you can watch candidate Obama promise that when a tax bill is debated he will post online the corporations that would benefit. He promised to post online every corporate tax break and every pork barrel project contained in new legislation. He has not done so.

Bush did not just ignore long-standing laws and treaties and rewrite new ones with signing statements. He also invented law out of whole cloth, publicly and privately, through executive orders, alteration of existing executive orders, memos drafted by the Office of Legal Counsel, and the creation of secret programs. Candidate Obama promised to thoroughly review Bush's executive orders immediately upon taking office. Obama promised to swiftly undo all of Bush's executive orders that "trampled on liberty." Obama has had six months and has failed to produce any review of Bush's hundreds of executive orders and signing statements. Obama has overturned a handful of Bush's executive orders, not on the grounds that a president cannot make law, but on the grounds that the new president disagrees with those particular orders. Obama has instructed government employees to ask his new Justice Department before complying with Bush's signing statements, but not rejected those statements publicly on the grounds that a president cannot rewrite laws. And, just as he has written his own law-altering signing statements, Obama has routinely written his own law-making executive orders. He's even floated the idea of using an executive order to create a formal program of preventive detention (thus eliminating both the legislative branch and habeas corpus in one stroke).

Candidate Obama's website defined Bush's use of "state secrets" claims as a problem that Obama's election would solve. Asked about claims of "executive privilege" to keep secret activities of government employees that did not involve the president, candidate Obama told the Boston Globe "My view is that executive privilege generally depends on the involvement of the President and the White House." President Obama has used "state secrets" claims more broadly than did President Bush, and used them repeatedly to keep secret the rendition, torture, and warrantless spying programs created by Bush, including by re-asserting the same "state secret" claims made by Bush. Obama's White House has used "executive privilege" claims to block full compliance with a congressional subpoena by Karl Rove despite Rove's claim that the President was not involved in the crimes and abuses under investigation.

Candidate Obama told the Boston Globe, "I believe the Administration's use of executive authority to over-classify information is a bad idea. We need to restore the balance between the necessarily secret and the necessity of openness in our democracy – which is why I have called for a National Declassification Center." President Obama continues to propose this idea, while failing to act on it, and while classifying information left public by Bush.

Obama's campaign promised: "Barack Obama will strengthen whistleblower laws to protect federal workers who expose waste, fraud, and abuse of authority in government." President Obama has signing statemented away constraints on his power to retaliate against whistleblowers by firing them.

The St. Petersburg Times (Florida, not Russia) maintains a list of Obama's promises and tracks those kept and broken. While this newspaper lists some important promises that have indeed been kept, I don't share all of the same priorities (or care that Obama promised to get his daughters a puppy and followed through). And I do not want to hold a president to promises to do things only Congress can constitutionally do. The St. Petersburg Times ignores important issues that I discuss here, but I give them credit for doing more than any other media outlet I've seen. They list seven broken promises (as well as many compromised or partially fulfilled), and this is one of the broken ones: Candidate Obama promised not to hire lobbyists, saying, "I don't take a dime of their [lobbyist] money, and when I am president, they won't find a job in my White House." Candidate Obama's website said: "No political appointees in an Obama-Biden administration will be permitted to work on regulations or contracts directly and substantially related to their prior employer for two years. And no political appointee will be able to lobby the executive branch after leaving government service during the remainder of the administration." This promise has been tossed in the trash.

Candidate Obama's war-related promises is a muddy area. Many Americans heard Obama promise to "end the war" at rallies and interpreted that to mean something similar to what it sounds like it means. But candidate Obama told reporters fairly consistently that he would escalate the war in Afghanistan. And, while he denied that a president had the power to strike another nation (such as Pakistan) he also proposed doing just that. And on Iraq, candidate Obama said he would withdraw all the troops over a period of 16 months, with the exception of what he called "non-combat troops" and possibly mercenaries and other contractors. Obama's campaign website said that he would "remove one to two combat brigades each month, and have all of our combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months." But candidate Obama did not make these promises in terms of fulfilling the requirements of the treaty made between Bush and Maliki, misleadingly often called a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). Obama was promising a speedier withdrawal than the treaty required, and his position as a candidate was that the U.S. Senate should review the treaty. Our Constitution makes invalid any treaty not consented to by the Senate. With this one, Congress was not even consulted.

As president, Obama has indeed struck Pakistan repeatedly and escalated the war in Afghanistan. It would be difficult to argue that the former is constitutional, and the constitutionality of the latter depends on the disputed claim that when Congress funds war it thereby declares war as well. It is on Iraq, however, that President Obama differs most from candidate Obama. President Obama no longer wants Congress to approve the Bush-Maliki treaty, but frames his own plans in its terms. At the same time, Obama has violated the treaty's requirement that all troops leave localities by June 2009 by reclassifying troops and redrawing urban boundaries. The U.S. military commanded by Obama is opposing allowing the Iraqi people to vote the treaty up or down by the end of July 2009, which was a condition of the treaty's ratification by the Iraqi Parliament. And top U.S. generals have openly stated their intention to violate the requirement of complete withdrawal by the end of 2011, without any retraction of those statements being issued by the White House. Meanwhile, Obama quickly extended his partial-withdrawal timetable from 16 to 19 months and made it subject to the wishes of the generals he supposedly commands. Yet, even that slowed withdrawal is not happening, and the Pentagon is maintaining troop levels in Iraq at their current numbers into 2010.

Candidate Obama promised to "end the abuse of the supplemental budgets, where much of the money has been lost, by creating [a] system of oversight for war funds as stringent as in the regular budget." President Obama then proposed a regular budget that included war funds and set the record as the largest budget for military-war spending in the history of the planet. Shortly thereafter, Obama requested a war supplemental bill, which some Congress members said they were voting for to please the president and others said they were voting for because it was the last such supplemental. Immediately after it passed, Congressman John Murtha revealed that another supplemental was planned for later this year. The White House did not dispute that statement.

Candidate Obama did not oppose striking Pakistan without Congressional authorization, but did make statements on the idea of attacking Iran that showed his understanding that such strikes were unconstitutional. He told the Boston Globe:
"The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation. As Commander-in-Chief, the President does have a duty to protect and defend the United States. In instances of self-defense, the President would be within his constitutional authority to act before advising Congress or seeking its consent. History has shown us time and again, however, that military action is most successful when it is authorized and supported by the Legislative branch. It is always preferable to have the informed consent of Congress prior to any military action. As for the specific question about bombing suspected nuclear sites, I recently introduced S.J. Res. 23, which states in part that 'any offensive military action taken by the United States against Iran must be explicitly authorized by Congress.' The recent NIE tells us that Iran in 2003 halted its effort to design a nuclear weapon. While this does not mean that Iran is no longer a threat to the United States or its allies, it does give us time to conduct aggressive and principled personal diplomacy aimed at preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons."

The Boston Globe asked candidate Obama "Do you agree or disagree with the statement made by former Attorney General Gonzales in January 2007 that nothing in the Constitution confers an affirmative right to habeas corpus, separate from any statutory habeas rights Congress might grant or take away?" and Obama replied: "Disagree strongly." Obama's campaign statement was this:
"The right of habeas corpus allows prisoners to ask a court to determine whether they are being lawfully imprisoned. Recently, this right has been denied to those deemed enemy combatants. Barack Obama strongly supports bipartisan efforts to restore habeas rights. He firmly believes that those who pose a danger to this country should be swiftly tried and brought to justice, but those who do not should have sufficient due process to ensure that we are not wrongfully denying them their liberty."

President Obama has fought in court and made a speech in front of the U.S. Constitution at the National Archives asserting the power to do exactly what candidate Obama said was unconstitutional. Obama is imprisoning people outside of any rule of law in Bagram and Guantanamo, and proposing to keep some of them in prison indefinitely without ever bringing them to trial. He is proposing to formalize such a system and dress it up in "due process" reviews. He asserts the power to render prisoners to other nations, as well. Having promised not to render prisoners for the purpose of having them tortured, Obama now claims the power to render prisoners while promising not to use it for torture, yet failing -- in the view of many human rights advocates -- to justify the practice.

The Boston Globe asked candidate Obama: "If Congress defines a specific interrogation technique as prohibited under all circumstances, does the president's authority as commander in chief ever permit him to instruct his subordinates to employ that technique despite the statute?" And Obama replied:
"No. The President is not above the law, and the Commander-in-Chief power does not entitle him to use techniques that Congress has specifically banned as torture. We must send a message to the world that America is a nation of laws, and a nation that stands against torture. As President I will abide by statutory prohibitions, and have the Army Field Manual govern interrogation techniques for all United States Government personnel and contractors."

Obama also told the Globe: "It is illegal and unwise for the President to disregard international human rights treaties that have been ratified by the United States Senate, including and espec ially the Geneva Conventions. The Commander-in-Chief power does not allow the President to defy those treaties. The detention of American citizens, without access to counsel, fair procedure, or pursuant to judicial authorization, as enemy combatants is unconstitutional. Warrantless surveillance of American citizens, in defiance of FISA, is unlawful and unconstitutional. The violation of international treaties that have been ratified by the Senate, specifically the Geneva Conventions, was illegal (as the Supreme Court held) and a bad idea."

But, of course, President Obama has declared his predecessor and his predecessors' lawyers to be above the law and forbidden the Attorney General of the United States to prosecute lawyers who facilitated torture or torturers who claimed to rely on those lawyers' memos. When candidate Obama went back on a promise to filibuster immunity for telecoms that violated FISA and the Fourth Amendment, many believed he would reverse his position once elected president. He has not done so, and has gone out of his way to continue protecting the secrecy and immunity given to such crimes. Numerous reports find torture to be ongoing (as might easily be predicted for a crime not being punished), the new director of the CIA has stated that the new president maintains the power to torture, and presidential advisor David Axelrod refuses to dispute that assertion.

Obama's promise to close Guantanamo was always a dubious promise, because Guantanamo was never the only location where the United States was holding prisoners outside the rule of law and abusing them. Candidate Obama called closing Guantanamo the first step he would need to take. The St. Petersburg Times classifies this promise as stalled. In Obama's defense, Congress is resisting this move. Against that defense, Obama is not trying very hard and refuses to counter some of the key lies used by fear-mongers to keep Guantanamo open. Another promise that the Times considers stalled is Obama's promise to "reject the Military Commissions Act." Obama now supports the use of military commissions.

Candidate Obama promised to immediately have his attorney general review whether his predecessors had committed any crimes. This promise ignored the then-public knowledge of indisputable crimes awaiting prosecution, and ignored the fact that an attorney general has this responsibility with or without a presidential directive. But it was a promise that went in the direction of upholding the rule of law, something President Obama has run from, while Attorney General Eric Holder has told the media he might consider it but would have to overcome pressure from the President not to.

While my own work is focused on ending abuses of power through accountability and systemic reforms, there are many other areas in which President Obama has broken his campaign promises. Obama promised that he would work to renegotiate NAFTA to respect the rights of workers and to protect the environment. He opposed "free-trade" agreements with Colombia and South Korea. Now the President supports such new agreements and has shown no interest in renegotiating NAFTA. Candidate Obama promised to support the Employee Free Choice Act, and while he has not explicitly opposed it he has not as president made a priority of passing it the way he has done with health care, and economic stimulus, and other pieces of legislation. With Congress working to pass a health care bill that the president approves of but working to gut the Employee Free Choice Act, President Obama's public statements are focused on health care. However, meetings on health care organized by the White House have generally been behind closed doors rather than televised on C-Span as candidate Obama promised.

Candidate Obama promised to support eliminating capital gains taxes for small businesses, providing a refundable tax credit to businesses that hire new employees, suspending 401(k) withdrawal penalties, ending income taxes for seniors making less than $50,000, creating a $4,000 college credit, allowing bankruptcy judges to modify the terms of a home mortgage, enacting a windfall profits tax for oil companies, repealing the Defense of Marriage Act, and recognizing the Armenian genocide. None of these promises have been kept. Obama has not supported these steps as president. While candidate Obama promised to end unconstitutional violations in Bush's "faith-based" programs, president Obama has moved in the opposite direction.

I voted for Barack Obama for president with my eyes wide open. He refused to promise most of what I wanted. His best promises at rallies were hedged and minimized in interviews. And when he promised specific positive actions, I didn't believe him. But a lot of people did. And a lot of people believed the vague, soaring promises at the rallies as well. A lot of people even just assumed he'd promised things he never had, because he intentionally avoided taking any position. He's even made wonderful remarks as president while simultaneously taking quite different actions. It's worth focusing, however, on the key promises that candidate Obama actually did unequivocally make, and how they compare to six months of Obama's presidency. And, as always, it's worth quoting Willie Nelson:

"And the bewildered herd is still believing
Everything we've been told from our birth
Hell, they won't lie to me
Not on my own damn TV
But how much is a liar's word worth
And whatever happened to peace on earth?"

The lesson is not that you voted for the wrong guy, given the choices. The lesson is not that right-wingers who hate Obama are right about anything. The lesson is not even that Obama has betrayed you. The key lesson should be that change does not come from electing someone. Change comes from forcing our culture to change, creating better communications systems, and disrupting the pleasant existence of our representatives in Congress. But we'll never stop cheering for nonviolent activists in other countries and become them ourselves as long as we believe our role consists of loving or hating an elected official, and one whose job was supposed to consist of merely executing the will of the legislative branch.


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Swirling, Dangerous Waters

Our local newspaper today contained news of difficulties for Pres. Barack Obama. These difficulties could have been predicted, unfortunately. There are falling poll numbers, for one thing. And there is turmoil on Capitol Hill over the health care bill. And in a column of David Brooks', the sky appears to be falling for Democrats.

There is much to be said about all this, and I plan to try to fill out some of the details in days ahead.

For now, my warning is to the American people. Those who are responding to problems in Washington with statements to pollsters that they will vote Republican in the next election are, to put it gently, amnesiac. Do these voters not remember the disaster of trickle-down economics in the '80's with the resultant high unemployment and ballooning budget deficits? And do we not remember so recently the catastrophe that befell us with G. W. Bush, his economic depression of 2008, and his authoritarian surveillance state?

Today's Republican Party is something like the early fascist movement in Italy which featured an alliance of disgruntled farmers and opportunistic small-town businessmen. This proto-fascist movement was later exploited by Mussolini with disastrous results.

While no one is expecting black-shirted thugs to begin roaming the streets of, say, Kansas City, the fascist element in America is stronger than many have cared to believe. The 2009 election was a vast repudiation of the zanier tendencies of those on the far right. However, it was as much about seeking better economic times as anything else.

So if Obama and the Democrats fail, where will America turn? David Brooks, and Rush Limbaugh, and others would say the Republicans can gain strength. While this is not automatic, America does have a history of swinging back and forth between what are essentially two capitalist parties. Is it not time, finally, to break with a politics which seeks either to give free reign to capitalism, or merely to channel it? Don't we deserve an economic system which is neither capitalist nor communist? Don't we deserve a just economy, one in which everyone is supported with the opportunity for a self-supporting job and by a health care system which will not rob him of his hard-earned wages, leaving him destitute?

In one sense, the choice is that simple. Things have been made too complex. If the Scandinavian countries can create what can be called a mixed system, why not America? In many ways we already have such a system, just an inefficient one.

Let us not go back to the trickle-down economics of the past. Let us, instead, be about the business of a true democracy.


For a reference, I strongly recommend two recent books by Naomi Wolf, often referenced here: The End of America and Give Me Liberty. The first book sets out a useful history of repressive movements and their tactics. The second gives practical suggestions for citizens living in a democracy.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Other Side of the Obama Citizenship Controversy

As regular readers here know, I have had an interest in the questions raised about Barack Obama's eligibility to be President under the Constitution. As regular readers also know this is far from the only issue I am interested in.

Today, however, I found a video that is so lacking in substance, I thought it was worth referring to here. As you will see, the video is of some lesser-known attorney talking with a giddy (goofy?) anchor-lady about the then-impending suit before the Supreme Court, contending that Barack Obama was not qualified to be President because he had not proven that he was a natural-born citizen.

I will make this important point briefly. Notice, there is no refutation in this CNN video of the facts as presented by Philip J. Berg, the former Deputy Attorney General of Pennsylvania who has bravely pursued this case.

However, the main point I want to make is the lack of seriousness exemplified in this cable news program, or whatever it is. The hostess, in her manner and in her lack of preparation, shows she is not a true journalist -- no matter what one thinks of the subject. The attorney is at least more responsible, but still cannot refrain from taking a supercilious attitude, again, with no true evidence other than the "Certificate of Live Birth" (rather than a true vault Certificate of Birth which the rest of us are now being required to produce for various services.)

It is this kind of lack of seriousness which is giving journalism, and especially broadcast journalism, a bad name in this country. Watch this video and see whether you do not agree that this is ridiculous journalism, if it even rises to that level.


Friday, July 17, 2009

How Quickly We Forget

Today, veteran CBS News reporter and anchor Walter Cronkite died at the age of 92.

While looking for YouTube videos featuring Walter Cronkite I came across an NBC News "Special Report" announcing the death of Tim Russert about one year ago. Speaking about the general American public and not about the news profession, how many Americans spend much or any time at all grieving for Tim Russert? Tom Brokaw in the special report called Russert one of the premiere newsmen and analysts of our time. Yet, how many people would agree with that today, only 13 months after his death? If it were true, wouldn't more people have him in mind on a regular basis?

There are certain reasons having to do with news Walter Cronkite did not report which keep me from being able to lionize him. And what will be our memory of him one year from now? Will any of these news figures, formerly familiar to us, command any great love and affection five, ten or twenty years from now?

As an example, here is a name no longer heard in conversation: Peter Lisagor. Yet Peter Lisagor, Washington bureau chief of the Chicago Daily News, was also one of the most-respected journalists of his day, appearing each week on PBS's "Washington Week in Review."

It is worth thinking about the fact that in spite of being in our homes weekly or even nightly, newsmen of the past seem to have a rather anonymous place in history.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Dennis Kucinich Tells It Straight Out on Health Care

This evening I have seen the following unverified quote of Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio. Kucinich is one of the few who is telling the truth about our health care system. Unfortunately, our media, which should be telling the public these facts, is almost totally corrupt and thus -- yes -- fascist.


Dennis Kucinich in the House of Representatives, according to source:

"Of $2.4 trillion spent annually for health care in America, fully $800 billion goes for the activities of the for-profit insurer-based system. This means one of every three health care dollars is siphoned off for corporate profits, stock options, executive salaries, advertising, marketing, and the cost of paper work, (which can be anywhere between 15%-35% in the private sector as compared to Medicare, the single payer plan which has only 3% administrative costs).

"50 million Americans are uninsured and another 50 million are under-insured, while for-profit insurance companies divert precious health care dollars to non-health care purposes. Eliminate the for-profit health care system and its extraordinary overhead, put the money into health care, and everyone will be covered, everyone will be able to afford health care."

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Democrats Must Do Better

It is becoming apparent to those who watch closely that Pres. Barack Obama's grip on the public imagination is weakening. The report referenced here has more to say about all this.

As related here over the last year or so, Mr. Obama has some clear deficits. Most importantly, at a time when we need an FDR-style program we are getting Woodrow Wilson, instead. Wilson still garners a certain amount of respect as a pragmatic idealist, committed to fighting for U.S. participation in the League of Nations against long odds. But he ended up being a Democratic war President, after campaigning on his record of "[keeping] us out of war." The comparison of Obama to Wilson is less apt when it comes to the economy in the sense that there was not a recognized financial melt-down in the teens as there is today. Still, there was strife, and Wilson was no particular friend to the average worker.

The most kind thing that can be said about Pres. Obama is that under our economic system, it would have been hard to imagine a true reformer being nominated by either of the major political parties. Think back to early 2007 when Democrats had just taken control of Congress and a certain optimism was in the air.

Poll numbers for Obama have been weakening lately. We shall see whether this trend continues. And there are still all those pesky lawsuits regarding his citizenship and eligibility to serve under the Constitution.

Most worrisome are indications most people would vote for the Republican in their district if Congressional elections were held now. This is an absurd situation, except when one considers how weak is the Democratic economic program. Leadership from Congressional Democrats is not helped, of course, by a President who clings to illusions of market magic. And his comment recently that the American people should be patient was dangerously close to Marie Antoinette's flippantly uncaring comment, "Let them eat cake."

The U.S. has a history of simply swinging back and forth between Republican and Democratic control with little change in actual policies as they emerge from the legislative process. The one major exception was the FDR years as they progressed. In order for the Democrats to regain the initiative they must do better in terms of creating a true national health care program ("single-payer"), as well as restoring or creating citizen control over the mechanisms of credit. Most of this has been dealt with in the past on this web log. For now, Democrats should be very worried.

The Republicans, meanwhile, have terrible ideas on the economy -- ideas which have been proven unworkable in the past, specifically "trickle-down" economics. In addition, today's Republican Party is a party dominated by far-right kooks who have no idea how to bring together a national coalition to support needed programs. Plus, Republicans, including Sarah Palin, would support an evil and scary expansion of the security state, taking us truly into a new dark age of rule by fear.

So it is a critical moment. There are definitely signs of hope, as in Democratic resistance to the zanier aspects of the Obama program as advocated by White House incompetents such as Larry Summers and Peter Orszag. Only time will tell whether these signs of hope are harbingers of a true change. Any Democrats who openly break with the market-oriented approach to this crisis are to be warmly congratulated and encouraged.


Note: Rasmussen Reports has been fairly accurate over the last years. However, it seems to me to lean slightly Republican, if there is a lean at all. And certainly Dick Morris has baggage. However, I find his views here to be reasonable.


Sunday, July 05, 2009

The Shame and Partial Redemption of Max Baucus

News reaches me tonight of an arm-twisting phone call last Thursday of Pres. Obama, seeking to railroad through a health care reform bill this month. While the desire to reform health care is, in itself, admirable, the plan of this administration is woefully insufficient and even unworkable.

Meantime, I have found a good transcript of that infamous May hearing in which Senator Max Baucus caused several health care professionals to be arrested for "interrupting" a hearing of panelists representing the health care industry. (If others were on the panel, I am not aware who they were.)

The dramatic opening of the hearing is below. Listen to the reasonableness and the care of the health professionals. Then listen to the repetitive calls for the police. Who is reasonable and who is unreasonable?

At a later date, Mr. Baucus agreed not to press charges against the complainers. But it is clear if these brave persons had not done what they had done there would have been no voice of the people present at the Baucus hearings at all.

Thanks to Amy Goodman and Democracy Now! for this excerpt.


AMY GOODMAN: Baucus’s raucous caucus. Five people were arrested yesterday at a Senate Finance Committee hearing on health care reform and charged with “disruption of Congress.” They were protesting Committee chair Senator Max Baucus’s refusal to include any advocates of a single-payer health care system in a series of hearings on health care. Last week, eight doctors, lawyers and activists were arrested as they sought to put a single-payer advocate at a table of fifteen witnesses. At yesterday’s hearing, none of the thirteen witnesses testifying was an advocate of single payer.

Senator Baucus, a Montana Democrat, opened the hearing on a cautionary note, warning against any disruptions.

SEN. MAX BAUCUS: I respect the views of everyone here, including everyone in the audience. And that respect, in turn, means listening and not interrupting when others are speaking. I sincerely hope that everyone here today, including our guests, especially guests in the audience, will afford these proceedings with that level of respect.

AMY GOODMAN: As Senator Baucus spoke, a group of about thirty nurses stood up and turned their backs on him. They wore red scrubs with signs on their backs that said, “Nurses Say: Stop AHIP, Pass Single Payer.” AHIP stands for America’s Health Insurance Plans, a lobby group for the health insurance industry. After standing for a few minutes in silent protest, the nurses walked out of the hearing to applause.

SEN. MAX BAUCUS: But the current tax exclusion is not perfect. It is regressive. It often leaves people to buy more health coverage than they need. [applause] We should look at ways to modify—[applause] we should look at ways to modify the current tax exclusion so that it provides the right incentives.

AMY GOODMAN: After the nurses walked out, a group of five doctors, nurses and single-payer advocates stood up one by one and spoke directly to Senator Baucus before being led out by police.

DEANN McEWEN: I am a registered nurse. Registered nurses have a legal duty to advocate to change circumstances that are against the interests and wishes of our patients. Today is the anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birthday. Florence Nightingale said—

SEN. MAX BAUCUS: Committee will be in order. Comments from the audience are inappropriate and out of order. Any further disruption will cause the committee to recess until the police can restore order.

DEANN McEWEN: Florence Nightingale said—sir—

SEN. MAX BAUCUS: Committee will be in order. Committee will stand in recess until the police can restore order.

DEANN McEWEN: Florence Nightingale said, “Were there none that ever hoped for better, there would never be any better.” Until there’s a single-payer healthcare system in this country, there will never be safety for patients that need access to [inaudible]—


SUE CANNON: The people at this table have failed Americans for thirty years.

SEN. MAX BAUCUS: Committee in order. We will stand in recess until the police can restore order.

SUE CANNON: We want single payer at this table. Health care is a human right. We want guaranteed health care. No more Blue Cross’s double crosses. We want guaranteed health care. No more Aetna or—thank you. No more Aetna or CIGNA bosses. We want guaranteed health care. We want to see our doctors when we need and get our pills that are guaranteed. We’re tired of private insurance greed. We want guaranteed health care. In California, SB 810 means guaranteed health care. And HR 676 guarantees health care.

SEN. MAX BAUCUS: Let me just speak a few minutes.

JERRY CALL: Senator Baucus, my name is Jerry Call. I’m with PNHP.


JERRY CALL: Sixty percent of Americans—

SEN. MAX BAUCUS: Come to order. Committee will recess until order can be restored.

JERRY CALL: —and 60 percent of the physicians want a single-payer system. Why do you insist on spending more money, when the single payer would give it to us at the price we’re spending now? Sixty percent! Why not 60 percent of the people in front of you representing single payer? Sixty percent of the people want single payer. This is a sham! All you’ve got is special interest groups up there.

SEN. MAX BAUCUS: This committee will recess until the police can restore order. I’ll ask for the police, please come more expeditiously.

DR. JUDY DASOVICH: Why aren’t single-payer advocates at the table? Healthcare should be for patients, not for profit.

DR. STEVEN FENICHEL: My name is Dr. Steven Fenichel. And it is a sense of outrage that brings me to your Senate chambers. You have been entrusted in doing the people’s work, and yet [inaudible]—

SEN. MAX BAUCUS: We will stay in recess until the police can restore order.

DR. STEVEN FENICHEL: —special interest groups, the insurance companies, the hospitals for profit—

SEN. MAX BAUCUS: And I’ll say to everybody else out in the audience who may be similarly inclined: believe me, we hear you. We deeply respect the views of everyone here. We have an extremely open process, and I just urge everyone to respect the views of others by not interrupting those who are speaking. There will be plenty of time to meet with everybody. This is a long, involved process. And so, those of you in the audience who are not panelists and wish to be heard, I urge you just to contact my office, and we’ll figure out a way to talk to you. I’ll figure out a way to listen to you. I’ll be there, personally, to listen to you. So I urge you to take that option, rather than interrupt and be rude to our panelists here, who have come a long distance and spent a long time trying to make very thoughtful presentations to the committee. But I will meet with anybody who wants to meet with me.

AMY GOODMAN: All five protesters were arrested outside the hearing room and taken away for booking.

The full transcript can be viewed here:

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Patriotism Rebounding

Americans have awoken to another Independence Day. Shaking off the bitter sleep of a cruel winter, they are casting about looking for signs of hope amid the ruins. The ruins, of course, are the shattered economy, whose remains lie about us as sundered limbs on the battlefield of Gettysburg. Those drowsy eyes look skyward as if to make sure the sun, at least, still goes about its course unwavering.

For so much has changed. In just the last nine months we have gone from a political campaign, to the euphoria of a newly-elected President, to the setting in of a rather dark reality. This reality, seemingly grim -- as grim as a glum day in late autumn -- has with it the cleansing rain of new seeing. Gone are the days of unquestioning faith in the "power of the markets." Gone are the days of the President-as-Savior.

We still have with us a powerful inertia, and even cynicism. But this, too, shows signs of dispersing as factory workers have shown a new willingness to take over factories, conducting sit-down strikes if necessary. (See earlier post here.)

So -- as the old labor song asks -- "Which side are you on? Which side are you on?" Are you on the side of the status quo, of the international interlocking web of financiers looting us every step of the way? Or are you on the side of the new, of justice for all, just as the Declaration of Independence promised? Will you stay will the old nihilism and cynicism? Or will you reach out and grasp the baton of hope? The choice, dear reader, is yours.

Friday, July 03, 2009

More Emotion Needed!

Anyone who reads the referenced article here should feel instinctively that the premise is right. Chris Hedges, famous author, examines the mistakes of the left and what can still be done to save democracy in America.

One point Hedges makes is that verbiage of left-leaning persons and institutions has become rather pedantic, devoid of emotion that would move people. This is, of course, a generalization. Some e-mails I get from progressive groups do use emotion rather effectively in their messages. However, there is certainly much truth in the idea that the mere recitation of facts alone will not usually move most people into action.

The more important point Hedges makes is that people on the left have acceded to the premise that the profit system is a foregone conclusion; there is no other way. This is the biggest lie of all, of course.

So much can be said about all this. The article linked below can certainly be useful as a starting point!

(The last word of the URL below is "free". You may also click on the title of this post to go directly to the article.)


Thursday, July 02, 2009

American Workers Begin to Act on An Alternative Vision

American workers are beginning to act on an alternative economic vision, one which places the needs of workers -- not corporations -- at the center of life. The latest action is a victory of workers at a factory which was refused help by Wells Fargo, a company which had received U.S. government bail-out money. The full story is at the link below (or by clicking on the title above).

One can see from this story that energy is building toward a new system. This new system will not be Communism or state socialism. It will simply be a system which is fair and just to workers -- something which should have existed all along.

Since justice to workers is a continuing theme of this web log, I plan to return to this matter in coming days.


Consumers Getting Feisty

Last evening while driving home, I encountered two protesters standing on the street by a gas station. "Buyer Beware", warned one sign with a colorful background. The other sign I could not read, so I turned around for a better look.

Upon arriving at the scene I got out of my car and had the chance to meet Ben and his friend. Ben believes the filling station was not playing fair with its pumps. He claims the pumps say they are pumping more gas than they really are.

I'm not in a position to know who is right on this one. (The state had promised to visit the station yesterday for an examination.) But the fact that a consumer and his friend had the gumption to create a couple of protest signs and show up at the station is a sign of a new combativeness on the part of the buying public. It is a hopeful sign given all the stealing -- legalized and otherwise -- which has been going on in the business world.

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Bill Clinton Warns on Rising Nationalism

Rush Link -- Bill Clinton on Rise of Nationalism