Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Love and Politics

When Tom and I first got together (in 1990), neither of us was all that politically engaged. We voted and played "catch-up education" before each election in hopes we would make an informed choice on the ballot. But that was pretty much the extent of our political participation. We kept up with current events only sporadically.

Then in 1991 we had the good fortune to move to Madison, Wisconsin. We were amused to find that the result of the first local election we were here for was a huge win for the Democrats, followed not all that distantly by the Labor-Farm Party, and the Republicans came in way behind that. Maybe there's something in the water here....

Tom was the one who started paying closer attention first. He read Paul Krugman and Molly Ivins (Oh, how I miss Molly!) and lots more. He'd buy the New York Times on Sundays, and we'd talk about what he was reading. He'd clip things from the paper for me, read out loud to me, and we'd talk and talk and talk.

Those conversations were like a Great Awakening for me. I was the youngest in my family growing up, and I never felt like anybody was ever interested in my opinion, or even considered that I might have one. But at last, in the cauldron of marriage and Madison and the Internet, my opinions and perspective began to take shape.

Eventually the conversations morphed into my new life online, which eventually expressed itself in this blog. But thus far, to me at least, it has felt like part of the conversation was missing (except for those occasions when Tom added his two cents in the form of a comment). This past weekend, though, I sent Tom an e-mail invitation to come blog with me (romantic, ain't it?), and careful observers will have noticed that he graciously accepted my invitation.

You'll be able to tell which one of us is writing by the by-line at the bottom left-hand corner of the post. (If you're reading the post on Facebook, though, you'll just have to guess, or click on "View Original Post" to see who wrote it.)

For me, this addition represents a welcome continuation of the conversations that began fifteen years or so ago. Those conversations now recommence in a new form: more Worleys, more dervish. Welcome to the blogosphere, honey!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Battling corporate power

Corporations wield excessive power over U.S. politicians, as senator Bernie Sanders says in the post below.

He then says "the answer" is public financing of political campaigns.

Simply public money for campaigns is not a panacea. We already provide public money for campaigns. It could never be enough.

We must also restore all the Progressive Era reforms undone in and since the Reagan administration.

Restore real regulation of industry: stop appointing industry lobbyists to oversee regulatory agencies.

Repeal the many legislative and judicial erosions of workers' rights since the Labor Act of 1935. Pass the Employee Free Choice Act.

Enact progressive income tax on corporations: if each doubling of corporate profit meant a 1% increase in corporate tax rate, mergers and acquisitions would be less attractive.

Combating the natural tendency of money and power to funnel into fewer and fewer hands is one of the most important functions of government. It must be advanced along a broad front.

And, since what you measure affects what you do, stop focusing on "gross domestic product," which disproportionately accrues to the already-rich. Focus instead on per-capita income of the poorest 35% of the population. Evaluate policies based on their effect in advancing the well-being of the poorest 35% of the population. Unlike the rich, they spend their income--thus it benefits everyone.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Power of Big Money (videos)

"If you are concerned about public policy in general in this country, health care, the environment, whatever it may be, we have got to pay attention to the power of big money." --Senator Bernie Sanders, I-VT (emphasis added)

Here's what Senator Sanders has to say about the power of big money in Washington:

The answer is

Here's what Lawrence Lessig of Change-Congress.org has to say about the need to reform the system and wean our politicians from big money:

—Lawrence Lessig, Professor of Law, Stanford Law School, Palo Alto, CA

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


Did you catch Rachel last night? Rachel asks, "why, if you're a Democratic member of Congress, you would want to fight tooth and nail against your own party on the biggest issue facing the country right now." She calls Rep. Mike Ross of Arkansas "the poster child for Democrats blocking their own party's efforts to reform health care." Now why would he oppose health care reform with a strong public health insurance option when most of his constituents are in favor of it?

According to the report on MSNBC.com,
The group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington questioned in a complaint whether the $420,000 that USA Drug paid Rep. Mike Ross, D-Ark., for his family-owned Holly's Health Mart in Prescott was a fair price. The deal was first reported this week by the Web site ProPublica.

Documents show that, after the sale, the Nevada County assessor valued the property at $263,700. An appraiser hired by ProPublica valued it recently at $198,000.

In his response, Rep. Ross has this to say:
This style of gotcha politics is why many folks are fed up with Washington and it is a shame serious debate on reform has, once again, fallen off course. Instead of having civil dialogue over true and substantive disagreements about reforming our broken health care system, outside groups are trying to taint a completely legal and respected small business that my wife and I worked hard for 14 years to establish.
Actually, Rep. Ross, it is your style of bought-and-paid-for politics that has many of us folks fed up with Washington. Do you really think that calling it "gotcha politics" will somehow justify your shady dealings with the drug industry?

Serious reform is threatened by our elected officials being more beholden to their corporate masters than to their flesh-and-blood constituents. Your whining at being called out sickens me. How is holding our elected officials accountable not "civil dialogue"?

We'll match your contempt and raise you one.

Return to a Two-Party System: A Proposal to Overthrow the Corporatocracy

A two-party system is a good idea—give the voters real choice, engage in real civic discourse—those kinds of goodies. Good idea—provided that there are really two parties. What we have now is like a 1.25-party system, and all 1.25 of them are owned and operated by Corporations R Us. Andrew Sullivan points out that the Republican Party "is essentially a regional party now—representing the South in the national discourse. And its rhetoric seems divorced from any desire to actually hold responsible public office."

Moreover, much of the antics on the right amount to mindless distractions. Why, oh why do we spend so much time fulminating about Beck? He's theater without substance. There's absolutely no reason to take him seriously. Why should we give a flying fig about him? Paying attention to him just encourages him. Stop that.

What's really going on, what we're being distracted from, is how the Dems we elected, who supposedly are going to bring "change we can believe in," are backing themselves into their corporate masters' corner. We keep pushing, trying to get them into our corner. And we are having some effect. It remains to be seen, though, whether it will be enough to put them into our corner.

And if that's not enough, the Supreme Court is poised to give the corporations even more power. Monsanto may as well run for office in 2012. In the face of such an all-out onslaught on democracy, what possible significance could a goon like Beck have? We're in serious deep weeds here, people. The corporations are eating our American Dream for lunch and we're whining about Beck? Beck?

At least with the Republicans dancing to the corporations' tune, there's not so much of an ideological disconnect. After all, they believe the rich should be getting richer and that the corporations are the only ones entitled to entitlements and handouts. Right? It's more of a screeching dissonance with the Dems. This is change we could believe in? You're kidding, right?

So here's what I propose. Let's ask the progressives in Congress—Kucinich, Grijalva, Feingold, Frank, and their ilk—to split from the corporate-owned Dems and form their own party. Let's ask them to sign a pledge to pass serious corporate-donation and lobbying reforms and accept no corporate funding.

Think for a minute about an empowered progressive party: real progress on environmental reforms, Medicare for all, economic justice, an end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, upholding workers' rights, comprehensive immigration reform, real education reform, and the return of a strong middle class and lessening of the huge gap between the very rich and the rest of us.

Now this would take a lot of work, because, of course, the opposition would make no such pledge. They'd have a lot of money, and we'd have, well, us. The quintessential grass roots. We'd have to be really serious: donating our time, our money, and our brilliance to the overthrow of the corporatocracy. But it would be worth it, wouldn't it, to return power to the people? I think if we really wanted to, we could do it.

Now, who's with me?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Enacting Justice

On the 222nd anniversary of the ratification of the U.S. Constitution, Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI), the only senator to vote against the USA PATRIOT Act in October 2001, along with seven cosponsors, introduced legislation "to place reasonable safeguards on the use of surveillance and other authorities under the USA PATRIOT Act."

The bill, wryly entitled the JUSTICE Act (Judicious Use of Surveillance Tools in Counterterrorism Efforts), will fix the worst abuses of the USA PATRIOT Act (Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act). Take that, you sneaky crafters of long, contrived acronyms!

According to the New York Times, "both the House and the Senate are set to hold their first committee hearings this week on whether to reauthorize three sections of the Patriot Act that expire at the end of this year. The provisions expanded the power of the F.B.I. to seize records and to eavesdrop on phone calls in the course of a counterterrorism investigation."

A press release Senator Feingold issued last Thursday declares:
The JUSTICE Act would reform the USA PATRIOT Act, the FISA Amendments Act and other surveillance authorities to protect Americans’ constitutional rights, while preserving the powers of our government to fight terrorism.

The JUSTICE Act reforms include more effective checks on government searches of Americans’ personal records, the “sneak and peek” search provision of the PATRIOT Act, “John Doe” roving wiretaps and other overbroad authorities. The bill will also reform the FISA Amendments Act, passed last year, by repealing the retroactive immunity provision, preventing “bulk collection” of the contents of Americans’ international communications, and prohibiting “reverse targeting” of innocent Americans. And the bill enables better oversight of the use of National Security Letters (NSLs) after the Department of Justice Inspector General issued reports detailing the misuse and abuse of the NSLs. The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on Wednesday, September 23rd, on reauthorization of the USA PATRIOT Act.
The bill would repeal the June 2008 FISA Amendments Act, supported by then-Senator Obama, in which Congress retroactively granted immunity to telecommunications firms that participated in the Bushies' illegal wiretapping program.

At the time that bill was passed, Feingold released a statement saying that "it allows the government to listen in on international communications to and from law-abiding Americans in the U.S. who have no connections to terrorism."

In case your memory about how this went down is a bit fuzzy, here is Rachel Maddow, substituting for Keith Olbermann on Countdown, talking with Russ Feingold on July 9, 2008.

"Having a Democratic president, and particularly Barack Obama, should allow us to greatly change this mistake." So here we are, and Feingold—not Obama—is poised to rectify the mistake.

Frequently these days we hear right-wing populists decrying the intrusion of government into the lives of U.S. citizens. And truly, here we have the opportunity to curtail government's currently unchecked ability to invade our private lives with impunity. Notice that the bill is sponsored by seven Democrats and one independent.

UPDATE 1: Write to your senators and ask them to support the JUSTICE Act!

UPDATE 2: Here's another good option.

Friday, September 18, 2009

2010 Voter Health Care Pledge

It's time to hold members of Congress accountable. Here's one way we can do it:
We, the undersigned, pledge not to support and to oppose *any and all* incumbents (Democrat, Republican, or otherwise) in the Senate or House in 2010 who

(1) voted against each of (a) a public option and (b) a single payer health care reform bill (HR 676) in the 111th Congress when the opportunity before the full House or Senate arose, or who
(2) demonstrably prevented the possibility of such votes (e.g., by voting to allow filibusters to continue), or
(3) who voted for a reconciliation bill that failed to incorporate either a public option or single payer option, or
(4) -- if no such votes take place -- who failed to co-sponsor such reforms or vote for them in applicable committees.

By "support," we mean
(1) contributing money to,
(2) working as campaign volunteers for, or
(3) voting for such incumbents.

By "oppose," we mean supporting suitable primary challengers to such incumbents whenever possible, and supporting suitable third party challengers in the general election whenever that is necessary to provide a choice for single payer or public option health care reform on the 2010 general election ballot.
To sign the pledge, go here. Please ask your friends and family to sign it as well. Tell Congress: "No action on real health care reform? No vote."


Forty-five thousand deaths per year in the United States owing to the lack of health insurance, according to a study released on Thursday by researchers from the Harvard Medical School. That's 123 deaths per day.

According to the study, "The United States stands alone among industrialized nations in not providing health coverage to all of its citizens. Currently, 46 million Americans lack health coverage."

Forty-five thousand.

In an interview with Reuters, one of the study's coauthors said, "We're losing more Americans every day because of inaction . . . than drunk driving and homicide combined."

"American adults age 64 and younger who lack health insurance have a 40 percent higher risk of death than those who have coverage."

Forty-five thousand.

That's fifteen times the number of people who died in the 9/11 attacks.

Every year.

Because they don't have health insurance.

What does that say about us?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Christina and Me: A Public Option Primer

I had this delightful exchange with a Facebook friend today:
As you may have noticed, I am young, but I have become increasingly interested in the Health Care Crisis. I have a ton of questions, but I will only bother you for a few. Is the public option that you are for, the same thing as the Free Choice-Health Care for Individuals thing that I keep hearing about? I am getting some information from my Rep's web site, as well as Rep. John Shadegg's web site. Are these the same ideas, or are they different? I hate to say this, but I am utterly confused! Your help is much appreciated, Mary.
Here is my reply:
Hey Christina. No apologies needed for your age. Your interest and questions are very welcome.

The free choice thingy you've read about is very different from a public health insurance option that many people support (both Democrats and Republicans). Republican politicians want free choice for corporations, not for individuals. I would call what they advocate "Wall-Street-run health care" (that leads to neither health nor care). They want to maintain the status quo (keep things the way they are), which is working only for the health insurance industry and the very wealthy.

Of course, their descriptions of their positions would differ dramatically from mine. They would call what I advocate "government-run" health care, because in spite of the fact that they themselves are part of the government, they think anything the government does is bad. So they are unapologetic when government fails, even when they're responsible for that failure, because it confirms their belief that government is always a problem and never a solution.

I believe that government should do what it can to help people, because I believe we're stronger collectively than we are individually. Of course, we won't always get everything exactly right. But we can always work toward improving things so that more and more people are helped rather than hurt by the system.

I hope this helps. Keep reading as much as you can from all sides, and determine to make up your own mind and not let anyone from any side tell you what to think. Listen to your heart. It will not lead you astray.

Many blessings,


P.S. I love your question. Would you mind very much if I posted it (and my answer) on my blog? If you don't mind, do you want me to use your name (I'd use only your first name) or would you prefer that it be anonymous? If you'd rather I didn't post it, no worries.
Christina's reply:
All that would be fine. My first name would be ok. One more quick one. One guy I listened to, Whyden, I think, did say that he wanted individual choice. He even emphasized it. What about that?
And my reply:
Do you mean Senator Ron Wyden?

The idea of giving people more choices is a good one. But I also think it's really important that one of the choices available to anyone who wants it be a public insurance option. If all the choices you are given are lousy, it's hardly much of an improvement.

The trouble with the private health insurance industry is that it is profit-driven. Health care shouldn't be about profits. Human beings are not commodities.

Health care should be about health and care. A public insurance option would not have the high overhead costs of private profit-driven health insurance companies. A public insurance option would not be beholden to stockholders. It would be beholden to the public.

Does this help?


Christina's reply:
Ah yes, very helpful. I think I am more of the public insurance gal. Can you feed me more information on this? Thanks for all your help, Mary. I really appreciate it.
I pointed Christina toward Robert Reich's good explanation of the public insurance option:

I also pointed her toward the excellent cartoon guide to health care reform:

Oh, Max, What Have You Wrought?

In a segment entitled "School House Crock," the poor beleaguered health care reform made a guest appearance on the Rachel Maddow Show last night.

"Oh, Max Baucus, what have you wrought?" Rachel asks.

A very reasonable question indeed.

The bill is nothing more or less than the health insurance industry's wet dream, what Wendell Potter says should be called the Insurance Industry Profit Protection and Enhancement Act.

Baucus did not waste hundreds of hours of time with the Gang of Six haplessly trying to create a bill that the Republicans could get behind, especially seeing as how they're not going to get behind it anyway. What Max has wrought is the creation of his corporate masters in the health insurance industry.

The delay, with its dire consequences for the peace of summer, was deliberate. The August crazies had plenty of time to do their part in scaring the American people away from real reform.

The Republicans were there so that Baucus would have plausible deniability along the lines of "the Republicans made me do it," which is politically less damning than "I did it for my corporate masters."

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

"The Insurance Industry Profit Protection and Enhancement Act"

Today Senator Max Baucus (D-MT), chair of the Senate Finance Committee, and his "Gang of Six" have released their version of health care "reform," which some say is the version that has the "best chance of passing." Bob Cesca points out that the bill is "bipartisan" only in that "members of both parties hate it."

According to the Associated Press, Baucus has received "some $3.9 million in contributions from the health care industry since 1989" and "all six of the Finance Committee members most intimately involved in drafting the measure have received above-average donations from the health care world."

Wendell Potter, senior fellow on health care at the Center for Media and Democracy and former CIGNA executive turned whistle-blower, who spoke at last weekend's Fighting Bob Fest (which I was privileged to attend) says the Baucus bill may as well be called the "Insurance Industry Profit Protection and Enhancement Act" and would be "an absolute gift to the industry."

Wendell Potter speaking at the Fighting Bob Fest,
Baraboo, Wisconsin, September 12, 2009

Potter says that, rather than representing a "government takeover," as some mistakenly fear, the bill represents a "Wall-Street takeover" of health insurance, requiring that the already severely squeezed middle class sign over its life savings to the health insurance cartel.

Rather than a robust public option, the bill promotes insurance co-ops, which according to Potter, "would be unable to compete in today’s concentrated health insurance markets" and therefore would be completely ineffectual at reducing health care costs.

David Dayen of Brave New Films says the bill attempts to bring costs down by allowing insurance companies to offer lousy coverage. According to the New York Times,
To compare health plans, experts often focus on the percentage of medical expenses paid by insurance, on average, for a given population. This figure ranges from 70 percent to 95 percent under the House bill’s options, but it would be less than 70 percent under Mr. Baucus’s proposal.
Not only would the coverage be lousy, but we would be forced to buy it or pay a stiff penalty. According to the New York Times, the bill "would require nearly all Americans to obtain coverage or face a penalty of up to $3,800 a year for families."

Appearing yesterday in a forum held by the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, Potter testified:
The insurance industry is insistent on being able to retain what it calls "benefit design flexibility." Those three words seem innocuous and reasonable, but if legislation that reaches the president grants insurers the flexibility they claim they must have and requires all of us to buy coverage from them, millions more of us will have little alternative but to buy policies that appear to be affordable but which will prove to be anything but affordable if we become seriously ill or injured. . . .

The Baucus plan . . . would create a government-subsidized monopoly for the purchase of bare-bones high-deductible policies that would truly benefit big insurance. In other words, insurers would win, your constituents would lose.

It's hard to imagine how insurance companies could write legislation that would benefit them more.
In other words, rather than being regulated, the health insurance industry would be free to maximize its profits, while it's large pool of captive customers would be the ones being regulated. Charming. This is what I meant when I said that "this legislation . . . could be very good. Or it could be very, very bad." Uh, this would be the "very, very bad" option. Unless, of course, you are a stockholder in the insurance industry cartel, in which case it is a veritable wet dream.

~ ~ ~

So, please call your representative—again—and demand real health care reform with a robust public option. No co-ops, no triggers. Ask if you can count on your representative to vote only for a strong public option and to vote against any bill that doesn't have a strong public option. Here's the number:

(202) 224-3121

Then report your call here. Thank you.

Monday, September 14, 2009

More on What We're Up Against (video)

This will curl your toes. It should also spur you to action.

What's at Stake, What We're Up Against, and What to Do

To some of my Facebook friends and relations, I must seem like I've gone 'round the twist. I can almost hear you thinking: "You're completely obsessed. Do you think you're going to single-handedly get a public option passed? We're going to have to find you something to do with your time. Every other post on my newsfeed is from you. And they're all about the public option."

Well, you may be right, but this is the political fight of my life. And it should be the political fight of yours too.

There are two reasons why I'm pushing so hard: First, this is not your average legislative fight. Health care reform has the potential to profoundly affect every single person in the United States—that's right, everybody: your neighbors, your coworkers, your kids, the person who rings up your groceries.

Not only that, but it will have a huge impact on some of the most important decisions of your life: whether to change jobs or start your own business, whether to get married or divorced, whether to retire. This legislation will affect each and every one of us every day of our lives—and it could be very good. Or it could be very, very bad.

Not only will this legislation affect our personal lives. It will also affect our life as a nation. It will affect our moral character—are we a people who take care of each other? Or are we content to let our neighbors fall through the cracks of a greedy, rapacious wealth care system?

This legislation will have an enormous effect—for good or ill—on our economy, on our health and well-being, on our everyday lives, on national security, on our viability as a nation. In other words,

This is a life-and-death issue, people!

This isn't something that should be left up to the politicians. This is our fight. It has to be our fight. The question about the politicians is, Do they work for us, or do they work for the health insurance industry? They can't answer that question. Politicians are like trees blowing in the wind, and whichever way the wind blows hardest, that's the way they'll bend.

Which leads me to the second reason I'm pushing so hard: $1.4 million per day. According to the an article in the July 9, 2009, Washington Post,
A record-breaking influence campaign [is being waged] by the health-care industry, which is spending more than $1.4 million a day on lobbying in the current fight, according to disclosure records. And even in a city where lobbying is a part of life, the scale of the effort has drawn attention. For example, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) doubled its spending to nearly $7 million in the first quarter of 2009, followed by Pfizer, with more than $6 million. [emphasis added]
You may have heard how the health care industry is behind health care reform. Yes, indeed, they are "behind" it in more ways than one, according to the New York Times:
The top lobbyists for every major sector of the health care industry publicly insist they are squarely behind the Obama administration’s health care reform. But as the debate gets down to the details, the lines dividing friend from foe are getting blurry.

Each industry group is also working quietly to scuttle or reshape some element of the administration’s proposals that might hurt profits — usually some measure aimed at cost control.
The industry is very much involved in both shaping and undermining health care reform. And believe me, it's not your best interests they have in mind.

The only way to create a force that will counter that kind of gale force wind is for every single one of us to get involved. Nobody is off the hook on this one. In spite of what you may have heard about the public option fading from the debate, it's still very much alive. And it's still the very best way to bring down the skyrocketing costs of health care.

On Saturday, President Obama had this to say about this presumably fading possibility:
Now, I've also said that one of the options in the insurance exchange, one of the options—most of the folks who are going to be offering insurance through the exchange are going to be private insurers—Blue Cross Blue Shield, Aetna, all these. Well, I think one of the options should be a public insurance option. (Applause.) Now let me be clear. Let me be clear. Let me be clear: It would only be an option. Nobody would be forced to choose it. No one with insurance would be affected by it. But what it would do is, it would provide more choice and more competition. (Applause.) It would keep pressure on private insurers to keep their policies affordable, to treat their customers better.

I mean, think about it. It's the same way that public colleges and universities provide additional choice and competition to students. That doesn't inhibit private colleges and universities from thriving out there. The same should be true on the health care front. (Applause.)

Now, Minnesota, I have said that I'm open to different ideas on how to set this up. But I'm not going to back down from the basic principle that if Americans can't find affordable coverage, we're going to provide you a choice. (Applause.) And I will make sure that no government bureaucrat or insurance company bureaucrat gets between you and the coverage that you need. That's a promise I will make. (Applause.)
To me it sounds like Obama is for the public option. Or something else. He wants this, but he's open to other ideas. He doesn't know yet which way the wind is blowing. First he gets blown one way and then the other. The health insurance industry lobbyists are trying to blow the public option right off the table.

That's your American dream they're trying to make disappear. The only thing standing in their way is:


It's not too late. They haven't succeeded yet. But the clock is ticking.

Jane Hamsher at Firedoglake.com presents our best hope for health care reform with a robust public option. Instead of trying to push Blue Dogs or Republican obstructionists, push members of the House of Representatives who are known progressives from solidly progressive districts (i.e., their political fortunes are not at stake) to vote only for a health care reform bill that contains a robust public option. That way, they are essentially aggregating progressive power and preventing the passage of a watered-down bill:
We need at least 40 members of the House to pledge to vote for only a strong public option. By our count, we can rely on at least 17 members to say "No" to triggers, co-ops, and other faux public options.

You can help us find the remaining 23 members of Congress by calling your representative now. Can you help us whip the vote for a strong public option?

Call the House switchboard now at (202) 224-3121 and ask to be connected to your representative in the House. Clicking here will let us know you called.

It comes down to this: will progressives stand up against a health care bill written by insurance industry lobbyists? Or will they follow the lead of Rep. Raul Grijalva, who slammed the insurance industry bill as "not legitimate," and
fight for what the President says we need to keep costs down?

Here's what we need you to say when you reach your representative's office:

  1. State your name, city, and state, and that you're calling because you strongly support only a true public option in health care reform.
  2. Say that you expect your Representative to support nothing less than a strong public option - that means no co-ops, no triggers.
  3. Ask if you can count on your Representative to vote only for a strong public option and vote against any bill that doesn't have a strong public option. Again, that means no co-ops, no triggers.

Can you call your member of Congress now? Dial (202) 224-3121 and ask to be connected to your representative in the House.

When you're done, click here to let us know you called. and then report the office's response.

Thanks for your help in whipping the House to pass the public option.


Jane Hamsher

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Now Let's Get It Done!

I am guardedly hopeful. Obama's speech was better than I expected. He said he supports the public option, but he's open to triggers and co-ops. The last part of his speech was really great.

I especially liked his reference to the letter he received from Ted Kennedy:
I received one of those letters a few days ago. It was from our beloved friend and colleague, Ted Kennedy. He had written it back in May, shortly after he was told that his illness was terminal. He asked that it be delivered upon his death....

He expressed confidence that this would be the year that health care reform – "that great unfinished business of our society," he called it – would finally pass. He repeated the truth that health care is decisive for our future prosperity, but he also reminded me that "it concerns more than material things." "What we face," he wrote, "is above all a moral issue; at stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country." [emphasis added]
It was truly a great speech. Given the opportunity to edit it, I would have tweaked it:
But an additional step we can must take to keep insurance companies honest is by making a not-for-profit public option available in the insurance exchange. Let me be clear – it would only be an option only for those who want it. don't have insurance.

Even so, the president demonstrated more support for a public option than I expected. His stated goals are good.

So now the question is, Can he deliver?

Even more importantly, can we?

I believe that the stance Barack Obama took tonight was altered by our activism and our persistence. In spite of his chastisement of Progressives for imbuing the public option with so much importance, I think his support of it was stronger because of indications Americans demand it. I think we did that.

During the election last year, we were just dipping our toes into this online organizing thingy. But clearly our work on health care reform proves that we're getting better at this. We're learning more, we're teaching each other, we're making more and more important connections. We are aggregating our power. How awesome is that?

Tonight I feel guardedly hopeful, not so much because of Obama's speech but because we are mobilizing for real change. I knew when Obama was elected that the really hard work lay ahead of us, and I was worried about whether we'd have the heart and the wherewithal to do it. Tonight, I'm less worried.

Barbara Boxer reported on Rachel Maddow that after the speech, Obama said to her, "Now let's get it done." That was my favorite thing he said all night. Enough talk. Let's have some action.

If you haven't already, tell each of your representatives to support real health care reform. Tell them you insist on a robust public option.

Write letters to local and national newspapers in support of real health care reform with a robust public option.

Particularly if your representative is a member of the Progressive Caucus, ask her or him to publicly commit to voting against any health care that does not contain a robust public option.

If you have other ideas of how to push for meaningful health care reform, please let me know.

Now let's get it done!

A Big Day for Corporatocracy

The Supreme Court is about to decide whether corporations have the same rights as individual citizens. This is something worth paying close attention to, because the ramifications are enormous. The Bill Moyers Journal did a great job of presenting both sides of the argument last week. I urge you to watch the whole thing or read the transcript (or both).

The case in question, which could overturn a hundred years of campaign finance reform, is Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission. An editorial in the LA Times written by Doug Kendall, founder and president of the Constitutional Accountability Center, a think tank and public interest law firm in Washington, DC, explains:
The case involves a film, "Hillary: The Movie," which sharply attacks Hillary Rodham Clinton and her presidential candidacy. It was produced by Citizens United, a conservative nonprofit advocacy group, to coincide with the 2008 presidential primary season. The Federal Election Commission saw the movie as no different from a standard-issue attack ad -- just longer -- and considered it subject to restrictions imposed under the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign finance law as an "electioneering communication."

Citizens United began as a seemingly inconsequential case about the extent of the FEC's power to regulate such communications, but that was transformed at oral argument in March into a much bigger deal. Citizens United pressed for a sweeping rejection of congressional authority to regulate campaign spending by corporations, and the court's conservative justices were plainly sympathetic to this broad argument [emphasis added].
Kendall goes on to explain that the essential question of the case is whether a corporation has or should have the same rights as an individual. How could you possibly have a healthy democracy if corporations, with their enormous resources, aren't restricted in how they participate in the political process? Does it really make sense to grant corporations the same rights as citizens?

So are we going to let them vote too?

That's where you see the absurdity of the notion of granting corporations the same rights as citizens. Are we going to start handing CEOs special corporate ballots? They probably wouldn't be interested in that, because, of course, one puny little vote wouldn't be enough.

Kendall continues:
In his historic run to the presidency, Barack Obama broke every political fundraising record, raising nearly $750 million from more than a million contributors in 2007 and 2008. Now consider a corporation such as Exxon Mobil. During 2008 alone, Exxon generated profits of $45 billion. With a diversion of even 2% of these profits to the political process, Exxon could have far outspent the Obama campaign and fundamentally changed the dynamic of the 2008 election....

The line between corporations and individuals when it comes to constitutional protections is as old as the United States. The framers wrote the Constitution to protect citizens and the people and never once used the word "corporations."

Early Supreme Court rulings embraced this distinction, holding that the legal rights of a corporation derive from its corporate charter, not the Constitution.
We've been heading down two contradictory roads for some time now. According to Kendall, one road leads to democratic progress, "moving toward broader enfranchisement and more meaningful political participation for individual Americans." The other is the road to greater and greater corporate power and influence. At some point--and this may be it--we will be pulled much more in one direction than the other. There's a tremendous lot at stake.

Our campaign finance laws are puny in the face of the enormous power the corporations wield, addressing only some abuses of corporate power. They need to be strengthened, not overturned. We had all better hope that the Supreme Court does the right thing.

Otherwise that "tap, tap, tap" you hear will be yet another nail being driven into the coffin of democracy.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Whose Side Are You On, Mr. President?

Yesterday in his speech at the AFL-CIO's annual Labor Day picnic, President Obama gave us a little down payment on Wednesday night's speech:
I want a health insurance system that works as well for the American people as it does for the insurance industry. They should be free to make a profit. But they also have to be fair. Security and stability for folks who have health insurance, help for those that don't, the coverage they need at a price they can afford.
Is it just me, or did the last bit sound like an advertisement for health insurance?

Two statements keep running around in my mind: "I want a health insurance system that works as well for the American people as it does for the insurance industry.... They should be free to make a profit."

Now hold on just a cotton-pickin' minute. President Obama is holding up the concerns of the health insurance industry in one hand and the concerns of the American people in the other like there's some kind of parity there, like the two are somehow comparable. Uh, hello?

Could we focus on what will work well for the people of this country, the people who are losing their homes because they can't pay their medical bills, the people stuck in crappy jobs because they're afraid to lose their health insurance, the people being denied care even when they're insured, the people who are dying because their insurance companies won't cover the care they need?

How can these direst of life-and-death circumstances be mentioned in the same breath as the lust of the health insurance industry to make ever-increasing profits? Are we so beholden to the great capitalist machine that profit-making is always our priority?

The pit in my stomach is telling me that I know the answer to that question, but I just can't accept it.

Can you really look us in the eye, Mr. President, and hold the concerns of the health care industry alongside ours? Really? Have you not heard anything we've been saying? Are you not paying attention? What if it was your daughter whose care was denied by one of these modern-day pirates? How would you like her health and well-being held up alongside the concerns of industry stockholders to make a profit?

What I keep hearing is the politicians' deep concern for the health insurance industry. Enough already! Will you quit worrying about them? Quit acting as though their concerns are every bit as legitimate as ours! I don't care how much money they've sunk into your reelection coffers. You can't serve their needs and ours. Are you theirs? Or are you ours? You can't be both.

I don't understand why our health should be treated like it's just another commodity in America's capitalist soup. We keep hearing about how the bogeyman of socialism will rear its ugly head if the American people transform their "wealth care system" into a system that is designed to actually care for the health of the American people. Does every single aspect of our lives have to involve some corporate behemoth making a filthy profit? How many more of us have to die or have our lives ruined because of oblations poured out on the altar of rampant, unchecked capitalism?

Here's my question for you, Mr. President, members of Congress: Whose side are you on? Really? Because you can't be on the side of the health insurance industry and on the side of the American people at the same time. Our interests are diametrically opposed to theirs. You can't be for both. So which is it?

Friday, September 4, 2009

Rules Schmules

My husband, Tom, goes back to work today.

He was fired from his job as an electronics technician at the U.S. Post Office for following safety protocols and instructions from the person who was his supervisor at the time. I kid you not. He was fired for powering down four machines that needed maintenance. The rules are that if there's no mail processing being done at the time, the machines need to be powered down before any maintenance is done.

Ten days earlier Tom had been instructed by a supervisor-at-the-time not to follow those safety protocols. He followed her instructions and then filed a grievance, because he was instructed not to follow safety protocols. Tom was off work the entire following week.

After he came back to work, he was given contrary instructions from another supervisor, so he followed the safety protocol and powered down the machines before beginning work on them.

He was fired, then, for not following instructions that were contrary to safety protocol and had been given to him ten days earlier by someone who was not his supervisor and was not in the building at the time.

All this happened back in April. (I wrote about it here.)

Moreover, management didn't follow its own rules for issuing discipline. Before an employee is fired, there are a number of intermediary disciplinary steps that have to take place. They just skipped those bits.

Tom is a union steward for the American Postal Workers Union, and he's a really good one. The week Tom was fired, another union steward was fired as well, for equally ridiculous reasons, and he was reinstated less than a month later.

We heard word this week that management's step three designee unilaterally reduced Tom's firing to a fourteen-day suspension. So now the union will grieve that.

Since his firing, Tom and the APWU filed a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. OSHA has since slapped a fine on the mail-processing plant for not following clearly stated safety protocols. Touché! So the plant has to pay a fine. Ah, sweet vindication. But what, you might ask, are the consequences for the people involved? Disciplinary action? A dock in pay? A stern warning? No sirree. Not even a slap on the wrist.

In all this time that Tom has been off work, there has been a lot of union work not getting done. Other union workers have picked up some of the slack, but not all of it. The union insists that management follow the rules, and management believes that they don't have to. When they don't follow a rule, the union files a grievance. There are lots of rules. And lots of grievances.

The amazing thing is that there are absolutely no consequences whatsoever for these people not following the rules. So you fired this guy for no good reason, and now he's being reinstated. And the P.O. has to pay him for the work he missed but didn't do. And the P.O. has to pay an OSHA fine. So what? It has no effect whatsoever on the people (or person) who didn't follow the rules.

So if all the union can do is file grievances, grievances that have almost no teeth to them, why oh why would management even care whether those grievances are filed? What they gained from Tom's firing was a few months of respite from the mountain of grievances filed because they don't follow the rules. That's all. This whole thing was just about petty power plays.

To give themselves a break from the overwhelming number of grievances, they fired Tom, for what they knew at the time would be a very limited amount of time. They may have hoped that Tom would lose his house or have his car repossessed or experience some such financial or emotional calamity. I'm happy to report that we're no worse for the wear, no worse whatsoever. We cut back on our spending, dipped a little into our savings, and stopped making any but minimum payments on the credit card. We have weathered the storm. So far anyway.

But alas, today Tom goes back to work today to what can only be described as a hostile work environment. I have no doubt that there are more exciting installments to come.

In a way, the folks in management are right. They don't have to follow the rules. Rules are things with consequences, teeth, ramifications. And there are absolutely no consequences when management doesn't follow the rules. Other than the minor annoyance of a huge pile of grievances.

Don't anybody wonder why the U.S. Post Office is hemorrhaging money. And happy Labor Day!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Ninth Inning Fail

White House senior advisor David Axelrod told ABC News today that this is the "9th inning" for the health care reform debate and that "President Obama is getting in the game [uh, about time?] and is 'at the point where he can close this' debate."

Oh really? Axelrod continued:
As to the fate of a government option plan to compete with private insurance, Axelrod suggested the controversial concept is gone but not forgotten: "The spirit that led him to support a public option is still very much at play here and so you know he wants competition. He wants choice.'
Russ Feingold has this to say about this "controversial concept":

The public option is the only way to bring down the skyrocketing costs of American health care. As Feingold says, "Real reform needs a strong public option." So if the public option is dead, so is real health care reform.

But how the hell can it be dead when 77 percent of the American people support it and even 65 percent of Republicans support it (according to an AARP poll)? That's as close as this country will ever come to a consensus. And it's dead????

Nevertheless, indications are that the administration is ready to bail (read: fail) on the public option and thus has declared it "dead" so that no one will pay attention to the fact that they are the ones who are murdering it.

This is change we can believe in only in the most profoundly cynical sense.

There's something much, much worse at work here than our rapacious health care system, and that would be our rapacious political system.

If Obama and the Dems undermine real health care reform, like it sounds like they're going to, then I suggest we encourage progressives like Kucinich and Feingold to organize themselves into a new party, one that is beholden to the people and not corporations.

Because I'm not voting for those damned Republicans any more than I'm voting for those damned Democrats. And I'm not not voting either....

So if the Dems screw this up, it's party time. NEW party time.

Oh, and in case you're wondering, I still won't back down.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Which Side Are You On? (video)

So, here it is, our very first homegrown video. What it lacks in polish is made up for by heart. The inestimable chorus is made up of folks who hung around after the church picnic on Sunday, the wind, and a few seagulls.

Undoubtedly we'll get better at this with practice, but hey, this isn't bad for our first attempt. And now that we know how easy it is, there'll be plenty more.

Which Side Are You On?
original version by Florence Reece; new lyrics by Mary Ray Worley
New lyrics © copyright 2009. All rights reserved.

Which side are you on? (4x)

Our health care system’s broken
Right here in the USA.
The only ones who can afford to get sick
Are the ones who can afford to pay.

My daddy he was laid off.
He lost his insurance too.
Then he caught pneumonia.
Now he’s singing the foreclosure blues.

When you submit a claim form,
Do you know what they’ll provide?
Will they send it back to you
With a big red stamp “Denied!”

We can’t leave it up to Obama.
He may or may not come through.
If you want this reform to pass,
Then you know it’s up to me and you.

We want the public option.
We’re drawing our line in the sand.
Will you call on Congress
To be strong and take a stand!

We’re tired of the moneyed interests
Calling Washington’s tune.
It’s time for us to shake things up
And send the lobbyists to the moon.

Now health care’s not a privilege.
It is a human right.
And we’re standing on firm moral ground,
And it’s here we’re gonna fight.