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GABRIELLE GIFFORDS: A Senate in the Gun Lobby’s Grip April 18, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Gun Control/Violence.
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http://www.nytimes.com/


April 17, 2013

WASHINGTON

SENATORS say they fear the N.R.A. and the gun lobby. But I think that fear must be nothing compared to the fear the first graders in Sandy Hook Elementary School felt as their lives ended in a hail of bullets. The fear that those children who survived the massacre must feel every time they remember their teachers stacking them into closets and bathrooms, whispering that they loved them, so that love would be the last thing the students heard if the gunman found them.

On Wednesday, a minority of senators gave into fear and blocked common-sense legislation that would have made it harder for criminals and people with dangerous mental illnesses to get hold of deadly firearms — a bill that could prevent future tragedies like those in Newtown, Conn., Aurora, Colo., Blacksburg, Va., and too many communities to count.

Some of the senators who voted against the background-check amendments have met with grieving parents whose children were murdered at Sandy Hook, in Newtown. Some of the senators who voted no have also looked into my eyes as I talked about my experience being shot in the head at point-blank range in suburban Tucson two years ago, and expressed sympathy for the 18 other people shot besides me, 6 of whom died. These senators have heard from their constituents — who polls show overwhelmingly favored expanding background checks. And still these senators decided to do nothing. Shame on them.

I watch TV and read the papers like everyone else. We know what we’re going to hear: vague platitudes like “tough vote” and “complicated issue.” I was elected six times to represent southern Arizona, in the State Legislature and then in Congress. I know what a complicated issue is; I know what it feels like to take a tough vote. This was neither. These senators made their decision based on political fear and on cold calculations about the money of special interests like the National Rifle Association, which in the last election cycle spent around $25 million on contributions, lobbying and outside spending.

Speaking is physically difficult for me. But my feelings are clear: I’m furious. I will not rest until we have righted the wrong these senators have done, and until we have changed our laws so we can look parents in the face and say: We are trying to keep your children safe. We cannot allow the status quo — desperately protected by the gun lobby so that they can make more money by spreading fear and misinformation — to go on.

I am asking every reasonable American to help me tell the truth about the cowardice these senators demonstrated. I am asking for mothers to stop these lawmakers at the grocery store and tell them: You’ve lost my vote. I am asking activists to unsubscribe from these senators’ e-mail lists and to stop giving them money. I’m asking citizens to go to their offices and say: You’ve disappointed me, and there will be consequences.

People have told me that I’m courageous, but I have seen greater courage. Gabe Zimmerman, my friend and staff member in whose honor we dedicated a room in the United States Capitol this week, saw me shot in the head and saw the shooter turn his gunfire on others. Gabe ran toward me as I lay bleeding. Toward gunfire. And then the gunman shot him, and then Gabe died. His body lay on the pavement in front of the Safeway for hours.

I have thought a lot about why Gabe ran toward me when he could have run away. Service was part of his life, but it was also his job. The senators who voted against background checks for online and gun-show sales, and those who voted against checks to screen out would-be gun buyers with mental illness, failed to do their job.

They looked at these most benign and practical of solutions, offered by moderates from each party, and then they looked over their shoulder at the powerful, shadowy gun lobby — and brought shame on themselves and our government itself by choosing to do nothing.

They will try to hide their decision behind grand talk, behind willfully false accounts of what the bill might have done — trust me, I know how politicians talk when they want to distract you — but their decision was based on a misplaced sense of self-interest. I say misplaced, because to preserve their dignity and their legacy, they should have heeded the voices of their constituents. They should have honored the legacy of the thousands of victims of gun violence and their families, who have begged for action, not because it would bring their loved ones back, but so that others might be spared their agony.

This defeat is only the latest chapter of what I’ve always known would be a long, hard haul. Our democracy’s history is littered with names we neither remember nor celebrate — people who stood in the way of progress while protecting the powerful. On Wednesday, a number of senators voted to join that list.

Mark my words: if we cannot make our communities safer with the Congress we have now, we will use every means available to make sure we have a different Congress, one that puts communities’ interests ahead of the gun lobby’s. To do nothing while others are in danger is not the American way.

Gabrielle Giffords, a Democratic representative from Arizona from 2007 to 2012, is a founder of Americans for Responsible Solutions, which focuses on gun violence.

Senate Approves Indefinite Military Detention of US Citizens In America December 2, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Democracy, Human Rights.
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Roger’s note: this frightening news did not make the top of the headlines even in the alternative blogosphere; the notion that the United States is at war in every square inch of the globe, including the “sacred” homeland, gives the Army and its Commander-in-Chief unconditional power to detain, torture and kill anyone, including US citizens, with absolutely Zero accountability.  It was, in fact, against such arbitrary and unchecked state power, that the very War for Independence, better and more appropriately known at the Revolutionary War, was fought.

Efforts rejected to restrict military detention to overseas.

The U.S. Senate on Thursday crossed a major constitutional line and authorized the American military to arrest and indefinitely detain U.S. citizens within the United States in the war on terror.

The 97-3 vote came after days of bitter debate, where hawkish proponents said the United States was part of a global battlefield where the military should be able to seize any citizen if they were part of a terrorist group attacking America. But opponents, who lost a series of attempts to limit the detention to overseas, said it would be a grave mistake of historic proportions to allow the military to arrest and hold American citizens on US soil without the right to a trial or access to civilian courts.

President Obama has pledged to veto the bill, which next goes to the House. Whether he will do so will come into focus as the 2012 defense spending bill works its way to his desk. The White House issued no statement Thursday.

Senate supporters of domestic military detention said the White House had agreed to the bill’s language. But critics, such as Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-CA, whose amendments lost on Thursday, said her proposal to limit the detentions to overseas were the bill’s original text on the matter. The bill emerged from the Senate Armed services Committee without a hearing on the military detention provisions.

The Supreme Court, in a recent Guantanamo case, said the military could arrest anyone, anywhere, in the war on terror. But a handful of Democrats and Republicans said the high court’s opinion was excessive and unconstitutional.They urged their colleagues to put the Bill of Rights — which gives every citizen the right to a trial in American courts — above the urge to expand military arrest powers within the 50 states. They said the country did not do that in two World Wars in the 20th century, and that the nation’s current defense and intelligence community did not seek the change in law.

                                                    By Steven Rosenfeld                                      |                                     Sourced from                                                                                 AlterNet

Posted at December 1, 2011, 11:02 pm

Senate Refrom: A Sad Joke January 9, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Uncategorized.
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Roger Hollander, January 9, 2011

In reading about the pathetic efforts by certain Democratic Senators to change the filibuster rule, I am reminded of an article I wrote some time ago entitled, “The Constitution is Unconstitutional.”  Like the British House of Lords and the Canadian Senate, the United States Senate is intrinsically an anti-democratic institution.  It was meant to be that by the authors of the Constitution, who had a profound disrespect for and fear of genuine popular democracy.  Even if the efforts to change the filibuster rule are successful, it will amount to little more than re-arranging the furniture on the Titanic.

Here is what I wrote in 2008 about the Senate (for the complete article, “The Constitution is Unconstitutional,” http://rogerhollander.wordpress.com/category/rogers-archived-writing/political-essays-roger/the-constitution-is-unconstitutional/)

Whereas in recent years Americans have become painfully aware of the Constitutionally ordained method for choosing their president through the arcane and Byzantine Electoral College and the winner-take-all principle of presidential primaries (thereby in effect potentially disenfranchising up to 49.9% of the voters in any given state), there exists what in my estimation is the most unjust and undemocratic principle written into our Constitution, and it is still there, and hardly anyone ever notices the implications, and it is virtually unamendable.  I refer to the institution of the Senate of the United States of America.

 

There it is again in Article I.  Section 3 reads simply, “The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State …”   Fifteen of the most undemocratic words you will ever read.  Perhaps only second to the President him or herself (some day), the U.S. Senate has emerged as one of the most powerful institutions in the country.  Its responsibilities are roughly parallel to those of the House of Representatives (known, significantly, as the “lower” house), but its powers to “advise and consent” on Presidential appointments give the Senate a great deal of extra leverage.  And given that there are nearly five times the number of Representative than Senators, it gives each individual Senator just that much more power.

 

Consider how radically undemocratic is the United States Senate.  California with a population of roughly thirty five million gets two measly Senators.  One for every seventeen and a half million citizens.  Wyoming, with its population of a half million, gets the same number as senators as California, one for every two hundred and fifty thousand citizens.  That gives the Wyoming voter seventy times more senatorial power than the California voter.  Not exactly consistent with the “one person one vote” principle.  How this works in practice is even scarier.  Traditionally Southern and rural states have been able to frustrate the will of the majority of Americans through its manipulation and control of the Senate.  Their members accrued seniority and exercised power though the Senate’s inviolable Old Boy seniority system.  This phenomenon was to a great extent responsible, for example, of maintaining racial segregation in the United States from the end of Reconstruction in the 1870s until the Supreme Court stepped in 1954, and the Civil Rights Movement pressured the Congress into enacting the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

 

That has been the practice.  In theory it could be even worse.  The population of the United States is approximately 290 million.  The largest 25 states (population-wise) make up a full 240 million of that (the population of California and Texas and New York combined is roughly equivalent to the population of the 32 smallest states: in the Senate, 6 votes versus 64).  Therefore, representatives (overwhelmingly male and White to this day) of little more than 50 million Americans could in theory constitute a majority in the Senate and frustrate the will of the remaining 240 million.  While it may never reach this extreme, it has and will continue to give drastically disproportionate power to a minority of Americans.

 

And guess what?  It will probably never change.  The British and Canadians, our two closest ideological neighbors, have made the British House of Lords and the Canadian Senate – their two “upper houses” – into largely ceremonial bodies.  We could do the same, you exclaim.  Thank God for the Amendment provision.  Think again.  I am no constitutional scholar, but what can Article V. of the Constitution mean if not an undemocratic Senate in perpetuity?  It reads, “…no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.” (my emphasis).  Can you imagine in your wildest dreams a State giving up its Senatorial votes?  I have nothing against Wyoming, but really.

Vietnam MIAs: Ghosts Return to Haunt McCain May 30, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in History, John McCain.
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Friday 28 May 2010

by: Alexander Cockburn, t r u t h o u t | Op-Ed

The ghosts that haunt Sen. John McCain are about 600 in number and right now, they are mustering for a final onslaught. McCain, one of America’s foremost Republicans and President Barack Obama’s opponent in 2008, is currently locked in a desperate bid for political survival in his home state of Arizona.

After 20 years of immunity from challenge from his fellow Republicans, he’s now involved in a close primary battle with J.D. Hayworth, a former congressman turned radio broadcaster who sports the tea party label. Hayworth says McCain is a fake Republican, soft on issues like immigration. The polls have been tightening, and if McCain got bludgeoned by some new disclosure, it could finish him off.

That very disclosure is now likely to burst over the head of McCain, the former Navy pilot who was held in a North Vietnamese prison for five years and returned to the U.S. as a war hero.

His nemesis is Sydney Schanberg, a former New York Times reporter who won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting from Cambodia that formed the basis for the Oscar-winning movie “The Killing Fields.”

In recent years, Schanberg has worked relentlessly on one of the great mysteries of the Vietnam War, one that still causes hundreds of American families enduring pain. Did the U.S. government abandon American POWs in Vietnam?

By 1990, there were so many stories, sightings and intelligence reports of American POWs left behind in Vietnam after the war was over that pressure from Vietnam vets and the families of the MIAs (missing in action) prompted the formation of a special committee of the U.S. Senate to investigate. The chairman was John Kerry, a Navy man who had served in Vietnam. McCain, as a former POW, was its most pivotal member.

Down the years, Schanberg has pieced together the evidence, much of it covered up by the Senate committee. In 1993, an American historian unearthed in Soviet archives the record of a briefing of a Vietnamese general to the Soviet politbureau. The briefing took place in 1973, right before the final peace agreement between the U.S. and Hanoi.

What the Vietnamese general told the Russians was that his government was intent on getting war reparations, $3.25 billion in reconstruction money, pledged by the U.S. in peace negotiations headed on the U.S. side by Henry Kissinger. The general told the Russians that Hanoi would hold back a large number of POWs until the money arrived.

But Nixon and Kissinger had attached to the deal a codicil to the effect that the U.S. Congress would have to approve the reparations — which the two knew was an impossibility in the political atmosphere of the time. Thus they effectively sealed the POWs’ fate. Hanoi released 591 immediately, but held back around 600.

All of this was suppressed by the Kerry-McCain committee, with the complicity of the U.S. press, enamored of both McCain and Kerry. McCain was particularly vicious in mocking what he and his press allies suggested were the fantasies of MIA families and Vietnam vets.

Schanberg writes now that, “In a private briefing in 1992, high-level CIA officials told me that as the years passed and the ransom never came, it became more and more difficult for either government to admit that it knew from the start about the unacknowledged prisoners. Those prisoners had not only become useless as bargaining chips but also posed a risk to Hanoi’s desire to be accepted into the international community.

“The CIA officials said their intelligence indicated strongly that the remaining men — those who had not died from illness or hard labor or torture — were eventually executed.”

In the presidential campaign of 2008, as I reported for The First Post at the time, McCain faced accusations that in fact, as a POW, he had broken and cooperated with his North Vietnamese captors, who regarded McCain as a valuable prize because his father was a prominent U.S. admiral, at the time commander of all U.S. forces in the Pacific.

McCain Jr., so his accusers said, disclosed vital information and made broadcasts denouncing the U.S., which were then used by the Vietnamese to break other POWs.

The issue never became a big one in 2008 — but now it’s coming on back with a vengeance.

On May 26, the American Conservative, a monthly, released a special issue, “The Men our Media Forgot.” The U.S. media, pressured in any number of ways by successive U.S. governments to ridicule and suppress enquiries into the missing POWs, are the prime target, but McCain also bulks large in the American Conservative’s sights, since his present political crisis forms an excellent peg for Schanberg’s story. The calculation is evidently that this could be a huge boost to Hayworth.

In an article for the American Conservative titled “McCain and the POW Cover-Up,” Schanberg insinuates, without saying so directly, that the Pentagon blackmailed McCain to squelch the MIA hearings: “It’s not clear whether the taped confession McCain gave to his captors to avoid further torture has played a role in his postwar behavior in the Senate. That confession was played endlessly over the prison loudspeaker system at Hoa Lo — to try to break down other prisoners — and was broadcast over Hanoi’s state radio.

“Reportedly, he confessed to being a war criminal who had bombed civilian targets. The Pentagon has a copy of the confession but will not release it. Also, no outsider I know of has ever seen a non-redacted copy of the debriefing of McCain when he returned from captivity, which is classified but could be made public by McCain.”

Alexander Cockburn is co-editor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. He is also co-author of the new book “Dime’s Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils,” available through http://www.counterpunch.com.

Copyright 2010 Creators.com 

The ‘Public Option': Democrats’ Scam Becomes More Transparent March 13, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Health.
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(Roger’s note: this article is not only about health reform, but it is a graduate seminar on how government works.  I can tell you, as a former city councillor in Canada’s major metropolis, that Greenwald has captured the dynamic to a T.  Elected officials have two constituencies: the people who elect them and the powers, special interests, lobbyists who own them.  The represent the latter 364 days a year, and the former only on Election Day.  I can assure you, for example, had John McCain won the presidency, there would be no greater opponents to the escalation of the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan than Obama and Clinton.  Their passionate pacifism would make Ghandi look like a hawk.  Democracy under capitalism is little more than a sham and electoral politics little more than a farce.  It is all about money and power, not human values.)

Published on Friday, March 12, 2010 by Salonby Glenn Greenwald

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about what seemed to be a glaring (and quite typical) scam perpetrated by Congressional Democrats:  all year long, they insisted that the White House and a majority of Democratic Senators vigorously supported a public option, but the only thing oh-so-unfortunately preventing its enactment was the filibuster:  sadly, we have 50 but not 60 votes for it, they insisted.  Democratic pundits used that claim to push for “filibuster reform,” arguing that if only majority rule were required in the Senate, then the noble Democrats would be able to deliver all sorts of wonderful progressive reforms that they were truly eager to enact but which the evil filibuster now prevents.  In response, advocates of the public option kept arguing that the public option could be accomplished by reconciliation — where only 50 votes, not 60, would be required — but Obama loyalists scorned that reconciliation proposal, insisting (at least before the Senate passed a bill with 60 votes) that using reconciliation was Unserious, naive, procedurally impossible, and politically disastrous.

[]

 

But all those claims were put to the test — all those bluffs were called — once the White House decided that it had to use reconciliation to pass a final health care reform bill.  That meant that any changes to the Senate bill (which had passed with 60 votes) — including the addition of the public option — would only require 50 votes, which Democrats assured progressives all year long that they had.  Great news for the public option, right?  Wrong.  As soon as it actually became possible to pass it, the 50 votes magically vanished.  Senate Democrats (and the White House) were willing to pretend they supported a public option only as long as it was impossible to pass it.  Once reconciliation gave them the opportunity they claimed all year long they needed — a “majority rule” system — they began concocting ways to ensure that it lacked 50 votes.

 

All of that was bad enough, but now the scam is getting even more extreme, more transparent.  Faced with the dilemma of how they could possibly justify their year-long claimed support for the public option only now to fail to enact it, more and more Democratic Senators were pressured into signing a letter supporting the enactment of the public option through reconciliation; that number is now above 40, and is rapidly approaching 50.  In other words, there is a serious possibility that the Senate might enact a public option if there is a vote on it, because it’s very difficult for these Senators to vote “No” after pretending all year long — on the record — that they supported it.  In fact, The Huffington Post‘s Ryan Grim yesterday wrote:  “the votes appear to exist to include a public option. It’s only a matter of will.”

The one last hope for Senate Democratic leaders was to avoid a vote altogether on the public option, thereby relieving Senators of having to take a position and being exposed.  But that trick would require the cooperation of all Senators — any one Senator can introduce a public option amendment during the reconciliation and force a vote — and it now seems that Bernie Sanders, to his great credit, is refusing to go along with the Democrats’ sham and will do exactly that:  ignore the wishes of the Senate leadership and force a roll call vote on the public option.

So now what is to be done?  They only need 50 votes, so they can’t use the filibuster excuse.  They don’t seem able to prevent a vote, as they tried to do, because Sanders will force one.  And it seems there aren’t enough Senate Democrats willing to vote against the public option after publicly saying all year long they supported it, which means it might get 50 votes if a roll call vote is held.  So what is the Senate Democratic leadership now doing?  They’re whipping against the public option, which they pretended all year along to so vigorously support:

Senate Democratic leaders are concerned about the amount of mischief their own Members could create if or when a health care reconciliation bill comes up for debate. And sources said some supporters of creating a public insurance option are privately worried that they will be asked to vote against the idea during debate on the bill, which could occur before March 26.

Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) acknowledged Wednesday that liberals may be asked to oppose any amendment, including one creating a public option, to ensure a smooth ride for the bill. “We have to tell people, ‘You just have to swallow hard’ and say that putting an amendment on this is either going to stop it or slow it down, and we just can’t let it happen,” Durbin, who supports a public option, told reporters.

If — as they claimed all year long — a majority of Congressional Democrats and the White House all support a public option, why would they possibly whip against it, and ensure its rejection, at exactly the moment when it finally became possible to pass it?   If majorities of the House and Senate support it, as does the White House, how could the inclusion of a public option possibly jeopardize passage of the bill?

I’ve argued since August that the evidence was clear that the White House had privately negotiated away the public option and didn’t want it, even as the President claimed publicly (and repeatedly) that he did.  And while I support the concept of “filibuster reform” in theory, it’s long seemed clear that it would actually accomplish little, because the 60-vote rule does not actually impede anything.  Rather, it is the excuse Democrats fraudulently invoke, using what I called the Rotating Villain tactic (it’s now Durbin’s turn), to refuse to pass what they claim they support but are politically afraid to pass, or which they actually oppose (sorry, we’d so love to do this, but gosh darn it, we just can’t get 60 votes).  If only 50 votes were required, they’d just find ways to ensure they lacked 50.  Both of those are merely theories insusceptible to conclusive proof, but if I had the power to create the most compelling evidence for those theories that I could dream up, it would be hard to surpass what Democrats are doing now with regard to the public option.  They’re actually whipping against the public option.  Could this sham be any more transparent?

UPDATE:  One related point:  when I was on Morning Joe several weeks ago, I argued this point — why aren’t Democrats including the public option in the reconciliation package given that they have the 50 votes in favor of the public option — and, in response, Chuck Todd recited White House spin and DC conventional wisdom (needless to say) by insisting that they do not have the votes to pass the public option.  If that’s true — if they lack the votes to pass the public option through reconciliation? — why is Dick Durbin now whipping against it, telling Senators — in his own words — “You just have to swallow hard’ and say that putting an amendment on this is either going to stop it or slow it down, and we just can’t let it happen”?

No discussion of the public option is complete without noting how much the private health insurance industry despises it; the last thing they want, of course, is the beginning of real competition and choice.

© 2010 Salon

Unions Bash Democrats, Warn of Political Fallout February 14, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Uncategorized.
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(Roger’s note:  this article illustrates the farce of the two party system or our so-called democracy.  Trade unionists who poured money and labor into the election of Obama and a Democratic majority in Congress are no seeing themselves betrayed by the President and the Congress.  They are therefore threatening to sit out the midterm elections as a way of punishing the Democrats.  But, as happened in Massachusetts, this will only benefit the Republicans, who are virulently anti-labor.  Question: are we forever to be faced with choosing between the “lesser of evils, which is no more in reality than a Hobson’s choice?  My way or the highway.

 

I learned my lesson in 1964 when I worked my butt off to elect Lyndon Johnson to the presidency only to see him escalate the War in Vietnam.  I had a relapse in 2004 and 2008 when faced with the re-election of Bush and the candidacy of John McCain; I panicked and voted for Kerry and Obama.  

 

Obama is demonstrating what I already should have known, that the Democratic Party is twiddle dee to the Republican’s twiddle dum.  Of course there are marginal differences, but when it comes to the fundamental issues of war and peace and the economy, they are identical twins.)

Published on Thursday, February 11, 2010 by Politico.comby James Hohmann

Labor groups are furious with the Democrats they helped put in office – and are threatening to stay home this fall when Democratic incumbents will need their help fending off Republican challengers. 

[Labor groups furious at Democrats such as Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) are threatening to stay home during this fall's midterm elections.  (Photo: AP photo composite by POLITICO) ]
Labor groups furious at Democrats such as Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) are threatening to stay home during this fall’s midterm elections. (Photo: AP photo composite by POLITICO)

The Senate’s failure to confirm labor lawyer Craig Becker to the National Labor Relations Board was just the latest blow, but the frustrations have been building for months.  

“Here’s labor getting thrown under the bus again,” said John Gage, the national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents 600,000 workers. “It’s really frustrating for labor, and a lot of union people are thinking: We put out big time in money and volunteers and support. And it seems like the little things that could have been aren’t being done.” 

The 52-33 vote on Becker – who needed 60 to be confirmed – really set labor unions on edge, but the list of setbacks is growing. 

The so-called “card check” bill that would make it easier to unionize employees has gone nowhere. A pro-union Transportation Security Administration nominee quit before he even got a confirmation vote. And even though unions got a sweetheart deal to keep their health plans tax-free under the Senate health care bill, that bill has collapsed, leaving unions exposed again. 

Union leaders warn that the Democrats’ lackluster performance in power is sapping the morale of activists going into the midterm elections. 

“Right now if we don’t get positive changes to the agenda, we’re going to have a hard time getting members out to work,” said United Steelworkers International President Leo W. Gerard, in an interview. 

“There’s no use pretending any longer.” 

The biggest threat, of course, is apathy from a Democratic constituency that has a history of mobilizing for elections. 

“You’re just not going to be able to go to our membership in the November elections and say, ‘Come on, let’s do it again. Look at what the Democratic administration has done for us!'” Gage said. “People are going to say, ‘Huh? What have the Democrats done for us?'” 

Kim Freeman Brown, the executive director of a D.C.-based nonprofit called American Rights at Work, acknowledged “frustration” with the lack of movement. 

“I implore Congress to listen to the voice of their constituents who want change, and so far we haven’t delivered good enough on that promise,” she said. “To the degree that we don’t address these real bread-and-butter issues, we will have failed America’s workers.” 

Gage warned that Democrats will struggle to energize blue-collar voters if they don’t score a few victories soon. Union leaders say they will closely watch as a new “jobs bill” emerges to see if it includes more labor-friendly provisions or tax cuts for small businesses. 

When you talk to labor officials these days, much of their animus is directed at Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), who helped filibuster Becker’s confirmation

“Ben Nelson has got principles until you buy him off,” Gerard said. 

A group affiliated with the Service Employees International Union, called Change That Works, had defended Nelson’s support for an unpopular health care reform bill in his home state.

But the Nebraska director of that group, Jane Kleeb, now criticizes Nelson for not allowing the Becker nomination to come to the floor for an up-or-down vote. And Bill Samuel, legislative director for the AFL-CIO, accused Nelson of following a “double standard” since he had argued that the nominees of then-President George W. Bush should get up-or-down votes.

Another AFL-CIO spokesman, Eddie Vale, pinpointed Nelson, saying he had “let down” working families. Nelson said Becker’s stance on labor issues made him worry whether he would be “impartial” in making NLRB decisions.

But labor unions can’t pin all their blame on Nelson. The failure of a wide range of union priorities has been deflating for the labor movement, which seemed destined to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of Barack Obama’s presidency.

And with unemployment hovering around 10 percent, special treatment for unions has only served to harm the movement.

On health care, unions found themselves in a defensive posture. They worked in early January to carve out an exception from an excise tax on so-called Cadillac insurance policies, only to see the package fall apart, with recriminations about just the kind of back-room deal making they had engaged in.

Obama said he would push for greater unionization at the Transportation Security Administration, but it hasn’t happened. Obama has pushed for education programs that have long been unpopular with teachers’ unions. And then, in his State of the Union address, the president called for Congress to strengthen trade relationships with South Korea, Panama and Columbia.

The support for those trade agreements irked Gerard, the leader of the steelworkers union, who praises Speaker Nancy Pelosi but blames the upper chamber.

“Our problem is the Senate,” Gerard said. “The only thing they can pass is the washroom. I don’t want to tar Democrats. Not all Democrats in the Senate are problems.”

The situation in the Senate became more frustrating when Democrats lost their 60-seat supermajority with the election of Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown.

Brown’s first significant vote was a “no” on Becker.

“I think you see how working people feel by how they voted in Massachusetts,” Gerard said. “In Massachusetts, it wasn’t an anger that the government had done too much. It was an anger that there hadn’t been enough change.”

Democrats are now scrambling to shore up support for labor unions, but they don’t seem to have a game plan for more union-friendly legislation in advance of the midterm elections.

But Katie Packer, executive director of the anti-card-check Workforce Fairness Institute, said labor groups would have achieved a lot more if they hadn’t overreached.

“I’m from Detroit, so the concept of labor overreach is not lost on me,” she said. “What we’ve seen more than anything is an attempt by big labor is to be especially greedy and grab for things that weren’t achievable.”

Manu Raju contributed to this report.

© 2010 Politico.com

A Patient’s View of the Senate Christmas Healthcare Gift December 24, 2009

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Published on Thursday, December 24, 2009 by CommonDreams.orgby Donna Smith

So, all the great fanfare and all the king’s horses.  The great and almighty U.S. Senate has spoken.  I will have to buy private health insurance — forever, amen.  The defective product that has left me wanting for real healthcare for all of my adult life is now a step closer to being the law of the land.

A lump of Christmas coal all polished up with sparkling rhetoric. 

Here’s what the Chicago Tribune said this week, and I agree: 

On Sunday, the Chicago Tribune published an exhaustive front-page analysis by Northwestern University‘s Medill News Service and the Center for Responsive Politics of how it was done. The main culprit: “a revolving door between Capitol Hill staffers and lobbying jobs for companies with a stake in health care legislation.”

The study found that 13 former congressmen and 166 congressional staffers were actively engaged in lobbying their former colleagues on the bill. The companies they were working for — some 338 of them — spent $635 million on lobbying. It was money extremely well spent — delivering a bill that, by forcing people to buy a shoddy product in a market with no real competition, enshrines into law the public subsidy of private profit.

As we approach the end of Obama’s first year in office, this public subsidizing of private profit is becoming something of a habit. It is, after all, exactly what the White House did with the banks. Just as he did with insurance companies, Obama talked tough to the bankers in public, but, when push came to shove, he ended up shoving public money onto their privately held balance sheets.

This is not just bad policy, it’s bad politics.

Now, back to my own thoughts as a patient:

I went broke while carrying health insurance, a disability insurance policy and a small healthcare savings account.  And if I get sick under this mess of a plan, it will happen to me again.  Little has changed except that millions more of my fellow citizens will join my ranks.

How does it happen to insured people under this plan?  Easy.  Step-by-torturous-step.  Slowly.  Like water-torture. 

1.       Buy health insurance at work or on the new exchange;

2.       Avoid using insurance due to co-pays, deductibles and out-of-pocket maximum exposures — not to mention lost work time and the worry about losing one’s job in a tough economy;

3.       If symptoms are noticed, treat by internet medical site suggestions and over-the-counter drugs until no other option but going to a doctor are available;

4.       Attempt to make appointment with doctor but first find one who accepts both new patients and your insurance;

5.       Go to doctor and pay co-pay up front before ever speaking to anyone about medical problem;

6.       Sit in outer waiting room for as long as required, missing work and worrying;

7.       Sit in exam room waiting for doctor for as long as required;

8.       See doctor for five or six minutes, if lucky, during which time you will either be prescribed some expensive drug to fix a problem the doctor isn’t sure you have, referred to another doctor who may have a month or two wait for appointments, be directed to get some tests done you aren’t sure your insurance will allow or pay for, and do it all sitting in your underwear or less;

9.       Leave medical office owing more than what you thought your insurance and co-pay advertised (and never get an explanation for how that is possible)  and never sure if this experience was much different than being to a used car lot where the sales folks have assessed your financing mechanism before showing you anything at all and then only show you what fits the financing not what you need or want;

10.   In the alternative, if you collapse or wait until symptoms get so severe that going for an office appointment is impossible, go to an emergency room — repeat steps five through eight — and either be admitted to the hospital if your insurance is adequate and you have any available sick-time from work (if not, beg for drugs and to be released) or go to number nine.

11.    Need a dentist?  Too bad.  Have dental insurance?  Still too bad.  You might get a cleaning and some x-rays, but getting the care you may or may not need will be again totally related to your ability to pay whatever portion of the dental work is not covered (and amazingly, every penny of what dental insurance will cover will be eaten up by whatever problem you may or may not have) — in the alternative, avoid dentists or just pull teeth as they go bad;

12.   When the bills roll in, try to pay some after trying to find out how you can possible owe hundreds if not thousands more than the insurance policy you have indicates is possible;

13.   When the collectors call to collect all of the balances due, try to negotiate payments but endure threats of lawsuit, garnishment and worse as the collectors report back to the doctors you saw for a few moments in number eight;

14.   Try to get your meds — if too costly, go without;

15.   Try to get well — if you cannot, go back to work;

16.   Try to act like this is all wonderful and you are grateful to have any insurance at all;

17.   Get sued by a collection agency for a doctor bill or hospital bill you cannot cover;

18.   Sell your house and use whatever proceeds you have to try to pay some of the debts;

19.   Collectors for the doctors and hospitals are not happy if you don’t pay it all in full and up-front most of the time;

20.   Feel stress, fear, anguish — but don’t gripe and don’t show it at work — buck it up, chump;

21.   Sell keepsakes and anything valuable to try to stay afloat;

22.   Stress, more stress.  Fear to answer the phone.  Friends and family fall away as they don’t want you to ask to borrow money;

23.   Keep working — sick or not, keep working or you’ll lose that damn insurance if you cannot pay the premium — or you’ll be back out on the exchange trying to buy another policy that is cheaper and even worse;

24.   Watch your elected officials claim victory and history as they work to make sure your kids and grandkids must suffer the same fate if they need healthcare in America;

25.   Have a Merry Christmas, so says your U.S. Senate.

Don’t think this can happen to you because it hasn’t yet?  Count your blessings this Christmas. 

I’d really like the gift of healthcare. Medicare for all, single-payer healthcare would remove so much of this awful process. That would be a gift.

Donna Smith is a community organizer for the California Nurses Association and National Co-Chair for the Progressive Democrats of America Healthcare Not Warfare campaign.

Pro-Single-Payer Physicians Call for Defeat of Senate Health Bill December 22, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Health.
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Published on Tuesday, December 22, 2009 by CommonDreams.orgby Physicians for National Health Program

WASHINGTON – A national organization of 17,000 physicians who favor a single-payer health care system called on the U.S. Senate today to defeat the health care legislation presently before it and to immediately consider the adoption of an expanded and improved Medicare-for-All program.While noting that the Senate bill includes some “salutary provisions” like an expansion of Medicaid, increased funding for community clinics and the curbing of some of the worst practices of the private insurance industry, the group says the negatives in the bill outweigh the positives.

[While noting that the Senate bill includes some “salutary provisions” like an expansion of Medicaid, increased funding for community clinics and the curbing of some of the worst practices of the private insurance industry, the group says the negatives in the bill outweigh the positives.]
While noting that the Senate bill includes some “salutary provisions” like an expansion of Medicaid, increased funding for community clinics and the curbing of some of the worst practices of the private insurance industry, the group says the negatives in the bill outweigh the positives.

The negatives, the group says, include the individual mandate requiring that people buy private insurance policies, large government subsidies to private insurers, new restrictions on abortion, the unfair taxing of high-cost health plans, and cuts of $43 billion in Medicare payments to safety-net hospitals. Moreover, at least 23 million people will remain uninsured when the plan finally takes effect, they said. 

“We have concluded that the Senate bill’s passage would bring more harm than good,” the group said in a statement signed by its president, Dr. Oliver Fein, and two co-founders, Drs. David Himmelstein and Steffie Woolhandler.

Addressing the Senate in an open letter, they write: “We ask that you defeat the bill currently under debate, and immediately move to consider the single-payer approach – an expanded and improved Medicare-for-All program – which prioritizes the advancement of our nation’s health over the enhancement of private, profit-seeking interests.”

The full statement appears below.

To the Members of the U.S. Senate:

It is with great sadness that we urge you to vote against the health care reform legislation now before you. As physicians, we are acutely aware of the unnecessary suffering that our nation’s broken health care financing system inflicts on our patients. We make no common cause with the Republicans’ obstructionist tactics or alarmist rhetoric. However, we have concluded that the Senate bill’s passage would bring more harm than good.

We are fully cognizant of the salutary provisions included in the legislation, notably an expansion of Medicaid coverage, increased funds for community clinics and regulations to curtail some of private insurers’ most egregious practices. Yet these are outweighed by its central provisions – particularly the individual mandate – that would reinforce private insurers’ stranglehold on care. Those who dislike their current employer-sponsored coverage would be forced to keep it. Those without insurance would be forced to pay private insurers’ inflated premiums, often for coverage so skimpy that serious illness would bankrupt them. And the $476 billion in new public funds for premium subsidies would all go to insurance firms, buttressing their financial and political power, and rendering future reform all the more difficult.

Some paint the Senate bill as a flawed first step to reform that will be improved over time, citing historical examples such as Social Security. But where Social Security established the nidus of a public institution that grew over time, the Senate bill proscribes any such new public institution. Instead, it channels vast new resources – including funds diverted from Medicare – into the very private insurers who caused today’s health care crisis. Social Security’s first step was not a mandate that payroll taxes which fund pensions be turned over to Goldman Sachs!

While the fortification of private insurers is the most malignant aspect of the bill, several other provisions threaten harm to vulnerable patients, including:

  • The bill’s anti-abortion provisions would restrict reproductive choice, compromising the health of women and adolescent girls.
  • The new 40 percent tax on high-cost health plans – deceptively labeled a “Cadillac tax” – would hit many middle-income families. The costs of group insurance are driven largely by regional health costs and the demography of the covered group. Hence, the tax targets workers in firms that employ more women (whose costs of care are higher than men’s), and older and sicker employees, particularly those in high-cost regions such as Maine and New York.
  • The bill would drain $43 billion from Medicare payments to safety-net hospitals, threatening the care of the 23 million who will remain uninsured even if the bill works as planned. These threatened hospitals are also a key resource for emergency care, mental health care and other services that are unprofitable for hospitals under current payment regimes. In many communities, severely ill patients will be left with no place to go – a human rights abuse.
  • The bill would leave hundreds of millions of Americans with inadequate insurance – an “actuarial value” as low as 60 percent of actual health costs. Predictably, as health costs continue to grow, more families will face co-payments and deductibles so high that they preclude adequate access to care. Such coverage is more akin to a hospital gown than to a warm winter coat.

Congress’ capitulation to insurers – along with concessions to the pharmaceutical industry – fatally undermines the economic viability of reform. The bill would inflate the already crushing burden of insurance-related paperwork that currently siphons $400 billion from care annually. According to CMS’ own projections, the bill will cause U.S. health costs to increase even more rapidly than presently, and budget neutrality is to be achieved by draining funds from Medicare and an accounting trick – front-loading the new revenues while delaying most new coverage until 2014. As homeowners seduced into balloon mortgages have learned, pushing costs off to the future is neither prudent nor sustainable.

We ask that you defeat the bill currently under debate, and immediately move to consider the single-payer approach – an expanded and improved Medicare-for-All program – which prioritizes the advancement of our nation’s health over the enhancement of private, profit-seeking interests.

Oliver Fein, M.D., President
David U. Himmelstein, M.D., Co-founder
Steffie Woolhandler, M.D., M.P.H., Co-founder
Physicians for a National Health Program

As Senate Blocks Guantanamo Closing Funding, Habeus Hating Judge Allows Indefinite Imprisonment There May 20, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Torture.
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Rob Kall

www.opednews.com, May 20, 2009

90 senators who are afraid of being accused of allowing Guantanamo prisoners into their states opposed funding the costs for closing Guantanamo. 
and 

Judge Who’s Allowing Unlimited Imprisonment of Guantanamo Prisoners Also Scuttled Plame Lawsuits and Opposes Habeus Corpus

Late Tuesday, District Judge Bates ruled that the President of the United States may indefinitely detain, without charges, al-Qaida and Taliban members and terrorist suspects held at Guantánamo Judge Bates added a few caveats which may help some of the prisoners, as the Guardian reported he stated that,

“Detention based on substantial or direct support of the Taliban, al-Qaida or associated forces, without more, is simply not warranted by domestic law or the law of war,” Bates wrote. “The court can find no authority in domestic law or the law of war, nor can the government point to any, to justify the concept of ‘support’ as a valid ground for detention,” he wrote. It is unclear whether the distinction will allow some prisoners to go free, however. “If the evidence demonstrates that an individual did not identify himself as a member, but undertook certain tasks within the command structure or rendered frequent substantive assistance to al-Qaida … then a court might conclude that he was a ‘part of’ the organisation,” Bates wrote. The case was brought by six Guantánamo prisoners who challenged their detention. American Civil Liberties Union attorney Jonathan Hafetz said the opinion defies a ban in the US Constitution on indefinite detention. “The decision wrongly concludes that terrorism suspects at Guantánamo may continue to languish in military detention rather than being prosecuted in our civilian courts,” Hafetz said. “Like the president’s recent decision to revive military commissions, this ruling perpetuates rather than ends the failed experiment in lawlessness that is Guantánamo.”

District Judge John D. Bates, appointed by George W. Bush in 1991. He.was appointed to serve as a FISA judge on the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court by SCOTUS Chief Justice John Roberts. The judge was also involved in decisions rejecting efforts by Valerie Plame to bring Dick Cheney to trial. Wikipedia reports that the judge is an avid opponent to habeus corpus. This was a win for the Obama administration, which claims to be seeking to close the Guantanamo facility, especially since, today, the senate refused to provide the funds Obama requested, which were to cover the cost of closing the facility. The 90 to 6 vote against funding sent a resounding message that both Dems and Republicans insist upon a more well defined plan before they will fund the closing. FBI Director Robert Mueller, appointed by George W. Bush in June 2001, warned congress that there could be risked associated with moving Guantanamo prisoners to the US, apparently sabotaging Obama administration efforts to fulfill Obama’s promise to close the facility,or giving him cover to not follow through on the promise. The New York Times reports

Administration officials have indicated that if the Guantánamo camp closes as scheduled more than 100 prisoners may need to be moved to the United States, including 50 to 100 who have been described as too dangerous to release. Of the 240 detainees, 30 have been cleared for release. Some are likely to be transferred to foreign countries, though other governments have been reluctant to take them. Britain and France have each accepted one former detainee. And while as many as 80 of the detainees will be prosecuted, it remains unclear what will happen to those who are convicted and sentenced to prison. At the White House on Tuesday, the press secretary, Robert Gibbs, said the administration expected that Congress would eventually release the money to close the camp, and he suggested that the concerns of lawmakers would start to be addressed on Thursday, when Mr. Obama will present a “hefty part” of his plan. At the Pentagon, a spokesman, Geoff Morrell, said Tuesday that he believed that the administration remained on track to meet the deadline for closing the prison. “I see nothing to indicate that that date is at all in jeopardy,” Mr. Morrell said.

In both houses of congress, both parties are calling for a clearer plan. And so, we wait, as have the prisoners at Guantanamo, 80-90% of whom were arrested based on bounties of $5000 to $20,000 paid to Afghans earning, in many cases, less than $1000 a year.

Rob Kall is executive editor, publisher and site architect of OpEdNews.com, President of Futurehealth, Inc, more…)

Banksters on the War Path: How Wall Street Is Fighting Back and Winning Their Fight for the Status Quo May 2, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis.
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by Danny Schechter

Dick Durbin knows his way around the Senate. He’s been there a long time, long enough to know how things really work. Over the years, the man from Illinois has come to realize that it’s not the elected officials who are in charge. Last week, he said it was the bankers “who run the place” acknowledging that Senators may be in office, but not necessarily in power.

Usually, the people who pull the strings stay in the background to avoid too much public exposure. They rely on lobbyists to do their bidding. They prefer to work in the shadows. They may back certain politicians, but coming from a world of credit default swaps as they do, they hedge their bets by putting money on all the horses.

They have so much influence because they have been reengineering the American economy for decades through “financialization,” a process by which banks and financial institutions gradually came to dominate economic and political decision-making. Kevin Phillips, a one time Reagan advisor and commentator, says our deepest problem is “the ascendancy of finance in national policymaking (as well as in the gross domestic product), and the complicity of politicians who really don’t want to talk about it.”

Curiously, despite the journalists like Bill Moyers and Arianna Huffington who have been blowing the whistle on the role of the “banksters” in our political life, criticizing the Republicans and Democrats who deregulated the financial system, this issue seems to float above the heads of most of the public, much of the press, and even the activist community more drawn to punishing the torture inflicted on a few by a former Administration than the economic duress being imposed on the majority of Americans by a minority of the super rich.

Demonstrators are still drawn more to the White House than the banks that have proliferated on every corner of the country.

Last week, a Zogby poll found that a majority of the public believes the press made things worse by reporting on the economic collapse. Not only is that blaming the messenger, it also overlooks the fact that much of the media was complicit in the crisis by not covering the forces that caused the collapse when it might have done some good.

Exacerbating the problem is that the Obama Administration has, in Robert Scheer’s words, enlisted “the very experts who helped trigger the crisis to try to fix it.”

“Obama,” he writes “seems depressingly reliant on the same-old, same old cast of self-serving house wreckers who act as if government exists for the sole benefit of corporations and executives.”

The team of Tim Geithner and Larry Summers has been carrying Wall Street’s water as Robert Rubin did before them. No wonder that Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder told the Street last February, “We’re not going to go on any witch hunts.”

That was before we learned that Wall Street forced US regulators to delay the release of stress test results for the country’s 19 biggest banks until next Thursday, because some of the lenders objected to government demands that they needed to raise more capital. They are trying to rig the results.

That was also before the public learned of the obscenely huge bonuses the firms benefiting from the TARP bailout were shelling out to their executives. That was before we saw how the bankers with help from Democrats, including new convert Arlen Specter, managed to kill a bill to help homeowners stop foreclosures.

“The Senate on Thursday rejected an effort to stave off home foreclosures by a vote of 51 to 45. It was an overwhelming defeat, with the bill’s backers falling 15 votes short — a quarter of the Democratic caucus — of the 60 needed to cut off debate and move to a final vote. Across the United States, the measure is estimated to have been able to prevent 1.69 million foreclosures and preserve $300 billion in home equity.”

Commented the Center for Responsible Lending, “Instead of defending ordinary Americans, the majority of Senators went with the banks. Yes, the same banks who have benefited so richly from the TARP bailout.”

There was one small victory with the House approving a bill to protect consumers from credit card abuses. It’s not clear if the Senate will pass it too. “It’s one step forward and one step backward,” said Travis Plunkett, of the Consumer Federation of America. “Congress is moving in fits and starts to re-regulate the financial services industry and the banking lobby still has tremendous clout.”

“Tremendous clout” is an understatement.

In this past week, we also saw how a few hedge funds undermined the attempt to save Chrysler from bankruptcy by holding out for more money even after the unions and big banks agreed to compromise to save jobs.

The President was furious but apparently powerless: “A group of investment firms and hedge funds decided to hold out for the prospect of an unjustified taxpayer-funded bailout,” Obama said. “They were hoping that everybody else would make sacrifices, and they would have to make none. Some demanded twice the return that other lenders were getting.”

Explains the blog Naked Capitalism, “the banksters are eagerly, shamelessly, and openly harvesting their pound of flesh from financially stressed average taxpayers, and setting off a chain reaction in the auto industry which has the very real risk of creating even larger scale unemployment than the economy already faces. It’s reckless, utterly irresponsible, over-the-top greed.”

Will they be allowed to get away with it? A “captured” Congress is doing their bidding. There is no doubt that class antagonism is stewing, says the editor of the blog. He expressed a fear of a reaction that will go way beyond flag-wavng tea parties.

“… I am concerned this behavior is setting the stage for another sort of extra-legal measure: violence. I have been amazed at the vitriol directed at the banking classes. Suggestions for punishment have included the guillotine (frequent), hanging, pitchforks, even burning at the stake. Tar and feathering appears inadequate, and stoning hasn’t yet surfaced as an idea. And mind you, my readership is educated, older, typically well-off (even if less so than three years ago). The fuse has to be shorter where the suffering is more acute.”

One is reminded of the title of that movie, “There will be blood.” Rather than show contrition or compassion for its own victims, Wall Street is hoping to jack up its salaries and bonuses to pre-2007 levels. The men at the top are oblivious to the pain they helped cause. And so far, they’ve only occasionally been scolded by politicians that have mostly enabled, coddled, bankrolled, funded, rewarded, and genuflected to their power.

Wall Street’s behavior may be predictable, but how can we account for the silence of so many organizations that should be out there organizing the outrage that is building? Knock, Knock, Obama supporters, bloggers, trade unionists, out of work workers and fellow Americans. Will we fight back or roll over?

Pitchforks anyone?

Mediachannel’s News Dissector Danny Schechter is making a film about Wall Street based on his book Plunder (newsdissector.com/plunder). Comments to dissector@mediachannel.org 

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