Posted by rogerhollander in Capitalism, Imperialism.
Tags: bernie sanders, capitalism, history, imperialism, Joshua Sperber, presidency, roger hollander, separation of powers
Roger’s note: Sort of like Woody Allen not wanting to join a club that would have someone like him, my take on the US presidency: if a person could actually get elected you wouldn’t want her, and if there were a person you would want to be president, she couldn’t possibly get elected. If by some impossible miracle someone truly committed to justice and peace and the dismantling of the imperialist ‘s military industrial complex actually got elected, what could that person actually achieve between election day and assassination?
To one degree or another, all heads of capitalist governments, including so-called socialists, “are Tsipiras.”
Those investing emotional and physical energy in the Bernie Sanders campaign are engaged in a huge waste of time. This would be true even if Sanders wasn’t at bottom just another opportunistic pseudo left politician. The essential question of just what is the United States presidency is nicely approached in the following article. I found it worthwhile trudging through the not so clear to me historical analysis to get through to the meat at the end.
July 27, 2015
Ongoing left debates regarding Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign are frequently characterized by a shared premise. Whether arguing, for instance, that Sanders is dismissive of race or countering that his emphasis on economics necessarily entails anti-racism, both sides tend to assume that Sanders would be able to meaningfully advance his politics if he were to become president. That is, both sides generally presuppose the liberal notion of pluralism, which conceives of a neutral and malleable state that can be shaped and reshaped by those who govern it.
The history of the presidency illustrates a very different story, one in which the political party and personal inclinations of presidents (let alone candidates) are generally irrelevant to how they wield power. Presidents – whether Constitutional Law professor/community organizers or religious zealots with MBAs – historically have advanced the objective interests of the nation-state, prioritizing its international power and the profitability of its economy above all other considerations. Notwithstanding cogent left criticisms of Sanders, the key question is not whether Sanders is a phony but what, if elected president, he will in fact be sworn to do. In other words, what are presidents?
The Constitution was of course designed to replace the Articles of Confederation, whose preservation of revolutionary anti-monarchism (“The Spirit of 1776”) resulted in what the framers came to fear as a dangerously weak state. The decentralized Articles did not have an executive and instead placed power in the legislature (the “People’s Branch”) and the states. Not only did such decentralization preclude national coherence but it also prevented the national government from raising taxes and thereby armies, leaving it, among other things, unequipped to suppress mass debtor insurrections.
Encouraging state legislatures to eliminate debts through inflating state currencies and issuing “stay laws,” debtor insurrections horrified leaders who argued that revolutionary liberty had gone “too far.” Indeed, debtors’ repudiation of property rights (sometimes destroying debt records directly) reflected the growing power of Hamilton and Madison’s dreaded (if not oxymoronic) “majority faction,” which according to Madison threatened not merely the small creditor class but the “permanent and aggregate interests of the community” as well.
Significantly, the Framers discussed the threat of foreign invasion and the threat of domestic insurrection in the same vein. But while the former would clearly challenge the national character of the state, the latter – conducted by citizens after all – would not. That is, Madison and Hamilton’s nation-state is not a clean slate of pluralistically competing factions but has instead always been intrinsically defined by the general interests and demands – if not the personal economic interests of the founders – of the propertied class. Aggregating concrete competing interests into an imagined national community, the framers established antagonistic property relations as the cornerstone of the nation-state and, more specifically, guaranteed that the propertied few would be protected from the property-less many. Accordingly, the Framers designed a government that “multiplied” and “diffused” factions while “filtering” the “violent passions” of the masses through “insulated” and “responsible” “elites” in order to obstruct the majority’s inevitable “rage for paper money, for abolition of debts, for an equal division of property, or for any other improper or wicked project….”
Steward of the State
The Constitution not only centralized power but also eliminated the legislature’s dominance by establishing a bicameral Congress and a “separation of powers” that enabled the executive to become supreme. Article II granted the president a powerful veto, and its provision for unity and relative vagueness provided the executive with the tools for the “energy,” “decision, activity, secrecy, and dispatch” deemed necessary for “strong government.” Aghast at the power of the Constitution in general and the new executive in particular, Patrick Henry warned that the “tyranny of Philadelphia” would come to resemble the tyranny of King George.
Predictably, George Washington exploited Article II’s vagueness, invoking the “take care” clause to crush the Whiskey Rebellion and capitalizing on the omission of Article I’s qualifier “herein granted shall be vested in” to issue the Neutrality Proclamation. But it was not until Thomas Jefferson’s presidency that the objective character of the presidency became manifestly clear. It is indeed an emblematic irony of U.S. history that while the Jeffersonians won most of the early presidential elections, continental and international imperial pressure to expand led them to frequently implement Hamiltonian policies once in office. While Washington and Adams (one also thinks of the Alien and Sedition Acts) expressed Hamiltonian political orientations, Jefferson personified a diametrically opposed U.S. political tradition. Whereas Hamilton was a loose constructionist who advocated for a large national government and a strong executive that would pursue manufacturing following the British model of development, Jefferson was a strict constructionist who advocated for a small national government and weak executive that would pursue agrarianism following the French model of development. Yet, in spite of his lifelong principles, Jefferson in significant respects presided like a Hamiltonian, violating his strict constructionism via the Louisiana Purchase and the Fourth Amendment via his aggressive, albeit unsuccessful, Embargo Act.
Andrew Jackson continued this pattern, expanding the power of the executive as well as the national government notwithstanding his previous advocacy of small government and states’ rights. Beyond his unprecedentedly aggressive use of the veto (Jackson was the first president to use the veto on policies he merely disliked instead of those deemed unconstitutional), Jackson threatened to use military force against South Carolina if it did not yield to the national government during the Nullification Crisis. And it is notable that when Jackson did support states’ rights after Georgia violated the Supreme Court’s ruling in Worcester v. Georgia, it was in the name of expelling the Southeast’s Native-Americans in order to clear the land for profitable exploitation by African American slaves. That is, Jackson supported the states as long as they were pursuing nation-building rather than their own parochial interests.
And though the growth of the executive was neither even nor always linear, its long-term evolution has been characterized more than anything else by massive and bipartisan aggrandizement. Even periodic setbacks, such as the Congressional backlash against Nixon’s “imperial presidency,” proved to be ephemeral. Reagan merely danced around the War Powers Resolution in his illegal funding of the Contras, while Obama circumvented the WPR by declaring that his war on Libya wasn’t in fact a war. By the time of the George W. Bush Administration, the executive – usurping the Congress via signing statements and the courts via military tribunals, among countless other encroachments – had unprecedentedly expanded its power. Contrary to liberal mythology, Bush was hardly an anomaly, as his response to 9/11 built upon Clinton’s attack on civil liberties following the Oklahoma City bombing, just as Obama’s “kill lists,” surveillance, and drone warfare have expanded Bush’s apparently permanent state of exception.
Manager of Capitalism
It is important to note that this expansion of executive power did not occur in a vacuum. On the contrary, executive aggrandizement has more often than not correlated to emergencies in general and capitalist crises in particular. As “steward” of the system, to use Theodore Roosevelt’s appellation, the modern president is devoted not only to expanding the power of the state vis-à-vis international competitors but also to maintaining the conditions for the capitalist economy with which it, in large measure, competes. Jackson aimed to open new arenas for capitalist accumulation not only through the primitive accumulation of Indian removal and chattel slavery but also through eliminating corrupt, monopolistic, and ossified economic institutions such as the Charles River Bridge Company and Biddle’s Bank.
Jackson’s incipient capitalism had become a mature and complex system producing enormous social and political problems by the turn of the century. In turn, Theodore Roosevelt radically expanded presidential power by inverting Jefferson’s interpretation of the Constitution: while Jefferson claimed that the president can only do what the Constitution explicitly permitted, Roosevelt claimed that the president could do anything that the Constitution did not explicitly forbid. As such, Roosevelt intervened in the Coal Strike of 1902 and threatened to seize and run the mines after failing to initiate arbitration meetings, while the Hepburn Act saw the U.S. issuing price controls for the first time.
Although progressives applauded the executive’s reinvention as a “trust-busting” “referee” after decades of pro-business policies, the presidency had in fact remained consistent in its relationship to capitalism. When nascent capitalism required primitive accumulation and (selective) laissez-faire, Jackson gave the system what it needed; when rampaging capitalism threatened to destroy its own social and economic bases during the Gilded Age, Theodore Roosevelt did the same.
Before (if at all) considering the interests of the people that he nominally represents, the president must insure that they constitute a ready and exploitable workforce in the case of economic expansion or that they do not threaten the state’s social and political stability in the case of depression. Indeed, the president (though typically not more myopic business leaders) has frequently recognized the danger of killing the golden goose during capitalist crises, a point made explicitly by that giant of the liberal imagination, FDR. As recounted by Neil Smith in The Endgame of Globalization, FDR explained his rationale for the New Deal to business leaders: “‘I was convinced we’d have a revolution’ in the US ‘and I decided to be its leader and prevent it. I’m a rich man too,’ he continued, ‘and have run with your kind of people. I decided a half loaf was better than none – a half for me and a half for you and no revolution.’” Such cynical calculations allow us to reconcile the “good FDR” of the New Deal with the “bad FDR” who interned Japanese-Americans and firebombed Tokyo, Dresden, and other urban centers.
Notwithstanding the limitations of the New Deal (which among other things emphasized selective social redistribution at the expense of preserving mass exploitation), the Keynesian rescue package had run out of gas by 1973. Amid renewed global competition and the increase in oil prices, profit contracted, but for the first time since the postwar “Golden Age of Capitalism” had begun, spending no longer mitigated the effects of the glut. According to Tony Judt, Labor Prime Minister James Callaghan had “glumly explained to his colleagues, ‘We used to think that you could just spend your way out of a recession…I tell you, in all candour, that that option no longer exists.’”
It was within this context that laissez-faire, now refashioned as neoliberalism, rose from the dead, as it provided the apparent solutions (e.g., privatization, tax cuts, and deregulation) that Keynesianism could not. Put differently, capitalism generated a second wind not only by moving investment from industry to finance but also by cannibalizing the apparatus that had helped rescue it from its previous crisis. The growing chasm separating postwar liberal politics from the post-1970s new economics gave rise to “new” liberals including Clinton, Blair, Schroeder, Obama, and Hollande, who, operating within an increasingly limited range of action, attempted to manage liberalism’s strategic retreat. In so doing, liberal politicians have frequently compensated for their exhausted economic programs by embracing cultural issues, a strategy that has been termed, “Let them eat marriage.” While liberals accurately note that the monstrous right would be “even worse,” their warning is nevertheless dishonest insofar as it ignores that liberals are wedded to the political-economic system whose noxious effects produce such reactionaries in the first place.
Lest we conclude that this is a case of the domestic political cart leading the economic horse, it is crucial to reiterate that the collapse of economic liberalism has been a global phenomenon, whether expressed through Bill Clinton’s declaration that “the era of big government is over,” Francois Mitterand’s assertion that “‘The French are starting to understand that it is business that creates wealth, determines our standard of living and establishes our place in the global rankings,”’ or anti-austerity Syriza’s ongoing implementation of austerity.
That is, assuming that it would be desirable, the New Deal is unlikely to return (although a new world war or some other catastrophe can indeed press the “restart” button on capitalist development assuming there’s anyone left to exploit). Given the enormous global economic and structural constraints delimiting the presidency, it is possible to argue that Barack Obama, demonstrating prodigious “activity,” has done a remarkable job in advancing his domestic and international agendas. Rather than being “weak” or a “sell-out,” Obama very well might be, as liberals stress, the best we can hope for – a possibility that more than anything else radically indicts the system itself.
Obama’s political victories on Iran, Cuba, healthcare, and gay marriage should not be compared to his failures. They should instead be compared to his other, far more reactionary, achievements including Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Pakistan, the Tran-Pacific Partnership Trade Treaty, mass surveillance, and the prosecution of whistleblowers, policies regularly conducted with Hamiltonian “energy,” “decision,” “secrecy,” and “dispatch.” These latter policies neither contradict nor are inconsistent with Obama’s liberal successes. Their common denominator is the presidential articulation of the primacy of the nation-state – and thereby capital accumulation – above all other concerns. The voters’ concerns are considered only when they are serviceable to these paramount interests.
Given the enormous powerlessness of the voter, it is unsurprising that the injunction “hope” so often accompanies political campaigns. Bill Clinton was “The Man from Hope,” Obama campaigned on “Hope,” and, overseas, Syriza promised that “Hope is Coming.” Selecting who will rule without any ability to control the content of that rule, the voter casts the ballot as an act of faith. Investing political and emotional energy into nothing more than the good name of the system (election nights are always exercises in flag-waving celebration of a system that lets us choose our rulers), voters incorrectly argue that voting is better than doing nothing and condemn those who abstain. Yet, the disillusioned are not to blame for forces that they have no control over. And if the disillusioned do become interested in challenging the abuses of everyday life, it will not be through voting but through criticizing the system that voting acclaims. The opposite of hope is not despair. It is power.
Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Hillary Clinton.
Tags: bernie sanders, democracy, grammar, hillary, hillary clinton, mark twain, netanyahu, roger hollander
THE VERB TO NETANYAHU: SAY ONE THING ONE DAY AND THE OPPOSITE THE NEXT IN ORDER TO WIN AN ELECTION
THE STARRY EYED DREAMERS WELCOME BERNIE SANDERS INTO THE RACE BELIEVING THAT IT WILL MOVE HILLARY CLINTON TO THE PROGRESSIVE POPULIST LEFT.
I AM SURE THAT IT WILL, DURING THE CAMPAIGN, THEN, ONCE ELECTED SHE WILL NETANYAHU AND GO BACK TO HER GENUINE CORPORATE TOADYING WARMONGERING SELF.
AMERICAN DEMOCRACY IN ACTION; OR, AS MY ANARCHIST FRIENDS SAY: DON’T VOTE, THE GOVERNMENT ALWAYS WINS.
Sometimes I wonder whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on or by imbeciles who really mean it.
Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Health.
Tags: aca, bernie sanders, Canada, health costs, health insurance, healthcare, obamacare, private insurance, Ralph Nader, roger hollander, single payer, universal healthcare, vermont, vermont health
Roger’s note: this posting gives you two articles on health care, including Ralph Nader’s on the Canadian system. Having lived most of my life in Canada, and with the early detection of my daughter’s meningitis that saved her life at age two, I know first hand the benefits of no one excluded single payer. Like the system in Great Britain (which is more like socialized medicine than Canada’s universal insurance), Canada’s health care is deteriorating, not because of flaws in the system, but rather neoliberal under funding. It is not quite the Utopia that Nader pictures, but it is a thousand percent better than what Americans have.
Costly complexity is baked into Obamacare. No health insurance system is without problems but Canadian style single-payer full Medicare for all is simple, affordable, comprehensive and universal.
In the early 1960s, President Lyndon Johnson enrolled 20 million elderly Americans into Medicare in six months. There were no websites. They did it with index cards!
Below please find 21 Ways the Canadian Health Care System is Better than Obamacare.
Repeal Obamacare and replace it with the much more efficient single-payer, everybody in, nobody out, free choice of doctor and hospital.
In Canada, everyone is covered automatically at birth – everybody in, nobody out.
In the United States, under Obamacare, 31 million Americans will still be uninsured by 2023 and millions more will remain underinsured.
In Canada, the health system is designed to put people, not profits, first.
In the United States, Obamacare will do little to curb insurance industry profits and will actually enhance insurance industry profits.
In Canada, coverage is not tied to a job or dependent on your income – rich and poor are in the same system, the best guaranty of quality.
In the United States, under Obamacare, much still depends on your job or income. Lose your job or lose your income, and you might lose your existing health insurance or have to settle for lesser coverage.
In Canada, health care coverage stays with you for your entire life.
In the United States, under Obamacare, for tens of millions of Americans, health care coverage stays with you for as long as you can afford your share.
In Canada, you can freely choose your doctors and hospitals and keep them. There are no lists of “in-network” vendors and no extra hidden charges for going “out of network.”
In the United States, under Obamacare, the in-network list of places where you can get treated is shrinking – thus restricting freedom of choice – and if you want to go out of network, you pay for it.
In Canada, the health care system is funded by income, sales and corporate taxes that, combined, are much lower than what Americans pay in premiums.
In the United States, under Obamacare, for thousands of Americans, it’s pay or die – if you can’t pay, you die. That’s why many thousands will still die every year under Obamacare from lack of health insurance to get diagnosed and treated in time.
In Canada, there are no complex hospital or doctor bills. In fact, usually you don’t even see a bill.
In the United States, under Obamacare, hospital and doctor bills will still be terribly complex, making it impossible to discover the many costly overcharges.
In Canada, costs are controlled. Canada pays 10 percent of its GDP for its health care system, covering everyone.
In the United States, under Obamacare, costs continue to skyrocket. The U.S. currently pays 18 percent of its GDP and still doesn’t cover tens of millions of people.
In Canada, it is unheard of for anyone to go bankrupt due to health care costs.
In the United States, under Obamacare, health care driven bankruptcy will continue to plague Americans.
In Canada, simplicity leads to major savings in administrative costs and overhead.
In the United States, under Obamacare, complexity will lead to ratcheting up administrative costs and overhead.
In Canada, when you go to a doctor or hospital the first thing they ask you is: “What’s wrong?”
In the United States, the first thing they ask you is: “What kind of insurance do you have?”
In Canada, the government negotiates drug prices so they are more affordable.
In the United States, under Obamacare, Congress made it specifically illegal for the government to negotiate drug prices for volume purchases, so they remain unaffordable.
In Canada, the government health care funds are not profitably diverted to the top one percent.
In the United States, under Obamacare, health care funds will continue to flow to the top. In 2012, CEOs at six of the largest insurance companies in the U.S. received a total of $83.3 million in pay, plus benefits.
In Canada, there are no necessary co-pays or deductibles.
In the United States, under Obamacare, the deductibles and co-pays will continue to be unaffordable for many millions of Americans.
In Canada, the health care system contributes to social solidarity and national pride.
In the United States, Obamacare is divisive, with rich and poor in different systems and tens of millions left out or with sorely limited benefits.
In Canada, delays in health care are not due to the cost of insurance.
In the United States, under Obamacare, patients without health insurance or who are underinsured will continue to delay or forgo care and put their lives at risk.
In Canada, nobody dies due to lack of health insurance.
In the United States, under Obamacare, many thousands will continue to die every year due to lack of health insurance.
In Canada, an increasing majority supports their health care system, which costs half as much, per person, as in the United States. And in Canada, everyone is covered.
In the United States, a majority – many for different reasons – oppose Obamacare.
In Canada, the tax payments to fund the health care system are progressive – the lowest 20 percent pays 6 percent of income into the system while the highest 20 percent pays 8 percent.
In the United States, under Obamacare, the poor pay a larger share of their income for health care than the affluent.
In Canada, the administration of the system is simple. You get a health care card when you are born. And you swipe it when you go to a doctor or hospital. End of story.
In the United States, Obamacare’s 2,500 pages plus regulations (the Canadian Medicare Bill was 13 pages) is so complex that then Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said before passage “we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.”
In Canada, the majority of citizens love their health care system.
In the United States, the majority of citizens, physicians, and nurses prefer the Canadian type system – single-payer, free choice of doctor and hospital , everybody in, nobody out.
For more information see Single Payer Action.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.
Vermont Approves Single-Payer Health Care: ‘Everybody in, nobody out’
November 20, 2013,
The Affordable Care Act continues to plow ahead, despite Republican attempts to fight it at every turn. What is unfolding in front of us is nothing short of spectacular. The problems with healthcare.gov are slowly being resolved which is helping more and more people sign up for affordable healthcare, many for the first time in their life. The law provides so much more than that, including standards for even the lowest level plans, protections for young adults 26 and younger, and the elimination of pre-existing plans. Of course, you will not hear the success stories on the news, because those stories are not nearly as sexy as the “Obama Lied” slogan they are so fond of.
The biggest downside of the ACA is the reliance on the private insurance industry. It does not have to be this way, however. There is yet another provision in the Affordable Care Act that can open the door for states to institute their own single-payer healthcare system. Other states have a public option, especially for those below a certain income level, but no state had instituted a true single-payer system. All of this has changed thanks to President Obama and the Affordable Care Act.
Vermont—Home of Ben and Jerry’s, Maple Syrup, Bernie Sanders and the first state to pass marriage equality. Now, Vermont will be known for something that will impact every resident in the state.
The ACA provided states with federal funds to institute a Medicaid expansion. The states chose to expand the program also were able to set up their own state exchanges, which were relatively free from the problems the federal site had. Vermont decided to take it a step further by setting up their very own single payer system.
The slogan of the program: Everybody in, nobody out.
The program will be fully operational by 2017, and will be funded through Medicare, Medicaid, federal money for the ACA given to Vermont, and a slight increase in taxes. In exchange, there will be no more premiums, deductibles, copay’s, hospital bills or anything else aimed at making insurance companies a profit. Further, all hospitals and healthcare providers will now be nonprofit.
This system will provide an instant boost the state economy. On the one side, you have workers that no longer have to worry about paying medical costs or a monthly premium and are able to use that money for other things. On the other side, you have the burden of paying insurance taken off of the employers side, who will be able to use the saved money to provide a better wage and/or reinvest in their company through updated infrastructure and added jobs. It is a win-win solution.
To make sure that it is done right the first time, Vermont brought in a specialist who knows a thing or two about setting up a single-payer system.
Dr. William Hsaio, the Harvard health care economist who helped craft health systems in seven countries, was Vermont’s adviser. He estimates that Vermont will save 25 percent per capita over the current system in administrative costs and other savings.
Many like to say that the United States has the best healthcare system in the world. The problem is we don’t. Not even close. In fact, the only way you can get the best healthcare in the world, is if you are willing and able to pay for it. The United States can and must do better for its people.
Costs have to be held down — there is no reason why the U.S. has to pay twice the amount per capita as the next most costly system in the world (Norway’s), and still not cover millions of its citizens. A Harvard Medical School study states that 45,000 Americans die each year from treatable diseases because they cannot afford to get treatment.
45,000 Americans die every single year because they cannot afford treatment, are you ready for that? That is 15 times the amount of people that died during the September 11, 2001, attacks, or perhaps for you Righty’s out there you would rather see it put this way, 11,250 times the amount of people that died in the Benghazi attack. That equals 5 Americans that die every hour, of every day, of every year because of a preventable illness that was not taken care of due to lack of access and means.
Even once the Affordable Care Act wrinkles are ironed out, which they will be, and every America is covered, which will happen, that will not change the fact that all of this is being driven by a for-profit system by companies that only care about their bottom line. Despite rules in the ACA which prevent insurance companies from absolutely gouging their customers, insurance companies are not exactly know for their ethical behavior.
A single-payer system would all but eliminate anybody dying unnecessarily due to lack of access to healthcare. Our Declaration of Independence states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” How can somebody have life and happiness, without their health? Despite the glaring hypocrisy of rich, white males who owned slaves stating all men are created equal, we have come a long way from 1776. Yet when it comes to the very basic need, we are left to the whim of a business. Single-payer is inevitable, and the ACA is a giant step in that direction. We need must hold our officials to a higher standard which will get us there faster. 40,000 people a year is absolutely unacceptable. Vermont saw the writings on the wall. Will the rest of us?
Bernie Sanders on MSNBC discussing his state’s new single-payer system.
Posted by rogerhollander in Uncategorized.
Tags: bagram, Barack Obama, bernie sanders, constitution, gitmo, Guantanamo, Guantanamo detainees, habeas corpus, human rights, indefinite detention, military commissions, national security, roger hollander, russ feingold, terrorism, torture
New vindictive restrictions on detainees highlights the falsity of Obama defenders regarding closing the camp
By Glenn Greenwald, Monday, Jul 23, 2012, www.salon.com
Accused Sept. 11 co-conspirator Ramzi Binalshibh is shown while attending his military hearing at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base in Cuba. (AP/Janet Hamlin)
Most of the 168 detainees at Guantanamo have been imprisoned by the U.S. Government for close to a decade without charges and with no end in sight to their captivity. Some now die at Guantanamo, thousands of miles away from their homes and families, without ever having had the chance to contest accusations of guilt. During the Bush years, the plight of these detainees was a major source of political controversy, but under Obama, it is now almost entirely forgotten. On those rare occasions when it is raised, Obama defenders invoke a blatant myth to shield the President from blame: he wanted and tried so very hard to end all of this, but Congress would not let him. Especially now that we’re in an Election Year, and in light of very recent developments, it’s long overdue to document clearly how misleading that excuse is.
Last week, the Obama administration imposed new arbitrary rules for Guantanamo detainees who have lost their first habeas corpus challenge. Those new rules eliminate the right of lawyers to visit their clients at the detention facility; the old rules establishing that right were in place since 2004, and were bolstered by the Supreme Court’s 2008 Boumediene ruling that detainees were entitled to a “meaningful” opportunity to contest the legality of their detention. The DOJ recently informed a lawyer for a Yemeni detainee, Yasein Khasem Mohammad Esmail, that he would be barred from visiting his client unless he agreed to a new regime of restrictive rules, including acknowledging that such visits are within the sole discretion of the camp’s military commander. Moreover, as SCOTUSblog’s Lyle Denniston explains:
Besides putting control over legal contacts entirely under a military commander’s control, the “memorandum of understanding” does not allow attorneys to share with other detainee lawyers what they learn, and does not appear to allow them to use any such information to help prepare their own client for a system of periodic review at Guantanamo of whether continued detention is justified, and may even forbid the use of such information to help prepare a defense to formal terrorism criminal charges against their client.
The New York Times Editorial Page today denounced these new rules as “spiteful,” cited it as “the Obama administration’s latest overuse of executive authority,” and said “the administration looks as if it is imperiously punishing detainees for their temerity in bringing legal challenges to their detention and losing.” Detainee lawyers are refusing to submit to these new rules and are asking a federal court to rule that they violate the detainees’ right to legal counsel.
But every time the issue of ongoing injustices at Guantanamo is raised, one hears the same apologia from the President’s defenders: the President wanted and tried to end all of this, but Congress — including even liberals such as Russ Feingold and Bernie Sanders — overwhelming voted to deny him the funds to close Guantanamo. While those claims, standing alone, are true, they omit crucial facts and thus paint a wildly misleading picture about what Obama actually did and did not seek to do.
What made Guantanamo controversial was not its physical location: that it was located in the Caribbean Sea rather than on American soil (that’s especially true since the Supreme Court ruled in 2004 that U.S. courts have jurisdiction over the camp). What made Guantanamo such a travesty — and what still makes it such — is that it is a system of indefinite detention whereby human beings are put in cages for years and years without ever being charged with a crime. President Obama’s so-called “plan to close Guantanamo” — even if it had been approved in full by Congress — did not seek to end that core injustice. It sought to do the opposite: Obama’s plan would have continued the system of indefinite detention, but simply re-located it from Guantanamo Bay onto American soil.
Long before, and fully independent of, anything Congress did, President Obama made clear that he was going to preserve the indefinite detention system at Guantanamo even once he closed the camp. President Obama fully embraced indefinite detention — the defining injustice of Guantanamo — as his own policy.
In February, 2009, the Obama DOJ told an appellate court it was embracing the Bush DOJ’s theory that Bagram detainees have no legal rights whatsoever, an announcement that shocked the judges on the panel hearing the case. In May, 2009, President Obama delivered a speech at the National Archives — in front of the U.S. Constitution — and, as his plan for closing Guantanamo, proposed a system of preventative “prolonged detention” without trial inside the U.S.; The New York Times – in an article headlined “President’s Detention Plan Tests American Legal Tradition” – said Obama’s plan “would be a departure from the way this country sees itself, as a place where people in the grip of the government either face criminal charges or walk free.” In January, 2010, the Obama administration announced it would continue to imprison several dozen Guantanamo detainees without any charges or trials of any kind, including even a military commission, on the ground that they were “too difficult to prosecute but too dangerous to release.” That was all Obama’s doing, completely independent of anything Congress did.
When the President finally unveiled his plan for “closing Guantanamo,” it became clear that it wasn’t a plan to “close” the camp as much as it was a plan simply to re-locate it — import it — onto American soil, at a newly purchased federal prison in Thompson, Illinois. William Lynn, Obama’s Deputy Defense Secretary, sent a letter to inquiring Senators that expressly stated that the Obama administration intended to continue indefinitely to imprison some of the detainees with no charges of any kind. The plan was classic Obama: a pretty, feel-good, empty symbolic gesture (get rid of the symbolic face of Bush War on Terror excesses) while preserving the core abuses (the powers of indefinite detention ), even strengthening and expanding those abuses by bringing them into the U.S.
Recall that the ACLU immediately condemned what it called the President’s plan to create “GITMO North.” About the President’s so-called “plan to close Guantanamo,” Executive Director Anthony Romero said:
The creation of a “Gitmo North” in Illinois is hardly a meaningful step forward. Shutting down Guantánamo will be nothing more than a symbolic gesture if we continue its lawless policies onshore.
Alarmingly, all indications are that the administration plans to continue its predecessor’s policy of indefinite detention without charge or trial for some detainees, with only a change of location. Such a policy is completely at odds with our democratic commitment to due process and human rights whether it’s occurring in Cuba or in Illinois.
In fact, while the Obama administration inherited the Guantánamo debacle, this current move is its own affirmative adoption of those policies. It is unimaginable that the Obama administration is using the same justification as the Bush administration used to undercut centuries of legal jurisprudence and the principle of innocent until proven guilty and the right to confront one’s accusers. . . . .The Obama administration’s announcement today contradicts everything the president has said about the need for America to return to leading with its values.
In fact, Obama’s “close GITMO” plan — if it had been adopted by Congress — would have done something worse than merely continue the camp’s defining injustice of indefinite detention. It would likely have expanded those powers by importing them into the U.S. The day after President Obama’s speech proposing a system of “prolonged detention” on U.S. soil, the ACLU’s Ben Wizner told me in an interview:
It may to serve to enshrine into law the very departures from the law that the Bush administration led us on, and that we all criticized so much. And I’ll elaborate on that. But that’s really my initial reaction to it; that what President Obama was talking about yesterday is making permanent some of the worst features of the Guantanamo regime. He may be shutting down the prison on that camp, but what’s worse is he may be importing some of those legal principles into our own legal system, where they’ll do great harm for a long time.
So even if Congress had fully supported and funded Obama’s plan to “close Guantanamo,” the core injustices that made the camp such a travesty would remain. In fact, they’d not only remain, but would be in full force within the U.S. That’s what makes the prime excuse offered for Obama — he tried to end all of this but couldn’t – so misleading. He only wanted to change the locale of these injustices, but sought fully to preserve them.
Indeed, as part of that excuse, one frequently hears that even liberal civil liberties stalwarts in the Senate — such as Russ Feingold and Bernie Sanders — voted to deny funding for the closing of Guantanamo: as though it is they who are to blame for these enduring travesties, rather than Obama. But this, too, is misleading in the extreme.
The reason these Democratic Senators voted to deny funds for closing Guantanamo is not because they lacked the courage to close Guantanamo. It’s because they did not want to fund a plan to close the camp without knowing exactly what Obama planned to do with the detainees there — because people like Feingold and Sanders did not want to fund the importation of a system of indefinite detention onto U.S. soil. Here’s what actually happened when the Senate, including most Democrats, refused to fund the closing of Guantanamo:
[White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs] added Obama has not yet decided where some of the detainees will be sent. A presidential commission is studying the issue. . . .
Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, favors closing Guantanamo, and the legislation his panel originally sent to the floor provided money for that purpose once the administration submitted a plan for the shutdown.
In changing course and seeking to delete the funds, he said, “The fact that the administration has not offered a workable plan at this point made that decision rather easy.”
Can that be any clearer? They would have voted to fund the closing of Guantanamo, but only once they knew what Obama’s plan was for the detainees there. Feingold — whose vote against funding the closing of Guantanamo is invariably cited by Obama defenders — wrote a letter to the President specifically to object to any plan to import the system of indefinite detention onto U.S. soil:
My primary concern, however, relates to your reference to the possibility of indefinite detention without trial for certain detainees. While I appreciate your good faith desire to at least enact a statutory basis for such a regime, any system that permits the government to indefinitely detain individuals without charge or without a meaningful opportunity to have accusations against them adjudicated by an impartial arbiter violates basic American values and is likely unconstitutional.
While I recognize that your administration inherited detainees who, because of torture, other forms of coercive interrogations, or other problems related to their detention or the evidence against them, pose considerable challenges to prosecution, holding them indefinitely without trial is inconsistent with the respect for the rule of law that the rest of your speech so eloquently invoked. Indeed, such detention is a hallmark of abusive systems that we have historically criticized around the world. It is hard to imagine that our country would regard as acceptable a system in another country where an individual other than a prisoner of war is held indefinitely without charge or trial.
Once a system of indefinite detention without trial is established, the temptation to use it in the future would be powerful. And, while your administration may resist such a temptation, future administrations may not. There is a real risk, then, of establishing policies and legal precedents that rather than ridding our country of the burden of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, merely set the stage for future Guantanamos, whether on our shores or elsewhere, with disastrous consequences for our national security.
Worse, those policies and legal precedents would be effectively enshrined as acceptable in our system of justice, having been established not by one, largely discredited administration, but by successive administrations of both parties with greatly contrasting positions on legal and constitutional issues.
Feingold was not going to vote for a plan to close Guantanamo if it meant that its core injustice — indefinite detention — was going simply to be re-located onto American soil, where it would be entrenched rather than dismantled. That, as all of this evidence makes clear, is why so many Democratic Senators voted to deny funding for the closing of Guantanamo: not because they favored the continuation of indefinite detention, but precisely because they did not want to fund its continuation on American soil, as Obama clearly intended.
Now, here we are, almost four years after the vow to close Guantanamo was enshrined in an Executive Order, and the rights of detainees — including the basic right to legal counsel — are being constricted further, in plainly vindictive ways. Conditions at Guantanamo are undoubtedly better than they were in 2003, and some of the deficiencies in military commissions (for the few who appear before them) have been redressed. But the real stain of Guantanamo — keeping people locked up in cages for years with no charges — endures. And contrary to the blatant myth propagated by Obama defenders, that has happened not because Obama tried but failed to eliminate it, but precisely because he embraced it as his own policy from the start.
Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Health.
Tags: bernie sanders, congress, democracy, democrats, dick durbin, filbuster, glenn greenwald, health, health care, health reform, public option, reconciliation, roger hollander, senate
(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.)
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
Posted by rogerhollander in Health.
Tags: bernie sanders, cigna, doctor shortages, drug companies, health, health care, health care costs, health care reform, health care system, health costs, health insurance, health insurance industry, healthcare, healthcare reform, medicare medicare for all, private health insurance, roger hollander, single payer, united health
Senator Bernie Sanders
www.opednews.com, June 8, 2009
Let’s be clear. Our health care system is disintegrating. Today, 46 million people have no health insurance and even more are underinsured with high deductibles and co-payments. At a time when 60 million people, including many with insurance, do not have access to a medical home, more than 18,000 Americans die every year from preventable illnesses because they do not get to the doctor when they should. This is six times the number who died at the tragedy of 9/11 – but this occurs every year.
In the midst of this horrendous lack of coverage, the U.S. spends far more per capita on health care than any other nation – and health care costs continue to soar. At $2.4 trillion dollars, and 18 percent of our GDP, the skyrocketing cost of health care in this country is unsustainable both from a personal and macro-economic perspective.
At the individual level, the average American spends about $7,900 per year on health care. Despite that huge outlay, a recent study found that medical problems contributed to 62 percent of all bankruptcies in 2007. From a business perspective, General Motors spends more on health care per automobile than on steel while small business owners are forced to divert hard-earned profits into health coverage for their employees – rather than new business investments. And, because of rising costs, many businesses are cutting back drastically on their level of health care coverage or are doing away with it entirely.
Further, despite the fact that we spend almost twice as much per person on health care as any other country, our health care outcomes lag behind many other nations. We get poor value for what we spend. According to the World Health Organization the United States ranks 37th in terms of health system performance and we are far behind many other countries in terms of such important indices as infant mortality, life expectancy and preventable deaths.
As the health care debate heats up in Washington, we as a nation have to answer two very fundamental questions. First, should all Americans be entitled to health care as a right and not a privilege – which is the way every other major country treats health care and the way we respond to such other basic needs as education, police and fire protection? Second, if we are to provide quality health care to all, how do we accomplish that in the most cost-effective way possible?
I think the answer to the first question is pretty clear, and one of the reasons that Barack Obama was elected president. Most Americans do believe that all of us should have health care coverage, and that nobody should be left out of the system. The real debate is how we accomplish that goal in an affordable and sustainable way. In that regard, I think the evidence is overwhelming that we must end the private insurance company domination of health care in our country and move toward a publicly-funded, single-payer Medicare for All approach.
Our current private health insurance system is the most costly, wasteful, complicated and bureaucratic in the world. Its function is not to provide quality health care for all, but to make huge profits for those who own the companies. With thousands of different health benefit programs designed to maximize profits, private health insurance companies spend an incredible (30 percent) of each health care dollar on administration and billing, exorbitant CEO compensation packages, advertising, lobbying and campaign contributions. Public programs like Medicare, Medicaid and the VA are administered for far less.
In recent years, while we have experienced an acute shortage of primary health care doctors as well as nurses and dentists, we are paying for a huge increase in health care bureaucrats and bill collectors. Over the last three decades, the number of administrative personnel has grown by 25 times the numbers of physicians. Not surprisingly, while health care costs are soaring, so are the profits of private health insurance companies. From 2003 to 2007, the combined profits of the nation’s major health insurance companies increased by 170 percent. And, while more and more Americans are losing their jobs and health insurance, the top executives in the industry are receiving lavish compensation packages. It’s not just William McGuire, the former head of United Health, who several years ago accumulated stock options worth an estimated $1.6 billion or Cigna CEO Edward Hanway who made more than $120 million in the last five years. The reality is that CEO compensation for the top seven health insurance companies now averages $14.2 million.
Moving toward a national health insurance program which provides cost-effective universal, comprehensive and quality health care for all will not be easy. The powerful special interests – the insurance companies, drug companies and medical equipment suppliers – will wage an all-out fight to make sure that we maintain the current system which enables them to make billions of dollars. In recent years they have spent hundreds of millions on lobbying, campaign contributions and advertising and, with unlimited resources, they will continue spending as much as they need.
But, at the end of the day, as difficult as it may be, the fight for a national health care program will prevail. Like the civil rights movement, the struggle for women’s rights and other grass-roots efforts, justice in this country is often delayed – but it will not be denied. We shall overcome!
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Bernie Sanders is the independent U.S. Senator from Vermont. He is the longest serving independent member of Congress in American history. He is a member of the Senate’s Budget, Veterans, Environment, Energy, and H.E.L.P. (Health, Education, (more…)
Posted by rogerhollander in Health.
Tags: baucus 13, bernie sanders, H.R. 676, health, health care, health care reform, health insurance, health insurance industry, healthcare, healthcare reform, John Conyers, max baucus, roger hollander, senate finance, single payer
by John S. Adams
HELENA – Sen. Max Baucus is set to meet with five single-payer health care advocates in Washington, D.C., this week.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., talks with reporters after a closed-door committee meeting on financing an overhaul of the health care system, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 20, 2009.(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Baucus, as chair of the Senate Finance Committee, has made health care reform his top priority this session. However, Baucus has consistently said single-payer – a system in which the federal government acts as the nation’s sole health insurance provider – is off the table.
“For more than a year, Senator Baucus has met with thousands of people, representing hundreds of views on how to reform our health care system,” Baucus spokesman Ty Matsdorf stated in an e-mail. “This meeting is no different. Max hopes to talk, and listen, to these folks totry and find the best way to make sure every Montanan has access to quality, affordable health care.”
Last week, members of Baucus’ staff held 20 listening sessions across the state on health care reform. At several of those meetings, Montanans expressed anger over Baucus’ steadfast refusal to consider a single-payer option.
Last month Baucus had 13 protesters removed from Senate Finance Committee hearings after the protesters demanded that single-payer advocates be given a seat at the table during health care reform hearings.
According to the Web site SinglePayerAction.org, Baucus will meet with Dr. David Himmelstein, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and co-founder of Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP); Dr. Marcia Angell, senior lecturer, Harvard Medical School and former editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine; Dr. Oliver Fein, associate dean, Cornell Weill Medical School and president of PNHP; Rose Ann DeMoro, executive director of the California Nurses Association; and Geri Jenkins, president of California Nurses Association.
Angell said the group plans to urge Baucus to give serious consideration to Congress’ two primary single-payer bills, S. 703, by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and H.R. 676, by Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich.
“We will make a case that there should be full hearings on Sanders’ bill, and we’ll make the case that the (Congressional Budget Office) should cost-out the Sanders and Conyers bills,” Angell said in an interview Monday. “We’ll make the case that single-payer advocates should have a chance to meet with the president. We will argue for holding public hearings on health reform that include single payer witnesses.”
Matsdorf said the June 3 meeting was scheduled prior to last week’s well-attended health care listening sessions, but Angell said she believes the pressure Montanans put on Baucus in recent weeks helped open the door for Wednesday’s meeting.
“I think Sen. Baucus may be surprised at the amount of push-back he has gotten for just ruling (single-payer) off the table,” Angell said. “It may indicate that he’s starting to feel pressure, and that’s all for the good.”
Copyright ©2009 Great Falls Tribune
Posted by rogerhollander in Health, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Tags: afghanistan civilians, Afghanistan escalation, al-Qaeda, amy goodman, bernie sanders, bin Laden, democracy, Democracy Now, g20 summit, health insurance industry, healthcare reform, hr676, jim mcdermott, John Conyers, medical-industrial compex, medicare, Obama, pakistan, roger hollander, single payer, war
www.democracynow.org, April 1, 2009
We speak with Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA), a leading advocate for a single-payer healthcare system, about healthcare reform on Capitol Hill. McDermott also speaks about his recent trip to Afghanistan and his thoughts on President Obama’s escalation of the war
AMY GOODMAN: At today’s news conference at the G20 summit in London, President Obama also spoke about the situation in Afghanistan.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We also discussed the progress that was made yesterday at the Hague, where more than seventy nations gathered to discuss our mutual responsibilities to partner with the Afghan people so that we can deny al-Qaeda a safe haven. And in the days ahead, we’ll consult further with our NATO allies about training Afghan security forces, increasing our civilian support, and a regional approach that recognizes the connection between the future of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
AMY GOODMAN: After the G20 meeting, Obama is heading to Strasbourg, France, and Kehl, Germany, where he will take part in a major NATO summit commemorating the sixtieth anniversary of the alliance. Afghanistan is expected to be at the top of the agenda, and Obama is expected to ask for NATO’s support for his escalation of the war. Obama has said he plans to send an extra 17,000 soldiers and 4,000 advisers to Afghanistan.
Congress member Jim McDermott recently traveled to Afghanistan as part of a congressional delegation. He’s a Democratic [representative] from Seattle, joining us now from Washington, D.C.
We welcome you to Democracy Now!, Congressman McDermott.
REP. JIM McDERMOTT: Hi, Amy. How are you?
AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Well, we hear that there was a secret meeting between the House Democrats and President Obama before he left, the topic being Afghanistan. Is this true?
REP. JIM McDERMOTT: I was not in the meeting, so I don’t know if it occurred or not.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, you just came back from Afghanistan. What is your assessment of the Obama administration’s policy to expand the war there?
REP. JIM McDERMOTT: Well, I think it’s almost larger than the Obama policy, but I am very worried about any escalation that we do in Afghanistan. We went roaring into there nine years ago and dropped bombs all over [Tora Bora] and did all kinds of things and put on this big effort, and then it didn’t work. We didn’t get rid of Osama bin Laden, and we didn’t get rid of the terrorists. And so, we moved onto Iraq and just left it to fester.
Now we’re coming back, eight years later, having continued to kill civilians and create enormous animosity toward Americans. And the history of the Pashtun people—there are 40 million Pashtuns who live in an area that straddles the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan—they threw out the British on two occasions in the 1800s, and they threw out the Russians a few years ago. And my belief is that we are going into something that we really don’t understand.
AMY GOODMAN: What is that?
REP. JIM McDERMOTT: Well, we have some idea that we’re going to make it a peaceful, quiet place that it has never been. There has been fighting in that area for over a thousand years, and the tribal areas are so tumultuous that Pakistan has never tried to exercise any governmental control of those areas. They’ve just ceded it to the local tribes. And for us to think that we’re going to go in there and be more successful than the Pakistan government is, when we don’t speak Urdu and we don’t speak Pashto and we don’t speak Balti and we don’t speak all the languages, we don’t know the customs, is simply to get us enmeshed in another quagmire, similar to what we got into in Vietnam, when we didn’t understand what we were dealing with.
And I think that the issue here—if you read a book called Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson, he talks about how you get to know the people, how you sit down, how you learn, and he winds up building schools. He’s built more than a hundred schools for girls in that area. But it requires listening to the natives, not coming in with a fixed idea that as an American you know what’s best for them. And I’m afraid that our leadership is barging in there again, thinking we know what’s best for them, and this is how we’re going to do it. And every time a drone bombs a wedding party, we make more enemies for ourselves.
AMY GOODMAN: Congressman McDermott, you took a trip to Iraq in 2002 before the invasion, which you were criticized for by those who supported the Bush administration. You were opposed to the war in Iraq. So was President Obama. He spoke out in 2002. Why do you think he has taken this different tack with Afghanistan?
REP. JIM McDERMOTT: Well, I think the President of the United States is always caught in the pressure between what might be good public policy, seen from a civilian side, and what the military says is a good policy. The President of the United States has the responsibility to protect the American people. That’s his first, first responsibility. And as happened to John Kennedy, they got him in office, and they said, “Hey, look, we’ve got this problem in Cuba. Let’s go down there, and, you know, in an afternoon, we can wipe out the Cuban resistance and get rid of this guy Fidel Castro.” That led to the Bay of Pigs debacle.
And the military answer that Americans tend to favor, that is, if we have strong arms and we have bombers and we have all this kind of stuff, that somehow that will prevail, has proven wrong over and over and over again. And the only way we’re going to really solve these situations is with soft power, that is, with diplomacy and economic aid.
And I think that President Obama is right now listening to those military advisers in ways that I think are, in the long run, not going to be good for the country and not good for his presidency, frankly. I worry about him. I want him to succeed. I want him to be the best president we ever had. But I’m worried that he’s listening to the wrong people. He’s not listening to enough people who say, “Take a cup of tea and listen to these people and figure out what needs to be done.”
AMY GOODMAN: You’re not far from the Canadian border, when you’re back home in Seattle. President Obama’s first foreign trip was to Canada. Canada is pulling out their troops from Afghanistan. Then he met with Gordon Brown, the prime minister of Britain, in the White House. Many were surprised they didn’t hold a joint news conference. They sat there taking a photo op and ended up extending it to more than twenty minutes. It looked like it was sort of a sort of flub of the Obama administration, since the British leader had always been treated differently in the past. The Brits are very much—the population—opposed to war in Afghanistan. Why do you think it is Obama is taking this different tack? I mean, when it comes to the other countries in the world, it seems that the US is once again, as with Iraq, trying to pull other countries along, and they’re resisting, they’re pulling out.
REP. JIM McDERMOTT: Well, I think the President, when he came into office, one of the charges that was constantly railed against him was he’s not going to be a good commander-in-chief, he’s not going to be strong, he’s not going to protect us, he’s going to be weak, he’s going to capitulate to our enemies. And again, as I said about John Kennedy, John Kennedy was under the same kind of criticism as he came into office. And I think the President is responding to that by trying to be a strong leader. And if you listen to his speeches, he keeps talking about protecting the American people, protecting the American people.
George Bush, in his attacks on Iraq and on Afghanistan, did not make us safer in the long run. We have two festering wars now in the Middle East and maybe a third one in Pakistan, if you want to look at it that way. And that kind of advice that your answer is to march out and bomb people and use guns and tanks and all this military hardware is hard for a president not to react to. Otherwise, we’ll call him weak, and we’ll say, “Well, he gave in, and he lost the first war,” all that kind of stuff. And a president doesn’t want that kind of image. So I think the President is caught in a very tough situation, and I think it’s important for him to know there are people like me and many of my friends in Congress who are interested in supporting him in adopting a much more diplomatic approach to what goes on in Afghanistan.
AMY GOODMAN: And how much access do you have to President Obama?
REP. JIM McDERMOTT: Well, at this point, they’re sailing in one direction. But I think as they go down the road and need votes, they’re going to have to listen to people who don’t agree with them on the idea of expanding the war. I mean, 17,000 troops and now 4,000 troops, that’s mission creep, in my view. We’ll have everybody that we take out of Iraq in Afghanistan if we’re not careful, and we will have not brought the troops home, which I think ought to be our main goal, and we will not have established peacefulness in that area.
So, I think as things develop—remember, the President has only been in office for sixty days. So let’s—I’m willing to give him some time. I’m worried, but I’m willing to give him some time to get his feet on the ground and figure out what’s going on and actually assess it for himself, because he’s very smart and very thoughtful and asks hard questions, and I don’t—I haven’t given up at all on him. I think he’s going to be a good president. But it’s—I just worry, from my own experience.
I mean, I was in the Vietnam thing. I was a physician in Long Beach who took care of casualties coming home. So I know what war is about. And war is never glorious. It’s never an exciting thing to get involved in. It seems exciting when you’re a long way away. And all those chicken hawks in the Bush White House looked at war in Iraq and in Afghanistan as somehow glorious and wonderful, and we’ll just go over there and whop ’em. And, of course, it didn’t work out that way. And that’s what always happens to people who have not had the experience of being in it. Now, President Obama has not been in the military, but he can learn from some of us who’ve been there and understand what the real costs of this are going to be. And I think there’s a better way to make the American people safe than to use weapons of destruction all over Afghanistan.
AMY GOODMAN: Congress member Jim McDermott, I wanted to turn to another key issue of our day. It’s the issue of healthcare. You’re a doctor. I mean, in the lead-up to the March 5th healthcare summit at the White House, in the corporate media there was almost no mention of single payer, which in some polls is the number one approach that Americans support, except a mention by those who slammed it. You are one of the advocates of single-payer healthcare. So is Congress member John Conyers. You’ve both introduced bills. What are these bills? What is single payer? What are its chances?
REP. JIM McDERMOTT: Basically, a single-payer system, which is what every industrialized country in the world, except the United States, has adopted, is a system in which you guarantee a set of benefits for every citizen of the country. No matter how much money, where they live, what color they are, what ethnicity they are, whatever, everybody is entitled to the same generous benefit package. And that’s true in France, and it’s true in Germany, and it’s true all over the place. The French, for half the money that we spend, are getting, by the World Health Organization, the best healthcare in the world.
Now, the second thing that you have to have besides a generous benefit package is a single-payer system. And you can put the money together through the government, or there are a lot of different ways it’s done in all the countries of the world, but when a patient goes into a hospital in Canada, they hand a card in for the national plan, and that’s the end of it. And you are not threatened with bankruptcy in Canada, Britain, Germany, France, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Japan, Italy, Spain. None of these countries can a citizen be bankrupted by their illness. But it is the leading cause of bankruptcy in the United States, because we have put the emphasis on individuals doing it.
A single-payer system is a common good way of dealing with risk that none of us know when it’s going to hit us. And I think that it’s what this country needs, but unfortunately, we have a large health insurance industry that is fighting back, tooth and nail, to prevent that from coming into existence. It’s going to be a tough battle. This is not going to be something that’s easily put together.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to play what President Obama himself said about single payer before his presidential campaign. This is what he said back in June of 2003, before he was elected even to the US Senate.
STATE SEN. BARACK OBAMA: I happen to be a proponent of single-payer universal healthcare coverage. I see no reason why the United States of America, the wealthiest country in the history of the world, spending 14 percent—14 percent—of its gross national product on healthcare, cannot provide basic health insurance to everybody. And that’s what Jim’s talking about when he says everybody in, nobody out: a single-payer healthcare plan, universal healthcare plan.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, there you have it. That was the state legislator Barack Obama speaking in 2003. Congress member Jim McDermott, he has now said, at least those in his administration have said—Max Baucus, the leading senator on healthcare, along with Senator Kennedy, have said that it’s off the table. It took a lot of pressure to even get one single-payer advocate. And then, finally, it was two at the healthcare summit. Then it was John Conyers.
REP. JIM McDERMOTT: Well, clearly, the economic forces, the medical-industrial complex in this country, is bigger than the military-industrial complex in this country. And people don’t recognize that, but it is a huge industry that is resisting change. The medical-industrial complex basically wants to keep the system the same, except for the fact they want to shift some of the cost off onto the government.
And I think that the fight is going to be around a central issue when we get to the debate in the Congress, and that is whether—because the President has said, “We’re going to keep the private insurance industry as it is. If you’re in it, fine, don’t worry about it. You can stay right where you are. You’re not going to be forced into anything. But we’re going to give you a public option, and you can move to that public option.” Now, the question will be, is that a good public option? Is it a less expensive public option? Because it should be less expensive than something provided by the insurance companies. And if it is, will people move into that ultimately, and we will wind up with a basic system that’s run through a public option?
AMY GOODMAN: Like Medicare for all?
REP. JIM McDERMOTT: It could well be Medicare for all. That’s what—you know, Pete Stark and John Conyers have been talking about that for a long time, and that’s one way to do it. There are a number of ways. But a public option, some people say it should be the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program, the program that I’m in as a federal employee. I put some money in, the government puts some money in, and that provides my healthcare benefits. And we ought to open that up to everybody in America. Let that work—
AMY GOODMAN: A new—a new development now is that Senator Bernie Sanders has introduced the American Health Security Act of 2009 in the Senate. Is this your bill from the House?
REP. JIM McDERMOTT: It’s exactly the same. Bernie called me up and said, “Jim, do you mind if I put my bill—your bill in in the Senate?” And I said, “Of course not, Bernie.” It’s good have allies, because Bernie is a good advocate. And this issue has to be on the table. Right now, we spend—in our healthcare dollar, about sixty cents of every dollar is federal money in Medicare, Medicaid, veterans’ benefits, military benefits, Indian health, public employees. All this is already paid for in the public. So it’s not as though we don’t have a public option. We have just kept people out of that public option and kept them out there either on their own or in their employment insurance. And we’ve got to open it up to let them into the federal system.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, you’re going to be a columnist for now the online Seattle P-I, Post-Intelligencer, which folded recently. Now, Seattle Times, the only major paper in Seattle. You have said that newspapers should be bailed out like AIG was bailed out. Your position now?
REP. JIM McDERMOTT: Well, here’s my feeling. The thing that we lose with newspapers are investigative reporters. We don’t need the editorial page, where they tell us what they think or what they, who they think we should vote for. What they need are investigative reporters who go out and probe and find out what’s going on.
The blogosphere helps some, but the fact is that you need people who will go and stick their finger in the chest of people like me and say, “Why are you doing that?” and make us say, so that the people can make an informed choice. Democracy is based on an informed electorate. And as you lose those investigative reporters in newspapers, the people will be more and more in the dark, and they’ll be subject to television news coverage, which is a minute and a half at the most on any subject, and you do not get any in-depth view of what’s going on. So we need newspapers from that standpoint, and I don’t know how we get them, but that’s—I think that we ought to be thinking very much about losing our democracy.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you support this approach to have them—this new nonprofit option that has been introduced into Congress?
REP. JIM McDERMOTT: Yeah, Ben Cardin from Maryland has put a bill in in the Senate. I looked at that. The Manchester Guardian is a nonprofit, and so is The Independent in Great Britain. So it is possible to run a newspaper as a nonprofit. They would have to give up their editorializing about which candidates you should vote for. That kind of stuff would have to go. But otherwise, I think it’s a good option, and I would like to see some of these newspapers take that role. Unfortunately, the corporations who own them have a viewpoint that they want to go through the editorial page, and it would be hard for them to give that up. So it’s going to be a real test of whether newspapers are for getting people information or influencing public opinion.
AMY GOODMAN: Congressman Jim McDermott, I want to thank you for being with us, Democratic congressman from Washington state, also a doctor and now a columnist for the online Seattle P-I.
Posted by rogerhollander in Health.
Tags: america health security act, bernie sanders, community health, community health centers, health, health care, health care reform, health insurance industry, healthcare reform, house judiciary, hr676, jim mcdermott, John Conyers, john nichols, national health care, national healthcare, obama administration, paul wellstone, private health insurance, quentin young, roger hollander, single payer
Published on Tuesday, March 31, 2009 by The Nation
While the one reform that could cure what ails America’s health care system has attracted plenty of adherents in the House — 72 members have signed on as backers of House Judiciary Committee chair John Conyers’ single-payer proposal and others back a plan introduced by Washington Democrat Jim McDermott’s legislation — there has not been a Senate proposal to rally around.
That’s what makes Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’ proposed “American Health Security Act of 2009” such an important piece of legislation. In addition to being the first single-payer bill introduced in the Senate since the mid-1990s — when the late Paul Wellstone, D-Minnesota, sponsored a bill similar to the plan now being advanced by Sanders — it raises the profile of the doctors, nurses, patients and other campaigners who are trying to tell the Obama administration and its congressional allies that the legislative compromises they entertain are doomed to fail.
Under the American Health Security Act of 2009:
· Patients could seek care from the doctor or hospital of their choice.
- The new national health care program would be paid for by combining current sources of government health spending into a single fund with modest new taxes amounting to less than what people now pay for insurance premiums and out-of-pocket expenses.
· Funding would come from the federal government, but the program would be administered by the states.
- The high overhead and profits of the private, investor-owned insurance industry would be eliminated, along with the burdensome paperwork imposed on physicians and other providers. As a result, the plan would save at least $400 billion annually – enough money to provide comprehensive, quality care to all.
- Community health centers would be fully funded, giving the 60 million Americans now living in rural and underserved areas access to care.
- To address the critical shortage of primary care physicians and dentists, resources for the National Health Service Corps to train an additional 24,000 health professionals would be provided.
The Sanders bill stands in stark contrast to the proposals being considered by the Obama administration and U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Montana, which would establish a new public-versus-private hybrid to try and address dysfunctions in the current public-versus-private hybrid that has left more than 45 million Americans uninsured and at least that many Americans underinsured.
“This is excellent news,” says Dr. Quentin Young, national coordinator of Physicians for a National Health Program. “There is now a way for the Senate to help us exit the nightmare of a collapsing health care system. If this bill is enacted, we no longer have to put up with the outrageous costs that prevent millions of Americans from receiving medical care and medications. Nor will tens of thousands have to declare bankruptcy over medical bills. In the face of our present economic calamity, this is an urgent necessity.”
Recalling that “President Obama once acknowledged that single-payer national health insurance was the best way to go,” Young added, “We are confident that Senator Sanders’ bill will accelerate the national drive for the only reform that we know will work.”
Let’s hope the doctor’s diagnosis is right.
© 2009 The Nation