The Real And Racist Origins of the Second Amendment December 20, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Genocide, Gun Control/Violence, History, Race, Racism.
Tags: 2nd amendment, bill of rights, bruce dixon, constitution, edmund morgan, founding fathers, genocide, gun control, gun culture, history, indian killing, racism, right to bear arms, roger hollander, second amendment, slavery
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A Black Agenda Radio commentary by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
The “well-regulated militia” that the US Constitution’s second amendment refers to were slave patrols, land stealers and Indian killers, all quite necessary as the amendment’s language states “to the security of a free state” built with stolen labor upon stolen land. Unless and until we acknowledge that history, we cannot have an honest discussion about gun control.
The Real and Racist Origins of the Second Amendment
A Black Agenda Radio commentary by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
This commentary was originally published in Black Agenda Report April 19, 2008.
Why does the US Constitution guarantee a right “to keep and bear arms”? Why not the right to vote, the right to a quality education, health care, a clean environment or a job? What was so important in early America about the right of citizens to have guns? And is it even possible to have an honest discussion about gun control without acknowledging the racist origins of the Second Amendment?
The dominant trend among legal scholars, and on the current Supreme Court is that we are bound by the original intent of the Constitution’s authors. Here’s what the second amendment to the Constitution says:
“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
Clearly its authors aimed to guarantee the right to a gun for every free white man in their new country. What’s no longer evident 230 years later, is why. The answer, advanced by historian Edmund Morgan in his classic work, American Slavery, American Freedom, the Ordeal of Colonial Virginia, sheds useful light on the historic and current politics and self-image of our nation.
Colonial America and the early US was a very unequal place. All the good, cleared, level agricultural land with easy access to transport was owned by a very few, very wealthy white men. Many poor whites were brought over as indentured servants, but having completed their periods of forced labor, allowing them to hang around the towns and cities landless and unemployed was dangerous to the social order. So they were given guns and credit, and sent inland to make their own fortunes, encroaching upon the orchards, farms and hunting grounds of Native Americans, who had little or no access to firearms. The law, of course did not penalize white men who robbed, raped or killed Indians. At regular intervals, colonial governors and local US officials would muster the free armed white men as militia, and dispatch them in murderous punitive raids to make the frontier safer for settlers and land speculators.
Slavery remained legal in New England, New York and the mid-Atlantic region till well into the 1800s, and the movements of free blacks and Indians were severely restricted for decades afterward. So colonial and early American militia also prowled the roads and highways demanding the passes of all non-whites, to ensure the enslaved were not escaping or aiding those who were, and that free blacks were not plotting rebellion or traveling for unapproved reasons.
Historically then, the principal activities of the Founding Fathers’ “well regulated militia” were Indian killing, land stealing, slave patrolling and the enforcement of domestic apartheid, all of these, as the Constitutional language declares “being necessary to the security of a free state.” A free state whose fundamental building blocks were the genocide of Native Americans, and the enslavement of Africans.
The Constitutional sanction of universally armed white men against blacks and Indians is at the origin of what has come to be known as America’s “gun culture,” and it neatly explains why that culture remains most deeply rooted in white, rural and small-town America long after the end of slavery and the close of the frontier. With the genocide of Native Americans accomplished and slavery gone, America’s gun culture wrapped itself in new clothing, in self-justifying mythology that construes the Second Amendment as arming the citizenry as final bulwark of freedom against tyranny, invasion or crime. Embracing this fake history of the Second Amendments warps legal scholarship and public debate in clouds of willful ignorance, encouraging us to believe this is a nation founded on just and egalitarian principles rather than one built with stolen labor on stolen land.
Maybe this is how we can tell that we are finally so over all that nasty genocide and racism stuff. We’ve chosen to simply write it out of our history.
For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Bruce Dixon. Find us on the web at www.blackagendareport.com.
Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, and a member of the state committee of the Georgia Green Party. He lives and works in Marietta GA and can be reached via this site’s contact page or at email@example.com.
Does the Black Political Class Actually Protect or Defend Black People? If Not, What Do They Do? May 12, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Economic Crisis, Poverty, Race.
Tags: balck leadership, black caucus, black congressmen, black elected officials, black leaders, black mayors, black politicians, bruce dixon, democrats, naacp, president obama, Race, roger hollander, urban league
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By BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
Do the black political class, our preachers, leading business people, and thousands of appointed and elected officials actually do us much good? Do they protect or defend us? Do they carry our wishes and will to the seats of power. Or do they just “represent” us by merely being there doing the bidding of corporate funders?
Does the Black Political Class Actually Protect or Defend Black People? If Not, What Do They Do?
By BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
Let’s take a trip to an imaginary black America, a place in which black leaders regularly stood on their hind legs to safeguard and protect the interest of their constituents against greedy banksters and institutional racism in the job, credit and housing markets. It’s a pretend world where African American politicians are busily engaged in building and expanding opportunity for all, and leading the fight for peace, jobs, justice, and quality education and participatory democracy. It’s a mythical place where prominent blacks in the business world too, work to create good jobs and stable communities and provide key support to the civic organizations engaged in this work as well.
Imagine that the Katrina disaster had occurred in such an imaginary world. Black America’s best and brightest would have convened hundreds of meetings and workgroups in real and virtual spaces across the country. Urban planners, educators, and professionals of all stripes would have speedily devised just and equitable plans for regional education, transit, agriculture, tourism and more. They would have insisted that the six figure number of black Gulf Coast residents deported to the four corners of the continental US on buses paid for by charitable donations to the Red Cross be returned and put to work rebuilding a just and sustainable region. This single example reveals that such a world, if it did exist would differ so profoundly from the one we know as to be almost unrecognizable.
In the real world that does exist, we now have more than 10,000 black elected officials, from small town mayors and sheriffs up to forty-some reps in Congress and the president. Still, black unemployment, black incarceration rates, foreclosures on black homeowners and the gap between black and white family wealth are at or near all time highs, with not a one of these key indicators moving rapidly in any good direction.
Black faces are found more often than ever in corporate boardrooms. Chevron named a tanker after Condoleezza Rice, one of its longtime board members. In recent years, black corporate execs have run the NAACP, the National Urban League and big-city school systems like Atlanta, where public schools CEO Erroll Davis boasts that he learned all he needed to know about running a school system in his time on the board of BP. Black-owned and operated banks in cities like New York are heavily invested in gentrifying developments that push African Americans out of the five boroughs toward the suburban periphery, or in many cases, back to the South. Some contend that it is the shriveling of urban housing and job markets in places like Chicago, Cleveland, New York and Detroit that accounts for the net flow of black population in the twenty-first century reversing from the north back to the south, something not seen in almost a hundred years.
National black leaders, even with popular winds at their backs were unable to prevent the legal lynching of Troy Davis. Since the freelance killing of Trayvon Martin more than thirty police and vigilante killings of young blacks have occurred, and our leaders can’t point to even the beginnings of any official process on the national level aimed at preventing the next thirty. Like the man whose lower lip brush the ground and whose upper lip caresses the clouds, they are all mouth.
Local black political leaders in places like Columbia SC and Atlanta GA have proved as vicious toward the homeless as any of their white colleagues. Black mayors like Philly’s Michael Nutter have endorsed widespread stop-and-frisk policies that presumptively criminalize black youth, and like his black and white counterparts in City Halls across the land, the mayor of Philadelphia tells parents and children that there is no alternative to the piecemeal destruction of public education, driving it into a crisis whose only solution, we will be told, is privatization. The black mayor of Newark is pushing to privatize that city’s water system, and the black mayor of Atlanta has proposed taxing rainwater that some catch as an alternative to the city’s wate rsupply.
At the 2004 Democratic convention, pointedly held on and constantly referring to the anniversary of King’s 1963 March on Washington, Barack Obama gathered more than 20 African American generals and admirals on stage around him, hypocritically linking their mission with that of the apostle of economic justice and nonviolence. Despite the fact that black America is the most antiwar segment of the US population, Barack Obama has boosted military spending to all time highs, has put more troops in more countries than any of his predecessors, and is waging wars in more countries, including African countries than any president in recent memory.
At that Democratic convention, just like the one in North Carolina this year, the goodie bags and receptions will be held by AT&T, the nuclear industry, GE and GM, Big Oil, Big Ag, Big Insurance, drone manufacturers and “defense” contractors, defending US interests in more than 140 countries. Nobody will be the least surprised when Barack Obama again proclaims himself the president of “clean coal and safe nuclear power.” For the black political class, the road leads to exactly the same destination as their white counterparts.
The Congressional Black Caucus and the CBC Foundation like the careers of most black politicians, and traditional civil rights organizations, from NAN to NAACP, the Urban League, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and the National Conference of Black State Legislators, is funded by the generous contributions of actors like Microsoft, Boeing, Lockheed, Wal-Mart, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and on and on and on on and on. It’s hard to regard most of the black political class these days as anything but sock puppets for the folks who fund their careers.
The Congressional Black Caucus still stages a weeklong annual celebration of itself and the black political class. A look at its weeklong agenda any time over last few years shows lots of relationship workshops, celebrity meet-and-greets and workshops on how to be a black military subcontractor, a black real estate developer, a movie producer, or a contractor with the Department of Homeland Security. You will search in vain for workshops on how to organize to protect black homeowners and keep them in their homes, how to prevent municipal and state privatizations of transit, education and infrastructures, how to organize unions and strike for better wages and conditions, or sessions how to obtain permanent title to vacant urban land for community agriculture projects.
There are a handful of corporate actors, like Koch Industries and Exxon-Mobil that give exclusively or mainly to Republicans. But these are relatively few, and there are some big players that give mostly to Democrats as well. For the most part however, corporate America is happily bipartisan, with a pronounced bias toward incumbents of whatever party and color, and only too happy to shine on the favorite charities of black congresscreatures in the inner city, or Tom Joyner’s computer giveaways, or pet charter schools in black communities, to name just a few.
President Barack Obama, far from being the exception to this rule, will be standing atop a heap of more than one billion dollars in direct corporate contributions to his re-election campaign this year, in addition to another billion in indirect contributions to super-PACs, state and national Democratic parties, and other channels, even without the nickels and dimes of a diminishing number of hopeful ordinary people.
Since it doesn’t protect us, doesn’t defend our jobs, our homes, our education, our children or our elderly, all that the black political class can do for black people, all they can do to prolong their careers, is to wave in our faces the rancid racism of their Republican colleagues. And that’s what Republicans are —- not their rivals, but their colleagues. Keeping the black conversation focused on what racist s.o.bs these Republicans are is vital to the survival of the black political class. It takes attention away from the fact that black politicians in power, of whatever party, no matter what they say on the campaign trail, pursue roughly the same policies in office, in keeping with the fact that they all have the same funders.
The ideology of the black political class is best described with the clumsy world “representationalism”. It’s supposed to “represent” us, mostly by looking like us, but while not defending our children or elderly, not protecting our families or jobs or institutions, not defending our political gains or the public sector that our advocacy built. And the last thing the black political class will do is argue with militarism or war, even though these penalize black communities and nonwhite people around the world. It is only now, with the ascension of a black president, prominent blacks in all branches of the military, courts and corporate American that the end of the representationalist rainbow can clearly be seen. This is it. This is as good as it gets.
It’s time for something completely different. It’s been a long time since we had black leadership that didn’t depend on corporate America for its funding. But until our people can throw up new leaders and mass organizations whose bills aren’t paid by corporate elites, little will change. It’s time for all of us, and especially for those who would be leaders to let pharaoh go.
Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, and a member of the state committee of the Georgia Green Party. Contact him at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.
Send In the Clowns: 3 Stooges, Gingrich, Sharpton & Duncan Hit the Road For Corporate “School Reform” February 2, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Education.
Tags: al sharpton, arne duncan, bruce dixon, charter schools, chicago model, corporate school, education, education reform, educational privatization, newt gingrich, no child left behind, obama administration, privatization, public schools, roger hollander, school reform
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Quite separately from each other, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Rev. Al Sharpton and Newt Gingrich have long ago forfeited whatever credibility they may once have had. Taken together, they are simply a bad joke: three grown men publicly eye-poking and slap fighting each other while they all come together to sell us high-stakes testing, charter schools, educational privatization and the whole package of corporate “school reform.”
by BAR managing editor Bruce Dixon
Back in the late 19th and early 20th century heydays of vaudeville, when the singers bombed, when the jokes fell flat and audience attention started wandering, management knew what to do. They would send in the clowns. Some things haven’t changed.
Despite a decade of hard sell by right wing think tanks, foundations, and big media, the American people have not bought the corporate version of school reform. Most people just don’t believe public schools should be privatized or militarized, or operated by business people like businesses instead of by educators, parents and communities in the interests of children, parents and communities, like the best schools always have been run. And most educators doubt that high stakes testing improves educational outcomes in any meaningful way.
Since the public debates on charter schools and privatizing education are ones that our elite cannot win, they have decreed there will be no debate. Instead of an honest public examination of the disastrous impact of No Child Left Behind, and its attendant decade of creeping educational privatization, corporate media, the Obama administration and its bipartisan allies are sending in the clowns with a 21st century three stooges remake starring the Rev. Al Sharpton, along with Republican former Speaker Newt Gingrich and Obama Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, elbowing and slapping at each other, yukking it up about their supposed political differences while they all come together around the corporate elite’s version of “school reform.”
Stooge number one is Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, a former basketball player and friend of the president who, without a single hour of teaching experience was named by Chicago’s Mayor Daley to head the nation’s third largest school system. Duncan now pledges to extend the Chicago model of high stakes testing and massive school closings to create opportunities for what he calls “innovative” charter schools. Thanks to Duncan, Chicago’s public schools are now being sued by black teachers for racial discrimination in the wholesale dismissal of hundreds of qualified, dedicated black teachers and their replacement with younger, cheaper, less experienced and mostly whiter ones. Even now, the Obama administration is withholding federal education funds from states and school districts to force nationwide implementation of these so-called “reforms.”
Stooge number two is the Rev. Al Sharpton, whose presence allows the stooges to claim they are a “civil rights” act. Rev. Sharpton jumped aboard the corporate education reform bandwagon with both feet after receiving a half million dollar bribe last year for his National Action Network, reportedly brokered by New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein through a right wing not for profit agency that promotes charter schools.
Stooge number three is the same Newt Gingrich who once advocated removal of underachieving children from their parents’ homes to boarding schools and military academies, and whose 1994 Contract For America, demanded the dissolution of the US Department of Education.
Mass media ought to be where the studies, the facts, the experience and the voices of parents, educators, students and communities across the country wrestling with the problems of education are held up for all to examine and understand. But that would be too much like public service for our America’s privatized media. What we’ll get instead is entertainment. They’re sending in the clowns. And here they come!
Privatization Pictures presents a No Child Left Behind Production starring the New Three Stooges, Arne Duncan, Al Sharpton and Newt Gingrich in Corporate School Reform directed by Barack Obama and produced by the Bradley, Heritage and Walton Family Foundations, featuring fake statistics, dubious studies, crackpot merit pay schemes, charter schools including military charter schools, cronyism, patronage, corruption, worse educational outcomes, thousands of school closings, mass firings of qualified teachers, community destabilization, loss of public and community control, and the privatization of education.
For Black Agenda Report, I’m Bruce Dixon apologizing to the ghosts of the original three stooges. They’d understand. On the web, we are at http://www.blackagendareport.com.
Is the Detroit Nigerian “Terrorist” A Patsy? January 4, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Political Commentary, War.
Tags: africom, al-Qaeda, bruce dixon, fort dix 6, liberty city, nigeria, nigeria oil, nigerian terrorist, obama government, Osama bin laden, patrick cockburn, roger hollander, terrorism, war on terror, yemen
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Posted Wed, 12/30/2009 – 12:18 by Bruce A. Dixon
By BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
What does the hapless Nigerian mope yanked off a plane in Detroit Christmas Day for setting his lap on fire have in common with color-coded terror alerts, with the shoeless, homeless Miami Haitians convicted of trying to bring down the Sears Tower, or with the 2004 pre-election videos allegedly dropped by Osama Bin Laden? Easy. All have been useful in whipping up public fear of Muslim-inspired “terrorism” and each and every one plugs neatly and sweetly into the meta-narratives that justify increasing the power of US police and intelligence establishments and the further militarization of foreign policy.
The guy is said to be an engineering student from Nigeria who received terrorist training in Yemen. Engineers are the practical souls whose profession is making things that actually work. Fortunately for the people on the plane, he seems to have been a very bad student who would have made a wretched engineer. He didn’t know the difference between an explosive device, which might have done great harm to the plane and its passengers, and a small incendiary one which could do no more than set his own lap on fire, and maybe singe the hair of the passenger immediately next to him.
His Nigerian nationality is extremely useful, as it lets “terror experts” and talking heads on TV and radio to draw simplistic and misleading pictures for American audiences of Nigeria as a place besieged by Muslim fundamentalists linked with Al Qaeda and in need of more US military assistance. In the real world Nigeria is a major US oil supplier, and West Africa furnishes about a fifth of US oil imports, a portion expected to grow over the next decade. Nigeria has pumped trillions of dollars worth of oil for the West over the last fifty years without managing to give people in the oil-rich areas schools or electricity or hospitals. It has allowed foreign oil companies to make the region one of the most polluted in the world, where the rain eats metal roofs, health problems are endemic, and fishing and farming are nearly impossible.
After decades of violent suppression by successive military and civilian governments, Nigerians in the oil-rich regions have organized resistance movements which have sometimes posed direct threats to the operations of Western oil companies. For US military planners, inserting themselves into Nigeria to bolster the regime is a major priority. That’s what AFRICOM is for.
The Nigerian reportedly received his “terror training” in Yemen. Yemen is located at the southern end of the Arabian Penninsula directly opposite AFRICOM’s Djibouti base and close to Somalia, where the US has waged a 14 year series of interventions and proxy wars to secure Somalia’s oil and gas resources for the West, an project that has killed a million Somalis, and currently has made another million homeless.
Yemen, as veteran journalist Patrick Cockburn assures us in an indispensable December 29 Counterpunch article, is next in the US crosshairs.
“It is the poorest Arab country, its government is weak, its people are armed, it already faces a serious rebellion, it is strongly tribal and its mountain ranges are a natural refuge for groups like al-Qa’ida…
“Yemen has been becoming increasingly unstable over the past two decades, ever since Saudi Arabia expelled a million Yemeni workers because Yemen refused to support the US-led war to expel Saddam Hussein’s army from Kuwait in 1990.”
There is, Cockburn explains in the article which is well worth reading in its entirety, a civil war going on in Yemen, and the US needs excuses to beef up its intervention. Conveniently then, most terror suspects apprehended in the US will be found to have ties to the Yemeni insurgents.
Although the bumbling Nigerian had a multiple-entry US visa, he reportedly managed to board the Detroit-bound plane without showing it or his passport. Someone better dressed and better spoken intervened and got him on, according to published reports. Who? How? Why? He paid for his one-way ticket in Ghana in cash, and packed no more than a knapsack. People are profiled and searched for doing this all the time, all over the world, but he was not. And of course there’s the matter of the incendiary device itself, which should have been easily detectable. It’s not like they don’t screen passengers at European airports boarding international flights. Why was he exempt from the normal search that passengers undergo, and if he was searched why did the normal procedures fail?
One possible answer to all these questions is that the guy is a patsy, a fool manipulated by people smarter and more resourceful than him for the purpose of creating the useful “terrorist” incident. That’s what happened to the Haitians in Miami. They were disaffected and homeless, living in a Liberty City warehouse. They were contacted by a federal agent who said he could get weapons and explosives, shoes for the shoeless, rental cars (none of them had a bank account, let alone a credit card) and put them in touch with Al Qaeda. The federal agent helped them send fan mail to Osama Bin Laden and led them in taking a made-up jihadi oath, and delivered them fake weapons so they could be arrested. Journalist Webster Tarpley, in an early December Guns and Butter Radio interview (audio below – click the flash player or go to http://aud1.kpfa.org//data/20091216-Wed1300.mp3 )
with Bonnie Faulkner lays out a series of similar incidents in which apparent patsies have been used to create incidents like this. Although the interview was three weeks before the Christmas day incident, the similarities between the Liberty City case, the so-called Fort Dix 6, and other cases are numerous and startling.
Journalist I.F. Stone told us half a century ago that “Governments lie. All governments lie.” It would not be the first time our government lied to get us into or to keep us involved in an unjust war, or to create an atmosphere of crisis to support some otherwise unsupportable policy. It wouldn’t even be the fifty-first time. If Stone were alive today he’d assure us that the Obama government will readily lie to us too, in the service of its policy objectives, and probably in better English than Bush ever could. Is the incompetent Nigerian “terrorist” a patsy, intended to generate hysterical headlines and reinforce the administration’s policies at home and abroad? Time will tell. Maybe.
Bruce Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, based in Atlanta. He can be reached at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.
Tags: bruce dixon, california nurses, co-payments, corporate media, Dennis Kucinich, health, health care, health care reform, health costs, health insurance, health insurance industry, healthcare, healthcare reform, kucinich amendment, lyndon johnson medicare, massachusetts health care, Medicaid, medical costs, medicare, national health, obama health plan, obama plan, private insurance, public option, roger hollander, single payer, uninsured
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The health care debate inside and outside the matrix
by Bruce Dixon
Like just about everything else, your take on the national health care debate depends on whether you’re inside or outside the matrix.
Within the bubble of fake reality blown by corporate media and bipartisan political establishment, the health care news is that theObama Plan is at last making its way through Congress. It’s being fought by greedy private insurance companies, by chambers of commerce, by Republican and some Democratic lawmakers.
Under the Obama plan, we’re told, employers will have to insure their employees or pay into a fund that does it for them. Individuals will be required under penalty of law to buy private insurance policies and for those that can’t afford it or prefer not to use a private insurer there will be something called a “public option.” This “public option, the story goes, is bitterly fought by the bad guys because it will make private insurers accountable by competing with them, forcing them to lower their costs. Both the president’s backers and opponents agree that the whole thing will be fantastically expensive, and the president proposes to fund it with cuts in existing programs like Medicaid which pay for the care of the poorest Americans and a tax on those making more than $300,000, later raised to $1 million a year.
The “public option” has that magic word “public” in it, and that’s reassuring to progressives and to most of the American people. Taxing the rich is a popular idea too. So if you rely on corporate media, the administration, or some of the so-called progressive blogs to identify the players and keep the score, it seems a pretty clear case of President Obama on the side of the angels, battling the greedy insurance companies, Republicans and blue dog Democrats to bring us universal, affordable health care.
That whole picture has about as much reality as the ones the same corporate media and most of the same politicians drew for us about Iraq, 9-11, weapons of mass destruction and some people over there who wanted us to free them. Iraq and the White House were and remain actual places, and there really is a problem called health care. But the places, problems and solutions are very different from the bubble of fake reality blown around them.
What sustains this fake reality is the diligent suppression from public space of any viewpoints, observations or proposals to Obama’s left. As long as the illusion that nobody has a better idea, that the only choice we have is Obama’s way or the Republicans’ way can be maintained, the crooked game can go on.
But bubbles are delicate things. Keeping this one intact requires so many vital topics to be avoided, so many inquiring eyes to be averted, so many fruitful conversations to be squelched that it’s hard to see how the president, the bipartisan establishment and the corporate media can pull it all off.
The real Obama Plan: doesn’t cover the uninsured till 2013, if then.
The first clue that something is deeply wrong with the Obama health care proposal is its timeline. According to a copyrighted July 21 AP story by Ricardo Alfonso-Zaldivar,
“President Lyndon Johnson signed the Medicare law on July 30, 1965, and 11 months later seniors were receiving coverage. But if President Barack Obama gets to sign a health care overhaul this fall, the uninsured won’t be covered until 2013 – after the next presidential election.
“In fact, a timeline of the 1,000-page health care bill crafted by House Democrats shows it would take the better part of a decade – from 2010-2018 – to get all the components of the far-reaching proposal up and running.”
According to a peer reviewed 2009 study in the American Journal of Medicine, 62% of the nation’s 727,167 non-business bankruptcies were triggered by unpayable medical bills in 2007. Most of these had health insurance when they fell ill or were injured, but with loopholes, exclusions, high deductibles and co-payments, or were simply dropped when they got sick. In 2008 that figure was 66% of 934,000 personal bankruptcies and in 2009 it could approach 70% of 1.1 million bankruptcies. And 18,000 Americans die each year because medical care is unaffordable or unavailable. Waiting till 2013 means millions of families will be financially ruined and tens of thousands will die unnecessarily.
If the Johnson administration with no computers back in the sixties could implement Medicare for 45 million seniors in under a year, why does it take three and a half years in the 21st century to cover some, but not all, of America’s fifty million uninsured? And why does the Obama Plan make us wait till after the next presidential election? Politicians usually do popular things and run for election on the resulting wave of approval. Delaying what ought to be the good news of universal and affordable health care for all Americans till two elections down the road is a strong indication that they know the good news really ain’t all that good. And it’s not.
Inside the matrix of TV, the corporate media and on much of the internet, discussion of the Obama plan’s timeline, the human cost of another three years delay, and the comparison with Medicare’s 11 month rollout back in the days before computers are almost impossible to find. We can only wonder why.
The Obama plan is about health insurance, not health care.
As BAR has been reporting since January 2007, the Obama plan is not a health care plan at all, it is a health insurance plan. Based largely upon the failed model in place in Massachusetts since 2006, the Obama plan will require employers to provide coverage or pay a special tax. Everybody not covered by an employer will be required to purchase insurance under penalty of law, in much the same manner as you’re currently required to buy car insurance.
“In my state,” testified Dr. Steffie Woolhandler of the Harvard Medical School last month before Congress, “beating your wife, communicating a terrorist threat and being uninsured all carry $1,000 fines.”
As in Massachusetts, the health insurance plans people are forced to buy will cost a lot and won’t cover much. In a July 20 National Journal article Dr. David Himmelstein says,
“Nearly every day that he is in the clinic, Himmelstein says, he sees a patient who has problems paying for care “despite this reform.’ Some of them had free care before the 2006 law took effect but are now expected to handle co-payments. If you’re not poor enough to get a subsidy, say you’re making $30,000 a year, you’re required to buy a policy that costs about $5,000 a year for the premium and has a $2,000 deductible before it pays for anything. For substantial numbers of people, it’s effectively not coverage,’ Himmelstein said. The policy he described is about the cheapest Massachusetts plan available, according to the Physicians for a National Health Program report, which Himmelstein co-wrote.”
A family of four making under $24,000 a year in Massachusetts gets its insurance premium free, but is still expected to cough up deductibles and co-payments and live with loopholes and exclusions that often deny care to those who need it. And in both the Massachusetts and Obama plans, funds to pay those premiums come out of the budgets of programs like Medicaid that already pay for care for the poorest Ameicans.
The Obama plan’s “public option” is a bait-and-switch scam
A July 21 pnhp.org article titled “Bait and Switch: How the Public Option Was Sold” outlines how the public option is neither public, nor an option.
“Public option” refers to a proposal… that Congress create an enormous “Medicare-like” program that would sell health insurance to the non-elderly in competition with the 1,000 to 1,500 health insurance companies that sell insurance today…
“Hacker (its author) claimed the program, which he called “Medicare Plus” in 2001 and “Health Care for America Plan” in 2007, would enjoy the advantages that make Medicare so efficient – large size, low provider payment rates and low overhead…
“Hacker predicted that his proposed public program would so closely resemble Medicare that it would be able to set its premiums far below those of other insurance companies and enroll at least half the non-elderly population.”
The White House is committed to twisting arms in the both houses of Congress and reconciling the two versions of Democratic bills to emerge from the House and Senate. What emerges will be the Obama plan. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the Senate version of the Democrats’ pending health care legislation leaves 33 million uninsured and omits the public option altogether. The House version includes a “public option” estimated to cover only 10-12 million people, a number far too small for it to create price pressure on private insurance companies, while leaving 16 or 17 million uninsured. Instead of setting prices for health care, it will be forced to pay whatever tthe private insurers already pay, and perhaps more.
As private insurers use their marketing muscle to recruit younger, healthier people who’ll pay for but not use their benefits, the public option will be a dumping ground for the customers they don’t want… the middle-aged, the poor, those with pre-existing conditions. And of course the Obama plan’s “public option’ will be managed by contractors from the private insurance industry.
Private insurers spend a third of every health care dollar on non-health related things like bonuses, denial machinery, advertising, lobbying and bad investments. Medicare spends 2 or 3% on administrative overhead. Bush’s “enhanced Medicare” administered by private insurance contractors, spends about 11% on overhead. That’s about what we should expect from the Obama public option. So much for change.
So far, discipline is holding. Nobody in corporate media, the administration, or among Democrats in Washington has gotten round to telling us that the public option has been eviscerated. But its powerful appeal and the awesome power of the word “public” are offered by Obama supporters as the central reasons to shut up, clap harder, and get behind the president on this.
Taxing the rich, paying for health care. How the Obama Plan stacks up against single payer.
Along with being funded by cuts in Medicaid, the Obama plan is supposed to be funded by taxing those who make $300,000 or more per year. That’s not a bad thing. The wealthy don’t pay nearly enough taxes. But the US already spends more on health care than anyplace else on the planet while leaving a greater portion of its population uninsured than anybody.
The Obama plan will not contain costs. It will subsidize the insurance vampires well into the next decade. On the other hand, single payer would eliminate the private insurance industry altogether. In many advanced industrial countries, most of the practices private insurers follow here, such as cherry picking healthy patients while dumping and denying sick ones, are illegal. Why can we do that?
Single payer, according to a study by the California Nurses Association would eliminate 550,000 jobs in private insurance while creating 3.2 million new ones in actual health care. It would be responsible for $100 billion in wages annually and a source of immense tax revenues for local governments.
So is the Obama plan really better than nothing?
The Obama plan seems calculated to buy time for private insurers, to end the health care discussion for a decade or more without solving the health care problem, do so in a way that discredits the very idea of everybody in- nobody out health care. It will leave tens of millions uninsured, a hundred million or more underinsured, and the same parasitic private interests in charge of the American health care system that run it now.
The Obama plan as it now stands requires us to let another 18,000 die for each of the next three years and allow more than a million additional families to be bankrupted by medical expenses before we can judge whether or not the plan is working. It’s easy to imagine Obama partisans telling us in mid 2013 that it’s still too early to be sure.
The Kucinich amendment, which allows the few states wealthy enough to try it the liberty to fashion their own single payer regimes is intended to attract progressives and single payer votes in Congress without breaking the bubble. By itself, it should not be a reason to support this bill.. The wealthiest state in the union is probably California, and it’s handing out IOUs instead of salaries this month. It’s hard to see what would be lost if this health care bill went down in flames, and we started over again next year.
Can he get away with it?
Maybe. Maybe not. If the corporate media and the president can keep discussion of the devilish details to a minimum, if they can silence, co-opt and intimidate the forces to Obama’s left — if they can keep most of the public inside their bubble of fake reality, Barack Obama may achieve his goal of thwarting the reform that most of the American people want — an everybody in, nobody out single payer health care system on the model of Canada or Australia, or Medicare for All. It won’t be close, it won’t be easy, and with nothing to be gained, progressives shouldn’t make it any easier.
Since the president’s success depends mostly on keeping people silent and in the dark, he will probably be unable to mobilize the 13 million phone numbers and email addresses collected during the recent presidential campaign, and now held by OFA, his campaign arm. If an organizing call went out to them, too many would try to read the bill and discuss the options, and such a discussion could easily get out of hand. When OFA called house meetings on health care last December, the most frequently advanced question was why we couldn’t or shouldn’t get a single payer health care system.
Single payer isn’t dead yet. It’s very much alive among Barack Obama’s own supporters. To succeed, he has to bury it alive, to keep them in the bubble, in the dark and quiet, or clapping so loudly they cannot hear themselves or each other think. It’s not over.
© 2009 Black Agenda Report