22 December 2009

I do still say, pass the bill

Here's Ezra Klein on why the bill, flaws and all, should pass. Lest my other posts here, which are highly critical of the bill and the White House, create an impression otherwise, I still basically agree with Klein, although I very much take exception to his calling Jane Hamsher, whom I regard as a progressive heroine, "deceptive," even implicitly.

I agree with Jed Lewison, who makes the same general case, writing on Daily Kos.

Obama disingenuous on health care bill

Obama:  "every single criteria [sic] for reform I put forward is in this bill."

See, this is the problem. That's just not true. There are no meaningful cost controls. There is no real option in the bill for purchase of truly competitive health insurance. There is an individual mandate, but no real cost relief for ordinary middle class people. There's a tax on health plans that for some will amount to welching on the pledge of no new middle class taxes. Further, to quote Jon Walker writing on firedoglake:
"the public option was clearly part of his campaign plan. His campaign plan also promised a national exchange, drug re-importation, an employer mandate, direct Medicare drug price negotiations, to let you keep your current plan if you like it, and to bring down health care costs by $2,500 per year for a family. The Senate bill will do none of these things.¶ Obama did promise to not do two very important things with health care reform. He promised to not include an individual mandate and not tax employer-provided health insurance benefits. This Senate bill breaks both of those promises."

Obama can call a turkey an eagle all he wants, but the people see through that, and if he thinks he will gain the trust of the American people by lying to them, or however you want to characterize it, he's just wrong. The people who voted him into office aren't so easily fooled.

If he were to honestly say, "we tried, and this is not quite what we hoped for, but it's the best we could do," I would say, at least he's truthful about the at-best partial success. But instead he insists that this crappy legislation is what he wanted all along. Which is scary, because it begs the question, what if it is?

Bye-bye, Blue Dog Griffith, and Good Riddance to You

I welcome the news that notorious Southern Blue Dog Parker Griffith has switched to the Party of No. I think we Democrats are better off without these people. If the President would make clear that he stands for the interests of ordinary people, and lobby and pressure members of Congress in the Democratic caucuses to do likewise, I believe the disaffected Independents would in large measure drift to the Democratic column, and the loss of right-wing and even some Corporatist Democrats would be offset. Combined with an all out effort culminating in ditching the 60-vote for Cloture rule in the Senate, the Democrats would then be in a position to build a majority that is actually based on some coherent principles, and then turn those principles into actual progressive policy -- and Legislation.

Today's Missive to the White House: Time to Change Course

The fact that Rahm Emmanuel did not even bother to lobby Lieberman on the Medicare Buy-In or Public option is a tell. The White House, i.e., the President, just doesn't get it. He was elected by an electorate that was sick and tired of not having their interests represented in Washington, when the interests of Health Insurers, Wall Street, Banks, Military Contractors, the War Machine... on and on... all have powerful constituencies. But instead of fulfilling his promise to be a Champion of the interests of ordinary Americans, which is the traditional role of great Democratic Presidents, this president has proven to be a "New Democrat," i.e., a dealmaker-in-chief, ever-ready to make deals to subvert and compromise away those interests. He isn't even TRYING to prevail on the policy changes that actually benefit ordinary people.

This is a recipe for disaster. Already disaffected Democrats are telling pollsters they will likely stay home next year, and much of the uptick in opposition to so-called health care reform (what a pathetic disappointment that turns out to be) is, again, from disaffected Democrats, who see no real cost controls, no real options other than mandated private insurance. This is an albatross around the neck of the party that may mean defeat in many districts.

It's not too late for the President to change course. Call up Matt Taibbi, who explained the situation very clearly on Bill Moyers the other day. Listen to him, because the present strategy is exacerbating the disaffection not only of Progressive Democrats, but millions of Independents who believe, quite rightly, that no one in Washington has represented their interests in a very long time.

Thank you.
David Studhalter

18 December 2009

I agree with Krugman: Pass the Bill

Although I am as frustrated as anyone by the legislative shenanigans that have all-but ruined health care reform and the entire Democratic legislative agenda, I completely disagree with Moveon.org's attempt to kill the legislation, and I agree with Paul Krugman's op-ed today: Pass the bill. Please follow link and read this piece, if you haven't already.

17 December 2009

To the White House: It's just not working

The health care bill is a debacle. It is a testament to the failure of the Senate leadership, and the White House's failure to marshal the support of its own party. This is simple historical fact.

The White House must now do a postmortem and figure out what to do about it, if it hopes to make any progress in the future on a Democratic legislative agenda.

HERE are a few ideas:

Have the courage of convictions. Pres. Obama should have loudly lambasted Joe Lieberman early in the debate, and made clear that he expected Democrats to be Democrats. By not doing this, he was effectively giving them permission.

The President needs to realize that his future support will NOT come from the Republicans or the right. It is the disaffected Independents, who are not ideological, but who have not believed for YEARS that anyone in Washington represents their interests, who are the margin of future victories. The president must reach out to these people with a message not of hopes and dreams but concrete programs that he asks for  their support for. He needs to ASK the people to MAKE the special interest addicted members of his own party in Congress vote for an agenda of principle.

People like Nelson, and especially Lieberman, need to be called out. We Democrats aren't stupid. When a Democrat isn't voting like a Democrat but is allowed to hijack the whole program, it's frustrating. It makes people stay home and not vote, while the party out of power is marshaling its base.

The president needs to lay out some specifics of what he wants to do and make clear that he needs the support of the people to see to it that the Congress does its job. Otherwise, it won't, and the Democrats will fail. It really is that stark.

Some major rethinking needs to be done, because whatever you in the White House are telling yourselves: IT'S JUST NOT WORKING.

Thank you.

David Studhalter

E-mail to Reid: Fire Joe Lieberman tout de suite

I wrote this to Sen. Reid's website today: 

Dear Sen. Reid,

I wrote to you in the past urging that you hold the threat of effective expulsion from the Democratic caucus... particularly including loss of all chairmanships... over that outrageous and obnoxious hypocrite Joe Lieberman's head if he failed and refused to support... or at least allow a vote on... the most important Democratic initiative in this era. This, after all, is a TEST OF YOUR LEADERSHIP.

Well, Sen. Reid, it happened. The man did what he said. He is not a Democrat. He is a right wing Republican, an unprincipled toady of the rich and the moneyed interests, and a complete traitor to the Democratic party. He is useless to Democrats, and not really a member of the caucus anyway, for all intents and purposes.

It is time for whatever procedural steps necessary to remove him from all his chairmanships and disgrace him publicly to be taken. There MUST be consequences for his total betrayal of the vast majority of Democrats, or party discipline will mean nothing at all.

This is more than just Senate internal politics. The whole country... everyone who voted for Change by electing Obama.... we are watching, and we are frustrated by the Senate's abject failure to overcome the resistance of a handful of phony Democrats, ESPECIALLY Lieberman. This man must feel the pain of the consequences of his action.

I have contributed to DSCC and DCCC in the past, but now, it's ActBlue and MoveOn for me, and I will actively support the challenge of all Democrats who fail to vote like Democrats in the future. The party must stand for something, and its members must stand for that, or they should not be supported. There must be courage of convictions, and that means courage to face defeat. Only by taking the risk of losing a seat here and there by calling out Democrats who aren't really Democrats will the millions and millions of disaffected voters, who just don't believe anyone in Washington represents their interests, be attracted to vote for Democrats in the future. The sad truth is, in this disaffection, those voters are NOT WRONG.

I honestly believe that if the President and you had lambasted Hypocrite Joe publicly early in the game, the outcome would have been better. And if Democrats were willing to say, this is the BOTTOM LINE, if you don't stand for this, you're not a Democrat and we won't support you, the party would ATTRACT wavering Independents, and, possibly after a rocky transition, would end up with a stronger majority, a majority that actually supported the agenda that the people voted for.

I can't say this outcome is a success. I'm not even sure it's better than nothing. For sure, if Joe Lieberman keeps his power and privileges after this, it's all up for the Democratic legislative agenda, and the sad, inevitable consequence will be that large numbers of disaffected progressive Democrats and Independents will stay away in droves from the polls next year, and the Republicans will win back many seats. This can be avoided, but the way forward is strength of conviction and discipline in the party, not endless compromise and backing down.

You and the other Democratic leaders had better wake up and pay attention, because the way this has been handled has JUST NOT WORKED.

Start by firing Joe Lieberman. He may be your "friend," but we the people who elected a Democratic majority consider him an enemy. Then move on to making clear that if you want to call yourself a Democrat, (or in Joe's case have the privileges without even doing that), you have to be a Democrat, or the party won't support YOU.

Thank you.

David Studhalter

E-mail to Hypocrite Joe Lieberman

Not that it'll do any good, but it made me feel better. I sent this to Sen. Lieberman's contact e-mail site:

I wrote to Sen. Lieberman several times politely requesting that he pay attention to the majority of his constituents both in CT and in the rest of the nation and support the Democratic health care initiative.

We now know that Sen. Lieberman is in truth a right wing Republican. He has virtually single handedly destroyed the most important Democratic initiative of this era. I have contributed to Move-on.org's effort to ensure that he is defeated in the next primary, and I am urging Sen. Reid and the White House to see to it that he is removed from all privileges of the Democratic caucus as soon as possible.

Anyone who refuses to support core Democratic initiatives, who supported the Republican candidate for president and Republican policies, and who is much of  total, unprincipled hypocrite as Sen. Lieberman cannot be considered a Democrat, is useless to the Democrats anyway, and should be for all intents and purposes expelled from the caucus, including, of course, his chairmanships.

Joe Lieberman is a shame and a disgrace to the American people. He would be doing us all a favor if he retired in disgrace as soon as possible.

David Studhalter

14 December 2009

It's not working, Barack

Some Democrats, who cling to a belief in a political system of horse trading and attempted "bipartisanship, will disagree with me on the failures of the Obama administration and the Congress to actually deliver on "Change We Can Believe In." But I gotta tell them that those of who think so highly of this president are going to have a difficult time convincing a very large number of Democrats who feel betrayed by the virtual collapse of health care, and who look down a long list of things they thought President Obama stood for and see just not enough in the way of accomplishment. Financial re-regulation, compromised to a shadow of itself. Infrastructure investment, weak. New Renewable Energy projects, not much. War, escalated. Constitutional rights infringed by the Rightist government of Bush, nothing much: they even defend Torture Memo Guy Yoo. "Enemy Combatants" still being held. 4th Amendment still being ignored. Climate Change, little hope. Traditional Democrats may think me naive, but I believe I am representative of many millions of people who just aren't willing to accept a Center-Right Democratic party any longer, and who find this list of not-enough-Change we can believe in really frustrating. 

Sure, you can say the administration brought us from the brink of financial collapse, and I do recognize that the previous president booby trapped both the economy and two wars, but this just isn't good enough. People, ordinary people, who voted for Obama out of hope that things would be really different, are very, very tired of all this compromise. What's needed from President Obama is some righteous anger, and some "kicking butt." For example, why has he not publicly lambasted Lieberman, who is nothing but a right-wing Republican at this point? Why is Lieberman still allowed to keep his chairmanship after virtually singlehandedly derailing both the Public Option and the Medicare Buy-in, both of which had the support of a majority of Senators?

It just isn't cutting it, and they are going to have to do better if they expect to keep, let alone build on, House and Senate majorities. Because, illogical though it may be, when people are frustrated (and ordinary people, not just progressive Democrats are frustrated, believe me), they tend to vote for the party not in power. Or else, they'll just stay home. Polls show 80+% of Republicans intend to vote in 2010, but only about a quarter of Democrats say this. Of course it does more harm than good. But this is so often-repeated in history that it's become a truism of politics.

What I'm doing is supporting Harkin's call for an end to the filibuster, and not contributing to DNC or the House or Senate campaign committees... not until they promote only Democrats who are real Democrats. I support ActBlue, which will support primary challengers to Democrats who vote Republican. It's time for Democrats to have the courage of their convictions, which means being willing to take the risk of losing, so as to move the party to a place where it actually stands for something. I truly believe that if the party leaders did that, expelled Lieberman, criticized and pressured Lincoln, Landrieu, Pryor, Nelson, and others, to come around to a generally progressive viewpoint, then the party would start attracting  a lot of disaffected Independents, who basically don't believe that any politicians represent their interests. And, the sad truth is, the way things are now, they're not wrong. 

Roosevelt used to tell his critics on the left to "go out and make me do it." Obama seems to be saying, shut up, don't rock the boat, let's just compromise this compromise of a compromise and maybe the Republicans will give us a crumb or two. It's not working, and it's time for some Big Change. 

Disgusted with Democrats, Disgusted with Obama

I am just speechless with disgust. Lieberman has hijacked the entire country and destroyed health care reform, and the jackasses in the White House, including the President, and the Senate "Leadership," who can't lead a kindergarten parade, have just let it happen.

If they don't kick Lieberman out of the Democratic caucus, they might as well forget it. They will lose big in 2010, and people like me will be even more than ever thinking, "What exactly do these people stand for?" Big fat nothing, mostly.

Obama has failed to reverse the Bush Constitutional infringements. He is failing to secure meaningful climate change legislation. He failed to endorse and push through real financial regulation, while renominating the guy (Bernanke) who presided over the greatest financial debacle since the Great Depression without a peep and appointing others equally up to their necks in the failed system as his main economic advisers (Summers, Geithner). He has failed to deal with the embarassing politicization of the top military brass or find a way to start bringing the reckless and foolish war in Afghanistan to an end.

I'm finding very, very little to celebrate in having a Democratic president and supposedly Democratic Congress right now.

07 December 2009

Wrong side of history

I saw on TPM where Sens. Thune, Hatch, and Coburn pretended to be offended by Reid comparing Republican obstructionism on health care to those who blocked an end to slavery, Jim Crow, etc. I wrote the following to each of them:

As Rep. Grayson put it, Mr. xxxx, we the American people do not care about your FEELINGS. You are, indeed, obstructing progress in just the same way as rightists of old attempted to block the end of slavery, the end of Jim Crow, and any number of other progressive changes. You are very much on the wrong side of history, and if the criticism stings, it is because it is TRUE.

04 December 2009

Anti-Imperialism and a paradigm shift vis-a-vis Israel

A friend commented as part of an ongoing discussion that if the U.S. were more virtuous in its policies, maybe the Muslims wouldn't hate us, although the Chinese invasion of Tibet looks like a counterexample of the principle. I made a comment about collective karma, but what really got me going in response is the concept, widely believed (although probably not by my friend, he was just using shorthand), that "Muslims" want to kill us. Here's part of what I wrote in response: 

I wouldn't say that "Muslims," without qualification, do want to kill us. It's probably fair to say that the most extreme Wahabists basically want to kill all non-Muslims who refuse to convert, but most Muslims in the world aren't nearly as fanatic as that. (I do have some problems with even some of their mainstream tenets, but let that go). 

I also believe that if the U.S. stopped prosecuting an Imperial policy in the World, and especially in Iraq and Afghanistan, and stopped asymmetrically supporting the extreme Right Wing government of Israel, the anger and resentment of "street" Arabs and other Muslims (of whom, after all, there are about 1 billion in the World) would evaporate fairly quickly. At the same time, we would be demanding that Israel participate in good faith in negotiations to bring about a two state solution in Palestine. We should never underestimate the intensity (never mind whether justified) of the anger and resentment most Muslims feel towards what they perceive to be the oppression of Palestinians, with what is perceived to be biased support from Western nations, especially the U.S. This, along with the fanatic resentment of U.S. troops having ever been stationed in Saudi Arabia, is the main fuel of radical Islamist hatred of the U.S. I'm referring to perception, not just reality, although there is a reality there too. None of this is argument to justify horrendous crimes of terrorism, but you have to look at causes, in order to find solutions.

Israel is a nonsignatory to the Nonproliferation treaty and a nuclear power. It refuses to stop colonizing the West Bank. It recently waged an asymmetrical punitive war in Gaza, and another a few years ago in Lebanon. (Of course there was some justification, but the response was radically asymmetrical; and punitive wars against civilians have been recognized to be war crimes for decades). All of these are reasons, in my view, to pull the plug on U.S. financial and military support for that government. They will not cease to exist without it, don't worry.

Sure, there would remain a small group of lunatics among the Islamist terrorist factions, but what they wouldn't have is the tacit support of millions of others, including some governments. The wild card being the House of Saud, which I believe it is provable is totally duplicitous and actually finances terrorism. But we can only take care of our side of the street.

Unfortunately, AIPAC, and even the more moderate pro-Israel lobbies, have tremendous influence in Washington, all out of proportion to a country that is about the size of Switzerland. Changing U.S. policy with regard to Israel would (will) be almost as difficult as shifting away from an imperialist foreign policy everywhere else. 

I really believe, however, that it is absolutely necessary for us to make both of these major paradigm shifts in foreign policy. The conflict over Palestine has consumed far too much of the world's resources, especially when you consider all the repercussions in the broader region. We are facing major climate and economic crises in the whole world which it now appears will be the primary focus of the first half of this century. It is long past time to put these 20th century disputes to rest; and if the parties will not cooperate, they must be left to fend for themselves.  

02 December 2009

Snowe and Collins in play?

It's being reported that Olympia Snowe and (possibly) Susan Collins are "back in play" for the Health Bill, with the assumption that the public option is going to be converted into some sort of bullshit "trigger" option. Bleah.

It will, however, be ironic if Snowe, and maybe even Collins, end up voting for a bill that Lieberman, Nelson, Landrieu and/or Lincoln vote against.

Maybe as actually elected Democrats, Nelson, Landrieu and Lincoln should be left alone if they vote no. But I still say that Lieberman, who made an all but public promise not to block the Democratic legislative agenda in exchange for being allowed to keep his chairmanships (especially of Homeland Security), an agreement he has already reneged on, should be stripped of his chairmanships if he fails to vote for cloture, and even if he does vote for cloture but fails to vote for the final conference bill.

The hell with him. He is in no meaningful sense a Democrat, so why pretend he is?

30 November 2009

Obama's Fateful Mistake: committing more than 30K additional troops in the Graveyard of Empires

I have made clear here before my strong belief that there is no winning strategy, and no compelling national interest, justifying American presence in Afghanistan. I simply do not buy into any of the arguments that sending in more troops will have any positive effect whatsoever; quite the opposite. Andrew Bacevich has written about this, as have numerous others with direct experience in the region, including Robert Baer. In a nutshell, there is no way to "win" this war, and there is no longer any realistic casus belli based on suppression of radical Islamist terrorism. The Taliban is not al Qaida, as everyone who knows the region admits, and there is no significant threat of attack on American territory from Afghanistan. Our relations with Pakistan, a nuclear power with 165 million people, are of far greater import, and are only being made worse by continued American military action in Afghanistan.

Of course, one can always focus on the differences, but this escalation is very disturbingly reminiscent of Vietnam, circa 1965, with the same beltway/Pentagon vision of a plan that can't work, and prospects for ever-increasing demands from the military for more and more escalation, until eventually the total failure of the policy becomes so onerous and so manifest that the people will demand that the plug be pulled.

One big difference: in 1965 the majority of the public still supported the president's getting America more deeply involved in a war with no coherent US interests at stake. This time, they don't. So, although fewer American lives are likely to be lost, in some ways the situation is worse from a political viewpoint. I see this as a very dangerous and potentially devastating mistake on President Obama's part, which may very well sink his presidency, unless this apparent policy trend is reversed soon.

With each passing month, it becomes clearer. Withdrawal is the only reasonable option. General Petraeus himself acknowledged that there is no Qaida in Afghanistan. There is also no opportunity to bribe Sunni tribesmen to stop cooperating with those attacking us, as there was in Iraq. (The so-called "surge" had very little to do with it, and some of the money came from Saudi Arabia; but in any case there's just nothing comparable in Afghanistan). This is a very poor, tribal country, where we have already spent far more than the GDP of the country propping up narco-gangsters and corrupt pseudo-government officials (just like in Vietnam), and waging a war that can never be won. The only effect has been turning a population that once welcomed us against us. This has happened already.

President Johnson agonized over Vietnam, and he worried that the American people would stop supporting the effort, which of course they did, eventually. Bill Moyers recently broadcast an entire hour of Johnson's taped conversations from that formative time, and the parallels with the present dilemma jumped out. President Obama should pay attention to the fact that the American people already have withdrawn majority support for this war. This is not a minor consideration: our country has no business fighting wars the people do not support.

Which brings me to another point. Congress has no business continuing to tolerate the Executive making the decision as to whether war will or will not be prosecuted. President Obama is acting with Congressional authorization, as far as it goes. But it is time for the Congress to take its constitutional responsibilities seriously and direct that this war be brought to a close. The framers gave the warmaking power to Congress for a very good reason. If there is one overriding lesson to be learned from the entire postwar era, it's that giving the Executive de facto power to wage war is a huge mistake. It makes no difference whether the presidency is Republican or Democratic; carte blanche authorizations to commit or engage U.S. troops or war materiel abroad must not be forthcoming going forward: every decision to commit to military action beyond a brief emergency window must be under the control of the legislative branch. This is what our constitution requires, and the longer we tolerate deviance from it, the less our government resembles the representative system the framers of the Constitution intended.

This war is heading for nowhere but disaster, at a time when far more pressing needs present themselves for attention from our limited resources here at home. We must bring this fiasco to an end. The President should ask Gates, Mullen, Petraeus and McChrystal for a realistic plan to extricate us from this country as soon as humanly possible consistent with protection of American lives and reasonable conservation of resources. Any of them who fail to comply or publicly obstruct the president's intentions should be summarily dismissed. I think particularly McChrystal (who unquestionably lied about the Pat Tillman affair and was insubordinate in publicly calling for troop increases before a decision was made), should be eased into retirement as soon as practicable anyway.

What else can we do? We can and should ask the Saudis to step in and offer financial aid to their fellow Muslims, and contribute to humanitarian aid for a time. We can try to convene a U.N. sponsored Peace Conference, and enlist the aid of countries in the area, including China, in offering development aid to Afghanistan. We have done a lousy job, due mainly to corruption both of contractors and the so-called government there, at building schools, hospitals, and economic infrastructure, which are the very things that could bring the people of that unfortunate country out of the desperate poverty and universal unemployment that makes them see the Taliban as a better option. Other countries may have greater success in offering to fund and carry out development projects, which we can support to some extent. But regardless of the success of such an effort, we must announce the intention to withdraw, and carry it out in an orderly and reasonably rapid manner. Ultimately, the building of a nation in Afghanistan is not our responsibility. Moreover, given the lack of support for the effort here at home, is not a good enough reason to maintain a military presence in that country any longer than is necessary to bring that very presence to an end.

UPDATE 12/1;   In a nine-minute Special Comment on 11/30, Keith Olbermann expressed views similar to mine.

20 November 2009

Lou Dobbs's coming political career

Report: Lou Dobbs mulling run for the White House or Senate.

I think Lou Dobbs's career will make Harold Stassen look like a Lion among Politicians. I predict 4-5% vote in whatever election he foolishly runs in, and an abrupt and permanent end to his career almost before it begins.

McCain predicts success. Oh oh.

Reports: McCain predicts "success" in Afghanistan in 18 months, if only Obama OKs more troops.

Why, WHY, would anyone take seriously anything John McCain says about foreign policy or military prospects? Can anyone's record of accuracy in making such predictions be worse, other than, perhaps, Dick Cheney's? or Donald Rumsfeld's?

16 November 2009

Cheney 2012! (!)

I offer as Exhibit A in proof that the entire Cheney family is completely divorced from reality the report that daughter Liz (tell me again why anything she says is news?) floated a trial balloon on (where else?) Fox News to the effect that Pops may run for President in 2012.

Earth to Cheneys: Pops's approval rating remains in the teens. He remains the most unpopular vice-president ever. (And for very good reason).Yes, worse than admitted bribe taker Spiro Agnew.

I hope he does run. A little public humiliation is good for the soul. Oh, wait, soul and Dick Cheney are kind of mutually exclusive, aren't they?

13 November 2009

Thoughts on Afghanistan

Discussing Afghanistan with a friend in an e-mail exchange, I wrote this:
I'm not big on invasions and wars in general, but do you realize that if the US had, in December, 2001, chosen to set up a "Occupation Government of Afghanistan" modeled on the Occupation of Japan from 1945-51, we could very well be leaving right now, having transitioned to a stable sovereign parliamentary government and a grateful population? Instead of installing an arch criminal whose brother is a drug kingpin as a "government," while switching focus and resources to an entirely unnecessary war in Iraq. Remember? They were ecstatic when the Taliban was overthrown and Qaida expelled. Sure, things could have gone wrong, but we didn't even try. Afghanistan is a really poor country. Only $50B GDP. Even if the US had just paid every adult over the age of 20 $1500 a year in cash to grow wheat and barley, not opium, and do whatever else they were already doing, we would have spent far less than we have, and the Taliban would have no foothold, because the economy of the country would be starting to function.

Oh well, I always was a utopian dreamer. But it's totally clear to me that sending in more soldiers will only make the situation worse, keep US involvement there longer, cost more, and make the world and even the US itself a more dangerous place. (And, of course, cause huge suffering and loss of life). It will increase the number of young Muslim men from the Mahgreb to Indonesia who are convinced that we are waging the 10th Crusade against their religion and civilization. (Which I'm not totally sure isn't true; check out Mikey Weinstein's http://www.militaryreligiousfreedom.org/voices.html ).

12 November 2009

Afghanistan Options and Gen. McChrystal

It's being pretty widely reported that President Obama is demanding revisions to the "options" presented to him for changing the course of the Afghanistan war, in the wake of the strongly worded public disagreement by Ambassador Karl Eikenberry (a former military commander) with the request by Gen. McChrystal for more troops.

First, I gather from what's been reported that orderly full withdrawal is not one of the options being presented to the President. I have to ask, why the hell not? Even if you disagree with that course, it must be considered, since the whole rationale for our being in Afghanistan has come under widespread question. The option to pull the plug and get out just has to be one of the possible courses the President gives consideration to. (I've made clear that this is the option I think best for our country).

Second, I gotta ask: why the hell hasn't McChrystal been fired? He was openly insubordinate in giving a policy speech in London. Any high level military officer who presumes to do an end run around the chain of command and tries to pressure decisions by the President should be cashiered immediately and ignominiously.

11 November 2009

Yet another disgusting comparison of the President to Terrorists

This report of a comparison by a State Senator from Colorado Springs, CO of Obama to terrorists hijacking Flight 93, is so disgusting that it appalls me that someone like this can hold elective office in this country.

I have relatives in Colorado Springs, with whom I generally disagree politically. I certainly hope they have enough just plain decency to vote this thoroughly objectionable human being out of office permanently.

10 November 2009

Four Options for Afhghanistan ?

It's now being reported that President Obama has narrowed the options for going forward in Afghanistan to four options. I sure as hell hope one of those options is to draw down and subsequently withdraw from the region altogether, concentrating instead on a diplomatic strategy with Pakistan. And that this is the option he chooses.

It's become crystal clear to me that there is no compelling US interest in Afghanistan. Period.

It also can hardly be clearer that Afghanistan has a huge potential, even an overwhelming likelihood, of becoming and remaining throughout the President's term(s) of office a catastrophic quagmire, comparable in many ways to Vietnam. 

05 November 2009

GOP Reform = No Reform

How can that mentally deficient idiot John Boehner keep a straight face? The CBO report says the Republican's ridiculous health care "reform" bill will reduce the deficit by less than the Democrats' bill, will insure very few if any people not currently insured, and will not reform any of the abusive practices (rescission, pre-existing condition exclusion) that have caused this crisis. Good, goin' Repubs. Introduce a reform bill that reforms exactly nothing.

What I don't understand is how can they, or their Fox News cheerleading section, expect anyone to fall for this claptrap?

03 November 2009

Some provisions I'd like to see in a New Constitution

I have offered a Modest Proposal (admittedly utopian), for a Constitutional Convention to rewrite our Constitution to make government actually work for the people. Here's a laundry list of provisions I'd like to see. 

  •  Preservation of the basic structure, with three branches of government, a President serving no more than 2 four-year terms, and two houses of Congress, House and Senate, elected for 2 years and for 6 years, respectively, as at present, and a court system consisting of a Supreme Court and subsidiary courts subject to regulation, establishment and organization by the Legislative Branch, as at present. The New Constitution will preserve everything in the old constituiton that isn't explicitly changed, the existing amendments to the old constitution will be incorporated into the main body of the document except where moot or superfluous due to new provisions
  •  Direct popular election of the President (ending the Electoral College system)
  •  Explicit and specific provisions to ensure fairness in vote-counting and election rules nationwide, both Federal and other jurisdictions
  •  Automatic runoff in all elections (national and local) where a candidate fails to garner 50%+1 (possibly incorporating or permitting "second choice" voting enabling the run-off and election to occur simultaneously)
  •  One senator per state, with the same number -- the other half -- of the Senate elected by proportional representation by population, except that all Senators to be elected at large within each State entitled to that number of Senators by population
  •  Limited Debate in both houses of Congress by explicit constitutional requirement; no filibuster
  •  An end to gerrymandering, affecting not only House Districts, but all state government districting as well, by imposing a rational mathematical scheme to ensure unbiased representation by population, to prevent incumbent bias and control of government by special interests; the executive charged to faithfully execute this requirement, including through use of the justice department to sue the states where necessary
  •  Term limits for Congress: 2 Senate Terms; 5 House Terms (this would also have the effect of removing most of the disadvantages and bias of the Seniority System); with or without, as the Congress may decide, the right to run again after sitting out a certain period (with loss of all seniority)
  •  Term limits for judges, including Supreme Court Justices: ten years, with one term only; no reappointment (this in recognition that judges are not elected, and have a great deal of arbitrary power; no one should hold this power indefinitely)
  •  A New Bill of Rights, in part modeled on that of the European Union, that guarantees voting rights, employment assistance, health care, non-discrimination on the basis of sex, race, age, sexual orientation, religion, immigrant status, or ethnicity; workplace safety, clean environment, compliance with the Geneva Conventions (including no torture or coercive interrogation): this spelled out, not incorporated by reference; rules of evidence, no surveillance of citizens or legal residents without court order (including electronic surveillance), habeas corpus. Freedom of Information and access to information. Modification to the 2d amendment to allow localities to ban assault weapons, handguns, etc. Non-citizens present in the United States or subject to US legal process shall have enumerated due process rights and may not be held without judicial process. Complete separation of Church and State explicitly enumerated, with public education prohibited from presenting religious viewpoints as fact; freedom to worship or not to worship as citizens see fit; no public prayer or religious ceremonies in public institutions, with a carefully crafted exception for cultural displays of religious art or symbols in public places without the intent to promote any particular religion; right to old age security; right to collective bargaining; and other fundamental rights, in addition to the rights currently enumerated (and clarified to account for changes in technology, etc)
  •  Congress or the States may tax property or income of non-profit organizations or religious institutions, at their discretion
  •  A statement of principle whereby the US will not engage in preemptive war, or attack or invade other nations except in self-defense, and shall not seek territorial expansion by force
  •  War powers clarified: the president may not commit US troops or war materiel to hostile action or presence on foreign soil for more than, say, 45 days for any reason without a Declaration of War or other specific authorization, which if passed by both houses of Congress, must be renewed at least every 180 days
  •  A statement of principle whereby the nation will support and promote self-determination and democracy by peaceful means, and not act to assist (financially or militarily) dictatorships, nor states which the Congress, or if the Congress makes no such finding, the President, shall find do not adhere to generally acceptable standards of human rights and self-determination and representation of all citizens
  •  A statement of principle whereby the United States must cooperate with other nations to preserve a habitable world, but must also conduct its trade policies to give priority to its own peoples' welfare
  •  Explicit rules of economic democracy, to prevent corporations or other organizations (including labor unions) from buying and selling influence, and subject them to ultimate control, as chartered entities of the several states, to serve the public interest (as was the case before laissez-faire court decisions in the 19th Century); Congress to have the power to revoke the charter, or prohibit the activities, of any interstate or multinational corporation for unlawful conduct or conduct found by the Congress to be "not in the public interest."
  •  Statement of Principle that the Congress shall set public policy in general substance, and not delegate "proper" powers of the Legislature to the executive branch or agencies
  •  Explicit changes to Article II drastically restricting the power of the President to ignore the law, or to act outside of it; explicitly stating that any statements appended to laws signed by the president shall be deemed surplus and void of effect
  • Presidential veto preserved, but no line item veto 
  •  A statement of principle that it is a legitimate purpose of the Federal Government to promote the welfare of the citizens of the nation, and to regulate finance and commerce to prevent injustice or unfair advantage
  •  Detailed Clarification of the powers now appropriated to the Federal Government under the Commerce Clause
  •  A new provision to make it easier for states with more than a certain percentage (say 6%) of the population of the country, as established by the Census, to split into two states, if that state's own electorate or representatives shall decide to do so, according to each such state's own laws, without requirement for approval by the other states or by Congress
  •  Explicit rejection of the notion that political money equates with political speech; enabling and requiring, but not specifying the details of, real public financing and spending limits on election campaigns
  •  Provision that the Congress may impeach the president or any official of the executive, including any military officer, or any Federal judge, for any reason or no reason, but with a fairly high hurdle to actually do it; essentially the system now in place apart from the grounds
  •  Explicit restrictions on legal requirements for supermajorities, to those few spelled out in the constitution • these to be specifically and explicitly applicable to the States as well as the Federal government, so that State governments are ensured functional representative government too
  •  Federal Referendum, but not Initiative or Recall
  •  Any bill that fails to pass both houses, but receives at least 45% of the vote of both houses, shall, on motion receiving that same margin, be submitted to the people as a Referendum; with certain exceptions, notably no declaration of war or authorization for military action by referendum
  •  Referenda, when passed, become law, and are not subject to presidential veto
  •  No law enacted by referendum may be repealed or amended within ten years, except by at least 55% vote of both houses, subject to presidential veto 
  •   Provision to make it slightly (not too much) easier to amend the constitution or to call another Constitutional Convention
  •  Ratification of the new constitution shall be by referendum to the people; if simple electoral majorities of 2/3 of the states adopt the constitution, it is ordained. 
  • The constitution would prohibit secession explicitly, but might make provision to permit any state that did not wish to join the revised union to withdraw rather than ratify. (This could create logistical nightmares, but would be worth considering at least). 

Yet another letter to Reid about Lieberman off the reservation

Dear Sen. Reid:

I've written about this before, but it bears repeating. Sen. Lieberman is WAY, WAY off the reservation on the public option.

If he follows through with his whining threat to vote against cloture on the final bill, he MUST suffer the consequence of losing his committee chairmanships, in particular Homeland Security.

If this is made perfectly clear to him in advance, it may influence him to support the Democratic party, for once. If not, then he is no Democrat and should not be entitled to the privileges appurtenant to "caucusing" with the Democrats. It can hardly be clearer than that if he votes to kill this historic opportunity, the most important reform of President Obama's first term in office, he is for ALL intents and purposes a Republican, not a Democrat. If he were to openly declare himself as such, he would lose his privileges. This vote, if he follows through on it, AMOUNTS TO THE SAME THING as declaring himself a Republican.

This man may be a friend of yours, but he is no longer a Democrat in any meaningful way. Gov. Dean and Sen. Harkin are right: if he fails to follow the unwritten rule requiring him to support YOU on this critical procedural vote, he must suffer the gravest consequences possible.

I sincerely hope that the very real threat of those consequences will cause him to change his mind, but that threat MUST BE REAL, and must be followed through on if it fails to change his vote, to show others that there are consequences to sabotaging not only the agenda of the party but the clear will of the majority of Americans. In this case, it is particularly disgusting for Sen. Lieberman to take the position he is taking, in view of the fact that over 2/3 of his own state constituents disagree with his stance on this issue.

Thank you.

02 November 2009

Dysfunctional Government: My Modest Proposal

I live in a state, California, which is paralyzed by probably the worst Legislative Institutional Blockage in American History, thanks in large measure to the preposterous rules requiring 2/3 votes for tax or budget changes. These all date to what I believe is the single worst law ever enacted in the United States, in this case a ballot proposition changing the State's constitution, 1978's Prop. 13. Former Assembly Speaker Robert Hertzberg has proposed a State Constitutional Convention to effectively repeal the worst provisions of this damaging law, and to make other needed changes in the way California is governed. (Incidentally, it is not the 1% ad valorem property tax cap provision which is so harmful; it's the provisions for supermajority requirements for both initiative and legislative votes to raise any taxes, or to pass a budget, which are so crippling).

Which brings me to my actual topic. I regard the dysfunction that has gradually settled over the U.S. Senate, with its effective supermajority to pass any affirmative legislation, and its gross institutional bias in favor of the party of No!, as comparable to the blockage which has paralyzed California. To me, while there are other serious institutional problems in our government, this one is so bad, and so harmful, that it alone justifies the ultimate solution which I have come to believe is necessary. And since this solution is sweeping and all-encompassing, it would give our generation of Americans the opportunity to make historic reforms to our entire system of government, for the benefit of all Americans.

Our country is being gravely harmed by the inability, despite a strong majority on all levels, to pass meaningful reform legislation that actually works. I offer the mess that is the drawn-out process for enacting Health Care Reform, as proof by example. After months and months, and countless hours of stupid debate and nonsensical media ranting and raving, mostly about side-issues and non-issues (as in, lies about what the bills would do), it looks like the entire effort will result in a pitiful, not-even half measure. Dennis Kucinich decried, Is this the best we can do? Because if it is, it isn't good enough. 

He's right, of course. It isn't nearly good enough. And not because the majority of Americans don't support robust and efficient reform. They do, and the polls prove it. It's because of the institutional dysfunction, primarily in the Senate, which makes it easy to block any action, but requires near impossible majorities to accomplish anything. Other countries don't have this problem. In most European countries, where the majority votes for something, it becomes law. A party that can only muster 20 or 30% to call themselves adherents could never block reform. But here, they can, because they can effectively prevent the Senate from acting on legislation.

This has been played out over and over, as instead of rational and efficient legislation, we end up with stupid, ineffective, inefficient, and counter-productive government on every level. No Child Left Behind, but no funding. Medicare Prescription Drug Reform, but no ability to negotiate prices, and one of the most confusing and irrational schemes ever for actually providing the benefit (the "donut hole.") Not to mention the institutional bias that makes ridiculously wasteful military industrial spending virtually impossible to oppose, due to the power of regional and corporate interests to impose their priorities, regardless of what the electorate wants or thinks. Next on the Agenda? Watered down and ineffective financial re-regulation, and inadequate and ineffective Climate Change Legislation. Count on it. If anything is passed in either area, it will not be enough, will not be rational or efficient, and will not reflect the demonstrable will of the electorate.

Examples of the essentially dysfunctional nature of the Legislative Branch in general, and the Senate in particular, are virtually endless. 

My Modest Proposal?

I believe the only way around this historic paralysis is to finally do what Thomas Jefferson assumed we would do once in every generation or so: we must revise the Constitution by holding, for only the second time in our history, a National Constitutional Convention. 

I think it's safe to conclude that a proposed constitutional amendment to change the way the Senate is constituted, and change its rules by Constitutional provision, could never get the support of 3/4 of the State Legislatures required to enact a constitutional amendment. They would be too determined to preserve the undue influence they now have.

But maybe, just maybe, as the harm to our economy, our ability to effectively provide the kinds of services that most people in the world regard as the very purpose of government, and our standing in the world, all deteriorate progressively, it will become possible to prevail in a political movement for a National Constitutional Convention.

I used to be opposed to any such notion, thinking the tripartite government, with its various checks and balances, that our 18th century forbears created, was so valuable, and so protective of our rights, that we could not risk losing it. But it seems to me, that system has largely failed. Our rights are not being preserved. The Bush administration effectively abrogated many of them, and even the Obama administration has been slow to see to their robust restoration. Moreover, the system just doesn't work. Look at the way health care has gone: it's a total mess, despite strong support from a large majority in almost every state.

Of course, it's risky. Special interests control politics very effectively in this country, and we could, one might argue, end up with a sort of fictitious democracy, with oligarchy institutionalized once and for all. But I have enough faith in the force of the will of the people, who will demand fairness and functionality, to believe that wouldn't happen. And I have come to believe that our system of government, our military/industrial/Congressional complex, as Dwight Eisenhower warned, and in particular the institutional flaws that make it possible, are in fact so very bad, that whatever emerges from a full scale Constitutional Convention is unlikely to be worse. The reality is that we have oligarchy now, with government by and large bought and paid for by special interests.

I think it's possible to raise the consciousness of the people, so to speak, till they demand that the system of government itself be changed, so that the will of the people is more effectively reflected in the output of, in particular, the Legislature, and so that such dangerous concepts as Dick Cheney's theory of a "unitary executive" are disposed of once and for all. Moreover, many of the rights and principles that have evolved since 1789 as essential elements of the "American Way," but which are not explicit in the Constitution, could be made so. Further, some of the more dubious and harmful elements of our political system, many of them derived from questionable judicial precedents, such as the concept that Corporations are persons without particular responsibilities to act in the public service, could be changed to make our whole political/economic system work more effectively to not only create prosperity for all, but with essential fairness and equity as hallmarks of the law on all levels.

I will post further on this topic as time goes on. 

    29 October 2009

    My letter to Joe Lieberman today

    Dear Senator Lieberman,
    I am writing to you, as a national constituent (since Senators represent all Americans as well as their own state constituents), to urge and implore you in the strongest possible terms to reconsider and reverse your unwarranted threat -- for that is what it is -- to derail the most important element of the Democratic political agenda this year: meaningful health care reform.

    As you must know, 68% of your own state's voters favor a public insurance option. The majority of all voters nationwide... about 55%... favor this policy. The VAST majority of Democrats, the party with whom you caucus and which welcomed you to keep your committee positions even after you supported the Republican presidential nominee against the election of our president, favor this policy. There is some point at which the people's representatives, even in the more deliberative body, must, to legitimately fulfill their duties, accede to the wishes of the people, and not substitute for it their own more narrowly construed interests. That point is at hand. Please, sir, for once, respect the wishes of the voters and not those of special interests.

    You have stated that you intend to block a straight vote on a bill which contains this public insurance provision. Not just vote against it, but use the arcane rules of the Senate to foil majority rule and block it. This, even after you went on record on numerous occasions in the past deploring the use of the filibuster except in the most dire circumstances. You even joined with Republicans to circumvent its use to the advantage of President Bush's efforts to stack the courts with Rightist judges.

    I appeal to the Democrat in you. You once worked for Senator Kennedy... John F. Kennedy, yet here you stand poised to destroy the life work of his brother, the "Lion of the Senate," Edward Kennedy, by foiling the clear will of the majority of Americans, to finally, at long last, achieve comprehensive health care reform. Our country needs this reform desperately. We cannot wait years. 45,000 Americans die each year due to lack of health care, and 22,000 are forced into bankruptcy because of medical bills, something which happens in no other advanced nation. Not France. Not Germany. Not South Korea or Taiwan. Not Israel. Not Canada. Only the United States. This is a legacy of shame which we must end, and it would be tragic if it were Joe Lieberman who stood in the way.

    Vote against this bill if you feel you must, but please do not, for once, impose your personal views, against the better judgment of more than two thirds of your own constitutents, to prevent democratic government from working to enact the will of the people. Do not, sir, I implore you, prevent this legislation from being considered for passage by the majority of the Senate, and if it passes, then it should be accepted as the will of the people, a sacred trust.

    Sir, do you REALLY, in the end, want your legacy to be "Say No, Joe, who killed health care reform"? Is that what you really want?

    Thank you.

    There must be consequences

    Let me say this again, as clearly as I can:


    If you don't agree with that, you're not really a Democrat. Sorry, but that's just the bottom line for me.


    The Republicans use this very method of Party Discipline all the time. I HATE the Senate Rules. I'd like to see a Constitutional Amendment to require proportional representation in the Senate, and mandating fairer procedures. But this is the system we have. So Democrats must use all the tools in the toolbox to accomplish the reform the people who elected Barack Obama president DEMAND. If they don't, the only possible conclusion is they're just toying with us, and they don't really want reform.


    Frankly, that one is self-evident. Politicians are held responsible for their failures. Period.

    E-mail to White House: rein in Lieberman, for crying out loud

    I'm really starting to feel like a tape loop. Anyway, here's today's e-mail to the White House.

    I am so intensely frustrated with the lack of real energy on health reform coming from the White House.

    It is totally clear that Sen. Lieberman has reneged on his assurances not to block the Democratic Agenda, but where is the opprobrium? Where is the fire in the belly in favor of the reform that at least 55% of the American people, and the VAST MAJORITY of the people who elected this president, DEMAND?

    The White House didn't hesitate to threaten congressional representatives with outer darkness over military funding, but here this horrible ex-Democrat, whose own state favors a public insurance option by 68%, a 47% margin, is being treated with kid gloves when he OVERTLY threatens to sink reform?

    Lieberman needs to be told he will be expelled from all his chairmanships and treated like the Republican he is if he does this.

    The President is NOT living up to his promises to bring real change, and the people who put him in office are getting more and more disaffected.

    Listen to this. Don't ignore it. Because the Democratic coalition that elected President Obama is unraveling. If that happens, it will be RIGHTLY laid at the door of the president.

    The president must condemn Lieberman by name, and demand both publicly and privately that all Democrats unite behind the reform the people demand, including the public insurance option, NOW.

    Thank you.

    28 October 2009

    Paleoclimate and Paleobotany and implication for global warming

    Something a little different from my usual political commentary.

    I've been reading Emerald Planet, How Plants Changed Earth's History (David Beerling, Oxford), which is a popular treatment of interesting topics in paleobotany and paleoecology.

    One of the most interesting things the author discusses is the role of plants in regulating atmospheric composition. Some things I didn't know and I'm quite sure are not common knowledge: 

    Apart from a deep and pervasive global glaciation in the 800-600 million years ago range (i.e., before the emergence of complex multicellular life) (during which the planet may possibly have been entirely covered with ice for a time), and a severe glacial epoch probably resulting from cataclysmic volcanic events in roughly Permian time (i.e., before the great age of dinosaurs), the Earth has been mostly ice free. In fact, most of the time the temperature gradients between the polar regions and the equatorial regions have been much less than at present. During the Carboniferous and again during the Eocene (periods of major global warming caused by very high levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases), the poles were subtropical, with palm trees and vast forests stretching from pole to pole.

    Indeed, it is only with the end of the Eocene, roughly 40 million years ago, (possibly triggered by the massive sequestration of carbon by aquatic ferns being buried without releasing their carbon for long periods of time in a stagnant Arctic sea), that a long term global cooling trend, culminating in the Pleistocene glaciations, began. (the changed configuration of the continents and resulting changes in oceanic currents undoubtedly play a major role in this as well). (Check out the Azolla Event in Wikipedia, if you're interested. It's an amazing story).

    Generally, through most of the history of multicellular life on Earth, the planet has been significantly warmer than in the last few million years, and in fact, ice caps at both poles have been decidedly rare. During most of their history, Arctic regions and Antarctica have been the sites of forests comparable to the Pacific Northwest today, or even subtropical forests, in warmer eras. And this is not accounted for by their having been in different locations; both the circumpolar lands of the North and Antarctica have been in approximately their current locations since shortly after the breakup of Gondwana and the comparable breakup of Laurasia, roughly 200+ million years ago.

    Beerling points out that attempts to model exactly what happened during the Eocene warm period, in particular, in terms of currents, atmospheric circulation, and, especially, the effects of greenhouse gases, particularly methane and CO2, have failed to adequately account for the paleoclimate. (It was warmer than modeling of all these factors can account for, especially at very high latitudes). He concludes, almost as an aside from this, that our understanding of likely effects of significant changes now underway in greenhouse gas composition (including the potential for release of methane in large quantities from ocean floor clathrates), is not adequate to make predictions, but that the effects are likely to be more extreme, not less, than modeling currently available suggests.

    This should induce even greater caution, but something tells me that the politicians of the world will remain blissfully unaware of such considerations.

    27 October 2009

    Lieberman should be threatened with loss of all caucus privileges; and if he follows through on HIS threat, this should actually happen

    My letter to Sen. Reid today:
    Dear Sen. Reid,

    I commend you for returning a bill to the Senate floor containing essential provisions including at least a form of the public option so vital to controlling costs and actually providing people with meaningful choices.

    Sen. Schumer says you've counted the votes and not to count out the chances for passage.

    Let me be clear. If the Obstructionist Republican except in name Joe Lieberman follows through with his threat today to join the Republicans in filibustering this historic reform, it is LONG PAST TIME to expel him from the Democratic caucus, strip him of all committee responsibilities, and basically cast him into the outer darkness. Hopefully if the Democratic leadership makes clear to this horrible man that this is what awaits him, he will cling to his beloved power and toe the line. If not, the threat must be carried out. Enough is enough, and Americans will not tolerate further coddling of this never-really-was former Democrat.

    Thank you.

    David Studhalter

    Lieberman may try to singlehandedly kill health care reform.

    If Just Say No Joe Lieberman, whom I regard as the single worst example of a bought and paid for politician in the entire Senate, gets his way and manages to single-handedly kill health care reform, I will write to Reid and other Senators continually until they strip him of all committee responsibilities and declare him not a member of the Democratic caucus. See this.

    Or, to put it a bit more bluntly, what a complete asshole.

    26 October 2009

    Progressive Pressure

    "Undoubtedly progressives will see today's development as a validation of their intense activism--pressure that wasn't always appreciated by Democratic party elders."  --Brian Beutler, TPM 

    Damn right we do. Better get used to it, 'cause we have no intention of letting up. If you resent pressure from your constituency, then get the hell out of the way and let somebody do your job who actually will do your job... which is to deliver what your constituents want.

    Sen. Alexander: no opt out because option too popular..... wha' the...?

    How can people say shit like this with a straight face?

    Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Republican leader from Tennessee, said on the Senate floor Monday, in advance of Reid's announcement, that the opt-out provision isn't to be taken seriously. Medicaid, he noted, has an opt-out provision, but not one state has opted out. Public health insurance, in other words, is too popular for states to opt out. (Read more here).  
    Let's get that straight, now. It's a bad idea, because it's too popular. Right. So much for even pretending we have democratic government in this country.

    Depressing Report Card

    It's kinda depressing that the historic "change we can believe in" seems to be coming down to being tossed the meatless bone of an opt out public option (what a piece of newspeak that is!) and told to stop barking. Meanwhile, Financial Reregulation is being touted, but the actual proposals are virtually worthless. The Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continue and threaten still more "no end in sight." Climate Change reform looks to be in serious danger of being derailed or so watered down as to accomplish little. The administration doesn't have any kind of plan to restore our economy to a production footing. Guess that was just words. Wall Street types and unreconstructed neocons have the President's ear, and Congress is bought and paid for by special interests in almost everything that matters. Even restoration of civil protections under the constitution is a half-baked affair at best.

    In all, a pretty much unsatisfactory situation, across the board, for us progressives.

    In truth, Obama never ran as a Progressive. We just hoped, and took some of what he said a little too optimistically. He received lots of Wall Street money, so I suppose it's not that surprising that he really has no intention to force real changes in the economic system... or the military industrial system...or, even the medical racketeering system....that have brought us to this pass.

    23 October 2009

    Fax to Obama to get off the dime and SUPPORT Public Insurance Reform

    In response to reports that Sen. Reid has 60 votes lined up for at least the "opt out" version of the Public Insurance Option for a final Senate Bill, and now it's the WHITE HOUSE that's throwing up a roadblock, I wrote the fax below.

    I am incredulous that the President and his main advisers on this issue STILL don't get it that this issue is crucial to the majority of the people who got him elected. I am sick and tired of Washington knowitalls deciding what they think is best, when their constituents already made that decision for them. The polling is clear, and for once, we demand that these people do what we tell them. I've absolutely had it. No one who votes against this or fails to support it will ever receive one penny of support from me again, directly or indirectly. I will support only progressive candidates until this cabal of special interests is defeated once and for all. The hell with the Republicans, we have to fight for the most basic progressive policy WITHIN our party.

    President Barack Obama
    The White House
    Via FAX only: 202-456-2461

    Dear Mr. President:

    I am urgently writing to DEMAND that your administration support a robust Public Option in the Senate Bill. It is time for the administration to stand firm and support what the people who elected you want by large majorities, and what our country unquestionably needs (as you yourself has said on several occasions).

    To paraphrase Representative Alan Grayson: America does not care about Olympia Snowe’s vote. Olympia Snowe was not elected president last year.

    No, you were, and it’s time you stood up for the interests of the constituency that put you in the White House. It is clear that at least an “opt out” public insurance option is now a viable reality, apart from incomprehensible lack of leadership and support for it from your administration.

    This is totally unacceptable. The people demand this reform NOW.

    Thank you.


    David Studhalter

    22 October 2009

    Rethink Afghanistan

    Please see www.rethinkafghanistan.com, Filmmaker Robert Greenwald's site making the case for opposition to the Afghanistan war. Portions of the film may be viewed online. Check out this blog piece on Alan Grayson's comments on Afghan policy.

    21 October 2009


    I've been somewhat out of commission for a few days; I'm in Day 4 of what I'm pretty sure is H1N1 flu. The second day was the worst; now I'm just exhausted and coughing a painful and raspy cough. Some people apparently get REALLY sick, but for most, it's brief but fairly nasty, mostly respiratory. Whoever  is reading this, I hope you don't get it, and get the shot if you can!

    My e-mail to Sen. Reid today

    Dear Sen. Reid,

    I implore you, sir, to stop beating around the bush about the public insurance option. It is now beyond doubt that the so-called Health Insurance Industry has declared war on the American people and is determined to kill meaningful reform, which a strong majority demand and this country obviously needs. A robust and meaningful public insurance option, actually available as a choice to working people, is a key component of controlling costs and affording coverage to the vast bulk of the currently uninsured.

    Sen. Baucus claims to be for it. You have said you're for it. Sen. Dodd is obviously for it. A majority of the Senate and House is for it. The American people, by 57% majority, demand it.

    What's more, if the unified Senate bill has a public insurance option, THERE CANNOT BE 60 VOTES to REMOVE IT, so the momentum will be there for it to remain in the legislation all the way to the President's desk.

    A great deal of responsibility has been place on your shoulders, sir. The President arguably has failed to take a strong leadership position on this issue. ALL THE MORE REASON YOU MUST DO SO.

    The American people are counting on you, Sen. Reid. Please do the right thing and make sure a robust public option is in the Final Senate Bill.

    Thank you.

    David Studhalter

    15 October 2009

    Smash the "Health" Racket cartel!

    It's war! The Sickness Profiteering Rackets (aka Health Insurers) have pretty much delcared war on reform, not satisfied with the 90% of what they wanted that they got in the Baucus bill.

    So a movement is afoot in Congress now to remove the totally unjustifiable anti-Trust exemption that this Racketeering Cartel has enjoyed since 1946, either as part of pending reform or separately.

    High time.

    Political Suicide

    Democrats need to think this through, because I'm convinced it's true:

    An individual insurance mandate that requires currently uninsured working people to buy health insurance from for-profit Health Rackets (aka "Insurers") without a strong public insurance option with the ability to negotiate pricing, will be political suicide for Democrats in 2010. 

    If there is one thing that will alienate younger, economically distressed Democratic voters, it's having to pay high prices for for-profit health plans without good cost control mechanisms in place, and without the option to choose a public insurance plan instead. Illogical as it may seem, these voters will walk with their feet, straight to the Republicans, whose faux populist message, deceptive though it is, will have wide appeal.

    This is another reason why I strongly urge all Congressional Democrats to unite behind a robust bill, with real regulation and cost control, and a REAL public insurance option. 

    I sent essentially the above to Sen. Reid.

    An example of Right Wing Propaganda designed to fool progressive sense of fairness

    I got this from a progressive correspondent who in turn had received it from another at least moderately progressive person. It's stealth propaganda, designed to appeal to a populist sense of fairness:

        Send it everyone you know.

        Please pass this on!!

        On Tuesday, the Senate health committee voted 12-11 in favor of a two-page amendment courtesy of Republican Tom Coburn that would require all Members and their staffs to enroll in any new government-run health plan. It took me less than a minute to sign up to require our congressmen and senators to drink at the same trough!

        Three cheers for Congressman John Fleming of Louisiana !
        Congressman John Fleming ( Louisiana physician) has proposed an amendment that would require congressmen and senators to take the same healthcare plan they force on us (under proposed legislation they are curiously exempt).

        Congressman Fleming is encouraging people to go on his Website and sign his petition (very simple - just first, last and email). I have immediately done just that at: . Please urge as many people as you can to do the same!

        If Congress forces this on the American people, the Congressmen should have to accept the same level of health care for themselves and their families. 

    It bugs me that clever propagandists can twist everything so effectively, and fool people who are a little too busy to really think things through. I'm sure the original author of this e-mail was some kind of Sickness Profiteering Company or Republican Party operative (I refuse to call them "health insurers"). It's not overt; it's insinuative, but if you read this carefully you'll realize that what it's really saying is, if you wanna "force" health care reform on us, you Congresscritters should have to take the same public option as you're proposing for the uninsured (not the options available to the 4/5 of Americans who are insured, including most likely me, never mind about that)....so, [implicitly], don't pass health care reform!

    (Fleming and Coburn are particularly nasty Right-Wing Republicans, so that should be a clue). 

    I'm quite sure that a tallyer at the Congressional office would tick off "another anti-reform e-mail". But it's cleverly worded and appeals to a sense of injustice, so it can easily fool people who are actually pro-reform. This kind of duplicity is typical Rovian tactics nowadays, and I just deplore it.

    I've heard Democrats with a populist streak harping on this point (that Congress has good insurance, so they should have to take the worst option that health care reform will be making available to the currently uninsured (even though that's not what most employed people will get). There's no logic to this at all, and the reality is that it's hardly surprising that Congresspeople have good insurance. So do corporate executives. Of course it isn't totally fair (what is), but the insurance that 535 people, who are undeniably well off and privileged have
    is really pretty irrelevant to what we as a nation should be doing about health care reimbursement and regulation. After all, they are so privileged, in part, by reason of their having been elected by the people to hold important office. 

    14 October 2009

    Public Option up to Reid?

    In reaction to reports that Rahm Emmanuel is meeting with Baucus, Dodd, and Reid (why not Schumer, Rockefeller, and Harkin?), and that Schumer is saying whether a public insurance option emerges in a final Senate bill depends mostly on Reid, I wrote the following to Reid's contact site today:

    Dear Senator Reid:

    It is being reported today that you, Sen. Baucus, and Sen. Dodd will meet today with Rahm Emmanuel to work on what a combined health care bill will contain.

    I am writing to you to STRONGLY URGE the inclusion of a real, cost-saving public insurance option as an essential element. The American people by large majorities demand a public insurance option.

    Other factors ARE IMPORTANT, and will need further work, including cost controls both at the provider and insurer level that are not adequately addressed in any of the bills. But please note that ALL the house bills and the HELP bill ALL call for the public insurance option that the majority in almost all states have demanded. The final Senate bill MUST contain this provision.

    Thank you.

    13 October 2009

    AHIP doublespeak talking points: why should we care about preserving their rapacious profits? Are they nuts?

    TPM has posted anti-reform talking points from AHIP ("America's Health Insurance Sickness Profiteering Plans" [ASPP]). Just an example of their incredible doublespeak: 
    Dismantling Employer-based Coverage: More than 165 million Americans rely on employer-provided health care coverage. The Lewin Group projects that up to 120 million people would move from private health insurance into a government run plan that pays medicare rates and as many as 97 million would shift to a government run plan if it paid Medicare rates plus ten percent. This violates the shared commitment to ensure that those who like their coverage can keep it. [Emphasis added].

    Huh? How the hell can they say that giving people additional options, including an option to purchase cheaper and better insurance from a public plan, "violates" a commitment to allow people to keep their current insurance if they like it? 

    Essentially, they are admitting that their product adds no value, and they don't want to have to compete with a non-profit plan. So, exactly why should the public care about preserving their profits, again? I missed that part.

    My E-mail to "Backward Joe" Lieberman on Health Reform

    Dear Senator Lieberman:

    I read with alarm reports that you are not supporting even the watered-down Finance Committee Bill on health care reform. I hope this is not true, because I seem to recall that you were once a Democrat and still "caucus" with the Democrats. Please, sir, as Rep. Grayson so aptly put it, the American people know which party supports health care reform and which stands in the way; and the American people by large majorities want real reform, including real regulation of insurers, and a public insurance option. RESPONSIBLE analysis shows that a real public option and real regulation of the insurers would reduce costs, not increase them. The AHIP report and other industry sponsored disinformation is not a valid basis to conclude otherwise.

    If you "caucus" with the Democrats, then, please, sir, VOTE like a Democrat. As Rep. Grayson also said, you can lead, you can follow, or you can get out of the way. History is on the side of genuine and meaningful health reform, and if you fail to support it you will be clearly siding with the retrograde faction, finally and completely.

    I urge your support.

    In exactly what sense Joe Lieberman is or ever has been a Democrat, I am at a loss to think.

    Let's see. Supports the Democratic nominee for President. Nope. Supports Democratic foreign policy agenda. Nope. Supports Democratic social reform agenda. Nope. Supports Republican nominee for President. Check. Supports Republican foreign policy ideas. Check. Stands in the way of reform, with the Republicans. Check. Conclusion: Republican pretending to caucus with Democrats. I say, this time enough's enough. If he fails to vote for the final health reform bill, he should be tossed out of all committee leadership posts, and the party should start working on ensuring a viable primary challenger who can win the State next time around.

    12 October 2009

    Health Care Reform Points, beyond Public Option • What's Not Being Included in Current Bills

    Although I am and continue to be a strong supporter of a viable and robust public insurance option as a key component of health care reform, I think it's important to bear in mind that other components are equally if not more important, and many of them are unfortunately not included or not adequate in most of the versions of health care reform legislation pending before Congress right now.

    To really work, a public/private reform must:
    • Prevent discrimination by age or state of health;
    • Really regulate what insurance companies can charge, (e.g., by setting a floor for so-called medical loss-ratio for adequate standard health insurance, of approximately 90% minimum);
    • Even better, All insurers could be mandated to be non-profit, at least for the "adequate standard health care" component of health coverage (ideally, health providers should be non-profit too, but that's less critical);
    • Require health carriers to cover standardized adequate health care; they can compete for add-ons (this is the system in Germany, France, Holland, Switzerland, etc.). There need to be standard reimbursements and no open-ended patient liabilities; within this system, insurers will have no right to deny claims, and costs are controlled because the costs of all routine medical procedures are regulated;
    • Provide for continuation of coverage in the event of unemployment and retirement;
    • Public Insurance Option with the ability to negotiate discounts on prescription drugs;
    • Prohibit pre-existing condition exclusion and all rescission;
    • Truly universal affordable coverage; subsidies for the poor, including the working poor, paid for by taxes, (or "fees," it doesn't matter what they're called).
    I think one way to achieve a good deal of savings in the critical 50-64 age group (to which in full disclosure, I belong), is to set up a Medicare Buy-In option for this age group. Medicare, with the cost-per-patient as calculated by the Congressional Budget Office amortized to a monthly premium. (In other words, the patient, not the government, pays the premium). Again, subject to partial-to-complete subsidy for the poor and working poor. This could replace Medicaid for people in this cohort; and eventually I would like to see this option available to everyone. (One necessary reform would be to allow Medicare to negotiate Pharma prices across the board).

    UPDATE:  Now we have the AHIP report, which was dumped late last night with no warning to the White House, despite the fact that the White House was having good faith discussions with their representative over the weekend. It's high time Democrats in Congress not only stop trying to negotiate with Republicans, they must stop trying to placate the "Insurance Industry" as well. These voracious predators have said that even though the Finance Committee Bill, and the other bills for the most part as well, leave their precious profits and price-fixing abilities pretty well alone, they will spike rates if reform passes. So, I say, the hell with 'em. Regulate them to the hilt, set their prices and force them to provide standard coverage on a non-profit basis, and if they don't like it, they can go try to write health insurance in Bolivia.

    09 October 2009

    Obama Nobel Prize and the Hypocritical Right

    Right-wingers are so dumbfoundingly hypocritical. Can't they hear the slightest echo of what they would have said had any left-of-center commentators or politicians said one less-than-enthusiastic word had their favorite president received the Nobel Peace Prize or comparable award?  (However ridiculous that might seem, given the fact that he spent his presidency promoting conflict).

    Doesn't it send just a hint of shame through their stony little hearts to be griping about a major international award to the President of their country, which they claim to love so exclusively? These people, like Limbaugh, John Bolton, and Michael Steele, to name just three, are awful, nasty, small-minded and stupid. To which we now have to add unpatriotic. There, that's not mincing words.

    UPDATE:  The ever despicable Rush Limbaugh kind of said it all, echoing Ahmadinejad and Taliban spokespersons condemning the award: "We all agree with the Taliban and Iran."  There's a voice of patriotism, for sure.

    I'd say "what a pig," but pig is too good a term for Rush. 

    08 October 2009

    Optional Public Option ?? And a Comment on the possibility that Progressives could flee the Democratic Party

    Part of me is very suspicious of the Schumer/Carper "Optional Public Option" proposal, but Howard Dean is supporting it. It seems to me that if we get a real public option that states can opt out of, and it is seen after a few years to work (by providing genuine cost savings over the 20% administrative/profits waste of for-profit private insurers), then eventually no states will opt out anyway. But, as always, the devil's in the details.

    UPDATE:  (10/9) I am now even more suspicious of this move, which I'm now thinking is intended as a distraction, to derail a real public option and ensure that only a watered-down version is actually enacted.

    Apropos, Democrats who fail to act like real Democrats are driving this party to schism. Increasingly, people who consider themselves progressive feel alienated in the Democratic party and are casting their gaze afield wondering if somewhere, somehow, there might be a really progressive political movement in this country that actually stood a chance of electing people who would vote for what a majority of the people demonstrably favor. Populism isn't an ideology, and it is not impossible that much of the ignorant populist rage on the Right, which right now looks like it will materialize as votes for Republicans, could be harnessed by a Populist Party on the left. It hasn't happened in a long, long time, but if the predictions of a double dip recession and institutionalized unemployment lasting decades turn out to be correct, I wouldn't rule it out.

    Please E-mail Senators to Support Cloture and Meaningful Public Option

    I sent the message below to several Senators whose support to end debate and vote for a bill including public option may be critical. PLEASE JOIN ME in this effort. It's VERY EASY to e-mail Senators. Just go here, select the state or Senator by name, and click on the link directly to their contact site.

    I sent the message to Ben Nelson (Neb), Kent Conrad (ND), Sens. Pryor and Lincoln (Ark), Sen. Reid (NV), Sen. Landrieu (LA), Sen Snowe (Maine-Rep.) and Sen. Hagan. (NC)

    Ideally, a message something like this should go out from every concerned citizen to every Democratic Senator, so if you have the time, please make the effort.

    And please support Keith Olbermann's free clinic project. (In process; I will post a link later).

    Thank you for your support.

    Dear Senator  *:

    As your constituent (Senators represent all the American people as well as residents of their own state), I am writing to strongly urge you to vote to allow a floor vote on health care bill(s), and to support a meaningful public option. Regardless of special interests which may have your ear, you must know the public insurance option has majority public support in your home state. All polling has shown this. For once, it is a moral imperative on this issue for all members of the Senate to act in the interest of the people, not special interests.

    Moreover, if this bill ultimately must be passed through reconciliation, please keep in mind BOTH of Pres. Bush's tax cut bills, which the Republicans passed through this process, the second time breaking a tie with Vice-Pres. Cheney's vote. Please support what the people want, MEANINGFUL HEALTH CARE REFORM WITH PUBLIC OPTION.

    Thank you.

    07 October 2009

    Baucus Bill to reduce deficit

    So the Congressional Budget Office says that the Baucus (pron. "bogus") Finance Committee Bill would save $81B over some or other period of time. I guess is marginally good news, but one has to wonder, how much more would/will a robust public option that requires real cost savings reduce the deficit? And if we really got real about opening up a plausible scheme for developing revenues to pay for the public sector part of health care (including medicare and VA), we could easily arrange things so that Medicare is stabilized and health care does not add anything to the deficit. Easily, that is, except politically. The idea of actually paying for public services is virtually anathema in this crazy country of ours, even though every other advanced nation in the world just accepts this as a fact of life, like gravity.

    Moribund Body Politic, an Encouragement (?)

    I agree with Robert Borosage, writing in the Huffington Post today:

        The president has called on the Congress to act on fundamental reforms that cannot be avoided. Our broken health care system is unaffordable and must be fixed. Moving to new energy policy is a national security, economic and environmental imperative, not a choice. Fundamental financial reform is necessary if we are to avoid a worse crisis in the near future.

        Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh and the Republicans in Congress oppose these reforms. They want, as Limbaugh proclaimed, the president to fail. But they aren't the major roadblocks to the change we need. What stands in the way is the organized power of the entrenched lobbies that have a direct stake in limiting change, and are willing to spend hundreds of millions to obstruct it. Their legions are less angry citizens, than sophisticated lobbyists, increasingly Democrats, many of them retired legislators. They deliver campaign contributions, not votes. They threaten negative campaign ads, not authentic citizen uprisings. 

        Read more here.

    As I see it, this fundamental problem, the lack of responsiveness to the public, but only to organized corporate money, is one of the two main reasons it has become virtually impossible to pass reform legislation without debilitating amendments in this country. The other is the unsupportable anachronism of the way the Senate works. Senators from (disproportionately Republican) smaller states have disproportionate power, and, not surprisingly, since these Senators have a harder time raising money from constituents, they tend to be even more beholden to moneyed interests than Senators from larger Northeastern and West Coast states. Then, there are the totally unworkable cloture/filibuster rules, which give way too much power to the minority, especially when the minority opposes change, as the Republicans generally do. Thus, there is an institutional bias in favor of the Republicans, who in recent decades favor pretty much only two things: lowering taxes and starting wars, both of which enough Democrats fear to vote against that they sometimes get them passed. Since other than these things they seldom try to do much of anything, the rules and structure of the Senate give them disproportionate power.

    What to do? Oh, that's simple enough. Campaign finance reform to take the money out of politics (except the Right Wing Supreme Court has already virtually guaranteed with its ridiculous rulings equating money with speech that that can't happen).

    And, a constitutional amendment to make the Senate elected by proportional representation and mandate fairer procedural rules. (Ha, ha. That has a real good chance of passing through the convoluted process of getting a constitutional amendment approved, in which process the smaller states tending to be Republican have even more disproportionate power, since it takes three quarters of them to approve an amendment).

    So, we're in the soup, my friends. Our government is dysfunctional to the point of being moribund, and there is no cure in sight. I suppose we can take encouragement that no political system, no matter how good or bad, lasts forever.