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Obama Denies Vermont Healthcare

8:54 pm in Uncategorized by David Swanson

Here’s the news as I received it in an Email from Thom Hartmann’s radio show on Wednesday:

“Vermont is one step-closer to becoming the first state to set up a truly universal, single-payer health care system. The Vermont Senate passed the new healthcare bill yesterday – following in the footsteps of the state House that passed the bill last month. Now – it just needs to be signed into law by Governor Peter Shumlin who’s already expressed his support for the measure. There IS one last step though – Vermont would need to secure a waiver to opt out of Obamacare in order to build its own healthcare system.

“A handful of lawmakers have introduced legislation to allow states – in particular Vermont – to drop out of Obamacare if they prove they can cover just as many people with insurance as the law would have without adding to the deficit. But surprise, surprise, Republicans don’t like the idea. That’s right – after bashing Obamacare for 2 years – they don’t want to let states drop out of it. What happened to their whole “state’s rights” platform – does that only apply to stuff like abortion and gay marriage – and not to giving people free healthcare? The truth is – Republicans are trembling at thought of Vermont having a single-payer healthcare system to serve as a model for other states. Canada’s single-payer healthcare system started in just one province – Saskatchewan – and then spread across the country because people in other provinces demanded it.

“Republicans fear that the same thing is likely to happen in the United States and they’ll do anything they can to stop it in Vermont. They don’t care about sick people – they care about profits for their buddies – the millionaire private health insurance executives.”

Of course it’s not a surprise that passing a bill through Congress allowing states to create real healthcare solutions is an uphill climb. Congress does what the insurance companies like, and the insurance companies like continuing to exist. But way back yonder in July 2009, the House Committee on Education and Labor, voted 27 to 19 with 13 Republican Yes votes to pass Congressman Dennis Kucinich’s amendment to the healthcare reform bill. This amendment would not have altered the federal legislation except to allow states to create single-payer healthcare systems if they chose to. That’s the one and only thing this amendment did.

First among the 19 members who voted No was Committee Chairman and Democrat George Miller. Congressional staffers who knew told me that President Obama had personally told Miller to block the amendment.

When the legislation that came out of Miller’s committee was merged with the versions from two other House committees, the Kucinich amendment, which did not conflict with anything in any version of the bill, disappeared. Again, the word on the Hill was that Obama had told House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to strip that amendment out. In fact, Pelosi said the President had asked her to do that.

The Democratic Party loyalist groups were, of course, focused on the doomed “public option” and — even more so — on supporting the bill no matter what was in it. Mentioning an amendment that permitted states to pursue serious solutions didn’t harmonize well with the message that the concoction of corporate giveaways churning through Congress was itself a serious solution. Two things is too many to mention in an Email. And so none of the public-optioners, or very few, fought to keep the Kucinich Amendment in.

The single-payer healthcare groups were living in a fantasy world in which they thought they were going to persuade Congress to pass national single-payer healthcare. Talking about a state or two leading the way just wasn’t part of this pretty story. So these groups let the Kucinich Amendment be stripped out without a fight.

Then came the Senate bill, also written at Obama’s careful direction, which added in language forbidding state healthcare solutions through 2017. Obama told Kucinich that the Senate bill included the waivers he’d successfully put into the House bill and seen unceremoniously removed. But this was not true.

Nonetheless, Kucinich got on an airplane with Obama opposing the healthcare bill and wanting his amendment put back in it if it passed. Kucinich got off the airplane supporting the healthcare bill without his amendment restored or any other concession that has ever been mentioned in public.

And now comes Vermont trying to provide a civilized system of health coverage for one state. The other 49 states lose nothing by this. They could conceivably give their citizens vouchers for half what they now spend on healthcare and allow everyone to go buy into the Vermont plan. Tourism to Vermont would get a huge boost. But states that pretended nothing had happened could ignore Vermont and proceed on the same stairway to hell they are on now.

There’s a problem, of course. And the problem is not purely that Republicans are evil. The problem is also that the President of the United States already cut off this escape route.

Kucinich and the Media

11:35 am in Uncategorized by David Swanson

When I worked for Dennis Kucinich’s presidential campaign in 2003, he routinely won the most applause at debates but was minimized or entirely left out of the next day’s stories in the corporate media. This meant that peace, and fair trade, and single-payer healthcare were left out too. At one debate at the University of New Hampshire, Kucinich pushed back.

Ted Koppel of ABC opened the debate with questions about endorsements. The second round of questions was about standing in the polls. The third was about the campaigns’ bank accounts. One had to wonder when, if ever, the debate would touch on, you know, what the candidates intended to do if elected. Kucinich cut Koppel off, saying:

"I want the American people to see where media takes politics in this country. We start talking about endorsements, now we’re talking about polls and then talking about money. When you do that you don’t have to talk about what’s important to the American people."

The applause for this was so intense that the other candidates on the stage started joining in the media bashing. Kucinich had briefly changed the narrative from a horse race to a demand for decent political reporting.

That’s what he should have done on Wednesday when he flipped to support a disastrous health insurance bill. Rather than talking about the legitimacy of the presidency, Kucinich should have talked about the illegitimacy of the current narrative in the corporate media.

The major corporate news outlets, and all the smaller outlets that follow their lead, and all the partisan outlets that obey the White House, have created a false story that was clearly turning Kucinich’s own constituents against him. According to this story, of the dozens of Democrats and over a hundred Republicans not committed to voting for the insurance corporation bailout bill, only Kucinich’s vote mattered, so the blame would go to him if it failed, just as Ralph Nader alone was blamed for Al Gore losing the election that Gore won in Florida in 2000.

Kucinich was to be blamed for denying people healthcare by opposing a bill that makes the healthcare system worse. Now he’ll be credited with helping to provide people with healthcare, even though he’s done the opposite. I think he gave in to the power of a false narrative, and that he ought to have said so. When Kucinich fought with us for impeachment, and John Conyers refused to act, Conyers admitted that his greatest fear was of media hostility. When Kucinich pushes to end wars, other congress members tell us they cannot afford to challenge media nonsense about "supporting the troops." The corporate media now run our government, and need to be called out.

I don’t think Kucinich flipped because of money, either direct "contributions" or money through the Democratic Party. I think, on the contrary, he hurt himself financially by letting down his supporters across the country. I don’t think he caved into the power of party or presidency directly. I don’t think they threatened to back a challenger or strip his subcommittee chair or block his bills, although all of that might have followed. I think the corporate media has instilled in people the idea that presidents should make laws and that the current president is trying to make a law that can reasonably be called "healthcare reform" or at least "health insurance reform."

I don’t excuse Kucinich flipping his vote. I just want to find the right explanation for it. There may be many factors I’m unaware of. But I have no doubt that with real freedom of the press in this country it wouldn’t have happened. This sad incident is not an argument for ending the two-party system. That argument has been made overwhelmingly for many years. We must end that system. Nor is this an argument for campaign finance reform, although we won’t survive long without that either. Nor is this an argument to give up on Dennis Kucinich, since we would clearly have a dramatically better Congress if we had 10 others as good as him. Kucinich’s cave in is most clearly an argument for media reform and for progressive investment in truly independent media.

I’m Down With Dennis

1:28 pm in Uncategorized by David Swanson

Let me get this straight. The Senate will pass a public option if the House will. And the House will, because it already did. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi won’t allow it. So the mortal enemy of public-option backers is . . . Dennis Kucinich.

Why? Because when Congressman Kucinich said he’d stand for a public option he stupidly thought he was supposed to mean it.

Let’s review a brief history of the disease known as "health insurance reform."

When the president and the speaker of the House thought it would be strategic to censor any talk of single-payer healthcare, almost every member of Congress and almost every astroturfing party-before-country activist group and labor union, and almost every follower of those groups, fell obediently into line. "We’ll open the debate with the least we’ll settle for, a pathetic token public-option," they thought cleverly, rubbing their hands together. "Then we’ll compromise down from there."

But after demanding the "public option," too many people refused to toss it overboard, and public pressure grew to keep it in. So 60 congress members signed a letter to the speaker last summer insisting that they would not settle for a health insurance bill that lacked a serious public option. When they were presented with a bill that did not meet their demands, almost all of them voted for it anyway.

Now 51 senators say they will pass a bill including a super-pathetic token public option of the sort passed by the House last summer, but Pelosi wants to pass a bill without anything even called a "public option" in it. Almost all of the congressional public-option stalwarts want to go along with the speaker and the president. And almost all of the astroturfing party-before-country activist groups want to fall obediently into line.

Meanwhile several states are moving single-payer healthcare bills through their legislatures, but they face likely lawsuits from insurance companies over conflicts with federal law if they try to actually get their residents healthcare. Senator Bernie Sanders is advertising the Senate bill as solving this problem, routinely failing to mention that his solution, if it is one, does not kick in for seven years. But an amendment passed in a House committee last summer would have clearly and unequivocally taken care of states’ concerns. The president told the speaker to strip that amendment out of the bill, and almost no members of Congress complained when she did so.

Where does Dennis Kucinich fit into this story? He’s the reason the word "almost" appears in it so many times. He didn’t open negotiations by proposing the lowest he’d accept. He pushed for a real single-payer solution. He single-handedly framed the public option as a compromise rather than a communist plot. Kucinich signed the letter committing to take a stand for at least a public option. But he made the mistake of thinking people actually wanted him to mean it. So he took that lonely stand. And he introduced and passed the amendment that would have allowed states to provide their residents with a serious healthcare solution.

Now, all the astroturfers applauded and encouraged taking a stand for a public option when there were 60 congress members pretending to do it, without apparently giving any thought to how greatly weakened progressives would be in Congress if they didn’t follow through. Did they think the chance that a bluff might work was worth damaging all future campaigns? Did they disbelieve all their own talk about how the bill would be worthless without the "public option." It’s hard to know. The so-called public option had shrunk to such a token gesture that it was always hard to know what good they imagined it would do if included. And today they talk about passing a bill without even that token included, and passing it "for political reasons," usually avoiding the question of whether the bill is actually better or worse than nothing.

But suppose that you honestly thought the public option was worth at least pretending to take a stand for, and now you no longer do, but you think the remaining bill does more good than harm. Why would you have no complaint with Pelosi who could put the "public option" back in and pass the bill? Why would you have no complaint with congress members who oppose the bill on the grounds that it protects abortion rights? Why would your complaints be focused on the one guy who stuck to what you used to want him to stick to? Could embarrassment be a factor here? Shame? Humiliation? Do you feel uneasy about asking that ever congress member be an obedient slave to the president? Do you sense that progressives would then be excluded entirely? Does it worry you that you’re protesting insurance companies in support of a bill that causes insurance companies’ stocks to rise?

Even the activist groups that have acted on principle throughout this ordeal have fallen short of Kucinich’s actions. Kucinich knew that real progress would come through the states, so he worked to pass an amendment permitting state single-payer. And virtually nobody backed him up. Activist groups either prattled on in a fog about national single-payer, or they focused exclusively on the so-called public option. These two camps wouldn’t talk to each other, but they both agreed on leaving states’ concerns by the wayside.

If, in stark contrast to what was done, labor unions and activist groups and progressive media had taken their agenda from their membership and brought it to Washington, rather than the reverse, then very quickly Kucinich would not have been alone in demanding single-payer, and the right-wingers would have soon been begging for a token public option as a compromise.

Healthcare is only one issue. There are dozens of stories like the one above, with different issues but the same characters and plot. When dozens of congress members commit to opposing war funding, Kucinich commits and then follows through. When it comes to ending the wars or impeaching the war criminals, Kucinich leads, in opposition to his political party but in support of his constituents, the American people, the rule of law, and the stated goals of progressives.

I hope self-loathing partisan sycophants realize that the corporate media will equally depict either passage or nonpassage of a "health insurance reform" bill as a defeat for Democrats. And, in this case, rightly so. But the long-term impact of a reform that doesn’t reform, one that rather compels Americans to pay their hard-earned money to institutions even more hated than Congress, namely health insurance companies — THAT would be the real political loser, with or without a privately run program for 3 percent of us called "the public option." And, again, rightly so. Kucinich is saving the Democrats from themselves by helping to block their health insurance bill, but they can’t see what’s in front of them through the fog of their constant dreaming about mountains of money and a naked Rahm Emanuel poking them in the chests.