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Saif Speaks to Libyans: What WikiLeaks Cables Say About His Address

10:20 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

An address from Muammar al-Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi, was aired on television in Libya early on February 21. Saif al-Islam told Libyans he had come without a prepared speech and was going to speak from his heart and mind.

The address (which can be read here) was given as Tripoli was turning into more of a battlefield. Snipers were firing in Saha Al Khadra. His father’s “thugs” were allegedly going into hospitals and killing Libyans who had been out in the streets and been wounded.

Rumors are circulating that Saif al-Islam was shot. Some of the unconfirmed reports say Saif al-Islam is dead and his father and some from the Gaddafi family has fled. Muammar has gone to Venezuela, some reports allege.

The death of Saif al-Islam is possible, but until there are reports which go beyond unconfirmed, this is largely a distracting story. What Saif al-Islam said in the recorded address that aired on February 20 is much more important.

Saif’s Address to Libya

In his rambling address, Saif al-Islam manages to outline what he thinks are key aspects of what is happening in Libya. First, there are political activists whom Libya should work with, who likely have valid grievances and demands worth considering. Two, in Bayda, where he is from and where his mother lives, “Islamic elements” have stolen weapons, killed soldiers, and would like to establish “an Islamic Emirate in Bayda.” And, third, “children” out protesting managed to take drugs and then were “used.” (The last part is interesting given the fact that since Libyans’ “Day of Rage” on February 17 there have been little reports, if any, on Libyans finding people are getting doped up and causing problems.)

If one looks through the entire address and then sifts through the many cables from Libya that have been released by WikiLeaks and leaked to newspapers by WikiLeaks, it is possible to pull out threads to illuminate what might happen from this point forward.

Saif al-Islam emphasizes oil in Libyan society at one point saying, “American Oil Companies played a big part in unifying Libya.” He indicates his fear of an Islamic Emirate being established in Bayda saying, “The British FM called me. Be ready for a new colonial period from American and Britain. ou think they will accept an Islamic Emirate here, 30 minutes from Crete? The West will come and occupy you. Europe & the West will not agree to chaos in Libya, to export chaos and drugs so they will occupy us.”

In a call for Libyans to lay down arms and not become enmeshed in conflict, he says, “Before we let weapons come between us, from tomorrow, in 48 hours, we will call or a new conference for new laws. We will call for new media laws, civil rights, lift the stupid punishments, we will have a constitution.” He says even his father, “Leader Gaddafi,” wants a constitution.

Saif’s Quixotic Bid for a Libyan Constiution

Saif has been one of the few leaders in Libya to push for Libya to develop a constitution. He is often regarded as a leader who owes his popularity to backers who are “reformists.” In a cable from November 19, 2009, on who which Qadhafi son will succeed Muammar, Mutassim is seen as a brother who stands with “conservatives” in Libya. The cable mentions in March 2009 he drafted a constitution but it was dropped from the General People’s Congress agenda.

In August 2008, Saif spoke at a youth forum, where he said he would be withdrawing from politics entirely to work with civil society organizations in Libya. He pushed for reforms and spoke explicitly about passing a constitution because, to him, the Jamahiriya system had failed. 08TRIPOLI679 details”:

Turning to governance, Saif al-Islam resurrected his call for a constitution, something he explicitly advocated in his 2006 Youth Forum speech in Sirte, which drew harsh criticism at the time from the Revolutionary Committees and other conservative regime elements. Reacting to that, Saif al-Islam had softened his language in his 2007 speech in Benghazi (ref B), using the term “social contract”. In Sabha this year, he adopted slightly more forward leaning language, saying Libya “needs something, which is perhaps called a constitution – let’s say a popular pact similar to the social pact or a pact of the mass of the people”. Such a contract should stem from the popular authority of the people, he said, but stressed that a formal document of some kind was needed to enshrine and protect the will of the people against unconstitutional attempts to usurp power as in the recent coup in Mauritania.

Criticizing the inchoate nature of the decentralized Jamahiriya system, he said Libyans are frustrated with the the existing system’s failure to deliver basic services such as trash collection, pest control, water and electricity, and now want a clearly articulated system of rules that govern personal conduct, economic affairs and governance. Describing the bedrock of good governance as effective local government, he stressed that despite the rhetoric about popular local committees, the Jamahiriya system of his father had not delivered on that front. Describing the decision to dismantle formal decisionmaking structures and to effectively decouple the local and central governments as “a mistake”, he called for a “new administrative structure” that would better integrate local municipalities and districts with the central government.

Referring to Muammar al-Qadhafi’s March 2 address to the General People’s Congress, in which he called for government restructuring and radical privatization (ref C), Saif al-Islam conceded that he had been personally involved in the work of the committees tasked with implementing his father’s vision. He emphasized that plans for restructuring the government are underway, and will involve reshaped local institutions and greater privatization. Arguing for aggressive privatization, he said “the state will not own anything” and “everything should be done by the private sector”. (Note: As reported ref C, five committees were established to formulate plans for implementing Muammar al-Qadhafi’s March 2 vision. Contacts have told us Saif al-Islam established shadow committees staffed by personnel from the Economic Development Board (EDB) and National Planning Council (NPC); the final recommendations for implementing al-Qadhafi’s vision reflected heavy input from the shadow committees. End note.) Referring obliquely to reports of fierce infighting over recommendations about restructuring and privatization, Saif al-Islam noted that “many things that were not nice” had happened in the course of recent intra-government debates, but stressed that those issues had been resolved.

Muammar initiated a process for adopting a constitution quietly in mid-November of 2008. 08TRIPOLI936 shows Muammar allegedly kept it quiet so his son, Saif, could be involved in the process.

The cable notes, however that the “secretive nature of the project has prompted concern among constitution committee members,” who fear Muammar could change his mind. A small circle of Libyans involved in the process are also keenly aware that “secretly developing a constitution reflects the failure of al-Qadhafi t orealize the importance of robust processes (a key weakness of the Jamahiriya system) as a precursor of durable political results.” Muammar is described as “taking the politically expedient route” instead of “investing in a more transparent and slower (but more credible) process.”

Is Saif Afraid Army of “John McClanes” Will Bring Libya to Utter Ruin?

Given the role of Islamic extremists in the continued global war on terrorism, it is no surprise that US diplomats have kept tabs on Islamists in Libya, especially ones believed to be engaged in terrorism. The fear Saif expresses in his address to Libyans appears to reflect a knowledge of how fixated US and European officials have been on what has been happening in Egypt and whether democracy will lead to an Islamist state run by the Muslim Brotherhood or some other group that the US might consider to be similar.

The city of Derna, which is ninety-three and a half kilometers east of Bayda, is described in one cable as a wellspring for foreign fighters who are heading off to fight coalition forces in Iraq. Gaddafi’s link to the US is alleged to be fueling the radicalization of young Libyans in the area. The cable quotes a Libyan “interlocutor,” who likens the young men in Derna to “Bruce Willis’ character in the action picture “Die Hard’” because, for them, “resistance against coalition forces in Iraq is an important act of ‘jihad’ and a last act of defiance against the Qadhafi regime.” The interlocutor suggests many of them refuse to die quietly.

Derna is compared to Bayda and other cities like Benghazi:

Benghazi and other parts of eastern Libya had benefited in the last several years from increased government patronage, Derna continued to “suffer from neglect”. Citing an indeterminate grudge between Libya’s former monarch, King Idriss al-Sanussi, and leading citizens of Derna, xxxxxxxxxxxx claimed that Derna had long been the victim of a deliberate government campaign to keep it poor. He compared Derna’s plight to the fortunes of another conservative eastern Libyan town, Bayda. While Bayda had been the summer retreat for King Idriss and was initially shunned in the early years of Qadhafi’s rule, its fortunes changed after Qadhafi married Sadia Farkhis, daughter of a prominent citizen of the town. The government subsequently established the Omar al-Mukhtar University in what had been the royal palace and sited a number of government-owned enterprises there. By contrast, Derna had not benefited from any such measures.

The neighborhood of Baab al-Shiha, a “district from which a large number of the Libyan foreign fighters identified in documents captured during September’s Objective Massey operation in Iraq had hailed,” is described. Of interest in the “lower-middle class neighborhood” is the “number of small, discrete mosques tucked away in side alleys,” which are part of a “profusion of “popular mosques’” that has “complicated effective monitoring by security forces.”

Just how closely Libya likes to monitor cities comes through in this section of the cable:

4. (C) A number of residents were on the streets; however, they were visibly more wary and less friendly than in other Libyan towns. xxxxxxxxxxxx later noted that some residents were closely questioned by security officials after speaking with a visiting Newsweek reporter in April. Told P/E Chief was an American, xxxxxxxxxxxx jokingly swore and said “there goes my evening”. Clarifying, he said he had plans that night, but would likely be detained and questioned by security officials about his interactions with an Emboff. While P/E Chief had not obviously been followed, word would doubtless reach security officials’ ears that foreigners had visited and inquiries would be made. He dismissed the idea of parting company to avoid creating problems for him, saying it was important that he, as a son of Derna, not bow down to the central government’s authority. “They may have their boot on our throat, but it’s important that they know that we are still breathing and kicking”, he said.

In 08TRIPOLI120, which appears to be a cable that immensely influenced the aforementioned cable, US diplomat Chris Stevens comments, “[The] ability of radical imams to propagate messages urging support for and participation in jihad despite GOL security organizations’ efforts suggests that claims by senior GOL officials that the east is under control may be overstated.”

It describes the frequent references to “martyrdom” in the mosques in Benghazi and Derna:

(S/NF) xxxxxxxxxxxx partly attributed the fierce mindset in Benghazi and Derna to the message preached by imams in eastern Libyan mosques, which he said is markedly more radical than that heard in other parts of the country. xxxxxxxxxxxx makes a point of frequenting mosques whenever he visits Libya as a means to connect with neighbors and relatives and take the political pulse. Sermons in eastern mosques, particularly the Friday ‘khutba’, are laced with “coded phrases” urging worshippers to support jihad in Iraq and elsewhere through direct participation or financial contributions. The language is often ambiguous enough to be plausibly denied, he said, but for devout Muslims it is clear, incendiary and unambiguously supportive of jihad. Direct and indirect references to “martyrdom operations” were not uncommon. By contrast with mosques in Tripoli and elsewhere in the country, where references to jihad are extremely rare, in Benghazi and Derna they are fairly frequent subjects.

The contents of the mentioned cables suggest that in Libya violent revolution is much more possible than it was in Egypt. The area of eastern Libya is filled with Libyans who may seize this moment as opportunity to finally throw off the chains of tyranny that have bound them for over four decades. That they have been repressed for so many years by Gaddafi’s regime will likely fuel desires to wage guerrilla warfare for freedom.

Libya’s Privatization of State Enterprises Increasing U.S. Oil’s Influence?

Saif’s nod to “American oil companies” either signals the growing instability worries Saif because it might have a negative impact on his ability to accumulate more wealth from oil operations in Libya or it points to how successful US oil companies have been at convincing the Gaddafi regime to open up its doors in the past few years.

Prospects for U.S. oil companies appear to be relatively good on February 11, 2010. 10TRIPOLI116 features Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) Shokri Ghanem expressing “support for improved Libya-U.S. relations.” He explains near-term goals for the NOC that include “plans for increasing oil and gas exploration and production” and “developing a cadre of Libyan experts to replace the expatriate workforce.”

Ghanem tells Ambassador Gene Cretz “76 percent of the positions in the oil and gas industry in Libya were occupied by “foreigners.” Many of the positions are jobs he thinks Libyans could be doing (although jobs requiring “experience with new technologies” would still require “expatriates”).

A Libyan privatization board was set up recently and welcomed US companies” in February 2010. And, in a cable titled, “U.S. Foreign Commercial Service Opens For Business in Libya,” suggests that over the course of the past years Libya has become more and more open to US corporations, particularly energy, telecommunications and construction companies. The cable describes Libya’s efforts “to diversify its economy and to privatize government enterprises.” Department of Commerce Assistant Secretary and Director General of the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service Israel Hernandez, who has just opened up a “new Foreign Commercial Service office at the Embassy and discussed commercial opportunities with U.S. and Libyan business leaders and cooperation with senior Libyan government officials,” talks about Libya as “one of the fastest growing markets for U.S. trade.”

However, months ago, in June 2008, a cable is sent out lamenting how soaring oil prices are making it possible for Libya to push for “more stringent long-term contracts with foreign oil and gas producers.” The cable describes a Libyan national oil company ratifying a twenty-five year extension for a contract with Italian firm Eni North Africa BV. The outcome is seen as something that may lead international oil companies (IOCs) to abandon “production efforts” in Libya (this in spite of the fact that Libya is “widely perceived to be one of the relatively few places in the world with significant unproven reserves of sweet, light crude and natural gas”).

Several other major extensions are anticipated in the coming months, including those involving U.S. firm Occidental Petroleum (along with Austrian partner OMV) and Petro-Canada. Those agreements were signed with the NOC in late 2007, but still require GPC [General People's Congress] ratification. It is possible the NOC will seek further concessions in light of its deal with Eni. Spain’s Repsol and the NOC are renegotiating along the EPSA IV contractual model. The initial deal between Repsol YPF and NOC stipulated a 50-50 split of production; however, the NOC is now seeking a minimum production share of 72 percent.

“The NOC has approached numerous other IOCs about extensions, raising the possibility that it will reopen deals that were only concluded a few years ago. Even the U.S. Oasis Group (comprising Amerada-Hess, Marathon and ConocoPhillips), which paid $1.8 billion in December 2005 to return to acreage in Libya’s Sirte Basin that it held before the suspension of U.S.-Libyan diplomatic ties and the imposition of U.S. and UN sanctions, may be affected. Libya’s relatively modest 59.2 percent production share in that deal has generated preliminary probing by the NOC as to whether the Oasis Group would consider renegotiating, which it has so far successfully opposed” [emphasis added]

The diplomat authoring the cable comments:

Libya and the IOC’s have been here before: a spate of renegotiations and extensions occurred in the late-1960s and early 1970s, driven in part by the then-new al-Qadhafi regime to demonstrate to its people that it was a better steward of Libya’s hydrocarbon resources than the Sanussi monarchy had been. As during that period, the current penchant for shifting the goalposts has not been well-received by the IOCs. Despite Libya’s relatively unique position in terms of unproven reserves, high quality oil and low recovery costs, observers here expect that some IOCs facing potentially long renegotiation periods (and associated costs of idle personnel and materiel) and diminished production returns may choose to abandon altogether their production efforts in Libya.

How Saif benefits from Libyan oil business is detailed in the cable, “Qadhafi Incorporated,” from May 10, 2006, which details how Muammar al-Gaddafi’s children supposedly have “income streams from the National Oil Company and oil service subsidiaries.” Saif is believed to be “involved in oil services through One-Nine Petroleum and other Qadhafi family members and associates are believed to have large financial stakes in the Libyan Tamoil oil marketing company based in Europe and Oil Invest.” And notes, it is “believed that millions of dollars are distributed to politically connected Libyans and Libyan expatriates.”

Several cables mention Muammar’s plan to redistribute the country’s oil wealth to Libyans through a privatization scheme. That aspect of Libya’s recent history is worth exploring further as it seems like it is much more likely to have been a ploy to open up Libya to more foreign investment. US cables show the Libyan government has typically not wanted to up the standard of living for Libyans because it might lead to political instability. (Of course, they didn’t expect neighboring countries to inspire Libyans to revolt so the fear of raising Libyans to a better standard economically is no longer likely a chief concern for leaders at this moment.)

For the latest on Libya, follow WLCentral’s live blog.

Progressivism Fails Because Democrats are Afraid to Advance a Progressive Agenda

7:14 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

WI: Sen. Feingold speaks in support of Barack Obama in Eau Claire, August 24, 2008 by aflcio


USA Today/Gallup poll based on "telephone interviews conducted June 11-13, 2010, with a random sample of 1,014 adults, aged 18 and older, living in the continental U.S." suggests a majority of the American population does not know if the term "progressive" describes their political views. The poll represents the possibility that many Americans have no idea what it means to be "progressive" or why one might enjoy anointing one’s self with the label of "progressive."




One conclusion from these results could be that this provides an explanation for why progressivism has failed so far in the United States. However, that idea seems to ignore the fact that those responsible for advancing progressivism through the passage of legislation, for example, are politicians. Politicians in this country are most certainly aware of the presence of "progressives" and what they stand for, as they are a potential constituency to be won (and divided) in elections.




A failure of understanding among Americans of what a "progressive" is might have more to do with a political failure among Democrats to articulate specifically what a "progressive" stands for. And, is that necessarily a bad thing? In the "Bottom Line" section of the poll results, the analysis reads, "Given the high degree of public uncertainty about what the term means — as well as the lack of opposition to it from the political center — that could be a successful strategy, at least if the goal is to avoid being pigeonholed."




In an article posted on titled, "Does the left even know what "progressive" means?" Ned Resnikoff, an NYU student, further illuminates the results of this poll. First, he addresses what the term means noting that, after the left allowed conservatives to turn "liberal" into a slur, "progressive" has replaced "liberal." Essentially, "progressive" has been a political faction’s attempt at re-branding in this country.




Resnikoff looks at how progressives have failed to define what a "progressive" is and suggests asking what is a "liberal" in order to gain some insight into what a progressive’s worldview happens to be. He highlights the modern conservative movement’s ability to articulate their worldview and how progressives have quite often been "a morass of factions and interests that sometimes work in harmony and often don’t. A ragtag group that can never seem to find a consistent frame for the policy proposals it puts forth."




Glenn Beck and President Obama, as Resnikoff also points out, have offered definitions of the progressive worldview. Beck’s definition of the progressive worldview is unfortunately, for those wishing to become informed, much easier to find than Obama’s definition (that’s likely because he hasn’t talked specifically of progressivism in any interviews or speeches).




Beck thinks, "Progressivism is a cancer in America" and "it is meant to eat our Constitution." Beck delights in offering his own version of the history of progressivism in America and never hesitates to set his sights on President Woodrow Wilson and the progressive ideas he believed in.




This could be part of the reason progressivism has failed. Those who articulate and explain what progressivism is often have as much of an idea of what progressivism is as the people who have no idea what the label "progressive" means. Also, there’s a tendency for people like Hillary Clinton to anoint themselves with the label "progressive," which masks real views and can be confusing because it appears progressive just means a willingness to support progress and move forward; to a certain extent, that is progressivism but really it’s a lot more than that.




The Center for American Progress (CAP), a progressive think tank, has published reports on "The Progressive Tradition in American Politics" seeking to articulate the originations of the progressive worldview in America. This report points to the slow transformation of Woodrow Wilson into a national progressive president as what "solidified progressivism within the Democratic Party." CAP also notes that "the most distinctive progressive faction" happened to be "within the Republican Party and most fiercely advocated by prominent voices such as Theodore Roosevelt and Robert La Follette of Wisconsin. (Both Roosevelt and La Follette formed outside Progressive Parties to promote progressive ideas after failing to transform the Republican Party from inside.)




CAP claims (in the above cited report) progressives were responsible for: the 8-hour work day and 40-hour work week, civil service tests to replace political patronage, worker’s compensation for on-the-job accidents, national supervision of banks and the creation of a flexiblenational currency, unemployment insurance, regulation of the securities industry, prohibitions against child labor and workplace exploitations, federal insurance of bank deposits, the legal right of people to organize within labor unions and engage in, bans on speculative banking practices collective bargaining for fair wages and benefits, the constitutional right to vote, full legal equality, and the elimination, refinancing and foreclosure protections for home and farm owners of formal discrimination for women and minorities, national infrastructure including electrification, railways, airports, the graduated income and inheritance tax bridges and roads, and the Internet, protections against contaminated food and medicines, Social Security and Medicare to aid the elderly and Medicaid and CHIP to help low-income families and children, hundreds of millions of acres of protected wilderness areas, waterways, minimum wage laws and income support for the working poor and national parks, antimonopoly and anticompetitive regulations of corporations, public education, college loans and grants for students, and the GI Bill, direct elections of U.S. senators, direct primary elections of political candidates, and the initiative and referendum process in the states.




With a list like that, it’s not hard to figure out what a progressive might stand for: workers’ rights, unions, bank regulations, social programs, equality, the building and re-building of infrastructure, economic protections, antitrust laws and the abolition of corporate personhood, and the strengthening of democracy.




Ask yourself: How many of those issues do you hear Democratic Party members discussing openly? What in that list is taboo to the interests and campaigns of Democratic Party politicians either because they fear Republicans will out-message them or they will alienate interests they must court in order to be re-elected?




If that’s what progressives stand for, then progressives should be ready and willing to go out and sell their visions for the future to the people of America. According to an April 2010 Gallup poll, support for regulating Wall Street banks was at 50%.A poll conducted as part of Gallup’s annual Work and Education survey in August of 2009 found that "48% of Americans now approving of unions" (and while that represented the first sub-50% approval since Gallup first asked the question in the 1930s" that could easily be reversed if there was more defense of unions in this country by political leaders).A 2009 New York Times/CBS poll found that "59% [of Americans] say the government should provide national health insurance, including 49% who say such insurance should cover all medical problems."




Social Security continues to enjoy wide support (although President George W. Bush’s push to privatize Social Security four years ago planted doubts in the minds of younger people). Another Gallup poll conducted in 2009 found 68% of Americans think major corporations should have less influence in this nation.A Pew Research Center poll from 2007 found a surge in support for the social safety net with 57% saying they were in favor of helping more needy even if debt would increase. (Interestingly, the poll found 48% of all conservatives were willing to accept deficit spending to help those who could not help themselves.).




In the face of conservative, libertarian, and free enterprise/free market think tank campaigns perpetuated through media and by the politicians of this country, the levels of support for "progressive" ideas and programs, which progressives started, is still high. Those who believe in these "progressive" ideals now need to speak to Americans about progressivism in a way that will lead them to support such a democratic, socially responsible, and much more egalitarian agenda.




A big problem is Democrats’ failure to connect the reality they and others are experiencing to the reality the Obama Administration is perpetuating. Gallup published a poll on July 16th that showed Democrats’ score on Gallup’s Economic Confidence Index at -14 (down from -3 in June and +3 in April) yet no "meaningful change" in approval of President Obama. Such a disconnect may be conscious to Democrats — perhaps, deep down they no longer wholeheartedly support Obama but say so publicly to not get lumped in with Tea Partiers. Whatever the case may be, progressivism cannot become more understood and rise in popularity and support if what the Obama Administration has done or failed to do is not connected to the situations we all face in society today.




Progressivism has likely failed because of fears that pushing progressivism may result in debate that tarnishes "brand Obama," a brand that managed to excite the grassroots without diminishing the possibility of influence and support from boardrooms and American CEOs (who Democrats depend on for re-election). Much of the left still cling to a belief that, despite his inability to incorporate progressive agenda items into legislation, Obama is still can bring real progressive change to the country.




Robert Scheer, Truthdig editor-in-chief and journalist, said in a Live Chat last week, "criticism of the president will only strengthen [the Obama Administration] if it comes from the grass roots and the people around him have to deliver to the people who vote."




That Americans are not supportive of progressivism is largely a conjured up fear to excuse a failure to advance a progressive agenda and win support from Democratic Party leaders for progressive change. The American people support progressive ideas. They just need real progressive leadership that, independently from Democratic Party interests, promotes a vision and future where these progressive ideas are indeed viable and practical.


Future of Public Option Depends on What Happens to Support for Single Payer

8:17 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

HCAN Rally at Chicago Aetna Headquarters | Feb. 16, 2009


In order to continue to tug health care in a more humane and less corporate direction, Americans should continue to stand up and speak out in favor of single-payer health care. The very future of the so-called public option and/or Rep. Alan Grayson’s "Medicare You Can Buy Into Act" depends on people who are willing to take a position for real healthcare for all, a system that does not work within the context of a for-profit system.


Jane Hamsher of Firedoglake and David Sirota, author of The Uprising: An Unauthorized Tour of the Populist Revolt Scaring Wall Street and Washington, are still working to keep the movement for a public option alive by delivering petitions to Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado.


 Hamsher and Sirota are looking to force Sen. Bennet to offer an amendment including the public option when the Senate is in the process of adding "fixes" to the bill. And, since Sen. Bennet has a primary challenger who is also publicly stating he is for the public option, Hamsher and Sirota are making it possible for voters to apply pressure on the primary so Bennet might take action.


John Nichols, writer for The Nation, is already calling for a "reform of the reform." Suggesting there were "practical and political reasons" for supporting the recent health bill signed by Obama on Tuesday and that passage was part of a process, Nichols now hopes people will come together to build a "Medicare for All" framework around a core principle–that "everybody should have some basic security when it comes to their health"–which Obama declared the health reform enshrined in America.


The problem with continued willingness to support the public option is that it has the potential to be driven by people who misunderstand what just happened here. Facts and figures never suggested the public option was better than single-payer or that would reasonably improve the health care system. The public option was a market-based proposal that promoted the idea that if government competed in the health care market than costs for healthcare would go down.


Such a belief was and still is questionable.So, a few questions need to be asked before pressing on with campaigns for healthcare.


First, what happened? What passed? What did the bill reform?


Second, what did the movement for Medicare for All do already to try and get 51 senators and a majority of the House to support real healthcare reform even as the Obama Administration was compromising on healthcare with unyielding Republicans and forcing weak progressives to fall in line with the intention of ending the reform process soon?


Third, if Americans were unable to gain momentum or enough support for a public option (or a state single payer amendment), what makes one think the public option is going anywhere now that the health reform process is coming to an end?


"A Victory for Capitalism"


Despite the reports from the GOP and Tea Party groups, a socialist 9/11 that allows an Antichrist Obama to advance support for his extreme Muslim Stalinist beliefs even further did not occur. Really, what happened is insurance companies won at the expense of American taxpayers.


In the same article where Nichols calls for the recent health legislation to be reform, Nichols cites the Physicians for a National Health Care Program’s (PNHP) assessment of the bill.


PNHP notes that 23 million will remain uninsured nine years out meaning an estimated 23,000 unnecessary deaths could occur, millions of middle income people will be pressured to buy commercial health insurance costing up to 9.5 percent of their income which covers an average of 70 percent of their medical expenses, and $447 billion in taxpayer money will be given to insurance companies to subsidize and enhance their power to influence future health reform legislation.


Additionally, as with Massachusetts, PNHP further notes health care costs will continue to skyrocket, celebrated insurance regulations like ending denials on basis of pre-existing conditions will suffer from major loopholes since insurance companies helped craft the legislation, and women’s reproductive rights will be further eroded.


Michael Moore, director of Sicko and outspoken advocate for a Medicare for All system in America, said on Democracy Now! after the bill passed. He highlighted the fact that Americans will now be required to purchase insurance from insurance companies:


"the private insurance companies are still the ones in charge. They’re still going to call the shots. And if anything, they’ve just been given another big handout by the government by guaranteeing customers. I mean, this is really kind of crazy when you think about it. Imagine Congress passing a law that required every person to buy–I mean, name any product–or watch my next movie. There’s a law that says now that you have to buy a DVD of every Michael Moore film. Woohoo! It’s like, hey, not a bad idea! I mean, I don’t know why–that’s what I’m saying. I don’t know why they’re so upset this week, because this bill is going to line their pockets to an even greater extent""


Moore added: 


"…in the long run, at least 15 million Americans are still not going to have health insurance. And as you said, those who have it are going to be forced to buy a defective product. And trust me on this one thing: the insurance companies, they’re not going to go quietly into the night on this, even though they lost. They’re going to find ways to trick up the system to get around it, to raise premiums. 


It’s not going to be as easy as it sounds. "Oh, you’ve got a pre-existing condition. No problem." Well, not exactly "no problem." You know, the so-called controls that this bill puts on them are Mickey Mouse. For instance, if they deny you health insurance–let’s say Aetna won’t give you health insurance because you have a pre-existing condition, and you say to them, "Hey, wait a minute. That’s against the law." And they’re going to go, "Whoa, yeah. Sue me." Because you know what the fine is, the fine for them for denying somebody because they have a pre-existing condition? One hundred dollars a day. So if you’re Aetna, and you’ve got a patient who maybe needs, you know, a $100,000 operation, what would you do? Would you pay out the $100,000 operation because the law says you have to? Or do you break the law but just get a $100-a-day fine? Because, let’s see, after a year that would be $36,500 versus a $100,000 operation. Gee, I wonder which one Aetna’s going to go for. And of course, they could just hope against hope that within a year the person without the operation might be dead, so they won’t have to be worrying about shelling out any more money to a doctor or to a hospital." [emphasis added]


Stack up Michael Moore’s claims against the information given by the Kaiser Family Foundation. It will probably be tough to disprove what Moore says, and if you do prove him wrong, that’s to the American people’s advantage. Also, take a look at this fact sheet Firedoglake put together before the vote on Sunday.


A Year Spent Asking for Too Much, Being Too Idealistic


A single-payer movement valiantly tried to organize the grassroots to support Medicare for All. Like any progressive issue, the principles of the movement ultimately divided support for health reform into two camps–one for Medicare for All and one for a weak public option they thought they might be able to get.


Health Care for America Now (HCAN),,, Howard Dean, etc. hedged their bets. And, let’s be honest–they lost because the health reform bill does not have a robust or weak public option.


The single-payer movement tried to offer up a dose of reality. For, example, Nicholas Skala, former research associate for PNHP, was asked to speak to the Congressional Progressive Caucus on the idea of a Medicare for All system (single-payer). He explained the difference between the public option and Medicare for All.


"Millions of dollars have been spent by political advocacy groups to commission polls and statistics "proving" that their health reform is "politically feasible." Yet political winds do not make good health policy. Careful examination of science and experience do. And it is in the science and experience that we see that single-payer offers the only way to truly comprehensive, universal and sustainable health care, and that "public option" schemes offer only more of the same: tens of millions of uninsured, rapidly deteriorating coverage, an epidemic of medical bankruptcy, and skyrocketing costs that will eventually cripple the system. 

First, because the "public option" is built around the retention of private insurance companies, it is unable – in contrast to single-payer – to recapture the $400 billion in administrative waste that private insurers currently generate in their drive to fight claims, issue denials and screen out the sick. A single-payer system would redirect these huge savings back into the system, requiring no net increase in health spending.

In contrast, the "public option" will require huge new sources of revenue, currently estimated at around $1 trillion over the next decade. Rather than cutting this bloat, the public option adds yet another layer of useless and complicated bureaucracy in the form of an "exchange," which serves no useful function other than to police and broker private insurance companies. 

Second, because the "public option" fails to contain the cost control mechanism inherent in single-payer, such as global budgeting, bulk purchasing and planned capital expenditures, any gains in coverage will quickly be erased as costs skyrocket and government is forced to choose between raising revenue and cutting benefits.

Third, because of this inability to control costs or realize administrative savings, the coverage and benefits that can be offered will be of the same type currently offered by private carriers, which cause millions of insured Americans to go without needed care due to costs and have led to an epidemic of medical bankruptcies.

Supporters of incremental reform once again promise us universal coverage without structural reform, but we’ve heard this promise dozens of times before.

Virtually all of the reforms being floated by President Obama and other centrist Democrats have been tried, and have failed repeatedly. Plans that combined mandates to purchase coverage with Medicaid expansions fell apart in Massachusetts (1988), Oregon (1992), and Washington state (1993); the latest iteration (Massachusetts, 2006) is already stumbling, with uninsurance again rising and costs soaring. Tennessee’s experiment with a massive Medicaid expansion and a public plan option worked – for one year, until rising costs sank it."


Talk with progressives in Congress fell on deaf ears, unfortunately. The public option successfully distracted those for reform. In fact, the same problems that affect and impact elections decimated the movement for real reform. That is, individuals chose the most "electable" health policy, the one that politicians were most likely to support and exploit to their advantage during their re-election campaign, and abandoned single-payer.


Again, those who chose to not follow the facts and figures and push for single-payer lost. They did not get a public option.


Advocates for single-payer applied pressure on the process. The Baucus 8 were arrested on May 5th for challenging Sen. Max Baucus’ exclusion of single-payer from the debate on health care reform.


In October, the Mobilization for Healthcare for All (a coalition of groups for single-payer) began staging acts of civil disobedience in offices of insurance companies and offices of senators and representatives getting in the way of health reform. Doctors and nurses participated in these actions.


The Mad as Hell Doctorsled a tour across the nation to create attention for a Medicare for All system in this country. And, Dr. Margaret Flowers of PNHP became a lightning rod for the movement for real healthcare reform especially after appearing in an edition ofBill Moyers Journal in February of this year.


The single-payer movement never let up–never succumbed to the stigmatism that Democrats were trying to attach to it as they suggested they might, like Kucinich, be trying to "Nader" health reform. (The impetus being that Nader helped elect Bush and the movement might help Republicans defeat healthcare and possibly Obama in 2012 if they don’t abandon their principled stance on healthcare.)


The longer the process wore on, the more people abandoned their vocal support for a Medicare for All system. The Congressional Progressive Caucus and the Congressional Black Caucus abandoned the single-payer movement when they had the best chance to get Medicare for All through. Senators except for Sen. Bernie Sanders and maybe a few others did virtually nothing to get single-payer a hearing in the Senate.


In November 2009, when a version of health reform first passed in the House, Jane Hamsher rightfully challenged Rep. Dennis Kucinich on the fact that no bloc of Democrats organized to block a vote on legislation that didn’t include anything single-payer. In contrast, Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats organized to block the legislation from passing if it didn’t have (or lack) certain measures or policies.


Democrats with Low Expectations Ask, "Won’t the Public Option Delay Reform Even More?"


So, to the third question — what makes anyone think the "public option" is going anywhere, what do we do next, and why should we even be calling for a "public option" now that the process has come to an end?


Interests who have won big in the fight for healthcare tugged the bill in the direction they wanted healthcare to go as much as they possibly could. That’s why the "end-of-life provision" that launched Sarah Palin’s tour against "death panels" was dropped.


Republican cries of a socialist takeover of health care were given credence. Democrats didn’t want to impact or negatively affect the insurance companies whose greedy practices spurred health reform in the first place.That’s why theMedicare buy-in provisiondidn’t win support and why the public option was not in the landmark bill.


Provisions were dropped that would have benefited the LGBT community and Republicans forced Obama and Democrats to make it explicitly apparent that women would not be able to have control over their uterus after health care passed; insurance companies and the government could still prevent women from getting abortions.


Why all these victories for Republicans and conservative Democrats? Well, part of it is the framework. Obama never took discussion of healthcare out of the for-profit context this country currently operates under. So, everything was about the market and how the market could correct healthcare and talk never centered around making health care a public good.


Additionally, the Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats (conservative Democrats) never indicated they would compromise. Progressives did. Supporters for single-payer did. And when they didn’t have the votes, they didn’t have the guts to continue their support for single-payer so the public could see how Republicans and Blue Dogs were protecting the well being of insurance and pharmaceutical companies at the expense of consumers or citizens in this country.


Again, during October 2009, doctors and nurses from all over the nation were recruited by the Mobilization for Healthcare for All to engage in acts of civil disobedience in insurance companies. At the end of October, Matt Hendrickson, a doctor, risked arrest at a Cigna Office near Los Angeles.


Hendrickson said in an interview prior to the arrest, "The reason why the public option was introduced, according to congress people that have spoken to the single-payer movement, was because of the single-payer movement…There was such an upswell [by progressives] for single-payer that [leaders] opted for some compromise that would not have been given if there wasn’t so much support for single-payer."


The single-payer movement is why Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif), co-chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus indicated she would "introduce a robust public option bill [in the House] on the very day the president signs the reconciliation bill into law."


Supporting the public option now will at best lead political leaders into a battle that will result in a compromise where we get a few more tiny reforms that could have been passed into law at anytime. Therefore, all public option supporters should consider upgrading their support for the public option to support for Medicare for All (and at the very least the Medicare buy-in being promoted by Rep. Alan Grayson).




Reform will get closer to being the kind of reform this country needs when progressives are willing to take uncomfortable positions that put the politicians they think they have to vote for or else in positions where they have to support the uncomfortable position progressives are taking in order to win.


The health care policies America needs will be enacted when people are more concerned with the policies on the table and less concerned about the future of political leaders who might lose if they support the change they believe in.


Change that is not just cosmetic–that is not just a political but a social victory for Americans–will happen when people take unreasonable positions and get into uncomfortable conversations because, like past issues involving slavery, inequality, and poverty, they believe America has a moral imperative to provide security through healthcare to all of its citizens like other industrial democracies do.


The single-payer movement can provide a home for people willing to take these positions. The movement which fought hard over the past year can help take on bought and paid for politicians, media misinformation and disinformation on healthcare, and cynicism among progressives and Democrats who do not believe America could one day have a not-for-profit healthcare system.


And, to those who wish for a public option, join the ongoing fight for single payer. You just might get the pragmatists to compromise and pass a public option.

Passed Health Reform Really is “What Change Looks Like”

11:44 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

President Obama at Organizing for America Health Forum in August 2009 | Flickr Photo by Barack Obama


America finally made it. On Sunday night, a health care reconciliation bill with student loan reforms attached passed in the House and Senate with a 219-212 vote and President Obama came out to make a statement and declare "government still works for the people."


Obama added, "We proved that we are still a people capable of doing big things." He stated proudly, "This is what change looks like."


The president was correct when he said that. Unfortunately, this is indeed what change looks like.


The beginning, middle, and end of this process leaves an indelible mark in the records and provides an example of what any meaningful reforms or proposed radical changes dealing with issues will face in the future.


The finish shows us all that in the closing moments of a process, which could ultimately be derailed, those with the most idealism and passion for humanity will be persuaded, cajoled, pressured, and browbeaten until they fall into line and vote for a corporate interpretation of reform Americans are told to believe is for the people.


It shows us that Democratic senators and representatives with amendments and additional policy suggestions who come ready to address populist fears of a corporate giveaway will be told to sit down, shut up and get out of the way so that incremental reform can get through, so that fears based on religious doctrine (e.g. abortion) can be attended to instead.


The process demonstrates that minority groups will be forced to make a sacrifice. When politicians are incapable of framing the debate in a way that upholds humanity, women, working class people, immigrants, the poor, etc will suffer and see the expansive nature of the reform or proposed policy change greatly reduced.


In America’s two party system, Americans now know the minority party or the party directly opposed to the president will do everything it can to stop the reform from passing, not because reform isn’t needed but because reform means the party that holds power will increase their power in the coming elections.


Opposition will dominate the conversation and debate. A media echo chamber will spread opposition talking points and pundits will reinforce this opposition through months of cable news programming.


Angry populist groups will rise up in the beginning of the process. Jostling for attention, they will find some way to make a mark and rise up as a key player in the political process.


The groups could potentially look at a wide array of beverages and research history for beverages that might have some link to the history of patriotism and revolution in America. The group might even take an urban dictionary reference like "teabagging" and appropriate the term as something to describe their attempt to kill the reform.


The party pushing for reform will note the fears of the opposition and cater to those fears even if they do not publicly believe the fears to be valid. The legislation will gel and be molded into a shape that the party pushing for reform hopes will decrease the amount of noise being created against the change. But, this will not win any support from the opposition.


Corporate media will promote opposition to maintain so-called objectivity, but only certain opposition. Nuanced opposition–the groups that promote going further than the current reform or taking a fundamentally different approach–will be written off.


Such nuanced opposition will look at past civil rights movements and stage sit-ins or other forms of nonviolent direct action to gain some press and attention for their cause. They will hold rallies just like those who oppose the reform do, but these actions will not receive much attention from the media. Suggesting one is in favor of the change but opposed to the framework for the debate and the bill being voted on will earn virtually no attention.


Corporations and special interest groups will get out in front of attempts to reform making sure they are taken care of first and foremost. At the expense of the people, they will receive pledges and gifts, offer provisions or sections to be included in the bill, and dine with and lobby those in the White House and on Capitol Hill to ensure that any reform considers their well-being first and foremost and ensures they play a role in the policy change.


It’s virtually guaranteed the American people will learn something about government. But, it’s also a given that Americans will become even more certain of the fact that they must compromise, they must have low expectations, and they must not "make the enemy the perfect of the good," which means any principles they wish to stand by will ultimately need to be sacrificed so some type of something can be completed.


Reform will likely come in the context of a for-profit system and not within the context of a framework for supporting the public good.Talk of strengthening the public may be used to seal the deal and sell reform to the American people but putting the people first and sidelining companies or corporations responsible for spurring the need for reform will most definitely not take place.


Different measures will be cobbled together and packaged with additional elements tacked on and slipped in. Political leaders will receive payments for votes that come in the form of political pork for their district. And, many of the measures and elements will not take effect for two, three, five, or almost ten years.


Government and the fact that it could provide certain services will be attacked as scared Americans cry out against "socialism," "takeovers," "affront[s] to God," and any other hyperbolic paranoid term or phrase they can write on their hand for speeches at rallies which will most certainly air on channels Americans can count on to provide fair and balanced news.


And, in the end, all political leaders will congratulate themselves and hope all Americans believe they actually did something meaningful to take care of the issue. The reform that finally passes will be called "landmark" and leaders on Capitol Hill will relish the fact that they are done. Finished, this will be the last time before they get re-elected again that they make any attempt to work on any legislation, which might be meaningful or interesting to the American people or which might potentially have a negative impact on them in their upcoming re-election.


This is what Americans can expect to happen when those in Washington try to bring about reforms that deal with issues. It is not necessarily what Americans should accept.


The process for health reform strengthened the control cynical idealists have over campaigns for change in this country. But, that does not mean we Americans have to allow others to continue to suffocate political conversation with narrow debates and lowered expectations.


The president will sign this change into law in the next week and give Americans the hope that health care will get better in the not-so-distant future.


There is no doubt that Democrats passed this now so they could wrap this up and hit the campaign trail for the 2010 midterm elections. They wanted to push this through so they could have something to run on and they were willing to get anything that could be called health reform passed now.


Chris Hedges wrote on the passage, "This bill is not about fiscal responsibility or the common good. The bill is about increasing corporate profit at taxpayer expense. It is the health industry’s version of the Wall Street bailout. It lavishes hundreds of billions in government subsidies on insurance and drug companies."


So, this is far from being a bill that establishes a civil right in America. It requires Americans to purchase private insurance from the same companies that created the problems that led Congress to open up discussion on reform in the first place.


As I understand civil rights, they are fought for and claimed by citizens, not forced upon them. Women and blacks were never forced to vote; they fought and won the right. So, those who wish for this to become a civil right should challenge this idea that this bill establishes a civil right.   


How Americans understand this moment is critical. It is not wrong to harbor doubt nor is it wrong to not feel jubilant or cheerful about the passage of reform.


Take note of the fact that government is capable of passing legislation. If you have to, rejoice that politicians did what all Americans should expect politicians to do. But, more importantly, pledge to not let this be what you settle for.


Keep the conversation on healthcare as a human right going even when there are no longer Tea Party rallies with people waving signs and making outrageous comments that appall you, make you laugh hysterically, and force you to come to grips with the state of politics in American society.

With Change, Americans Shouldn’t Make the Enemy the Good of the Perfect

7:26 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola


Flickr photo by Steve Rhodes


A lot of individuals keep telling me not to make the perfect the enemy of the good. I’m being told that when it comes to health care we cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good. This means that incremental change or reform is what we must accept.

Through experience with several issues, I think this is where many Americans are at when it comes to America’s political process. They think that incrementalism or pragmatism should be the way. They hold up Obama, Clinton, and past people who have passed "reforms" to suggest that we cannot make the perfect the enemy of the good on many issues: the Afghanistan War, bank bailouts, etc.

But, I think far too many are sorely confused. The words of this overused idiom should be rearranged.

No, it shouldn’t be don’t let the perfect be the good of the enemy. That doesn’t make sense. That would be like if in health care we established a single-payer healthcare system that benefited private insurance and pharmaceutical companies. We don’t want that but most Obama supporters and Democratic Party apologists right now would probably be for that because it is a compromise and progressives love to talk about "the way things work" in Washington and tell people what Americans can and cannot have and if we ever had single payer, they would probably suggest we have corporations run it so we can, in fact, get "single-payer."

It shouldn’t be don’t make the good the perfect of the enemy either. We will never convince Big Pharma, insurance companies, or some of these health care special interest groups or lobbying organizations that there is any reason to give up the profits they are enjoying in this lucrative for-profit sick care non-system they participate in on a daily basis.

You can’t ask a born-again Christian to give up Jesus Christ. He derives his whole existence and purpose in life from Jesus and so do these people whose very lives depend on squeezing out the most money possible from poor, working class, middle class, and, most importantly, old people and young people who are on their way out of or on their way into a system of terrible inequities.

They love to weigh old people down with debt as they are about to leave this world and they love to weigh young people down and turn them into corporate slaves as they enter the world and come to think of it they just want people to be in debt so people have to pay them on a weekly or monthly basis for years and years and they hope people never get healthy because where’s the profit in that?

The line on every American’s mind should be we should not make the enemy the good of the perfect. And, by that, we should make sure that any reform, plan for change, or answer to any single problem being promoted in society doesn’t give a role to the very thing that created the problem in the first place.

So, with health care, for-profit insurance or pharmaceutical companies shouldn’t be given the chance to be a savior when they have spent decades proving they will always be more interested in profit care and not patient care. Yet, Americans including progressives are willing to let health reform provide a bright future for for-profit health care companies, willing to let Congress and Obama shower them with millions in subsidies and even let them enslave consumers by letting them force consumers to purchase private insurance under penalty of law.

When it comes to the banks, Americans too often allow the fox to guard the henhouse. Or, as I like to say, they let the terrorists run the Homeland Security checkpoint.

Matt Taibbi wrote about how Obama packed his "economic team with Wall Street insiders intent on turning the bailout into an all-out giveaway." He wrote about how Obama replaced those who had been emphasizing populism during the campaign but were replaced with "a group of Wall Street bankers."

Obama, Taibbi points out, chose to build his team around the one person most responsible for the economic turmoil experienced in 2008—Bob Rubin. Rubin’s history with Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, or the Hamilton Project, a think tank he led to promote his philosophy of balanced budgets, free trade, and financial deregulation, didn’t send off signals to Obama to keep him out. Neither did the fact that he was a driving force behind the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act or the deregulation of the derivatives market bother Obama.

And, with Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal is leading the newly ignited Obama "surge." The man who some call "the Pope", who shares close connections with Gen. David Petraeus who was President George W. Bush’s guy for keeping the Iraq War going and promoting it to the public, is in charge.

Gen. McChrystal allegedly witnessed torture and refused to let the Red Cross into the military prison Camp Nama (which stands for Nasty-Ass Military Area), a conscious violation of the Geneva Conventions. He also played a role in covering up what really happened to Pat Tillman when he died and he typically chooses military action over counterinsurgency operations, which are tactically less brutal (although all war or conflict is brutal).

Americans have acquiesced and agreed to support a strategy for ending a war in Afghanistan that involves escalating the war to ultimately withdraw at some point in some amount of years that has been stated but altered by individuals in the higher-ups of government who have the power to change and alter these terms for withdrawal as they please even if they make pledges that the people usually expect they will keep.

Surges, McChrystals, Rubins, bailouts, the individual mandate, a market-based approaches to health reform, Big Pharma, HMOs, etc all have one thing in common — They are included by Obama and Democrats who think they should play a role in solutions to problems which they played a huge part in creating.

All perpetuate the problem that got America to a point where political leaders were seeking to make "change" in the first place.

They make the enemy the good of the perfect. And, Americans need to ask themselves:

When it comes to making change, wouldn’t it be nice to just reform some of these damn things and be done? Or do we have some self-interest in watching political farces play out on issues like Afghanistan, banker bailouts, health care, Iraq, the war on terror, torture, etc for decades until we finally can’t take it anymore, give up, pull the plug, and exit this world?

We are not career politicians. We will not be signing book deals or be making appearances on Jay Leno or David Letterman or Jon Stewart. We will not be holding fundraising dinners or be taking donations from lobbyists who have special interests (although if anyone has a special interest in padding my bank account, I will gladly take money).

We do not have an image or a brand we need to keep pure and untainted so we shouldn’t temper our energy or zeal when fighting for real change that goes to the root of the problem and fixes that problem.

We are citizens first and foremost, therefore, our approach to change or reform will be and must be radically different from our political leaders.

So, the next time you are told you are making the perfect the enemy of the good look at that person and say, "At least I’m not making the enemy the good of the perfect."