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Monday, November 20, 2017

MEDICARE FOR ALL-HARD HEADED ECONOMICS, SOFT HEARTED POLICY



                                       


We’ve all seen it: You walk into a convenience store and there on the counter, taped to a jar, is the photo of a child. Scrawled on the picture is an appeal to leave your change to finance a bone marrow transplant or some other treatment the child’s family cannot afford. Or maybe you can help the victim of a fire or accident by buying a pizza on the night that one dollar per sale goes to her medical expenses.  Do you feel good about being able to help, or are you outraged that these families have to beg for desperately needed assistance?

If you don’t feel guilty passing up such chances to help, perhaps it is because you realize the ultimate futility of such appeals. But if you don’t support doing something about it, you should feel guilty. These are neighbors in need. We can turn away from them now, but what happens when we need medical care we cannot afford?

Chances are, you don’t have enough insurance to keep from going bankrupt if you get an illness or injury requiring expensive treatment. 60% of bankruptcies are due to medical bills, and 75% of those undergoing medical bankruptcy are insured.  In other words, simply having insurance isn’t enough if you can’t afford to use it, or if you use it and go broke anyway.  Medical bankruptcies are unheard of in other developed countries. There, risk sharing through universal health care prevents the unlucky families who most need help from having financial ruin added to their burden. Everyone contributes to the system so that none need go without care when it is needed.

Aside from the humanitarian issue of having nearly 30 million Americans uninsured, most of whom are the working poor, there are many practical advantages to universal health care. When access to care is not tied to employment, it is much easier to change jobs. People are free to work where they want instead of keeping a job with medical benefits that doesn’t otherwise fit their needs. If they want to start their own business, they don’t have to worry about losing it due to unexpected illness or injury. Businesses are more competitive with overseas competitors when they do not have to pay extortionate rates for insurance and instead, have predictable costs.  These costs are significantly less in countries with universal health care than they are in the American system of access through for-profit medical insurance.

The financial benefits of universal health care are well known, but since some continue to claim that we cannot afford it in the US, it bears repeating: Other countries provide universal, comprehensive care for as little as half the amount per person that we pay in the US for care that is full of gaps even for the insured.  While it’s not estimated that we will save that much under the plan recently introduced in Congress by Bernie Sanders, his proposal for an improved system of Medicare for All would provide comprehensive care to every American at less cost than the current system.

Such as system would have built-in cost controls lacking in the Affordable Care Act. Without such constraints, the system will ultimately become unsustainable due to the familiar “death spiral” of medical insurance:  As costs rise, fewer can afford it, leading to premium increases to maintain profits, which leads to fewer being able to afford it, thus causing a new cycle of price increases. Ultimately, most of us will not be able to afford insurance without the subsidies offered under Obamacare. These subsidies amount to a bailout of Wall Street investors in the insurance industry for the sole purpose of maintaining their profits. They add nothing of value to the system to justify their siphoning 30 cents out of every health care dollar, when Medicare overhead is less than a tenth of that.

When you understand the economics of universal health care, it is hard to argue that we cannot afford it. The question then becomes, do we really want to pay more for less care for ourselves and our loved ones, just to deny it to those we think may not be worthy?



This article first appeared in the News-Review (Roseburg, OR) on November 17, 2017.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

ALL WE NEED IS LOVE




                                           


When I was asked to speak to my local Unitarian Universalist congregation on a topic of my choosing, I opted to speak about how we are morally obligated to resist injustice in general and war  in particular. Since this blogsite is a political one, it may seem inappropriate to some that I am choosing to publish a sermon here, but I do not apologize. Anyone who objects to the invocation of a higher power in the universe is welcome to skip past such references here, but the message is otherwise universal and entirely consistent with the stated aims of Soldiers For Peace International. I hope that it will provide some thought for those who battle for justice out of anger, and who forget that anger is but a response to the pain we feel when we see the powerful prey on the meek.


In his first inaugural address, with the nation on the brink of civil war, Lincoln called on the nation to remember that regardless of our differences, we are all bound by common ideals. Pointing out that we had a choice to resolve our differences peacefully, he concluded with an appeal to listen to “the better angels of our nature.”  That’s a beautiful metaphor, but what does it imply?

I believe it refers to the fact that Man has two natures that are often in conflict: spiritual and animal. When we decide to act in a situation with moral implications, we always face a choice between satisfying our physical and psychological desires or acting according to the greater good. Lincoln was pointing out that the coming war was not inevitable. War is always a choice.

In deciding on our actions, most of us try to balance the two types of motivation, animal and spiritual. We want to serve our own interests, but not at the expense of doing harm. But how deeply do we consider the effects of our actions and just as importantly, our decisions not to act? We can’t all be saints, but I believe if our needs are met it is a moral imperative that we do what we can to align with our spiritual side. That requires consistent effort. While accepting our limitations, we must constantly strive to improve. We are all creatures of habit, but the absence of change is death. Therefore, we must make it a habit to question our actions as a means of growth.

This starts with questioning our motivations. The difference between the two forms of motivation, spiritual and animal, is not always clear. Rationalization is powerful and universal. For example, we may strongly believe that character is built by being self-reliant. Does this mean that caring for others actually harms them? Some say yes. Are they just justifying their desire to avoid paying taxes to provide a social safety net? After all, most would feel differently if someone close to them is afflicted. Until the question affects them personally, such people suppress their innate compassion. I believe that this community supports the right of each of us to health care, but how many of us are standing up for the innocent victims of war. What interest does turning away serve?

Rationalization is an unconscious process, so how do we decide what our motivation is and whose interest our actions or inaction serves? The key is to honestly consider where our self-interest lies, and put it aside when it conflicts with what is best for all.   Perhaps we avoid confronting the evil of war because its horror is too overwhelming. That would serve to ease our anxiety and avoid a sense of helplessness, but at the cost of our spiritual well-being.

Animal nature is not inherently bad.  It enables us to survive as individuals in hostile physical environments. However, it is our spiritual side that connects us to the wider universe, including that which is not seen. God, however we choose to define it, is within us as well as outside of us. I believe that though we often forget it, love is what connects us to each other and to the wider universe. We can call this universal, all-pervasive love the Holy Spirit.

Love is not physical, yet nothing is more powerful. Love is the one thing that could exist without its opposite, which is not hate but apathy. Unlike darkness, which cannot exist without light, universal love fills the emptiness of space. I believe that this is because it emanates from the Source of all creation. It is our substance, in the most elemental sense.  We cannot ever separate ourselves from that Source or from each other, though we can become insensible of the connection. That is what apathy is, willful blindness to our innate compassion.

Our beliefs do not define us. Our actions do. What we think we believe is self-identity, but it is what we do establishes the identity that others see. When our actions follow our beliefs, we are said to have integrity. If we never examine our beliefs, we do not see inconsistency between our various beliefs or between our beliefs and our actions. But we cannot honestly say we believe in something if we are acting contrary to that belief. For example, “Christians” who claim that life is sacred but support the death penalty clearly do not believe what they profess.

We choose what we want to believe, often without thinking. In a very real sense, we construct our own reality. That is why we have become divided by our belief systems. We must strive to remember that in truth, we are one even with those who seem to have nothing in common with us. We should try to persuade others in a loving manner, not in one that promotes anger and conflict.  Our goal should be to create a common reality that is true to the loving nature of our spiritual selves.

So, if we want to become more the person we want to be, we have to make decisions by looking at all choices, understanding our motivations, and deciding to act according to the beliefs we wish to define us, such as thinking that we are empathetic, engaged and altruistic.

We cannot allow superficial beliefs to guide us, if they conflict with our core beliefs. For example, many of us believe that capitalism is literally God’s gift to Man. That’s fine as far as it goes, but if we allow that belief to justify acting in ways that do not reflect our spiritual beliefs, we have to challenge those inconsistent beliefs. Again, only when we develop a coherent system of spiritual beliefs and allow them to determine our actions can we become the persons we want truly want to be.

If we consider ourselves spiritual and virtuous, how do our actions show it? Are individual acts of kindness enough? If so, then what of the suffering of those who are victims of the powerful?  The working poor in America have no access to affordable health care. Innocent civilians in targeted nations in the Mideast and throughout the world are victims of US aggression cloaked as “humanitarian” intervention in the name of liberty and security. These problems and many others are not unconnected. They result from moral choices that we make as individuals and as a society. As Franklin pointed out, if you sacrifice liberty for security, you will have neither. If we believe in the principle of self-rule, we have a duty to demand that our government serve the cause of liberty and justice for all.

We fought a war that was ultimately about ending the institution of legal slavery. Now we face the task of stopping our government from enslaving the human race through war and economic coercion. We are all paying the price for allowing our government to serve the selfish interests of the powerful. Whether we are victims of austerity measures at home or of endless war abroad; whether we are suffering from compassion overload or have become numb to our innate compassion, none of us are spared. 

Those of us who are comfortable have a duty to those who are not, both poor Americans and victims of US aggression around the world. Doing nothing is a choice, but those who make this choice should not try to excuse it by saying that they cannot make a difference. It is only their efforts that can. Good intentions are not enough. We cannot honestly call ourselves spiritual if we do not face the evil that our government is perpetrating in the name of “freedom” and “security” and demand justice.  Standing up for what is right often takes courage and sometimes requires sacrifice, but the only hope for humanity in these dark times is for those of us who understand that we are all part of an interdependent web of existence, bound inextricably together only as strongly as our love for each other.

Friday, September 2, 2016

THE REAL REASON SINGLE PAYER IS INEVITABLE




                                                                                         
                                                                               



                                                                                 
A recent Associated Press article by Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar outlined a number of problems with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that “are leading some to wonder whether “Obamacare” will go down as a failed experiment.” Paradoxically, news that Obamacare is in crisis should be encouraging for anyone who understands the economics of health care.  Until people heavily invested in defending it against unfair attacks see that it won’t work, they won’t understand the need to demand a health care system that will.

While it’s a shame that the number of uninsured will rise before the problem can be fixed, that is the inevitable cost of dismissing the only real solution to rising health care costs and decreasing access:  a single payer system. Robert Reich recently argued this, but he missed the main point. He was right that Obamacare has led to decreased competition as insurance companies consolidated and took over state markets, but this is not what will kill it.  The real reason was evident before the debate on health insurance reform began. It’s called the “death spiral” of health care costs.

The death spiral is simple to explain. The more health care costs rise, the fewer people can afford it. This leads insurers to increase premiums and deductibles in order to maintain profits, leading in turn to fewer people buying insurance, and the cycle repeats. A 2005 study published in American Family Physician projected that the average individual would pay 100% of her income for health care at then-current rates of inflation! This trend started before Obamacare. It was built into the system. It is the reason 45 million Americans were underinsured in 2008. It was the inescapable consequence of a system of private insurance.

Of course, no one will pay all of their income for medical insurance. Very few would pay half of that. However, that’s exactly what the AFP study predicted that would have been the average cost in 2015. That hasn’t happened, but it isn’t because Obamacare has decreased the rate of health care cost inflation. The relative stability of health care costs over the last few years started before ACA’s main provisions took effect, and the rate of inflation has picked up again, worse than before.

ACA manages to mask some of the astronomical cost of medical insurance by providing billions of tax dollars to prevent large premium subsidies for a significant segment of the market.  According to the AP article cited above, over 80% of Healthcare.gov customers get subsidies of about 70% of their premiums. That’s tax money going straight into private pockets for a “service” that adds nothing of value to the provision of health care. Obamacare was, more than anything else, a bailout of a failing Wall-Street owned medical insurance industry. The question is, at what point are Americans going to catch on and realize that pouring all that money into the system just to maintain shareholder profits is a fool’s game?

Obamacare only delays the day of reckoning for a system that is pricing itself out of existence.  If the ACA had not passed, it would be on the verge of collapse now. As it is, insurers are dropping out of exchanges due to unanticipated costs of meeting the standards of ACA that are hurting the bottom line, despite large rate increases as the major provisions of Obamacare kicked in. Rates for individual insurance outside the plan continue to rise by double digits. It’s so bad that the largest provider in Tennessee is requesting increases averaging 62%. In part because of uncontrolled costs, the ACA has also left 29 million uninsured. According to the Congressional Budget Office, that number is not expected to change much even if states currently resisting Medicaid expansion join the program.

There are many other major problems with Obamacare, almost all of which arise from the fact that it is insurance-based. For instance, subsidies still leave a 40 year old man earning $25,000 per year liable for up to $5000 in copays and deductibles. Such costs deter many from seeking needed care.  Those trying to minimize premiums, especially young, healthy adults, often opt for high-deductible plans that could leave them responsible for the first $10,000 in bills and a share of anything over that. In case of catastrophic illness or injury, almost anyone can end up bankrupt. Medical expenses are estimated to be the cause of 60% of bankruptcies. Single payer health insurance thus amounts to bankruptcy insurance as well. That is just one of many benefits of such systems, in addition to the fact that they can provide universal health care at a fraction of the cost of our current non-system.

It’s time to face the facts. Obamacare may have been the best that Democrats could produce, but it is not even close to a solution to the problem of rising costs and declining access to health care. There is no excuse for claiming that single payer is not possible, as Clinton has. To say this is an admission that it is impossible to address the corrupting influence of money in politics. That is not acceptable in a nation that claims to be a democracy. The vast majority of Democrats favor single payer. It’s time they stand up and demand it. Waiting until a Congress awash in Wall Street money to do it on its own is never going to work. We can wait for the system to collapse of its own dead weight, or we can work to make our members of Congress force a real debate on health care reform.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

THE ROAD TO WWIII IS PAVED WITH GOOD INTENTIONS





                                                                                




While Americans are justly concerned about the ongoing humanitarian disaster in Syria, they must be careful whose narrative they accept before deciding what we should do about it. Both sides have been responsible for civilian deaths and torture, but we are only being told one side of the story, and a distorted one at that. Though readily apparent to anyone who wants to look at the facts, the American role in the violence is never clearly spelled out. For instance, famous "humanitarian" Nicholas Kristof has been on the bandwagon arguing for US military intervention. It’s only right that the plight of Syrians he is highlighting should be put in proper perspective.

In his latest article, Kristof makes an emotionally powerful appeal for Obama to take in Syrian refugees. However, in doing so he compares the violence in Syria with the Nazi attempt to conquer the Western world. The truth is that the Syrian conflict, though often called a “civil war,” is actually a case of a sovereign nation defending itself against an invasion of foreign terrorists sponsored by the US, Saudi Arabia and their allies.

The US government claims the right to topple the government of Syria for its own purposes, regardless of the effect on the civilian population. The claim of “humanitarian intervention” is unjustified either by the facts or international law. The effort is being led by a known al Qaeda affiliate, a fact not well concealed by claims about a mythical “moderate rebel” faction. It makes no sense to blame the resulting carnage on a government that is defending its sovereignty against a ruthless and brutal enemy.

Kristof’s implied comparison of Assad to Hitler might be written off as a bad analogy, except that, almost as an afterthought, he chides Obama for not doing “more to end the slaughter.” Since taking in more refugees would do nothing to ease the conflict, he must be referring to his previous arguments for a no-fly zone (here and here).

“Establishing a no-fly zone” means attacking the Syrian military. That’s an act of war. Since neither we nor any NATO ally has been attacked by Syria, it would constitute another illegal war of aggression, much like Iraq. Vietnam might be a better comparison, since both involve baiting the targeted country, as the US did in the Gulf of Tonkin. There, as in Iraq, we went to war based on lies. Or perhaps Libya is the closest comparison, since the NATO attack on the Libyan people and government forces started with a no-fly zone. Although that war used the legal fig leaf of a UN resolution, a Syrian no-fly zone would not. Having been fooled into supporting one illegal NATO war, Russia and China will not support such a resolution again.  If NATO acts unilaterally, it will be even more blatantly illegal than the attack on Libya. The results would be at least as disastrous.

A major difference between Vietnam and Syria is that Russia has combat troops in Syria. An attack could be construed as an attack against Russia, which is legally in the country at the request of the Syrian government. The US recently threatened to do just that when the Syrian Army bombed separatist Kurdish forces, with which US Special Forces were illegally embedded.

Clinton and other neocons seem unconcerned with the possibility of sparking a war with a nuclear-armed power. They are calling for a no-fly zone or even more aggressive actions. Trump would be under intense pressure to abandon his no-regime-change position and do the same. No one in the foreign policy establishment appears willing or able to question the groupthink under which it is operating.

Few in Congress seem to understand that most of the official statements coming from the White House, the Pentagon, the State Department and the intelligence community reflect a distorted, one-sided view of the conflict that ignores the facts, international law and common sense. It’s our job to educate them and demand that the government attack the real roots of the terror in Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Israel and Washington itself.

Friday, July 15, 2016

THE WAR COMES HOME IN DALLAS





                                                     



 
In the endless discussion about the murder of five Dallas law enforcement officers, the most basic issue is being ignored. The shooting was not just a symptom of racism. While obviously a factor in events that day, racism and racial violence have always been present. However, expressing it by mass murder has not. This phenomenon may be related to the fact that mass shootings in general are becoming more common.  It is a measure of the extent to which violence has been normalized that few are seriously questioning why.
While many people think they have easy explanations for mass shootings, behavioral scientists have not been able to find evidence for a specific cause. Though some form of mental disturbance can be assumed, that does not explain the fact that these acts are increasing. The rising rate suggests sociological factors are involved. There is reason to think that a major one may be the militarization of US society in general.  These acts of mass violence, like combat and unlike most acts of individual violence, are impersonal in the sense that they are not typically directed toward specific identified individuals. This difference may help explain why mass killings are increasing while the rate of violent crime in general is falling.  In other words, it isn’t violence in general that is rising but indiscriminate, mass violence. Just like war.

It’s hard to deny that we are a militarized society. Police departments around the country have been given DOD weapons under a program justified by the “War on Terror.” At the same time, use and misuse of heavily armed SWAT teams has exploded, despite the drop in violent crime. Neither of these trends has been seriously challenged by government or the citizens it is supposed to represent. Black Lives Matter is dramatizing the racist police violence that has always been part of the African-American experience, even if new videos of police murders were not going viral every other week until now. Peaceful protests of these murders and other outrages are often treated as terrorist events, with paramilitary police conducting using intimidation, mass arrests and martial law in a preemptive fashion. It is hardly any wonder that citizens are perceived as the enemy by many officers. It is predictable that unstable individuals will see all law enforcement officers in the same way.

Think about it. Americans under the age of 18 cannot remember a time when the US was not at war. While the ostensible goal is to eliminate terror, it is obvious that terror has only increased. The millions of Americans who haven’t yet realized that the “War on Terror” is self-defeating seem to accept that endless war is inevitable. That should not be surprising, since most of us who are old enough to know better seem to have forgotten there was a time when it was assumed that wars would eventually end. Instead of growing anger at America’s increasingly belligerent foreign policy and all the misery it is creating, we passively accept the glorification of the US military. Professional sports and the corporate media constantly praise the military its members. Our children are being aggressively recruited before they are old enough to understand the risks of what they are agreeing to.  How can they know what they are volunteering for, when the media covers almost nothing about the reality of how the US military operates around the world, to say nothing about what the real aims of US foreign policy are?

The US has led or supported disastrous interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria while supporting a fascist government at war with its own people in Ukraine, backing a right wing Israeli government staging a brutal and illegal occupation opposed by a significant number of its citizens, and constantly agitating against Russia and Iran. No thinking person can believe that there is a logical end game planned except in the delusional minds of those Wall Street interests bent on global corporate domination, and they are not saying what that is.

Despite the chaos, destruction and cost in lives and treasure of US foreign policy, and even in the face of attempts at “political revolution” by both liberals and conservatives, there is little organized protest against the war industry and all it represents. Myopically focused on their personal circumstances, most Americans do not stop to think about what their government is doing to others around the world in their name.  How can we demand justice for Americans when we are so willing to deny it to people in other nations with no say in the decisions that are destroying their lives? Even if that were possible, we could have justice in the US when the national resources are so heavily invested in the destruction business.

War is considered normal in the US. There is little objection to a proposed war by members of whichever party occupies the White House at the time. When a Democrat is in office, almost no party regulars find reason to object to any war.  Although only defensive wars are legal, Americans largely got behind a “preemptive” war in Iraq. Even after that proved a disaster, they failed to protest the next wars, because American troops were not involved in large numbers.  Once the majority of the American public accepted that war was normal, the alarm over the escalating War of Terror and associated increasing abridgement of civil rights by Presidents of both parties was muted and soon, largely forgotten.  What politicians and the corporate media ignore are non-issues.

This blasé acceptance of violence on a global scale cannot help but have consequences for the individual American psyche. How much more true is that for veterans who have seen the reality of war? Most, motivated by economic desperation or misguided patriotism, have no idea what they have signed up for until they are “in the shit.” Killing, or seeing a close comrade killed in front of you, does horrific damage to the soul of normal humans. They cannot heal if they return to a society that has no real appreciation for their sacrifices, doesn’t care to ask if what they gave up their freedoms and risked their lives for was worth sacrificing for, and is largely ignorant of what they went through to “defend their freedoms.”

Reports of Micah Johnson’s military record focus only on his alleged sexual misconduct. Nothing is said about what he experienced in Afghanistan. Perhaps it doesn’t matter. He was clearly unstable, though he might be forgiven for seeing the violence against fellow African-Americans an issue of Black vs White or cop vs civilian in his mind. He was trained to think that way his whole life. If we really want to do something about the epidemic of random violence, we have to start thinking about our own willingness to divide humanity into “us” vs “them.” Once we realize it is only “us,” our duty is clear.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

THE REVOLUTION MUST TRANSCEND PARTISANSHIP




                                                                                         





In order to sustain the momentum that Sanders has built for a political revolution, we have to continue to attract new people to the cause, regardless of the outcome of the primary and general elections.  Should Sanders win, this will occur naturally as Clinton supporters grudgingly fall in behind him like the faithful party members they are. If he loses and Hillary goes on to win the general election, it will be much more difficult to convince Clintonites to join the effort. They are, after all, pretty much by definition willing to settle for whatever the party can give them. How else could they enthusiastically support someone who represents everything the other half of the party is revolting against?

They are also very angry that Sanders continues to use his campaign to criticize the party, which they see as irresponsible since it boosts chances of a Trump victory. As usual, supporters of the Democratic status quo want to blame those who refuse to go along for the results of their complacency.

It’s obvious that the division between Sanders supporters and Clinton backers is growing, even while the Democratic establishment is demanding that the party come together to prevent a Trump presidency. Clinton supporters are alarmed and angry that Bernie’s legions do not bow down defeated, or at least be grateful for a symbolic place at the table in July. After all, they would line up behind Sanders if he had beaten all odds and prevailed despite the systemic disadvantages he faced.  They cannot understand how any Democrat could consider not voting for anyone with a D after her name if it meant keeping a Republican out of the White House.

Given this simplistic view of politics, Clintonites conclude that Sanders supporters are just being unreasonable. They attribute the anger they are seeing to youthful naïveté, misogyny, or the fact that Sanders continues to express anger at the Democratic status quo. Only the latter argument has any serious basis, but only a blind partisan would argue that criticizing what the party has become is a bad thing. In fact, their failure to acknowledge the validity of Sanders’ critique is the real source of his supporters’ anger.

If Clinton’s advocates cannot be made to understand the central importance of Sanders’ challenge to the corruption of the system, we must look elsewhere to build a movement that continues when the Sanders campaign ends.  Should she prevail in November, it may actually be easier to recruit Trump followers to the cause than her supporters. Not being blinded by the corporate media spin on Wall Street’s darling, Trump’s fans may be more amenable than Clinton supporters to the idea of working together on issues on which most Americans agree.  Trump and Sanders supporters already have in common that they both reject the Duopoly leadership. Both are increasingly aware that Duopoly politicians are subservient to interests other than our own. Given the positions Trump has taken, it is clear that his supporters are not as ideological as progressives typically assume Republicans to be. If we can learn to stop thinking in partisan terms, we can find common cause on many issues. In addition to mutual contempt for the Duopoly establishment, there is widespread nonpartisan agreement many critical issues that Trump and Sanders support and on which Clinton’s record is at odds with public opinion.

It’s time to abandon the assumption that politics is a battle between fundamentally opposing forces of the right, represented by Republicans, and a left represented by Democrats.  This simplistic dichotomy is so deeply engrained in Clinton supporters that they cannot comprehend why Sanders and his supporters are challenging what the Democratic Party has become. Their identification with the party brand is so strong that many question whether an independent progressive like Sanders is a “real Democrat,” but fail to ask themselves how they define the term. They assume that any politician who calls herself one is, regardless of how much her neoliberal and neoconservative record resembles that of a typical Republican. For many such Democrats, the choice is not which candidate best represents them but whether that candidate can prevent the dreaded outcome of a Republican in the White House.  They consider themselves on “the left” simply by virtue of party membership.

In contrast, Trump supporters do not identify with the Republican Party, even if most are members. Among them are many who might be persuaded to consider the Sanders message, if their candidate does not win and they face four to eight years of Clinton. Sure, some are just attracted by racism and many by his willingness to say whatever foolish thought crosses his mind, but many Trump enthusiasts like some of the good ideas he claims to support. Many of his positions echo those of Sanders: opposing free trade, ending policies of regime change, mandating a living wage, restoring civil liberties, having a more balanced relationship with Israel and most importantly, campaign finance reform.  A great many people are impressed by the fact that Trump’s campaign is largely self-funded. True or not, they see this as evidence that he is not beholden to special interests. Those who think these issues are important are people who may be able to understand that “making America great again” has nothing to do with making it whiter and everything to do with ending corruption of government by special interests.

The average Trump booster may even be more ready for political revolution than some Sanders supporters. All of them firmly reject the Republican establishment, while many Sanders supporters are ready to vote for Clinton she wins the nomination, despite the fact that she stands for everything Sanders is fighting against. Those of us dedicated to bringing about political revolution know that it begins with challenging the corruption of the system. That starts by refusing to vote for any politician who is the clear choice of the same interests that back both Duopoly parties. Maverick status is another thing that Trump and Sanders share. If we stick to issues and not personalities, there is a chance that we can overcome the suspiciousness that the corporate media and politicians have deliberately created between us and work together toward the common goal of establishing representative government in the US.

It is the opposition to being led by politicians who put the interest of the economic elite over those of average Americans that should bind people from across the political spectrum in this common cause. When 80% of Americans have expressed opposition to Citizens United, it seems obvious that we should be able to work together to do something about it. That is exactly what the Sanders revolution is all about. If we want politicians to represent us, we have to stop applying ideological labels to ideas that can lead to solutions to problems that affect us all.  “Conservative” and “liberal” should be relative terms, not absolutes. If we don’t allow others define what we are supposed to believe, we can find that consensus necessary for true representative government.  If we can make it that far, we can then decide through the democratic process what kind of country we want to be.

Friday, May 13, 2016

BEYOND BERNIE: THE EVOLUTION OF A REVOLUTION





                                   


Those of us on the left know that what Sanders calls a "revolution" is only the first step in the transformation necessary to produce a just society. Some of us labor under the delusion that if we are patient, some day Americans will rise up and overthrow the system that oppresses us. Even more unreasonably, some think this can somehow be done without dirtying our hands in electoral politics. Others argue that it can only be done by building a third party to challenge the corporate Duopoly. While creating an alternative to the Duopoly will play a role in the ultimate transformation of American politics, it will take many years to realize. We simply do not have the luxury of time. The reality is that global climate change sets an upper limit on how long we have to act. Until we begin electing candidates who will stand up to the Wall Street-dominated fossil fuels industry, we are living with a sword hanging over our heads. When "liberal" Americans seem prepared to select the darling of Wall Street to represent them in the presidential election, there is too much groundwork to be done to create a viable third party before it is too late.

Clinton's success despite her high unfavorability ratings shows how far we have to go to educate the public about the need for revolution and what that will entail. We must begin with the system as it is, meet the people where they are at, and hope that by speaking to them in their language, we can lead them to question the assumptions that keep them captive of a system designed to favor the interests of the powerful. That means elections matter, even if one victory does not in itself constitute a "revolution." They provide platforms from which to educate and organize those who have not given up altogether on rescuing the US and the world from the dire circumstances we have allowed it to fall into. Sanders has shown how this can be done without depending on the very interests who control the system to get this opportunity.

The question remains as to whether the Sanders candidacy will advance the cause of a real revolution, or impede it.  If his supporters simply cave in and support Clinton, they will show that they are unwilling to challenge the practice of fear-based “strategic” voting promoted by the Democratic leadership. The grip on power of the party elite depends on successfully convincing us that voting for corporate Democrats is the only alternative to Republican rule. It is not. If their jobs depended on it, these power brokers would have to give us candidates who actually represent the People’s will.  If the majority of Democrats continue to accept the lesser of two evils logic, they have no reason to expect that the party’s steady drift to the right will ever end. If they refuse to vote for the anointed candidate of the limousine liberals, we have a chance to force change.

A lot of people have been saying since the beginning of the Democratic primary campaign that Sanders would end up doing more harm than good to the cause of fundamentally changing the system of American politics. Assuming that he would lose in the end, they pointed out that his ultimate endorsement of Clinton would serve simply to shore up a party that can no longer generate excitement among even its most faithful members because its chosen candidates are unwilling to challenge the moneyed interests that he is targeting.  The naysayer’s argument was that, like past insurgent candidates for the Democratic nomination, he would serve as a sheepherder for the Duopoly party claiming to represent “the People” by encouraging his disappointed supporters to rally round the choice of the Establishment. While this is a distinct possibility, those committed to a real revolution need to understand that we cannot succeed without learning to recognize and capitalize on every opportunity.

Whether or not Sanders wins the nomination, his amazing run presents such an opening, one we may not get again. While he can help advance the cause beyond the convention, let’s remember that he has told us endlessly that the outcome of the struggle is in our hands. We have to be prepared to respond to the very real possibility that Sanders himself will abdicate leadership in the movement he has begun, even while encouraging him to stay the course. We have to help him fight for every vote to continue getting his message out during the campaign and at the convention. We must also encourage him to set his sights higher than simply making the case for progressive policies before a convention run by politicians whose primary interest is maintaining power and who believe that can only be done by kowtowing to the corporate elite.  Words must be followed by action.

Ralph Nader recently argued that if Sanders were to lose at convention, he could still keep his word to endorse Clinton, while challenging her corporate vision. There is nothing to stop him from continuing his assault on neoliberalism and corruption that is the root cause of America’s malaise. While justifying his ongoing efforts as a way to rally his troops to defeat Trump, he can continue to barnstorm in favor of the Democrats. The key is that rather than promoting the failed policies of Clintonism, he can argue for those Democratic values that people want to believe the party represents. This will prepare us for continuing to fight for them if Clinton is elected, rather than abandoning the fight as Obama supporters did after 2008, with predictable results.


A true political revolution must be based on addressing the corruption upon which the current system is built. Sanders has gotten the ball rolling, focusing our attention on the fact that the entire progressive movement depends on dealing with this problem. With our encouragement, he can keep the movement going forward. Even without his cooperation, we can proceed on our own. He has provided us a glimpse of our collective power. We have to use it, organizing around the issue of corruption and highlighting how the consequences play out in a Clinton presidency, as they no doubt will if her policies are consistent with her atrocious record of neoliberalism, neoconservatism and generally favoring the interests of Wall Street over Main Street. 

A true political revolution must be based on addressing the corruption upon which the current system is built. Sanders has gotten the ball rolling, focusing our attention on the fact that the entire progressive movement depends on dealing with this problem. With our encouragement, he can keep the movement going forward. Even without his cooperation, we can proceed on our own. He has provided us a glimpse of our collective power. We have to use it, organizing around the issue of corruption and highlighting how the consequences play out in a Clinton presidency, as they no doubt will if her policies are consistent with her atrocious record of neoliberalism, neoconservatism and generally favoring the interests of Wall Street over Main Street.  

If we can get average Americans to set their sights that high, they might be able to glimpse the more fundamental changes that will be required to reshape the US economy and society into something that will enable future generations to not only survive, but thrive.



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