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Monday, September 14, 2020

IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU




                                                                                  





As I've said many times, the easiest way to get through the corporate media blockade on a lot of issues is to write letters to the editor and guest columns for your local paper. Their editors are not as invested in denying a voice to those who would chip away at corporate control of government.

The following is an editorial I wrote for the Eugene Register-Guard a few years ago making the case for universal health care using an emotional hook. Research has shown this to be most likely to make people think about the issue who would ordinarily be predisposed to dismiss the idea out of hand as "socialist." I was recently reinded of the importance of this idea in a presentation on how to advocate for single payer. I reprint it here as an example of how to hook such people so that they will pay attention long enough to learn how such a system would benefit them, which is ususally the first thing most people think of when they consider public 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?

Thursday, August 6, 2020

FIGHTING TRUTH DECAY IN THE NAME OF PEACE

                    

                                                                  

                                    “Truth is the first casualty of war.”
                                   -Aeschylus

                                   “After that, it’s mostly civilians.”

                                  -Source unknown.

As Chomsky and Herman wrote, starting a war depends on manufacturing the consent of the public. Fortunately, though opposition to war has diminished to a barely audible voice in the last 50 years amidst the clamor of warmongers’ alarms about imagined threats to the Empire, it persists. There is an urgent need to use the limited strength of the peace movement to rally public support to the cause of ending war. Whatever tactics we might use, our first goal must be to awaken Americans to the fact that nearly everything they are told by the mainstream media about US foreign policy is false.  

Only when Americans recognize that the corporate media is captive to war profiteers will they understand that war is not inevitable, that it threatens human survival because it enslaves us to fossil fuels, that silence is consent to continue on the path to self-destruction and that without that consent, the Empire cannot continue to wage endless war against the mass of humanity.

Awakening the public to these truths requires a strategy to enable them to see beyond the blinders of their belief in American exceptionalism. This idea is so deeply engrained that even many antiwar activists do not recognize it in themselves. It is the belief that the United States is essentially good and that our tendency to war is due to our desire to do the right thing regardless of how consistently we do not accomplish our stated objectives. The idea that the Vietnam War was a mistake, that the lies that led us into invading Iraq were an aberration, or that humanitarian intervention is a noble endeavor are all examples of how the insidious belief in American Exceptionalism can blind us to the fact that excuses for war are always (or almost always) based on propaganda.

I don’t know what students are learning in high school these days, but when I was a sophomore I learned how the Hearst newspaper chain created support for war with Spain by calling for a “humanitarian intervention” to help Cuba liberate itself from imperial rule. The result of course was that Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Guam, Puerto Rico essentially became colonies of the US. In more recent times, the Vietnam was justified as “self-defense” based on lies about the Gulf of Tonkin incident, Iraq was invaded for a second time on manufactured evidence for the false claim that it was building WMDs and Libya was destroyed based on an unverified claim that Gaddafi was preparing to massacre US-backed “rebels” in Benghazi. There are similar stories to tell about essentially every American intervention since WWII (not to mention WWI itself), for those who want to take the time to explore the history of modern wars.

Given these well-known examples of the US government lying to its people, you might think it would be easy to make the case that they are being lied to about Syria, Ukraine, Iran, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Russia and other nations whose governments have been targeted for imperial expansion. If so, you do not appreciate the degree to which Americans have been induced to unconsciously accept the premises of American Exceptionalism through education, media, and politicians. The only way to break through this wall of denial is to educate the public about exactly how this is accomplished. How else will they learn to critically examine the lies they are being told by virtually everyone in the Western media, politicians, and the Wall Street war profiteers whose interests they serve?

It is hard for most people to accept the idea that the corporate media lies about nearly every aspect of foreign policy. It sounds to the uninitiated like a conspiracy theory, which they have been taught to disregard (unless it comes from the government). In order to understand how it is possible to get all of the mainstream media to repeat the same false story, you have to understand the ways in which it can be manipulated through both economic pressure (as detailed in the introduction to Manufacturing Consent) and the influence of propagandists in the CIA, their assets in the media and private think tanks. It is the extensive influence of the CIA on corporate media that is the hardest to accept for people who have not done the research, but for those willing to read a little further, I wrote this short essay to make it easy to understand the main points.

Since 1983, the CIA’s propaganda function has been largely replaced by corporate think tanks, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and its spinoff, the self-proclaimed “private nonprofit” National Endowment for Democracy (NED), which is in fact almost entirely funded by Congress. They use the same techniques of using government funding to influence both US and foreign media to tell the same stories whose scripts the US foreign policy establishment has written. Their function is to weaken governments targeted for regime change, whether through war, insurrection, US-backed terrorist invasions or crippling sanctions.

This is of course only a bare-bones summary of the way that the media is manipulated and why it is important to challenge the official narrative. I hope that I have made the case that it is critical to get people to understand the extent to which they are deceived by their government. Interested readers are encouraged to read the linked articles and to do their own research. The importance to the peace movement of freeing Americans trapped in the prison of their false belief systems cannot be overemphasized. Please join the effort by learning more and joining the fight to free America from the Matrix of lies in which most of us exist.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

WILL DEMOCRATS FALL FOR THE PUBLIC OPTION SCAM AGAIN?




                                                                               




When all the Establishment-backed contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination support some version of a public option, it’s a safe bet that corporate interests that finance the DNC are the ones that are being served. As corporatist candidates like Harris and Biden fail to resonate, new champions of “pragmatic” approaches to reform rise to take their places. Even progressive darling Elizabeth Warren favors an incremental approach that she thinks will lead to single payer, starting with a public option. Only Sanders has consistently indicated his willingness to take the lead in a fight for a Medicare for All now.

The arguments made by the corporatists in the party are having an effect. A substantial proportion of Democrats are buying the false claim that a public option is the only viable way to establish universal access to health care. That’s shown in their growing support for a public option and decreasing support for a single payer system like Medicare for All.  It’s disheartening that so many supporters of a single payer system of health care are falling for the same nonsensical arguments that were used to undermine support for it during the “health care reform” debate in 2009.

Those of us who understood then that the call for a public option was a bait-and-switch strategy to defuse the growing movement for a single payer system must start all over again educating progressives about why it will not lead to single payer. Instead, it will just add one more plan to a multipayer system of access to health care that is inherently inefficient. This inefficiency is the main reason that health care costs per capita in the US are about twice the average in countries with universal health care. Americans will not accept another expensive half-measure that won’t address the root problem or assure access to all.

The reason a public option won’t lead to single payer is that a Congress saturated by lobbyist cash will never create a plan that would compete with private plans. Democrats who are ready to embrace Biden, Buttigieg or any other proponent of a public option have apparently forgotten that Senator Schumer explicitly stated in 2009 that Democrats had no intention of creating such a plan. They also fail to recall that the corporate Democrats who kept single payer off the negotiating table continued to claim that people would like the plan so much that Americans would eventually all want to join it, creating a single payer plan by default. Nothing has changed since then.

To be fair, it’s theoretically possible that a public option could at least provide universal coverage. However, that’s not the same as universal access to health care. Anyone who has studied the issue understands that premiums, copays and deductibles remain a significant barrier to access to care for the insured. Financial barriers to access have dramatically increased since 1998, according to a recent Harvard study published in the Journal of the AMA. That study also showed that even the much-touted Obamacare expansion, expensive as it was, has not appreciably decreased the proportion of people who experience problems with access to affordable care. That’s why one in four Americans report that they or a family member have put off needed care for a serious condition because of cost. In families earning less than $40,000 per year, that figure rises to one in three.

Insurance is not the same as access to care when financial barriers to using it persist. That even applies to patients on Medicare, who also often have serious difficulty paying for their medications. That’s why single payer advocates generally prefer the term  “Improved Medicare for All” when referring to the plans advocated by most advocacy groups and members of Congress who actually understand these issues and support a single payer solution to the continuing crisis in health care access and affordability.

Improved Medicare for All refers to a system that is more comprehensive than Medicare, with coverage for vision, dental and hearing and medications, no or minimal premiums or copays and no deductibles. Some versions include long term care, as is provided in several European countries such as France and the Netherlands.  It is also a feature of one of the bills currently in Congress. All such bills introduced in the last few Congresses are variations on Improved Medicare for All because that is the type of single payer system that is widely acknowledged to be the most politically palatable in the US due to the generally positive views of Medicare.

I won’t go into the explanations of why single payer systems are less expensive than publicly funded and administered (single payer) systems (the basic reasons are summarized in this bullet-point document, which also points out other economic advantages). There are endless articles written on the subject for the interested reader, but the simple response to those who say we can’t afford such a system is this: countries that provide universal health care to all their residents using a publicly funded and administered system provide care as good or better than the US at the least cost.

If other countries can do it, the only thing stopping the US from doing the same is the lack of political will due to Americans dithering about whether it is politically possible. It will be possible only when we demand it. A single payer plan like Medicare for All is the only affordable way to end the crisis of health care access and affordability in the US. Accept no substitute

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.