This is the personal blog of Rick Staggenborg, MD. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the official positions of Take Back America for the People, an educational 501.c3 nonprofit established by Dr Staggenborg.

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Sunday, January 13, 2013


I swore I was not going to write about the gun debate that has followed the latest mass murder. It seemed an exercise in futility. Trying to convince people that they are wrong on gun control is like trying to influence their views on abortion. Attitudes and opinions are fixed on the issue. There is little chance that one more opinion will change them. Recently, the conversation took an interesting turn, one that is new to the ongoing debate on gun control. The idea that we have to have personal weapons to fight our own government went from being a fringe idea to a mainstream argument, defended by conservatives and many pro-second amendment liberals.

It has been obvious to every thinking American for some time that something is terribly wrong with our current government. If we could agree in what that was we might be able to fight it without resort to guns. The nation is nearly evenly divided between those who fear a socialist takeover and those who believe that the problem is growing corporate dominance of government to the extent that it is leading to fascism, if it has not already arrived. If we do not come to a common understanding of what has gone wrong with the US system of government, it is likely that the incidence of political violence will continue to increase until we are subject to a violent crackdown by the very police state that so many of us fear.

The argument that America is being taken over by socialists is laughable on its face. With the social safety net under attack and a bailout of the medical insurance industry being passed off as “near-universal health care,” nothing could be further from the truth. Funneling taxpayer dollars to corporations that ship jobs overseas, those that profit from denying needed health care and those that manufacture weapons for insanely expensive wars for corporate Empire is in fact a form of corporate welfare serving the interests of the rich over those of the American taxpayer. That is worth fighting a revolution over, but one that can only succeed if it is done so through nonviolent, democratic action. That is impossible if we cannot come to a consensus on how democracy works and how best to achieve it.

It is easy to define democracy. The word translates literally as “government of the People.” That means government of, by and for the People. Not some people, but all people in the United States. If we cannot achieve consensus on what is best for all the people, we cannot create a government of the People. Instead, those who wield power over the government will continue to divide us until they ultimately conquer us. Those calling for revolution understand that it is our inalienable right and responsibility to resist a government that has become tyrannical. A government that is not for the People but for corporations and the wealthy individuals that control it cannot be said to be democratic.

Who then is the tyrant who dares challenge democracy in the US and the world? Many claim it is President Obama. On one side the radical Right argues that he intends to impose a socialist government that will dictate to the People. On the Left, the claim is made that there is no difference between Obama and George Bush in the arena of foreign policy and that he has been far too willing to sacrifice the interests of the People for the corporate interest that in fact wields control over both parties by virtue of controlling the corporate media and thereby the nature of political discourse. In fact, the blame lies squarely with a Congress that has abdicated its authority to an imperial Presidency, regardless of who is the figurehead in the White House in matters of war and peace. 

If we truly want a democratic revolution, the Left and Right must first agree on goals, lest the US become another failed state, at best degenerating into a power struggle between the leaders of the revolution but far more likely to result in the consolidation of power by those who control the police state. As the response to Occupy has shown, these are the powerful banking and oil industries that colluded with agents of the police state in infiltrating and undermining this popular movement. The only way to overcome the power of those who control the levers of government is to united around the idea that together we can create a government of, by and for the People only by ending the power of corporations and the rich to choose who we have to pick from to represent us in Congress. 

There is evidence that there will be a mass movement to hold candidates for Congress accountable to the People by making them declare whether they will support a constitutional amendment to ban corporate campaign expenditures and limit individual donations to influence the outcome of elections. There is a parallel movement to accomplish the same by legislative changes to address corruption ofgovernment by monied interests, though many doubt that such an effort can succeed. Even if it does succeed in the short run, there is always the risk that a future Congress can be corrupted by the influence of the rich and powerful, while a constitutional amendment will ensure that future Congresses will not be able to hand the US government back to corporate interests.

Those who argue that we cannot reform government by working with politicians are missing the point: If we make support for a constitutional amendment the litmus test for candidates for Congress, we can and will elect a Congress that will put the interests of the People over those of the corporate interests that currently control it. This is the first step to electing a Congress that will work for peace through cutting the strings of those who manipulate US policy to wage endless war for corporate Empire while subjugating a population that is becoming increasingly aware of the threat this poses to its own freedom. 

If we keep in mind that 80% of both self-identified conservatives and liberals are opposed to Citizens United, citizens can unite to take back America for the People. The Pledge to Amend campaign is the way to join the Left and Right in the common cause of finally achieving democracy in America and the world. If we succeed the last, best hope for Mankind shall not perish from the Earth. Recent history has shown that democracy cannot be imposed at the point of a gun. If we come to understand that, there is yet hope that we can create it through the will of the People, using the democratic process that is at the heart of the freedoms for which so many have died.  

Monday, January 7, 2013


Medical insurers around the country are announcing a new round of double-digit premium increases, belying the promise that Obamacare would reduce costs of health care. Although the “Affordable” Health Care Act is not yet fully implemented, it is reasonable to assume that the further expansion of benefits will dwarf the promised savings as detailed in the error-filled CBO report Democrats use to justify the claim. The fact is that the ACA was never meant to be real health care reform, which can only be achieved through truly universal health care in the form of a single payer, Medicare-for-All model or something similar. What it amounts to is a taxpayer bailout of a failing medical insurance industry.

People who wonder how the tremendously profitable insurance industry can be failing need only consider the basic fact that as medical insurance costs rise, fewer people can afford it and profits drop, forcing further premium increases to maintain profit margins. This is the “death spiral” that single payer proponents have talked about from the beginning of the health care “reform” debate but which was ignored by the corporate media and both major Parties. It is time that taxpayers demand an honest discussion about the one option for addressing the crisis in health care access and affordability. Congress will continue to avoid this debate if we do not force them to. We need to make them fear us more than the anger of their political patrons in the medical-industrial complex of the insurance, pharmaceutical and corporate health care delivery industries.

Democratic politicians used a very clever strategy to avoid talking about true universal health care. At the outset of the debate, they took single payer off the table, arguing the self-fulfilling prophecy that it was “not politically possible.” Knowing that many of their own members were as dependent on campaign contributions from these industries as are the Republicans, they deliberately undermined support for Medicare-for-All by presenting a classic bait-and-switch in the form of a public option that had no chance of leading to single payer. The cat was out of the bag when Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer assured the medical insurance industry that they had no intention of creating a public option that could compete with for-profit insurance. 

It should have been obvious from the beginning, when Senate Finance committee chair Max Baucus was put in charge of the debate. He was the recipient of $6 million from corporations in the medical-insurance complex in the election cycle preceding the debacle. It is no surprise that he had 13 doctors, nurses and lawyers arrested during the first two days of hearings for “disrupting” the discussions with the representatives of industry by calling from the gallery for consideration of a single payer option.

To assure that there would not be mass dissention in the Democratic rank and file, Rahm Emanuel cleverly convinced Democracy for America and MoveOn to make the spurious claim that there millions of members supported the public option, without questioning those members or having any sort of open debate that would have demonstrated the overwhelming support for single payer that was evident at NetRoots Nation in Pittsburgh in 2009. In the end, Democrats gave up even the pretense of universal health care in accepting what was essentially Ron Wyden’s Healthy Americans Act. The insurance exchange, the mandate and other features of Obamacare came straight from that plan, which was put on the back burner while the phony debate about the public option was going on. Democratic leaders declared victory and told their supporters to go home and tell everyone what a good job they did against the big, bad Republicans and the insurance industry that got millions of new customers at the taxpayer’s expense. 

Health care costs are approaching 20% of GDP, with no prospects of improvement in sight. If Democrats and Republicans do not unite to demand their politicians have an honest debate on the merits of single payer they will continue to see personal and taxpayer costs escalate, adding to personal and federal debt in a time when Congress claims the latter is a crisis. What most Thanks to the fact that corporate interests control the terms of political debate, most Americans don’t realize that they are already paying more than the full costs of a universal health care system through taxes, subsidies and personal health care expenditures. 

Taxes for Medicare, Medicaid and the uninsured alone are nearly enough to fit the bill for a system of universal health care that already exists in other countries and costs about half what we pay in the American system that still leaves nearly 50 million uninsured, mostly working Americans and their families. Despite increased coverage of young adults, about 9 million children remain uninsured. This total exceeds the estimated 45 million uninsured before the medical insurance "reform" debate in 2009. Other unaddressed costs include medical bankruptcies, loss of competitiveness by employers who pay the brunt of the cost of insurance, lost productivity by the uninsured, failed businesses for entrepreneurs who lose their businesses when they are sick or injured and on and on. 

Peter DeFazio (D-OR) has a well-deserved reputation as a fighter for the average American, but he gave in far too readily to the fallacy that we cannot afford to give Medicare to everyone because “it has (financial) problems of its own.” Belatedly, he has acknowledged that the worst of these problems is the Wyden-supported Medicare Modernization Act of 2003 that gave us an unfunded Medicare prescription benefit plan under which pharmaceutical manufacturers can name their own price and the government is not allowed to negotiate. Even now, he refuses to discuss single payer with members of Physicians for a National Health Program. I know this because I have repeatedly asked him myself. This explains why he is still ignorant of the fact that the reason universal Medicare coverage will save Medicare is that it covers both the healthy and the sick, creating a universal risk pool so that everyone pays and everyone has access when they need medical care.

A universal health care system is inevitable unless Americans choose to give up their own access to health care. Even Republicans can’t make that seem like a good thing. If Democrats don’t join third parties and independents in calling for an honest debate on single payer health care, they will follow Republicans in the ashcan of history when Americans wake up to their collective power and vote for candidates who will put their interests over corporate profit.

To hear a discussion about health care and democracy, listen to this podcast from SFPI Radio, the voice of Soldiers For Peace International on the worldwide web every Saturday.