Category Archives: health care

Americans Expose Trump’s Quackery, Demand Affordable Health Care


Trump’s increasingly aggressive presidency has created widespread resistance in places not previously reached by American progressives and has enraged the Democratic party’s rank and file who are pushing their own representatives to ensure non-cooperation in Congress and impeachment as soon as possible.

But Trump’s supporters are unmoved and remain convinced he is carrying out his promises to shake up the establishment. They are just not concerned about the particulars of policy and cheer on his dysfunctional press conferences – which are performances especially for their benefit – and his characterization of the media as the “enemy.”

According to the Washington Post: “Those who journeyed to Trump’s Saturday evening event on Florida’s Space Coast said that since the election, they have unfriended some of their liberal relatives or friends on Facebook. They don’t understand why major media outlets don’t see the same successful administration they have been cheering on. … Many acknowledged that the president’s first month could have been smoother, especially with the rollout of the travel ban, but they said the media has overblown those hiccups — and they’re glad to see the president fight back.” Tony Lopez, 28, a car dealer who drove to the rally from Orlando, told the Post: “The media’s problem is that they keep wanting to make up stories so that he looks bad. It doesn’t work. He’s talking right through you guys.”

The danger for the American public in Trump’s presidency is both the empowerment of the security state to suppress immigrants and democratic rights, and his supporters’ unquestioning acceptance of Trump’s authoritarian rule with its alternative take on empirical reality. Trumpistas imagine him as a strongman who will sort out the Washington swamp in a way that will improve their lives. A Trump voter in Pennsylvania, Lee Snover, described him as enforcing “medicine for the American people,” a deeply troubling image evoking Mussolini’s blackshirts. But the Republican drive to cut social programs will hit these voters hard and bring them into opposition to Trump and his quack prescriptions for the body politic. The safety net is especially critical for Trump voters in states like Wisconsin, Iowa and Ohio that flipped to Trump in 2016, giving him a small majority from those who believed his promises of restoring jobs.

If there is one issue in particular that will divide moderate Republican voters from diehard Trumpistas it is the affordability of healthcare, not allegations of ties with Russia or Trump’s business interests. Republicans in Congress have made virtually no progress on their election pledges to repeal the Affordable Care Act. They are deeply divided between Tea Party radicals, who want to eliminate the law no matter what, and those who fear the reaction from constituents if Medicaid expansion under the ACA is removed. The Washington Post reported: “Republican senators who represent states that expanded Medicaid — including Bill Cassidy (La.), Rob Portman (Ohio) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) — huddled last week to discuss concerns that a House GOP repeal bill could leave millions of their constituents without insurance. While no consensus emerged, many lawmakers said they could not support an aggressive repeal bill that could harm so many of their constituents.”

Although Trump and his spokesmen dismiss the growing grass-roots protests over ACA repeal as the actions of “paid demonstrators” or “sore losers,” the New York Times points out that Democratic party organizers are struggling to keep up with the groundswell of activism “that has bubbled up from street protests and the small groups that have swelled into crowds outside local congressional offices. …  Some of the most creative activity is coming from people who are new to political activism. In Plymouth, Minn., Kelly Guncheon, a financial planner who described himself as an independent, has organized a ‘With Him or Without Him’ meeting for Representative Erik Paulsen, a Republican who has not scheduled any of his own. … Mr. Guncheon, like other new activists, said he was not looking to traditional political groups for guidance. ‘In this new culture, this new era, we have to figure out new ways to do things,’ he said. ‘There’s certainly no leadership at the head of the Democratic Party, or the state party’.”

Democratic representatives are also feeling the heat. In New Jersey, Josh Gottheimer faced an unexpected crowd of his constituents “concerned that the Democrat would not be an effective bulwark against the president, and others said they had become politically active for the first time since Trump’s election. …  ‘A lot of us are new to this type of activist movement. I’ve never done anything like this before,’ said Jennifer Russo, 44. Her advice to the congressman: ‘My stance is that now is not the time to be conciliatory’.”

Republicans, though, are facing greater opposition from their own voters, who are finding Obamacare more attractive now the possibility of repeal is real. And the growing popularity of single-payer is reaching the Republican base. Pew Research found that the idea that government should be responsible for ensuring health coverage has risen strikingly among lower- and middle-income Republicans since last year, increasing 20 percentage points among those earning under $75,000 per year. Moreover, it is finding justification within the Christian ideology that many of them share. An emotional speech by a constituent of Republican representative Diane Black at a town hall meeting in Murfeesburo, Tennessee, is worth quoting in full:

“My name is Jessi Bohon and I’m in your district. It’s from my understanding the ACA mandate requires everybody to have insurance because the healthy people pull up the sick people, right? And as a Christian, my whole philosophy on life is pull up the unfortunate. So the individual mandate, that’s what it does. The healthy people pull up the sick. If we take those people and put them in high-risk insurance pools, they’re costlier and there’s less coverage for them. That’s the way it’s been in the past, and that’s the way it will be again. So we are effectively punishing our sickest people. And I want to know why not, instead of fix what’s wrong with Obamacare, make companies like Aetna that pulled out and lied to their consumers about why they pulled out, and said they pulled out because Obamacare was too expensive, but they really pulled out because of a merger. Why don’t we expand Medicaid and have everybody have insurance?”

CNN’s video of her speech went viral – but the news agency eliminated the last sentence about expanding Medicaid (see the full video here). The Atlantic magazine saw in it a political possibility: “Were they to take the plunge, Democratic candidates could run as challengers in upcoming elections on a third way of health reform: neither extending unpopular pieces of a program nor rolling back coverage, but giving everyone Medicare. And if the Democratic Party were to support universal health care, that might put pressure on Republicans, who wouldn’t want to lose voters who fear loss of coverage or doctors under a massive repeal.”

The left should not miss the implications of this political shift. While Democrats in Congress can do little against the Republican majority, their angry rank and file are in a position to insist on policies that will unite Americans across party lines and expose Trump as the quack he is.

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Filed under Affordable Care Act, Democratic Party, donald trump, health care, Obamacare, social justice, Uncategorized, white working class

Taking the Pulse of Struggle: Americans Ready to Battle the Corporate Attack on Living Standards


Last week’s overwhelming vote by 31,000 Boeing workers to reject a contract making cuts in pension and healthcare benefits is a signal that the tide is turning against the neoliberal strategy of using the threat of outsourced production to intimidate Americans into giving up their social safety net.

Boeing floated a promise of job security for the next eight years by committing to produce its newest aircraft in Seattle and offered a $10,000 bonus for agreeing to the deal. However, the current contract would be terminated, a defined-benefit pension plan replaced with a 401k, and healthcare costs increased.

Jeffrey Johnson of the Washington State Labor Council writes in the Seattle Times: “Machinists were presented with a unilateral proposal that would have frozen the pension system that they had bargained for over the last several decades — it would have also ended the pension system for new hires. …  It would have been unthinkable for grandparents or parents to sell out younger workers and future workers, many of whom are sons and daughters or nieces and nephews, and prevent them from earning a secure retirement future.”

According to the Washington Post, “Dian Lord, a toolmaker at Boeing’s facility in Renton who is nearing retirement, said Wednesday morning she believed the company was extorting its workers by pushing a swift contract vote while threatening to place 777X operations elsewhere if machinists don’t oblige. Still, Lord said she felt intense pressure to vote for the contract, especially considering that it could impact a variety of other Boeing workers and vendors should the company move elsewhere.”

The union leadership made no recommendation on the proposal until a packed meeting made clear that the membership overwhelmingly opposed it.

Reuters reports: “A crowd of more than 100 people erupted in cheers when the vote was announced amid a charged atmosphere at the union’s main hall in Seattle. … Even though the union’s 31,000 workers gave up their chance for [777X production] jobs, they considered the giveaways in the contract too grave to accept. … Voter turnout was high. Workers began lining up in predawn darkness on Wednesday outside the union hall in Everett, Washington and elsewhere in the Seattle area and in Oregon. … ‘It goes against everything that we’ve fought for over the years,’ said John Orcutt, 42, a 17-year union member and hydraulic tube bender.”

Boeing anticipated it could increase profits through confining wage increases to 1% annually for the life of the 777X project, reducing liabilities to retirees, and eliminating collective bargaining from the implementation of next-generation technology.

After the Boeing workers’ union was provoked into a 52-day strike in 2008, the company retaliated by moving work to South Carolina. The union dropped its complaint to the National Labor Relations Board about this illegal tactic when Boeing threatened to move production of another aircraft, the 737MAX, and demanded wage concessions in exchange for a guarantee that the plane would be built in unionized facilities around Puget Sound.

Jenny Brown of Labor Notes explains: “That contract saw a 70 percent yes vote and a generational split, with the over-50 workers voting no and the newer workers making only $15 an hour voting yes. The difference now is that, with the exception of those prepared to retire before 2016, everyone in the union is getting hit, hard. The younger workers lose out on a real pension, period. Anyone midway through their working years will lose a huge amount of the retirement income they anticipated. Medical costs will double or triple over the life of the extension, more than eating up the 1 percent raises. And the union membership will have no leverage against Boeing for 11 more years.”

The Boeing vote parallels Americans’ deep concerns about retirement and health coverage. This is why the reaction to the rollout of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is complex: despite the mismanaged launch of the website, the public is not moved by Republican attempts to repeal the law. Its advantage for the uninsured and low-paid is security in their coverage: it disconnects insurance from employment, removing the obligation to stay in an exploitative job in order to keep healthcare; it eliminates annual and lifetime benefit maximums, and prevents insurers refusing coverage because of pre-existing conditions. This is why politicians in Republican controlled states, organized by ALEC, are planning to undermine the law at the state level. They want to promote insecurity and intensify dependence on employers while cutting the social wage.

Obamacare attempts to rationalize healthcare while preserving the dominance of insurance companies by rearranging risk pools while mandating individual coverage. The health insurance industry is now positioned to extract premiums from a much larger base, creating a division of right-wing opinion between ALEC-backed governors like Scott Walker in Wisconsin and states where Republicans receive major campaign contributions from health insurers. In Florida, for example, the industry is pushing the state to reverse its stance on Medicaid. The federal government is offering billions of dollars to finance Medicaid’s expansion, and insurance companies want a piece of that action. Florida Blue executive Patrick Geraghty told journalists: “We believe strongly that we ought to be taking that funding.”

Obama has lost credibility with the public, however, because of the hopes raised by his optimistic statements about his administration’s signature legislation and their contradiction with the cack-handed implementation of the website, together with his promises about keeping existing plans (and, by implication, doctors with knowledge of people’s medical history). That is why the website debacle has eroded the trust Obama was able to leverage in two elections.

It also illustrates the bankruptcy of market-based solutions to social problems. The political decision to expand health coverage by relying on a mix of incentives and regulations for entrenched insurance companies, rather than instituting a single-payer system, has multiplied the law’s complexity exponentially. A physician writes that “administrative costs make up more than 30 percent of our national health care bill, most of it unnecessary. The waste in this area alone is equivalent to around $400 billion annually. That is more than enough to provide health care to every uninsured person living in our country. Some of these costs result from the slicing and dicing of Americans into ever-tinier and more confusing categories, the inevitable result of applying the principles of insurance to health care.” The Affordable Care Act will only increase this administrative complexity. It is “far too complicated and therefore too expensive to manage, full of holes, will be applied unevenly and unfairly, be full of unintended consequences, and be easily exploited by those looking to make a quick buck.”

While the problems with the Obamacare website will eventually be fixed, the need for adequate healthcare and an assurance that the old will not starve in retirement remains as acute as ever. The Boeing Union action is another example of the increased resistance to attempts to roll back Social Security and Medicare as well as to the assault on public workers’ pensions. This battle will undoubtedly intensify as the plutocracy and its political servants seek to lower the living standard of Americans.

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Filed under Affordable Care Act, health care, Medicare, Obama, Obamacare, political analysis, Republicans

Occupy Squared: With Progressive Victories, Voters Oppose the Republican and Democrat Transfer of Wealth to the 1%


Last Tuesday’s election results confirm a significant divergence between the American public and the political establishment. Voters voiced their resounding opposition to austerity politics and the corporatist policies followed by both the Republican right and the Obama administration. They gave enthusiastic support to social programs paid for by higher taxes on the rich, a higher minimum wage, and a defense of public schools from privatization.

Obama’s “Grand Bargain” to rationalize healthcare, foreign policy, and the US deficit is foundering on the groundswell of resistance to neoliberal policies on one side, and a Republican party on the other determined to prevent any meaningful attempt to extend welfare benefits to those most in poverty.

E.J. Dionne comments: “To say that this election nudged the nation leftward is not to claim a sudden mandate for liberalism. But it is to insist that the center ground in American politics is a long way from where it was three years ago — and that if there is a new populism in the country, it is now speaking with a decidedly progressive accent.”

The most significant feature of Bill de Blasio’s crushing victory in the New York mayoral election was his support across demographic lines, from the working poor and middle class to much more affluent voters in Manhattan. What enabled him to overcome the opposition of the media, Wall Street, and a number of city union leaders was the receptiveness of New Yorkers to the growing plight of the low-waged and minorities in the world’s most income-segregated city. His call to tax the rich in order to provide much-needed services for the working poor resonated strongly with the public, as well as his pledge to end police stop-and-frisk policies directed against young people of color.

It was not an isolated success: the most progressive city council in many years was installed in New York, and across the country electoral victories for anti-austerity candidates in Boston, Virginia, and Washington state demonstrated the change in the public mood.

The New York Times reported that the political makeup of the City Council has been drastically changed. “The elected public advocate, Letitia James, a forceful liberal, has spoken emphatically for people seen as marginalized. … For decades, the City Council formed a culturally and fiscally conservative bulwark against the effusions of liberal mayors. It too has grown markedly liberal. This is because of assiduous organizing by the Working Families Party and to the reality of New York: From the hills of the central Bronx to the immigrant-rich flats of Queens and the lower middle-class neighborhoods of Staten Island, the incomes are static and the benefits few.”

The Working Families Party’s executive director Danny Cantor explained on Democracy Now that “the lesson of the de Blasio and the council victories, is that people actually like what we’re talking about when we say, wages ought to be higher, people’s lives ought to be a bit more secure, transportation ought to be a massive investment, so on and so forth. … We are living … in the world Occupy made, for sure … we are the beneficiaries of what they did in terms of making this inequality … the core issue of our time.” The party is based on community activists and labor leaders, he said. “It’s a party of labor, but not a labor party; a party of blacks, not a black party; party of greens, not a green party. You can’t do any of those things in America. It’s too complicated of a country to just be one constituency.”

He referred to the success of another initiative in Bridgeport, Connecticut, where an anti-privatization slate took over the school board: “parents and working families and teachers sort of rebelled against the, you know, ‘no child left untested’ crowd that really wanted to privatize, and they won. … I think it’s going to reverberate in … the school reform wars around the country.”

In Boston, too, former union leader Marty Walsh was elected mayor, despite strong attacks from the media. John Nichols pointed out: “They created a video up there that showed him at a rally protesting Scott Walker’s policies in Wisconsin, and said, ‘Do you want this kind of person as your mayor?’ Well, Boston decided they did want that kind of person as their mayor.”

In SeaTac, a suburb of Seattle, voters supported a mandate for a $15 an hour minimum wage for airport, hotel, and restaurant workers. The local economy is based on the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and was hard hit by outsourcing. Union leader David Rolf explained: “These airport jobs, like baggage handlers, ramp workers, jet fuelers, concessionaires, these are jobs that paid $16, $18 an hour back in the 1970s and the 1980s. They used to be living-wage jobs. … That’s all changed. The major airlines outsourced those jobs and turned them into minimum-wage jobs, which impoverished a whole community. So SeaTac saw its grocery store become a Goodwill and its video store become a pawnshop because the impoverishment of those jobs hurt the whole community.” Voters took the opportunity “to say to CEOs and to Congress that they’re impatient with waiting for them to do the right thing for American workers and it’s time we took matters into our own hands.”

The close result in the Virginia governor’s election was a referendum on the hold of the Tea Party on Republican legislators. Political commentator Ronald Brownstein writes: “[Democratic candidate] McAuliffe essentially replicated the ‘coalition of the ascendant’ that allowed President Obama to carry the state twice. Like Obama, McAuliffe triumphed by combining just enough socially liberal college-educated whites with an overwhelming margin among minorities to overcome a cavernous deficit among blue-collar whites. … According to the exit poll, [Tea Party Republican] Cuccinelli carried Virginia’s white voters without a college degree by 69 percent to 25 … McAuliffe captured nearly four-fifths of nonwhite Virginia voters.”

The Southern white working class does not figure in official Democratic party strategy, but this is challenged by progressives who aim to articulate the frustrations of the working poor. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has campaigned in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina to win over workers who currently vote against their class interests. He believes they will respond to an uncompromising socialist message; speaking to an In These Times reporter, he said: “These are people who are struggling to keep their heads above water economically, these are people who want Social Security defended, they want to raise the minimum wage, they want changes in our trade policy. And to basically concede significant parts of America, including the South, to the right-wing is to me not only stupid politics, but even worse than that—you just do not turn your backs on millions and millions of working people.”

The escalating campaigns for a higher minimum wage and recognition of worker rights at companies like Walmart are also showing signs of impatience with the stranglehold of corporate Democrats on the Obama administration. The public is demanding more fundamental change than the government can deliver. It’s time for a rebirth of the socialist tradition in America.

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Filed under health care, low-waged, Neoliberalism, Obama, occupy wall street, political analysis, poverty, public schools, Republicans, Walmart

Obamacare Crisis Week 2: Plutocrat Gangsters Hold America Hostage through Tea Party Posse


The US is entering its second week of a government shutdown. On the surface, life seems to be continuing as usual – at least, as far as the media is concerned.

Conservative Republicans, who are driving policy in Congress, are using the tactic of blocking government funding to delay the implementation of Obamacare. But their aim is to overturn established legislation that was passed in 2010. If the administration were to cave on this, it would have accepted the precedent that one chamber of Congress could enforce its will on government by holding funding hostage.

While Washington Democrats and Republicans maneuver for tactical advantage, the poor and near-poor are being punished. Government supplementary food programs, for example, have taken an immediate hit. Imara Jones pointed out on Democracy Now that the shutdown “comes on top of the dramatic cuts of sequestration. … mothers with young children… had gone to WIC sites and WIC programs in New York that were out of food. And that’s on day two…”

The shutdown is essentially a trial of strength between extremist billionaires and the executive branch. It’s not intended to achieve anything in itself, any more than Ted Cruz’s 21-hour monologue in Congress did. It is a ploy to put pressure on the Republican leadership and in turn on Obama through the coming debt ceiling negotiations to make bigger cuts in social spending and eventually eviscerate Social Security and Medicare.

Under Obama’s administration, the plutocracy has grown economically richer and politically more powerful, using unlimited access to new technology and media (thanks to the Supreme Court) to sway a disgruntled core of Tea Party supporters who have successfully elected extremist Republican candidates in gerrymandered constituencies. They in turn have been able to use weaknesses in the American political system to paralyze the government.

The New York Times reported on the plethora of well-funded conservative shell groups that have been campaigning against the health law, laundering political slush funds from the billionaire Koch brothers to create a sustained ideological onslaught on the idea of government-supported health care. The billionaires’ strategy has been to put pressure on Republican legislators through groups like “Heritage Action,” which has trained 6,000 paid “sentinels” to confront legislators around the country.

Their campaign builds on a Republican ideological narrative that portrays government deficits as unsustainable. Traveling to Congressional Tea Party leader Steve King’s constituency in rural Iowa, NYT reporter James Stewart “was surprised to hear in nearly all my conversations that the issue for people in this part of Iowa is less Obamacare than it is government spending in general. ‘We have to sacrifice now so our children will not be drowning in our debt,’ [King supporter and glass factory owner] Mr. Geels said.” Many online comments on the article pointed out that the region survived on massive agricultural subsidies, and in the event of another agricultural crisis like the 1980s would be appealing desperately for government help.

The shutdown has made major corporations and Wall Street nervous, but they are no longer able to command influence in the Republican party. The Associated Press commented that “the partial closing of the government and the looming confrontation over the nation’s borrowing limit highlight the remarkable drop in the business community’s influence among House Republicans, who increasingly respond more to tea party conservatives than to the Chamber of Commerce.”

Ironically, big business torpedoed Republican moderates in 2010, helping hard-core conservatives gain election to the House. Corporations might want a rollback of environmental regulations and even further cuts in their taxes, and Wall Street may be in favor of cutting Social Security, but neither want to crash the economy to achieve these aims. However, moderate Republicans face billionaire-funded attacks and attempts to unseat them in primaries if they voice their opinions.

Although some have argued that tea party ideology signifies a descent into insanity, it is in line with overall Republican strategy. The New York Times comments that despite its flaws, Obamacare “could fundamentally change the relationship between working Americans and their government. This could pose an existential threat to the small-government credo that has defined the G.O.P. for four decades. … To conservative Republicans, losing a large slice of the middle class to the ranks of the Democratic Party could justify extreme measures.”

Harold Meyerson points out that the party holds the House with a minority popular vote, the result of gerrymandered districting after the 2010 census. Either Republicans can exert influence by embracing minority rights, he says, or they can maximize their power “by trying to disrupt the nation to the point that the majority will be compelled to support Republican positions.” The redistricting will ensure there are no electoral repercussions for their intransigence.

Republican-controlled states like Mississippi have voted to reject government-subsidized Medicaid expansion, one of the health act’s provisions, which would have had the effect of expanding health coverage in the state’s predominantly white rural counties, which voted consistently to put Republican lawmakers into office.

Poor whites who presently form the conservative Republican demographic would then get the most benefits from Obamacare while, it turns out, poor blacks who live in Republican-controlled states would get little. “The irony is that these states that are rejecting Medicaid expansion — many of them Southern — are the very places where the concentration of poverty and lack of health insurance are the most acute,” said Dr. H. Jack Geiger, a founder of the community health center model. “It is their populations that have the highest burden of illness and costs to the entire health care system.”

While conservatives claim public support for their tactics, opinion polls tell a different story. Josh Marshall sums them up: “The public opposes [the shutdown] by overwhelming margins (70%+). The public also blames the shutdown on House Republicans by a substantial though not overwhelming margins (the number who blame Obama, in the mid-30s, roughly matches the base of the GOP).”

A Kaiser poll found that most Americans, even fervent opponents of the health law, were substantially in favor when asked about its individual provisions. “A majority of Republicans feel favorable towards seven of the 11 provisions asked about in the March poll, with seven in ten or more favoring tax credits to small businesses, closing the Medicare ‘doughnut hole’, and the exchanges,” researchers found.

The propaganda campaign against the law has created a great deal of public confusion, but what has been hidden in the furor about the government shutdown is that the launch of Obamacare on Tuesday generated a huge volume of traffic to its websites – 7 million people in the first two days, an unexpected volume that caused delays and access problems. There is clearly a huge pent-up demand for information about affordable health care.

Americans are genuinely worried about health care and the future. As Juan Cole points out: “This is an America where unemployment is stubbornly high for the Millennials, where the top 1% are taking home 20% of the national income (twice the proportion of just a few decades ago), and where people are struggling.” Young adults stay living with their parents, because even if they can get a job, it’s low-waged. Many are still burdened by college debt. In a Washington Post poll, almost two-thirds of people express concerns about covering their family’s basic living expenses, compared with less than half four decades ago.

Ralph Nader asks why big business, the Republican establishment, and the executive branch have suddenly become powerless. “Who is in charge here?” he writes. “Our Constitution opens with the words ‘We the People,’ not ‘We the Congress’ or ‘We the Corporations’.” It is time for the people to take sovereignty back into their own hands and disrupt the super-rich hostage-takers.

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Filed under debt limit impasse, Government shutdown, health care, Medicare, Obama, political analysis

Obama called to pay his political debts by the low-waged


Obama made a major speech at the National Defense University last Thursday, in which he stated that the United States cannot continue waging an endless global war on terror, and called on Congress to allow Guantanamo to be closed. “A perpetual war – through drones or special forces or troop deployments – will prove self-defeating and alter our country in troubling ways,” he said.

Although the speech called for a return to American values and the rule of law, appearing to make concessions to liberal critics, Obama’s rhetoric repeated Bush’s claim of a just war of self-defense, and appeared to broaden the scope of drone strikes. It contained no commitment to any practical limits on executive power to target individuals for extra-judicial killing.

Glenn Greenwald explains in detail how the purpose of the speech “was to comfort progressives who are growing progressively more uncomfortable with his extreme secrecy, wars on press freedom, seemingly endless militarism and the like … to see Barack Obama as they have always wanted to see him, his policies notwithstanding: as a deeply thoughtful, moral, complex leader who is doing his level best, despite often insurmountable obstacles …”

Obama wants to retain the support of the liberal left while continuing the militarization of the state he inherited from Bush. Essentially, he was arguing for the rationalization of the legacy of Bush’s war on terror, by closing Guantanamo and bringing the detainees into the US justice system.

Brookings Institution fellow Benjamin Wittes commented: “It was an effort to align himself as publicly as possible with the critics of the positions his administration is taking without undermining his administration’s operational flexibility. To put it crassly, the president sought to rebuke his own administration for taking the positions it has — but also to make sure that it could continue to do so.”

Whatever his original intentions, he has accepted and articulated the ideology of the security state. Washington Post correspondent Greg Sargent noted that “Obama defined his own role — that of commander in chief — as one that requires him to ultimately compromise core values and principles if he deems it necessary to maintain security. … ‘These decisions must be made, given my responsibility to protect the American people,’ he said — implicitly prioritizing security in the end above all as necessary to his role.”

Significantly, Obama was repeatedly challenged from the floor by CodePink activist Medea Benjamin, who called on him to use his presidential power to close Guantanamo immediately. She was eventually removed by security personnel while shouting several further questions, including: “Will you apologize to the thousands of Muslims that you have killed? You are commander-in-chief. You can close Guantanamo today! You can release those 86 prisoners.” Clearly discomfited, Obama was applauded by a section of the audience when he said: “The voice of that woman is worth paying attention to” (although he did nothing to prevent her being removed).

Benjamin told Democracy Now: “What you didn’t see [on the event’s video] is what was happening behind the scenes, of the Secret Service, the FBI, the people from the base coming over and saying, ‘You must come with us immediately, or you’ll be under arrest,’ and trying to grab me. And I was saying, ‘Don’t touch me. I’ll scream. You don’t want to make a scene in front of the president. You will regret this if you do it.’ And they were really confused about what to do.”

Their confusion reflected Obama’s reaction to being publicly challenged from the liberal left.  Increasingly, his failure to use his presidential power on behalf of the Democratic party’s traditional constituency is coming under fire from his frustrated supporters and he risks more vocal public opposition from the constituency that got him elected.

In the legislative branch, the government is hamstrung by the tea-party dominated Congress. But that doesn’t stop Obama from exercising executive privilege in favor of military control of global resources and enforcing government secrecy by prosecuting whistle-blowers and hackers. He uses the powers of his office to shield corporations and law enforcement, but appears paralyzed when it comes to altering the trajectory of the security state or assisting the struggles of the 99 percent.

The Washington Post recently pointed out: “Obama has been willing to push the bounds of executive power when it comes to making life-and-death decisions about drone strikes on suspected terrorists or instituting new greenhouse gas emission standards for cars. But at other times he has been skittish. When immigration activists first urged him to halt deportations of many illegal immigrants, for instance, Obama said he didn’t have the authority to do so. He eventually gave in after months of public protest and private pressure from immigrant and Hispanic advocates … Obama has forced changes in state-level education policy in a way past presidents have not. His Race to the Top program awarded billions of dollars in federal grants to select states that agreed to seek reforms based on administration standards.”

The marked contrast between Obama’s rhetoric and what he is prepared to use executive power for is straining his supporters’ credibility. After Thursday’s speech, Juan Cole commented: “He will continue to target journalists for intrusive surveillance until, he said, Congress passes a shield law (why can’t he just issue an executive order that journalists are not to be targeted)? … Obama could unilaterally put enormous pressure on Israel to change its policy of stealing Palestinian land and resources simply by declining to use his veto at the UN …”

Now the movement of the low-waged for a $15 minimum wage and an end to wage theft has intensified and is also making demands on the president they elected. Hundreds of non-union workers employed at the Smithsonian museums, the Old Post Office and Ronald Reagan buildings and Union Station in Washington, DC, went on strike Tuesday to draw attention to their low pay, demanding that Obama take executive action to improve labor standards for workers who are employed by private companies to do jobs backed by public spending.

The Congressional Progressive Caucus had earlier pledged support for their campaign, after hearing that the federal government indirectly employs nearly 2 million “low-wage” workers, defined as those making less than $12 an hour or $24,000 a year. A study by the labor-funded think tank Demos concluded that the federal government employs more low-wage workers than Walmart and McDonalds combined.

A minimum wage is set by the Service Contract Act for workers employed by government contractors in certain low-wage positions, such as janitors, food service workers and security guards. But those who work in concession spaces leased in federal buildings or museums are not covered. At the hearing, advocates called on President Obama to issue an executive order raising the act’s minimums and expanding it to cover more workers.

However, In These Times reports DC Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton told workers at the hearing that Obama could change the system immediately by adjusting the point system used to award federal contracts, giving extra points to companies that pay better wages.

A convergence of Obama’s liberal critics and the movement of the low-waged, calling on him to honor his political debts, signifies that he cannot for long maintain his balancing act between the plutocracy for whom he acts and his social support. That means it will be harder for him to put a liberal face on the cuts in entitlements he proposes in order to strike a “grand bargain” with Republicans, creating a political space for concerted opposition to the plan from within the Democratic party itself; this in turn will legitimize other movements of resistance.

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Filed under African Americans, health care, low-waged, Obama, political analysis, poverty, US policy, Walmart, We are the 99 percent

Occupy the Dream: a Hopeful Beauty is Born


Despite a defeatist and rightwing narrative that minority workers have no interest in the OWS/ We are the 99 percent,” the interracial and pluralist alliance that we called for on this blog has begun to come together, signaling a truly transformational era for America.

Occupy Wall Street and Black clergy have started “Occupy the Dream,” joining forces to protest the hold financial institutions have on the economy. They have initiated a new series of actions they consider a continuation of Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy. “Dr. King did not die for a monument,” said the Rev. Jamal Bryant. “He died for a movement and that movement must move forward.” According to Afro.com, Rev. Bryant described OWS as having “taken the methodology of the black church in the civil rights movement and brought it to the 21st Century.” Occupy the Dream will hold major demonstrations every month in 10 to 15 select cities across the U.S., beginning on Martin Luther King Day, Jan. 16, 2012.

Behind this is the fact that economic privileges expected by the middle class have disappeared, so that all Americans face the same fate of poverty without a safety net. The political divide between the professional middle class and the working class, which has been fostered by Republicans since the time of Nixon, has now no basis in social reality.

Barbara and John Ehrenreich, following E.P. Thompson’s analysis of the formation of the English working class, describe how the 99 percent began to articulate their interests as a group despite race and class differences. “For decades, the most stridently promoted division within the 99% was the one between what the right calls the ‘liberal elite’ — composed of academics, journalists, media figures, etc. — and pretty much everyone else. … [but] the idea of the ‘liberal elite’ could not survive the depredations of the 1% in the late 2000s. For one thing, it was summarily eclipsed by the discovery of the actual Wall Street-based elite and their crimes. Compared to them, professionals and managers, no matter how annoying, were pikers. The doctor or school principal might be overbearing, the professor and the social worker might be condescending, but only the 1% took your house away.”

Even though they have lost their encampments, the OWS are continuing to build alliances with groups protesting home foreclosures and evictions, and as in New York City working in solidarity with labor unions. The first union to come out in support of OWS was Public Transit Union (TWU) Local 100, and the occupiers returned the favor on Thursday by joining the TWU’s rally outside MTA headquarters in Manhattan to demand a fair contract and then marching to a rally at Liberty Plaza. Bus and subway workers are rejecting a 3-year wage freeze and givebacks on working conditions.

The pluralist orientation of the 99 percent has helped diverse groups to articulate their perception of the accumulation of vast wealth by the one percent at the expense of everyone else. Nurses on East and West coasts, who are on the front line of changes in Medicare provisions, have been made militant by reductions in staffing ratios and attacks on wages while the CEOs at the top of the medical industry earn huge salaries and bonuses.

In New York City, “nurses, who voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike, say they are being treated with disrespect by a corporate hospital culture that demands sacrifices from patients and those who provide their care, but pays executives millions of dollars.” They are being made to pay hundreds of dollars a year more for health care and medication, while the nurse to patient ratio is being reduced to an extent that threatens the quality of patient care.

The New York Times reported that the nurses’ sense of disrespect “crystallized when a management negotiator told them: ‘We have the money. We just don’t have the will to give it to you’.” The story quoted the president of the nurses’ bargaining unit, Jacklynn Price, who said: “‘They go home with bags of money, what I call these nonprofit oligarchs.’ … She cited a $1.2 million bonus paid last year to the [Mount Sinai] hospital’s chief executive, Kenneth L.  Davis, which brought his compensation to $2.6 million. ‘None of that could they do without nurses’.”

No wonder, then, that as the gap between the 1% and everyone else grows, Americans are uniting across racial, ethnic, and class lines. The tremendous solidarity of that union, which in the 1960s dreamed a better vision of what America could be and fueled the fight for it, has been revitalized.

As Barbara and John Ehrenreich write: “The Occupation encampments that enlivened approximately 1,400 cities this fall provided a vivid template for the 99%’s growing sense of unity. Here were thousands of people — we may never know the exact numbers — from all walks of life, living outdoors in the streets and parks, very much as the poorest of the poor have always lived: without electricity, heat, water, or toilets. In the process, they managed to create self-governing communities. General assembly meetings brought together an unprecedented mix of recent college graduates, young professionals, elderly people, laid-off blue-collar workers, and plenty of the chronically homeless for what were, for the most part, constructive and civil exchanges. What started as a diffuse protest against economic injustice became a vast experiment in class building. The 99%, which might have seemed to be a purely aspirational category just a few months ago, began to will itself into existence.”

A hopeful beauty is reborn in America.

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Filed under African Americans, bank foreclosures, financiers, health care, Medicare, new york stock exchange, occupy wall street, political analysis, poverty, strikes, We are the 99 percent

Is Screwing Seniors OK? NYT Reports that Democrats Flirt with Privatizing Medicare


Buried among its articles about Black Friday shopping, the New York Times published an article headlined “Support Builds for a Plan to Rein In Medicare Costs.” In case readers should get the idea that a breakthrough has been reached which would actually reduce the cost of providing needed services, the article begins: “Though it reached no agreement, the special Congressional committee on deficit reduction built a case for major structural changes in Medicare that would limit the government’s open-ended financial commitment to the program … Members of both parties told the panel that Medicare should offer a fixed amount of money to each beneficiary to buy coverage from competing private plans, whose costs and benefits would be tightly regulated by the government.”

Sarah Kliff commented on the NYT story in the Washington Post: “In some ways, you can read this as a big shift: Democrats have long been skeptical of allotting seniors a fixed-level of spending for Medicare. It could leave some seniors short of covering medical expenses, they have worried. The Medicare market could suffer, as all the healthy seniors gravitated towards less costly options, leaving the sick with increasingly costly options.”

That’s right. A trial balloon is being floated here to test a new narrative on controlling health care costs. Should the government cap the amount of money allocated to each senior to buy Medicare (so-called “premium support”), which mostly ends up in the pockets of the insurance and drug companies, or should the high profits of these companies be brought under control by using the government’s buying power to stop them creaming off the money intended to go to health care providers?

It looks as though congressional Democrats have offered to accept the premium support method of reducing actual benefits in exchange for the minimum amount of tax increase on the rich to make it politically palatable. They are also reinforcing the false premise that competition among private-sector companies creates a more efficient system than government control.

The NYT article makes no mention of the successful Republican filibuster which ended Donald Berwick’s recess appointment as administrator of Medicare and Medicaid. According to Talking Points Memo, “The irony is that Berwick is best known, and widely respected, for his academic work on making the U.S. health care system more efficient — i.e. how to save people, businesses, and the government money, and simultaneously improve patient care. … Berwick, like most liberals and Democrats, is of the school of thought that the system can be made much more efficient before it becomes necessary to roll back increasingly expensive government programs like Medicare and Medicaid. …  That’s why conservatives rejected Berwick’s nomination. He wanted to prove that the government does a better job financing health care — at least for the poor and elderly — than private insurance companies. The implication, if he’d succeeded, would have devastated the right’s campaign against the centerpiece of the Great Society. That’s why he had to go.”

But even more onerous than the Republican all-out attack on Medicare, is the congressional Democrats’ capitulation to the ideology of market capitalism that truly threatens the achievements of the Great Society. Is the NYT facilitating this capitulation?

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Filed under health care, marxism, Medicare, monetary economies, Obama, political analysis