Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Could Any President Fix This Mess?

Ed Schultz asked this question on air recently, presumably in defense of Obama and the growing unrest with his presidency. It's a good question and I think it deserves our attention. Could another President have done better?

I have to confess that I am tired of hearing excuses for Obama choices. "It's the right wing's fault he can't get anything done. It takes a long time. Maybe he's afraid of being assassinated. He
had to pass something. No one could resist the temptations of being one of ruling elite".
People want to like him and want him to do well. But it's just as important to understand if and when he is failing.

Let us begin by acknowledging that the right wing is not in power, the Democrats are. In fact it has it has been 40 years since a political party has enjoyed as much power as the Democrats now have.

Their dirty little secret is that they can pass whatever they want whenever they want. There is no Constitutional requirement for a super majority in the Senate or for a filibuster. The Democrats don't even need to vote on it. The party in power makes the rules. The party in power decides the agenda.

Rahm Emmanuel can just as easily spend his time butting DINO's heads together as he can seducing and arm twisting members of the Progressive Caucus to vote against their consciences.

Fixing the economy isn't rocket science. We know what to do. Stop the hemorrhaging. Correct the structural issues. Help the victims and put the offenders behind bars. It isn't rocket science. Has Obama done these things?

As long as the majority of Americans are still staggering under the weight of a multiyear recession while Wall Street hucksters are partying hearty, the answer has to be no. The only place any of the people who brought down the economy are serving time is in the White House. No jobs, no recovery and no justice.

It's not that Obama has tried to do the right thing and it just isn't working. He's not doing the right things.

He hasn't corrected the structural issues that brought the economy crashing down. The Wall Street Casino is still open for business and the banksters are still out there "slicing and dicing" and gambling, this time, with our money. These arrogant so and sos' are even refusing to lend to small businesses (the real engine of economic growth). Instead of exercising his legitimate power, Obama is looking the other way.

The only decent thing about the financial "reform" legislation is the new Consumer Protection Agency. Has Obama championed a credible head for this new agency? Nope. Elizabeth Warren is left twisting in the wind while Obama chats with Tim Geithner to see which of his Wall Street cronies will get the slot.

Obama has taken a passive role in managing our trillion dollar investment in the financial sector. That's just plain wrong. With ownership goes responsibility. He bought these banks in our name and it's his job to manage them for our benefit. He has the power and the responsibility to take over corrupt institutions and to make certain that our investments are safe, that people can stay in their homes and the economic recovery is being funded.

War is a huge drain on the economy and only a tiny minority benefit financially. The rest of us pay in blood and treasure. Instead of ending the costly resource wars in the Middle East, Obama has chosen to expand them. To "put a tin lid on it", he is still doing business with the same war profiteers that Bush and Cheney hired.

Part of "this mess" has to be the erosion of our civil rights and loss of America's legitimacy as democratic nation. Instead of closing Guantanamo Obama has added Baghram. Instead of rolling back Bush's mega-snoop machine, he has expanded it. He has even given himself the power to assassinate anyone he deems and enemy of the State. As bad as Bush/Cheney were, they didn't dare go that far.

Not one person from the last administration has ever even had to answer for their gross abuse of power, their crimes against humanity or their war crimes.

Speaking of messes, there is the Gulf of Mexico. BP is a corporation with a rap sheet as long as your arm. They have been found guilty of criminal negligence, wrongful death and numerous environmental crimes. Allowing them to engage in risky drilling projects off our shores is crime in itself. Fast tracking that project without proper safeguards is unforgiveable. Standing idly by while they poison our water, wildlife, people and food supply earns you a special place in hell. .

Pakistan just became the first victim of man-made global climate instability. 1/5 of that nation lies underwater. Obama sends in the Marines; not the State Department or NGOs, the Marines. Once they land they rarely leave. Ask the Afghans.

Pakistan is the first victim of global warming, One fifth of it is under water. Here is a perfect opportunity to convene an emergency summit on global climate crisis and all I hear is silence.

It seems clear to me that the Obama we thought we elected could have done a great deal to "fix this mess".This Obama can't do squat.

Carol DW

Monday, March 15, 2010

Health Care "Reform": Worse Than Enron

Imagine if Enron, instead of just bilking its customers and cheating its employees, had access to everyone's bank account. Imagine that when they are caught harming their customers, even committing negligent homicide, the money just kept rolling in. Then imagine that Enron was given control over the country's energy resources and everyone had to buy from them or a member of their cabal. That just about sums up what's wrong with Obama Care.

Congress is preparing to pass legislation that is the most invasive since income tax withholding. This time it's not for building roads and schools or protecting our shores, it's going directly to highly profitable private industries; the same industries that destroyed our health care system and have consistently blocked reform.

Congress is preparing legislation that would make any Mafia Don smile. It's a legislated protection racket that forces you to pay 25-30% of your health care dollars for a promise of access to a broken health care system; one that is marginally better than Greece. Only Congress and the President have the hubris to call it reform.

Congress is going to let insurers take their cut right out of your paycheck. The Senate's bill is even worse. They want to make it a criminal offense to not buy insurance. That goes well beyond the fantasies of any crime lord.

None of the legislation contains price controls, allows for bargaining power, places any limits on co-payments or addresses the shameful 25% decline rate that is industry standard. Before health insurance became the norm, medical care was actually affordable. A working family could actually afford to pay their medical bills.

HMOs, medical care manufacturers and big pharma were not slow to exploit the big pool of money collected by monopolistic insurers. Costs for medical care have risen many times the inflation rate every single year for decades.

When insurers discovered they wouldn't go to jail for denying care, they didn't hesitiate to beef up their bottom lines by doing so. As a result, least 17000 people die prematurely each year they can't get the health care they need. Tens of thousands more face financial ruin because of a health care emergency. Instead of putting the brakes on this feeding frenzy, Congress and the community organizer in the White House are preparing to put it on steroids.

Only a seriously dysfunctional institution and a criminally naive leaderwould end months of debate by deciding to make the world's most expensive health care system even more expensive. The State of Massachusetts has the system Congress is proposing and they are going broke trying to fund it. They have the highest health care costs on the planet and are beubg forced to cannibalize existing parts of the safety net like free clinics to keep it afloat.

The Democrats, (elect more of us and we'll change the direction of the country) have become the paid employees of health care insurers, big pharma, HMOs and medical manufacturers. Now they are trying to shove this legislation down our throats like Ginza Knives with a whole cart load of half truths and lies.

The President claims that he is supporting industries because they have agreed to price concessions. What he doesn't tell you is that those concessions have all ready been neutralized by inprecedented price increases over the past year.

Democrats will admit some of the legislation's shortcomings but tell you that "it's a step in the right direction."
It's not a "step in the right direction" to suck the life out of working Americans and deny them the health care the president and congress enjoy at public expense.
It's not a "step in the right direction" to institutionalize an industry that is an obstacle to good care.
It's not a step in the "right direction" to force the public to pay for a defective product AND the corruption of their own government.

Some Democrats are promising to "fix it later". The Democrats have NO track record for fixing bad bills they pass. Medicare Part D is still rotten legislation and big pharma is still rolling in dough. The more likely scenario is that health care corporations will turn right around and use the lucre from 50 million coerced new customers to maintain their lock on your government. They'll be able to do it using a smaller % of their profits.

Democrats whine about not having the votes (not true) and blame the GOP but it's the Democrats not the GOP who killed the public option. The GOP were never going to vote for any kind of health care bill. What's more, the Democrats didn't need them.

The Democrats pretend to be concerned about the 50 million uninsured but they won't let them buy into Medicare or give them access to Medicaid; a cheap practical solution that doesn't have to wait till 2014. They could even make it budget neutral by taking one or two days a month off from killing Afghans, enforcing existing laws governing government contractors or fixing Medicare billing fraud.

No matter what passes in the House and Senate, it's not about reform. It's about politics. It's about sucking up to the CEO's and large shareholders in order to fill Democratic campaign coffers. It's about bending over for the special interests deeper and wider than the GOP in the hope that they can starve them out of the political landscape. It's about a deeply flawed vision of their political future and a deeply cynical view of the American people. it's about a contagion of fear and cowardice on the part of our elected representatives and leaders.

These people are more than willing to trade our health, our lives and our dignity in order to purchase power.
They don't care about this coming economic disaster anymore than they cared about Enron or the collapse of our banking system. This isn't going to end when the bubble bursts with the shareholders taking a hit. Many more people are going to be harmed. This dirty monkey will be on your back, your children's and your grandchildren's back, forever.

Carol DW

Monday, December 14, 2009


The health care debate was stymied before it began by a President who met behind closed doors with industry captains and cut deals that were good for business and bad for people. The job of Congress was to dress up industry blood sucking to look like affordable health care for all. It took six months for the House to pass a bill so convoluted and complex that you won't know you that your wallet has been lifted without giving you the health care you need and deserve until it's too late. The job of the Senate is to tidy up after the House, making sure health care corporations get absolutely everything they want.

Physicians for a National Health Program posted a wonderfully appropriate cartoon on their website. It shows a group of surgeons around an operating table, bending over a patient with US Health System written on his arm. One of the surgeons is holding aloft a large, reeking organ with Big Insurance emblazoned on it and saying to his colleagues, "Aha, I think we have found the problem". Congress made a fatal misdiagnosis when they ignored the parasitic health insurance industry.

Most Americans are aware that the number one cause of personal bankruptcy is a medical emergency. What you probably didn't' know is that most of these people had health insurance. That is the case, according to Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, a physician and Harvard Medical School Instructor. More health insurance doesn't mean more health care. Three states passed bills almost identical to HR 3200 in the '90s. Washington and Oregon quickly ran out of money and had to cut coverage and benefits. Massachusetts, still laboring under this mandate has the highest health care costs on the planet and is cannibalizing their existing safety net to continuing funding it.

Everyone who talked about health care, from the president to business leaders to Congress, agreed that controlling costs was an absolute necessity. Apparently no one wanted to be the guy who pulled the plug on a system skims that 22% off the top and wastes another 6% in redundant administrative costs. According to PNHP, eliminating this wasteful system would save $400 billion a year (that's a "b") which could be then be used to provide care. Care, not insurance, is what Americans need.

The House Bill is "sin verguenza". It has no shame. If you are uninsured, you will be forced to purchase private, for profit health insurance. There are no caps on premiums, co-pays or deductibles. Health insurers are immune from anti-trust laws so don't expect much in the way of choice. The "public option" will only apply to 2% of the public and savings would be "miniscule". If you can't afford insurance, you will get some sort of public assistance. There is no provision for taxpayers to negotiate prices with insurers, drug manufacturers or health care providers.

With everyone being forced to purchase the pricy, defective products of for-profit insurers and taxpayers picking up the tab for those who are can't, the temptations for a predatory industry who are happy to let 20 thousand people die prematurely each year to boost the bottom line, are beyond the dreams of avarice. Since enforcement mechanisms are rare to absent, it may not even cover everyone.

Ralph Nader believes that that faulty billing all ready costing the Medicare/Medicaid system hundreds of billions of dollars each year. Their opportunities are paltry compared to those offered in the House "reform" package. It's the keys to the treasury, folks.

If you get sick, insurers will no longer be able refuse coverage or drop you but they can still raise your premiums and out of pocket expenses until you run through your savings and lose your house. Then taxpayers will be responsible for paying your premiums or your health care.
Insurance companies make a lot of their money by investing premiums. That's why your premiums go up at the same time your retirement investments are evaporating. When there is a major stock market "correction", taxpayers are going be forced to bail out health insurers, taking "too big to fail" to new heights. There is the potential for a health care stock market bubble, again leaving taxpayers on the hook to pick up the pieces after the super rich walk away with the profits.

The "community organizer that we elected" reached deep into taxpayers' pockets to bail out Wall Street and send 100,000 troops to country no one but big carbon producers care about but insisted that health care "reform" be budget neutral. To that end Congress will be robbing a half a trillion dollars from Medicare and Medicaid at the worst possible time. With baby boomers coming on line for Medicare and more and more people losing their homes and jobs, Congress should be beefing up these staples of the social safety net not using them for venture capital.

As an adjunct to "non reform, reform", the House moved to monetize the highly profitable drug industry by protecting its monopoly on "biologic drugs", the cutting edge for treating some of our most intractable diseases. For the foreseeable future, these companies will be able to go on charging hundreds of thousands of dollars. Either taxpayers will be on the hook for paying their exorbitant asking price or be responsible for leaving people to die.
No, we are not letting drug manufacturers recoup losses for research. 95% of drug research is publicly funded. Drug manufacturers have never had to purchase these drugs or pay a dime in royalties. It's pure, publicly funded profit.

The job of the Senate is to strip away whatever pretensions to reform the House bill may have and hand it on a plate to a salivating health care industry. I haven't seen a single "compromise" come out of "the deliberative body" that doesn't degrade the all ready miserable HR 3200. Dropping Medicare to 55? Good luck getting there if this bill passes.

How did this happen? How did we get from single payer for all to a welfare package for an industry that makes more money when you suffer?

Under our system of government, the legislature is supposed to debate issues and write laws. The president may submit bills and voice his in support for the kind of legislation he thinks is best, but he is and administrator not a legislator. In an amazing usurpation of power and a stunning betrayal of the progressive forces that elected him, Obama, a single payer advocate as a Senator and a Presidential candidate, edged out Congress and kicked single payer to the curb.

Before a real debate could take place in the House, Obama started meeting secretly with CEOs in the health care industry. Allegedly fearing a media blitz by the industry similar to the one that sunk the Clinton's health care boat, he obtained what he thought were concessions from drug insurers, health insurers and health care deliverers. The deals were transmitted to Congress thru Max Baucus, a blue dog awash in corporate campaign dollars who held faux hearings and liaised with right wing. The Senate immediately began crafting a bill that would substantially weaken any populist tendencies that the House might aspire to.

When the Progressive Caucus in the House refused to vote for any bill without a robust public option, Obama sent Rahm Emmanuel and his minions to the House to threaten progressives with excommunication, browbeat them and questioned their loyalty. The Hacker Amendment which allowed 129 million Americans to choose public health insurance was buried. Eventually the Progressive Caucus broke and voted for a public option that might cover 2 million people and is all ready effectively dead in the Senate.

Pelosi et al insured industry profits were completely protected by stripping an amendment from the House bill that would have shielded states from litigation by for-profit health insurers if they set up their own single payer system. Ten states are currently considering doing so but face serious legal challenges.

If current legislation passes, the best Americans can hope for some kind of insurance policy from the industries that have been shortening their lives and bankrupting them in exchange for massive subsidies. These industries will then be free to then use our tax dollars to block any future reform and we will be locked into a system that doesn't work for the foreseeable future.

There is a great deal of speculation about why Obama took a dive on health care reform. Internet diva Jane Hamsher and Slate journalist Glen Greenwald believe it's all about the money. They believe Obama is afraid of losing his Democratic Congress in 2010 and equally afraid that if he doesn't toe the corporate line, health care money will start to flow to Republican coffers. It would be a real shame if we lost all those dedicated public servants (tongue in cheek) who have done so much to improve our lives.

Maybe Obama is cynical enough to believe that most Americans can't tell the difference between a Congressman who is protecting their interests and one with a slick ad campaign but who is really selling them down the river. I think our president has a bad case of galloping hubris. It takes a lot of arrogance to ignore the anger of Americans who are sick of a government that uses and abuses them. It takes a lot distain for plight of ordinary Americans to launch yet another frontal assault on their means.

Is any legislation better than nothing? No. The Democrats have no track record for fixing anything "later". "This or nothing" that the Democratic Party suits are waving at us is not a reasonable, adult choice. When it's about our money and our health, it's completely unacceptable.

Is it really important to "pass something" no matter how lame or counterproductive? There are times in life when "passing something" is a great relief and highly recommended but crafting important legislation that affects every single American isn't one of them.

Is the president really hamstrung by the right wing and members of his own Party? Only incompetence and corruption are preventing the Democrats from being effective. They own Congress and the White House. They have more power than the right wing ever had. There is absolutely no reason why Rahm can't beat up the Blue Dogs and a few wingnuts instead of the Progressives. There is absolutely no reason (except for the above) why Democrats have to start every debate with huge concessions to a minority of irrelevant extremists.

When it comes to something as personal and fundamental as the health and well being of our own bodies, the care of our children and loved ones, no one should be content to "lie back and think of England". Don't let the press and Party politics confuse you. The issue is decent health care for all not Obama's fight to save "his presidency".

For the first time in my life I am cheering on the tea baggers, the Stupak's, the Liebermans and the Nelsons hoping against hope that their overreaching will destroy Obama's pretentions to progressive values and kick over the steaming pile the "bought and paid for congress" has produced. There a chance that willingness of Democratic leadership to accomodate these Luddites will create a bill no one can vote for and hope to be re-elected. Without a doubt Congress and the President need to shake off their corporate shackles and go back to the drawing board and without a doubt, we need to build a national movement for a single payer system.

We may have to wait for Baucus's latest scandal to send him back to Montana or into the arms of the industry he represented so well. We may have to wait till next year when a few more Blue Dogs are sent packing, back to their kennels south of the Mason Dixon line. We may have to wait till we get a president who can get his priorities straight. In the meantime, Congress has a moral and Constitutional obligation to address the worst abuses of the corporate health care industry and broaden the safety net. Our job is to force them, by any means, to do so.

Americans are not expecting health care in their Christmas stockings, they are just demanding what they have worked for and paid for many times over. They need what every other developed nation all ready has; decent, affordable, available health care. There is nothing the American people have done to deserve the Halloween nightmare the President and Congress are flogging in the name of reform. We simply cannot accept a system that will continue to haunt us long after these selfish men and women have left the public arena.
Carol DW

Recommended Reading: For a better understanding of the underlying philosophy of Obama and those shaping heath care policy in his administration and the emerging divisions in Congress read Glen Greenwald's latest.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


Thank goodness for documentarian Ken Burns who helps us understand that the real American spirit lies somewhere outside the halls of power and the relentless militarism of recent decades.
It is significant that the creator of "The Civil War" and "War" about WWII awarded the title of America's best idea to the simple act of taking care of what we all ready have.
The National Parks: America’s Best Idea” Burns latest documentary is a stunning example of his work.
But Burns left a gaping hole in the historical record of the Parks System by giving David Brower, founder of the modern conservation movement and spiritual heir of John Muir, only a bit part. I knew Brower and was associated with the Sierra Club during the growth of the conservation movement. Since this is part of my personal history and I'd like to do my part to fill in the historical record.

With his signiture style of documentary, Burns has discovered how to make history as engaging and immediate as today’s news. His unique style of documentary weaves together the ragged fragments of the past into a compelling narrative.

“The National Parks” is well worth setting aside the 10 hours it takes to watch. Not only will you be bathed in beauty but you'll learn to appreciate a whole new class of American heroe. You will understand that it has never been easy to protect even a small corner of our nation from the rapacious appetite of big business and the ignorance and corrupton of decision makers.

Sadly few of us will have the same quality of experience Burns reminisces about or be allowed the unrestricted access he and his film crew enjoyed.
Time and a lack of political will have taken their toll on aging infrastructure. Many of the Parks have been degraded by neglect, inappropriate development, penny pinching, under staffing, mismanagement and the power of special interests. Burns and his fortunate crew did not have to contend with seasonal closures, capricious restrictions, limited visiting hours, irritating traffic congestion and the hub bub of peak season crowds that afflict most visitors today.
Given the state of many of our best loved parks, is Burns film a celebration or a eulogy?
Burns skims over uncomfortable facts such as the majority of park employees being underpaid, seasonal help or that luxury homes crowd the borders of parks. He ignores the gas and oil leases that threaten Park integrity and transfer even more public wealth into private hands. Many Park boundaries were drawn before the word ecosystem was in the dictionary. Vital food sources for animals and migration routes were inadvertenely cut off. Park boundaries sometimes left sensitive areas unprotected or at the mercy of multi-use agencies like the BLM and Forest Service.
Perhaps Brower ended up on the cutting room floor because he was never a man to sugar coat unpleasant realities. He spoke in defense of downtrodden park employees and spoke out against the "Corporate takeover of nature and the Disneyfication of Wilderness".

Burns blows by Brower's enormous contribution to the Parks System itself and the populist conservation movement he founded that has been crucial in defending it. Instead he focuses on the battle for Dinosaur National Monument, unaware or uninterested in the fact that Brower considered it "the greatest sin of my life". The scrapping of the Echo Park dam , slated to built in the middle of Dinosaur was not the triumph Burns described. It was a trade. Brower and other key members of the conservation community agreed not to oppose two other dams slated to be built in Colorado River Basin. One of them was Glen Canyon.
Dam building was very popular with western states congressmen. Dams provided water storage for the arid west, cheap but unneeded electricity and gas powered, mass recreation. In all, eight dams were planned for the Colorado River Basin. Floyd Dominy, Browers arch rival in the Bureau of Recreation, poorly educated in the more delicate art of nature and scarred by a hard scrabble life in Wyoming, believed in the sanctity of dams and dam building.
Brower, like John Muir, the founder of the Sierra Club, was drawn to wild places and spent as much of his life in them as possible. In 1952 when Brower took over the reins of the Sierra Club, he was an accomplished mountaineer and guide. He had 70 first ascents, stretching from Canada to Ship Rock on the Navajo Indian Reservation. But the Sierra Club Brower inherited was not the dynamo of conservation justice we think of today. There were only 2000 well-heeled members, whose interests were limited to keeping mountains nice for their outings and happily nursing a portfolio of blue chip stocks. What the new Executive Director had in mind was something entirely different.
Browers passion for preservation was awakened in Europe during WWII, where he trained members of the 10Th Mountain Division in mountaineering and cross country skiing. He saw first hand the fate of Europe's wild places and feared that the US was heading down the same path. He knew that a handful of private outdoor clubs could not stand against the powerful interests that threatened America's last wild places. Brower set out to build a national consensus; a powerful and effective conservation movement.
One of his projects was to publish a series of exhibit format books with stunning photography, interwoven with poetry and prose that delivered a strong conservation message. He agonized over ever print, wrote much of the copy and searched the world for the best printers. He wanted readers to weep over the beauty of our last wild places and rush to save them.
Brower was not someone to wait around for permission. He committed a substantial amount of Sierra Club resources to the publishing venture without formal Board approval.
The books were extremely successful. They became the gold standard for coffee table books and they sold like hotcakes. Sierra Club membership swelled to 77,000.
Brower's messianic zeal was hard on the people around him. There was a level of chaos that followed in his wake and his methods sometimes bruised egos. The fact that his unconventional methods were so successful made it even harder for his antagonists to swallow.
Brower had never visited Glen Canyon, located in a near roadless area on the Utah Arizona border, when he helped to seal its fate. After the dust had settled from the Dinosaur battle, he and his family floated the canyon, past its red walls and side canyons with names like Ticaboo Rapids, Sundog Bar, Music Temple and Cathedral Canyon. He realized that he'd made terrible mistake. He saw that it was an amazing place, fragile and unique and no place for dam; especially a dam that would back water up 187 miles, completely drowning the canyon and destroying the unique ecosystem. Unfortunately, the dam was nearly completed.
Never one for hand-wringing , Brower launched a vigorous campaign opposing Glen Canyon Dam. He published the large format book “The Place No One Knew” with stunning photographs by Eliot Porter and shuttled back and forth between San Francisco and DC imploring Congress to reconsider. He bombarded them with facts and figures.
Brower was the first conservationist to use paid advertising in national newspapers to affect public opinion. He bought advertising in newspapers culminating in a full page ad comparing the flooding of Glen Canyon to “the flooding of the Sistine Chapel so visitors could get closer to the ceiling”. It was a response to the one of Dominy's claims that people could enjoy the canyon better from motor boats.
The ads sparked a huge public protest against the dam. Dump trucks full of letters from citizens arrived in Washington; 95% were against the dam. They also caused outrage in the halls of power. The IRS took away The Sierra Club’s tax-exempt status, citing the "Sistene Chapel" ad and claiming it constituted lobbying. Since many other tax exempt groups were engaging in similar activities unimpeded by the IRS, the decision was almost certainly politically motivated. Brower claims it was Morris Udall, congressional ally Stewart Udall's brother.
Over time, pro and anti-Brower factions had formed on the Sierra Club Board. The 1968 election put the conservative anti-Brower faction in the majority. The tax issue provided a convenient way to push him out which the following year.
It was a crushing blow. Brower's protege, Ansel Adams and almost all his friends voted against him. Brower looked stunned as he emerged from the meeting room, brandishing a copy of the San Francisco Chronicle. On the front page of the paper were the headlines "A Giant Falls" and underneath a picture of the giant Wawona Tunnel Tree in health. The photo was taken by Ansel Adams and standing beside tree was a much younger David Brower. He quipped about both of the tree and himself falling together and you could see the disappointment and sadness on his face.
The campaign that cost Brower his job did not prevent the flooding of Glen Canyon but it did prevent two dams being built in the Grand Canyon, even though Dominy insisted that a free flowing Colorado River was "no good to anyone". Even those who voted against Brower believed that saving the Grand Canyon from development was worth the loss of their tax exempt status.
Europe may have awakened the Brower but it was the Bureau of Reclamation that radicalized him. Bloodied but not bowed, Brower founded Friends of the Earth within a year of leaving Sierra Club. Today Friends of the Earth continues to be influential and boasts independent affiliates in 68 countries. Brower did more to export the idea of parks than almost anyone else. Brower helped create the League of Conservation Voters and later founded the Earth Island Institute, both flourishing as we speak.
Brower’s achievements as a Park benefactor are the equal of any of Burns's brightest stars. In addition to preventing dams from being built in the Grand Canyon, he prevented dam construction inside saved King’s Canyon National Park. He spearheaded the establishment of Redwood National Park, the North Cascades National Park, Point Reyes National Seashore, Cape Cod National Seashore, Glacier Peak Wilderness Area and more. He was key in getting the Wilderness Act passed and establishing the National Wilderness Preservation System, a whole new paradigm in conservation and preservation.
Brower was nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize. In 1998 he was awarded the Blue Planet Award for lifetime achievement, an even richer prize than the Nobel. He used some of the generous proceeds to establish the Glen Canyon Institute whose primary goal is the draining of Lake Powell and the restoration of Glen Canyon. Brower passed away in 2000 but even in death he fights on. The Brower Institute in his hometown of Berkeley provides scholarships and education.
Brower was intelligent, engaging, charming, forthright, impatient and inconvenient. Almost no one could match his energy and drive. That was his gift and his curse. He'd fly to DC, lobby all day, fly back that night, dump a manuscript he'd written on the plane, full of run on sentences on someone's desk and call you up at midnight and ask you to run an errand. He demanded a great deal of those around him but no more than he demanded of himself.
His unwillingness to bow before the altar of corporate or political power made him dangerous man and a shining example to us all.

His critics called him raucous and brash and unreasonable; the exact combination of personality traits required to penetrate the armour and egocentric venality of the ruling elite. Compared to killer instincts of the corporatocracy, Brower was sweet reason itself. His accomplishments are legion and everything he did benefited everyone of us.
Brower chastised those who did less than he was willing to do. “Polite conservationists leave no mark except the scars upon the earth that could have been prevented had they stood their ground”
He was the enemy of any technology that produced large-scale environmental degradation. He was one of the first to uncover the hidden costs of hydroelectric power and to recognize the negative environmental impact. He stood firmly against America’s worst idea, nuclear energy. He was fond of saying “any technology should be assumed guilty until proven innocent” and he was right. He was not afraid to take on the third rail of conservation, population control.

The Park System and the conservation movement itself are expressions of a deeper philosophy that challenges most corporate, economic and religious thought; that we are stewards of the earth and not its masters. It is an observable belief that places us within the web of life and challenges the magical thinking that places us apart from the rest of the natural world. Brower's genius was his ability to articulate this in a way that resonated with millions of people around the world.
That we are nature and nature, inextricably linked, is us is not just America’s best idea, it’s the planet’s best idea. As Brower himself said, “there is no business to be done on a dead planet”. Fighting for ideals you believe in is the next best idea.
To me Brower is important not just for his accomplishments but as a model for confronting the destructive powers that threaten not only the wild places but our very existance. He accused his adversaries of treating the planet "as if we had a spare". That remains true to this day.
His life is a reminder that the most important battlefield is not in some foreign land but close to home. If we follow in his footsteps it will require each of us to be just as exasperating, just as courageous and just as uncompromising.
Carol DW

Monday, September 21, 2009


A behind the scenes look at the budget process of local government in these “interesting times”.

When the pirates on Wall Street and their friends
in goverment finished raping and pillaging the economy, they left an ugly trail of despair and desperation in their wake. Their victims are showing up at shelters, soup kitchens, emergency
rooms and tent cities that are mushrooming across the nation. They include the well educated and the victims of our more recent military adventures. The job market, never robust during the Bush years, is shrinking at an alarming rate. All this is happening at a time when States, Counties, Cities and Communities, charged with their care, are experiencing huge revenue shortfalls.
In King County WA, which includes the city of Seattle, Council Members are trying to solve the shortfall by channeling Ronald Reagan. Close parks, shut down 911 emergency services and allocate zero dollars for human services. Give law enforcement a raise and hope for the best. The ugly phrase “public/private partnerships’ was bandied about by one council member. A smug euphemism for transferring even more of the public wealth to the private sector.

The shortsightedness and brazen inhumanity of these budget decisions are incomprehensible. How can one human being say to another that their need is of no consequence? When people are granted power, is it a requirement to have one’s humanity surgically removed?
Dismantling welfare programs (400+vendors) always ends up costing more than any short-term savings. The ensuing chaos created by slashing vital services costs is exponentially more expensive than maintaining current levels of service. The social costs continue far beyond the temporary budget crisis.
When the people making these proposals take home $120,000 of taxpayer’s dollars every year, the process becomes obscene.

The sad and sorry fact is that even in good times King Country has never allocated a set amount to HHS. Law enforcement and the Courts are mandated expenses but not the simple, sensible act of helping those in need. The desperate and adrift have always had to rely on the crumbs from short-term revenues.
In the same budget session King Country managed to find federal dollars to help “stabilize” real estate prices by offering first time homebuyers down payment assistance but no one even mentioned looking for federal dollars to help with the HHS shortfall.

A group of determined citizens showed up a recent budget meeting to voice their displeasure at their cold-hearted approach to the victims of Wall Street’s unchecked greed. Church leaders spoke about being cognizant of their own vulnerability and mindful of the suffering of others. Others questioned 73% of the general fund going to law enforcement and courts, demanding that a paltry 3% be allocated to helping the most vulnerable.
While the council members were “feeling our pain” and fretting about how difficult it was to solve this problem, the man next to me silently held a sign aloft; “tax the rich”.
This common sense message failed to penetrate the consciousness of the Council. There are many profiting from "disaster capitalism".
There are systemic problems in the tax structure that are impacting the current crisis. Too many responsibilities have been off loaded onto local government and too few Federal dollars are returned to the States.
In the end, Council members recommended a 1% mandate HHS, about six million dollars. That leaves law enforcement about 438 million to scrape by on.
The King County Council called their paltry recommendation a “political victory” for us. It was a telling phrase. When Council Members have to make choices they don’t consider the problem, they consider the politics of the problem. What interest groups will make the most noise if they negatively impacted and which populations have little or no power? That is why politicians instinctively reach for the worst possible solution in a crisis, screw the poor and vulnerable.
That is precisely how the powerful become separated from their humanity.
That is how people who exercise power become dangerous to the society they live in.
Carol DW

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Judge Bybee: Coming to a Court Room Near You

From time to time Seattle has the dubious honor of hosting Judge Bybee, one of the infamous authors of the torture memos.
He sits on the 9th District Court, a lifetime appointment awarded to him by President Bush for providing legal cover (albeit thin) for the Bush administration's brutal interrogation practices. Since the date of these memos, more than a hundred people (that we know of) have died in US custody. Many more have been permanently injured in mind and body.
There is evidence that "enhanced interrogations" were used to provide justification for the extra legal invasion of Iraq.
Under domestic and international law, torture is always crime. There are no mitigating circumstances and no statute of limitations. Conspiring to commit torture ( Bybee's gig) bears the same punishments as torture.
To his credit, Bybee has expressed regret for having written the memos. Regret is not the same as doing time for doing the crime. It is a stain on the character of our new president (or worse) that that Bybee continues to sit in judgment instead of in a cell.
A dozen or so patriotic citizens decided to provide a welcome for Judge Bybee outside the courthouse where he was presiding. It would be a small demonstration that including pictures of Bybee's victims, a large paper mache statue of Justice, peeking through her blindfold and a motley assortment of peace and justice folks. The most aggressive thing planned was to hand out literature and postcards addressed to the Attorney General.
When the demonstrators arrived, Homeland Security was waiting. In addition to the usual courthouse security , there were SEVEN white vans each containing uniformed, armed guards ssurrounded the building. Several were parked in right in front of the demonstration. There was an assortment of plain clothes officers looking like Mormon missionaries. There were no terrorists for Homeland Security to sniff out and the most dangerous person, aside from themselves, was Bybee.
How they knew we were coming is puzzling. It was an ad hoc event put together through frantic phone calls and last minute email messages. Were they reading our email, listening in on our cell phones or is there a mole?
How would Homeland Security react if we were to stand around in front of their headquarters
with guns strapped to our hips and a cadre of men in black suits with cell phones clapped to their ears. How much did it cost tax payers to provide that much intimidation?
My apologies to good cops everywhere, but I have yet to encounter a situation where police involvment didn't mean that things were going to get a lot worse. This was no exception.
About 40 minutes into the demonstration the man in the picture took out a camera and began aggressively photographing all the demonstrator's faces, including myself. When I began photographing him, he and his ICE badge hot-footed it up the stairs. He looked haunted.
A short time later this same man had a short middle aged woman arrested. Two armed Homeland Security officers grabbed her roughly by the arms and marched her up the steps into the building. She was charge assault??? and banned from court property.
During the Bush years I had read accounts of demonstrators being harassed and spuriously arrested. Riding rough shod over citizen's constitutional rights was one of Bush's favorite pastimes. It was outrageous but not surprising.
In my wildest dreams I never imagined that this would continue under a new administration. It had all the stupid militancy of a Banana Republic, legitimizing itself by force. The message was clear: "sit down and shut up, or else". This is not the America I know and care for.
This was a journey to another country; one I wish I had not taken.
Carol DW

Saturday, August 8, 2009


Shortly before Obama redeployed US troops to Afghanistan Rep. McDermott (D-WA), just returned from the region, warned the President that increasing our military presence would be, costly, deadly and counterproductive. He likened Obama's situation to Kennedy's Bay of Pigs.

Long before either man was elected, the Pentagon had invasion plans languishing in their vaults waiting for a young, inexperienced president, eager for success and unwary of the uncertainties of war. McDermott, went on to say that Obama was an intelligent man and he hoped he would discover the folly of a militaristic policy in Afghanistan. He didn't.
Now with body counts ballooning and Obama's generals telling him that the US is losing, it's all too apparent that intelligence without wisdom or experience is a poor commodity.

In very short time Obama has shown us that he is man unready to face America's problems head on. His timidity has ensnared him in every trap that might undermine his effectiveness.

The financial bailout package pushed through congress, contrary to public opinion and against the best advice, rewarded the authors of economic destruction and punished their victims. Obama's persuasive rhetoric was the candy coating on another raid on the treasury by the ruling elite. The economy continues to trend downward, toxic assets still threaten the banks. There is no such thing as a jobless, homeless recovery.

Obama's health care package, crafted by the lobbyists he promised to shun and rife with concessions, has become a plutocrats dream; a bonanza for the corporate elite and their major shareholders. A big bill for tax payers. The fact that it will do little to raise the standard of health care, in steep decline since ascent of the corporate model or reduce costs, driven by the greed of CEOs and major shareholders, has fallen off Obama's radar.

Obama's reluctance to prosecute the war criminals and garden variety crooks that swelled the ranks of the last administration, is his most foolish decision to date. He has signaled his enemies, some of most ruthless and dangerous people on the planet, that anything goes. He has freed them from the cares of imminent prosecution and allowed them to fully focus on bringing down his administration.

Sidelining the Constitution and selectively administering the law undermines the social contract that between a government and its people. When the rich and powerful can do as they like, the society becomes fundamentally unjust. No government can maintain itself happily or long under these conditions.

A thousand years ago, a ten year old boy was thrust upon the throne of England after his brother was murdered by members of mother's household (not so very far from the current political climate). Aethelred's reign was marked by division, violence and failure. History dubbed him Aethelred the Unready. The epithet was not as much a reference to his youth, as a condemnation of the Royal Council (representing the vested interests of the day) whose advice was unfailingly bad. In the old Anglo Saxon raed means counsel. The combined form, ironically translated to "noble counsel". Aethelred, and Unraed is a play on words; noble council, no council. Aethelred may have been an intelligent boy but bad advice coupled with youth and inexperience are a recipe for disaster. Without a doubt Obama is being ill served by the cynical insiders surrounding him. But is that all?

No one forced Obama to be president. He fought for power. He didn't inherit his father's counselors, he chose his own. If they do not serve (they don't) he has the power to replace them (he's not). Obama is young but he has the responsibility to draw on the experience and wisdom of others. Obama is not a king, he is meant to preside, to execute the office the president. His refusal to act in concert with the majority opinion of Americans on every major issue is the stuff of kings. Even kings can only manage it for a limited time.

The storm clouds are gathering over the Obama presidency. His ratings are said to be in free fall. His netroots administrators are sending out frantic messages asking for new strategies, a job usually left to the Madison Avenue suits who packaged Obama as a reformer. Progressives are finding that, contrary to the latest White House meme, there is absolutely nothing "in it for them". McDermott's people say that Progressive Caucus is very unhappy with many of Obama's policies. The 91% of the victims of Wall Street Banksters sacrificed to line the pockets of the undeserving rich are unlikely to support for "four more years". Ditto for the "filibuster proof" Congress. The destructive forces that Obama has failed to contain are continuing their assault on the economy. Obama's ideological enemies (the birthers, the anti-healthcarists, wingnuts and warped descendents of merchant princes) are circling. Non-voters, motivated by the horror of the Bush administration, are unlikely to show up again.

Obama has moved from the "Audicity of Hope" to tarnished hopes in a matter of months. Even his supporters are calling his presidency a squandered opportunity. Obama has said he's willing to be a one term president. No one is working harder toward that end than he, himself.

Carol DW