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

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Healthcare Headache

When the Democrats put Max Baucus in charge of
Senate healthcare reform it certainly wasn't to promote a broad-
ranging discussion on how to reform the nation's broken healthcare system. It was to narrow the debate to a few corporate friendly options. Baucus has taken more money from the healthcare industry than any other member of congress. Blue Cross, Blue Shield, New York Life and Schering-Plough are his top five contributors. The conservative Blue Dog Democrats get 18% of their campaign contributions from the same sector.
America's healthcare system is the most expensive of the planet and leaves nearly 1/6th of us out in the cold and many more shivering. We have the poorest health outcomes in the developed world.
The industries stuffing money in the campaign chests of Baucus and the Blue Dogs are directly responsible for all of the above.
Insurance companies and HMOs make money by cherry picking patients, charging as much as the market will bear and denying care. Big Pharma are one of the most profitable industries on the planet and after their US customers finish funding their research, they pay more for their drugs than anyone else. 25-30% of our healthcare dollars go to administrative costs levied by the insurance giants.
Baucus's refusal to even discuss a single payer option, a proven and effective solution to what ails us, is a direct result of his own gross conflict of interest. The Democrats ran as the Party of change but plainly, it's business as usual.
The most disappointing Democrat by far is our president. He knows better and still refuses to act in the best interests of the country. His response to the considerable pressure being brought to bear for single payer doesn't pass the sniff test. No nation that has adopted a single payer, inclusive public health system "started from scratch". His fondness for schmoozing with healthcare industry bigwigs has CREW (Citizens for Responsible Ethics in Washington) up in arms. They have submitted a FOIA request to see who is and isn't visiting the White House.
Obama's hour long promise to the corporate sponsored AMA was depressing. He seems to be taking his cues from the opponents of reform rather than the advocates.
By the time the convoluted and costly plan being shoved through congress plays itself out, the current administration and their supporters will have left town and we'll be stuck with the the bill.
We pay for the best healthcare system on the planet and the last time I read the Constitution, the job of the president and congress are to see that we get it.
Carol DW

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


President Obama's outrage over the North Korean's nuclear test is understandable but rife with troubling inconsistancies.
He points out that the second nuclear test of the North Korean's is a "blantant violation of international law".
Is it a violation? The North Koreans withdrew from the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty in 2003 when Bush began threatening them. As a designated member of the "axis of evil" the North Koreans were quick to note Americans did not bomb or invade nations who had a nuclear arsenal.
As long the US continues to flaunt international law itself, the president stands on shrinking ground. The list of our crimes are long and varied; aggressive war, illegal occupation, torture, rendition, the use of banned weapons, failure to protect civilians, destroying civilian infrastructure, failure to provide aid and medical services to civilians, extra judicial detention, assassination by drone, stealing national resources and supporting the expansionist and genocidal agenda of other nations.
America's "soft power", the ability to influence others to operate in the common good will continue to be enfeebled as long as the policies that undermined it remain.
Obama's cries of "foul" will continue to have the ring of blatant hypocricy as long as he refuses to prosecute those Americans that did so much harm to so many.
Carol DW

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

President Obama

Your selection of General McChrystal, a man tainted by his past, to head the ill advised expansion of the war in Afghanistan exposes the fallacy of the position you outlined to the American people.
It seems clear that your refusal to prosecute torture is not because it's "litigating the past" but because you want torture in your tool box. Abuse continues apace at Guantanamo. Bagram, where torture began is open for business. You have all ready authorized rendition flights and now you select a man associated with brutality to run operations in Afghanistan. His soldier's may have been advised not to abuse civilians and prisoners but the CIA and mercenaries, those who have been most deeply involved in torture, are under no such constraints.
There are no fledgling democracies in the Middle East for you to protect only the degenerate remains of western meddling headed by our corporate lapdogs.
Aggressive war is a more serious war crime than even torture yet you are fully committed to a militant Afghan policy. The Taliban had nothing to do with 9-11 and no threat to the US.
Your willingness to flaunt legality and constitutional restraints is equal to that of the last president who the world is now demanding be brought to justice.
The folly of escalating military operations in Afghanistan exceeds the hubris and willful ignorance of the last administration. You have the advantage of seeing that years of unnecessary bloodshed, destruction and crippling expense in Iraq has produced nothing lasting.
There are reasons Bush and Cheney shunned Afghanistan and why you should also.
In the late 19th century a group of Afghans calling themselves The Taliban destroyed British forces and drove out the Empire. The Afghans beat the Persians, the Turks and the Russians.
The landscape is unbelievably rugged, infrastructure is non-existant and the climate much harsher. An air war will only harden innate national and cultural resistance.
You are squandering your presidency on an undertaking that is wrong in its inception, murderous in its conduct and futile in its outcome.
Carol DW

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Twilight of Reason

Obama's decision not to prosecute members of the CIA who
engaged in torture and offering them legal services at taxpayers
expense against future investigations is breathtaking in its flawed reasoning and hubris.
The speed at which he violated his oath of office has no peer. Even Bush took more time to show his true colors.
Citing the fear of low moral at the CIA if prosecutions were brought forward Obama gutpunched Justicia, knocking the scales clean out of her hands.
How many of us would think morale would improve in our workplace if those of our co-workers who had engaged in acts of torture and violent death against helpless victims were not prosecuted and incarcerated? Would you even want to use the restroom?
A spokesman said that these "practices" were no longer acceptable (were they ever?) and therefore not a problem.
Now let's translate that onto the streets of America. Murderers, rapists serial killers rejoice.
If you are no longer engaging in any of these at the present time, you will not be prosecuted. That was then, this is now.
Obama's convulted reasoning appears to be a product of turf battle over the release of memos containing graphic descriptions of torture.
It never hurts to follow the money. A mercenary firm named Triple Canopy is long time, generous supporter of Obama's political career. Firms like Titan and Blackwater have been involved in "enhanced interrogations" from their inception at Bahgram. Prosecutions could put a dent in the bottom line.
Besides, these guys have guns, the weapon of preference for assassinating American presidents.
PS It's worse than we thought. It seems our new president simply wanted to have torture in his toolbox. The fact that he is all ready using it makes prosecution a bit awkward.
Triple Canopy will be taking over some of the Blackwater contracts that have expired, and yes they are implicated in abuse as well.