31 July 2009

Barack, Health Insurance, and Your Best Interests

Top Ten Ways To Tell Your President & His Party Aren't Fighting For Health Care For Everybody
By Bruce A. Dixon / July 29, 2009

With the corporate media relentlessly distorting the public discussion around health care reform, it time for some clear, bright lines to help us tell who is doing what to whom, and whether any of it leads to health care for all of us. Here are ten of them.

Barack Obama and Democratic majorities in the House and Senate were swept into office on a promise they would deliver affordable and accessible health care for all Americans. But the corporate media journalism limits the national health care conversation to what insurance companies, drug companies, for-profit health care professionals, their executives, lobbyists and politicians of both parties and other hirelings have to say. So it isn't as easy as it ought to be to tell what the politicians are doing about accomplishing health care for everybody. Hence we offer these ten points. This is how you can tell whether your president and his party are fighting for the health care you deserve.

1. Their plan doesn't cover the uninsured till at least 2013.

2013 isn't “day one.” It's not even after the midterm election. It's clear after the president's second term, if he gets one. Congress passed Medicare in 1965 and president Lyndon Johnson rolled out coverage for millions of seniors in eleven months, back in the days before they even had computers.

22,000 Americans now perish each year because they can't get or can't afford medical care, and this year three quarter million personal bankruptcies will be triggered by unpayable medical bills. Why this president and these Democrats are in such a hurry to pass health care now that doesn't take effect till two elections down the road doesn't make sense in any kind of good way.

2. Their “public option” isn't Medicare, won't bring costs down and will only cover about 10 million people.

The “public option” was sold to the American people as Medicare-scale plan open to anybody who wants in that would compete with the private insurers and drive their costs downward. But in their haste not to bite the hands that feed them millions in campaign contributions each hear, the president and his party have scaled the public option back from a Medicare-sized 130 million to a maximum of 10 million, too small to put cost pressure in private insurers. Worse still, the president and his party are playing bait-and-witch, not telling the public they have reduced the public option, to nearly nothing.

This remnant of a public option is not Medicare, as Howard Dean insists, and it will not lead to the sort of everybody-in-nobody-out health care system that most Americans, whenever they are surveyed say they want.

Some Senate and House Democrats want to ditch even the pretense of a “public option” in favor of something they're calling a private insurance “co-op”, which as near as anybody can tell has the same relationship to an actual cooperative that clean coal has to actual coal.

3. The president and his party have already caved in to the drug companies on reimporting Canadian drugs, on negotiating drug prices downward and on generics.

This explains why Big Pharma, the same people who ran the devastating series of anti-reform “Harry and Louise” ads to spike the Clinton-era drive to fix health care are spending $100 million to run Obama ads using the president's language about “bipartisan” solutions to health care reform.

4. The president and his party have received more money from private insurers and the for-profit health care industry than even Republicans, with the president alone taking $19 million in the 2008 election cycle alone, more than all his Repubican, Democratic and independent rivals combined.

Democratic senator Max Bacaus got $1.1 million in 2008. Democratic senators Harkin, Landreau and Rockerfeller each got over half a million, and Senator Durbin got just under half a million. Other Democratic senators got a little less. Four Democrats in the House, Rangel, Dinglell, Udall and Hoyer got over half a million apiece in 2008, with other Democrats not far behind.

Is there any wonder that the insurance companies, like the drug companies are also running “bipartisan health care reform” commercials using the president's exact language?

5. The president's plan, and those of Republicans and Democratic blue dogs too, will require families to purchase health insurance policies from private insurers.

This is something the policy wonks call an "individual mandate," under which Individuals will be “mandated” to purchase affordable insurance, though companies would not be required to offer it. In Massachusetts, the prototype state for the Obama plan, a family with an income of $33,000 can be required to spend $9,000 in deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses before the insurance company is obligated to pay a dime. As in Massachusetts, public money is used to purchase private insurance for the very poorest citizens. With the revenues of insurance companies on the decline, individual mandate programs are a welcome bailout for the private insurance industry.

6. The president's plan, and those of Republicans and Democratic blue dogs too, could force you to buy junk insurance.

Think about an insurance policy that costs a lot, but is full of loopholes, exceptions and steep deductibles and co-payments. That's junk insurance, and for many it's the only insurance companies offer. Even more pernicious is the widespread practice among insurance companies of “recission” in which claimants are routinely investigated and disqualified in the event that they finally make a claim. Insurance companies admit they do this to half of one percent of policies per year. That means if you hold a health insurance policy twenty years, you don;t have insurance – you have a ninety percent chance of having insurance.

7. The president's plan, as well as those of Democratic “blue dogs” and Republicans, are to be funded in part with cuts in Medicare and Medicaid.

Private insurance companies have always hated Medicare because it is far more efficient than they are. Medicare's administrative expenses are under five percent, as compared with the one third of every health care dollar taken by the for-profit insurance companies for their advertising, bad investments, billing and denial machinery, executive salaries and bonuses. Private insurers have, over the years, purchased enough influence in Congress and previous White Houses to restrict Medicare's payment rates and partially privatize it. But president Obama's plan, perhaps the most friendly to Medicare and Medicaid, calls for over $300 billion in cuts to the programs that now provide medical care to those with the fewest options, while failing to guarantee that care will come from elsewhere. In Massachusetts right now, hospitals are turning away poor people they used to be able to provide care for because funding that used to go to those institutions is now plowed into the state's “individual mandate” system.

8. The president, with the cooperation of corporate media and the Republicans is trying to make the argument about himself instead of a discussion on the merits of his policy.

The president and his critics are happy to talk about whether this will be "his Waterloo," or his Dien Bien Phu, as if that matters more than the 22,000 Americans who die each year from lack of medical care, or the three quarter million who will go bankrupt because of unpayable medical bills. The concentration on whether the president looks good or bad takes up air, ink, and coverage time that might otherwise be spent explaining what is and isn't in the various proposals, and why.

If the president were not afraid of his own supporters publicly examining the merits and demerits of his proposals, he would mobilize those 13 million emails and phone numbers collected during the campaign. The reason he has not sone so already is that most of his own supporters favor a Medicare-For-All single payer health care system, HR 676.

9. The president and his party, and the corporate media have spent more time and energy silencing and excluded the advocates of single payer health care, mostly the president's own supporters, than they have fighting blue dogs and Republicans.

But no matter how diligently the spokespeople for single payer are excluded from media coverage and invitations to Obama's policy forums and round tables, no matter how many times the White House cuts their questions from transcripts and video of public events, the calls, emails and letters keep pouring into Congress and the White House demanding the creation of a publicly funded, everybody-in-nobody-out system, a Medicare-for-All kind of single payer health care plan.

10. Despite the president's own admission that only a single payer health care system will deliver what Americans want, he and the leaders of his party insist that Medicare For All, HR 676, us utterly off the table.

Before he became a presidential candidate, Barack Obama identified himself as a proponent of a single payer health care system. All we had to do, he told us, was elect a Democratic congress and senate, and a different president. Now that this has been done, he insists that “change” is just not possible, and we have to settle for less. The president continues to admit that only a single payer health care system will cover everybody, but insists that America just can't handle that much change.

The truth is that Barack Obama campaigned as the candidate of change, and a health care system that covers everybody from day one with no exceptions is what people imagined they voted for when they swept him and an overwhelming number of Democrats into office.

A single payer Medicare-For-All system will eliminate 500,000 insurance company jobs and replace them with 3.2 million new jobs in health care for a net gain of 2.6 million new jobs according to a study by the National Nurses Organization. That's as many jobs as the US economy lost in all of 2007. Single payer will create hundreds of billions in annual wages and local and state tax revenues for cash strapped cities and towns. It will lift the shadow of bankruptcy for medical reasons from two thirds of a million American families yearly. It's what we deserve.

It's what we voted for, and we won't stop demanding it.

[Bruce Dixon is based in Atlanta GA and is managing editor at Black Agenda Report. He can be reached at bruce.dixon@blackagendareport.com.]

Source / Black Agenda Report

The Rag Blog

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The 'Double Consciousness' of Race

Graphic: Blair Kelly.

Meet the New Elite, Not Like the Old
By Helene Cooper / July 25, 2009

WASHINGTON — They are the children of 1969 — the year that America’s most prestigious universities began aggressively recruiting blacks and Latinos to their nearly all-white campuses.

No longer would Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Columbia be the domain of the privileged. Instead, in response to the national soul-searching prompted by the civil rights movement, America’s premier colleges would try to become more representative of the population as a whole.

Forty years later, America is being led, to a striking extent, by a new elite, a cohort of the best and the brightest whose advancement was formed, at least in part, by affirmative action policies. From Barack and Michelle Obama (Columbia, Princeton, Harvard) to Eric Holder (Columbia) to Sonia Sotomayor (Princeton, Yale) to Valerie Jarrett (Michigan, Stanford), the country is now seeing, in full flower, the fruition of this wooing of minorities to institutions that for much of the nation’s history have groomed America’s leaders.

And yet the consequences of that change remain unresolved, as became clear on Friday, when Mr. Obama grappled a second time with the arrest of the Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. in his own home.

The incident, the president said, offered the potential to soothe longstanding distrust between minorities and police officers. But it also laid bare another reality, that the children of 1969, even those who now occupy niches at the top of society, regard their status as complicated, ambiguous and vulnerable.

“Whether I were black or white, I think that me commenting on this and hopefully contributing to constructive — as opposed to negative — understandings about the issue, is part of my portfolio,” Mr. Obama said.

It was a reminder that Mr. Obama, in addition to being the most powerful American, is also the fulfillment of the ideals embraced by Ivy League minority recruiters in 1969. Mr. Gates entered Yale that year, as one of 96 black freshmen. Today that number seems small. But there had been only six black students just three years before.

HARVARD Barack Obama. Photo: European Pressphoto Agency.

Mr. Gates belonged to the first affirmative action wave at top universities — a wave that continued into the 1970s and the 1980s. I was one of its beneficiaries. A black 17-year-old from Monrovia, Liberia, I was one of some 200 black freshmen at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1983.

My first roommate was a white student from Seagrove, N.C., whose SAT scores and grade-point average were higher than mine. Privately, I consoled myself that I had qualifications that she didn’t: I could name the capital of every country in Africa; countries she had never heard of. I knew where the Zambezi River emptied into the Indian Ocean. None of that had been on the SAT.

But every now and then I feared I was faking it, that my white classmates had something I didn’t. There were things they seemed to know instinctively, that I had to look up. I remember getting laughed at during a game of Pictionary when I couldn’t come up with the word for a giant bird landing on a lawn with a baby in its mouth.

My feelings of inadequacy were not unusual, said David L. Evans, the Saturn/Apollo electrical engineer hired by Harvard in 1969 to help lead its affirmative action program. When Mr. Evans visited public high schools in Arkansas in search of promising black students, he was met with skepticism. “Even people who didn’t have any mean-spiritedness would say to the students, ‘You going to be up there with the Kennedys?’ ” he recalled. “ ‘How do you think you can make it there?’ ”

There was anxiety, too, among the originators of race-based affirmative action programs. “The idealistic version of why these universities embraced racial affirmative action is that they said, ‘Hey, we’re in the business of training elites, it would be better for America if there were a diverse elite,’ ” said Nicholas Lemann, dean of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and author of “The Big Test,” a history of the SAT and the rise of America’s meritocracy. To its architects, the minority recruitment was the next phase for universities that for years had paved the way for whites, particularly the offspring of upper-class alumni, Mr. Lemann said.

“The cynical version of why they did this is they said, ‘We can’t control this country, it’s becoming too diverse, we need to socialize the brighter minorities and make them more like us.’ ”

In many ways, being molded into people “more like us” gave the children of 1969 an advantage denied most of their white counterparts. They learned to navigate within a second world. They also absorbed some of its ideas and values. And they paved the way for the next generation.

“We had to go through this phase of larger integration for Barack Obama to be possible,” Mr. Gates said in an interview a few days after his arrest. “It would have been impossible for Barack Obama to go from a historic black school to become president, at this time. The whole point is that a broad swath of America had to be able to identify with him.”

It also enabled Mr. Obama to run “the most race-blind campaign” of any black presidential candidate, said Gwen Ifill, the PBS news reporter whose book “The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama” examines the rise of African-Americans in politics.

Perhaps. But the children of 1969 dwell in a complex world. They retain an ethnic identity that includes its own complement of cultural, historical and psychological issues and considerations. This emerged at Judge Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings. And it emerged again last week, when Mr. Obama joked in the White House East Room that if he ran afoul of the police, “I’d get shot.” In saying this, he seemed to draw on the fears of black men across the United States, including those within the new power elite.

What Mr. Obama seemed to be demonstrating was what Mr. Lemann of Columbia calls a “double consciousness” that allows the children of 1969 to flow more easily between the world which their skin color bequeathed them and the world which their college degree opened up for them.

It’s the same double consciousness I acquired at U.N.C., though I didn’t think about it that way as a student. Sure, my white friends were learning a little more about black (and African) culture from me. But I was absorbing much more from them, since they surrounded me in such great number. At the time it seemed I had the advantage; I would leave college having gotten much more from my interactions with my white friends than they could possibly have gotten from me. And the principal thing I learned was how to make them feel at ease around me.

Except, of course, on those occasions when one can’t. Life outside the university doesn’t duplicate the conditions of university life.

“I can’t wear my Harvard gown everywhere I go,” Professor Gates said. “We — all of us in the crossover generation — have multiple identities, and being black trumps all of those other identities.”

On Friday Mr. Obama said he hoped Mr. Gates’s incident might become a “teachable moment.” It is a daunting task for the children of 1969: finding out whether the double consciousness they honed in the Ivy League can actually get this country to listen — and react — to race in a different way.

[Helene Cooper, a White House correspondent for The Times, is the author of “The House at Sugar Beach: In Search of a Lost African Childhood.”]

Source / New York Times

The Rag Blog

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U.S. Military Spies on SDS, Peace Groups

Former military whistleblower Christopher Pyle spoke to Amy Goodman about the recent revelation. (See video below.)

Obama’s Military Is Spying on U.S. Peace Groups
The infiltration appears to be in direct violation of the Posse Comitatus Act preventing U.S. military deployment for domestic law enforcement
By Amy Goodman / July 31, 2009
Includes Democracy Now! follow-up Video.
Anti-war activists in Olympia, Wash., have exposed Army spying and infiltration of their groups, as well as intelligence gathering by the Air Force, the federal Capitol Police and the Coast Guard.

The infiltration appears to be in direct violation of the Posse Comitatus Act preventing U.S. military deployment for domestic law enforcement and may strengthen congressional demands for a full-scale investigation of U.S. intelligence activities, like the Church Committee hearings of the 1970s.

Brendan Maslauskas Dunn asked the city of Olympia for documents or e-mails about communications between the Olympia police and the military relating to anarchists, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) or the Industrial Workers of the World (Dunn’s union). Dunn received hundreds of documents. One e-mail contained reference to a “John J. Towery II,” who activists discovered was the same person as their fellow activist “John Jacob.”

Dunn told me: “John Jacob was actually a close friend of mine, so this week has been pretty difficult for me. He said he was an anarchist. He was really interested in SDS. He got involved with Port Militarization Resistance (PMR), with Iraq Vets Against the War. He was a kind person. He was a generous person. So it was really just a shock for me.”

“Jacob” told the activists he was a civilian employed at Fort Lewis Army Base and would share information about base activities that could help the PMR organize rallies and protests against public ports being used for troop and Stryker military vehicle deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan. Since 2006, PMR activists have occasionally engaged in civil disobedience, blocking access to the port.

Larry Hildes, an attorney representing Washington activists, says the U.S. attorney prosecuting the cases against them, Brian Kipnis, specifically instructed the Army not to hand over any information about its intelligence-gathering activities, despite a court order to do so.

Which is why Dunn’s request to Olympia and the documents he obtained are so important.

The military is supposed to be barred from deploying on U.S. soil, or from spying on citizens. Christopher Pyle, now a professor of politics at Mount Holyoke College, was a military intelligence officer. He recalled: “In the 1960s, Army intelligence had 1,500 plainclothes agents [and some would watch] every demonstration of 20 people or more. They had a giant warehouse in Baltimore full of information on the law-abiding activities of American citizens, mainly protest politics.”

Pyle later investigated the spying for two congressional committees: “As a result of those investigations, the entire U.S. Army Intelligence Command was abolished, and all of its files were burned. Then the Senate Intelligence Committee wrote the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 to stop the warrantless surveillance of electronic communications.”

Reps. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., Rush Holt, D-N.J., and others are pushing for a new, comprehensive investigation of all U.S. intelligence activities, of the scale of the Church Committee hearings, which exposed widespread spying on and disruption of legal domestic groups, attempts at assassination of foreign heads of state, and more.

Demands mount for information on and accountability for Vice President Dick Cheney’s alleged secret assassination squad, President George W. Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program, and the CIA’s alleged misleading of Congress. But the spying in Olympia occurred well into the Obama administration (and may continue today). President Barack Obama supports retroactive immunity for telecom companies involved in the wiretapping, and has maintained Bush-era reliance on the state secrets privilege. Lee and Holt should take the information uncovered by Brendan Dunn and the Olympia activists and get the investigations started now.

Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 750 stations in North America. She is the co-author of Standing Up to the Madness: Ordinary Heroes in Extraordinary Times, recently released in paperback. Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.]

© 2009 Amy Goodman

Source / truthdig / originally broadcast July 28, 2009

Democracy Now! Follow-up on spying revelations:
Christopher Pyle interviewed

Also see Military spy outed in Olympia, WA antiwar/SDS/IWW groups / Twincities Indymedia / July 27, 2009

And Army spying could violate federal law by Jeremy Pawloski / The Olympian / July 30, 2009

The Rag Blog

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Honduras : Zelaya to Return With 'Peaceful Popular Army'

Zelaya crosses the border, which is marked by a chain. Photo from La Jornada, Mexico.

Strikes and military crackdown continue
President Manuel Zelaya defies compromise

By David Holmes Morris / The Rag Blog / July 31, 2009

Deposed Honduran president Manuel Zelaya announced on July 29 that within days he will return to Tegucigalpa, accompanied by a “peaceful popular army” of his followers, to resume the office of the presidency.

Zelaya said his reinstatement will be the result of a political agreement with some members of the coup government, mentioning specifically the armed forces. “Let there be no doubt,” he declared, “that at any moment young military officers affected by the coup will detain Romeo Vásquez Velásquez.” General Vásquez Velásquez, head of the joints chiefs of staff, was a central figure in the June 28 coup d’état.

A statement attributed to the Movimiento de Oficiales Superiores y Subalternos de las Fuerzas Armadas (Movement of Superior and Subordinate Officers of the Armed Forces) and distributed on July 29 by anti-coup organizations criticized Vásquez for politicizing the armed forces. “Politicians,” it declared, “in collusion with military commanders, have implicated the armed forces and have damaged the good reputation we had with the Honduran people.”

The statement claims a group of businessmen distributed 30 million lempiras, about 1.6 million dollars, among the country’s top military commanders prior to the coup. “We declare that the armed forces are not the gendarmes of any elite economic group,” the statement continued, “but that we are with the people because most of our members, officers and enlisted men as well, come from the people.”

Speaking to a group of supporters in Ocotal, Nicaragua, about 20 kilometers from the Honduran border, Zelaya said the popular army will be formed from the estimated 500 Hondurans who have made their way on foot through dense jungle to meet him in Nicaragua. Once back across the border, he said, they will be joined by other Hondurans opposed to the coup and, armed with “the weapons of intelligence and reason,” they will proceed to the capital of Tegucigalpa.

Zayala supporters at the border. Photo from Indymedia Honduras.

After an attempt to return to Honduras by air on July 5 was foiled by the military, Zelaya announced he would return by land and actually crossed the border for a brief stay on Friday, July 24. He was greeted by several thousand supporters who had defied and evaded military roadblocks in their effort to greet him. Despite stern warnings from the coup government that he would be arrested if he entered the country, Zelaya spoke briefly and calmly with a Honduran lieutenant colonel before returning to Nicaragua. Later reports in the pro-coup press denied rumors that the lieutenant colonel, Luis Recartes, had been jailed for speaking with Zelaya without arresting him.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized Zelaya’s return to his country as reckless and urged him to seek a negotiated settlement through the ongoing efforts of Costa Rican President Óscar Arias, efforts which have failed so far and appear destined to fail again. The military has issued a statement of approval for Arias’ proposals and the legislature is expected to vote Monday on whether to accept them. But the proposals call for Zelaya to be reinstasted with severely limited powers, prohibiting specifically any attempt to write a new constitution or even to poll the citizenry on whether they want one, limits neither Zelaya nor the popular organizations behind him are prepared to accept. The legislature is divided on the question of amnesty for crimes allegedly committed by members of the Zelaya government in the days leading up to the coup.

The July 24 events came on the second day of strikes endorsed by all three of the country’s labor federations, which resulted in the occupation of a number of government buildings by public employees. In a strike by some members of the national police, including some in the anti-riot force, several police stations were reportedly locked by using handcuffs on the doors.

Teachers have been on a slowdown since the coup on June 28, working three days a week instead of the five demanded by authorities.

Union members block the highway. Photo from El Heraldo.

The military had set up road blocks at a number of points on the highway from Tegucigalpa to El Paraíso, near the Nicaraguan border, in anticipation of the crowds of anti-coup demonstrators expected to welcome Zelaya home. Some of the soldiers are said to have disobeyed orders by allowing demonstrators to proceed and many of the demonstrators evaded the roadblocks by walking long distances through dense jungle.

Some sources say as many as 3,000 were on hand when Zelaya crossed the border.

The military is reportedly not allowing demonstrators to leave and is denying access to food and water, although area residents have shared their meager resources. Many demonstrators are still in the El Paraíso area a week after the demonstrations began.

The coup government extended curfew hours in the border area several times until finally declaring an around-the-clock curfew, with all constitutional rights suspended, turning the curfew into a state of siege.

The police and military have been using teargas and rubber bullets against the anti-coup forces, beating many and arresting an unknown number. The body of one man, Pedro Magdiel Muñoz, was found near the demonstrations with more than 40 stab wounds and signs he had been tortured.

Among those arrested was Rafael Alegría, a prominent Honduran activist and one of the founders of Vía Campesina, an international campesino organization, who was detained briefly and released.

Among those seeking to greet Zelaya were his wife, Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, and several other family members, who were eventually given permission to finish their journey thanks to a court order.

[San Antonio native David Holmes Morris is an army veteran, a language major, a retired printer, a sometime journalist, and a gay liberationist.]

David Holmes Morris' previous Rag Blog articles on Honduras are here.

The Rag Blog

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30 July 2009

US Military: A Little Too Big for Its Britches

National Guard (murderers) at Kent State in May 1970.

The Military Is Not the Police
July 29, 2009

It was disturbing to learn the other day just how close the last administration came to violating laws barring the military from engaging in law enforcement when President George W. Bush considered sending troops into a Buffalo suburb in 2002 to arrest terrorism suspects. Unfortunately, this is not necessarily a problem of the past. More needs to be done to ensure that the military is not illegally deployed in this country.

The Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 generally prohibits the military from law enforcement activities within the United States. If armed officers are going to knock on Americans’ doors, or arrest them in the streets, they should answer to civilian authorities.

Despite this bedrock principle, The Times’s Mark Mazzetti and David Johnston reported last week, top Bush administration officials, including (no surprise) Vice President Dick Cheney, argued that the president had the authority to use the military to round up a suspected terrorist cell known as the Lackawanna Six.

Mr. Cheney and others cited a legal memorandum co-written by John C. Yoo (author of the infamous torture memo), which made the baseless claim that the military can go after accused Al Qaeda terrorists on United States soil because it would be a matter of national security, not law enforcement.

The Lackawanna Six controversy is history, but there are troubling signs the military may be injecting itself today into law enforcement. The American Civil Liberties Union has been sounding the alarm about the proliferation of “fusion centers,” in which federal, state and local law enforcement cooperate on anti-terrorism work. According to the A.C.L.U., the lines have blurred, and the centers have involved military personnel in domestic law enforcement. Congress should investigate.

Janet Napolitano, the homeland security secretary, said Wednesday that fusion centers were not intended to have a military presence, and that she was not aware of ones that did. She promised greater transparency about what role, if any, the active military was playing.

Civil libertarians are also raising questions about a program known as the Chemical, Biological, Radiological/Nuclear and High-Yield Explosives Consequence Management Response Force. The Army says its aim is to have active-duty troops ready to back up local law enforcement in catastrophic situations, like an attack with a nuclear weapon. That could be legal, but the workings of these units are murky. Again, Congress should ensure that the military is not moving into prohibited areas.

Some of the military’s line-crossing seems ad hoc. Earlier this year, when a man in a small town in Alabama went on a shooting spree, Army troops reportedly went out on the streets to participate in the law enforcement effort. It is still unclear precisely what role they played. It is important that the military be thoroughly trained on what the law does and does not permit.

After the lack of respect for posse comitatus at the highest ranks of the previous administration, the Obama White House and Congress must ensure that the lines between military and law enforcement have been restored, clearly, and that they are respected.

Source / New York Times

The Rag Blog

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Leonard Peltier Hearing Brings Hope for Freedom

Photos by Bill Hackwell / indybay.org.

Leonard Peltier could leave prison by August 18

By Harvey Wasserman / The Rag Blog / July 30, 2009

For a formidable and growing global community of supporters, the prospect of Native American activist Leonard Peltier finally leaving prison inspires a longing that cuts to the depths of the soul.

So Peltier’s first parole hearing of the Obama Era -- on Tuesday, July 28 -- inspired hope of an intensity that will have a major impact on the new presidency. A decision must come from the Federal Parole Commission within three weeks. His attorney is calling for a surge of public support that would create an irresistible political climate for Leonard’s release.

The relationship between Peltier and those who have followed his case over the decades can be intensely personal. His imprisonment has come to stand not only for five centuries of unjust violence waged against Native Americans, but also for the inhumane theft of the life of a man who has handled his 33 years in jail with epic dignity, effectiveness and grace.

Peltier’s latest parole hearing convened at the federal penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, where he is currently held. According to Eric Seitz, Peltier’s Honolulu-based attorney, Peltier spoke for more than an hour “with great eloquence” about the nature of his case, his imprisonment and his plans for freedom. “The hearing officer seemed to listen carefully,” said Seitz. “We thought it went very well.”

The decision on Peltier’s parole will be made by the four sitting members of the Federal Parole Commission whose offices are in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

Commissioners Isaac Fulwood, Jr., Cranston Mitchell, Edward Reilly and Patricia Cushware are all Bush appointees. One seat is vacant; Fulwood was elevated to the Chairman’s seat in May by President Obama.

According to Seitz, the hearing was taped by an officer charged with reporting to the Commissioners within 48 hours. The Commissioners are required to render a decision within 21 days -- by August 18. Should they rule in his favor, Peltier could walk out of prison very soon after the decision is issued.

Should the Commssioners turn down his parole application, Seitz says the appeal would go to the federal district court in Harrisburg. The report of the hearing would become available to Peltier and the public.

Seitz said he spoke to the record for about 20 minutes on the legalities of the case. He said Peter Matthiessen, author of In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, explained the history of the 1970s incidents that led to Peltier being accused of murdering two FBI agents. Crazy Horse is the definitive account of the origins of the case and of the climate of violence and repression imposed on the native community at the time of the killings. Seitz said Matthiessen emphasized “the many reasons to have misgivings about whether the system performed well and fairly in Leonard's case.”

Mattheissen was joined by Dr.Thomas Fassett of the United Methodist Church, who testified, said Seitz, “to the negative impact of Peltier’s 33-year imprisonment on the world’s view of how the U.S. government treats its native population. Leonard's case is viewed in the larger community both nationally & internationally as a major embarrassment…as a gross injustice…a black mark.”

The testimony was accompanied by thousands of letters, with signees including South African Bishop Desmond Tutu, US Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI), and actor Robert Redford, whose film Incident at Ogalala is the definitive documentary.

Cynthia Maleterre of the Turtle Island Clan then outlined how Peltier could meet the requirements of parole in his home community in North Dakota. Restored to his Chippewa-Dakota homeland, Maleterre explained that Peltier would have housing, a job and be surrounded by family, including great-grandchildren he has never seen.

Seitz said testimony opposing parole came from a representative of the FBI, sent by Director Robert Mueller, a holdover Bush appointee, and from the former director of the Minnesota Bureau. Two sons of Jack Coler, one of the FBI agents killed in the Ogalala shoot-out, also argued against Peltier being freed, as did a former agent named Ed Woods.

Seitz said that all those opposing parole argued Peltier should spend the rest of his days in prison, and did not deserve a new trial.

But Seitz was “guardedly optimistic” about a favorable decision from the Parole Commission. He said that a “good rapport” had been established with the hearing officer, and that the new chair of the commission is generally held “in high esteem.”

President Barack Obama does have the power to grant clemency, but Seitz said prisoners apply only when all other avenues have been exhausted. Usually, says Seitz, “presidential pardons do not come until the Chief Executive is leaving office.”

Seitz says letters to the Parole Commission and to local newspapers, calls to Congressional Representatives (202-224-3121), talk show hosts and other forms of public pressure are now of the utmost importance. The hope, he says, lies in creating a “public environment favorable to release.”

As Leonard Peltier approaches his 65th year -- having spent half his life in prison -- every day is now critical to lifting this burden from our collective souls.

For more information go to www.leonardpeltier.net.

For background, see Harvey Wasserman : Political Prisoner Leonard Peltier Faces Parole Board by Harvey Wasserman / The Rag Blog / July 28, 2009

And Leonard Peltier: In the Spirit of Crazy Horse by Leonard Peltier (includes 'Free Leonard Peltier' by Dan Skye, and a Video from Chief Leonard Crow Dog) / The Rag Blog / July 1, 2009

The Rag Blog

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Health Care : True Reform Must Include Public Option

Public Insurance Option is Necessary For True Reform

It's becoming obvious that these Repubs and Blue Dogs have been bought off by the millions of dollars the lobbyists are throwing at them. To them, getting re-elected is far more important than providing health care for ordinary Americans.
By Ted McLaughlin / The Rag Blog / July 30, 2009

Republicans and "Blue Dog" Democrats keep telling us there is no need for a public health insurance option. They want us to believe the private insurance companies can solve all our health care problems (even though these are the very people who have caused those problems).

It's gotten so bad that even Democratic leaders like Harry Reid (Senate Majority Leader) is now saying a bill could be passed without a public health insurance option. Some are even saying a co-op of private insurance companies could work just as well (even though they can't tell us how these co-ops could work as well as a public option).

It's becoming obvious that these Repubs and Blue Dogs have been bought off by the millions of dollars the lobbyists are throwing at them. To them, getting re-elected is far more important than providing health care for ordinary Americans. Otherwise, they would not be proposing as ridiculous a concept as co-ops for private insurance. A concept that amounts to little more than a gigantic payday for private insurance companies.

Let's review just what private insurance companies have done for America's citizens:
  • Left 55 million Americans without any health insurance at all, and this number keeps growing larger as more jobs disappear each month. Would a co-op system cover everyone? Doubtful.

  • Instituted a "recission" system, where the insurance company drops your policy when your health care becomes too expensive (and cuts into their profits).

  • Priced businesses out of the health insurance market when their employee's medical claims get too high.

  • "Cherry-pick" only healthy people to cover with affordable insurance. Everyone else is either denied or the policy is priced so high they can't afford it.

  • Rationed health care by refusing to pay for expensive treatments. Whether a person gets treatment is determined not by a doctor, but by an insurance company employee (whose bonus depends on how many medical claims he/she can deny).

  • Restricted the choice of a patient's doctor or hospital to only those approved by the insurance company.

  • Make only partial payments for doctors, hospital care and medical tests and procedures. This leaves huge medical bills for the patient (who thought he/she had coverage).

  • Frustrating doctors, hospitals and labs by consistently making their payments months late.

  • Deny treatment because a procedure is not on their approved list of procedures (which usually means it costs too much).

  • Developed a system where profits are more important than patient care. (In a public option, there would be no profit -- making the insurance cheaper).

  • Developed a system where there is 15-40% overhead costs that have nothing to do with medical care. (By comparison, the government program known as Medicare has only a 2% overhead).

  • Caused over 67% of the bankruptcies in America by leaving patients with huge medical bills.
I would like for the Repubs and Blue Dogs to explain to me how these for-profit private companies with huge overheads are going to solve all the problems they themselves created. The truth is they can't explain it. That's why they are resorting only to lies and scare tactics about public health insurance.

In the modern industrialized world, the United States is the only government that does not have a government-run single-payer health insurance system. Did you ever wonder why none of these countries have returned to a system of private insurance coverage? After all, the Repubs and Blue Dogs tell us government can't do it as well as private business can.

The reason they haven't gone back to a private plan is because, regardless of what the right wing says, there are some things the government does better than private companies (such as military defense, fire and rescue protection, police protection, road and bridge building and maintenance, etc.). Whether the Repubs and Blue Dogs like it or not, health care insurance is one of those things.

Don't let them lie to you. They are far more interested in protecting the pocketbooks of their corporate masters, than in seeing you get the best health care available. A "reform" package without a public insurance option is nothing more than a continuance of the current broken system.

But it's beginning to look like that might happen. Listen to what Majority Leader Harry Reid has to say, "It's really premature for me to lay out what should be in this bill." That's not strong leadership. In fact, that's no leadership at all. The Majority Leader should be putting his foot down right now and demanding the reform be real and actually fix our broken system. He should be demanding a public insurance option.

Tell your congressmen that any reform must include a public insurance option. If it doesn't, it is not worthy of support.

[Rag Blog contributor Ted McLaughlin also posts at jobsanger, an excellent Texas political blog.]

The Rag Blog

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Friday : Feed the Blog!

Photo and design by James Retherford / The Rag Blog

The Rag Blog

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29 July 2009

Single-Payer Health Care: Some Reasons to Do It

Health Care
By Hosea W. McAdoo M.D. / The Rag Blog / July 29, 2009

"The Americans will always do the right thing . . . After they've exhausted all the alternatives." -- Winston Churchill


After carefully following all the lies, partial truths, myths and wrong ideas I would like to offer some facts and my interpretation based on fifty years as a physician.

First I will try to list facts so you can judge my recommendations.

Our elected leaders have very little collective knowledge about health care and mainly listen to monied lobbyists rather than constituents.
I strongly encourage calling, emailing and writing your deciders; make them listen, that is your job and theirs in a Democracy. Having said that it does seem that they don’t listen to citizens, only to corporate cash.

The AMA is often cited as a voice for American physicians. Only about 19% of physicians belong to the AMA and many of these are retired or belong for the educational benefits. Most physicians genuinely put patient care first. After twenty four to thirty years of education some payback is fair. With the extreme delaying of gratification, few go into medicine purely for money. Most physicians put in fourteen or more hours a day and most work weekends as well. I say all this because about sixty percent of American physicians back a Single Payer system even though it may decrease their income.

Physicians are tired of caring for people who have had to delay care until a disease is too far gone for inexpensive treatment or a good outcome. They are tired of being hassled by 1300 different insurance companies and being paid late or not at all. They are tired of having long time patients moved to another physician because of a job change. They are tired of having the frustration of seeing someone, maybe for free, but not being able to get additional help the patient needs.

We talk of preventive care. Some recent glib TV ads suggest that medical care is only needed for those who smoke, are over weight or don’t eat right. And anyone else should either not be covered or pay a penalty. This is a fairy tale and spending some time in an ER will promptly reverse this thought. First, accidents can happen to anyone. Infectious diseases are no respecter of the fit or unfit. Type I diabetes, Rheumatoid arthritis, much coronary disease, and hypertension are either chronic conditions not caused by poor diet or it's only one factor. Even if poor fitness was a primary cause, few people live the perfect life and this argument for insurance charges are higher for people who deviate from certain eating standards they should also be higher for football players, race car drivers, divers and those who jog alone at night or have to drive a lot for work.

In all the bizarre recent babble about health care several words and phrases keep coming up. How about “Socialized Medicine,” “care plan unique to America” or “it costs too much.” This is only because Single Payer is off the congressional table and all the new plans require the insertion of private health insurance between the patient and physician with a 30% commission coming off the top.

Some ads suggest one can only retain choice freedom by remaining with private health insurance. Is that what they mean when they give you a list of providers and tell you to choose one for primary care even if your personal physician is not on the list? Medicare is available from any willing provider.

Socialized medicine is what they have in the UK. There physicians are salaried and the hospitals are owned or contracted by the government. This is similar to our VA and military medical systems and was chosen by President Bush and Vice President Cheney during their administration. This system works in spite of problems and has better overall outcomes than does our private insurance system with 18% of the population left out.

The Single Payer is a system with one insurance company: the government. This is like the Canadian system, our Medicare and Medicaid. While Single Payer is unmentionable in the media and in Washington there is no shortage of howling about cost of the plans under consideration. The Republicans say that a small repeal of the Bush tax cuts on the ultra-wealthy is too much of a burden for them to do for their countrymen even as they are relatively under-taxed . The super-rich already have tax breaks that the average American never sees.

If someone mentioned a way to save 30% on all health care covered by insurance it should get attention. Well, it’s Single Payer. The private companies have a 30-33% overhead, Medicare a 3% and the Canadian system is 1.5%. Thirty cents of every dollar you give your insurance company is not giving you care. Ninety-seven cents of the Medicare dollar works for you. You can see where outrageous corporate salaries in the eight figure range drain your dollars. (blogs.webmd.com/mad-about-medicine/2007/08/ceo-compensation-who-said-healthcare-is.html)


A Single Payer system will:
  1. Cover all citizens.
  2. Allow freedom of choice of physician.
  3. Remove the wasted 30% of the health care dollar, the hassle to physicians, reduce wasted personnel who have to sort through insurance of 1300 insurance companies.
  4. Medicare pays fast with fewer hassles.
  5. With the extra 30% and collection of funds now going to health care no additional funds will be necessary to cover all with a good basic plan.

I’m sure you have heard the uninformed lately tell us that the American system is the best in the world. While the best we can do in research, education and care potentially can be as good as any country, it has to be averaged for all citizens; when this is done the US falls to 35th to 50thth place in the W.H.O. and other studies.

While those with money or the best insurance get excellent care, read Congress and the President, those with no or poor insurance drag the average down. The Single Payer system will give care to all, raising our overall level to compare with other first world countries. Having one payer will give some price control as Medicare does now.

Citizens must have access to screening procedures such as colonoscopy and mammograms because failure to detect these early cancers early can have devastating results and both diseases are curable with early detection.

The present plans to continue the use of health insurance companies will continue the waste of the first 30% of the health care dollar. Some in Congress suggested that we force all citizens to have private insurance giving the insurance companies another windfall from new clients, with some premiums paid by the government. This continues the welfare to the super rich and a drain on the Treasury.

One foolish Republican Congressman recently suggested that all, even the poor, be forced to purchase some basic kind of insurance. This will make the insurance companies happy, but the client’s inexpensive policy with a deductible of $10,000 will actually have no insurance value because they will not be able to meet the deductible and co-pay leaving them just as they were, but with more money in the pockets of the corporations that steal from the poor and give to the super-rich. This is a very Republican idea.

There are endless examples of the inefficiency of other country’s health care but ask these people for facts; have they talked with those citizens? Do they have an outcome analysis? Have they really looked at and compared with our system? One hears complaints about waiting. In the USA with money any visit or test is immediately available whether needed or not. This is rationing based on money. In Canada there are waits for elective procedures but immediate care for urgent conditions. Yes, it is rationing, but one based on medical need rather than money. There are some in this country who wait forever for any basic or preventative care.

Horror stories abound about delayed care in Canada or the UK but these are more illustrative of error by the primary physician than of the system. Physicians do make judgment errors here as well as in other countries. Watch the TV program, “Medical Mysteries on the Discovery Health network for our own examples of missed diagnosis, delayed treatment and poor care. A recently shown TV ad example discusses a delayed brain tumor in Canada treated promptly in the US. The “tumor” was actually a benign cyst and the ad very misleading. A few minutes on Google will document these falsehoods.

For some good recent discussions see:

theragblog.blogspot.com/2009/07/cost-of-health-care-reform-wails-of.html and other “RAG BLOG” articles by Dr. Steven Keister and

“THE RAG BLOG”,theragblog.blogspot.com/2009/07/health-care-stories-for-america-blog.html

To reach Dr. McAdoo, e-mail him at hwmcadoo@hotmail.com.

The Rag Blog

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Didier Mainguy: Letter to The Rag

From Freakence Sixties:
A Letter to The Rag

By Didier Mainguy / The Rag Blog / July 29, 2009

It’s difficult to express some feelings and concepts in a foreign language. When writing in English, I’m feeling like an idiot. (I mean more idiot than I am really)

I’m proud and honored to see a link with Freakence Sixties on The Rag home page. For about 10 years, I’m collecting information and documents about the so-called sixties in the US. My story is your story is History, you know.

Eric Noble, the digger archivist, wrote "To assure that our history survives the inevitable tendency of revisionism, it's critically important that we grow our own versions of what happened and why."

Nicolas Sarkozy, a few day before being elected, expressed the will to eradicate the spirit of 1968.

We do not cope only with a "tendency to revisionism" but with an attempt to erase the very memory of a decade of revolt. The message is "no alternative."

I do agree with Marcus Del Greco when he says "Digitization of Thought is Preservation of Thought," The Mind Mined Public Library.

Here is our first task, I think - Struggles are ahead.

Our second task. I’ve no definitive belief about this decade in the US and I will probably never have. I’m more interested in learning some lessons for the future.

I’ve been in touch with many people in the US and I’m surprised that rivalries and resentments still exist after all these years.

Two main points make me uneasy about the sixties:

Think Globally, Act Locally. Robert Pardun wrote "The movement was, after all, the combination of thousands of local movements each made up of individuals ... It was on the local level that the strategy and tactics for reaching new people were developed and where the connections between the civil rights movement, the antiwar movement, the women’s and other liberation movements, and the counter-culture were forged."

First, I’m unable to see any significant connection between the local movements during the sixties, except for the underground press (UPS and LNS).

Second, the blue collars seem to be absent from the decade, with some occasional exceptions (e.g., The Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement). I’ve read a lot about the so called generation gap but what about the class gap? Or to quote David Farber’s The Sixties From Memory To History:

Protesters paid little to no mind to the history of white working people in the United States — conceding little to their struggle to make ends meet and to create meaningful lives in fast changing times. They seemed to give no respect to the hard work it had taken and still took most Americans to earn the modestly pleasant life-styles they had chosen for themselves.

What protesters seemed to offer in the place of the rewards of hard work, in the minds of many Americans, was talk — the free speech movement, the filthy speech movement, participatory democracy, chanting, singing, dancing, protesting.

I’d like to hear from you about these points. I don’t know if this blog is the right place. You’ll decide.

Keep on keepin' on.

Didier Mainguy
Freakence Sixties

The Rag Blog

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Another Terrorist Attack May Put the Military in Charge

The Joint Chiefs of Staff photographed in the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gold Room, more commonly known as The Tank, in the Pentagon on December 14, 2001. DoD photo by Mamie Burke.

Power Shifts in Plan for Capital Calamity
By Eric Lichtblau and James Risen / July 27, 2009

WASHINGTON — A shift in authority has given military officials at the White House a bigger operational role in creating a backup government if the nation’s capital were “decapitated” by a terrorist attack or other calamity, according to current and former officials involved in the decision.

The move, which was made in the closing weeks of the administration of President George W. Bush, came after months of heated internal debate about the balance of power and the role of the military in a time of crisis, participants said. Officials said the Obama administration had left the plan essentially intact.

Under the revamped structure, the White House Military Office, which reports to the office of the White House chief of staff, has assumed a more central role in setting up a temporary “shadow government” in a crisis.

And the office, a 2,300-person outfit best known for flying Air Force One, has taken on added responsibilities as the lead agent in shepherding government leaders to a secure site at Mount Weather in rural Virginia, keeping classified lists of successors and maintaining computer systems, among other operational duties. Many of these types of tasks were previously handled by civilians at other agencies, led by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Supporters of the plan inside the Bush White House, including Vice President Dick Cheney’s office, saw the erratic response to the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005 as a mandate for streamlining an emergency response process they considered clunky because it involved too many agencies.

Yet during the debate, officials at other agencies that have traditionally played critical roles expressed concern that the new structure placed too much power in the hands of too few people inside the White House. They also saw the move as part of the Bush administration’s broader efforts to enhance the power of the White House.

Though the office reports to the White House, many of its employees are uniformed soldiers, and it has sometimes been led by a military officer. So concerns about the perception of growing military influence in the emergency process set off an internal struggle, and the White House decided not to move ahead with a more ambitious proposal to give the power of the purse to the military arm, rather than FEMA, for budgeting the emergency operations, one official said.

While Obama administration officials would not discuss details of their continuity plan, they said the current policy was “settled,” and they drew no distance between their own policies and those left behind by the Bush administration.

Obama transition officials were told of the changes during a joint emergency exercise held in January, one of several dry runs using the new structure, officials said.

Officials in the Obama White House appeared unaware of the tensions the plan had set off. They rejected as “flat-out wrong” the idea that military officials in the White House had assumed any “decision-making authority” in a crisis but declined to discuss their logistical responsibilities.

“Many components of government, within civilian and defense establishments, play an important support role to ensure that our constitutional form of government, and its civilian leadership, prevails even under the most catastrophic circumstances,” said Nick Shapiro, a White House spokesman.

A Pentagon spokesman, Geoff Morrell, said senior Defense Department officials believed the changes represented “minor tweaking” in the system, not a major overhaul.

Former Representative Tom Davis, the top Republican on the House Committee on Government Reform when the debate started, said his committee had never been informed of the changes. Mr. Davis said he believed it should have been told, though he said he did not disagree with the changes.

A directive by President Bush signed in May 2007 set in motion a classified review at the White House that led to the changes put in place at the very end of his administration.

Before, some 200 people governmentwide were assigned to Mount Weather in a catastrophe to set up a working government under the direction of FEMA. The number of officials from outside the White House has significantly shrunk , and the new team is made up mostly of White House civilian and military personnel, the officials said.

The new pecking order for emergency operations order was made clear when non-White House officials central to the old command structure arrived at Mount Weather for a training exercise last year. They found their meeting space gutted to make way for a new office planned for the White House team.

Bush administration officials saw FEMA as ill-equipped to handle a governmentwide emergency, and they cited problems with the agency’s execution of a classified training exercise in May 2008 as evidence.

But the White House Military Office has recently had its own problems.

President Obama’s civilian director of the office, Louis Caldera, authorized what turned out to be an alarming photo shoot of a low-flying Air Force One speeding by the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline. Mr. Caldera resigned in May.

Source / New York Times

The Rag Blog

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28 July 2009

Harvey Wasserman : Political Prisoner Leonard Peltier Faces Parole Board

Leonard Peltier, founder of the American Indian Movement, faces the Parole Board today, July 28, 2009, after 33 years of incarceration.

Today we ALL stand before Leonard Peltier’s Parole Board
The circumstances of the prosecution, and the legal history of the case, involve thousands of pages of missing evidence, compromised witnesses and procedures so twisted as to stagger the imagination and leave any sense of fair play and reasonable jurisprudence buried in the dust.
By Harvey Wasserman / The Rag Blog / July 28, 2009

Native American activist Leonard Peltier has been in prison for more than 12,226 days, more than 33 years. His is one of the longest ordeals of any political prisoner in human history.

With him, our souls have suffered. Our bodies ache for his freedom.

Today, July 28, 2009, Peltier goes before the Federal Parole Commission in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. As you read this, all over the world, beginning in the wee hours of the morning in the South Pacific, prayer vigils, peace marches, ecumenical gatherings, group chantings and all forms of individual meditation accompany this hearing. It is one of the most important tests of the new Obama Administration.

Peltier was charged more than a third of a century ago with the murder of two FBI agents. The circumstances of the prosecution, and the legal history of the case, involve thousands of pages of missing evidence, compromised witnesses and procedures so twisted as to stagger the imagination and leave any sense of fair play and reasonable jurisprudence buried in the dust.

Through it all, Peltier has maintained his dignity and strength with astonishing grace. He will be 65 years old in September, having spent more than half his life behind bars. His body is wracked with prison-related ailments. He has great grandchildren he has never seen.

Yet his writings remain politically astute, spiritually compelling and unfailingly compassionate.

Supporters believe the time is “favorable” for his release. The four-member Parole Commission that will decide on his plea is chaired by Isaac Fulwood, Jr., originally appointed by George W. Bush, elevated to the Chair in May by Barack Obama.

Obama himself has the power through various legal means to end Peltier’s torture and make him a free man.

Peltier’s defense attorney, Eric Seitz, has expressed optimism that the Parole Board will grant Peltier his freedom, especially given Leonard’s exemplary behavior in prison, the utter collapse of the case against him, his health, age and other factors, not least of which may be a changed political and cultural climate. But Seitz has warned of previous disappointments in an interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now.

Millions of supporters worldwide have suffered with Leonard over the decades as with no other political prisoner. His case embodies the tortured relationship between the U.S. Government and the Native American community, says Tony Gonzalez (of the Comca'ac-Chicano Tribe) of the American Indian Movement founded, he says, 41 years ago today.

Meaningful steps toward healing that relationship will be very hard to take until Leonard Peltier is free to re-join his family.

This is a critical moment in the Obama Era. Bill Clinton was thoroughly briefed by numerous people very close to the Peltier case, but did not free him. Constitutional scholar Barack Obama is also well aware of this horrific imprisonment.

Peltier’s freedom marks a monumental corner that must be turned. For the millions who have ached through the terrible injustice and sheer physical and spiritual pain of this imprisonment, it is a moment of liberation that must come.

Only a strongly supportive political climate can make it happen. Call your Senators and Representatives as well as the White House and Parole Commission, newspapers and radio shows, web friends and neighbors down the street. Meditate, pray, march, dance, sing, shout, laugh, cry... do whatever you can to help move this man out of his jail cell and into the open air after 33 hellish years.

This imprisonment must end. Rarely has it been more true that freeing a single human being will help free us all.

For more see: My Life is my Sundance, by Leonard Peltier; In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, by Peter Mattheissen; Robert Redford’s Incident at Oglalla; leonardpeltier.net; whoisleonardpeltier.info.

Also see Leonard Peltier: In the Spirit of Crazy Horse by Leonard Peltier (includes 'Free Leonard Peltier' by Dan Skye, and a Video from Chief Leonard Crow Dog) / The Rag Blog / July 1, 2009

The Rag Blog

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Bad Boogie at Austin's KUT : 'We Built This City'

Paul Ray, Texas Hall of Fame jazz musician and KUT radio host. Photo by Christina Murrey).
Changes abound at KUT

Programming changes at KUT have cut longtime hosts Paul Ray and Larry Monroe to one night a week each. “Paul Ray’s Jazz” and Larry Monroe’s “Phil Music Program” are being replaced on KUT (FM 90.5) by “Music with Matt Reilly,” hosted by KUT’s new assistant music director.

In another change, KUT will air “Undercurrents,” a three-hour national music show hosted by Gregg McVicar, at midnight Monday through Thursday to replace overnight programming hosted by Monroe and Ray.

In all, Ray will lose 14 hours of air time a week, with Monroe broadcasting 10 fewer hours a week...

-- Michael Corcoran / Austin American Statesman / July 3, 2009
We Built This City:
KUT Burns Paul Ray and Larry Monroe

By Cleve Hattersley / The Rag Blog / July 28, 2009
See ‘Time to break out the torches and pitchforks? Format change at KUT’ by John Conquest, Below.
When I first heard the old Starship song, “We Built This City,” I giggled. By the third time I heard it, I automatically guffawed. Don't know why, but it always made me hysterical.

Today, I'm not laughing, and the damned song finally means something to me. I'm watching the denigration of two guys who literally built this city, Paul Ray and Larry Monroe. All but seven hours of their programming has been wiped from the face of the earth by KUT, much of it replaced by canned programming from California.

And they did help build this city as we know it, along with a generation of us who demanded a different lifestyle. We made Austin completely unique, unlike any other destination. Decades later, the city is still one-of-a-kind, and a virtual oasis of truth in the midst of the American desert. Because of folks like Larry and Paul, whose voices through the night have charmed and engaged us. And they have educated us about ourselves, our music, and our village.

This is why, when Lee Cooke, our last Republican mayor, and a good bloke, came to me with a group of fellow citizens and asked what I thought we should do to get Paul's and Larry's shows all back on the air, I told him we needed to bloody our hands. We need to do absolutely anything in our power to keep Austin and its public radio station in the hands of the community that pays for its existence. As I mentioned in my recent "manifesto," that means anything right up to full boycott at fundraising time.

This is our public radio station -- we pay for 85% of its budget, and we choose to, in the words of Darrell Royal, "dance with the ones who brung us." The fact is, Paul and Larry are still building this city, platter by platter and segue by segue. And the city wants to keep them. Believe me, I know: virtually everyone in this town has emailed me this weekend.

We are calling for a Town Hall Meeting for August 5th, at 7:00 p.m. at Threadgills to discuss what actions we may need to take to restore Paul and Larry fully on our radio station. Please come help us return KUT to the public that owns it.

Meanwhile, please voice your displeasure to KUT General Manager Stewart Vanderwilt. This is his email: svanderwilt@kut.org. Next week, we'll pass out board members' emails.

[Cleve Hattersley founded Austin’s legendary band Greezy Wheels in 1971.]

KUT's Larry Monroe. Photo by Bret Gerbe for the Austin American Statesman.

Time to break out the torches and pitchforks?
Format change at KUT

So how do a new arrival and a Californian DJ get to take over from two Austin institutions? Simple, they’re cheaper.
By John Conquest / The Rag Blog / July 28, 2009

You just know a headline like “Changes Abound at KUT” means bad news. Really bad news.

Michael Corcoran of the Austin American-Statesman only reported the basic facts, released, Palin-style, on the Friday before the 4th of July, that Larry Monroe’s Phil Music and Paul Ray’s Jazz are being replaced by Music with Matt Reilly, hosted by KUT’s new assistant music director, and Ray and Monroe’s overnight programming by a show called Undercurrents.

I was a little puzzled by Corcoran’s reticence as, in his shoes, I’d’ve been just a tad snarky, but maybe he knew the comments at the paper’s Austin360 website would do the heavy lifting for him, revealing the undercurrents concealed beneath those basic facts.

Let’s start with what KUT will now be airing from midnight to 3 a.m., Monday to Thursday. “Undercurrents” is a syndicated radio show that originates in -- California. Of course, there’s no law that says you can’t promote Texas music unless you’re physically in Texas, but scanning through Gregg McVicar’s latest playlists, I didn’t spot a single Texas artist. However, there were plenty of people whom Austinites are crying out to hear because they just don’t get enough airplay -- The Beatles, The Eagles, The Doors, The Rolling Stones, Jackson Browne, Beck and Sheryl Crow.

Which rather neatly brings us to, Who the fuck is Matt Reilly? Well, he came to KUT, via WXPN, Philadelphia, from KGSR (“all Sheryl Crow, all the time”). This is not, in itself, grounds for breaking out the torches and pitchforks, after all, Folkways host Kevin Connor spent many years at KGeezer without going over to the dark side, but, on the other hand, it sure is grounds for priming the torches and honing the pitchforks. So far, I haven’t caught Reilly’s show, about which the KUT website reveals absolutely nothing, which is pretty suspicious, but reliable sources tell me it’s just like listening to KGSR.

So how do a new arrival and a Californian DJ get to take over from two Austin institutions? Simple, they’re cheaper. Monroe has been with KUT for 28 years, Ray almost as long, putting them among the station’s highest paid non-management employees. By cutting them back to joke hours (Ray retains “Twine Time,” Monroe “Blue Monday”) and replacing them with a management level staffer and a syndicated show, KUT saves some money as Monroe and Ray can kiss their benefits goodbye.

However, though screwing two veteran and highly regarded DJs in unconscionable enough, you don’t have to be overly paranoid to suspect a deeper evil -- format.

The top KUT managers came to Austin from Indiana (where GM Stewart Vanderwilt saddled WBST with massive debts -- ironically, the station where Larry Monore started his radio career), Utah, Vermont and Alabama, and will doubtless depart when they get better offers elsewhere, the point being that they have no roots, hence no understanding of local tradition.

Careerists, whose priorities are ratings and fundraising, use standard industry strategies -- if this worked in Seattle, it’ll work here -- too bad if shows that have long been part of the fabric of Austin life become roadkill in the process.

The strategy that seems to be evolving at KUT is emulating KGSR’s AAA programming, with restrictive playlists, heavy to light rotation, so many new album tracks per hour, all the mechanical controls that make the station such horrible, repetitive shit. The fatal flaw in this, of course, is that there’s already one KGSR and it doesn’t hit you up for money every five minutes.

There are many eminently quotable comments in Michael Corcoran’s story, which, among other things, revealed a high level of disdain for John Aielli and Eklektikos (which has also been cut back), but I’ll go with 3CM subscriber Patrick Hurley’s, because it makes some cogent points, is in itself revealing, plus I can get his OK to use it.
“A most basic requirement of public radio in Texas is to promote things Texan -- including its music, the best in the land. Who better to do this than the person who has done it most successfully for 28 years on KUT — Larry Monroe. The programs remained fresh, with a healthy mix of classic Texas music and the best of new and upcoming Texas artists. KUT seems to want to relegate Texas music to the trash can and replace it with some mix of ‘American’ music. They say the changes were made to better blend daytime and evening programs. There is no radio station that has increased its audience by blending daytime and evening music programs. Daytime programming is for a general audience while evening radio audiences are more discerning and eclectic. Larry Monroe understands this basic principle. It is a very sad day indeed when KUT loses the plot completely.”
Bear in mind that Patrick lives in Ireland. Unless they have Sirius XM, Austinites away from their computers have severely limited choices, I mean, KOOP (91.7) is preselected on the Dogmobile radio, but that’s only any use 9 a.m. to 11a.m. except Mondays, oh and 11am to noon Wednesdays; after that I’m out of luck if I don’t have any CDs with me. However, Patrick listens to KUT online, which means he’s chosen it from a gazillion alternatives because it’s different. If it stops being different, will he still listen? Hell, no.

Some years ago, KNON hired a GM who decided to compete with Dallas’ commercial hip hop and rap stations. He was fired a few months later when the next pledge drive raised like 65¢. I think you can see where I’m going here -- next pledge drive, I urge you to punish KUT’s management, whose salaries, by the way, eat up most all of the first million raised, by withholding your donations unless and until you see tangible proof -- reinstating Phil Music would be a good signifier -- that they realize they fucked up. We can get syndicated shit anywhere.

[John Conquest is the publisher and editor of 3rd Coast Music.]

Also see Hello from Larry Monroe by Michael Corcoran / Austin 360 / July 16, 2009

And ‘Undercurrents’ host McVicar responds by Michael Corcoran / Austin 360 / July 15, 2009

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Robert Jensen on White Privilege : Teachable Moments Require Willing Learners

Harvard Scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. is photographed by a neighbor as he is arrested at his home in Cambridge, July 16. Photo by B. Carter / Demotix Images / AP.

Teachable moments require willing learners
A system as perverse and pervasive as white racism -- in all its forms, conscious and unconscious, brutal and subtle, personal and institutional -- will not end simply because we appoint black professors or elect a black president.
By Robert Jensen / The Rag Blog / July 28, 2009

Honoring President Obama’s request that the controversy involving a black Harvard University professor and a white Cambridge police officer become “a teachable moment,” here’s my contribution to an old lesson that we white people tend to be slow to learn.

In lectures about the United States’ system of white supremacy and the privileges that white people have in that system, I have sometimes told a story about being stopped by police in Austin, TX.

I was driving home in a dilapidated old Volkswagen Beetle on a busy street, late at night after a long day at work. I was dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, feeling rather cranky and looking rather raggedy. Eager to get home, I saw the yellow light and gunned it. Next I saw the flashing red lights of a police car.

I turned off onto a dark side street and dug in my wallet for my license. Just as the officer got to my car, I was opening the glove compartment to get the vehicle registration when out popped a small knife I keep for emergencies. I looked at the knife, looked at the white officer, and wondered what he would say.

“Sir, would you mind if I held that knife while we talked?” he asked politely. I handed him the knife and my documents, and he walked back to his car. When he returned he handed me those documents, along with a ticket, and my knife, without comment. “Please drive safely,” he said. And safely I drove home.

When I told that story to illustrate white privilege, I asked people of color in the room what they imagined might have happened to them in such a situation. The black and Latino men, especially, laughed. “Do you mean before or after I’m on the ground with a gun at my head?” one of them said.

My point was not that every cop is out to harass or brutalize every person of color, but that people of color could never be sure a routine traffic stop would play out routinely. I could be reasonably sure that, barring unusual circumstances, such a stop would be uneventful. Even when the knife popped out, I didn’t feel at risk.

I was feeling proud of myself for making this point to the mainly white audience, when I saw a hand go up. I called on the young black man, assuming he would endorse my analysis.

“You really don’t get it, do you?” he said. “You think your privilege started when the cop came up to the car and saw you were white. Has it ever occurred to you that when you turned onto a dark side street you were taking your privilege for granted?”

My first response was to explain: I had been on a busy street and turned to avoid blocking traffic. I was trying to be considerate of other drivers, I said.

“I know why you did it. My point is that I would never turn onto an unlit street with a cop behind me,” the young man said. “I would have pulled over and blocked traffic. I’m not going to take myself out of public view with a cop.”

My next response was to feel appropriately foolish for my unwarranted self-righteousness, and then to be grateful to the man for using that teachable moment.

He wasn’t suggesting that I be ashamed of myself, only that I recognize the burden he carries in the world that I don’t. The story was one more example of the privilege that comes with being a member of the dominant group in an unjust hierarchical system. It’s the same lesson men should learn about the sexual violence women face. Heterosexuals should learn it about the condemnation that lesbians and gays endure. The wealthy should learn it about the insecurity that poor and working people cope with. U.S. citizens should learn it about the fear of arbitrary authority that haunts immigrants no matter what their status.

I still tell that story when I lecture, now emphasizing that the man’s comments had reminded me no one with privilege ever fully “gets it.” It doesn’t mean we whites -- or men, or heterosexuals, or the well off, or citizens -- are consigned to perpetual stupidity, but rather that we should never think we have it all figured out.

In this allegedly “post-racial” era, these teachable moments are an important reminder that white supremacy is woven deeply into the fabric of this country. A system as perverse and pervasive as white racism -- in all its forms, conscious and unconscious, brutal and subtle, personal and institutional -- will not end simply because we appoint black professors or elect a black president.

In this moment, we white folks should ask ourselves, after so many teachable moments, why we still have so much to learn.

[Robert Jensen is a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin and board member of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center. His latest book is All My Bones Shake: Seeking a Progressive Path to the Prophetic Voice (Soft Skull Press, 2009). Jensen can be reached at rjensen@uts.cc.utexas.edu. His articles on The Rag Blog are here and his writing can also be found here.]

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