Progressive Calendar 08.15.09
From: David Shove (
Date: Sat, 15 Aug 2009 06:50:19 -0700 (PDT)
           P R O G R E S S I V E   C A L E N D A R   08.15.09

1. WAMM book sale   8.15 8am
2. Peace walk       8.15 9am Cambridge MN
3. Lydia/yard sale  8.15 10am
4. Picket Starbucks 8.15 10am
5. Stop it          8.15 11am
6. Northtown vigil  8.15 2pm

7. Eduardo Galeano - I hate to bother you, but history never ends
8. Kip Sullivan    - Reply to critics of How the 'public option' was sold
9. ed              - My great thoughts  (poem)

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From: Sue Ann <seasnun [at]>
Subject: WAMM book sale 8.15 8am

WAMM Used Book Sale by Lake Hiawatha

Saturday, August 15, 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Ann Galloway's Back Yard,
4354 28th Avenue South, Minneapolis. 100% of the proceeds to benefit WAMM!
Browse for books, CDs, audio books, DVDs, puzzles, and games. Walking
tacos and soda pop will be available as well. Bring a lawn chair and read
your new book by nearby Lake Hiawatha. Endorsed by: WAMM. FFI or to make a
donation: Email gannica [at]

[Or, there's my Used idea sale!  Big ideas, speckled ideas, Popiel Pocket
Ideas, ideas no one can ever have, and more O so much more! No payment
required till August 2007. -ed]

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From: Ken Reine <reine008 [at]>
Subject: Peace walk 8.15 9am Cambridge MN

every Saturday 9AM to 9:35AM
Peace walk in Cambridge - start at Hwy 95 and Fern Street

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From: Lydia Howell <lydiahowell [at]>
Subject: Lydia/yard sale 8.15 10am

SAT. AUG. 15, 10AM TO 5:30PM
(1 block south of East Franklin) Minneapolis

Help activist/journalist LYDIA HOWELL make "seed money" to host benefits
this fall! All items 25 cents to $20!

Progressive BOOKS--from Peace Studies, Black Studies to Mao, labor to
women's studies, literature & spirituality---and some NEW TITKES, too!CDs!
MOVIES--Videos $1/DVDs $2--3!

ART, political posters, original art, small sculpture! Clothes,. New
shoes! Kitchen stuff, bedding.

A 13-inch color TV. Tape deck/radio! Luggage. Political buttons & some
unusual items.

All items 25 cents to $20! Hope to see you there! Thanks!

[Some of DAVE'S USED IDEAS may be for SALE too! Try 'em---you'll like 'EM!
Books on DAVE'S STUDIES---studies of Dave and why he is so super
wonderful! Be the FIRST in your neighborhood to understand Dave!]

--------4 of 9--------

From: Michele <MRockne [at]>
From: Erik Forman <erik.forman [at]>
Subject: Picket Starbucks 8.15 10am

Starbucks Workers Union/Industrial Workers of the World
Contact: Anja Witek, 651-587-9593

Baristas to Picket Saint Paul Starbucks over Unjust Firing of Ethiopian

Starbucks Workers Union Looks Toward Litigation
Press Conference: 10am Saturday August 15th, Snelling & Selby Starbucks

St. Paul, MN - Baristas from across the Twin Cities plan to picket the
Snelling & Selby Starbucks this Saturday in protest of the unjust firing
of Ethiopian barista and mother of three Azmera Mehrbatu. On July 8th,
Azmera was singled out and interrogated for almost two hours by District
Manager Claire Gallagher, who accused Azmera of under-charging regular
customers, a common practice at the store. Management openly admits that
there was no evidence that Azmera stole a single penny. Despite repeatedly
stating that she did not understand the words of her interrogators, Azmera
was pressured to sign a promissory note agreeing to pay Starbucks the
arbitrarily-determined sum of $1200.

Azmera still struggles to understand what Starbucks did to her. "I love
everyone in my heart. I believe them. I trust them. That is my problem,"
she said.

Baristas across the city have rallied to her support, organizing a protest
which will take place outside the Snelling and Selby Starbucks this
Saturday at 10am. They have circulated a petition demanding her immediate
reinstatement. Pressure continues to mount on company executives as the
Starbucks Workers Union builds community support and looks toward

"We believe Starbucks executives should not be allowed to sit on their
billions of dollars in profits with their backs turned on unfairly treated
workers like Aizze. As Starbucks 'partners' and fellow workers, we demand
honesty, transparency and equality in the discipline and termination of
all workers," said Anja Witek, a barista at the Snelling and Selby
Starbucks and member of the Starbucks Workers Union.

Starbucks has so far refused to respond to the baristas' demands.

The IWW Starbucks Workers Union is an organization of over 300 current and
former employees at the world's largest coffee chain united for secure
work hours, a living wage, and respect on the job. The union has members
throughout the United States, and now Canada as well, fighting for
positive change at the company and defending baristas treated unfairly by

--------5 of 9--------

From: Steff Yorek <yosteff [at]>
Subject: Stop it 8.15 11am

Saturday protest in Minneapolis to tell Banks & Mortgage Companies:
Stop Foreclosures and Evictions
Saturday, August 15:

   - 11:00 AM: Gather Lake Street & Clinton Ave. South in Minneapolis.
   - 11:15 AM: March (The march will go past the home of Rosemary Williams -
   3138 Clinton Ave - for a brief rally, the march will then continue on).
   - 12:00 Noon: Rally at Wells Fargo branch office, Nicollet & 31st Street.

"Stop foreclosures and evictions" will be the rallying call during a
protest set for Saturday, August 15, in Minneapolis.

The protest, initiated by the Minnesota Coalition for a People's Bailout,
will call on banks and mortgage companies to stop foreclosures and the
displacement of homeowners and to stop evicting tenants from rental
properties that have been foreclosed.

The event will start Saturday at 11 AM at Clinton Avenue and Lake Street.
A march will start at 11:15 AM. The march will go past the home of
Rosemary Williams, the south Minneapolis homeowner fighting to stop her
foreclosure and eviction. After a brief rally at the Williams home the
march will continue on to the Wells Fargo branch at Nicollet & 31st

Wells Fargo has received $25 billion in TARP, the federal bank bailout,
yet continues to foreclose and evict local citizens.

"The outpouring of support for Rosemary Williams in recent days shows that
people want action taken against the continued foreclosures and
destruction of our communities," said Steff York of the Minnesota
Coalition for a People's Bailout.

"Rosemary's struggle is a fight to defend the interests of millions of
working people and low-income people who are in danger of losing their
homes to foreclosure. We march to demand that the banks and mortgage
companies stop the foreclosures and evictions," said Linden Gawboy of the
Minnesota Coalition for a People's Bailout.

A statement issued by organizers explains, "The economic crisis is not the
fault of working and low-income people. Banks and mortgage companies sold
mortgages with escalating interest rates and penalties that were doomed to
fail. Increasing layoffs and the economic crisis will lead to more people
falling behind on mortgage payments. Working people and low-income people
need a bailout."

The statement demands that banks and mortgage companies honor the leases
of tenants in foreclosed rental properties. "Tenants by the hundreds and
thousands have lost their homes in the last few years, as landlords lose
their properties. Lenders who foreclose on landlords put tenants out on
the streets. This must stop."

--------6 of 9--------

From: Vanka485 [at]
Subject: Northtown vigil 8.15 2pm

Peace vigil at Northtown (Old Hwy 10 & University Av), every Saturday

--------7 of 9--------

History Never Ends
I Hate to Bother You
August 13, 2009

I'd like to share with you some questions--some flies that keep buzzing in
my head.

Is justice right side up?

Has world justice been frozen in an upside-down position?

The shoe-thrower of Iraq, the man who hurled his shoes at Bush, was
condemned to three years in prison. Doesn't he deserve, instead, a medal?

Who is the terrorist?  The hurler of shoes or their recipient?  Is not the
real terrorist the serial killer who, lying, fabricated the Iraq war,
massacred a multitude, and legalized and ordered torture?

Who are the guilty ones--the people of Atenco, in Mexico, the indigenous
Mapuches of Chile, the Kekchies of Guatemala, the landless peasants of
Brazil - all being accused of the crime of terrorism for defending their
right to their own land?  If the earth is sacred, even if the law does not
say so, aren't its defenders sacred too?

According to Foreign Policy Magazine, Somalia is the most dangerous place
in the world.  But who are the pirates?  The starving people who attack
ships or the speculators of Wall Street who spent years attacking the
world and who are now rewarded with many millions of dollars for their

Why does the world reward its ransackers?

Why is justice a one-eyed blind woman?  Wal-Mart, the most powerful
corporation on earth, bans trade unions. McDonald's, too.  Why do these
corporations violate, with criminal impunity, international law?  Is it
because in this contemporary world of ours, work is valued as lower than
trash and workers' rights are valued even less?

Who are the righteous and who are the villains?  If international justice
really exists, why are the powerful never judged?  The masterminds of the
worst butcheries are never sent to prison.  Is it because it is these
butchers themselves who hold the prison keys?

What makes the five nations with veto power in the United Nations
inviolable?   Is it of a divine origin, that veto power of theirs?  Can
you trust those who profit from war to guard the peace?

Is it fair that world peace is in the hands of the very five nations who
are also the world's main producers of weapons?  Without implying any
disrespect to the drug runners, couldn't we refer to this arrangement as
yet another example of organized crime?

Those who clamor, everywhere, for the death penalty are strangely silent
about the owners of the world.  Even worse, these clamorers forever
complain about knife-wielding murderers, yet say nothing about
missile-wielding arch-murderers.

And one asks oneself: Given that these self-righteous world owners are so
enamored of killing, why pray don't they try to aim their murderous
proclivities at social injustice?  Is it a just a world when, every
minute, three million dollars are wasted on the military, while at the
same time fifteen children perish from hunger or curable disease? Against
whom is the so-called international community armed to the teeth?  Against
poverty or against the poor?

Why don't the champions of capital punishment direct their ire at the
values of the consumer society, values which pose a daily threat to public
safety?  Or doesn't, perhaps, the constant bombardment of advertising
constitute an invitation to crime?  Doesn't that bombardment numb millions
and millions of unemployed or poorly paid youth, endlessly teaching them
the lie that "to be = to have," that life derives its meaning from
ownership of such things as cars or brand name shoes?  Own, own, they keep
saying, implying that he who has nothing is, himself, nothing.

Why isn't the death penalty applied to death itself?  The world is
organized in the service of death.  Isn't it true that the military
industrial complex manufactures death and devours the greater part of our
resources as well as a good part of our energies?  Yet the owners of the
world only condemn violence when it is exercised by others.  To
extraterrestrials, if they existed, such monopoly of violence would appear
inexplicable.  It likewise appears insupportable to earth dwellers who,
against all the available evidence, hope for survival: we humans are the
only animals who specialize in mutual extermination, and who have
developed a technology of destruction that is annihilating,
coincidentally, our planet and all its inhabitants.

This technology sustains itself on fear.   It is the fear of enemies that
justifies the squandering of resources by the military and police.  And
speaking about implementing the death penalty, why don't we pass a death
sentence on fear itself?  Would it not behoove us to end this universal
dictatorship of the professional scaremongers?  The sowers of panic
condemn us to loneliness, keeping solidarity outside our reach:  falsely
teaching us that we live in a dog-eat-dog world, that he who can must
crush his fellows, that danger is lurking behind every neighbor.  Watch
out, they keep saying, be careful, this neighbor will steal from you, that
other one will rape you, that baby carriage hides a Muslim bomb, and that
woman who is watching you--that innocent-looking neighbor of yours will
surely infect you with swine flu.

In this upside-down world, they are making us afraid of even the most
elementary acts of justice and common sense. When President Evo Morales
started to re-build Bolivia, so that his country with its indigenous
majority will no longer feel shame facing a mirror, his actions provoked
panic.  Morales' challenge was indeed catastrophic from the traditional
standpoint of the racist order, whose beneficiaries felt that theirs was
the only possible option for Bolivia.  It was Evo, they felt, who ushered
in chaos and violence, and this alleged crime justified efforts to blow up
national unity and break Bolivia into pieces.  And when President Correa
of Ecuador refused to pay the illegitimate debts of his country, the news
caused terror in the financial world and Ecuador was threatened with dire
punishment, for daring to set such a bad example.  If the military
dictatorships and roguish politicians have always been pampered by
international banks, have we not already conditioned ourselves to accept
it as our inevitable fate that the people must pay for the club that hits
them and for the greed the plunders them?

But, have common sense and justice always been divorced from each other?

Were not common sense and justice meant to walk hand in hand, intimately

Aren't common sense, and also justice, in accord with the feminist slogan
which states that if we, men, had to go through pregnancy, abortion would
have been free.  Why not legalize the right to have an abortion?  Is it
because abortion will then cease being the sole privilege of the women who
can afford it and of the physicians who can charge for it?

The same thing is observed with another scandalous case of denial of
justice and common sense: why aren't drugs legal?  Is this not, like
abortion, a public health issue?  And the very same country that counts in
its population more drug addicts than any other country in the world, what
moral authority does it have to condemn its drug suppliers?  And why don't
the mass media, in their dedication to the war against the scourge of
drugs, ever divulge that it is Afghanistan which single-handedly satisfies
just about all the heroin consumed in the world?  Who rules Afghanistan?
Is it not militarily occupied by a messianic country which conferred upon
itself the mission of saving us all?

Why aren't drugs legalized once and for all?  Is it because they provide
the best pretext for military invasions, in addition to providing the
juiciest profits to the large banks who, in the darkness of night, serve
as money-laundering centers?

Nowadays the world is sad because fewer vehicles are sold.  One of the
consequences of the global crisis is a decline of the otherwise prosperous
car industry.  Had we some shred of common sense, a mere fragment of a
sense of justice, would we not celebrate this good news?

Could anyone deny that a decline in the number of automobiles is good for
nature, seeing that she will end up with a bit less poison in her veins?
Could anyone deny the value of this decline in car numbers to pedestrians,
seeing that fewer of them will die?

Here's how Lewis Carroll.s queen explained to Alice how justice is
dispensed in a looking-glass world:

"There's the King's Messenger.  He's in prison now, being punished: and
the trial doesn't begin until next Wednesday: and of course the crime
comes last of all."

In El Salvador, Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero found that justice, like a
snake, only bites barefoot people.  He died of gunshot wounds, for
proclaiming that in his country the dispossessed were condemned from the
very start, on the day of their birth.

Couldn't the outcome of the recent elections in El Salvador be viewed, in
some ways, as a homage to Archbishop Romero and to the thousands who, like
him, died fighting for right-side-up justice in this reign of injustice?

At times the narratives of History end badly, but she, History itself,
never ends.  When she says goodbye, she only says: I'll be back.

Translation from Spanish for CounterPunch: Dr. Moti Nissani

Among his other achievements, in 1971, Eduardo Galeano wrote The Open
Veins of Latin America and, in 1976, escaped death at the hands of
CIA-financed Argentine death squads.

--------8 of 9--------

Reply to critics of "Bait and switch: How the 'public option' was sold"
by Kip Sullivan, JD
Aug 8, 2009

Conservatives never base their opposition to single-payer on the ground
that it is "politically infeasible". They oppose single-payer on policy
grounds and they say so. The "political feasibility" argument is used
exclusively by proponents of universal health insurance who profess to
admire single-payer systems but who refuse to support single-payer
legislation in any meaningful way (and often support legislation that
impedes single-payer's progress) on the ground that single-payer cannot be
enacted, soon or at all. Merton Bernstein and Ted Marmor refer to these
people as "political yes buts".

"Political yes buts" have been lecturing single-payer advocates since the
modern American single-payer movement began in the late 1980s. Several
"yes buts" took issue with a comment I posted on July 20 on this blog
entitled "Bait and switch: How the 'public option' was sold" [See
Progressive Calendar for 07.30.09 -ed]. In that comment, I compared the
original version of the "public option" promoted by Jacob Hacker, the
intellectual godfather of the idea, and Health Care for America Now (HCAN)
with the version incorporated in two bills introduced by congressional
Democrats in July.

I reported that Hacker's original proposal called for a public health
insurance program that would enroll 130 million people whereas the "public
option" contained in the Democrats' House bill would enroll 10 million at
most and the "public option" in the Democrats' Senate HELP Committee bill
would enroll approximately no one. (Now that Democrats in the House have
compromised away to the Blue Dogs a requirement that the "public option"
use Medicare's rates plus 5 percent, I assume the Congressional Budget
Office will attribute roughly zero enrollment to the House version too.)

I stated that a "public option" with zero to 10 million enrollees might
not survive and, if it did, it would have little effect on health care
costs and the number of uninsured and underinsured. I criticized the
leaders of the "public option" movement for failing to notify the public
that the mousey "options" in the Democrats' bills bear no resemblance to
the huge "public option" originally proposed by Hacker and celebrated by

My July 20 comment moved rapidly over the Internet, starting with a few
blogs maintained by some long-time single-payer advocates (including Black
Agenda Report and Corrente), and triggered much discussion. From what I
could see, most of it was appreciative. However, there was some criticism.
The critics didn't challenge my facts, nor my conclusion that the "public
option" had undergone great shrinkage, nor that its advocates had failed
to apprise the public of that fact.

The criticism fell into two categories. The first category boiled down to
the argument single-payer advocates have heard for two decades:
Single-payer legislation is not feasible, or is less feasible than some
version of the "public option". The second type of criticism amounted to:
It doesn't matter that the "public option" has been degraded to a tiny
ghost of its former self because it will inevitably be strengthened after
it becomes law.

Here is an example of the "political feasibility" argument:

Simple fact: Single-payer is not within the realm of possibility this

Here is an example of the argument that it's ok to support the mouse
version of the Democrats' "public option" because fundamental reform is
usually achieved by building on small incremental reforms:

The author doesn't even seem to understand how legislation is made..  The
fact is, it will be a lot more politically difficult for members of
Congress to vote against those future incremental improvements than to
vote against the entire plan now. Once it's in place, and constituents
start calling their elected officials with complaints, they're going to
have to fix those problems - or at the very least, not get in the way of
the solution.. We won't get there overnight, but this bill will at least
be a decent start.

Here is an example by a critic who makes both arguments:

As Teddy Kennedy says, the most important thing is to get a public plan by
hook or crook and then expand it. But I would love to know why this fellow
and others like him believe that, all things being equal (the same
presidential campaign, the same economic conditions) single payer could
have been sold more effectively than a public plan.

I address both types of criticism in this paper.

The feasibility argument is old, and it's backwards

I first heard the "political feasibility" argument from members of a
Minnesota health care reform commission in the spring and summer of 1990
when the coalition for which I was working, the Health Care Campaign of
Minnesota, started visiting commission members to drum up support for
single-payer legislation. I remember very clearly hearing the political
feasibility argument on a hot summer day in 1990 in the office of Senator
Linda Berglin, a commission member who also chaired the Senate health
committee. Berglin, who was and still is from the safest
Democratic-Farmer-Labor district in Minnesota, said she wouldn't support
single-payer because "we can't beat the insurance industry" (or words
almost exactly like those). A year later she was claiming that legislation
that relied on HMOs to contain cost would have a much greater chance of
passing in Minnesota and that's what she was going to focus on.

Over the years 1992 through 1994, Minnesota's legislature did in fact pass
a series of bills (collectively referred to as "MinnesotaCare") that were
supposed to achieve substantial cost containment by encouraging faster
enrollment in HMOs, and thus establish universal health insurance by July
1, 1997. Of course, it all fell apart, beginning in 1995. Minnesota is no
closer to universal health insurance today than it was in 1990 when I was
first advised by my betters about how politically infeasible single-payer
is and how politically feasible the HMO approach would be.

A half-dozen other states have suffered the same lesson. Legislative
leaders, egged on by left-of-center groups that didn't know much about
health policy but which maintain close relations with Democrats, thought
they could achieve universal coverage by funneling more tax dollars
through "managed care" insurance companies. This occurred recently in the
state of Massachusetts where "Romney-care," a program that requires
Massachusetts residents to buy health insurance from that state's bloated
insurance industry, was enacted in 2006. The program is having a very hard
time staying afloat. All these multiple-payer state initiatives foundered
because they did not contain cost.

It is now the summer of 2009. You can imagine my reaction to people who
claim single-payer isn't politically feasible but that other proposals
that leave the insurance industry at the top of the health care food chain
are. I want to get out my guitar and sing in a sad, tremulous voice,
"Where have all the flowers gone .. When will they ever learn?"

How many times must universal coverage advocates rush onto the battle
field to promote a multiple-payer solution and get slaughtered before they
realize they can't get to universal coverage that way? How many defeats
will it take till they know that universal coverage without cost
containment is not politically feasible? How many times can they be fooled
into thinking that there are ways to cut costs other single-payer?

There are several reasons why the lessons of previous defeats don't sink
in with many universal coverage advocates. I'll discuss two here: (1)
insufficient knowledge of how social change happens; and (2) insufficient
knowledge about the role that promoters of market-based solutions to the
health care crisis played in marginalizing single-payer legislation in

                     Naivete about social change

As the remarks by critics of "Bait and switch" quoted above suggest, some
"political yes buts" have a superficial understanding of how social change
happens. They think it happens quickly or not at all, and they think it
begins and ends in Congress.

This view of social change is often expressed in the mantra quoted above,
"Single payer is not within the realm of possibility this term". The
implication is that if single-payer advocates cannot demonstrate that they
have at least 51 percent of the votes lined up, they should retreat to the
sidelines and watch the "political yes buts" do their thing. It implies
that social change must occur within a single session of Congress rather
than over the course of many sessions. It implies that movements for
social change should, in the event that they do not have a majority vote
locked up at the beginning of any given session of Congress, put their
campaign in moth balls and forgo the opportunity to educate the public and
build their movement through lobbying, testimony, rallies and all the
other tools associated with campaigns to move bills in Congress.

In short, it implies an absurd Catch-22. To get the "political yes buts"
to join them, single-payer advocates must show proof of having a majority
of Congress on their side; but to get a majority of Congress on their
side, the single-payer movement must build and wage a campaign
relentlessly over many years in the face of active discouragement from the
"yes buts" - and without pestering Congress with ideas unfairly
characterized as utopian.

These demands, when they are spelled out, are obviously irrational.
Universal coverage under a single-payer system is going to be difficult to
achieve. The difficulty may be on the order of the difficulty of ensuring
voting rights for women and civil rights for black people, to name just
two examples of movements that took decades to accomplish their goals. If
the leaders and supporters of these movements had accepted the
Alice-in-Wonderland rules recommended by the "yes buts," the women's
suffrage and civil rights movements would never have happened.

            Naivete about the role of promoters of market-based
                      alternatives to single-payer

The second reason some progressives don't draw the right lessons from the
failure of previous attempts to achieve universal coverage is that they
fail to understand the role that advocates of bad policy have played in
splitting the universal coverage movement and weakening support for
single-payer within Congress. This is particularly true of the failure of
Bill Clinton's Health Security Act in 1994. The conventional wisdom within
the "yes but" wing of the universal coverage movement is that Clinton's
bill died because advocates of universal coverage did not rally around his
bill quickly enough in the face of "Harry and Louise" ads, and because
Clinton didn't engage in skillful "messaging". The fact that the Health
Security Act was a horrendous bill is not part of the "yes buts"'

There have been three cycles of health care reform in the last half
century - 1970-73, 1992-1994, and 2007 to date. At the dawn of each cycle,
single-payer legislation had already been introduced. But early in the
cycle, single-payer legislation was "taken off the table" (to quote a
statement Sen. Max Baucus now wishes he had never made). Each time the
Democratic leadership chose instead market-based proposals that had no
track record and no evidence to support them. Each time they favored
reform deemed more "politically feasible" than single-payer because it
left the insurance industry in place. In all three cycles, the
alternative, market-based proposal was promoted by one or two policy
entrepreneurs (that is to say, it wasn't an idea that bubbled up from the

Single-payer legislation was the first out of the chute during the
1970-1973 cycle. In January 1970, Sen. Ted Kennedy introduced what we
would today call a single-payer bill. But Kennedy and other leading
Democrats quickly abandoned single-payer in favor of a theory about cost
containment called the "health maintenance strategy". This strategy
revolved around a new-fangled type of insurance company proposed by a
Minnesota physician named Paul Ellwood that Ellwood called the "health
maintenance organization".

Ellwood would become rich and famous selling his HMO idea. He
single-handedly convinced President Richard Nixon to endorse legislation
to subsidize the formation of HMOs all over the country. While Ellwood
worked the Republicans, the AFL-CIO worked the Democrats. Within a year,
Kennedy and many other Democrats had been persuaded to abandon the
single-payer approach in favor of legislation that would subsidize HMOs.
The 1970-1973 cycle ended with the enactment of the HMO Act of 1973. Thus
was the world's first HMO industry born. As we all know now, the HMO
experiment failed.

Two decades later, when the 1992-1994 cycle opened, single-payer
legislation was not only in place in Congress it had also been introduced
in many states (the first state single-payer bill to be introduced was
introduced in Ohio's legislature in 1990). The first modern-day
single-payer bill was introduced in the US House by Rep. Marty Russo
(D-IL) in 1991 and in the Senate by Senator Paul Wellstone in 1992. But as
was the case during the previous cycle, the Democratic leadership was
seduced by an alternative to single-payer. Once again, Paul Ellwood played
an important role in luring Democrats away from single-payer.

Late in 1992, candidate Bill Clinton was persuaded by representatives of a
group Ellwood helped form, the Jackson Hole Group, to support something
called "managed competition". The Jackson Hole Group was a coalition of
insurance company executives and conservatives who met regularly at
Ellwood's mansion in Jackson Hole, WY. The theory of "managed competition"
held that if the insurance "market" were tweaked (with report cards on
insurance companies, for example), competition between insurers would
intensify, Ellwood's beloved HMOs would gradually seize more market share,
and this would drive industry-wide premiums down. Clinton's endorsement of
"managed competition within a budget" catapulted what might have remained
an obscure idea into the political limelight. When Clinton was elected,
single-payer legislation once again languished while the Clintons, with
help from groups like Families USA, AFSCME, and Citizen Action (now called
USAction), flogged their managed competition bill. The 1994 cycle ended
with the death of Clinton's bill in September 1994, and the unraveling of
similar managed competition legislation enacted in Minnesota and

                                 Dj vu

The cycle we're in now bears many similarities with the last two cycles.
When this cycle began (2007 is as good a year to pick as the first year of
this cycle, although that is somewhat arbitrary), single-payer legislation
was better positioned than ever before to be taken seriously by Democrats.
Single-payer bills had been introduced in several states as well as the US
House (Sen. Bernie Sanders would introduce a single-payer bill in the
Senate in 2008). Polls were showing that two-thirds of Americans and 60
percent of doctors support single-payer (or "Medicare for all")

But once again an articulate policy entrepreneur appeared on the scene to
sell a market-based alternative to single-payer that would leave the
insurance industry at the top of the health care food chain, and once
again the Democratic leadership fell for it. This time the entrepreneur
was not Paul Ellwood. This time the policy entrepreneur was Jacob Hacker,
a professor of political science at Berkeley. Just as Ellwood and the
Jackson Hole Group had before him, Hacker said enhanced "competition"
among insurance companies was the solution to the health care crisis. (The
name of Hacker's latest paper is "Healthy competition".) This time
enhanced competition would not come from "managing" competition, but from
the creation of a "public option". This time the coalition that promoted
the alternative to single-payer was not the Jackson Hole Group, but HCAN,
assisted by a sister coalition called the Herndon Alliance.

The Herndon Alliance was founded in 2005 by many of the same groups that
would create HCAN in 2008. The Herndon Alliance paved the way for HCAN's
promotion of the "public option" with some laughable "research" claiming
to find that Americans want a "public-private-plan choice" approach and
don't want a single-payer system. I have written elsewhere about the bogus
"research" conducted by the Herndon Alliance. Suffice it to say here the
Herndon Alliance cooked up a new and more insidious version of the
"political feasibility" argument.

Until about 2007, when the Herndon Alliance first began publishing its
"research," there was only one variant of the "political feasibility"
argument, the one that said the insurance industry is too powerful to
beat. The Herndon Alliance variant claimed single-payer is not feasible
because Americans don't want it. According to this variant, American
"values," not the insurance industry, are actually the greatest impediment
to single-payer. According to the Herndon Alliance, Americans "value
choice of insurance company" and "they like the insurance they have and
want to keep it". HCAN and Hacker picked up these refrains and promoted
them vigorously to the public and to members of Congress. This inexcusable
attack on single-payer no doubt helped key committee chairs in Congress
(Kennedy, Baucus, Waxman, Rangel and Miller) feel more comfortable taking
single-payer off the table and concentrating on the "public option".

By early 2009, it was clear the Hacker-HCAN-Herndon Alliance propaganda
for the "public option" and against single-payer had worked with the
Democratic leadership, and that the Democratic leadership would fall once
again for a market-based alternative and remove single-payer from the
table. The removal of single-payer legislation took place without the
firing of a single shot in public by the insurance industry and the right
wing. It took place at the request of the "yes but" wing.

In the House, single-payer legislation, HR 676, has been rammed back onto
the table, thanks to hell-raising by the single-payer movement, including
the arrests of some brave doctors and nurses who disrupted hearings in the
Senate Finance Committee last May. Last Friday night, Speaker Nancy Pelosi
agreed to allow a floor vote on whether to substitute HR 676 for HR 3200,
the Democratic leadership's "public option" bill. This is a significant
victory for the single-payer movement, but it should not have come so late
in the 2009 session. If Pelosi and the three committee chairmen who wrote
HR 3200 had permitted HR 676 to go through the normal committee hearing
process, single-payer advocates would have had more time to educate
Congress and the public about why a single-payer system is superior to all
other alternatives.

It appears almost certain that the reform cycle we're in now will end the
way the last two did - with the Democrats' competition-based alternative
to single-payer going down in flames. It is extremely important that
progressives, especially progressives in the "yes but" camp, understand
why this happened. Yes, the ultimate villain in these dramas was the
insurance industry and their conservative allies. But universal coverage
advocates must understand the role of the "yes buts," and the policy
entrepreneurs they listened to, in splitting the universal coverage
movement and in seducing Democrats to support legislation that was no more
likely to pass than single-payer legislation and wouldn't have cut costs
if it had passed. If they don't see this - if they persist in believing
the insurance industry is the only force single-payer advocates have to
contend with - they will, wittingly or unwittingly, help perpetuate the
pattern we have seen in the last three reform cycles. They will, in short,
perpetuate the insanity of doing the same thing over and over, seeing it
fail, and not learning from failure.

           It is not inevitable that a scrawny "public option"
                          will be strengthened

The argument that any "public option" is better than none has rarely been
articulated, but I suspect we will hear it more often as the reality sinks
in that the "public option" in the Democrats' bill is a joke. "Public
option" advocates who learn for the first time that the "option" in the
Democrats' bill will insure few or zero people have only two choices: to
abandon the "public option" movement, which is no doubt emotionally
difficult to do for those who have invested heavily in the movement, or to
continue to work for the Democrats' version of the "public option" and
rationalize that choice with the argument that a tiny "public option" can
always be improved once it is established.

The problem with this argument is that the "public option" is not your
typical government program. The "public option" is not like the space
program or the various college loan programs, to take a few examples, all
of which can be expanded or contracted as the years go by without
seriously threatening the very existence of the program. The "public
option" will be a business. And this particular government-run business
may never get very big; it may not even survive. If it doesn't get big, or
doesn't survive, it won't develop the huge public fan base that protects
popular programs like Social Security and Medicare. In fact, the reverse
could happen. A miserable early performance may cause Americans to turn
against the idea of a Medicare-like program for the non-elderly. Unlike
public programs, businesses don't have an indefinite time period to
develop a supportive public. Businesses don't automatically take root and
go on living forever. The "public option" must prove its ability to
survive and undersell the insurance industry quickly. Moreover, the
"public option" will be attempting to break into a business that has been
consolidating over the last few years. The insurance industry is
extraordinarily difficult to crack.

"Public option" proponents who urge us to support even a token "public
option" must remember how much is at stake here. At stake is not only the
willingness of the public to believe that government health insurance
programs can outperform the insurance industry. At stake as well is
whether Congress will give the insurance industry a trillion dollars per
decade of taxpayer money.

The Democrats' legislation calls for subsidies to people under a certain
income level (probably 300 or 400 percent of the poverty level) so all
Americans can afford to obey the proposed law requiring them to buy
insurance from either the insurance industry or the "public option". These
subsidies will probably amount to a trillion dollars per decade. If the
"public option" doesn't survive, or survives but never insures more than a
tiny percent of the population, that will mean that all or nearly all of
that trillion dollars will go to the insurance industry.

It is not written in stone that creation of the "public option" must go
hand in hand with a huge bailout for the insurance industry. After all,
one could imagine a scenario in which enrollees in the "public option" are
the only ones who get subsidies. That was Hacker's original plan. But
Democrats decided early in their bill-writing process that subsidies had
to go to both the "public option" and the insurance industry, and Hacker
and company did not complain. That decision, plus the Democrats' desire to
achieve near-universal coverage, plus the Democrats' decision to create
only a tiny "public option," means that if a "public option" is enacted it
will be enacted only in conjunction with an enormous insurance industry

A well-fed insurance industry is bad news for both single-payer and
"public option" advocates. An insurance industry strengthened by a
trillion dollars per decade of new tax dollars will not only be in a
better position to oppose single-payer legislation, it will also be in a
stronger position to lobby Congress and the regulators to ensure the
"public option" remains stunted.

"Public option" advocates should start talking about the "public option"
as if it were inextricably tied to an insurance industry bailout. They
should write the phrase "public-option-insurance-industry-bailout" on a
Post-it note and paste it to their bathroom mirror to remind them to be
honest with themselves and the public about this fact.

To sum up: "Public option" proponents who claim that any "public option"
is better than no "public option" because even a skinny little program can
be beefed up later are sadly mistaken. A weak "public option" may not
survive to be beefed up later, and whether it survives or not, it will
serve as fig leaf that will let Congress justify an insurance industry
bailout. A strengthened insurance industry is the last thing either the
"public option" or the single-payer wing of the universal coverage
movement needs. Please say after me: A weak public option is far worse
than none at all.

       Single-payer will still require a political struggle

As I said in "Bait and switch," I have no illusions about how difficult a
single-payer bill will be to enact. I am under no illusion that a
single-payer bill would have passed Congress in 2009 given the world as it
was in December 2008. I do believe, though, that if the "yes but" wing of
the universal coverage movement had thrown their considerable weight
behind single-payer prior to 2009, say, in 1992 when the last reform cycle
began, we would either have a Medicare-for-all style system by now, or
we'd be on the verge of enacting one now.

Will HCAN and Hacker put out a call to their followers to do all they can
to win the floor vote on HR 676 this fall? Or will they give lip service
to HR 676 and sit on their hands? When the 2009 session of Congress ends,
will HCAN et al. offer their usual misinterpretations of why reform

How quickly America enacts a single-payer system will depend in part on
whether progressives learn the real lessons of the failure of the "public
option" movement in 2009. If the "yes but" wing draws the same lessons it
drew from the failure of the Clinton bill - that the "base" was not well
enough organized, or that the Clintons didn't "sell" their plan skillfully
- unity within the universal coverage movement seems unlikely, and the day
we get to a single-payer system will be postponed.

I believe the "yes buts" must confront some inconvenient truths
immediately. The "political feasibility" rationale for doing nothing to
assist the single-payer movement was never a good one or, at minimum,
after two decades of constant use, has become an embarrassment and must be
discarded. It is foolish to argue that even the tiniest "public option"
will constitute a victory that can be built on later. If the "yes buts"
see these truths, then unity within the universal coverage movement should
be possible. And if unity comes to the universal coverage movement for the
first time in 40 years, single-payer can't be far behind.

Kip Sullivan belongs to the steering committee of the Minnesota chapter of
Physicians for a National Health Program.

--------9 of 9--------

 The Antiques Roadshow
 guy said my great thoughts are worth
 at least two cents each.

 I said I'd trade him
 one of my thoughts for two of
 his great opinions.

 He said that was the
 best offer he'd ever had,
 and we closed the deal.


   - David Shove             shove001 [at]
   rhymes with clove         Progressive Calendar
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