On Shame As A Tactic, Or, Betsie Gallardo: She Won…And So Can You!

We have been following the story of Betsie Gallardo lately, she being the woman that, due to a medical decision, was being starved to death in a Florida prison.

She has inoperable cancer, her death is imminent, and her mother was working hard to make it possible for Betsie to die at home with some dignity.

As we reported just a couple days ago, half the battle was already won, as the Florida Department of Corrections had agreed to place her in a hospital so that she could again go back on nutritional support.

On January 5th, the Florida Parole Commission voted to allow her to end her life at home-and that means you spoke out, made a difference, and achieved a complete victory for the effort.

But even as we celebrate that victory, I think we should take a moment to realize that there is a bigger lesson here: the lesson that the fights over “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT), benefits for 9/11 first responders (the Zadroga Bill), and Betsie Gallardo’s imminent release are all actually pointing us to a political strategy that works, over and over, if we are willing to understand the wisdom that’s been laid before us.

Under heaven nothing is more soft and yielding than water.

Yet for attacking the solid and strong, nothing is better;

It has no equal.

The weak can overcome the strong;

The supple can overcome the stiff.

Under heaven everyone knows this,

Yet no one puts it into practice.

— From chapter 78 of the Tao Te Ching, by Lao Tzu

So what do all three of those victories have in common?

Well, how about this: in every case, Those Proud And Courageous Conservatives found themselves too embarrassed to hold their ground, and once the bright light of public shame fell upon them, their high-minded opposition to three good things simply collapsed.

And that’s my underlying thesis for 2011 and the 112th Congress: shame and embarrassment, which don’t really seem like weapons at all, are in fact fantastically powerful when focused upon those who are trying to do wrong-and a small group of people, combining shame with a bit of imagination and effort, can crack apart even the most unyielding opposition when they embarrass the hell out of those on the other side.

Jon Stewart and “The Daily Show” can very honestly point to the “weapon of mass embarrassment” they delivered just before Christmas as the final straw that broke the back of Republican obstructionism around the Zadroga Bill-and how many of you look at DADT and John McCain and see not a principled fighter for military tradition, but a sad old man who didn’t know when to go home to Arizona and take up sitting on the front porch?

For the next two years we are going to have the chance to apply this tactic over and over and over again-and we already have Republicans and Democrats alike lining up to cut your Social Security…even as they make sure their own “defined benefit” retirement is fully funded, at your expense…and that’s a great place from which to start hitting back.

And in this Congress, embarrassment and shame actually pile up, layer upon layer, to create an amazingly target-rich environment.

Here’s a great example: Fred Upton is the new Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees things like the regulation of offshore drilling and healthcare-and that’s because it was just too embarrassing to give the job to Texas’ Joe Barton…especially after he publicly apologized to BP for how tough we’ve been on them after that giant oil spill last summer.

So Fred has the new gig, and he’s all happy about that, and he’s appointed himself a Staff Director, a fella named Gary Andres.  

Now there’s been a lot of talk that some of these Members of Congress might be a bit too associated with lobbyists…and the name seemed awfully familiar…so I decided to Google Andres…and sure enough, not only is he a healthcare lobbyist, in 2007 he was named by Politico as the Top Lobbyist In Washington, making him the first “Top Lobbyist” of the post-Abramoff era.

Andres, just to add to the layering, is upset that Obama is deploying an “Army of Lobbyists“, even though he himself wrote the book on lobbying, literally: “Lobbying Reconsidered: Politics Under the Influence” is available in many fine bookstores.

This seems like as good a time as any to bring today’s conversation to a close, so let’s see where we are:

Even as we celebrate Betsie Gallardo’s victory, which was at least partially obtained through the timely and well-directed application of shame and embarrassment, Conservatives are feeling awfully full of themselves, despite the fact that they were embarrassed into caving on so many things so quickly in the past month.

They will set themselves up for lots more shame and scorn…I promise…and if we step up and focus the larger public on how shameful these folks are going to be, day after day after day, we can stop things like the upcoming raping of your Social Security in exchange for raising the debt ceiling, or any of the other 100 similar kinds of changes our opponents hope to enact, by hook or by crook.

So there you go, America: we have fish, and we have barrels, and if we can’t shut these folks down, then we have only ourselves to blame-and if that were to happen, then the only people who should truly be ashamed and embarrassed…will be us.

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Thirty Six Years

Thirty six years ago today the Supreme Court directed that women had a right to privacy over their own bodies, their own reproductive choices and that abortion was legal.  Roe v. Wade has since become the most controversial issue dividing America.  Conservatives who otherwise condemn state action into personal lives, bedrooms and personal medical decisions riot, bomb, kill and destroy to force government into making reproductive choices for women.

Returning to the days of back alley butchers and mothers dying needlessly and leaving children without them are over.  The days when only wealthy women who could travel abroad for safe, legal abortions shall not return.  We have a new president sworn to uphold these rights and one who will appoint pro choice judges and Justices.  What a breath of fresh air after the regressive, restrictive policies of the past eight years.  Today we celebrate the anniversary of safe, legal and rare alternatives for women who only wish to make their own informed decisions.

Join me in contributing so we can continue insuring a woman’s right to choose in Pennsylvania.  You can contribute here.  Disclosure:  I am a Board member of this organization.

Debunking “Clean Coal”

I interviewed two McCain supporters in Downingtown wearing “Clean Coal” shirts.  The exchange was interesting.  There were numerous more “clean coal” fact challenged supporters in Harrisburg.  The coal industry is spending millions to brainwash people about this dangerous energy source.  Coal contains mercury, a poisonous heavy metal which is emitted into the air when coal is burned.

Coal produces 30% of the greenhouse gases caused global climate warming.  The coal industry also sponsored most of the presidential debates where you heard not one question regarding this issue.  Coincidence?  I think not.  CNN, MSNBC and Fox know which side of the bread gets their butter.

The Sierra Club has this video available to educate people about the myth of “clean coal.”

McCain’s Disastrous Healthcare Plan

Have you looked at John McCain’s proposals for healthcare?  They are so scary you might get cardiac arrest.  If so do it before the inauguration.  After that may be too late for your health.

The centerpiece of McCain’s healthcare plan is taxation.  He revokes the deduction businesses and corporations currently get for providing you coverage and adds a tax on those benefits for you, if you receive employer based health care coverage.  This means companies will no longer pay for your coverage from pre-tax earnings.  Estimates are that millions of Americans may lose this coverage if businesses opt to no longer provide such benefits.

On top of this you will now pay income tax on the value of your benefit should your company choose to keep offering it to you.  An average family plan costs $12,600.  This means McCain will add $12,600/year to your taxable income.  This translates to about $1,200/year in taxes.  On the other hand he’ll give families a $5000 tax credit and $2500 for individuals.

If your company cancels your coverage you are forced into the open market where costs, copays and deductibles are higher and you are subject to underwriting.  This means you may not even qualify if you have or have had serious injuries or illnesses.  They may be exempted from coverage and your entire coverage denied at the whim of your insurance company at any time.

So McCain will give you $2500, assuming a single person, to go out and find your own health care.  The average policy runs around$5000-6000.  You’re screwed.  What’s more the company may not have to cover things required by Pennsylvania law if they’re marketing across state lines.  Small things like breast and cervical cancer screenings for women.  

The Center For American Progress Action Fund studied Pennsylvania and estimates 800,000 of us will lose our employer based healthcare coverage under McCain’s plan.  With 1.2 million already uninsured and Gov. Rendell cutting his plan to cover only 250,000 people this is a crisis in the making.

As if you need any more bad news there’s more.  Faced with paying income tax on their health benefits many young er workers may opt out.  Because they are healthier on average this increases the bad risks in the risk pool making costs increase substantially.  PA has 7 million residents currently covered by employer based healthcare.  If 800,000 lose that coverage we then have 2 million people uninsured.  2.5 million Pennsylvanians currently have diseases such as cancer or diabetes and would have extreme difficulty obtaining private coverage.  3.2 million Pennsylvanians have pre-existing conditions.

So you say, I’ll take the tax credit and find my own insurance.  Good except for one more bit of bad news.  That tax credit won’t increase at the same rate as coverage and costs.  It increases only at the general rate of inflation, not the rate of medical inflation.  It won’t be many years before you’re back behind the eight ball.

So what happens to the 46 million Americans and 1.2 million Pennsylvanians who are uninsured now?  Nothing changes for them.  McCain has nothing to offer the uninsured but his prayers.

All I can say is thank God for single payer!

Here are some video clips from yesterday’s presentation in Harrisburg:

Allies Rally For Healthcare Reform

“No person’s well being can be reduced to a price and bought and sold without moral and ethical considerations.Persons are more than ‘consumers’ of the goods and services produced by the health care system:  all are entitled to care, respect, and compassion, regardless of their state of health, their medical history, their personal circumstances or their ability to pay.”

With those words Rev. Sandra Strauss of the Pennsylvania Council of Churches, put the issue of health care in perspective last evening at Franklin and Marshall College.  Health care is a basic human right, established in our Declaration of Independence as the inalienable right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Eighteen thousand Americans die every year, 126,000 of them since 9/11, because they do not have access to medical care.  Hundreds of thousands more are underinsured and die prematurely.  All of this in a nation which spends half of all money in the world on health care for 5% of the population.  This in a nation which only has the 17th best medical care in the world despite spending double what some civilized countries do for far less.

State Senator Jim Ferlo, sponsor of Senate Bill 300, stated “We need to shed light on this life and death issue.  This college (F&M) produced five signers of the Declaration of Independence.  These were community activists.  We have a system that is sick and dying, we need radical reform for the system.

The radical reform is a publicly accountable, privately delivered system of providing comprehensive medical care to every resident of Pennsylvania:  everybody in, nobody out.  Funding an efficient government based agency to collect premiums from individuals and businesses to fund about $45 billion/year in health care would save about one third of what Pennsylvanians are currently spending and insuring that every person has complete access to care.

Rep. Kathy Manderino, the bill’s House sponsor, spoke clearly about the path facing the bill in Harrisburg.  An economic feasibility study needs to be funded by the state legislature so exact figures on the costs of each service are matched to revenues and projections are made for the future.  Since the House and Senate will be adjourning in a few weeks however the bill must be reintroduced in January in the new session.

Manderino later explained the obstacles in convincing some people to surrender their current coverage for something new.  Her analogy of the plight of the homeless was interesting and on the money.  We must remember it is what’s being heard, not always what’s being said, and we must hone our message to raise support.

She called for everyone in attendance to speak with everyone they know and encounter regularly to speak with their legislators to raise grassroots support.  House Representatives and Senators, she pointed out, will support something which has widespread support in their districts.

Dr. Walter Tsou explained how the current financial crisis is going to severely impact premiums this year.  Health insurers investment portfolios are taking serious losses, just like your investment and 401 (k) accounts.  Unlike you, however, they are required to maintain certain levels of reserves.  As these disappear they will be made up for in higher premiums.  You’d better grab your wallet.

Dr. Tsou showed a comparison of the single payer plan with Gov. Rendell’s ABC Plan which has no cost containment and will only add 270,000 people to coverage over five years, not even enough to keep up with those losing coverage.  Should John McCain’s plan pass millions more Pennsylvanians may lose their employer based health insurance as business loses tax credits for providing these benefits.

Bill George of the PA AFL-CIO spoke by video and said the system is broken and “we can’t afford the system we have now.  The stakeholders have to come together.  Just covering the uninsured won’t solve the problem.”

That’s the point:  the central problem is the overhead.  Health insurers, with their CEO salaries, duplicative bureaucracy, advertising and denial of claims to feed their bottom lines are the problem.  No plan that keeps the insurance industry is workable.

Current health spending has 37 cents of every dollar going to overhead.  Compared with Medicare’s (comparable single payer system) 3% administrative costs this brings the costs of medical care so low that everyone can be covered with fully comprehensive coverage with no deductibles or co-pays.  All care from dental to vision to long term care is covered.  No one comes between you and your doctor, no bureaucrat, no claims adjustor, no agent.  No one.  Only you and your doctor decide what is medically needed to care for your medical needs (outside of elective cosmetic surgery.)

Donna Smith who appeared in “Sicko” spoke about one woman she met who was trapped on Medicaid because she couldn’t go back to work and lose her medical coverage.  She was uninsurable.  This woman wonders “what she might have been” had she had the opportunity to contribute to society.

Dawn Ali, a nurse who once owned a dialysis clinic says she sold the business because of the constant hassle fighting insurance companies for payments.  She added how much will be saved from medical providers no longer having to pay business staffs simply to fight with health insurers to get paid for the medical services they provide.

Wes Fisher of the American Medical Students Association announced they will be conducting a lobby day in Harrisburg on October 6th.  Please come to the capital and speak with your legislators.

Alan Jacobs of Isaac’s Deli mentioned how he covers 200 employees when different insurance coverages, workman’s comp, business liability, health and auto coverages fight one another to pass the buck on which is responsible for claims until no one pays.

Mentioning John McCain’s convention statement that “no bureaucrat should decide your medical care” Jacobs said he decides that every year:  “Every year I decide what they’ll get, what they’ll pay and what doctors they’ll get to see, what medicines they can receive and then the insurance company decides whether they’ll pay.”

Right now you have little say over your doctors, your medicines, what hospital you must be in, who will pay, if anyone and face medical bankruptcy if you have no coverage.

Half of all bankruptcies in Pennsylvania are due to medical care.  We are all one accident, one major illness away from bankruptcy.  I have a friend with whom I spent some time recently who has gone bankrupt because his employer did not provide health insurance.  After a surgery and lengthy rehabilitation he is now bankrupt and homeless.  Foreclosure took his home.

This should never happen in America and we have the opportunity to insure it never happens again in Pennsylvania.

As Rev. Strauss said, this is an ethical and moral issue.  No company should have the power of life and death over a human being and base that decision on their bottom line.

Planned Parenthood Goes After McCain’s Deceptive Ad

Planned Parenthood is going after John McCain’s lying ad attack on Barack Obama.  While a State Senator in Illinois Obama voted for a program designed for “age appropriate sex education.”  For kindergartners this means teaching them about “good touching” and “bad touching” so they can begin to develop skills to avoid sexual predators.

McCain said this was a program to teach sex to five year olds.

There’s no shame to John McShame.

Disclosure:  I’m a Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates Board member.

Harrisburg Addresses Puppy Mills

State lawmakers returned to Harrisburg (I hope Sen. Boscola made it this time without a DUI) and began by addressing two major issues:  the Governor’s subsidization program for health insurers and the state dog laws.

Pennsylvania’s dog laws pertaining to kennel owners and operators are a disgrace.  Home to way too many puppy mills and on the heels of one in Berks County which executed 80 dogs, the House must act to clean up this awful industry.

The 80 dogs in Berks County were shot by kennel operators rather than comply with basic health requirements.

Standards for these poor animals must be strict and enforced.  Too many Anabaptists raise dogs in puppy mills with an attitude that are simply livestock.  Bitches are kept in cages and forced to produce litter after litter, never leaving their cages.  Puppies have devices rammed down their throats to sever their vocal cords and many other abuses are rampant.

We must get rid of this stain on Pennsylvania’s reputation and take care of our animal friends.

Privatize Social Security???

One of the central tenets of Republican economic policy is the privatization of government.  Such action by Reagan privatizing Freddie Mac and Fanny Mae helped cause the current crisis.  They began as federal agencies and sold off to private investors.  Their CEO’s made multiple millions and walked away from their disastrous decisions rich men.

George W. Bush, John McCain and the GOP want to privatize Social Security and turn your retirement over to major Wall Street investment banks.  Three of the five major firms are now history.  

Do you really trust your retirement to these Wall Street executives?  Voting for John McCain could cause your golden years to be golden only for the ravenous Wall Street CEO’s and their golden parachutes.  You’ll be left begging for food on the streets.

Health Care Forum Set For Thursday

Progressives 4 Pennsylvania is sponsoring a healthcare forum this Thursday evening at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster.  Set for 7 pm at the Roschel Performing Arts Center it will feature:

 Dawn Ali

Board member of Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professions

Wes Fisher

Regional Director for Pennsylvania and neighboring states, American Medical Student Association/AMSA

State Senator Jim Ferlo

prime sponsor of Senate Bill 300 which would create a Commonwealth Health Trust

Sean Flaherty

Professor of Economics, F&M College

Dr. Tom Gates

Family physician, Lancaster, PA

Bill George

President, Pennsylvania AFL-CIO will be joining us via video tape

Janice Horn

Healthcare Specialist, League of Women Voters, Pennsylvania

Alan Jacobs

President of Isaac’s Deli, Inc.

Mary Carol Jennings

American Medical Student Association/AMSA – National Office

Kathy M. Manderino (D-194) has been a Pennsylvania State Representative for 16 years

Morton Mintz

Nationally renowned writer, journalist and Media critic

Chuck Pennacchio

Executive Director of HealthcareforALLPA.org; former candidate for U.S. Senate

Donna Smith

“SiCKO”; California Nurses Association; American Patients United

Rev. Sandra L. Strauss

Director of Public Advocacy, Pennsylvania Council of Churches

Dr. Walter Tsou

Nationally recognized consultant on public health and healthcare reform; former Philadelphia Health Commissioner

A donation of $20 is requested to help cover expenses.  Sponsors of the event are the American Medical Students Assoc, American Patients United, Healthcare For All PA, Lancaster Coalition For Peace and Justice, the PA League of Women Voters, Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, the PA Council of Churches, the PA Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals, Physicians For a National Healthcare Program, Pennsylvanians United For Singlepayer Healthcare, Progressive Democrats Of America, and the Local Economy Center at F&M.

Statements Commemorating September 11th

The following are official statements commemorating the day:

Congressman Sestak Commemorates September 11

Congress passes resolution, holds ceremony to recognize anniversary of tragic day

Washington, DC – In commemoration of the tragic events of September 11, 2001, Congressman Joe Sestak (PA-07) voted for, and the House passed, a resolution (H. Res. 1420) expressing the sense of the House of Representative regarding the terrorist attacks. Congress held a bicameral Congressional Remembrance Ceremony, allowing members of both chambers to pay their respects to the Americans who lost their lives in the attacks and the men and women who risked and, in many cases, sacrificed their own lives trying to save others. The Congressman, who was assigned to the Pentagon at the time of the attacks, supported the legislation, which recognized September 11 as a day of solemn commemoration; expressed condolences to friends, families and loved ones of innocent victims; honored the service of first responders, law enforcement and others who bravely acted to help the victims of the terrorist attacks; praised the service of Americans in the military, intelligence agencies and diplomatic positions who have sacrificed to defend their nation; and vowed to defeat terrorism, never forgetting the sacrifices made on and since September 11, 2001.

“September 11 is an important date not only to honor the victims and heroes of that terrible day seven years ago, but also to remember the values for which this nation stands and the courage and moral character Americans have shown by defending our great ideals in the wake of those horrific attacks,” said Congressman Sestak. “In addition, this yearly occasion reminds us to demonstrate our gratitude to the members of our armed forces and our first responders for their selfless service on our behalf.”

The Congressman said he was proud that the first piece of legislation he voted on as a representative implemented the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations. The bill included  provisions making major improvements in aviation security, border security, and infrastructure security; providing first responders the equipment and training they need; beefing up efforts to prevent terrorists from acquiring weapons of mass destruction; and significantly expanding diplomatic, economic, educational, and other strategies designed to counter Islamic terrorism.

“We must never diminish our focus on allocating all resources necessary to the organizations that protect our homeland, or lose our resolve to fight the Al-Qaeda members and supporters – as well as other terrorists- that plot against us until they are defeated,” said Congressman Sestak.  



WASHINGTON – Today, Congressman Paul E. Kanjorski (PA-11) commented on the seventh anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.  He issued the following statement:

“As we mark the seventh anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, this is a time to remember the thousands of innocent people who lost their lives on that sad day, I would like to personally extend my sympathies to their families and friends,” said Congressman Kanjorski.  “I would also like to thank all of the heroic service members and volunteers for their actions on 9/11 and in the days and years afterward.  Our debt to these people for their dedicated work is incalculable.

“I would also like to thank all of our service members and first responders currently protecting our country, as well as all of our veterans for their service.  It is because of the passion and dedication that Americans have to protecting and improving this country that makes the United States what it is today.”

Sam Bennett Statement on Anniversary of September 11, 2001

ALLENTOWN — Today, Sam Bennett issued the following statement in remembrance of the 9/11 attacks in New York, Washington DC, and Pennsylvania just seven years ago:

“Today we remember all of the lives that were lost on September 11th and pray with their families, loved ones and all Americans who will never forget that tragic day. We honor the service of our firefighters, police officers and other first responders who put their own lives on the line.

“Seven years ago, our country united in the cause to defeat terrorism and chase down the 9/11 attackers and bring them to justice. So as we stand together as patriots today, we also honor our brave men and women in uniform who have stepped up to the challenge and fight for our freedom in the darkest corners of the earth.”