United States: Industry-backed opponents of healthcare reform react with racism, violence

Elston McCowan. Photo by Don Fitz.

By Don Fitz

August 14, 2009 -- St. Louis -- Did you hear about the town hall meeting in St. Louis on August 6, where union thugs attacked a black conservative and sent him to the hospital with multiple injuries? Well, it didn’t happen exactly like that. In fact, events were the opposite of what talk show hosts Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly broadcast and what the corporate media relayed across the US.

The right-wing Tea Party group announced to the world that their supporter Kenneth Gladney was assaulted by Elston McCowan, who is an organiser for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Earlier this year I worked closely with McCowan, a black minister, when he ran for mayor of St. Louis on the Green Party ticket. Since nothing that I heard fit the McCowan I know, I interviewed him about the August 6 incident.

“I was one of six or seven SEIU members and staff who went to the meeting on ageing that [US House of Representative member] Russ Carnahan (Democrat, St. Louis) held”, McCowan told me. “When the forum started, the Tea Party people started yelling that they wanted to talk about Obama’s healthcare proposal. So we told them to stop shouting because we could all ask questions after the speakers.

“Then the Carnahan folks then said that you could only ask a question if you had written it on one of their forms. But they hadn’t given any of the forms to either Tea Party or SEIU. So both groups left the meeting in a bad mood.”

Walking outside, McCowan saw Gladney selling buttons of Obama in blackface and Obama smoking weed. Feeling insulted, McCowan asked why a black man would be hawking material denigrating the first black president as he pointed to one of the buttons.

“When I pointed at the button, Gladney slapped my hand. So I told him not to hit me and pointed at it again and repeated my question. He smacked my hand even harder, hit me several times and pushed me down. As I went down, I grabbed him by reflex to break my fall. I hit my shoulder and something popped. I lost consciousness for a moment but soon realised that Gladney continued to hit me.

“Another SEIU guy, Perry Molens, came over and told Gladney, ‘He’s a minister and won’t fight back. He can’t see out of one eye. Stop hitting him!’. When Gladney kept on, Perry tried to get him off of me and threw a punch in the process.

“I don’t know why Gladney had an attorney on hand, but his attorney came over yelling ‘You two attacked him!’. Gladney went off to find cops and told them to arrest us. The cops wouldn’t listen to us and did what the Tea Party people told them to do. They arrested me, Perry, a newspaper reporter and three supporters of healthcare reform.”

Media echoes right wing

The account you just read did not appear in St. Louis media or national reports that picked up the story and certainly was not addressed on right-wing talk shows or web sites. They all presented Kenneth Gladney’s story that he was peacefully selling buttons when a half dozen union thugs jumped him. They claimed that he had to be taken to St. John’s Mercy Center for “injuries to his knee, back, elbow, shoulder and face.”

Close examination hardly backs up this bizarre criminalisation of the victim.

A frame by frame analysis of the You Tube video seen across the country which is available at http://stlactivisthub.blogspot.com/2009/08/questioning-right-wing-story-on-last.html shows a large black man, who is McCowan, on the ground. Gladney claimed that four people attacked him, but the video shows only one person (McCowan) grabbing him as he was falling. It shows Gladney getting up unobstructed, which contradicts his claim of being attacked. It is especially hard to believe that McCowan hit him while McCowan lay on the ground.

In one interview, Gladney claimed that McCowan hit him in the face. Yet, the video has Gladney asking McCowan, “Why did you hit my hands?”. That’s an unbelievably odd question for someone struck in the face.

Another video clip shows a person in an SEIU shirt standing over McCowan to protect him, which also is not consistent with Gladney’s story. The video records Gladney saying “I’m gonna beat the shit outta him”, and shows a Tea Party person holding him back as his fists are clenched.

Despite evidence that Gladney was doing fine, he had an ambulance take him to the hospital. Tea Party transformed Gladney into a brutalised hero as they picketed SEIU headquarters two days later. The front page of the August 9 St. Louis Post-Dispatch carried a photo of Gladney in a wheelchair surrounded by adoring Tea Party supporters in front of the SEIU office.

The photo is interesting because the only hint of any injury is a bandage on Gladney’s knee. Whatever damage he suffered to his face and elbows was miraculously healed in less than 48 hours. It is also interesting that a person being pushed around in a wheelchair is the same person who appears on You Tube throwing punches, jumping up and getting cops to arrest union members.

Elston McCowan’s injuries are real. His shoulder was dislocated and his shoulder bone is chipped. He is perfectly willing to make his hospital records of August 6 made public. Would Kenneth Gladney also be willing to make his hospital records public so we could all verify the severity of injuries he sustained to his face, elbows and back? Or were they just a publicity gimmick to get on the Rush Limbaugh show?

Real Issue: healthcare reform

Of course, it’s the issue behind the issue that’s most important. Why is there such intense hostility to healthcare reform? And why now? Why do hundreds of people contort their faces into pure hatred at the idea of medical care for those with low and moderate income?

On the surface, it seems like a hatred for socialism or for a government providing anything for its people. Disdain for government programs can’t be the only reason, since half of Tea Party supporters at some meetings receive Medicare [http://zmag.org/znet/viewArticle/22263, Paul Krugman, ``The Town Hall Mob’’, August 10, 2009].

A lot of it is simmering hatred of having a black president, with white racists lying in wait for what they perceive as a trigger to let them fire. The St. Louis episode shows that there is nothing that white racists love more than a black person doing their dirty work for them.

Part of the hate certainly stems from the fantastic stories being spread that the Obama healthcare plan would give free healthcare to immigrants with brown skin and euthanasia to elderly whites. Many are oblivious to the fact that the plan would actually do very little except prop up the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries.

Health insurance industry

Nevertheless, the insurance industry is behind the hate campaign. If you have never heard Bob Dylan sing “Only a Pawn in Their Game” please Google it and ponder the lyrics. Insurance companies are terrified that this could be the beginning of the end for their leeching profits from a sick healthcare system. So they feed every rumour and oppose every possible change, even if that change would do nothing to threaten them [counterpunch.com/mokhiber08102009.html, Russell Mokhiber, ``In Defense of Disruption’’, August 10, 2009]. The health insurance industry glues the other sources of hostility together.

Several themes run through the frenzy of anti-healthcare reform across the US. These themes are all too familiar in our history:

  • Business (in this case the health insurance industry) stirs up hysteria over mythical disasters that could unfold if there is reform;
  • Business interests prey upon underlying ethnic hostility (such as resentment over a black man in the White House);
  • Obsessing over the horrors of change, right wingers seek to shut out discussion by progressives;
  • The right projects their own violent urges onto the left, physically assaults them, and then denies, minimises and/or rationalises their own violence;
  • The right relies on the police and/or military to support them;
  • The corporate press extols the virtue of the police in defending the public order;
  • Supposed progressive politicians cave into the right (i.e., after the August 6 attack, the “liberal” University City neighbour of St. Louis cancelled a town hall meeting);
  • Like a dog chasing someone running from it, the right wing is emboldened as politicians cave in.
This cluster of events surrounding the Tea Party upsurge is reminiscent of anti-labour mobilisations throughout the history of union organising. St. Louis activists know how parallel the scenario was on a far grander scale following the great general strike of 1877.

The civil rights movement was, and still is, characterised by an amazingly similar set of tactics used against it. In recent decades, the right wing has trotted out the same script for attacking environmental movements. Most memorably for St. Louisans, when anti-genetic engineering activists mobilised for a 2003 conference, Monsanto persuaded the police to arrest protesters and shut down entire areas of downtown [see http://www.greens.org/s-r/32/32-02.html].

When under the gun, it’s tempting to say, “Maybe we shouldn’t ask for so much?”. But backing down only encourages them. After the fray in St. Louis, Democrat Russ Carnahan placed equal blame on “both sides”, indicating he has no intention of holding Tea Party accountable for Gladney’s actions. Part of the reason that Tea Party is so brazen is that the highest leaders of the Democratic Party will have doctors and nurses arrested for daring to speak on behalf of meaningful health reform.

Now is not the time to retreat on healthcare. If few progressives turn out at town hall meetings it is because Democratic Party proposals are so tepid, so boring and so protective of corporate profits.

If we had bold proposals to guarantee every person decent medical care – otherwise known as single payer healthcare or socialised medicine – many, many people would be excited and show up at public meetings. If they found themselves in a sea of people demanding meaningful change, the right-wing hate groups would become nothing more than a tempest in a tea pot.

[Don Fitz is editor of Synthesis/Regeneration: A Magazine of Green Social Thought which is published for members of the Green Party USA. He can be reached at fitzdon [at] aol.com.]


The brutal truth about America's healthcare

An extraordinary report from Guy Adams in Los Angeles at the music arena
that has been turned into a makeshift medical centre

Saturday, 15 August 2009

They came in their thousands, queuing through the night to secure one of the
coveted wristbands offering entry into a strange parallel universe where
medical care is a free and basic right and not an expensive luxury. Some of
these Americans had walked miles simply to have their blood pressure
checked, some had slept in their cars in the hope of getting an eye-test or
a mammogram, others had brought their children for immunisations that could
end up saving their life.

In the week that Britain's National Health Service was held aloft by
Republicans as an "evil and Orwellian" example of everything that is wrong
with free healthcare, these extraordinary scenes in Inglewood, California
yesterday provided a sobering reminder of exactly why President Barack Obama
is trying to reform the US system.

The LA Forum, the arena that once hosted sell-out Madonna concerts, has been
transformed � for eight days only � into a vast field hospital. In America,
the offer of free healthcare is so rare, that news of the magical medical
kingdom spread rapidly and long lines of prospective patients snaked around
the venue for the chance of getting everyday treatments that many British
people take for granted.

In the first two days, more than 1,500 men, women and children received free
treatments worth $503,000 (�304,000). Thirty dentists pulled 471 teeth; 320
people were given standard issue spectacles; 80 had mammograms; dozens more
had acupuncture, or saw kidney specialists. By the time the makeshift
medical centre leaves town on Tuesday, staff expect to have dispensed $2m
worth of treatments to 10,000 patients.

The gritty district of Inglewood lies just a few miles from the palm-lined
streets of Beverly Hills and the bright lights of Hollywood, but is a world
away. And the residents who had flocked for the free medical care, courtesy
of mobile charity Remote Area Medical, bore testament to the human cost of
the healthcare mess that President Obama is attempting to fix.

Christine Smith arrived at 3am in the hope of seeing a dentist for the first
time since she turned 18. That was almost eight years ago. Her need is
obvious and pressing: 17 of her teeth are rotten; some have large visible
holes in them. She is living in constant pain and has been unable to eat
solid food for several years.

"I had a gastric bypass in 2002, but it went wrong, and stomach acid began
rotting my teeth. I've had several jobs since, but none with medical
insurance, so I've not been able to see a dentist to get it fixed," she told
The Independent. "I've not been able to chew food for as long as I can
remember. I've been living on soup, and noodles, and blending meals in a
food mixer. I'm in constant pain. Normally, it would cost $5,000 to fix it.
So if I have to wait a week to get treated for free, I'll do it. This will
change my life."

Along the hall, Liz Cruise was one of scores of people waiting for a free
eye exam. She works for a major supermarket chain but can't afford the $200
a month that would be deducted from her salary for insurance. "It's a simple
choice: pay my rent, or pay my healthcare. What am I supposed to do?" she
asked. "I'm one of the working poor: people who do work but can't afford
healthcare and are ineligible for any free healthcare or assistance. I can't
remember the last time I saw a doctor."

Although the Americans spend more on medicine than any nation on earth,
there are an estimated 50 million with no health insurance at all. Many of
those who have jobs can't afford coverage, and even those with standard
policies often find it doesn't cover commonplace procedures. California's
unemployed -- who rely on Medicaid -- had their dental care axed last month.

Julie Shay was one of the many, waiting to slide into a dentist's chair
where teeth were being drilled in full view of passers-by. For years, she
has been crossing over the Mexican border to get her teeth done on the cheap
in Tijuana. But recently, the US started requiring citizens returning home
from Mexico to produce a passport (previously all you needed was a driver's
license), and so that route is now closed. Today she has two abscesses and
is in so much pain she can barely sleep. "I don't have a passport, and I
can't afford one. So my husband and I slept in the car to make sure we got
seen by a dentist. It sounds pathetic, but I really am that desperate."

"You'd think, with the money in this country, that we'd be able to look
after people's health properly," she said. "But the truth is that the rich,
and the insurance firms, just don't realise what we are going through, or
simply don't care. Look around this room and tell me that America's
healthcare don't need fixing."

President Obama's healthcare plans had been a central plank of his
first-term programme, but his reform package has taken a battering at the
hands of Republican opponents in recent weeks. As the Democrats have failed
to coalesce around a single, straightforward proposal, their rivals have
seized on public hesitancy over "socialised medicine" and now the chance of
far-reaching reform is in doubt.

Most damaging of all has been the tide of vociferous right-wing opponents
whipping up scepticism at town hall meetings that were supposed to soothe
doubts. In Pennsylvania this week, Senator Arlen Specter was greeted by a
crowd of 1,000 at a venue designed to accommodate only 250, and of the 30
selected speakers at the event, almost all were hostile.

The packed bleachers in the LA Forum tell a different story. The mobile
clinic has been organised by the remarkable Remote Area Medical. The charity
usually focuses on the rural poor, although they worked in New Orleans after
Hurricane Katrina. Now they are moving into more urban venues, this week's
event in Los Angeles is believed to be the largest free healthcare operation
in the country.

Doctors, dentists and therapists volunteer their time, and resources to the
organisation. To many US medical professionals, it offers a rare opportunity to plug into the public service ethos on which their trade was supposedly founded. "People come here who haven't seen a doctor for years. And we're able to say 'Hey, you have this, you have this, you have this'," said Dr Vincent Anthony, a kidney specialist volunteering five days of his team's time. "It's hard work, but incredibly rewarding. Healthcare needs reform, obviously. There are so many people falling through the cracks, who don't get care. That's why so many are here."

Ironically, given this week's transatlantic spat over the NHS, Remote Area
Medical was founded by an Englishman: Stan Brock. The 72-year-old former
public schoolboy, Taekwondo black belt, and one-time presenter of Wild
Kingdom, one of America's most popular animal TV shows, left the celebrity
gravy train in 1985 to, as he puts it, "make people better".

Today, Brock has no money, no income, and no bank account. He spends 365
days a year at the charity events, sleeping on a small rolled-up mat on the
floor and living on a diet made up entirely of porridge and fresh fruit. In
some quarters, he has been described, without too much exaggeration, as a
living saint.

Though anxious not to interfere in the potent healthcare debate, Mr Brock
said yesterday that he, and many other professionals, believes the NHS
should provide a benchmark for the future of US healthcare.

"Back in 1944, the UK government knew there was a serious problem with lack
of healthcare for 49.7 million British citizens, of which I was one, so they said 'Hey Mr Nye Bevan, you're the Minister for Health... go fix it'. And so came the NHS. Well, fast forward now 66 years, and we've got about the same number of people, about 49 million people, here in the US, who don't have access to healthcare."

"I've been very conservative in my outlook for the whole of my life. I've
been described as being about 90,000 miles to the right of Attila the Hun.
But I think one reaches the reality that something doesn't work... In this
country something has to be done. And as a proud member of the US community
but a loyal British subject to the core, I would say that if Britain could
fix it in 1944, surely we could fix it here in America.

Healthcare compared

Health spending as a share of GDP

US 16%

UK 8.4%

Public spending on healthcare (% of total spending on healthcare)

US 45%

UK 82%

Health spending per head

US $7,290

UK $2,992

Practising physicians (per 1,000 people)

US 2.4

UK 2.5

Nurses (per 1,000 people)

US 10.6

UK 10.0

Acute care hospital beds (per 1,000 people)

US 2.7

UK 2.6

Life expectancy:

US 78

UK 80

Infant mortality (per 1,000 live births)

US 6.7

UK 4.8

Source: WHO/OECD Health Data 2009

* * *


Super-clinic finds super-need in L.A. region

Remote Area Medical Foundation provides free care with volunteer doctors and dentists for unemployed and poor people at an eight-day event at Inglewood's Forum arena.

By Bob Pool and Kimi Yoshino

August 12, 2009

A homeless man spent the night camped outside the Forum, hoping to finally
get glasses to help him see better. An unemployed grocery clerk waited in
desperate need of root canal surgery. A former auto mechanic came with an
aching back.

One by one, about 1,500 people made their way through the Inglewood sports
arena, where dozens of volunteer doctors, dentists, nurses and other
healthcare professionals are providing free medical services this week.

Remote Area Medical Foundation is a trailer-equipped service that has staged health clinics in rural parts of the United States, Mexico and South
America. It brought its health camp to urban Los Angeles County on Tuesday
to begin an eight-day stint that the group's officials described as its
first foray into a major urban setting.

Organizers expected big crowds, in a county with high unemployment and an
estimated 22% of working-age adults lacking health insurance.

On Tuesday, the turnout was so large that hundreds had to be turned away.

"We're short-handed," said the mobile clinic's founder, Stan Brock. About
100 dentists were needed, but only about 30 showed up Tuesday. Twenty eye
doctors were required, but only about five were on hand, Brock said.

The mobile clinic, based in Knoxville, Tenn., has staged 576 medical clinics over the last 25 years. They have treated nearly 380,000 patients and provided care valued at $36.9 million, said Executive Director Karen Wilson.

The group raises money through contributions.

Doctors, nurses and other medical workers who donated their time said most
visitors' ailments were basic. But "many have chronic diseases -- high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma -- conditions we can't deal with in just one day," said Dr. Nancy Greep of Santa Monica. Some had problems, such as a recurring cancer, that demand long-term treatment.

For local health officials, the turnout was the latest evidence of the
inability of the county's healthcare system to adequately serve low-income
patients and the rising ranks of the unemployed.

"It absolutely reinforced what we know based on how overwhelmed our
facilities are: The current system of healthcare in the United States is
broken," said Carol Meyer, chief network officer of the Los Angeles County
Department of Health Services, after surveying the scene.

That theme -- dramatizing the need for changes in the healthcare system --
was part of the point for the elected officials who helped host the medical
camp at the Forum. But for the volunteer medical personnel, the motivation
was often more personal.

Ramon Merino, a 28-year-old optometry student from Highland Park, was doing
vision screening. A licensed optometrist would sign off on his patients'

"I know there's a lot of need for this type of service," he said. "I've been on the other side of it. My mother was a single mother, and I know what it's like to struggle."

Many of the people showing up for care would not have expected to be in such a place until recently.

Verna Pierce, an administrative assistant from South Los Angeles, said she
had been without insurance since she was laid off more than two years ago.
She dropped her COBRA coverage because it was too expensive.

Going to the dentist or getting a mammogram is a "luxury" now, she said.
"It's not deadbeats and people who just want a handout here. That's not the
reality today. There are no jobs."

Public hospitals in Los Angeles County have seen a 16.5% increase in people
seeking emergency care over the last fiscal year, Meyer said. At
Harbor-UCLA, emergency room volume was up 25%; County-USC's volume rose 15%.

Similar increases have been seen elsewhere in the region. The Riverside
County Regional Medical Center reported that its indigent patient
population -- people who have no insurance and can't qualify for any --
doubled in the three-year period ending June 30, said Amy Weitz, spokeswoman for the California Assn. of Public Hospitals.

At the Forum, those seeking medical treatment included unemployed people who had lost insurance when they lost their jobs as well as some people with insurance who said they could not afford their deductibles or needed
services that their carriers didn't cover.

Volunteer nurse DeAnn McEwen, who works in Long Beach, said she saw one
woman, a cancer patient, who had maxed-out her benefits under her HMO and
couldn't afford more out-of-pocket expenses.

Hector Cervantes, 26, of Inglewood said he was suffering from sinus problems and blurry vision in one eye. He is an El Camino College horticulture student who has no health insurance and doesn't anticipate obtaining any until he graduates and gets a job, which he hopes will be in about two

"I have to come back tomorrow for the vision test. I'm unemployed, so I
can," Cervantes said as he sat in the Forum's stands awaiting his turn with
a doctor.

On the arena's floor, Joseph McSwain was trying on gold-rimmed eyeglass
frames that complemented his blond hair. The 33-year-old former security
guard said he was laid off from his last job and has recently lived on the
streets. He has no health insurance.

"I wouldn't be getting glasses without these people," he said as he fingered his prescription. "I can't see that far, and I can't see at night."

After hearing about the clinic at Four Square Church in Sunland, McSwain
took the bus and arrived outside the Forum at midafternoon Monday. He slept
on the sidewalk until the arena's parking lot gates were unlocked early
Tuesday morning.

In a former athletes' locker room next to the arena floor, Phillip Clovis,
56, of Inglewood sat beneath a handwritten banner that proclaimed "The
Chiropractor Is In" and waited to have his back pain treated.

"So far I've had acupuncture and seen a doctor. After the acupuncture, I
feel much better," said the uninsured and unemployed auto mechanic, who
heard about the clinic while job hunting. "If this service was provided to a majority of Americans, you wouldn't have 3,000 people lined up at the door of the Forum. It's such a blessing."

Demand for dental care was very high, coming weeks after the state ended
adult dental services for the poor.

Tony Sykes, a 56-year-old unemployed grocery clerk from South-Central Los
Angeles, showed up at 3:30 a.m. with a toothache.

"I want to see a dentist. I think I need a root canal done," he said,
pointing to his lower-left jaw. "I haven't been to a dentist for a year or
two. I have no insurance -- I just try to take care of myself the best I

Dr. R.K. Chetty, who has practiced dentistry for 32 years in Eagle Rock,
said he has volunteered to treat individuals for free in other countries.

"So when it's happening in my own backyard, why not get involved?" he said.
"I'm getting more out of this than these people are."

Clutching ticket No. 1,095, Vickie Zigetta, 52, of Lakewood might have

"A lot of adults don't have medical or dental insurance," Zigetta said. "My
three children are covered under Medi-Cal because they're not over 21. But
I'm not. The ticket to get in here is like gold."

Zigetta hoped to get her eyes checked and obtain a physical. She planned to
return today for a dental checkup.



Copyright 2009, The Los Angeles Times

Reverend McCowan took far worse punishment from the fracas than did Ken Gladney. We need to have his story told, particularly now that Mr. Gladney is being drug around the country by wingnuts to rile up the masses against needed healthcare reform.


Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor looks at how pro-business interests teamed up with the far right to foment staged protests over health care reform--and why Obama's policies have played into their hands.

TOWN HALL meetings that were supposed to be forums to debate the merits of President Barack Obama's health care plan have turned into frightening exhibitions of right-wing demagoguery and thuggish attacks fueled by right-wing radio and Fox News in particular.

Yet the polarized debate surrounding Obama's health care plan has obscured the extent to which his plan is deeply flawed and insufficient to cover the overwhelming health care needs of tens of millions of people who currently lack health insurance. Indeed, Obama's health care plan is marked by the same corporate priorities as his other initiatives, such as bailing out the banks with trillions of taxpayer dollars.

But even Obama's business-approved proposed changes to the health care system go way too far for the Republican right. At one recent town hall meeting in Missouri, an African American woman who brought with her a poster of Rosa Parks was assaulted by a white man, who appeared to push her while ripping the poster from her hands. When the woman attempted to retrieve her poster, several armed officers swooped down on her and physically removed her from the auditorium.

At several other town hall sideshows, some white people have shown up with racist signs taunting Obama. The atmosphere is eerily similar to raucous campaign stops last summer for the McCain-Palin ticket, where shouts of "kill him" could be heard when Obama's name was mentioned.

So it shouldn't be surprising, then, that Sarah Palin stoked the atmosphere of racism and violence at the town hall meetings recently when she claimed that Obama's health care initiative would create government "death panels" to decide when old people should be put to death because their medical care was too costly.

In sync and on cue, right-wing radio host and prescription drug addict Rush Limbaugh went further comparing African American President Barack Obama to Adolph Hitler because of the fictional "death panels." This is lunacy. Unfortunately, it's not a laughing matter.

Limbaugh and his cohorts in right-wing cable news--including immigrant bashers like Lou Dobbs on CNN and Fox's Glenn Beck, who called Obama a racist in response to Obama's initial comments in the aftermath of the arrest of Henry Louis Gates--are whipping up a frenzied atmosphere in which the potential for racism and violence grows each day. At a town hall meeting in New Hampshire, where Obama spoke in person, a middle-aged white man showed up to "welcome" the president with a loaded handgun.

The Republicans have been employing some aspects of this strategy for months now. Last April, they launched the so-called "tea party" demonstrations against incremental tax increases to the rich--which they also referred to as socialism. Most were staged events with backing from former Republican members of Congress and right-wing millionaires and billionaires.

These people know that in this economic climate, they don't stand a chance politically by forthrightly condemning all expansion of government programs, because the vast majority of Americans support such expansion. So the right-wing forces operate behind the scenes to make these protests--from the "tea parties" to the town hall melees--seem like they're part of a right-wing grassroots movement.

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman rightly calls the organizations staging the protests "Astroturf"--as in fake grassroots. Unfortunately, their impact and effect has been magnified by the overwhelming media coverage, which has the effect of making these fringe organizations and individuals look like they are substantive part of the debate.

But it's not only the media that have helped fuel the atmosphere that has engulfed the health care debate. Also to blame are cynical politicians from Washington who brazenly seek to use racism and scapegoating to cover their general hostility to the notion of health care for all. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) claims Obama's health care reform will provide "free health care" to 6 million "illegal aliens"--to name but one example.

The new charges of "socialism" coming from the lunatic right are, in some ways, more sinister than last winter, when the right was hyperventilating about the $787 billion stimulus package. "Socialism" this time around has become the new word for "welfare"--and all of the racist connotations that go along with it.

When King makes the ludicrous charge that undocumented workers in this country will receive free health care, he knows full well that Obama's health care "reform" doesn't offer free health care to anyone, let alone non-citizens. Using such language is a conscious ploy to whip up racial animus and dodge the real discussion about the problems with the health care system in this country.

King and others like him want to promote the idea that any version of "national health care" will mean giving health care away to those who don't deserve it. The right-wing billionaire CEO of Whole Foods, John Mackey, recently summed up this attitude when he wrote in the Wall Street Journal, "We are all responsible for our own lives and our own health. We should take that responsibility very seriously and use our freedom to make wise lifestyle choices that will protect our health. Doing so will enrich our lives and will help create a vibrant and sustainable American society."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

THIS IS really what the health care debate is about. By using racism and scapegoating to reframe the discussion, the right hopes to avoid a genuine discussion about real health care reform in the U.S. Central to this effort are the so-called Blue Dog--or more aptly, Blue Cross--Democrats, a caucus of conservatives in the party. This group is incredibly hostile even to Obama's watered-down health care reform, because they are bitterly opposed to the notion that health care should be a right and not a privilege.

The irony is that Obama has already bowed to business interests on health care, just as he has on other issues. While the Obama administration was willing to give the banks that created the economic catastrophe tens of billions of dollars and demand little or nothing in return, Obama forced auto manufacturers into bankruptcy while demanding that their unions give up long-held and hard-fought gains in health care, retirement and wages as well as agree to massive job loss.

Moreover, where Obama the presidential candidate vowed to fight for Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), which would make joining a union easier, President Obama abandoned the legislation early on and has rarely even mentioned the bill's name.

Today, states across the country are facing bankruptcy, and budget cuts threaten thousands of state-funded social programs. Yet Obama stands by watching, effectively saying--as President Gerald Ford did more than 30 years ago when New York City was on the cusp of financial collapse--"Drop dead."

The pattern could not be clearer. Corporations and bank profits come first; ordinary people, last. This was not the "change" people were looking for when they voted for Obama. As the economy crashed last autumn, Obama rallied millions of Americans with the hope and expectation that his administration would represent a break with the status quo and would fight for real change in Washington. Today, though, the Obama health care initiative stands as only the latest example of how far Obama's policies have moved from his promises.

Back when he was an Illinois state senator, Obama favored a single-payer, Medicare-type health care plan like that of Canada and Western European countries. Presidential candidate Obama backed off his support for single-payer, but still supported some kind of publicly funded health insurance option that would guarantee that everyone--including the poor, the unemployed and the under-insured--received coverage. Ending the war in Iraq and taxing the rich--whose taxes had been precipitously cut by the George W. Bush administration--would pay for the plan.

Instead, when the corporations and insurance companies put up a fight--as one could only expect they would--the Obama administration continues to cave into their demands. Thus, the public option has been all but taken off the table. Yet if there's no public health care option in the midst of a recession, which will likely followed by a jobless recovery that will cause millions more to lose their health care--what exactly is the extent of the reform?

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THE PROBLEMS with the Obama agenda aren't just about dashed hopes or even broken promises, however. There's growing frustration over how the Obama administration's policies have paved the way for the right to reconstitute itself after its humiliating defeat in last November's elections.

A comeback for the right wasn't inevitable. The election of Obama and the rejection of the right on a whole number of social questions showed concretely how mass consciousness has moved to the left. The new administration had an opportunity to crush the right by aggressively pursuing an agenda that captured the mood of most Americans--nationalizing the banks, crafting a $1 trillion stimulus package for ordinary Americans as opposed to the banks and taxing the rich to pay for nationalized health insurance--something that a New York Times poll showed was supported by 72 percent of Americans.

Obama and the Democrats could have pushed for passage of EFCA, since polls show most American workers want to be in a union. They could have put a moratorium on foreclosures and bailed out people's mortgages through government-mandated refinancing. Popular support for such an agenda was there--the election gave Obama a clear mandate to forego "bipartisanship" and marginalize the Republican Party for a generation.

Instead, the Democrats, led by Obama, have gone in the other direction. They appeal to bipartisanship and cut deals with the discredited Republicans while sacrificing every opportunity to unequivocally come out on the side of ordinary working and poor people in this country--people who, for all the happy talk in the media about the recession drawing to a close, continue to bear the brunt of the economic crisis. Meanwhile, the money is there to maintain and expand the U.S. empire. Despite Obama's pledge to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq, the Pentagon plans to remain there for decades, and Obama is rapidly escalating the war in Afghanistan as well.

All this is creating an enormous political vacuum in American politics today. If the left can't fill the vacuum, the right will try to do so--and this is what we're witnessing now in the town hall meeting "uprisings." The Republicans, devoid of any real plan to help working people in the economic crisis, have put their party behind the stewardship of the loony right, the congressional neo-Confederates of the South who led the fight against Latino Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and, most importantly, Rush Limbaugh. These forces are willing to use any rhetoric or tactic they can--from racism to scapegoating--to prevent expanding the role of government to help the mass of Americans who need it.

The right has an opportunity to grow right now, but not to the extent that the mass media would have us believe. Those of us on the left must marvel at how easy it is for right-wing fringe groups to get robust media coverage as they have with these "Astroturf" anti-health care organizations over the last several weeks, while legitimate grassroots single-payer activists are regularly blocked out by the same media. The media focus on these rightist groups and their manufactured protest movement makes it seem as if they represent a legitimate part of the debate.

They don't. The overwhelming majority of Americans have consistently, over the last several years, expressed the desire for some kind of national health care, even when it means higher taxes. When a non-profit health care group recently set up a free clinic in Los Angeles, more than 1,500 people showed up for everything from dental care to routine checkups, to mammograms and beyond.

This represents the real face of the health care crisis in the U.S.--not the boardroom-cultivated "angry white mob" threatening to hang the president and demanding "their country back." But despite the fringe nature of these protests and groups, even they can begin to attract a legitimate audience if there's no hope for the future.

The economic crisis of the 1930s--which everyone universally uses as a marker to judge the crisis of today--showed that rage and frustration in economic hard times can cut both ways, to the left and to the right. That's why our side must mobilize independently of the Democrats and demand more funding for the programs people desperately need in these times of economic hardship.

We must declare that if the federal government can flood the banks with money so that Goldman Sachs executives can once again collect multimillion-dollar bonuses, then surely that same government can pay for genuine universal health care--and tax the rich to pay for it.

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This topic is something I'm writing about, as it affects me very directly.

Telling the truth about the US healthcare non-system

By A H Goldberg*

On July 27th this year on a walk in suburban Minneapolis/St Paul someone driving an auto failed to stop at a stop sign at an intersection hitting me in the leg, with my health insurance passing the buck to the driver's auto insurance to pay the bill for my medical treatment, which wouldn't happen in any other industrialized country, and I'm now using the services of a lawyer to remedy this wrong, but this is an absolute disgrace. The mass media "conveniently" fail to cover this kind of garbage so much a part of US status quo/quid pro quo health care, as the media types are big businesses themselves and thus a part of the problem.

This is so typical of the mainstream US media, not that they cover a lot of the rest of the real debate on US health care.. They're too busy blaming it on obese black people as NBC was doing the day I suffered this injury. NBC at the time I was getting admitted to medical treatment for this injury was blaming the high cost of US health care on obesity, but with the pictures they were providing of black people, this was "especially useful" for racist jack asses who want to blame everything on black folks and now these Klan types could get the "good housekeeping seal" of approval from none other than NBC to do just that and actually blame as these people would on the fat, N pejorative word for blacks.

Now we get these weirdo nut cases pumped up by those such as Glenn Beck and Rash Windbag go ape screaming against "socialized medicine" which isn't of the current president's health care plan, which is moving more and more in the direction of a full embrace of low quality or no health care for those not insured, under insured, and those who find themselves more often than these same media would admit in the same boat as I'm in today to my everlasting sorrow and to this nation's everlasting discredit and which is part and parcel of the status quo and its quid pro quo politics. Buy those funky politicians, rich white boys!

Wake up out there in "sleepy hollow America," we're damn being had by the bad guys who own the congress or at least way too much of it and have made a down payment apparently on the current US president, while these misguided, misinformed, brain washed by Beck, Windbag, and other fascist radio talk hosts pump them up with more lies than people used to find at a typical Nuremberg rally for the Nazis in the 1930s, thus leading to working class people screaming against their own interest just as they did in Costa Govras' feature film, Z, and acting like the same kind of violent, nutty thugs who are more in need of therapy than any European Honkey I've ever known, and I say that as someone of that persuasion.

This is getting personal. Yeah, that's right, and the surgery that my specialist is recommending is real personal, damn it! Yes, I'm mad as hell about this silly, off the wall outrage. What the hell kind of country has the USA become? What the hell did one uncle of mine in the US Navy fighting against the Nazis in the Altantic risk his damn life for? What did another relative of mine in the US Army have to give his life for in the Pacific fighting against the Japanese war lord allies of the Nazis for when this is what we've got today? Health should be a human and damn inalienable right. Thomas Jefferson himself once said "Health" is necessary "for happiness," and yes, "happiness" is mentioned in the Declaration of Independence which was the call to fight against the tyranny of George III, the British King at the time. But we can't have Jefferson's "government by the consent of the governed" when we have government by Wall Street, the Pentagon contractor welfare kings and queens, the health insurance industry and other damn parasites and the working and middle class people of this country who even Adam Smith, by process of elimination in his defense of classic British capitalism, said. create the wealth, as he said the rich didn't. Oh, and anybody can look this up in his Wealth of Nations. Obviously this is even more the case today with the US casino style capitalism rather than classic British capitalism.

This is getting personal as I already said. Hey, guess what so is having to go through surgery, then maybe two to three months of recovery, with the auto and health insurance companies playing their damn rip off, con games to deprive me of this most basic of rights, the right to decent health care, which as a scholar of Jefferson, I'm sure he'd be on my side today against the forces of despotism of the health insurance industry pimps and their political and media prostitutes.

If we can get the US Supreme Court to appoint W, a sadistic, paranoid, megalomaniac president as part of a rich white man's affirmative action program and rip down what little ideals and principles of democratic government we still had in 2000, then why can't we today provide decent, high quality health care for all in this country as is being done in other industrialized countries? Where the hell are our priorities in this wide world of politics, political fans? If I sound damn fed up, that's only the hell because I am! Who the hell dreamed up this Kafkaesque nightmare we're living today? As to source for remark about W, "our man," I refer to Bush on the Couch, a book by Justin Frank, a psychiatrist in Washington, the US capital, who diagnosed W just this way.

All too many people aren't aware of the fact that people aged 65 may neither be eligible to get either Medicare or Medicaid, and this is due to "our wonderful" coverage of the health care issue provided by the US mainstream media and prostitutes for such jack asses as those in the health insurance industry. This can easily happen I personally know if a person lacks enough credits to get Social Security and thus can't get Social Security or Medicare and if that same person isn't poor enough to get Medicaid. These people will fall right through the cracks, and almost surely they will be in the millions or tens of millions. Those who get Medicare do so by having the required amount of credits with Social Security and thus get both. Those who don't, lose out with both.

Oh, and what about those who get enough Social Security credit to get Medicare, they end up like my mom, now dead for years, having to have suplimentary private health insurance to cover health conditions and needs not covered by Medicare, and they have increased over the years as the political prostitutes for the health insurance industry have made inroads in destroying Medicare.

As a small businessman who knows what the real deal is, I favor single payer first and foremost to save a third of trillion dollars or more currently being siphoned off the US economy and citizens by the health insurance industry welfare program. Yes, we can put an end to the rich white man's affirmative action program in our time including that for the health insurance industry, but we must know who our allies and friends are. For me it's those working and middle class people out there like myself whether black, Asian, Hispanic, Indian, and of all races, colors, ancestry, creed, sex orientation, gender, age, etc who need but don't get decent health care due to the health insurance industry tyranny currently reigning over health care in this country.

Worst case scenario, I say the people in this country should demand at a minimum nothing less than at least the kind of multi payer system Germany currently has if we are going the route of a public/private partnership health care plan and not going with single payer. In Germany those who sell basic health insurance must be non profits, be strictly regulated by the central government, and are prohibited from failing to cover people because of health conditions. Now that's a minimum and fair demand of the US Government which is supposed to be government as Jefferson said, "deriving it's just powers from the consent of the governed" or "government by consent of the governed." We could also use Abraham Lincoln's phrase "a government of, by, and for the people." Let's damn do it!

A H Goldberg* is the name on my blog which can be accessed ahgoldberg.radioleft.com.


"Insurance companies are terrified that this could be the beginning of the end for their leeching profits from a sick healthcare system."

Our healthcare system is atrocious in this country. I recently had to see an ophthalmologist for my presbyopia and had to pay a fortune, my insurance plan didn't cover the costs. I hope things will change, I believe it is a right not a privilege to receive health care in this country.


American health care tends to divide the population into insiders and outsiders. Insiders, who have good insurance, receive everything modern medicine can provide, no matter how expensive. Outsiders, who have poor insurance or none at all, receive very little. To take just one example, one study found that among Americans diagnosed with colorectal cancer, those without insurance were 70 percent more likely than those with insurance to die over the next three years.