Greener Times

Promoting a sustainable society…one day at a time.

July 20 – 26

Posted by Trey Smith on July 18, 2009

Greener Times for the Week of July 20 – July 26
Volume 4 No. 14
an e-publication for Greens anywhere and everywhere

Greener Times Collective: Maryrose Asher, Duff Badgley, Tom Herring and Trey Smith (Editor)

In This Week’s Issue
* We Need Clear Thinking: There Should Be No Clash Between Public Option & Single Payer
* Lawsuit Filed Against Washington Secretary of State
* Thoughts By the Way: Don “Ted” Quixote
* Our Climate Crisis: G-8, Big Climate Lie
* Un-Spinning the Spin: War is Peace; Freedom is Slavery; and Ignorance is Strength
* This Week in History
* News You May Have Missed

We Need Clear Thinking: There Should Be No Clash Between Public Option & Single Payer
by Joshua Holland for AlterNet

There appears to be a deep divide within the progressive movement over how to fix health care — a sometimes nasty food-fight between advocates of a public insurance option and those who favor a “single-payer” system.

This split is diverting progressive energy from what is probably the most important domestic policy decision of our time. As Washington Post columnist Harold Meyerson noted, while there’s extensive institutional support for a public insurance option, there’s little “street heat”. Progressives seem to be too busy arguing amongst themselves to apply effective pressure to sold-out lawmakers who are protecting insurance companies’ profits.

But the public insurance-single payer rift is a false dichotomy, and it is distracting us from the real fight. Most systems that people think of as “single-payer” really aren’t. Something approaching single payer exists in Canada, Australia and the UK. But even in these countries, buying supplemental insurance from private insurers is commonplace.

Has Any Country Gotten “Profits out of Health Care”?

The reality is that virtually every advanced, wealthy country features a universal system — we’re the exception — that is financed through a blend of public and private means. See, for example, this Wikipedia entry about the health care systems in Holland, Germany and Belgium — all of which are commonly referred to as single-payer systems, but in fact have “multiple payers but with some single-payer features.” Those features include: universal coverage regardless of citizens’ ability to pay, heavy state regulation and either the ability to bargain for the best prices from providers or having prices set by the government.

So, if you’re a “single-payer” advocate (like myself) the question arises: wouldn’t you be happy to have something like Germany’s system? When I lived in Berlin in the early 1990s, I had an accident, broke a bone and went to the ER without insurance. They X-rayed it, set it and gave me a bunch of happy pills to take home. Total bill: $10.

Then there is the Cadillac of health care systems — the French model. Would we be poorly served with something like the system that scores the highest among industrialized countries in most measures of patient satisfaction, access, longevity, child mortality, etc.? Of course not.

The French enjoy guaranteed quality health care from cradle to grave that is financed, in large part, through tax revenues. However, it is not a single-payer system. 35 percent of French hospital beds are in private facilities; over 9 in 10 French citizens have supplemental insurance and, as this backgrounder explains, “About seventy five percent of the total health expenditures are covered by the public health insurance system. A part of the balance is paid directly by the patients and the other part by private health insurance companies that are hired individually or in group….”

When we talk about “single-payer” what we’re really saying is that guaranteeing access to decent health care — just like sanitation and clean water or electricity — should be considered a fundamental duty of the state. But from that point, there’s no reason I can see to exclude the private sector entirely. We regulate utilities that provide those other vital services, and limit their profit margins, but we don’t rely on the government alone to deliver our electricity.

In France, “The State sees that the whole population has access to care; it dictates the types of care that are reimbursed, and to what degree, and what the role is of the different participating entities. The State is in charge of protecting patients’ rights, elaborating policies and enforcing them. It is responsible for public safety.”

That sounds fine to me, even though I identify myself as a “single-payer” advocate.

And the reason that this is more than a semantic point is straightforward: the proposal before us today would, if done right — and the Devil is most certainly in the details — achieve a hybrid public-private system with “some single-payer features” much like what citizens of other liberal democracies enjoy.

Put another way, the idea of getting “private profit” out of health care, while perhaps appealing on ideological grounds, doesn’t reflect what the rest of the world has done. A more practical goal is addressing our shortcomings in part by shifting the balance between the public and private delivery of health care. Currently, the United States ranks dead last, among the wealthiest nations, in terms of the portion of our health dollars spent on public health.

The advantages of having a greater share of health spending in the public sector go beyond a very large insurance pool and the efficiencies of scale and bargaining power that come with it. Countries with a higher rate of public health spending end up with a different set of incentives. Unlike a wholly fragmented system relying on only private and largely unregulated insurance — where an insurer has no incentive to make sure you stay healthy because when you get sick it’s just as likely to be on someone else’s dime — public health providers tend to place greater emphasis on preventing illness rather than waiting until people get sick and seek costly treatment.

A Debate About Tactics, Not a Fight Over Fundamentals

Karen Dolan of the Institute for Policy Studies is right in arguing that the fissure between public option fans and single-payer advocates is shallower than it appears at first blush:

One problem in progressive circles that contributes to the confusion is the perception, real or not, that single-payer and public option advocates are fighting each other, weakening support for both. Though some of that is going on, the greater problem is that people think that’s what’s going on, and thereby try to push each other out of the room.

There are very few healthcare advocates who will tell you that a single-payer healthcare system is not the correct remedy for the U.S. health care crisis. What they instead will say is that single-payer is dead politically, and that Obama and the Progressive Democrats’ public option is the only politically viable option.

This is a key point — the divide that does exist in progressive circles is tactical, not ideological. Most of those pushing the public option would, if they had their druthers, enact a “single-payer” system. But they recognize that the two commercial enterprises that have spent the most on political lobbying in recent years are the “disease-care” and insurance industries.

Like single-payer advocates, they believe that a large insurance pool with extensive government regulation and some subsidies afford the greatest potential for (near) universality and cost containment. And they think that given the choice — given a demonstration that this approach works better than having a fragmented system of private insurers — most people will eventually opt into the public plan, and we’ll end up achieving something approaching a “single-payer” system — although an American-style variation — through the back door. They just don’t think single-payer is a viable proposal given the clout that Big Health wields in Congress, and I’m not idealistic enough to say that they’re wrong.

The reason this is an important distinction is simple: people can differ respectfully and in good faith when it comes to tactical differences, but arguments over fundamental philosophical differences tend to become heated, fast.

Finally, the divisions over the role of public and private insurers distract from other things that we need to fix the system. We may differ on the role that private insurers might play in a revamped U.S. health care system, but there are other issues all progressives should be able to embrace. We can agree on the need for payment reforms that would discourage providers from ordering endless and often ineffective procedures; we can agree on the need for tighter regulations that would keep insurers from cherry-picking the patients that they want to cover, and we can agree on the need for investing in a secure electronic records system that would cut down on the cost of shuffling paperwork—estimated at 20-30 cents of each healthcare dollar we spend..

Understanding all of this leads, I think, to a lot more agreement among progressives than it appears at first blush. It refocuses the debate towards more productive questions: how much private sector involvement we want, and what structure we might adopt for health care financed through the private sector in order to keep the insurance industry’s predations in check.

It also explains why some single-payer advocates — like myself — are advocating so fiercely for the legislation working its way through Congress to be done right, with a large public insurance pool that’s not restricted from bargaining with providers or otherwise forced to compete with private insurers on an uneven playing field.

Lawsuit Filed Against Washington Secretary of State
Submitted by Tom Munsey

This morning, four Washington voters and a local political party sued Washington’s chief elections officer, seeking to prohibit placement of unique bar code identifiers on ballots.

The suit alleges that actions of Secretary of State Sam Reed required approximately one million voters to vote on ballots that contained unique bar code identifiers, in violation of the State Constitution’s guarantee of “absolute secrecy” of the ballot and statutes requiring uniform ballots within a precinct. The suit also claims that Reed has encouraged and subsidized an uncertified ballot tracking “audit” system that links the ballot identifiers to voters’ identities, further undermining ballot secrecy by potentially permitting vendors and officials to inspect how a citizen voted.

Information about the case, including a list of Washington counties employing the challenged procedures, can be found here.

The petitioners filed White v. Reed directly in the State Supreme Court using an unusual judicial procedure for fast-track adjudication by the High Court. According to the petition, Reed’s actions have led to the introduction and proliferation of ballot IDs in most Washington counties by activating an option of the Hart Intercivic voting system. Reed also has encouraged and subsidized many counties to deploy the VoteHere ballot tracking system which links the unique ballot ID with the voter’s ID. Petitioners claim that these systems are not necessary for election auditing or security. Seattle’s King County prohibited ballot identifiers after finding that voters perceived the identifiers as compromising ballot secrecy.

Hart and the VoteHere vendor are aggressively marketing the systems across the country for both poll site voting and absentee mail voting. Washington State requires paper ballots, and votes almost entirely by mail.

Seattle public interest attorney Knoll Lowney represents the four voters and the Green Party of San Juan County, where the offending systems were first deployed. According to Lowney, “Reed’s actions have violated the constitutional rights of one million Washington voters just because of where they live. In King County, where I vote, there are no unique bar codes on my ballot and I am certain of the secrecy of my ballot. Every voter in our state deserves the same confidence.”

A statement supporting the case was released by the national public interest organization, Voter Action, which has participated in lawsuits throughout the country involving election integrity concerns. The statement can be accessed here.

Petitioner Tim White said, “An absolutely secret ballot means your blank ballot is exactly like your neighbor’s. Nobody can reconnect it to your hand. Secretary Reed’s new system permits just that. He subsidized this system with a no-bid contract with VoteHere, a corporation led by Reed’s mentor Ralph Munro and past heads of the Pentagon and the CIA. Voters should not have to trust this or any private company to maintain ballot secrecy.”

Says Petitioner Allan Rosato, “Few voters realize that the bar code they see is unique to their ballot, and in many cases linked with their voter ID. When they learn this, they are very concerned. Our Constitution and statutes do not allow this experiment with ballot secrecy. It certainly is not necessary since two-thirds of Washington voters are not subject to it.”

Thoughts By the Way: Don “Ted” Quixote
Tom Herring is a Community Council member on Vashon Island. Catch more of Tom’s thoughts on his blog.

Ted Glick’s article on revolution and carbon dioxide is banging my head against two brick walls spaced about a meter, 39 inches, apart. His friend had said, fix the government first, while Ted had said okay, but I’m concentrating on emissions. Fast forward to caving liberals and a lousy emissions bill, ACESA, and now Ted agrees that gassy liberals are indeed the proximate hazard. Aha, so he proposes that we people should act locally by forming energy-based political power collectives.

You see? We revolt against the government by building windmills. We are Don Quixote armed with Power Point. (He’s my Don Quixote, not that one in the book.)

A fourth reading of the article has my head embedded in the local power “wall”, but with the proviso that what forms and holds the collectives together need not be energy. Ted Glick’s idea of generating political clout by making local electricity is wonderful, but I want to stretch its reach. Consider this: too much carbon dioxide is one of the four horsemen of our apocalypse, the other three being global depression, war, and homeland security. Or, if you like, joining the third world, nuclear bombs trumping civilization, and becoming the United Police States. Considered that way, the unifying idea for Ted Glick’s local collectives could be a rebellion against every degrading, cheapening, poisoning, and inhumane aspect of current society. Or, if you like, it could be an all-consuming desire to join in celebrating the gift of life.

Now reflect on this: so much carbon dioxide has already entered the atmosphere that it will continue to warm regardless of what the US does. The implications are so incomprehensible that Ted Glick’s idea should be our command.

See Ross Gelbspan, 2007.

Our Climate Crisis: G-8, Big Climate Lie
Duff Badgley is the leader of the One Earth Climate Action Group and was a candidate for Governor as a Green in 2008. He can be reached at 206-283-0621.

The Big Climate Lie is on. And Obama is too craven for even the European version of the Big Lie.

The G-8 nations agreed at their recent annual meeting in Italy “that global temperatures should be kept from rising by more than 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit.”

Except the dominant players of the G-8—the E.U. and the U.S.— are all practicing or planning for carbon trading as their main mechanism for ‘controlling’ the carbon emissions that fuel rising global temperatures.

Our pre-eminent climate scientist, Jim Hansen, derides carbon trading as our “Temple of Doom” that is a “subterfuge for continuing Business-as-Usual”.

Hansen’s right. Carbon trading guts any so-called ‘caps’ on carbon emissions by giving away or selling pollution credits to the world’s worst polluters. These credits allow the polluters to do what they do best—pollute without fetter. The history of the European Union Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) shows this planet-ruining process with appalling clarity.

At the G-8 meeting in Italy, the EU lobbied for short-term emissions caps. The EU wants global agreement now on so-called ‘binding’ emissions caps by 2015 and 2020. They argue that caps set in the far future, like 2050, promote delay of meaningful climate action now.

The E.U. is right. Except, of course, that the E.U. would ‘achieve’ those short-term caps via carbon trading. Which means the ‘caps’ are not caps, at all. They are the European version of the Big Lie.

Obama could not stomach even the European Big Lie. He resisted efforts to adopt short-term emissions caps. He argued for long-term ‘caps’ with target dates like 2050.

The gutless agreement to come out of Italy is non-binding, of course. The G-8 is a group of the world’s richest nations. Those nations, lead by Obama, want to stay rich at any cost. The climate, civilization, and all Earth’s creatures be damned.

The G-8 offers us this Faustian freedom of choice: (1) Pick the E.U. Big Lie or; (2) pick Obama’s Big Lie. The only difference is how quickly each will kill our Livable Planet.

The obvious, effective alternative to carbon trading: bold, aggressive carbon taxes. Jim Hansen agrees.

Un-Spinning the Spin: War is Peace; Freedom is Slavery; and Ignorance is Strength
Maryrose Asher is a former Chair of the Green Party of Washington State and a tireless activist of many causes.

“War is Peace,” “Freedom is Slavery,” and “Ignorance is Strength,” are the three slogans of the totalitarian political system in George Orwell’s book, Nineteen Eighty-Four. Written in 1948 (published in 1949), Orwell’s tale of a man caught in a political nightmare has often been used to warn of a possible reality to the events described in his book. I suggest that, more importantly, Orwell zeros in on the psyche of the individual in modern society and the universal outcome of trying to “fight the system.”

As one reviewer wrote, “’Ignorance is Strength’ is a much better analysis of politics and power than most academic books on the subject. A pleasure to read, even if it is a punch in the stomach and a bomb in the brain of all of us, still servile subjects of appalling and unnecessary state rulers.”

Nineteen Eighty-Four has been translated into more than 65 languages, more than any other book by a single author. The excerpts used in this column are not in their entirety.

Ignorance is Strength

Throughout recorded time, and probably since the end of the Neolithic Age, there have been three kinds of people in the world, the High, the Middle and the Low. They have been subdivided in many ways, they have borne countless different names, and their relative numbers, as well as their attitude towards one another, have varied from age to age: but the essential structure of society has never altered. Even after enormous upheavals and seemingly irrevocable changes, the same pattern has always reasserted itself, just as a gyroscope will always return to equilibrium, however far it is pushed one way or the other.

The aims of these three groups are entirely irreconcilable. The aim of the High is to remain where they are. The aim of the Middle is to change place with the High. The aim of the Low, when they have an aim – for it is an abiding characteristic of the Low that they are too much crushed by drudgery to be more than intermittently conscious of anything outside their daily lives – is to abolish all distinctions and create a society in which all men shall be equal.

Orwell explains how social “revolution” occurs with predictable results.

Thus throughout history a struggle which is the same in its main outlines recurs over and over again. For long periods the High seem to be securely in power, but sooner or later there always comes a moment when they lose either their belief in themselves or their capacity to govern efficiently, or both.

They are then overthrown by the Middle, who enlist the Low on their side by pretending to them that they are fighting for liberty and justice. As soon as they have reached their objective, the Middle throw the Low back into their old position of servitude, and themselves become the High.

Presently a new Middle group splits off from one of the other groups, or from both of them, and the struggle begins over again. Of the three groups, only the Low are never even temporarily successful in achieving their aims.

From the point of view of the Low, no historic change has ever meant much more than a change in the name of their masters.

Throughout history, the ruling group has only fallen from power if (1) it was conquered from without, (2) it governed so inefficiently that the masses were stirred to revolt, (3) it allowed a strong and discontented Middle group to come into being, and/or (4) it lost its own self confidence and willingness to govern.

However, by the year 1984, the High by “conscious strategy” would be able to hold on to their position permanently. Technology had made human equality not merely an ideal to strive for but a real possibility. Machines could now do the work of manual labor. There was no need for class distinctions or for disparity of wealth.

But, by the fourth decade of the twentieth century all the main currents of political thought were authoritarian. The earthly paradise had been discredited at exactly the moment when it became realizable. Every new political theory, by whatever name it called itself, led back to hierarchy and regimentation.

And in the general hardening of outlook that set in round about 1930, practices which had been long abandoned, in some cases for hundreds of years – imprisonment without trial, the use of war prisoners as slaves, public executions, torture to extract confessions, the use of hostages and the deportation of whole populations – not only became common again, but were tolerated and even defended by people who considered themselves enlightened and progressive.

This would also be a time of a new world order with a new kind of aristocracy.

The new aristocracy was made up for the most part of bureaucrats, scientists, technicians, trade-union oranisers, publicity experts, sociologists, teachers, journalists and professional politicians. These people, whose origins lay in the salaried middle class and the upper grades of the working class, had been shaped and brought together by the barren world of monopoly industry and centralized government. As compared with their opposite numbers in past ages, they were less avaricious, less tempted by luxury, hungrier for pure power, and, above all, more conscious of what they were doing and more intent on crushing opposition.

The novel’s main antagonist, Oceania Inner Party leader O’Brien, explains why the Party seeks this power.

The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power. Not wealth or luxury or long life or happiness: only power, pure power.

We are different from all the oligarchies of the past, in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just round the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means, it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power.

The following discussion takes place between the novel’s protagonist Winston Smith and Party leader O’Brien as Winston undergoes torture at the hands of O’Brien.

‘The real power, the power we have to fight for night and day, is not power over things, but over men.’ He paused, and for a moment assumed again his air of a schoolmaster questioning a promising pupil: ‘How does one man assert his power over another, Winston?’

Winston thought. ‘By making him suffer,” he said.

Obrien’s description of the ultimate breakdown of the human spirit in subjugation to the Party follows:

‘Exactly. By making him suffer. Obedience is not enough. Unless he is suffering, how can you be sure that he is obeying your will and not his own? Power is in inflicting pain and humiliation. Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing. Do you begin to see, then, what kind of world we are creating?

It is the exact opposite of the stupid hedonistic Utopias that the old reformers imagined. A world of fear and treachery and torment, a world of trampling and being trampled upon, a world which will grow not less but more merciless as it refines itself. Progress in our world will be progress towards more pain. The old civilizations claimed that they were founded on love or justice. Ours is founded upon hatred. In our world there will be no emotions except fear, rage, triumph and self-abasement. Everything else we shall destroy – everything. Already we are breaking down the habits of thought which have arrived before the Revolution.

We have cut the links between child and parent, and between man and man, and between man and woman. No one dares trust a wife or a child or a friend any longer. But in the future there will be no wives and no friends. Children will be taken from their mothers at birth, as one takes eggs from a hen.

There will be no loyalty, except loyalty to the Party. There will be no love, except the love of Big Brother. There will be no laughter, except the laugh of triumph over a defeated enemy. There will be no art, no literature, no science.

But always – do not forget this, Winston – always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – for ever.’

The mental training that starts in childhood and is reinforced throughout the lives of the inhabitants of Oceania makes them not only unwilling but actually incapable of thinking too deeply on any subject. In fact, “those who have the best knowledge of what is happening are also those who are furthest from seeing the world as it is. In general, the greater the understanding, the greater the delusion; the more intelligent, the less sane.”

Hence the meaning behind the slogan “Ignorance is Strength:”

If the High are to keep their places permanently – then the prevailing mental condition must be controlled insanity.

Resource material:
Orwell, George (1949), Nineteen Eighty-Four. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co.
Emmanuel Goldstein (George Orwell): Ignorance Is Strength (1949) – text of this section of the book in its entirety.

This Week in History
This Week in History, published by Carl Bunin and edited by Al Frank, is a collection designed to help us appreciate the fact that we are part of a rich history advocating peace and social justice. While the entries often focus on large and dramatic events there are so many smaller things done everyday to promote peace and justice. Find more info at http://www.peacebuttons.info/E-News/thisweek.htm.

July 22, 1756: The “The Friendly Association for gaining and preserving Peace with the Indians by Pacific Measures.” was founded in Philadelphia. It was comprised primarily of Quakers (members of the Society of Friends) who wished to pursue peaceful coexistence between the native peoples and the European immigrants to the Pennsylvania region.

July 23, 1846 : Author Henry David Thoreau was jailed for refusing to pay the poll tax as a protest against the Mexican war, which in turn led to his writing “Civil Disobedience.” This essay became a source of inspiration for Leo Tolstoy, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr. From Thoreau’s essay: “Unjust laws exist: shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once?”

July 26, 1990: The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law by Pres. George H.W. Bush. It prohibited discrimination based on disability in employment, in public accommodation (e.g., hotels, restaurants, retail stores, theaters, health care facilities, convention centers, parks), in transportation services, and in all activities of state and local governments.

News You May Have Missed

The Placebo President
Barack Obama entered DC, riding a hope train. Spirits soared all over the globe. Supporters were high with the drug of anticipation, an injection to heal a sick country. Almost immediately after taking the oath, Obama began to reject his promises. Clearly, the Obama cure is just a placebo…

Embattled Organic Sector Worries About Regulation
California farmer Tom Willey was first attracted to organic farming 21 years ago after noticing how many chemicals he was using in conventional farming. As a certified organic farmer selling everything from artichokes to zucchinis from his 75-acre farm in the San Joaquin Valley in California, Willey has become a respected pioneer in the organic farming community. But now with the deep recession in the United States, farmers such as Willey are worried about the future of organic farming that grew sharply during the boom times…

Obama Administration Abandons Cramdown
As housing foreclosures top the 1.5-million mark this year, the Obama administration has openly abandoned cramdown as a strategy for tackling the crisis. That approach – which would empower homeowners to avoid foreclosure through bankruptcy – was once a central element of the administration’s plans to stabilize the volatile housing market. Some financial analysts say the strategy would prevent 20 percent of all foreclosures. But, appearing before a Senate panel Thursday, two White House officials said that current policies are enough to address the problem…

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