Archive for March, 2010

Distant Early Warning

By Thomas Wark

The New Mexico stepchild of the far right-wing Cato Institute has come thundering into the discussion about the Federal Communications Commission’s National Broadband Plan and related efforts to protect internet neutrality.

Predictably it’s on the side of the telecoms.

Paul Gessing, president of the Rio Grande Foundation, which is generously funded by Cato, has sent op-eds to New Mexico newspapers, including the one in my home town, resurrecting that evergreen right wing bromide: “you can’t have it both ways.”

You can’t have environmental protection and economic growth.

You can’t have regulation of big banks and a healthy stock market.

You can’t have a country safe from terrorists and abide by every little jot and tittle of the Bill of Rights.

Or, as Gessing puts it, “We cannot expect companies . .. (which “companies?” Why, your altruistic friends, the telecoms. AT&T. Qwest. Sprint.) . .. We cannot expect companies locked in regulatory prisons to be free-market pioneers.”

“Regulatory prisons?” He’s talking about the internet neutrality bill.

The FCC broadband plan wants to set goals for faster, cheaper internet service in the United States — goals which, if met, would enable the U. S. to catch up with the rest of the world. The United States is now 15th, behind France, Sweden, Canada and a dozen other countries in broadband penetration. It ranks 19th in average download speeds. And it pays more for its slower service.

Mr. Gessing’s little piece of right-wing propaganda purports to be “all for increasing broadband usage and speed” — sort of. The telecoms, poor souls, can’t possibly make improvements if they’re subject to “onerous regulation.”

And what, pray, is this “onerous regulation,” also known as internet neutrality? It means that internet service providers — your pals at AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and Time Warner Cable — would be prohibited from discriminating against different kinds of content and applications on line. It protects the consumer’s right to use any equipment, content, application or service without interference from the network provider. With Net Neutrality, the network’s only job is to move data — not to choose which data to reward with higher quality service. and which to deny.

This is the way the ‘net operated from its very inception until 2005, when George Bush’s FCC tried to rewrite the rules on behalf of the big ISPs. They want to put up tollbooths for access to the internet, deciding which web sites go fast or slow and which won’t load at all, and charging them a toll to deliver their data. Of course they want to be able to favor their own search engines, internet phone services and streaming video, and to slow down or block services offered by their competitors.

Now the telecoms are spending millions to lobby against restoring internet neutrality through congressional action, and Mr. Gessing is happy to oblige them.

Why, look, he says, at what wonderful things the ISPs are doing for you! “Right now, wireline broadband is available to 95 percent of the American population, and when you add 3G wireless, that number goes to 98 percent. Internet speeds of one megabyte per second are available through satellite providers who charge about $70 a month. All of this happened without any Big Plan from the federal government.”

Er, Paul, good buddy, if I lived in Japan I’d get broadband at 30 megabytes per second! I’d get 10 Mps in Taiwan; 50 Mps in 95% of South Korea; 50 Mps in 75% of Germany; and universal coverage at speeds from four to 100 times faster than the U. S. in Denmark, Sweden, Finland and the U. K.

Free enterprise? Competition? You’ve got to be kidding, Paul. In the U. S., 96 percent of households have access only to two or fewer wired broadband services providers. The situation will only grow worse as demand for higher speed grows. By 2012, only 15 percent of households will have a choice of even two providers offering world-class broadband service.

As Gessing himself acknowledges, it can cost you up to $70 a month in the U. S. to get one megabyte per second service. To get a world-class 50 Mps, you’ll pay about $145 per month. The same 50 Mps costs $28 per month in South Korea. In the U. K. it’s even cheaper: $26 per month for 50 Mps.

And nobody’s manning toll booths over there to decide who gets to ride on the internet, or what fee they’ll pay.

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There Will Be Blood

By Steve Klinger

When a political party is collectively fixated on regaining power with tactics of lies, shop distortions and fear-mongering, pharm it will appeal to hate groups and unstable individuals.

When it uses language and imagery of violence it will foment the dangerous impulses those groups and individuals struggle to control even in ordinary circumstances.

When elected officials encourage those who already feel frustrated, search manipulated, marginalized and short-changed by a society the dynamics of which they misunderstand, it only serves to validate their anger.

When the mainstream media offer both sides of a one-sided story while the wingnuts of talk radio and Faux News lure the moronic and the gullible with a gospel of betrayal and self-righteousness, the airwaves will fan smoldering distortion into flames of outrage.

When the rhetoric stimulates cravings for clannish gratifications like revenge, it is always in the name of misunderstood catchwords — hypnotic triggers — like freedom and liberty.

When underlying elements like a changing demographic that threatens the status quo force the privileged to realize their days of power are numbered, their indignation and vitriol overflow in outbursts of frustration.

When the system of empowerment drapes the garb of democracy on agents of the wealthiest puppetmasters of unrestrained corporatism, those who would disrobe them become the mortal enemies of the powers in the shadows.

When the forces of reform gain a foothold and the anger and hatred of the agents of self-interest overflow, then the charade of democracy implodes in a chorus of rationalization, cognitive dissonance, lies and bigotry.

When the minions of change offer inclusion and compromise and are vilified as defying the will of the people and imposing the illegitimacy of majority rule, it is inevitably described as communism or totalitarianism.

When those of color or foreign ethnicity, who were tolerated when the control of the wealthy wasn’t threatened, assert the political equality for which their forebears fought, they are threatened, cursed, demeaned and spat upon, and told they should be glad they are not being lynched.

When the members of government encourage and condone the angry rabble and seek their help in obstructing the very government they swore an oath to uphold and defend, then those groups and individuals feel legitimized in their rebellion and the instigators are guilty of incitement to violence.

When the rebels threaten and intimidate the members of the elected majority of the government whose protection and benefits they willingly accept, and no one from that government asserts that free speech has gone too far, then you can be sure it has.

When the honest public servants are intimidated and the hostility against them is tolerated, and they  one by one resign or decline to serve, then the end of democracy has begun.

When the members of the gridlocked government underestimate the danger from the disaffected hordes and realize too late that they have lost control of the message to the agents of wealth and privilege and the media who serve them, then the rabble will be unleashed — and there will be blood.

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The Jabberwock bill: The end of ugly?

By Thomas Wark
At last, my fellow Americans, we have . . . something.   Something called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act passed the House last night and will be signed into law by the President, probably on Tuesday.I am not throwing confetti or tossing around the term “historic.” I concede that Obama-Pelosi is the first president-speaker team ever to enact any legislation to change the entire American health care system.

Whether these changes will be for better or for worse remains to be seen.

I applaud the passage of the bill in the hope that it will bring, sooner rather than later, an end to a magna cum ugly period of our national history.

The citizenry has endured:

+ Republican sophistry, hate-talk, racism, lies, deception, expletives, middle-fingering and hypocrisy in opposition to any effort to improve the health care system, ignoring the thousands of American deaths each year from treatable ailments for which the victims couldn’t afford care.  This is somewhat equivalent to (but worse than) not just rooting against Tiny Tim, but hoping he’ll break his crutch and die already.

+Misleading statements, back-room deals, sell-outs and double-talk by the president, congresspeople and senators we elected with a mandate for quality health care for everyone.  This ideally would mean, as Obama himself acknowledged, a single-payer, government-run plan like Medicare for all.  He didn’t even suggest it, however.  Instead he publicly appeared to favor a paliative called public option while in secret promising the health insurance industry that it would be struck from the final bill.  Even before work on the bill had begun in Congress, he sold out to the insurance industry, promising to eliminate any provisions that would protect consumers just a little bit from price-gouging.  Finally, for all the starry-eyed women who swooned over his oratory and gave him their vote, he bargained away their right to total gynecological health care.

+ Utter exclusion from the process of those elected representatives of the people like Dennis Kucinich and Russ Feingold who actually believed that affordable health care for all meant .  . . affordable health care for all!  Ultimately even they fell in line behind the . . . something . .  that finally passed.  Only they know why.

So here’s to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Oh frabjous day, calloo callay!
I fear we’re screwed in every way.
Beware the Jabberwock, my son,
With jaws that snatch and cries that ring,
For oft it comes disguised as . . . something.

Whose Soiree Now?

Assume that the government estimate of 32 million presently uninsured citizens buy health care insurance as required under the new law. Assume that the premiums they are charged will be roughly comparable to the premiums now paid by Medicare beneficiaries (regardless of what portion is paid by the consumer or by the government).  Then, the additional income for health care insurers will be approximately $5.76 trillion per year.

And so:

NEW YORK (AP) – Health stocks lifted the market Monday following House approval of the bill that would extend insurance to millions.

The Dow-Jones Industrial Average rose about 45 points in afternoon trading. Broader indexes also climbed.

Investors had expected the health care bill would pass the House, but the approval late Sunday removed uncertainty about the rules that would govern the industry. A companion bill now goes back to the Senate. The changes could have far-reaching effects on health companies.

Hospital operators Tenet Healthcare Corp. and Health Management Associates Inc. each rose more than 8 percent.

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Thanks for nothing, Harry

By Steve Klinger

Harry Teague’s declaration that he will vote no on the health care reform bill will not help him in November against Steve Pearce. The statement he issued on Friday reeks of hypocrisy and political opportunism, pilule combining progressive and conservative arguments in an uneasy blend of unconvincing rationalization.

Teague may as well throw caution to the wind since he cannot win as a conservative against Pearce. If he’s going to go down, medical why not stand on principles and do the job he was elected to do? He ran and won as a fairly centrist Democrat in 2008, treatment but since catching heat for his energy bill vote for cap and trade (and since Pearce announced he will seek to regain his former seat) Teague has listed increasingly to the right. He will succeed at one thing: getting CD2 Democratic voters to stay home.

As it is, most of what Teague said in his statement is pure hogwash. He said he had “hoped to have a chance to vote on a bill that provided affordable health-care options to all American families.” What he really hoped was that this whole thing would go away so he wouldn’t have to make a political choice about a moral issue.

As worried as he pretended to be about the well being of his constituents and the American people, he trotted out the shopworn conservative argument about controlling costs with equal disingenuousness: He fretted in his statement that the bill does not do “enough to contain costs, and it definitely does not do enough to rein in the out-of-control insurance companies that are driving up health-care costs in this country.”

So would the hypocrite have voted for a bill tougher on the insurance companies? Did he support a single payer system or even a public option?  Not last spring and not now, in fact not until pigs fly. Teague is too busy glancing obsessively over his shoulder at Pearce and now the teabaggers honking at him to halt the communist takeover of America.

How stupid does he think progressives are? We know why he is voting no, and it’s all about the pressure from the right. By placing himself to the left of Dennis Kucinich in his public pronouncement he insults our intelligence and shows little of his own.

We also haven’t forgotten that this concerned guardian of the public trust not only voted against the original House health reform bill last fall, he also helped attach Bart Stupak’s abortion amendment to it, thus making a bill he didn’t like worse before voting against it.

Harry needs to go home to Lea County and run his energy business with more integrity than he has shown as a member of Congress.  Thanks for nothing, Harry.

Here is Teague’s statement:

Friday, March, 19, 2010
Teague Statement on Health Care Bill
Washington, DC-Congressman Teague, D-N. M., released the following statement in advance of
the Health Care vote on Sunday.

“Living without health insurance coverage is something that I have experienced in my own life.
Like so many New Mexico families, both my parents worked to make ends meet, but they still
could not afford health insurance for our family. When I was 17 years old, tragedy struck our
home when both my parents got sick at the same time. I had no choice but to drop out of
school and go to work to help support our family.
I had hoped to have a chance to vote on a bill that provided affordable health care options to
all American families, but after reviewing the final health care reform proposal, I do not
believe that the bill does enough to contain costs and it definitely does not do enough to rein
in the out of control insurance companies that are driving up healthcare costs in this country.
In fact, I believe we are doing more for the insurance companies than we are for the people
who need this coverage, and that is why, despite the positive steps it takes, I must vote
against this bill.
There are some pieces of the final health care reform proposal that I agree with, like ending
the despicable practice of insurance companies canceling or denying coverage to people
because of pre-existing conditions and it closes the Medicare Part D donut hole, guaranteeing
lower drug costs for seniors. These are much needed changes that I support, but they aren’t
enough to rein in insurance companies and make health care truly affordable.
I have hosted 100 public meetings in southern New Mexico and health care reform was almost
always a topic of conversation. People had strong opinions on both sides, but for the most
part, we agreed that our health care system is broken and needs reforming. It is overly
bureaucratic, it costs way too much, it covers too few, and it undermines our nation’s
economic strength. Health care spending has spiraled out of control, piling costs on
businesses, local governments, families and individuals.
The only way to fix that is to focus on lowering the cost of care. This bill mandates that every
individual buy health insurance, but it does little to address the cost of health care, which is
why many New Mexicans are uninsured in the first place. It tells businesses to do the right
thing and provide insurance for employees, but doesn’t guarantee or require affordable
There is no doubt that we need to do more to improve health care in this country and that is
why in my short time in Congress, I have supported expanding SCHIP. I voted to provide
funding to community health centers and to protect seniors’ access to care through Medicare.
I have fought to improve healthcare for our veterans. And, I cosponsored the bill to eliminate
the anti-trust exemptions that allow the health insurance industry to work behind closed doors
to fix prices without fear of investigation or oversight.
Moving forward, I will continue to fight for a health care system that puts patients before
profits and that brings health care costs under control so people don’t have to choose between
paying the rent and a doctor’s appointment. ”

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The Video You Won’t See on TV

By Thomas Wark
Every day I drive past a big steel building called an “event center” — a big enclosed space where you can stage almost anything.  Dances, exhibits, auction sales, celebrations, whatever.  They once held a political rally there featuring Laura Bush, who pouted that it was an affront to host a First Lady in “a big barn.”

For our kind of southwestern town, though, it’s a right suitable place for public events.

As I approach the event center, I like to guess what’s going on there.  The number of vehicles parked in the adjoining lot and sometimes spilling over to other nearby parking areas (legal and otherwise) is the best clue.  Time of year can be telling, too: holiday festivals, farm equipment exhibits, etc., are seasonal.

But there’s one kind of event I don’t have to guess about: a gun show.  These things draw the biggest crowds, so that if you see people walking toward the center from illegally-parked vehicles half a mile or more away, you know they’re going to a gun show.

Our state, New Mexico, has some of the weakest gun laws on the planet and its citizens seem to like it that way.  Virtually anyone can own and carry a gun of virtually any type.  Virtually the only restraints are that employers may legally prohibit firearms in the workplace or its parking areas, and colleges  may legally prohibit firearms on their campuses. Guns are banned in some other public places, like schools and churches, as well.

Many of the public lands around my town are posted with polite requests that shooters restrain their trigger fingers except on the big, municipally-maintained shooting range west of town. There you can blast away with the weapon of your choice — from bows to bazookas — on a variety of ranges, with or without  targets.  Our very own war zone.

Yet one day when I set out to walk a popular hiking trail, there were three macho tontos blasting away with handguns at the trail head.  “Excuse me,” I said politely, “but we’d like to walk the trail.”  After what seemed like a very long pause, one of them shrugged and said, “OK.”  We walked with very tight sphincters until we were out of their range.

Evidence of trigger-happy binge shooting litters our desert public lands.  In one particularly lovely piece of mesa-and-canyon wilderness, you can see from a mile or more away what looks like a pool of silver and gold glittering in the mid-day sun.  Walk toward it and you begin to see that it’s a huge pile of broken glass and metal shell casings.  This less than 4 miles from the public shooting range.

As the third anniversary nears of the killings by a crazed shooter at Virginia Tech, a survivor of the massacre is conducting a one-man campaign against the kind of gun show that is so popular where I live.  His name is Colin Goddard and he suffered four gunshot wounds at Virginia Tech.

Now he campaigns for sane gun-control laws, especially to curb the utterly unconstrained sales of weapons at gun shows. Funded by the Brady Campaign, he took concealed cameras on the road, visiting gunshows in eight cities in five states, seeking to demonstrate how easy it is for anyone to get  any kind of lethal weapon.

Fox Fiction made a folk hero of another secret camera toting kid a while back.  But you can bet the Foxies won’t tell you about Colin Goddard’s video.

If you want to see it, click here:


SANTA FE, N.M., Mar. 10  — (AP) — People licensed for concealed handguns can take their weapons into restaurants serving beer and wine under a new state law.

Gov. Bill Richardson signed the measure on Wednesday. It takes effect in July. Even with the change, it will remain illegal to take a concealed weapons into a bar or a restaurant with a full liquor license. Richardson ordered the Department of Public Safety to change its licensing regulations for concealed handguns to prohibit people from drinking alcohol while carrying their concealed weapon. The governor wants the Legislature to make that part of state law.

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Faithless to Our Fathers: R.I.P., Their Republic

By Thomas Wark
According to legend, Benjamin Franklin was spotted emerging from the Continental Congress and a citizen asked, “Doctor, what have we got?” and Franklin replied, “A Republic if you can keep it.”

We have failed to  keep it. We have evolved into government in stasis yet heading toward anarchy en route to fascism.  Two party government as it exists in the United States fails to meet James Madison’s test for a republic: a representative democracy in which  supreme power is held by the people through elected representatives of the whole population, and which has an elected president rather than a monarch.

Today, millions of Americans hold strong beliefs about social and political issues that are utterly unrepresented by either party.  The Republicans have become a party of the far right, fraught with more dementia than typifies the far right parties in other attempts at democracy around the world.  The Democratic party has become a center-right party, with a weak and spineless centrist core and a powerful right-wing minority that is closer to the Republican right than to its own center.

Progressive Democrats and independents voted for Barack Obama in either the belief or the hope that he would in fact lead a changing nation.  When he used the internet in an unprecedented solicitation of citizen input into his new administration, those voters overwhelmingly told him they wanted single-payer health care, an end to Bush’s wars, saner environmental policies, restoration of civil liberties and the rule of law, an end to corporate welfare and more effective government regulation of businesses that work against the public interest.

He ignored us.  Instead of single-payer health care, he gave us a lame “public option” that he never fought for, and he began his “reform” by selling his soul to the pharmaceutical industry.  Instead of ending the wars he extended them.  Instead of strong legislation to stop climate-changing carbon emissions, water and air pollution and abuse of public lands, while creating clean energy jobs, he bargained away the enforcement powers of the original Clean Air Act. His party members in Congress were as complicit as Republicans in give-aways to dirty coal and Big Oil.  Even his weak-tea legislation is being savaged by the right wing of his own party in vile alliance with the Republicans.  In the latest betrayal of the principles he misled us into thinking he stood for, he has reversed positions and is said to be ready to resume the Bush policy of military kangaroo courts to try detainees long held illegally and immorally without charge or counsel, many of them having been repeatedly tortured as well.  The list is endless.

It is time for us to learn from Europe.  Multi-party democracy thrives there because it enables representation of people across a broad and often subtle spectrum of interests and needs.  Hence England, for example, has room for parties dedicated solely to the interests of independence for Scotland, Wales and North Ireland;  parties in shades of green, degrees of left-lean, conservators of traditional values, differing angles of rightward tilt, and a  fluid center.  There are, in short, real, functioning political parties to represent all the people.

Millions of Americans believe that progressivism, whether personified by Republican or Democratic leaders, has served this nation well.  Progressives, after all, gave us suffrage, fair trade, anti-trust laws, the income tax, the Fair Deal, the New Deal, regulation of financial markets, Social Security, liberation of the political process from control by bosses and corrupt machines, labor unions, institutions dedicated to peace and human rights, Medicare, national parks and  a vast, once-prosperous middle class.

The inheritors of such ideas have been effectively disenfranchised.  Many of them voted for Obama simply because he was not Bush or McCain.  Unless their interests are re-empowered by new parties, their polar opposites will take the country into fascism unopposed.

What’s happening in Washington today is a travesty of democratic republicanism.  We have not kept the priceless treasure we were given by Franklin, Madison and the other founders.

We desperately need ethical, economic, political and social reforms — and we can’t even pass health care reform.

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