Friday, March 19, 2010

Returning the Senate to Majority Rule

Returning the Senate to Majority Rule

by Steven Hill

Standing at the edge of the health care precipice, President Barack Obama has reached a defining point in his presidency. The recent news that Anthem Blue Cross is planning to jack up individual premiums as much as 40 percent is just the latest example of our flailing health care system.

But beyond the immediate health care crisis a more fundamental national principle is at stake in the health care vote. And it affects not only health care but also pending legislation on global climate change, re-regulation of the financial industry, and more. That is the notion that the majority should rule. If Senate Republicans insist on abusing the quirky rules of the Senate, such as the filibuster which requires 60 out of 100 votes to end debate and vote on legislation, President Obama should push his health care package through the Senate via the "reconciliation process."

Reconciliation, which would allow 51 out of 100 Senators to pass health care legislation, would restore the constitutional principle of "majority rule" that has been hijacked in the filibuster-gone-wild Senate. Nowhere is it written in the Constitution that a supermajority is required to pass legislation in the Senate. Indeed, the Constitution requires the use of supermajority rules by one or both houses of Congress in only seven specific situations (including overriding a presidential veto, confirming treaties, removing a president or other leaders who have been impeached by the House). But the filibuster rule is not among them.

The Constitution's drafters clearly knew how to impose a supermajority rule when they wanted to, yet they didn't impose one for ending debate in the Senate. Various constitutional scholars have concluded that ordinary majority rule is the Constitution's default baseline, except in those seven explicit instances.

The filibuster rule is merely a peculiarity of antiquated Senate tradition, part of an anti-majoritarian streak that once protected a minority of slaveholding states. Such anti-majoritarianism was opposed by leading constitutional figures. James Madison and Alexander Hamilton warned about the creation of any legislative body which "contradicts the fundamental maxim of republican government, which requires that the sense of the majority should prevail" (Hamilton, Federalist Paper number 22).

The problem with supermajority thresholds, as Hamilton and Madison pointed out, is that they allow a rump minority to exercise a veto over what the vast majority wants. Currently the 41 Republican senators represent barely a third of the nation's populace. Yet through the filibuster they can strangle any legislation favored by senators representing the other two-thirds. The resulting paralysis and gridlock undermines the Senate's credibility.

Very few national legislatures require a supermajority to pass legislation, though one comparable situation we can point to is in California. There, a two-thirds legislative supermajority is required to pass a budget or alter revenues, and also has resulted in paralysis.

Not only should Obama and congressional Democrats invoke reconciliation, they should retire the anti-majoritarian filibuster to the dustbin of history. Some political leaders believe that doing so would require 67 votes, and if you can't get 60 votes to end a filibuster how could you possibly get 67 votes to change the Senate rule that established the filibuster?

But law professor Vikram Amar and other legal experts have concluded that only a Senate majority is necessary to abolish the filibuster. The Constitution allows the Senate or the House to "determine the rules of its proceedings" by a simple majority vote. The rule establishing the filibuster itself was passed by only a majority, and a bare majority of an earlier Senate cannot legally bind future Senates to a two-thirds vote. To try and do so, writes Prof. Amar, "would be in violation of deep constitutional and American values."

Another possibility would be to reform the filibuster, as proposed by Democratic Senator Tom Harkin from Iowa. Senator Harkin would allow the debate-ending requirement to be lowered gradually the longer a measure is debated. Initially ending debate might require 60 votes, but after a few days of debate it would be re-set at 57 votes. Days later, the requirement would be lowered to 54, and so forth. "In that way, a bare majority could not circumvent discussion and deliberation at the outset, but neither could a recalcitrant minority hold up majoritarian action indefinitely," writes Professor Amar.

So by either using reconciliation, modifying the filibuster, or getting rid of it entirely, President Obama would return the Senate to the original "majority rule" vision of Madison and Hamilton. And he would pass health care legislation that will allow millions of fellow Americans to benefit from a level of health care security already enjoyed by the president and the senators.

Steven Hill is the director of the Political Reform Program at the New America Foundation, and his previous articles have been published in the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Roll Call, Slate, Salon, Financial Times, Guardian and elsewhere. Hill has written several books on politics and political reform, his most recent is "Europe's Promise: Why the European Way is the Best Hope in an Insecure Age" (

It’s Really Quite Simple: Do We Value Each Life in America?

It’s Really Quite Simple: Do We Value Each Life in America?

by Donna Smith

The question is straightforward and simple. Do we value each life? Yes or no.

No matter what Congress passes or doesn't pass, no matter what the President signs, no matter who buys insurance or has a subsidy to buy it, no matter which person is on Medicaid or Medicare or in the VA system or the Indian Health Service system, we need to answer that question for ourselves and future generations.

Do we value each life? If not, then what are the criteria by which we make our determinations? Clean and clear. How do we decide? Is there some sort of unspoken master race or master class we value more highly? By birth? By religious affiliation? By social strata?

De we value each life? If our answer is no, then we will keep reading reports like the one in the New York Times yesterday about Carol Y. Vliet in Flint, MI. We do not value her life. The brutality of what we are doing to one another is mind-numbing.

"FLINT, Mich. - Carol Y. Vliet's cancer returned with a fury last summer, the tumors metastasizing to her brain, liver, kidneys and throat. ..

Dr. Sahouri informed her a few months later that he could no longer see her because, like a growing number of doctors, he had stopped taking patients with Medicaid. .. ‘My office manager was telling me to do this for a long time, and I resisted,' Dr. Sahouri said. ‘But after a while you realize that we're really losing money on seeing those patients, not even breaking even. We were starting to lose more and more money, month after month.'

It has not taken long for communities like Flint to feel the downstream effects of a nationwide torrent of state cuts to Medicaid, the government insurance program for the poor and disabled. ..

Mrs. Vliet, 53, who lives just outside Flint, has yet to find a replacement for Dr. Sahouri. "

I get it. The gist of the story is about the financial woes of the Medicaid program, as administered by the states, and how doctors and other health providers cannot afford to care for people like Carol. I get it.

The clear message in Carol's story is that we have already answered the straightforward question about the value of life. We've answered it thousands and thousands of times every year in the country when our doctors and health providers turn away from treating all the Carol's in the nation.

This is the part I do not get - and hope I never do. How does a healthcare provider walk away from people who need care knowing the care is available? How exactly does that office manager continue to run the numbers and find Carol's life too expensive? From a human perspective, how do the healthcare providers' workers do it? Do they ever check back in with Carol to see if she's still alive, or do they just find a way to wall off the brutality in which they participate? Nurses tell me they cry, they cry a lot.

I do not understand the mental and emotional gymnastics many people must go through to be able to tell another human being from their own community, their own neighborhood, their own family, that they are sorry but the drug or the treatment we have right here available to some to relieve suffering or even cure a disease is not available to all. Do the people who deliver these death sentences have any sort of training about how to tell others that their lives have been deemed somehow less valuable to us all? Often the job of comforting that patient is left to a nurse. Those who make the final (how apropos) decisions have often washed their hands of the human consequences by that time.

So, let's start asking not only those in elected office but also our health providers and others in our own spheres of influence, "Do you value each human life equally?" And if the answer is yes then we have to confront the inconsistency in our actions while we are still able to do so. The for-profit insurance giants, the large pharmaceutical companies and the for-profit hospital corporations have already weighed in. All of them find it quite easy to quantify the quality of each life. Since we as taxpayers will be supporting those life-and-death panelists so heavily with subsidies and the forced purchase of private insurance products, I think we have a right to see the criteria they use in the valuation of life process. Maybe we would find Carol's life worth sparing.

I do not believe all the good doctors and other health professionals are so callous about life and human suffering that they enjoy that pain resulting from the current healthcare mess. But I do believe that until more of them stand up and loudly say they will no longer sit across from patients like Carol and dismiss them from treatment, they will keep being complicit in the loss of life.

Medicaid patients matter; patients with sub-standard insurance coverage matter too. Their lives are no less valuable than the office managers' who calculate the upside-down financial outcomes for their medical practices of treating these human beings. The lives of Medicaid patients are as valuable as the doctors' lives who hire the office managers who run the numbers. The lives of the Medicaid patients are even as valuable as the lives of the powerful in our society who make the far-removed policy decisions that eventually play out at the patients' bedsides.

And will our elected officials ever make it to the point where they value each human life enough to extend the right to healthcare to all? Clearly right now we are living in times where a life like Carol's isn't even as valuable as the re-election of her Congressional member. That's how we currently value life.

When we extend the basic human right of healthcare to all in America, we will finally have answered the question in the affirmative. Do we value each life? Under a progressively financed system with a single standard of high quality care for all patients, yes we do. Life matters. Carol's life matters.

Donna Smith is a community organizer for National Nurses United (the new national arm of the California Nurses Association) and National Co-Chair for the Progressive Democrats of America Healthcare Not Warfare campaign.

Everybody Knows The Deal Is Rotten

Everybody Knows The Deal Is Rotten

by Christopher Cooper

I don't want to do this. I shouldn't have to do this. But the burden is well-settled upon me; the letters and telephone calls and E-mail messages from the several hundred mostly strangers who have given numerous of my previous essays their praise and who have told me that I must continue to write when I am as troubled as I now find myself-these persons deserve what small insight or comfort or advice I can generate for them. Would that I could summon for them, for us all, some reason to hope.

Yes, it will be just that sort of essay. But it will be uncharacteristically brief. I am now, Wednesday evening, debilitated from the third long day of my annual tour with the Alna, Maine roadside brush clearing crew.

We are seven. Michael Trask, forty in a month, I have known since he was five. He is our road commissioner and son of our late road commissioner, Austin Trask. David Seigars, selectman coming upon the end of the first year of a two-year term at town meeting Saturday, is also a volunteer fireman; he takes orders from Road Commissioner Trask and Fire Chief Trask, a situation many men could not endure. Jon Bardo, owner-operator of the cleanest, best-maintained excavator in Lincoln County, takes considerable load off the animal element through his skillful application of hydraulic amplification.

Of Herman Lovejoy, old, lame, knees shot to hell, but the first on the job, the most capable, the least ill-tempered, the most generous, I cannot allow myself the space here now to tell you how much he means to us all or how vital his involvement in our community is to its continued health and progress.

We employ two young men from Wiscasset, Nick and T.J., brothers. They are very interested in the varieties of sexual conjunction and will express themselves thereupon at length. Herman is trying to get them to focus more closely on the difference between the tension and compression sides of a log. They are our cutters, a job I once held, but my back now hurts too much while lurching through puckerbrush with a ten-pound saw to be productive. So I drag brush and trees and feed the chipper, a fourteen-inch Morbark that will grind a hardwood tree effortlessly if loudly.

Our lovely, if sometimes sarcastic, town clerk, Amy Warner, whom I have been educating most recently concerning the music of John Eddie and Tom Russell and Tom Lehrer, delivered us a coffee cake she baked just this morning.

Why do I tell you this? Why might you care? Because I really am too tired, too lame, too broken to give over an hour or more of this evening to writing this sad, disgusted little essay, and you need to understand that I have been up to a fine, productive thing these early spring days, in the company of men who know what they were hired to do, understand what they must do, whether it hurts or doesn't, and feel that there is honor and dignity in rough, heavy, dirty, crude, unlovely work if a goodness comes of it.

There will be a payday, of course. I expect to receive about two dollars an hour less for this week than I would at my customary work. Bardo could likely make more rebuilding engines. Lovejoy is retired! We will get our money, but you could probably shave even a couple dollars more and we'd still be in the ditches, among the stumps, listening to the chain saws' whining and the big chipper grinding. We are, in our way, voting, as surely as we'll vote Saturday afternoon (I'll be moderating and expect I'll clear nearly another hundred dollars for that public expression of my parliamentary ignorance.) Each of us has joined this happy company to let in some light on our back roads, to open the ditches, to further the common welfare. It's no use lobbying us to vary our approach or turn one way or another. We receive no contributions from the Morbark company and there will be no good job waiting for us with a paving firm, chainsaw manufacturer or consortium of back and knee doctors. We are citizens of Alna. We serve when we are asked.

So I heard on the radio as I drove home that one Congressman had decided to vote Yes on the great gift to the health insurance industry that the Democratic party leadership and president assure us is the very best we can hope for as an alternative to our current system. Dennis Kucinich has climbed aboard this loathsome bill after plainly declaring he would not vote for any bill that did not contain a "public option", such an option being, of course, a very weak alternative to the national health care (generally known as "single-payer") candidate Obama said repeatedly he favored, but President Obama discovered upon taking the oath of office was no longer "feasible."

Well, another Congressman folds. So what? Obama leaned on him, he was reminded that Democrats have to stick together, and another Democrat did indeed find his vote failing to support his own statements, his own beliefs, his own certain knowledge that he was not doing the right thing as he understood it. So I took some ibuprofen and I read all of the statement of Mr. Kucinich. We are very clear, he and I both: this announcement is a clear reversal of his explicit promise to vote against this bill. Congressman Kucinich is no Karl Rove. He is no liar, no Dick Cheney, no Rush Limbaugh. He is not despicable. He is an immensely more principled human being than Nancy Pelosi or tired old sad sack Harry Reid.

But there it is, clear and precise. "[I said] that I would not support the bill unless it had a strong public option and unless it protected the right of people to pursue single payer at a state level."

And: "I still have doubts about the bill. I do not think it is a first step toward anything I have supported in the past. "

Then: "I have decided to cast a vote in favor of the legislation."

OK, look. I'm not looking to beat up poor Dennis Kucinich. I think it almost unutterably sad that perhaps the most principled man in Congress, in what I'm guessing must be a stomach-churning admission of his own helplessness, understanding the futility of playing ball with the team he can't get up the nerve or the disgust to quit, on a field laid out to the specifications of the corrupt owners of the other team, under rules designed to preclude the possibility of a fair, clean game, still, finally, gives up and goes along. But he so clearly knows it is the wrong thing to do.

I struggle, even after several close readings, to find the reason for this disturbing reversal. The bill does not contain the essential elements he articulated as necessary for him to support it. He and I and many of you know that if this is passed and people are forced to buy the inadequate, overpriced products of a blatantly corrupt industry that has over the years bought and paid for both political parties and quite clearly the current occupant of the White House, insurance premiums will continue to escalate, access to care will not materially improve, millions will remain without decent care, costs will not be controlled, and unnecessary, ineffective (but lucrative) procedures not be curtailed. Insurance company profits will rise. But the continuing excess profits and poor care and wastefulness will now be ascribed by every right-wing radio talk show host and ignoramus-at-large to "Obamacare."

Dennis Kucinich is right-this is "not the first step toward anything" except more of the screwing we're getting now. It will only serve to convince even more people that government has no place in health care. We will not "fix it later." The push is on to "pass a bill", to "get something done." So this piece of shit is what we're going to get, Dennis, and now you're going to vote for it. Not that I was ever a follower of the dream, but for the millions who were, and who voted their hearts and consciences just a year and a third ago, I wonder if the squeaky little voice of beauty-queen ex-governor former-veep- candidate Palin doesn't haunt your reveries: "How's that hopey-changey thing workin' out fer ya?"

Here's all I could find in Why I'm Voting 'Yes' by Congressman Kucinich. See what you make of it.

"This fear has so infected our politics, our economics and our international relations that as a nation we are losing sight of the expanded vision, the electrifying potential we caught a glimpse of with the election of Barack Obama. The transformational potential of his presidency, and of ourselves, can still be courageously summoned in ways that will reconnect America to our hopes for expanded opportunities for jobs, housing, education, peace, and yes, health care."

It looks to me as though the one man a great many truly desperate liberal Americans thought could be counted on to take a principled stand without worry about the political consequences to himself or to the miserable party he'd signed up with has sold us all out so he can Support the President. It's that expanded vision, electrifying potential and transformational potential that have ended our useless wars, stopped blowing up civilians, prosecuted our domestic war criminals, restored the rule of law, closed Guantanamo, ended rendition, brought transparency to Washington and entertained the insurance executives at the White House while barring the door to nurses and single-payer proponents that Congressman Kucinich finds more important and necessary and convincing than just doing the right thing.

So suppose the road crew was four Democrats and three Republicans and Chief Trask and I were both Democrats (never again for me and I think never for him). Suppose further that he didn't want to antagonize the Republican members or the resident of Bailey Road who had given him two hundred thousand dollars for last year's re-election campaign. Then imagine that he took me to a strip joint in Portland and bought me all the gin I could hold without puking and paid two very cute young Asian hostesses and one older but very bosomy blond American to treat me to several most excellent lap dances. After such a splendid evening, on the way home, he might ask me very earnestly to vote with him in caucus the next morning to leave all the scrub willows, leaning, heart-rotted poplars, layered alders, multi-trunked red maples, cabbage-headed pines and plow-broken hawthorns for a half-mile stretch of Bailey Road.

Would I agree? Maybe. I'd be pretty drunk after all. But the next morning, at twenty-six degrees, shivering under my three shirts and ludicrous lime-green safety vest, I couldn't do it. Lovejoy would think very much less of me. And he'd be very much right.

It is not the job of Dennis Kucinich to prop up this disappointing president or the rotten, useless Democratic party. It is not the job of progressive voters to support lame candidates who lie to them and use them because "the other party is worse." It is not the job of the American public to "make a space for the president", to support "incremental improvements" in our wretched situation or to "force the president" to use his alleged giant brain and forceful oratory in pursuit of real and useful and meaningful governance by sending him letters or contributions or by "supporting him" just because he's not George Bush or John McCain.

This country is falling apart. People are dying. Despair is settled upon the land. These clowns are frigging around for no purpose better than the enrichment of Wall Street bankers and Connecticut insurance tycoons. There has been no change. There is no hope.

OK, so it isn't short. I tried. Good night. Good luck. Go to work and do your job honestly and well. Just don't expect anybody much more elevated than your first selectman to do so. I do devoutly wish it were otherwise.

Cooper was once first selectman of Alna, Maine. He expects never again to attain such high office. He will cut bushes so long as he can and Commissioner Trask will have him. He may answer some mail sent to him at He will read and consider all. Just please don't ask him for advice. All he can see to do is to teach his boy well, keep his woods in good order, prune his trees and plant more. And listen to the songs of Tom Lehrer, of course.

Zero Public Option + One Mandate = Disaster

Zero Public Option + One Mandate = Disaster

by Norman Solomon

Not long ago, the most prominent supporters of the public option were touting it as essential for healthcare reform. Now, suddenly, it's incidental.

In fact, many who were lauding a public option as the key to a better healthcare future are now condemning just about anyone who insists that the absence of a public option makes the current bill unworthy of support.

Consider this statement: "If I were a senator, I would not vote for the current healthcare bill. Any measure that expands private insurers' monopoly over healthcare and transfers millions of taxpayer dollars to private corporations is not real healthcare reform."

That statement is as true today as it was when Howard Dean, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, made it three months ago in a Washington Post op-ed. But now, a concerted political blitz is depicting anyone who takes such a position as a menace to "real healthcare reform."

After devoting vast amounts of time, money, energy and political capital to banging the drum for the public option as absolutely vital during 2009 and through this winter, countless liberal organizations and prominent Democrats in Congress have made a short-order shift.

You are now to understand that the public option isn't essential -- it's expendable. And all of the sudden, people who assert that a public option is a minimal requirement for meaningful healthcare reform are no longer principled -- they're pernicious.

This dynamic goes way beyond the routine malleability of political positions. While the whips crack on Capitol Hill, what we're seeing is a stampede of herd doublethink.


I continue to believe that guaranteed healthcare -- a.k.a. single-payer or enhanced Medicare for all -- is the only way to solve this country's enormous healthcare crisis. But early last year, before the public option shrank and shrank some more and then disappeared under the bus of the Obama administration, it appeared to possibly be a significant step forward.

But the White House, even while claiming to want a public option, was cutting deals with the pharmaceutical and hospital industries while ditching the public option. For those who doubt that the administration engaged in double-dealing to such an extent, I recommend the March 16 article by Huffington Post writer Miles Mogulescu, "NY Times Reporter Confirms Obama Made Deal to Kill Public Option."

A postscript from Mogulescu voices a broader outlook. I'll quote a couple of paragraphs here:

"Whenever I write blogs which are critical of Obama and Congressional Democrats for making corporatist deals, I get numerous comments from people who believe they are progressive but say they will never vote for Obama or Democrats again, that they will stay home at the next election, or that they will vote for small third parties who have no chance of winning. It's not my intent to encourage those views. Do people making these comments really think bringing Republicans back to power would make things better? . . .

"Progressives need to have a sophisticated and nuanced relationship with elected Democrats. After the 2008 elections, too many progressive organizations demobilized believing their job was simply to take orders from the White House to support Obama's agenda, whatever it was. That was a mistake. It's equally a mistake for progressives to overreact in the opposite direction and think they can abandon electoral politics and do nothing to prevent the Republicans from regaining power. What's needed is a powerful grassroots progressive movement to force elected officials to do the right thing more often and to counter-balance the power of big money in politics. The periods of progressive change in American politics, like the Progressive Era, The New Deal, and the Great Society, have come when strong progressive movements have forced elites and elected officials to enact somewhat progressive legislation."

The dynamic now in full force on Capitol Hill was aptly described by Dean in his Post op-ed midway through December: "In Washington, when major bills near final passage, an inside-the-Beltway mentality takes hold. Any bill becomes a victory. Clear thinking is thrown out the window for political calculus. In the heat of battle, decisions are being made that set an irreversible course for how future health reform is done. The result is legislation that has been crafted to get votes, not to reform healthcare."

A week after Dean's article, the Senate approved the healthcare bill that is now on track to be "deemed" by the House -- with the avid support of Dean and numerous other public-option enthusiasts, and also for that matter with the support of Rep. John Conyers and many other single-payer enthusiasts (including, as of Wednesday, Rep. Dennis Kucinich).

The quality of the Senate healthcare legislation hasn't improved in the three months since Dean condemned it. What has gone over the top is the cacophony of voices and pressures to tout doublethink as virtuous pragmatism.


But there are big problems with skipping lightly past the absence of a public option in the current bill. And none is bigger than the reality of the individual mandate in the legislation.

It's remarkable and sadly revealing that boosters of the bill have scarcely mentioned -- much less publicly come to terms with -- the dire implications of a nearly enacted law that requires people to have health insurance and offers no option other than further enriching the private insurance industry.

Last year, when the subject came up, progressive supporters of the White House's general approach were quick to offer assurances that a public option would mitigate the unpleasant aspects of mandated coverage. After all, the story went, people could select a nonprofit government-run entity for insurance coverage rather than being forced to choose between corporate insurance policies.

But now, if the pending bill becomes law, people will be forced to choose between corporate insurance policies.

Meanwhile, all the hype about how 30 million more Americans "will be covered" fails to deal with the quality and cost of their purported coverage, much less how much real access to healthcare will actually result.

For many, the available coverage would be bottom-of-the-barrel quality -- and even then, given thin personal finances, would cause added strains to pay for premiums. In the absence of public-option health insurance run for purposes other than maximizing profits, the built-in unfairness of an individual mandate becomes magnified.

What's more, the very concept of healthcare as a human right will be fundamentally undermined by placing the health-insurance burden on individuals. Many who receive government subsidies will routinely struggle to make ends meet, while making do with shoddy health plans as part of a new configuration of healthcare apartheid. And, inevitably, the extent of government subsidies will be vulnerable to attacks from politicians eager to cut "entitlements."

On a political level, the mandate provision is a massive gift to the Republican Party, all set to keep on giving to the right wing for many years. With a highly intrusive requirement that personal funds and government subsidies be paid to private corporations, the law would further empower right-wing populists who want to pose as foes of government "elites" bent on enriching Wall Street.

With this turn of the "healthcare reform" screw, the Democratic Party will be cast -- with strong evidence -- as a powerful tool of corporate America. But the Democrats on Capitol Hill and the organizations eagerly whipping for passage are determined to celebrate the enactment of something called "healthcare reform."


"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, "it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less."

"The question is," Alice replied, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

"The question is," Humpty Dumpty responded, "which is to be master -- that's all."

Many well-informed and insightful people are now hoping that the current healthcare bill will become law and then lead to something better. But few backers want to dwell on its requirement that everyone get health coverage from the private insurance industry -- a stunning, deeply structural transfer of humongous power and wealth that would greatly boost the leverage of an already autocratic corporate state.

Norman Solomon is a journalist, historian, and progressive activist. His book "War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death" has been adapted into a documentary film of the same name. His most recent book is "Made Love, Got War." He is a national co-chair of the Healthcare NOT Warfare campaign. In California, he is co-chair of the Commission on a Green New Deal for the North Bay;


Dodd: 'The Point of this Bill Is Not To Punish the Financial Services Industry.'

Moore: 'Are You Shitting Me?'

Normal Finkelstein: Too Far This Time?

The Growing Movement for Publicly Owned Banks

The Growing Movement for Publicly Owned Banks

We the people have given away our sovereign money-creating power to private, for-profit lending institutions, which have used it to siphon wealth from the productive economy. Some states are moving to take that power back.

by Ellen Brown

"Hundreds of job-creating projects are still on hold because Michigan businesses and entrepreneurs cannot get bank financing. We can break the credit crunch and beat Wall Street at their own game by keeping our money right here in Michigan and investing it to retool our economy and create jobs."

--Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero in The Detroit News March 9, 2010

Michigan, which has an unemployment rate of 14 percent, has been particularly hard hit by the economic downturn. Virg Bernero, mayor of Lansing, the state's capital, and a leading Democratic candidate for governor, proposes to relieve the state's economic ills by opening a state-owned bank. He says the bank could protect consumers by making low-interest loans to those most in need, including students and small businesses; it could also help community banks by buying mortgages off their books and working with them to fund development projects.

Bernero joins a growing list of candidates proposing this sensible solution to their states' fiscal ills. Local economies have collapsed because of the Wall Street credit freeze. To reinvigorate local business, Main Street needs a heavy infusion of credit, and publicly-owned banks could fill that need.

In a recent article for YES! Magazine, I tracked candidates in five states running on a state bank platform and one state (Massachusetts) with a bill pending. Just one month later, there are now three more bills on the rolls--in Washington State, Illinois and Michigan--and two more candidates joining the list of proponents (joining Bernero is Gaelan Brown of Vermont). That brings the total to seven candidates in as many states (Florida, Oregon, Illinois, California, Washington State, Vermont, and Idaho) campaigning for state-owned banks, including three Democrats, two Greens, one Republican, and one Independent.

The Independent, Vermont's Gaelan Brown, says on his website, "Washington, D.C. has lost all moral authority over Vermont." He adds, "Vermont should explore creating a State-owned bank that would work with private VT-based banks, to insulate VT from Wall Street corruption, and to increase investment capital for VT businesses, modeled after the very successful state-owned Bank of North Dakota."

The Bank of North Dakota, currently the nation's only state-owned bank, is the model (with variations) for all the other proposals on the table. The Bank of North Dakota acts as a "bankers' bank," partnering with other banks in "participation loans," which allow them to compete with larger banks. In a participation loan, the community bank originates the loan and takes responsibility for it, while the participating bank contributes funds and shares in the risk and profits. The Bank of North Dakota also makes low-interest loans to students, farmers and businesses; underwrites municipal bonds; and provides liquidity for more than 100 banks around the state.

Three New Bills Pending for Publicly Owned Banks

Proposals for publicly owned banks in other states have now progressed beyond the campaign talk of political hopefuls to be drafted into several bills.

The Michigan Development Bank

The Michigan bill has gotten the most press. Introduced into the legislature earlier this month, it mirrors Bernero's state bank idea. According to a press release issued by Michigan Senate Democrats on March 9, the bill's aim is to "keep Michigan's money in Michigan" by putting tax dollars into a proposed "Michigan Development Bank." The bank would function like a traditional bank, but would focus on economic development rather than profit. The press release quoted Senator Gretchen Whitmer (D-East Lansing):

Investing in the state's economy is the greatest way to create jobs, and this proposal will provide small businesses and entrepreneurs the funding they need to invest and grow. Our economy has stagnated due in part to stale thinking in Lansing, and this is just the type of innovative idea we need to create real economic change, using our own money to rebuild the state.

Senate Democratic Leader Mike Prusi (D-Ishpeming) stated:

Michigan's economy has been suffering, and working families in the state have had difficulty keeping up with credit card bills, college tuition prices and mortgage payments. Establishing the Michigan Development Bank will keep our hard-earned dollars right here in the state to invest in small business, create good-paying jobs to get people back to work, and help protect the middle class.

Also quoted was Senator Hansen Clarke (D-Detroit):

With the current state of our economy, every dollar counts, yet we're depositing our money in other people's pockets by investing in big corporate banks without seeing much lending in return. It's time for the Mitten State to lend itself a helping hand and establish a bank that is willing to invest in our small businesses and offer the financial support necessary to see job growth.

For start-up capital, the Senate Democrats suggested that Michigan could sell voter-approved bonds. With an initial capitalization of $150 million, they estimated the bank could lend up to $1 billion to small businesses, students and farmers, and offer low-interest credit cards to consumers. For deposits, the bank could follow the model of the Bank of North Dakota and use state revenues. So says Gene Taliercio, a Republican candidate for the state Senate, who has also put his weight behind the Michigan Development Bank. In a video clip on the website of the local Oakland Press, he says, "We're talking about restructuring the whole tax system, in the sense that the way it's set up is that all taxes are going to go into this central bank ... Every dollar that the state of Michigan makes goes into this bank."

The State Bank of Washington

A similar bill, HB 3162, was introduced to the Washington State Legislature on February 1. The bill has generated so much interest that Steve Kirby, chair of the Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee, has scheduled a special work session on it. According to John Nichols in The Nation, the State Bank of Washington was formally proposed by House finance committee vice chair Bob Hasegawa, a Seattle Democrat. Nichols quotes Hasegawa:

Imagine financing student aid, infrastructure, industry and community development. Imagine providing access to capital for small businesses, or otherwise leveraging our resources instead of having to do it with tax incentives. Imagine keeping our resources local instead of exporting them as profits, never to be seen again--that's what this bank could do.

Leveraging, rather than taxing, is how private banks have been creating "credit" for centuries. States could do the same thing, cutting the middlemen out of the equation, saving significant sums in interest and fees and generating revenue for the state.

A nonpartisan analysis of the Washington bill prepared for the state legislature noted that the bank would be the depository for all state funds and the funds of state institutions, and that these deposits would be guaranteed by the state. The bank would be run by a board of 11 members and would be chaired by the State Treasurer. It would have the same rules and privileges as a private bank chartered in the state. Since current law prohibits the state from lending credit and investing in private firms, voters would have to approve the state Constitution to get the bank off the ground.

The Community Bank of Illinois

A third bill, introduced by Illinois Representative Mary Flowers, is on its way through the legislative process in Illinois. According to the Illinois General Assembly website, the Community Bank of Illinois Act would establish a state bank with the express purpose of boosting agriculture, commerce, and industry. State funds and money held by penal, educational, and industrial institutions owned by the state would be deposited in the bank and would serve as reserves for making loans. The bank could also serve as a clearinghouse for other banks, including handling domestic and foreign exchange; and it could buy property under eminent domain. All deposits would be guaranteed with the assets of the state. The Bank would be managed and controlled by the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, with input from an advisory board representing private banking and public interests.

An amendment to the initial bill would enable the Community Bank of Illinois to make loans directly to the state's General Revenue Fund, helping the state cope with its current budget challenges.

A Massachusetts-owned Bank

On March 12, the Associated Press reported that a jobs bill sponsored by Massachusetts Senate President Therese Murray also includes a call to study a Massachusetts-owned bank. She told a business group that a state-owned bank has worked in North Dakota, helping to insulate that state from the worst of the recession while also keeping its foreclosure rate down; similarly, a state-owned bank could spur job creation and free up lending to Massachusetts businesses.

Grandfather of the Concept: The Bank of North Dakota

All of these proposals take their inspiration from the Bank of North Dakota, which was founded in 1919 to resolve a credit crisis like that facing other states today. Last year, North Dakota had the largest budget surplus it had ever had. It was the only state that was actually adding jobs when others were losing them. In March 2009, when 46 of 50 states were in fiscal crisis, the Council of State Governments noted that North Dakota was in the enviable position of discussing tax cuts and looking for ways to spend its surplus.

With the deepening crisis, according to National Public Radio, by January 2010 only two states could still meet their budgets--North Dakota and Montana. On February 8, however, the Montana paper the Missoulian reported that the Montana State Legislature's chief revenue forecaster foresees a budget deficit by mid-2011, leaving North Dakota the only state still boasting a surplus.

North Dakota's riches have been attributed to oil, but many states with oil are floundering. The sole truly distinguishing feature of North Dakota seems to be that it has managed to avoid the Wall Street credit freeze by owning and operating its own bank. According to the North Dakota Department of Commerce, the BND turned a profit in 2009 of $58.1 million; this money goes into the state's General Fund. North Dakota's economy is ten times smaller than Michigan's, suggesting that Michigan could generate $500 million per year in this way; Washington State and Illinois present similarly inviting possibilities.

That defuses the objection raised in a March 15 editorial in The Detroit News, arguing that Michigan can ill afford the $150 million capital investment to start a bank. If operated like the BND, the Michigan Development Bank could soon be a net generator of state revenues. There are other possibilities, besides a bond issue, for providing the capital to start a bank, but that subject will be reserved for another article.

The BND's 90-year track record of prudent and profitable lending defuses another objection to state-owned banks: that a public agency cannot be trusted to act responsibly in managing public funds. The Detroit News' editorial concluded that Michigan should "leave banking to the bankers," but it is precisely because the bankers have destroyed the economy with their reckless lending practices that the public needs to step in. We need a "public option" in banking to set standards and keep private banks honest.

The True Potential of Publicly-owned Banks

North Dakota broke new ground nearly a century ago, but the true potential of publicly owned banks remains to be explored. Nearly all of our money today is created by banks when they extend loans. (See the Chicago Federal Reserve's "Modern Money Mechanics," which begins, "The actual process of money creation takes place primarily in banks.") We the people have given away our sovereign money--creating power to private, for-profit lending institutions, which have used it to siphon wealth from the productive economy. If we were to take that power back, we could generate the credit we need to underwrite a whole cornucopia of projects that we don't even consider because we think we lack the "money." We have the labor and we have the materials; we just lack the "liquidity" necessary to put them together to create products and services.

Money today is just a ticket, a receipt for work performed and goods delivered. We can fund the work we need done by creating our own credit. The real promise of publicly-owned banks is not that they can bail out subprime borrowers but that they can jumpstart the economy by creating real wealth. They can provide the liquidity to put labor and materials together, allowing the economy to build and grow. Our private, profit-driven banking sector has been bleeding wealth from the rest of the economy. Public-interest banks can transfuse the economy with the credit it needs to flourish and be productive once again.

Ellen Brown wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Ellen developed her research skills as an attorney practicing civil litigation in Los Angeles. In Web of Debt, her latest of eleven books, she turns those skills to an analysis of the Federal Reserve and "the money trust." Her websites are,, and

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License


Some time ago, we ran as our lead article a piece by Rose McKinnon of the Medical Committee for Human Rights in which she argued:

(1) Health care should be universal. By this we mean that it should cover all people residing in the U.S. and should be treated as a right, rather than as a privilege; and must be available to all people, regardless of their ability to pay.

(2) Health care should be comprehensive, i. e., it must include all forms of care. It must not exclude drugs, dentistry, mental health care and preventive medicine, which to one extent or another, all of the present proposals exclude.

(3) Health care should be financed by national progressive taxation.

(4) Costs must necessarily be controlled in order to curtail the present run-away inflation; the increased demand a financing mechanism will generate would make such control imperative, and it is likely to involve government regulation of health-related industries.

(5) There should be no coinsurance, deductables, or other complex formulae, for these become almost incomprehensible, and tend to discourage the seeking of preventive care.

(6) The supply of health care must be expanded and a greater effort made to see that minority groups and women are adequately represented among every category of health care personnel; present imbalances must be eliminated.

(7) The health delivery system must be reorganized to produce a more efficient allocation of resources among and within geographical areas and cities.

(8) Last, and most important, there should be a much greater degree of public accountability within the health care system, so that those who receive care also have a part in controlling matters of quality, priorities and ethos (e.g.

The only thing unusual about the piece was that we published it almost forty years ago, in November 1971,when Dennis Kucinich was 24 years old.



Sam Smith

I have just received my census form and I don't seem to count for much. I guess I was living in the past, thinking of that time when the friendly woman sat in our living room and asked about our plumbing, the age of our house and so forth. It was fun reducing a whole life down to a few key numbers.

Now, it appears that the Census Bureau is only interested in my age, my race and whether I sometimes live or stay somewhere else. It verges on the insulting. Do they no longer care how many toilets I have and whether they're inside or out?

I realize that on that earlier occasion I had lucked out and had become a surreptitious sample of six or so other people's lives. The fact that they might have found this insulting never occurred to me.

But surely, the government could pretend to have slighty more curiosity about me. They don't even want to know whether I live in a mobile home, only whether I own it or not.

As for the race thing - which takes up about 25% of the part Person 1 fills out, and 50% of the forms for others in the house - I get a sense that the Census is more interested in stereotyping me than in counting the ways I might be the same or different from 300 million other Americans.

Besides, having been an anthropology major, I don't believe in race. It's a concept invented by racists and the sooner we dump it for the cultural and non-biological term ethnicity the better off we will be.,

But wait: it turns out that Latinos (or Hispanics or those of Spanish origin) are counted by ethnicity: you can describe yourself as a Mexican, Mexican American, Chicano, Puerto Rican, or Cuban.

And Asians get to call themselves Asian Indians, Chinese, Filipinos, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Hmong, Laotian, Thai, Pakistani, or Cambodian. The Census Bureau calls these groups races, which suggests that the educational defects of No Child Left Behind are already affecting the adult community.

Whites and blacks, however, get no such right. You can be black, African Am [a term I've never heard; is that like Pan Am?] or Negro. But you can't be Caribbean, African or Harvard Law School grad black. And if you're white, that's it. All whites are the same.

It's weird, but it reflects the absurdity of our definitions.

For myself, I plan to scratch out the word race, write in ethnicity, and insert the phrase "Anglo Irish."

Maybe it will upset them enough that will send someone around to count the number of toilets that we have.


MILES MOGULESCU, HUFFINGTON POST - For months I've been reporting in The Huffington Post that President Obama made a backroom deal last summer with the for-profit hospital lobby that he would make sure there would be no national public option in the final health reform legislation. I've been increasingly frustrated that except for an initial story last August in the New York Times, no major media outlet has picked up this important story and investigated further.

Hopefully, that's changing. On Monday, Ed Shultz interviewed New York Times Washington reporter David Kirkpatrick on his MSNBC TV show, and Kirkpatrick confirmed the existence of the deal. Shultz quoted Chip Kahn, chief lobbyist for the for-profit hospital industry on Kahn's confidence that the White House would honor the no public option deal, and Kirkpatrick responded:

"That's a lobbyist for the hospital industry and he's talking about the hospital industry's specific deal with the White House and the Senate Finance Committee and, yeah, I think the hospital industry's got a deal here. There really were only two deals, meaning quid pro quo handshake deals on both sides, one with the hospitals and the other with the drug industry. And I think what you're interested in is that in the background of these deals was the presumption, shared on behalf of the lobbyists on the one side and the White House on the other, that the public option was not going to be in the final product."

Kirkpatrick also acknowledged that White House Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina had confirmed the existence of the deal to him.

Even while President Obama was saying that he thought a public option was a good idea and encouraging supporters to believe his healthcare plan would include one, he had promised for-profit hospital lobbyists that there would be no public option in the final bill.


Sam Smith

The healthcare legislation is one of the most corrupt, inadequate, and cynical bills of purportedly noble purpose to move through Congress in the past 50 years. It greatly increases the public subsidy of the totally unnecessary health insurance industry. It does so in part by requiring a form of pizzo - mandatory payments to the health industry from lower income citizens not fortunate to have employer based insurance. It purports to end Medicare excesses but does little about the huge waste of private insurance or to restrict the overcharging for drugs by large pharmaceuticals.

The government's new subsidy to health insurance companies (either through helping people pay for their insurance or through the mandatory purchase of insurance) would be among the greatest government pork ever, similar to that in the bank bailout or in the subsidy of the defense industry by our military budget.

What is promised in return, as with the Mafia, is added protection. It lets you, a friend, your mother or millions others get treatment they could not otherwise afford.

This is what is so cynical, corrupt and rotten about the bill: when it does good it does it in the worst possible way.

But what would defeating the bill accomplish? How long would we have to wait for the godfathers of the Democratic Party even to propose another measure? This is the problem with living in a Mafia neighborhood. Even principle doesn't work the way it should.

A wiser course would be to let this sick measure wend its way to fruition and then strike it on other fronts. This is not giving up the battle, but choosing new battlegrounds.

Here are a few things that could happen:

- Joining with conservatives in some 36 states that are working to strike the clearly unconstitutional mandatory payment provision. If the Supreme Court knocks this provision down, the case for single payer immediately becomes stronger.

- In the words of Dennis Kucinich, "We can continue the discussion about comprehensive healthcare reform at the state level, because that's really where we're going to have to have a breakthrough in single payer."

- We can create state or national health insurance cooperatives, bearing in mind that surveys find that one of the most highly regarded businesses in America is an insurance cooperative: the United Service Automobile Association.

- We can work for single payers or for sensible steps in its direction, such as lowering the age of Medicare or letting people buy into the program.

- Progressives can finally dump Barack Obama and start looking for a better candidate in 2012. Obama has not only been dead wrong on many issues, on this one he has been dishonest - making backroom deals to kill the public option he claimed to like.

The primary message after the passage of this legislation should be that Obama and the Democrats may have won a battle, but the war goes on.

Seattle Construction Workers Demand ‘Jobs Now!’

Photo credit: David Groves

David Groves at the Washington State Labor Council reports on the area union movement’s second Make Wall Street Pay rally in Seattle this week.

More than 600 building and construction trades workers from the Seattle metropolitan area rallied downtown on St. Patrick’s Day to demand the “green-lighting” of major job-creating public-works investments being delayed by political wrangling.

“We want jobs NOW!” chanted the workers the same day that new Washington State unemployment numbers showed construction payrolls fell by another 3,200 jobs in February and have dropped 32 percent in the past 20 months. The Seattle-area construction industry is suffering from unprecedented unemployment rates of 35 percent—even higher in some trades.

New Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, an environmental advocate who has frustrated both business and labor interests with his proposals to change, review or otherwise delay major infrastructure projects, addressed the crowd. As he discussed his support for good family-wage jobs, union members repeatedly interrupted him by shouting:

But we need jobs NOW!

King County Executive Dow Constantine got it right. He talked about the need to immediately start major projects, including replacement of the Highway 520 floating bridge across Lake Washington, replacement of the crumbling Alaskan Way viaduct along Seattle’s waterfront and expansion of the Washington State Convention Center downtown.

Our economy cannot afford years of job-stopping delays. We need jobs now! It is time to get past the delays and hand-wringing. Let’s get this job done!

Washington State Labor Council President Rick Bender reminded all who is to blame for our economic problems.

We have a jobs crisis in America, it was caused by the big Wall Street banks and they should have to pay to create jobs!

After accepting hundreds of billions of taxpayers’ dollars to bail them out, Bender said,

They handed out $145 billion in bonuses last year, and now they are lobbying against legislation to set some rules to keep this from ever happening again.

Wednesday’s rally was sponsored by the Seattle-King County Building and Construction Trades Council and the Martin Luther King County Labor Council.

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Jefferson Is History In Texas‏

March 19, 2010

by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Matt Corley, Benjamin Armbruster, Zaid Jilani, and Alex Seitz-Wald

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Jefferson Is History In Texas

If America's lucky, what happens in Texas will stay in Texas -- at least when it comes to education standards. It would even better if the right wing's destructive manipulation of the state's schools wasn't happening at all. Last week, the Republican-dominated Texas Board of Education approved a social studies curriculum that extols the importance of the National Rifle Association, Phyllis Schlafly, Confederate leader Jefferson Davis, and Joseph McCarthy. Right-wing board members removed Thomas Jefferson from "a list of figures whose writings inspired revolutions in the late 18th century and 19th century"; many of them bear ill will toward the third U.S. president because he coined the term "separation between church and state." They also decided to require U.S. history classes to teach the difference between legal and illegal immigration. Last week's vote was the culmination of a decades-long plot by social conservatives to gain control over the influential Board of Education and, ultimately, the power to impose a far-right ideology on the nearly 5 million schoolchildren in Texas. Unfortunately, what's happening in the Lone Star State may spread nationally: Texas is one of the largest textbook buyers in the nation, and publishers, eager to get the business, often tailor their books to the state's standards.

IN WITH NEWT GINGRICH, OUT WITH SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE: The Texas Board of Education is trying to create an alternate universe where McCarthy's dangerously slanderous allegations were true, Ronald Reagan was the greatest president in U.S. history, the separation of church and state doesn't exist, global warming is a myth, and people of color barely exist. The board voted 10-5 along party lines to give preliminary approval to these changes last week, and they will likely give final approval in May. Although the state has a large Latino population, efforts by Latino board members to "include more Latino figures as role models" in the curriculum were consistently defeated. At one point, a board member stormed out, saying, "They can just pretend this is a white America and Hispanics don't exist. They are going overboard, they are not experts, they are not historians. They are rewriting history, not only of Texas but of the United States and the world." Republican Don McLeroy, the board's leading conservative crusader, lost a battle to "remove hip-hop and insert country music in its place from a proposed set of examples of cultural movements." Telling, however, was Republican Pat Hardy's justification for including hip hop: White people listen to the music too. "These people are multimillionaires, and believe me, there are not enough black people to buy that," she said. "There are white people buying this." Important liberal figures are also being wiped out of U.S. history. The Republican majority voted against requiring Texas textbooks and teachers to cover the late Democratic senator Edward Kennedy, the first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, and leading Hispanic civil rights groups. (Hillary Clinton and Thurgood Marshall, the country's first African-American Supreme Court justice, will be taught.) Instead, students will learn about "the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s." "We are adding balance," said McLeroy. "History has already been skewed. Academia is skewed too far to the left."

RIGHT-WING PLOT TO TAKE OVER TEXAS' EDUCATION SYSTEM: McLeroy may be one of the most influential education officials in Texas, but he's certainly no expert. "The way I evaluate history textbooks is first I see how they cover Christianity and Israel," he told the Washington Monthly. "Then I see how they treat Ronald Reagan -- he needs to get credit for saving the world from communism and for the good economy over the last twenty years because he lowered taxes." Beginning in the 1960s, social-conservative "citizen activists" started taking advantage of the state's "little-known citizen-review process that allowed the public to weigh in on textbook content." Publishers began "self-censoring" their books to avoid protests by these activists. The situation became so absurd that in 1995, the Texas legislature finally intervened "after a particularly heated skirmish over health textbooks -- among other things, the board demanded that publishers pull illustrations of techniques for breast self-examination and swap a photo of a briefcase-toting woman for one of a mother baking a cake." The mid-90s is also when the Texas GOP began aggressively going after local school board races and in 2006, Republicans claimed 10 of the 15 Board of Education seats. One of the ideologues on the board is Cynthia Dunbar, who has called public education a "tool of perversion." In 2007, Gov. Rick Perry (R) named McLeroy, a suburban dentist, as chairman. The standards the board is now voting on were recommended by right-wing friends of the conservative bloc, including "a Massachusetts-based preacher who has argued that California wildfires and Hurricane Katrina were God's punishment for tolerating gays." Although the Texas Education Agency originally assembled a team of teachers and professors to review the standards, McLeroy pushed them out. The Board of Education's right-wing agenda has been aggressively pushed by Fox News in recent weeks, with the network claiming that liberals in the state are trying to remove mentions of Christmas and Independence Day from textbooks. The claims were so outrageous that the Texas Education Agency put out a press release debunking them. McLeroy may have gone too far: He recently lost his primary re-election battle to a more moderate Republican.

SPREADING OUTSIDE OF TEXAS: As the New York Times explains, Texas' standards "serve as a template for textbook publishers, who must come before the board next year with drafts of their books." Because the Texas market is so large, books for the state's students "often rocket to the top of the market, decreasing costs for other school districts and leading them to buy the same materials." "The books that are altered to fit the standards become the bestselling books, and therefore within the next two years they'll end up in other classrooms," said Fritz Fischer, chairman of the National Council for History Education. While Texas's ultra-conservative positions were generally balanced "by the more-liberal pull of California, the nation's largest textbook market," California has delayed buying new textbooks until 2014, giving Texas "unparalleled power to shape the textbooks that children around the country read for years to come." Textbook publishers have become nervous by the bad publicity, saying that they now have the ability "to deliver completely customized content" to different states. The situation in Texas, however, has also made textbook authors uneasy and wondering whether they'll be comfortable endorsing their own books. "I'm made uncomfortable by mandates of this kind for sure," said Paul S. Boyer, University of Wisconsin-Madison professor emeritus and author of several popular U.S. history textbooks, including some that are on the approved list in Texas.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Bill In The House To Confront Supreme Court Corporate Personhood, 6th Part Of Legal Analysis, People Needed To Help Distribute Protest Bumper Stickers

If you are keenly interested in the sixth installment of our series
of analyses condemning the Supreme Court decision saying corporations
can take over our elections, please forgive the length of this alert.
There is so much ground to cover and so little time to act before

1) New Action Page For The Save Our Democracy Bill

Because first, we have a critical NEW action page (relax, it's not as
strident as the last one on health care) , which we are asking
EVERYBODY to submit, calling on the House Administration Committee
(with a special function which will send them a direct fax) to pass
strong legislation reinstating control over corporate influence. Of
course we also need a Constitutional amendment categorically
repudiating the wrongful reading by the Supreme Court 5 (Kennedy,
Kennedy, Scalia, Alito and Thomas), but we still need Congress to
immediately confront the Constitutional crisis already in high gear,
to try to mitigate the damage before the next general election.

House Administration Committee Action Page:

The link above is the regular action page. For Facebook participants
ONLY use the link below instead

[Facebook] House Administration Committee Action Page:

And this is the Twitter reply for this action

@cxs #p1035

House member Alan Grayson stepped forward with at least 6 proposals,
three of which have already been incorporated into legislation
sponsored by Senator Schumer and House member Chris Van Hollen, which
is now already before the House Administration Committee. These
proposals would:

* Stop foreigners from buying our government.

* Prevent government contractors like Blackwater from stealing our

* Force disclosure to shareholders when a company wants to bribe and
threaten elected officials

Please urge Chairman Brady of the House Administration Committee to
move these bills as expeditiously as possible, and to strengthen the
final bill with additional measures to not only disclose political
bribery, but to STOP it.

2) Second, we need a thousand volunteers RIGHT NOW to help distribute
the "Corporations Are NOT The People" and the "Impeach The Supreme
Court 5" bumpers. For our own part we have already sent out over
10,000 of these, mostly entirely for free. We need YOUR help to get
these plastered on every auto bumper, school book cover and lunch box
in the country. We now have a special page where you can get a bulk
pack of 25 of these stickers for a very modest cost, just to help
keep this initiative going. Please become the leader in your own
neighborhood to help get these out there.

Bumper Sticker 25 Packs:

3) Third, if you have a web page of any kind, on a blog, MySpace, or
your own site, please, please, post one of the sidebar buttons (and
you will get an automatic link back from ALL of our action pages),
again to send people to our page where anyone can get a copy of one
of these bumper stickers, for no charge, not even shipping. You can
get the simple code to paste from at the top of the page where we are
giving the bumper stickers away at

Free Bumper Stickers And Button Code:


OK, let's jump back into it. If you recall from our 5th scary
episode, we were discussing the concept of "weight" in judicial
precedents, specifically the fact that ONLY the actual "holding", the
actual issue addressed and DECIDED by a prior court is binding on a
later court, which forms the basis for stare decisis.

Here, Kennedy, writing the decision for the Supreme Court 5
demonstrates that he is either functionally incapable, or otherwise
unwilling or too dishonest, to even engage in critical thinking. For
he claims license to revisit the holdings in the Austin and McConnell
cases by arguing that there were "conflicting" lines of precedent
(opinion p. 32), based on his reading of the Buckley and Belloti
cases (opinion pp. 28-31). In effect he is arguing a kind of stare
decisis standoff between these other cases and the ones he would
overturn, thus inviting himself to step in to resolve the conflict.

Except that Kennedy ADMITS in writing that Buckley did NOT "consider"
the ban on corporate and union independent expenditures (opinion p.
29), and Belloti did NOT "address" the constitutionality of this ban
EITHER (opinion p. 31). Thus, neither case has binding value as a
precedent since those courts did not rule at all on the issue at

Instead he asserts that, based on some other stray language NOT the
actual holdings in those cases, those Courts, in his omnipotent after
the fact opinion WOULD have rejected such bans IF they had decided
those issues. This is despite the fact that the only support for such
an assertion are the LOSING dissents by himself and his black robed
conspirators from these same cases!! In short, he rewrites ad hoc the
decisions in the Belloti and Buckley cases to say what they would
have said if he had prevailed originally, and asserts that his
counterfeit version of those decisions now call the legitimacy of the
real decisions into question.

This is judicial, intellectual fraud at its most despicable level.
Kennedy elevates, to the status of binding precedent, dubious
speculation about what a previous Court would have done, equates that
in weight with the holding of a case that DID directly decide the
issue (Austin, as further reinforced by its AFFIRMATION in
McConnell), and then throws up his hands and says, "Oh, gosh, nothing
to do but decide this anew."

Of course we all remember how both Roberts and Alito sat there in
their sheep's clothing in their confirmation hearings promising up
and down they would respect stare decisis in the morning, lying
through their mild-mannered pointy teeth that they were not drop kick
right wing ideologues with precedent demolition for an agenda.

So naturally neither one of them wanted put THEIR names down as
official authors of this outrageous affront to the whole idea of
binding decisions. No, Roberts (who as "chief" justice decides who
writes what opinions) assigned the role of case assassin in this case
to Kennedy, a hatchet job he was already chaffing at the bit to
perform (based on his history of dissents).

But in the most self-serving way Roberts and Alito DID add a
concurring opinion (pp. 5-9) going on and on about how this is all
really in the true spirit of stare decisis, never ONCE addressing any
of the factors they cited at their confirmation hearings which MIGHT
justify overturning precedent, namely that something had
fundamentally CHANGED (social views, found unworkable, etc.) since
the prior decision.

In fact the only thing that has changed is the presence of themselves
as voting members of the Supreme Court, to now call black what was
previously ruled white. Especially nauseating is Roberts' argument
that because the previous losing dissents were "spirited" they should
now prevail to the contrary (concurring opinion, p. 9).

So to review, Kennedy manufactured a bogus controversy among previous
decisions, to use as a pretext for resurrecting dissenting and losing
opinions that have NEVER been binding precedent for any purpose
whatsoever, and on that basis to then overturn the actual binding
precedent which was Austin. By his own admission the Austin case was
the FIRST court to directly address the issue of independent
expenditures, the ONLY court to previously decide it (opinion p. 32),
and he now purports to reverse it (and the McConnell case which
further affirmed that holding) based literally and solely on the
CONTEMPT he had for the real precedent all along.

In a word . . . despicable.

But we are still far from finished even dealing with just the gross
errors of case law analysis in this monumentally dreadful decision.
So please stay tuned to this activist channel for the next verse in
the Ballad of the Bandit Supreme Court 5.

Please take action NOW, so we can win all victories that are supposed
to be ours, and forward this alert as widely as possible.

If you would like to get alerts like these, you can do so at