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This Is What Democracy Looks Like

Today's Note From a Madman

Monday, July 23, 2007


"Let me tell you - There's only one thing worse than soldiers dying in vain, and that's more soldiers dying in vain,"
-Former Senator Mike Gravel (DEMOCRAT-AK) responding to a YouTube question asking about his similar Vietnam comments

Asking and Spinning at the White House

MICHAEL LEAVITT (Health and Human Service secretary, from "Ask the White House" http://www.whitehouse.gov/ask/20070720.html): We believe that (the State Children’s Health Insurance Program) is an important tool in working toward our goal of every American having access to an affordable basic insurance policy. However, it needs to be focused on low income children. It should not become the tool by which we extend insurance through the federal government to all Americans.
MADMAN: This is part of the answer which Leavitt gave in response to the question "What is SCHIP?" from "Ask the White House." Leavitt mis-stated (we used to call it lying) the "goal" of SCHIP, put into law during the Clinton administration, by calling it a "tool" towards that goal of getting every American access to health care. All on has to do is look at the program to realize that its intent is to make sure that those who cannot fend for themselves are taken care of, at least in the short run. This statement reinforces this administration's utter contempt for any program which might take a few dollars away from their "base" of "haves and have mores" in the health insurance industry that it tries to place Universal Health care as some sort of a blight on American society. good follow-up question, had this been a real question-an-answer session, would have been "Why?" Why would the extension of this plan to , at least, allow us regular Americans without health care coverage a chance to purchase into this government run plan be a "bad thing" anyway? If the goal is to make sure all Americans have health insurance, then wouldn't it be prudent to offer this "base" health care plan to all who aren't able to afford even the most basic health insurance policy an avenue towards coverage?

LEAVITT: For that reason, we have indicated to the leadership of Congress that if they choose to make a huge expansion into populations that are not low-income, then we will object and the President will veto it. Now, let me emphasize that more than half of the children who would be covered under the proposals that the Congress is making are currently insured and they’re insured through the private marketplace. Further, under the expansion that’s been discussed, if a family of four made $81,700, they would be eligible. In other words, this would cease to be a program to cover or to help cover poor children from low income families and become a means of being able to expand those that are currently insured privately.
MADMAN: And again, I ask why it would be such a huge mistake to allow Americans a path towards purchasing health care insurance which that can actually afford? The first lie we have to expose here is that this plan isn't open to families, as the statement suggests. It would only be open to this family's children. So Leavitt isn't arguing that the FAMILY would be eligible, but the CHILDREN of this family would be eligible. To a family living in the suburbs of New York City, or almost any other metropolitan area around this nation, earning $81,700 per year isn't exactly a windfall. Many of them are doing so in two-income homes; are paying for child care; have to have two cars in order to get to their two jobs; and are besieged by rising costs in home heating, gasoline, milk and other staples in their lives. Health care for a worker covered by his job's plan might still cost them up to (and over?) $900 per month (I ought to know), not to mention the added costs of things such as "out of pocket" and "usual and customary" expenses. That $81,700 doesn't sound as much as it used to.
And what about the average American family? The census tells us that they earn just $45,000 per year. Are they going to be covered under the Bush plan? (That's a rhetorical question.)

LEAVITT: Americans pay for their health care more directly and therefore have more control over the care they get and more access to the latest treatment options.
MADMAN: How false is that, huh? Since when did us regular American get "control" over the health care we pay for? Is our health care portable? No. If our employer deals with Health Insurance Company "A", can we go out of the plan and choose Health Insurance Company "B" because our sick child's doctor only accepts "B's" plan? Of course not. Can we win an argument with the "final decision" of a health care insurance company who refuses to allow a treatment, or prescription drug, while another insurer says that very same treatment or drug is allowed? What do you think?

LEAVITT: There really is no such thing as a “free” health care system. Somebody has to pay for it. The French pay for their health care indirectly through taxes.
MADMAN: And just what are we paying for anyway? By the year 2010, nearly 20 cents out of every GNP (Gross National Product) dollar will go towards health care. Insurance companies "earn" record profits for their share-holders and their CEO's get record salaries and golden parachutes when they "jump". health care insurance companies claim up to 40 percent overhead costs. Compare that to social Security, a program which makes the Bush "base" drool with dreams of anticipated profits, which is run by the federal government (and has been since FDR), and their overhead of less than two percent.
By the way, go ask anyone in France, England or Canada if they would trade their health care system for ours.

JONATHAN (from Fajardo, PR): Is Michael Moore accurate in his assessment of the poor quality of health care in the U.S.?
LEAVITT: The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that just 5% of patients slated for elective surgery in the U.S. waited more than four months, compared with 38% in Britain and 27% in Canada.
MADMAN: The key word here is "ELECTIVE", as in elective surgery. Emergencies in these other countries are treated immediately. No one has to wait for life-saving surgery and it's paid for. However, here in the US, if you have no health insurance, that life-saving surgery might put you in the poor house. In fact, many Americans have to make the decision to do without their medicine food. No one in France, England, or Canada has to make that choice.

LEAVITT: The president has proposed a standard deduction for health insurance.
MADMAN: But what about those who pay little or no taxes who still can't afford health care? what about those of us who pay less in taxes than we do in health insurance? I guess we're just out of luck.

And the truth of the matter is that nearly 90 million Americans have been "out of luck" at one time or another during the Bush years when it comes to health care coverage. Right now there are some 48 million Americans without health care, which means nearly one-in-six Americans can't afford to see a doctor when they are sick. What happens to them is can boggle the mind: The very poor go to the hospital emergency room where they're guaranteed to see a doctor - the US taxpayer ends up paying for that; the very sick often wait until there is little or no hope before being rushed, too late, to an emergency room; and the middle class has the option of mortgaging everything they own to fight off serious illness, sometimes even when they have health care coverage.

It's funny that at a time when Secretary Leavitt describes so unfavorably the health care systems of Europe that we see a string Euro and a weak dollar. we see Europeans leading longer and healthier lives while the opposite is true in America. We have an infant mortality rate that rivals the poorest third world nations and refuse to care for those same infants while the likes of George W. Bush and many in his inner circle claim to be "pro-life".

A Single Payer Universal Health Care system in the US should be our right. In the meantime, we need to take any step towards that goal that we can. Making a program like SCHIP available to every family not covered elsewhere is a good start.

-Noah Greenberg

by Victoria A. Brownworth
copyright c 2007 Journal-Register Newspapers, Inc.

By now many Americans have seen the video of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates crying at a Marine Corps dinner July 18th. Gates was crying over having to write letters to the families of the dead in Iraq. NBC headlined a story about the war with this clip. Veteran reporter Andrea Mitchell provided commentary on how the war is taking its toll on those prosecuting the war, too.

Imagine for a moment that you are not the person writing the letters, but the person receiving one. Imagine that it is your son, daughter, husband, wife, brother, father, uncle, who was killed.

Do you still feel sorry for the people running the war, the people who are keeping the war going despite the majority of Americans being outraged over it, or do you feel sorry for the people being killed in it?

More than three-quarters of all Americans want our troops out of Iraq. Last week Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said American troops could “leave any time.”

But on July 16th, Democrats held an all-night session of the Senate to call attention to the Republicans’ refusal to place a timetable on bringing the troops home. Sadly for Americans stationed in Iraq, the Senate vote was six short of the super-majority needed to carry the measure. The 54-45 vote was cast along party lines, with Democrats voting to set a timetable for withdrawal and Republicans–except for three defectors to the Democrats–voting to keep American troops in Iraq indefinitely.

Surely I don’t mean indefinitely, you ask? Yes–indefinitely. The so-called troop surge was scheduled to be completed in May. It is now the end of July and a final report is due in September, but the generals in charge have said that the report won’t actually be ready until November–or February 2008.

Before he was asked to retire, Joint Chiefs Gen. Peter Pace said Americans would need to stay in Iraq for five to ten more years.

Sound familiar?

I was in high school at the end of the Vietnam War. Every night I saw images from that war on the evening news, as did every other household in America. I lived in a working-class neighborhood where kids were being drafted daily. Some did not return.

Historical analyses of the impact of those nightly images are succinct: Seeing our servicemen being injured and killed every night on the news had a cumulative effect of turning Americans against the war. The blood, the jungles, the helicopters, the napalm. It all began to resonate.

Many people have made comparisons between that war and this one. Some are accurate, some are not. But one thing is certain, the fact that Americans see no scenes from this war means they are anesthetized against the realities of the war.

President Bush has said he will not withdraw our troops until we achieve “victory” in Iraq. He has said that withdrawing troops will be “a problem for the next president.” At the same time, Bush has banned reporters from showing the flag-draped coffins returning from Iraq, and the White House and Pentagon have banned nearly all footage of the actual war being fought in Iraq.

Thus, many if not all Americans can still ignore the mayhem that is going on in Iraq because it’s invisible. The video we see on the evening news is always of Iraqis being killed and injured, never of Americans. We don’t see our wounded either, except in short segments being aired by ABC, whose veteran reporter Bob Woodruff was himself nearly killed by an IED last year, or by CBS, whose veteran reporter Kimberley Dozier was also nearly killed by an IED.

We barely even record the passing of our dead. PBS airs photos of dead Americans every night after their evening broadcast of the News Hour with Jim Lehrer and ABC runs the names of the dead at the end of their “In Memoriam” segment on *This Week* every Sunday. There is a tragic sameness to these names and photos: young men and a few young women, mostly white, but also Latino, African American and Asian, nearly all under 25, nearly all from small towns throughout America.

Other than these rare glimpses, the dead are invisible, the injured are invisible, the war itself is invisible.

That must change. To end the war we have to see it.

On July16th, in a piece titled “Inside the Surge in Iraq,” ABC’s *Nightline* aired portions of the video account by veteran British photojournalist and reporter Sean Smith, who spent two months embedded with the U.S. Army's 2nd Infantry Division in Baghdad. (The link is still available at ABCnews. com. Click on *Nightline* and search “Inside the Surge in Iraq.” Be forewarned, however, the images are incredibly, gruesomely graphic.)

Since American photojournalists have effectively been banned from showing the war to American news audiences, ABC borrowed a British photojournalist’s work to convey just what our soldiers are enduring this summer while the al-Maliki government is on holiday until the beginning of September.

In a briefing on July 13th, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow defended the Iraqi government’s vacation, noting “It’s 130 degrees in Baghdad.”

Of course, American troops are fighting in that same heat–*for* the Iraqis.

The al-Maliki government’s vacation (which will no doubt be paralleled by President Bush’s annual five weeks off) is only one part of what’s wrong in Iraq. The government goes on vacation during a civil war while American troops quite literally hold the fort? How does the White House defend this?

And then there is the carnage.

Sean Smith’s reporting was the most disturbing and gut-wrenching video footage I have seen of this war.

It wasn’t just the grisly video footage of six Americans and one Iraqi translator being burned alive in front of our eyes in a Bradley vehicle that was hit by an IED that was so gruesome. It wasn’t just the video footage of another man critically burned in an Iraq street. Nor the old woman whose house was stormed by American soldiers who had been told there were insurgents inside. She sat, an elderly woman in a housecoat, her dogs beside her, her walker in front of her, just screaming and screaming. Nor was it the footage of a man who was driving a car that didn’t stop when American soldiers called out to him. He later turned out to be an innocent taxi driver who didn’t speak English.

The footage of American soldiers being treated at the scene of attacks for severe wounds was also terrible, as were the scenes of an Iraqi father holding an infant soaked in blood to his own bloodied shirt.

All of these images were horrifying in the truest sense of that term. These were all real people being killed and injured and traumatized in real time. This wasn’t a movie of a war, this was war.

The commentary by the soldiers themselves was the most stunning, however. These were average American guys–good-looking, twenty something, white and black, all with the same tension of exhaustion and misery on their faces.

Specialist Michael Vassell noted, “Because we have people up there in Congress with the brain of a two-year-old who don't know what they're doing, they don't experience it. I challenge the President or whoever has us here for 15 months to ride alongside me. I will go on another 15 months if he comes out here and rides along with me every day, 15 months.”

Another soldier, looking straight ahead in what the military refers to as “the thousand- yard stare,” was equally candid. Cpl. Joshua Lake from Apache Company told Sean Smith, “It's a joke. We will have spent 14 months in contact, basically fighting all 14 months…first week in Baghdad we lost two guys in our battalion, and it hasn't stopped since.”

We’re all familiar with Gen. Sherman’s famous statement, “War is hell,” but unless we are doing the actual fighting, we don’t really know what that means. The video shot by Sean Smith was the very embodiment of hell.

Cpl. Lake also told Smith, "We got grenades going off, we've got an IED blowing up your vehicle…and then you are expected to go back in those four to six hours and relax! Your body never gets to come down, you're always on that heightened sense of alertness. You don't have the rest."

For some reason, Americans are able to dismiss the carnage being visited on the Iraqis. We see the bombed out cars, the twisted metal, the blood running in the marketplaces in Baghdad. But those aren’t *our* people and somehow, we consider all Iraqis complicit in the mayhem. We feel less empathy for them than we do for our fellow countrymen, even though we should feel equal compassion for all victims of this war.

I can’t get Sean Smith’s images out of my head. I keep seeing the Bradley burning, and the screams of those burning alive inside. I keep seeing that old woman, abject fear on her face, shrieking and shrieking, her dogs barking, trying to protect her. I keep seeing that dead taxi driver being dragged onto the pavement, blood spreading across his clothes. I cannot forget the vacant look in the eyes of Lane and Vassell, the thought that they haven’t slept–really slept–in 15 months. And that the images they have seen are so much worse than my 15 minutes in hell with Sean Smith’s video.

War is hell, alright. But until we see it in all it’s harrowing and grisly reality, can the war end?

Republicans stood, one by one, at the podium of the Senate on the night when ABC was broadcasting Sean Smith’s video diary of the war. They stood and said that the Democrats were defeatist. They said Iraq was a cornerstone in the war on terror. They said we have to come home with honor and victory.

This war cannot end in victory. Certainly not a military victory. The war is, for us, over. All that remains is to bring our troops home.

The question is, if we don’t see the war, if we aren’t living those 15 month rotations of no sleep and body parts flying and the smell of burning flesh always in one’s nostrils, if we continue to allow the Bush Administration to keep the war hidden from view, can we possibly end it?

It’s time to bring the carnage out of the closet. It’s time for middle-class America to see the faces of the small-town boys and girls who are dying for some muddled cause that only the President and his closest retinue seem to understand. It’s time to see the screaming and the bleeding and the dying up close and in-your-face. It’s time to slap the crocodile tears off the faces of people like Secretary Gates. It’s time to bring the troops home. It’s time to end the carnage.

In response to, "Why does the GOP hate America?" Rhian writes:

The GOP has been 'couped' as in coup d etat, by globalists who will stop at nothing, including use of troops and children and war and false accusations and the committing of crimes, to eliminate the Constitution, US sovereignty and liberty.

They don't hate. They actually believe they are elite, should be in totalitarian control, and that all others are for their use.

They believe that their control of everything is more benevolent than for everyone to have individual agency, liberties and inherent rights as defined in the Bill of Rights.

What they don't want The People to know is that in the US, real power lies in their hands, not in the hands of those who pose as 'leaders' in government positions. And they don't want foreigners to know that either.

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-Noah Greenberg