Wednesday, July 29, 2009

An Open Letter to Max Baucus

I wrote the following letter to Max Baucus, I encourage others to write his office as well:

Dear Max Baucus,

I do not live in Montana and so I am not one of those you represent; but I think that many of them share my feelings.

You are the largest recipient of Health Insurance Industry money in congress. This has disturbed me since I first heard you were in charge of Health Care reform.

Now we learn that you are ready to drop the Public Option. You are betraying the American people sir .

To be quite frank, you are opposed to the public option for one reason: your corporate masters' money.

You know that the only way to keep the private industry honest is to have them compete with a government funded public health care plan. This is the only way they will be forced to actually cover people and keep their costs down. Without the public option, the private health insurance companies will continue to hurt people without anything to stop them.

And yet, because of the money you have received, you are going to drop the public plan.

I a writing to speak to your conscience sir. Do you want to be remembered as a corporate stooge who stuck it to the people of America? Or would you prefer to be thought of as someone who changed America for the better.

Much lies in your hands. Insist on a public option ... don't negotiate it a way.

I call upon your integrity and your conscience sir. I also remind you that you represent the people that dropping the public open will harm. People will remember that Senator, and in turn you may find that you are not elected again.

Please ... DO THE RIGHT THING! Don't sell out America.


Matthew Wion

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Gun Control or Out of Control

I do not think that no one has the right to own a gun. I think people of sound mind, mental health, and no criminal background can have the right to bear arms. Equally, I think the NRA and the "I have a right to own a machine gun" types are frightening extremist. There ought to be strong limits on who own guns and it should be more difficult to get a gun.

But the devil is in the details. What should "gun ownership policy" look like? I don't know the answer, but the question is important.

With that in mind, look to this segment from Sixty Minutes. There appears to be a very scary "gun craze" hitting the nation and it's too easy for too many people to get guns - often guns that go way beyond their needs.

Watch CBS Videos Online

No matter what the right answer to how the law should look on gun control I think we can all agree that the extreme "right to ownership" groups are just plain crazy ... and dangerous.

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We already have Public Health Care: and it works!

Howard Dean, guest hosting Countdown, explains that we already have public health care options and they outperform private health care in crucial ways.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Rachel Maddow and Howard Dean Talk Health Care Reform

A good video segment here. Notice the arguments and "sources" that the GOP uses to fight health care reform. It's very telling.

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Monday, July 27, 2009

What would This Health Care Reform look like?

Since I keep hearing fears of "Socialized medicine" and frightened voices fearing that we will have a system like Canada's and Great Britain's, I thought it might be good here to actually explain the proposed reform that is on the table.

According to Paul Krugman's latest op-ed piece:

Reform, if it happens, will rest on four main pillars: regulation, mandates, subsidies and competition.

By regulation I mean the nationwide imposition of rules that would prevent insurance companies from denying coverage based on your medical history, or dropping your coverage when you get sick. This would stop insurers from gaming the system by covering only healthy people.

On the other side, individuals would also be prevented from gaming the system: Americans would be required to buy insurance even if they’re currently healthy, rather than signing up only when they need care. And all but the smallest businesses would be required either to provide their employees with insurance, or to pay fees that help cover the cost of subsidies — subsidies that would make insurance affordable for lower-income American families.

Finally, there would be a public option: a government-run insurance plan competing with private insurers, which would help hold down costs.

And according to a recent blog post from Robert Reich:

the four key elements that have already emerged from House committees: (1) a public plan option, (2) a mandate on all but the smallest employers to provide their employees with health insurance or else pay a tax or fee (so-called "pay or play"), (3) a requirement that every individual and family buy health insurance, coupled with subsidies for families up to 300 or 400 times the poverty level in order to make sure it's affordable to them; and (4) a small surtax on the top 1 percent of earners or families to help pay for this subsidy ("tax the wealthy so all Americans can stay healthy.")

This is the reform being discussed, not anything like the system in Canada and Britain. So enough nonsense.

The most contested part of this reform plan is the Public Option (The Health insurance industry, the GOP and "Blue-dog" democrats are working hard to eliminate it from the final bill). If the Public Option does not go through there can be no real reform. Why? Check out the following two links to understand why:

Charlie Rose: A Conversation with Paul Krugman

Bill Moyers Journal: Robert Reich

Note: As far as this comparison with Canada goes. Canada is a particularly poor example of universal health care via single payer. Other single payer systems are far better than Canada and don't have its problems (e.g. scarcity of resources and long waits) - France for instance. And yet, despite this, the data still shows that Canada's system is largely superior to the United States; click here to compare

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Sunday, July 26, 2009

Paul Krugman explains why the free market model fails Health Care

The following is from Paul Krugman's blog "The Conscience of a liberal."
For a fuller account of the economics of health care see Krugman's Heath Economics 101
There are two strongly distinctive aspects of health care. One is that you don’t know when or whether you’ll need care — but if you do, the care can be extremely expensive. The big bucks are in triple coronary bypass surgery, not routine visits to the doctor’s office; and very, very few people can afford to pay major medical costs out of pocket.

This tells you right away that health care can’t be sold like bread. It must be largely paid for by some kind of insurance. And this in turn means that someone other than the patient ends up making decisions about what to buy. Consumer choice is nonsense when it comes to health care. And you can’t just trust insurance companies either — they’re not in business for their health, or yours.

This problem is made worse by the fact that actually paying for your health care is a loss from an insurers’ point of view — they actually refer to it as “medical costs.” This means both that insurers try to deny as many claims as possible, and that they try to avoid covering people who are actually likely to need care. Both of these strategies use a lot of resources, which is why private insurance has much higher administrative costs than single-payer systems. And since there’s a widespread sense that our fellow citizens should get the care we need — not everyone agrees, but most do — this means that private insurance basically spends a lot of money on socially destructive activities.

The second thing about health care is that it’s complicated, and you can’t rely on experience or comparison shopping. (”I hear they’ve got a real deal on stents over at St. Mary’s!”) That’s why doctors are supposed to follow an ethical code, why we expect more from them than from bakers or grocery store owners.

You could rely on a health maintenance organization to make the hard choices and do the cost management, and to some extent we do. But HMOs have been highly limited in their ability to achieve cost-effectiveness because people don’t trust them — they’re profit-making institutions, and your treatment is their cost.

Between those two factors, health care just doesn’t work as a standard market story.

After reading this it is a very good idea to get acquainted with the data collected (from numerous expert studies and sources) by the bi-partisan National Coalition on Health Care which recommends a public plan as part of reform and details the fact that our system not only broken but shredded to bits. Equally, the data provided by The World Health Organization is an eye opener about how badly our system is working - or better, not working.

Once Krugman's arguments are understood and the data (which I have linked too) fully known we must all come to have the courage to understand that our private health care system has failed us - it's time for a publicly funded insurance plan.

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Saturday, July 25, 2009

Conservative Pastor Versus Liberal Professor: A Video Debate Part 2

A while back my good friend Isaiah and I debated health care reform. He is a conservative pastor and I a liberal adjunct philosophy professor and grad student.

Isaiah just had his second son (congrats Isaiah!) and the debate went on hiatus, but has resumed. Here is the latest installment:

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Why we should raise taxes on the wealthy

Since the House proposed raising taxes (1-3%) on the wealthiest 1.5% or so of incomes, there has been the usual rhetoric about "punishing the successful" and about how "unfair" it is to take away "their money that they worked so hard for."

In response to such knee-jerk rhetoric I think a brief justificatin of the progressive income tax should be given.

We pay taxes to enjoy the benefits and services of society. We are protected by police and the military, enjoy the services of the fire department, post office, and public roads. We attend public schools and congregate in public parks. We walk our dogs on public sidewalks. All of this and much more is payed for by our tax dollars.

Some argue - rather absurdly - that all this could be paid for by sales tax alone. This claim is false. Sales tax would have to be raised too high for many to afford, would unfairly discriminate against those who had less money by greatly reducing their spending power, and simply cause many to buy less. Very quickly we would have more poverty and a weaker economy. Income tax is essential to create, maintain, and improve public services and programs; which are, let us not forget, essential to society.

Very well, some might argue,then why not just have a flat tax? All pay the same percentage of their income. Again the answer is very simple, a flat tax would have to be low enough to make sure that the very poor do not fall below levels at which they could not afford to live. It follows that a flat tax would be very low indeed, and that once again we could not afford the upkeep of our public roads, defense forces, police, etc. ..

This is really very simple logic; not rocket science. In order for society to function we need public services and only a progressive income tax can provide the government with the money to properly create and maintain such services. Let us put ideology aside here and just look at these facts.

The most common objection to the progressive income tax is that it is unfair to take a rich man's "hard-earned money" and give it to somebody else. There are numerous problems with this objection.

First, that someone makes 300,000 dollars a year and someone else makes 45,000 seldom has anything to do with how hard they work. The hardest workers in our country are blue-collar working people, who sometimes work 60-70 hours a week and will never see a pay check over 40,000. So the hard work argument is absurdly false. Indeed, wages don't even depend very much on education. I will have my Ph. D. in May and will never make more than 60 or 70 thousand. There are people with Bachelors' degrees who make twice or three times that much. And this is not always - not even all that often - because of the importance of my and their respective occupations' importance for society

Second, the person making 300,000 a year did not create that money all by themselves. People who defend this "don't raise taxes on the wealthy" line of argument often talk as if such wealthy people accomplished this entirely through their own power. This is absurd. Take a person making six figures. Someone built the roads he drives on, the car he drives in, and the clothes he is wearing. Someone built his home, set up the plumbing and wiring in it, his cable, and so on. Someone slaughtered his food, processed it, packaged it, and sold it to him in the grocery store. Even more telling, he had teachers who gave him the tools for success.

None of us are self-made men, none of us operate in a void. We are not atomistic souls pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps. We are all part of a network of relationships, we are interdependent, interconnected, and interlinked with those who are in our community. Unless you live in the woods, built your own house from trees you chopped down, hunt and cook all your own food, and wear only the fur from your kills - you are radically dependent on other people. Without the hard work of millions of others, we could not survive and certainly could not flourish or earn high salaries. We owe a great deal to a large number of hard working people - many of whom live on meagre incomes and are often in need of public services and government aid.

If you earn six figures most of these people earn far less than you. The teachers who taught you the basic skills needed to function in society made a scant salary; many who provide you your food and clothing made far less than that. Is it really too much to ask that Uncle Sam take a few percent more of your income and then redistribute it so these people who teach our kids, build our roads, feed and clothe us might have health care? Or food stamps? Can you honestly look these hard working people in the face and say that the government cannot provide needed social service because it is wrong to raise taxes on the wealthy by 1 or 2 percent?!

Finally, the whole logic of this argument misses the point. It is NOT the case the a progressive income tax takes money from party x to give it to party y. The government takes income from party x in order to provide necessary social services available to everybody - including party x should he fall upon harder times. So we are not taxed to support "other people." Rather, we are taxed according to our means so that all people - and that includes us and our loved ones should we need it - may have access to necessary public services and government aid.

There remains, of course, those who think raising taxes on the wealthy will kill small business and hurt job growth. This is complete falsehood as well. Check out Robert Reich's blog as well as this thoughtful piece from New Republic for the truth on that front.

It is time we dropped the "punishing the successful" line and actually looked at the issue rationally and objectively.

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Love in Truth: The Gospel of Justice

Love in Truth: Caritas in Veritate Love in Truth: Caritas in Veritate by Pope Benedict XVI

It has always seemed to me that the gospel is chiefly concerned with love and justice. Simply read Matthew 5-7, and then Matthew 25 and you learn quite quickly that what the faith is about is treating our fellow human beings with dignity, repect, and - most importanly - justice.

The justice spoken of here is not retributive justice, but distributive justice - giving each their due and treaing no one unfairly. Fair distribution is the heart of the Pope's new encyclical. In essence, Popel Benedict's claim is that the current world econcomy is unjust.

Our current econcomy is built on multi-national corporations. Such coroporations can go anywhere in the world to escape paying taxes, lay off workers in one place in order to hire workers for scraps in another, destroy the environment, and bribe governments to pass legislation that favors their destructive ways. The result of this is a world system that abuses the working classes and the environment.

The Pope's solution is solidarity. We must encourage the values of cooperation, unity, trust, and fairness over the values of greed, gain, and the craving for profits at all costs. The very word "solidarity" is repeated frequently by Pope Benedict throughout the encyclical. Our current world econcomic system, the Pope argues, opposses solidarity by forcing us to relate to each other primarily as competitors. In other words, our current system is hostile to human nature and serves only to diminish it.

This is, however, more than just a call to each person to search their hearts and have more compassion for their fellows (though it is that too). Pope Benedict calls for a world authority with the power to regulate the global economy. The reason for this? Governments only have local jurisdiction, but the economy is world wide. A Local authority as no power over a world wide economy, so we must create an entity with global authority to regulate the world econcomy and restore rights to people and the earth.

I am not a Roman Catholic and my own theological beliefs are far removed from the Pope's, but I find his thoughts on globalization and the injustice of our current system well worth reading. His solution is debatable, but there is much insight into what is wrong with our system here. Of particular interest is the Pope's frequent assertion that we were made for cooperation and solidarity, not for competition and exploitation.

The Pope's new encyclical is a must read for those of us concerned with social justice and the unchecked power and danger of mutlinational corporations.

View all my reviews >>

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Saturday, July 18, 2009

Gang Of Six Centrist Senators Demands Delay On Health Care Reform

We must learn the names of these "centrist" senators. They are engaged in a reprehensible tactic to stall health care reform in order to destroy it. Their motivation is to serve their corporate masters and continue to reap lucrative campaign contributions. They refuse to bite the hand that feeds them.

If any of these Senators are your representatives call them, write them, organize and rally at their offices. If they prevail the blood will be on their hands, but sadly it will be our blood.

They must be stopped!
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Monday, July 13, 2009

When Our Presidents must be Bold and UNCOMPROMISING!

Take a look at this Bill Moyers Video Essay reflecting on King, LBJ and Civil Rights:

Powerful stuff.

Now imagine if LBJ had followed "we shall overcome" with "but we won't draw a line in the sand," or attempted to "compromise," or had a young Bill Moyers announce to the press that though the President "would like to pass comprehensive civil rights legislation .... he will not insist on it."

I think you catch my drift.

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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Beyond Partisan Politics

I think the time has come for many of us to move beyond partisanship. But how to do that is the issue. We cannot choose the Obama way of simply throwing away your principles and compromising with every corporate interest or right wing ideology for the mere sake of "bringing all to the table."

I know that there are a great many well-meaning, highly intelligent, moral, kind, and remarkable conservatives out there. I disagree with them, but I must and do respect them. My question is, how do I get past my strong disagreements with them?

Let us look first at the two political parties. Neither party differs from the other on essential matters. They are both tools of multinational corporations and represent the interests of the wealthy classes, not the interests of the people as a whole. This is why I cannot identify with either political party.

Now take the divide between liberals and conservatives. On certain issues, like abortion or capital punishment, or Euthanasia, it is quite possible for intelligent and good people to disagree. I think a case can be made for those opposed and in favor of these acts. So we can agree to intelligently discuss it, and to respectfully disagree on the matter.

But beyond this where can we go? The Right-wing (which I consider a distinct group from conservatives) are simply insane. The far left (e.g. Michael Moore, and Bill Maher) are not quite so insane, but are smug, self-righteous, and too idealistic. Self-professed "centrists" are enslaved to the will of big corporations.

So, assuming both political parties do not represent us and that the far left and the far right are not sound options, where do we go? On certain issues, I cannot but oppose conservatives ... gay marriage, American imperialism and militarism, public health care, welfare, regulation of the market, I will not and cannot give ground on these matters. But neither, I suppose, will, or can, the conservatives.

So here is the question: where can I and they find common ground? My economic philosophy is from the school of the New Deal, The Great Society, and Great Britain's "Welfare State," I am close to what in Europe is called a "Social Democrat." On social issues, I'm a libertarian, favoring maximizing personal liberty. Can I find common ground and get beyond partisanship with conservatives who are on social issues far less libertarian and want more "moral legislation," but who on economic issues are far more libertarian - in favor of privatization and deregulation?

How can they and I meet and work together? Any suggestions?

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Monday, July 6, 2009

Shakira caves to Sexism

Shakira has sold out.

Her latest album features "Britney-like" computer voice and sound. It's even worse than I just made that sound. But that does not bother me, I don't really care much what Shakira sounds like (though in my opinion her first album - and even more so her Spanish music - is quite good). The problem is deeper.

Shakira also is said to be deliberately posing like Beyonce - not exactly a role model for young ladies. But again, that is not even the issue. If a woman wishes to pose in this manner I shall not say anything about her personal choice.

So what is the problem? As you probably guessed, it's this picture of Shakira, practically naked - what is covering her seems painted on! - IN A CAGE!!

A virtually naked woman in a seductive pose caged like an animal. This reeks of blatant misogyny! It can only mean one thing: "Women are property; they are less than fully human. We may, therefore, do what we wish to these "lower beings" who apparently only exist to satisfy our lust and who are therefore locked in a cage the rest of the time!"

This is really appalling!

Sadly, the woman in this cage - Shakira - has not only produced music that actually has depth and quality, but also has an IQ of 140 and takes college courses whenever she can.

Don't get me wrong. Shakira is gorgeous. She has a lovely body and I think she should own that. But this picture is NOT owning that. This is exploitation of female sexuality to sell albums. That a woman of intelligence, depth, and talent feels she must engage in this kind of stunt is truly very sad.

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Friday, July 3, 2009

Independence Day

I have never been a patriot. Every 4th of July I cringe when I hear that horrible nationalistic "Proud to be an American" song: no offense to Lee Greenwood. In fact, for several years now I have paid no attention to the fourth of July.

This winter, however, I spent a week in Philadelphia reacquainting myself with our founding fathers. Yes, I know all of their flaws. Though Benjamin Franklin and a few others were abolitionists, slavery was legal when this nation was founded. I know of the horrible crimes we committed against the Native Americans, the indignity and inhumanity of Jim Crow, the interment of the Japanese, and now the sad reality of American Imperialism throughout the world today.

Despite all the horror in and dark side of our legacy, I have come to think our founding fathers really did give us something remarkable. A Constitutional Democracy, a representative Republic, a system of checks and balances aimed at maximum freedom of the individual and protection of his or her rights.

When I read the Preamble of the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence I am deeply moved by the spirit of freedom. Once again, I am sadly aware of the limited application of freedom in our founders' day and our own. But it is not for nothing that nations the world over, and even oppressed groups here, have appealed to those founding ideals when fighting for their own freedom (just read King's speeches, they are filled with allusions to the founding fathers).

So, despite their many flaws and shortcomings, our founders sought to bring the spirit of freedom into their country, indeed they fought to do so. I have come to believe they were right about this, and that they were right to fight for it. But the battle for our freedom cannot be restricted to rebellion against the British long ago. The Battle for freedom, rights, and democracy is perennial; we must keep up that fight today.

Democracy is currently either dead or in critical condition in the United States. As Bill Moyers notes "Money is chocking Democracy to death." Basically Corporations sponsor - or better buy - our politicians and expect that their interests, not ours, are what the politicians work to protect. They are not let down, our politicians do not work for the people, but for the vested interest - those with the cash.

Corporations own our newspapers and TV news stations, they own our politicians, and our entertainment .. in short, they have bought our government at our expense.

The rallying cry of the Revolutionary War was "no taxation without representation." Once again we are not represented. Our Politicians do not represent us, they represent their corporate sponsors. We the people are a minimal factor in the minds of lawmakers. Laws are passed and enacted for the benefit of multi-national corporations, and we the people are forced to foot the bill for it.

If we would claim our liberty, enjoy our freedom, and have real democracy in our lives, then we must work to end this intolerable situation. We must, like our founders, demand our Independence - not through bloody rebellion this time, but through demanding we are heard. Fighting for Public Schools, Public Television, Public Radio, Public Health Care, and - perhaps most importantly - Public Campaign Financing. Let us reclaim our country from the moneyed interest and let freedom ring again.

In the all too often unread words of Jefferson's Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government.

Let us read these words very carefully, and, this July 4th instead of merely getting drunk and hearing that awful Lee Greenwood song, let's start to ask ourselves how we can win our country back.

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Has Sarah Palin left us?

I sure I hope so! But this may be just an move to start her 2012 Presidential Campaign ... I hope not!

Read about the details of the resignation (with video of it) here:

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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Public Campaign Financing: The way to Save Democracy

Our politicians are owned and controlled by wealthy private interests. Bill Moyers explains what we the people must to stop it:

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"Centrists" threaten health care reform

I am not sure what a "Centrist" actually is. So far as I can tell it's a social liberal or social moderate who believes that big corporations have more rights than ordinary people. These Centrist Democrats in the Senate are a real threat to health care reform. They must be taken to task. Please everyone call the office of your senators and find out where they stand on the inclusion of a public health care plan as part of health care reform. If they do not support a robust public health care plan, then tell them they will not be re-elected; tell them they have lost your vote.

These senators are a real obstacle. They are playing with people's health and lives. Please, let them know that this will not stand. We cannot let them ruin our lives to fill the pockets of the health insurance industry.

Here is a video clip in which Senator Bernie Sanders explains the problem with "Centrists" Democrats:

As you can see, this is scary. The Republicans will probably filibuster this. Republicans do not want to help people; then only want to hurt people. They will stop at nothing to be sure health care is defeated. So these Centrist Democrats who might side with the Republicans must be told that they will not be re-elected if they do so.

A fine article in the Milwaukee Express list a number of Democratic Senators who oppose the public plan, and that they do so because they are bought off by big health insurance companies:

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) has simply stated, through her flack, that she refuses to support a public option. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who has tried to fashion a plan that will entice Republicans, warns that the public option is a step toward single-payer health care-not much of an objection, considering that it's a model that serves people in every other industrialized country with lower costs and superior outcomes. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) feebly protests that her state's mismanagement by a Republican governor must stall the progress of the rest of the country. Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) says he has a better plan involving regional cooperatives, but they would be unable to effectively compete with the insurance behemoths or bargain with pharmaceutical giants.

The excuses sound different, but all of these lawmakers have something in common-namely, their abject dependence on campaign contributions from the insurance and pharmaceutical corporations fighting against real reform. Consider Louisiana's Landrieu, a senator from a very poor state whose working-class constituents badly need universal coverage (and many of whom now depend on Medicare, a popular government program). According to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan watchdog outfit, she has received nearly $1.7 million from corporate medical interests, including hospitals, insurance companies, nursing homes and drug firms, during the course of her political career.

The same kind of depressing figures can be found in the campaign filings of many of the Democrats now posing as obstacles to reform, notably including Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, who has distinguished himself in the most appalling way. The Montana Standard, a news outlet in his home state, found that Baucus has received more campaign money from health and insurance industry donors than any other single member of Congress. "In the past six years," the Standard found, "nearly one-fourth of every dime raised by [Baucus] and his political-action committee has come from groups and individuals associated with drug companies, insurers, hospitals, medical-supply firms, health-service companies and other health professionals."

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