Netroots 2015

Secretary Treasurer Rick D'Loss and interim Chair Patty Friend

Secretary Treasurer Rick D’Loss and interim Chair Patty Friend

Social Democrats USA attended Netroots Nation for the first time this year. The first Netroots Nation convention (then called the YearlyKos convention) was held in 2006. At the time SDUSA was going through a bad spell— still suffering from the death of our Executive Director, Penn Kemble. Netroots started as a convention of political bloggers (headed by Markos Moulitsas Zuniga of the DailyKos fame) who wanted to use the internNET to develop grassROOTS political organizations— hence the name change to Netroots. Yes, there were some big name speakers at the very first Netroots, including Howard Dean, Harry Reid, and Barbara Boxer, and since then the annual convention has become a “must attend” event for Democratic candidates. Thus it is interesting that Hillary did not show up this year. Elizabeth Warren was present, as was Martin O’Malley. But clearly the favorite of the crowd was Bernie Sanders. Almost everyone that I interacted with over the 3 days of Netroots was wearing a Bernie button.

Netroots-Black-Lives-Matter-OMalley-Netroots

Jose Antonio Vargas, Tia Oso, Martin O’Malley

As you saw in the press over the weekend, the big story was the interruption of the candidates forum on Saturday morning by the “Black Lives Matter” coalition. The less than stellar responses by O’Malley and Sanders were most reported. What wasn’t reported was that the protesters were protesting the Netroots organizers, not the candidates. They felt that that the issue of blacks being harassed and killed by police should be front and center, and that the mostly white Netroots organizers were unsympathetic to the crisis. Hence, when forum moderator Vargas was conducting his Q&A, the protesters assembled and took over. In fairness to O’Malley and Sanders, it was Vargas who was in charge of dealing with the situation. At one point, Sanders looked at Vargas and asked “what are we doing”? Most of us have been involved in protests at some point or another. The goal is to disrupt the normal flow of things, get attention for your cause, and perhaps make some demands. I think if you accomplish the first two and not the third, you have missed an opportunity. That’s what I saw Saturday. The protesters had the sympathy of the crowd, initially. They stopped the show. The leaders were invited to the stage. They spoke their piece. And they demanded responses from O’Malley and later Sanders. But here’s were it fell apart. As the candidates were responding to the protesters, the protesters continued their protest and didn’t allow the candidates to speak. Vargas was unable to control the situation.

Vargas asking the protesters to let Sanders speak

Vargas asking the protesters to let Sanders speak

Hence, O’Malley exited the stage after his “all lives matter” comment was not well received. Sanders ended up shouting over top of the protesters, which was also not well received. When Vargas said our time is up, Bernie responded, “good”. Amongst the audience there were mixed responses: some sympathetic to the protesters and some not. One man near me hollered, “sit down and shut up” at the protesters. I asked my colleague Patty what she thought. She recalled the protests of her youth during the sixties. “We disrupted a lot. But what was the result? We got Ronald Reagan for governor because he promised to crack down on agitators. Protesting has its limits. You have to get the politicians on your side if you want action.”

For me, that was the lesson of the day. Protesting is just venting anger and frustration if there is no follow-up. No matter how sympathetic we are to the anger, there will be no value to the protest if it can’t be turned into political action.

Suspicious Humanist- Spring 2015

Steve Weiner is a member of SDUSA’s National Committee. He lives in Medford, Oregon. For 45 years Steve has been publishing his thoughts in a paper he calls the Suspicious Humanist. Like many of you, I get barraged by reading material from many political, cultural, and news media organizations. Yet, I always make time to read the Suspicious Humanist. The writing is thoughtful and enlightening. Steve never focuses on just one subject, and each item is an easy read, short and pithy. He uniquely weaves a story of politics, literature, psychology, religion, and ethics. He will insert an unrelated vignette here and there. It never fails that the 10 minutes I spend are very well worth it.  I have attached the most recent copy HERE.

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Of the People

Abraham_Lincoln_November_1863On this Presidents Day, we take pause to remember our past national leaders: particularly Presidents Lincoln and Washington. Here in my home town of Carnegie, PA, we unveil a new permanent exhibit in our Library & Music Hall facility which we are calling the Lincoln Gallery. It features 100 photographs of Abraham Lincoln and will reside next to the Capt. Thomas Espy GAR Post, America’s most intact Civil War veterans post. A full schedule of events is planned to mark the occasion.

I cannot claim to be deeply knowledgeable about all our presidents. Like many folks, I know our major presidents and their historical significance, with President Lincoln being a standout. Over the weekend I spent time browsing through Stefan Lorant’s huge book, Pittsburgh: Story of an American City. It gave a solid accounting of the founding of our city and Colonel George Washington’s military role. Although engrossing— you can spend hours just skimming its 1100 pictures— a person could conclude that Pittsburgh was inhabited only by wealthy white people even up to present day (1964). To the contrary, the growth of this great industrial city is the story of working people of all colors, ethnicities, and national origins. The minimal attention paid to the working people of Pittsburgh is the book’s main failing. Regardless, I bring up the Hungarian Lorant because he was a noted historian of American presidents, and even the presidency itself. In particular he wrote several books on Lincoln. The printing of the 100 Lincoln photographs I mentioned above was originally commissioned by Lorant and accomplished by noted Pittsburgh photographer Norm Schumm.

Elected officials often point to past leaders who inspired and motivated them. Even as a small player in municipal government, I am no different. All presidents are flawed, as all of us human beings are, but there are certain words and deeds that resonate in us. In particular I admire FDR’s elaboration of our Four Freedoms and Harry Truman’s racial integration of the military in 1947— an unpopular move. And who can forget Eisenhower’s warning about defense contractors. Since those presidents, however, our presidency has become infected by Hollywood. I’m not blaming our presidents for that; advances in film, television, advertising, and now the internet, have forced presidents into an all flash and no substance mode of operation. So, when I think back to my influences, I have to go pretty far back. And for me, that’s Lincoln.

As with any war, we are obligated to weigh the merits against the costs. Certainly the costs of the Civil War were huge and devastating. Some claim that Lincoln had no choice because the secession of the Confederacy would have irreparably damaged our nation— that the North and the South were co-dependent and could not exist separately. But I expect that trade relations between the two countries would have continued quite normally after the divorce. Indeed, it was slavery that was the defining element, and the question of whether or not America would go to war in support of its least powerful “citizens”. It is a moral question, not a financial one. It is still a question we grapple with today, for example, when we look at the 3 million Syrian refugees and ask ourselves if we have any obligations to help others in distress. Lincoln made his stand, and paid for it with his life. He said, “Be sure you put your feet in the right place, then stand firm”.

Also, we are reminded that the War was not the only issue of Lincoln’s day. He presided during a period of great industrial expansion. As capitalists converted human beings into factory machines, Lincoln responded, “Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration”. And lastly, and most significantly for me, Lincoln provided guidance for elected representatives in the last words of his Gettysburg Address, “a government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth”. This is the very foundation of social democracy and people around the world have adopted this motto as they shake off the bonds of tyranny. Have an enjoyable and memorable Presidents Day.

Medicare: a personal story

In the early morning hours of a day last October, my theories of optimal medical insurance began to be put to the harsh tests of reality.

My wife had gone to bed early, saying that she had a sore throat. At about 5 A.M she woke me and said that she couldn’t breathe. An ambulance took her to the local hospital, where she was sedated and intubated. She was unconscious. By about 11 o’clock her blood pressure began to drop, and my daughters and I were told that she would be transferred to cardiac intensive care at Massachusetts General Hospital because the doctors feared that she was having a heart attack. We followed her to MGH and began a three month vigil.

Massachusetts General Hospital is probably one of the best hospitals in the world. It is also probably one of the most expensive. My wife, Carol, was in an intensive care unit for about three weeks, during which we learned that the basic problem was not her heart but a bacterial infection. Mass General prides itself on its treatment of infections, and that problem was soon on its way to solution. However, Carol remained unconscious; an MRI showed bleeding in many parts of her brain, probably brought on by the infection. She was in a medical unit at MGH for another week, where she was fitted with breathing and feeding tubes, and then she was transferred to what I am told is the region’s finest rehabilitation
hospital. We had no assurance that she would ever regain consciousness and if she did, what her mental condition would be.

About two weeks into this process, when Carol’s condition was stabilized, the thought crossed my mind that this world-class care probably had a world-class price tag. Suddenly I was faced with the reality that thousands of insured Americans go bankrupt each year because of medical expenses. In addition to Carol’s physical condition and our deep anxiety, there was the possibility of financial disaster after years of hard work and careful saving. I gathered the books on medical insurance issued by my various insurance carriers and began to read carefully what the various plans covered and how they were coordinated. After an hour or so the conclusion was clear: we were unlikely to have any more than quite minor costs for which we would be liable. For the first time in what seemed ages, I had an enormous sense of relief. We could concentrate on Carol getting better,and in the middle of December, she began to recover consciousness. At the end of January she came home and today is her old self, except that she has trouble balancing the checkbook!

Is this a tribute to the insurance companies of America? Far from it! You see, like most elderly people, we are covered by Medicare Parts A and B and a supplement that is private but government-standardized. As I followed the claims process, it was seamless and required no intervention on my part. The claim went directly to Medicare and then to the private carrier. Presumably, if there had then been a balance, I would have been billed. In fact, with this catastrophic illness, I received one bill for $235. I probably could have contested it if my emotional state had been better, but it was easier to write the check.

Why am I troubling you with this intensely personal story? First, to point out that, for part of our population, we already have a well-functioning government health insurance system, and in my experience it does not interfere in any way with superb medical treatment and does not involve bureaucratic red tape. It is Medicare, and unfortunately it covers mostly us old folks. After my own relief at our coverage, my next thought was, why doesn’t everybody in this country have the same assurance of good treatment
without anxiety over costs? The short answer is that medical insurance in this country is in the hands of companies that have a vested interest in denying claims and hassling people who are already having a hard time. President Obama and the corporate Democrats left health insurance for most people in the hands of these companies when the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010 (when the Democrats controlled Congress). They had before them a workable and working example in Medicare, and they ignored it.

At the same time that my family and I were going through this terrible experience, the implementation of “Obamacare” began. It is composed of many moving parts, like some ramshackle Rube Goldberg machine, and some of those parts, like the expansion of Medicaid in the states,are in the hands of politicians deeply opposed to the whole idea. The finest administrator would have had difficulty with its implementation, and there is no evidence that Barack Obama has an abundance of administrative skill. We have before us an example of how to make health insurance work. Medicare for All!

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Working Families Party Endorses Warren for 2016

The Advisory Council of the New York Working Families Party has voted to endorse Elizabeth
Warren as a presidential candidate for 2016. While as an independent party, the WFP cannot participate directly in the Democratic Party primary, it is likely that its endorsement would have an impact on progressive Democrats who do vote in the DP primary. In making the endorsement, the Working Families Party joined such organizations as MoveOn.org and Democracy for America in a “draft Warren” effort. A spokesperson for Senator Warren repeated previous denials that she is running.

Bill Lipton, the state director of the party, was quoted by The New York Times as saying, “The only thing better than watching Elizabeth Warren take Wall Street to task from the Senate would be helping her bring our issues to the center of the national debate.” Other WFP leaders were more cautious and insisted that it was not a move against Hilary Clinton. Ed Ott, former head of the New York City Central Labor Council, said, “What the Warren vote reflects is that people want a Democratic Party with spine.”

The Working Families Party is a coalition of labor unions, progressive activists and community advocacy groups. It was prominent in supporting Mayor Bill deBlasio in the New York City election two years ago. Generally the WFP is in coalition with the Democrats and, because of New York’s unusual law permitting fusion voting, the votes for a candidate with multiple party nominations can be counted together.

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