In humble attempt at casting this in the tradition of Socrates, a (slightly altered) quote:

"The unexamined vote is not worth casting."

Saturday, December 29, 2007

From the House floor in 2002, Kucinich’s Bold Stand Against a Vote for War

I was certainly moved by Sen. Barack Obama’s pre-war speech, which I recently wrote about here (take a read of what he said, it’s short), but I was really floored when I came across Rep. Dennis Kucinich’s equally prescient words in a 2002 speech from the floor of the House of Representatives. In it, he spoke out against the now infamous Iraq War Resolution, which authorized use of force against Iraq. Eight days after Kucinich spoke, four presidential candidates voted for that very same resolution: Senators Clinton, Edwards, Dodd and Biden (needless to say, Kucinich, and others in the House and Senate, voted against it).

As I also discussed previously, given that these other members of Congress voted against it (23 Senators and 133 Representatives), and that presidential candidates Obama and Kucinich forcefully opposed it, voters will have to answer the grave question of whether they are willing to support a candidate who shooed through the start to what many consider to be such a devastatingly wrong, destabilizing war. In the speech, Rep. Kucinich goes through various sections of the Iraq War Resolution, quoting directly from it, and then follows those quotations with his (concise) rebuttals (the actual resolution is available here, and is just a few pages if you’re interested in reading it; Kucinich’s full speech is available here). As you read some of the below excerpts I pulled from his speech, I would challenge you to ask:

1. Whether his reasons for opposing the war were valid;
2. If so, whether the information he uses appears as though it would have been accessible to all those in Congress; and
3. If so, whether Americans should vote in a president who either did not take the time to find that information, or did not have the backbone and/or foresight to stand up against the step towards war that the Iraq War Resolution truly was.

Here are the excerpted sections taken directly from his speech, given on October 3, 2002; and again, the sections I labeled “from the resolution” were quoted by Kucinich in his speech, and are followed by his counterpoints in the sections labeled “Kucinich’s response”:

From the Resolution-

``Whereas the efforts of international weapons inspectors, United States intelligence agencies, and Iraqi defectors led to the discovery that Iraq had large stockpiles of chemical weapons and a large scale biological weapons program, and that Iraq had an advanced nuclear weapons program that was much closer to producing a nuclear weapon than intelligence reporting had previously indicated.''

Kucinich's response-

"But the key issue here that the American people need to know is that U.N. inspection teams identified and destroyed nearly all such weapons. A lead inspector, Scott Ritter, said that he believes that nearly all other weapons not found were destroyed in the Gulf War. Furthermore, according to a published report in The Washington Post, the Central Intelligence Agency, yes, the Central Intelligence Agency, has no up-to-date accurate report on Iraq's capabilities of weapons of mass destruction."

From the Resolution-

``Whereas Iraq both possesses a continuing threat to the national security of the United States and international peace and security in the Persian Gulf region and remains in material and unacceptable breach of its international obligations by, among other things, continuing to possess and develop a significant chemical and biological weapons capability, actively seeking a nuclear weapons capability, and supporting and harboring terrorist organizations.''

Kucinich's response-

"The American people deserve to know that the key issue here is that there is no proof that Iraq represents an imminent or immediate threat to the United States of America. I will repeat: there is no proof that Iraq represents an imminent or immediate threat to the United States. A continuing threat does not constitute a sufficient cause for war. The administration has refused to provide the Congress with credible evidence that proves that Iraq is a serious threat to the United States and that it is continuing to possess and develop chemical and biological and nuclear weapons. Furthermore, there is no credible evidence connecting Iraq to al Qaeda and 9-11, and yet there are people who want to bomb Iraq in reprisal for 9-11"

From the Resolution-

``Whereas members of al Qaeda, an organization bearing responsibility for attacks on the United States, its citizens, and interests, including the attacks that occurred on September 11, are known to be in Iraq.''

Kucinich's response-

"Well, the American people need to know there is no credible evidence that connects Iraq to the events of 9-11 or to participation in those events by assisting al Qaeda."

From the Resolution-

``Whereas the attacks on the United States of America of September 11, 2001 underscored the gravity of the threat posed by the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction by international terrorist organizations.''

Kucinich's response-

"And, again, and I stress, the American people need to know that there is no connection between Iraq and the events of 9-11. However, this resolution attempts to make the connection over and over and over. And just saying that there is a connection does not make it so, because the Central Intelligence Agency has not presented this Congress with any credible information that indicates that there is in fact a tie between Iraq and 9-11, between Iraq and al Qaeda, or Iraq and the anthrax attacks on this Capitol."

From the Resolution-

``Whereas in December 1991, Congress expressed its sense that it supports the use of all necessary means to achieve the goals of United Nations Security Council Resolution 687 as being consistent with the Authorization of Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution (Public Law 102-1), that Iraq's repression of its civilian population violates United Nations Security Council Resolution 688 and constitutes a continuing threat to the peace, security, and stability of the Persian Gulf region, and that Congress supports the use of all necessary means to achieve the goals of United Nations Security Council Resolution 688.''

Kucinich's response-

"Well, the counterpoint here is this, and what we are going to be asserting on the floor of this House is that this clause demonstrates the proper chronology of international process in contrast to the current march to war. In 1991, the United Nations Security Council passed the resolution asking for enforcement of its resolution. Member countries authorized their troops to participate in a U.N.-led coalition to enforce the U.N. resolutions. Now the President is asking Congress to authorize a unilateral first strike before the U.N. Security Council has asked its member states to enforce U.N. resolutions."

Sunday, December 23, 2007

IS There a Problem With Health Care in America?

"Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane."

-Martin Luther King, Jr.

I think there's undoubtedly a problem with health care in America--a huge one--as my posts (and this quote) imply, but I don't want to take it for granted that others have the same perspective and/or understanding of things.

For me, the logic goes like this:

-Are there many who are uninsured?
-If so, does it matter? (i.e., does it affect their ability to live a normal, healthy life?)
-If it does matter, are there any ways the current system can be changed to help ameliorate the problem?

If so, it becomes a question of what the options are, and which make the most sense. So, I'll take those bullets one at a time, offering the bit I've been able to find, and then at the end provide a few videos I found when I did a quick search on this issue. So, to start...

-Are there many who are uninsured?

The basic figure that is often talked about is 47 million Americans. That number is astronomical. However, it looks like there's even more than that. A September 2007 study by a health care-advocacy organization, Families USA, showed that over the two year period between 2006 and 2007, 89.6 million Americans actually went without health insurance for some period of time (an increase of over 17 million since 2000). The difference in the commonly quoted 47 million and this 89 million is due to the fact that the former only counts those Americans who were without health insurance for a full calendar year; conversely, the Families USA figure of 89.6 million adds in anyone who was without insurance for a period of 1-11 months in the two year time frame of their study. A quick quote from the study helps illustrate what that means:

"Our methodology includes, for
example, a person who was uninsured
from August 1, 2006, to April 1, 2007. This
person would not be counted as uninsured in
either 2006 or 2007 by the Census Bureau’s
Current Population Survey [the 47 million]. Similarly, a
person who was uninsured from January 1,
2006, until November 1, 2007—22 months
without health insurance—would be counted
by the Census Bureau as uninsured in 2006
but not counted as uninsured in 2007 (even
though the person was uninsured for 10 months of 2007)."

Of that 89.6 million figure, two-thirds were uninsured for six months or more, while over half were uninsured for over nine months. Furthermore, to answer what I think is a valid question on these individuals' responsibility in their situation, four out of five, or 79.3 percent, were from working families. "Only 16.5 percent were not in the labor force—because they were disabled, chronically ill, family caregivers, or were not looking for employment for other reasons." Also, that 89.6 million accounts for one out of every three Americans under the age of 65 (over that age you qualify for Medicare, so we're talking about one out of every three who are not already covered by Medicare). Further, more than nine million of the uninsured are children. So that clearly answers the question of how many are uninsured, on to the next question...

-If so, does it matter? (i.e., does it affect their ability to live a normal, healthy life?)

I think the simplest question to start with in this respect is whether it matters to you that you have health insurance (if you do). To answer that question from my perspective, and provide some anecdotal evidence here, I have had some health issues this year, having to do with occasional irregular heartbeats and chest pains. My health insurance allowed me to see a primary care doctor, who then referred me to two specialists, which did: one EKG; a second EKG while running on a treadmill; and an echocardiogram--none of which would have been cheap, and all of which, thankfully, were covered by my insurance (although I have major qualms with my health insurance provider, Kaiser Permanente, part of which relate to the time they are willing to spend with patients, but also related to the overall issue of for-profit insurance companies' roles in providing health care, which I will have to go into some more in a later post). Thankfully though, they did cover me, and many, as the above numbers emphasize, do not have that luxury (for those of you who know me, those tests they did on me did not find any problems yet). Among other stories, I also have a friend who does not have health insurance, and, upon breaking his leg a few years ago, was faced with thousands of dollars in medical bills; the state of Virginia gave him a loan to cover the surgery and metal plate he needed, but he will be paying it off for many, many years.

To provide some basic facts in answer to this question though, of why lack of insurance matters, here are a few, directly taken from this PDF from the Institute of Medicine (IOM; a part of the National Academies); they are broken into a few categories by IOM, but I just include two here, check the PDF for more.

The uninsured use less health care:

• On average, uninsured persons use one-half to two-thirds the number and value of services compared with their privately insured counterparts and are more likely to use no health services at all.
• In the last year, 43 percent of working-age adults without health insurance reported that they did not seek a physician’s care when they had a medical problem, compared to 10 percent of those who had coverage all year.

Lack of Health Insurance Undermines Health on Multiple Levels:

• Uninsured people are more likely to receive too little medical care and receive it too late; as a result, they are sicker and die sooner.
• Uninsured adults have a 25 percent greater mortality risk than adults with coverage. About 18,000 excess deaths among people younger than 65 are attributed to lack of coverage every year. This mortality figure is similar to the 17,500 deaths from diabetes and 19,000 deaths from stroke within the same age group in 2001.
• Uninsured women with breast cancer have a risk of dying that is between 30 percent and 50 percent higher than for insured women.
• Uninsured car crash victims were found to receive less care in the hospital and had a 37 percent higher mortality rate than privately insured patients.
• Uninsured individuals with diabetes, cardiovascular disease, end-stage renal disease, HIV infection, and mental illness have consistently less access to preventive care and have worse clinical outcomes than do insured patients.
• If common childhood conditions such as asthma, anemia, and middle-ear infections are left untreated or improperly controlled — which can happen if a family lacks insurance — they can affect mental and language development, school performance, and hearing.
• In 1996 and 1997, 15 percent of uninsured pregnant women never went to the doctor before giving birth, compared with 4 percent of women with private or public coverage. Figure 2 outlines the related consequences: more low-birth-weight babies and increased infant mortality.

There are numerous studies, but that's a good overview of the issue, pointing out that, in answer to my question, there are clear hindrances to a healthy, normal lifestyle when one does not have insurance. So on to the last question of mine...

-If it does matter, are there any ways the current system can be changed to help ameliorate the problem?

This question is one that lies at the heart of the debates, particularly among Democratic Presidential candidates, regarding what should be done. Almost all are suggesting huge streamlining efforts to standardize record keeping and introduce technological efficiencies to the overall health care delivery and management system in the US. Other more fundamental changes within the design of the basic system are also being discussed, with the end goal, purportedly, of making health care affordable to all Americans. Of course, as I noted in my last post on the idea of mandating health care, there are even greater changes suggested by many, such as converting the entire system to a non-profit, single payer model. As I also mentioned, that is the model Presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich is proposing, however, all the other models which involve public-private combination systems, are laid out pretty clearly on almost all the other Democratic candidates' sites in their "issues" sections.

In the mean time, feel free to share any health care insurance stories through the comments button below, as well as any other thoughts for or against the points I made here. Also, here are a few short videos that I found doing a cursory search, that I think give a helpful perspective on the issue:

From Sicko (clips 1 and 2 below are from Sicko and as controversial as Moore's work may be, it is no less significant in my view):

Clip 1

Clip 2 (more related to those who have insurance, and the shortcomings that can be involved):

Other Resources:

-The Citizens' Health Care Working Group: A group that, over the last year and a half or so, sought to ask the American people about their perspective on health care issues in America, and report to Congress and the President; the site has lots of videos and other resources:
-Study by the American College of Physicians: "No Health Insurance? It's Enough to Make You Sick - Scientific Research Linking the Lack of Health Coverage to Poor Health":

To Mandate or Not to Mandate Health Insurance Coverage

Yesterday, I reposted a piece I wrote on a potential weakness in Obama's health care plan here on Daily Kos, and received some helpful responses back (by the way, the Daily Kos site is quite key, allowing anyone to post, be rated by readers, and gradually move up in position on the site; the readers are engaged, and many quite knowledgeable, as I found with this issue; lots of well-known names and staff writers also post on the home page, offering a neat combination of seasoned and grassroots commentary). Yesterday though, some who read my piece responded by telling me about some rebuttals by former Secretary of Labor under Clinton, Robert Reich, to the criticisms of Obama's lack of a mandate in his health care plan. He makes some good points. The article I was noting in that post, by Paul Krugman at the New York Times, is apparently one of a number of pieces Krugman has done that, in Reich's view (here), are being given too much coverage on the NYTimes editorial page, and are overly critical of Obama.

I'll just recap the issue here though, concerning mandates, restating what I understand of Krugman's perspective, and then note the basics of what Reich says in opposition. So John Edwards and Hillary Clinton's health care plans include mandates that require everyone to get health insurance, whereas Obama's does not. This is the origin of the claim you may have seen in the Las Vegas debate, and elsewhere, where Clinton said Obama's plan was not universal, claiming it would leave
out 15 million people. She was referring to the idea that without mandates, some number of people would forgo coverage (because either they would not feel they needed it, or they could not afford it). In the NYTimes piece I was writing about before, by Krugman, he claimed that, without mandates, "people who did the right thing and bought insurance when they were healthy would end up subsidizing those who didn’t sign up for insurance until or unless they needed medical care." This struck me as a valid point, because, as Krugman also points out, "Mr. Obama’s plan, like those of his rivals, requires that insurers offer the same policy to everyone." That is, many would be paying X amount of dollars per month for insurance, likely getting some preventive care and thereby avoiding higher-cost emergency room visits; however, since others would be avoiding paying altogether, not getting preventative care, there would be more situations where they had to get expensive emergency care--and there's the rub, since under all the frontrunners' plans the insurance companies would have to offer the same policy to everyone, those individuals waiting until they absolutely needed care would come in at that point and pay the same as everyone who got it earlier, but cost the system more because

Reich, on the other hand, says here that, upon his close inspection, Clinton's plan does not provide enough money up front to subsidize those who cannot pay for care, and that on that basis, her plan would actually cover less people than Obama's. In another short piece, he says that, in the end, the issues of mandates is not that important, because "all their plans would cover a large majority of those who currently lack insurance." Similarly, he holds that mandates are "relevant to only around 3 percent of the population," just under the 5 percent, or 15 million, that Clinton claims will be left uncovered by Obama's plan (although, again, Reich is claiming that Clinton's would actually cover even less, because of the subsidy issue). It's a little hard for me to understand how they actually know that the number would be that small, however both sides are claiming it (even if Clinton's camp is only pointing to Obama's as the plan that would leave that many out). Lastly though, Reich also makes an interesting point about how mandates would be less attractive to Americans because they "conjure up a big government bullying people into doing what they’d rather not do."

That is where I will stop with this post however, to avoid too-long-posts, and also because it offers a good, clean segue into the next question of whether the government should bully people into doing what they'd rather not do--not just with mandates though, but with a full-fledged single payer health care system. I honestly do not know if it is politically viable, but am quite drawn to the single payer idea of ousting the middle man (insurance companies), and will explore these questions a little more in another piece soon.

Other helpful resources on this subject:

-For a piece from Newsweek about how Krugman (and his supposed candidate Edwards) need to be able to work with opposing parties more on issues such as this, as the author claims Obama is able to, go here; somewhat conversely however, for a piece that seems to imply that Obama may have compromised too much with health insurance companies and lobbyists while in the Illinois state Senate (although it's hard to know what to think about it), check out this Boston Globe article.

For an argument against arguing about mandates altogether at this point in the process, see this short piece by Henry Aaron of the Brookings Institution.

Update: I just found an especially video of Barack responding to this issue in Iowa, where he also mentions that the Clinton camp, as noted by Reich in one of the above pieces, claims that the majority of those who would need to be forced to have health coverage via a mandate, are the young and healthy. Obama says in this video that he accounts for that by requiring that insurance companies allow kids to stay on their parents' plan until they are 25. Here is a link to the video.

Update 2 (1/31/08): Another follow-up here from Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor in the Clinton Administration, on the idea of health insurance mandates. In this post, he discusses how the issue simply is not significant enough to make it a deal-breaker. He says at one point:

"A mandate may not make much difference anyway. Columbia University professor Sherry Glied and her colleagues investigated health-insurance mandates now in place in Switzerland and the Netherlands. They report in the November-December issue of Health Affairs that mandates can, but don't always, increase coverage. Whether they do depends on the cost of complying with them and the penalties for not doing so. Overall, they found, the effects of mandates largely reinforced existing high levels of coverage. Switzerland now enjoys near-universal coverage, but this reflects only a tiny increase over the rate of coverage before it was mandated, when over 98% of population had mostly voluntary coverage (emphasis added)."

He goes on, and I've just categorized a few of his responses with my own words in italics:

How would this aspect of Obama's plan specifically differ from the others?

"Take a closer look and even the candidates' positions on mandates aren't all that different. John Edwards has proposed to automatically enroll people in health insurance on their tax returns, but has said this mandate won't apply until premiums are affordable. Hillary Clinton says she favors mandates, but isn't sure there should be a penalty for noncompliance. Barack Obama favors an immediate mandate for children, but doesn't include one for adults. He says he's willing to revisit the issue after making health insurance more affordable and enrollment easier, and is also considering an automatic enrollment with an opt-out for those who don't want to be included (emphasis added)."

On considering a mandate later, and only if necessary:

"As a practical matter, the difference between Sen. Clinton's and Sen. Obama's approaches come down to timing and sequencing. Mrs. Clinton wants a mandate first, believing that enrolling the younger and healthier will help reduce costs for everyone else. Mr. Obama thinks forcing people to buy health insurance before it's affordable isn't realistic. He wants to lower health costs first, and is willing to consider a mandate only if necessary."

Who might a mandate apply to?

"This fight is little more than a distraction, given that a mandate would matter only to a tiny portion of Americans. All major Democratic candidates and virtually all experts agree that the combination of purchasing pools, subsidies, easy enrollment and mandatory coverage of children will cover a large majority of those who currently lack insurance -- even without a mandate that adults purchase it. A big chunk of the remainder are undocumented immigrants, who aren't covered by any of the plans. Who's left? Only around 3% of the population. So the question they're really battling over is whether it's better to require this 3% to buy insurance, or lure them into buying it with low rates and subsidies."

Who is in that 3% of those who would potentially be mandated by Clinton to get coverage?

"The answer depends on who's in this 3%. Mrs. Clinton thinks they're mostly younger and healthier than the general population so they should be required to buy health insurance. That way, they'll bring costs down for everyone else because their payments will subsidize the others. Mr. Obama thinks a lot of them are people who won't be able to afford even the subsidized premiums, so they'd either ignore a mandate or wouldn't be able to pay for it. He says if his plan gets 97% coverage without a mandate and he finds that the remaining 3% are mostly young and healthy, he'll go along with a mandate."

On Massachusetts' experience with mandates:

"Who's correct? It's hard to know. So far, the Massachusetts experiment suggests Mr. Obama. Massachusetts is the only state to require that every resident purchase health insurance. The penalty for failing to do so could reach $4,000 next year, but the state has already exempted almost 20% of its current uninsured from the requirement. Massachusetts is concerned they can't afford a policy, even with subsidies similar to those in all the Democratic plans. So far, about 50% of Massachusetts's uninsured have complied with the mandate."

Finally, to return to the beginning of his post, he points out that:

“Democrats should be celebrating. Their three major candidates have put health insurance front and center on the domestic agenda, and with plans that are remarkably similar. They've done so at a time when the public seems readier than ever before to embrace universal health insurance, and readier to trust a Democratic president to put it into effect.

But instead of celebrating, the candidates and left-leaning pundits are squabbling over whether the plans should include so-called mandates that require everyone to purchase health insurance. Talk about self-inflicted wounds. Mandates are a sideshow, and fighting over them risks turning away voters from the main event.

In almost every important respect, all major Democratic plans are the same. They require employers to "play or pay" -- either provide coverage to their employees or contribute to the cost of coverage. They create purchasing pools that will offer insurance to anyone who doesn't get it from an employer. They offer a public heath-insurance option. The plans preserve freedom of choice of doctors. They aim to save money through more preventive care, better management of chronic disease, and standardized information technology. All of them subsidize lower-income families.

Despite some skirmishing over whose subsidies are most generous, the subsidies are about the same. The major Democratic plans would spend nearly an identical amount of money helping low- and middle-income families because they rely on the same source of general revenue, derived from allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire. Given the myriad ways universal health insurance might otherwise be organized -- single payer, employer mandate, health-insurance vouchers, tax credits -- this Democratic consensus is striking. It also highlights the abject failure of Republicans to come up with any coherent plan.”

Update 3 (1/3/08): The information keeps pouring in on this issue, thus the third update here. As posted here on the Obama site, 80 "health care and legal experts" weighed in on this with a letter signed by all of them; a quick glance at the signers listed at the above link shows the list is dotted with health policy professors from myriad prestigious schools, including many from Harvard and Yale, among others. Here is a particularly poignant quote: "There is simply no factual basis for the assertion that an individual mandate, by itself, would result in coverage for 15 million more Americans than would robust efforts to make health care more affordable and accessible. The inaccurate claim that an individual mandate alone would reduce the ranks of the uninsured by 15 million draws attention away from the challenges we must surmount to make good medical care available to all." And then here is a longer excerpt:

"The remarkably similar health plans proposed by Senators Clinton and Obama have the potential to reduce the number of uninsured Americans (citizens, permanent residents, and others lawfully present in the U.S.) to two percent or less of the population. Achieving this goal would require full implementation of these plans’ subsidies and insurance market reforms, plus robust outreach efforts to get everyone to sign up for coverage.

The necessary outreach will not be easy, and it will be fruitless unless health insurance is made affordable and accessible to all. Some believe that an individual mandate to buy health insurance should be part of this effort; others hold that a mandate would be paternalistic or too onerous for families at the margins of affordability. Regardless of our feelings on this issue, what is clear from the evidence is that mandates alone, without strong incentives to comply and harsh punishments for violation, will have little impact on the number of uninsured Americans. Indeed, as the Massachusetts experience illustrates, non-compliance with mandates is a large problem, absent harsh sanctions. There is simply no factual basis for the assertion that an individual mandate, by itself, would result in coverage for 15 million more Americans than would robust efforts to make health care more affordable and accessible.

The inaccurate claim that an individual mandate alone would reduce the ranks of the uninsured by 15 million draws attention away from the challenges we must surmount to make good medical care available to all. These challenges include adequate public subsidies, insurance market reform, outreach to people at the margins of American life, and long-term control of medical costs. Individual mandates may have a role in health care reform, but there is risk of a specious “Mission Accomplished” moment. It is a time for rolling up our sleeves and addressing the hard work required to get everyone care. The central challenge is to make health insurance affordable and accessible, and to reach out to all Americans to help them obtain coverage. Voters should insist that candidates for president address these very real issues."

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

What's in a Vote (for War)?

*I wrote the below piece back in Dec. of 2007 about Hillary and other Democratic candidates' votes in favor of the 2002 invasion of Iraq; however, the same argument lays at the feet of John McCain now, in my view, as he also voted for the 2002 legislation authorizing the invasion of Iraq. I plan to write a piece targeting McCain's particular bent towards war and imperialism, but in terms of the vote for Iraq, as I said, all the below arguments apply to him as well.

I've got two main qualms with Hillary at this point--one is her vote on Iraq, and the second is what she could do to the prospect of long term gains for progressive candidates and a progressive agenda (due to her divisiveness). I'll just take on the first for the moment, and wrap candidate John Edwards into it as well (along with candidates Biden and Dodd).

I feel our what, four and a half years now in Iraq, have dulled me to the significance of the whole thing. I think any time the candidates opposed to the war mention it, they would do well to remind a too-easily-desensitized electorate of what it is. I mean, what do you think when you hear "Iraq war"? Do you think politics, or war? Or perhaps it has just become a bit like a worn out brand, particularly for the political left, which is mentioning it the most. In realizing this, I did a little research to remind myself and anyone reading of the import of the vote cast back in 2002 by Congress, authorizing the invasion of Iraq (technically known as the "Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002").

The reality of the decision quickly begins to sink in as you consider aspects of it you may not have thought much about, like the simple fact that some number of people (in Congress) decided five years ago that they thought it merited to send troops, force Hussein out of power, and, frankly, attack another country. I myself do not feel I am informed enough to say I am wholesale against any use of force against another country, but I certainly think it is a gravely serious decision that should be overrun with doubt and questioning, double checking, verifying, and a humane sense of meticulous caution. While it may come across as cliche, I think what really knocks the reality of it home is to take a second to consider the number of people who have died in Iraq; according to recent estimates for Iraqi civilians, the range goes anywhere from 34,000 to 793,000--quite a wide range, to be sure. For American serviceman, the most recent count, verified by the Dept. of Defense, is 3895. This does not count those fighting against us, who would not be considered civilians. However, excluding that very significant number of the "opposition" who have been killed, the baseline casualties here, according to these numbers, is 37, 895 (a number I think really must be viewed as extremely conservative). Given that at least that number have died, and the reality that the much touted "weapons of mass destruction," which formed a major basis for our invasion, proved not to exist, it leads to a basic question of whether those who voted for the war should have known better, and should now be trusted with the running of our country (I should say here, I am quite convinced that we had ill-founded reasons for invading Iraq, but would recommend a great PBS piece by Bill Moyers, available online, for those who want a good overview on some of the common reasons for this stance).

In terms of my question though, on whether those who authorized the war should have judged more carefully, I find it significant that in the Senate, 23 voted against authorizing the war; of course some such as Sen. Clinton, Sen. Edwards, Sen. Biden, Sen. Dodd, Sen. McCain (all now running for president), and Sen. John Kerry, voted for it (here's a full list and a quick article on this; a list of the 133 members of the House who voted against it is available here). One excerpt from a 2002 NY Times article said "several Democrats joined Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia in protesting what they said was a heedless rush toward war." And of course, as I wrote about before, Sen. Obama, prior to his election to the Senate, spoke out against the war (also, in terms of the presidential candidates, Rep. Kucinich voted against it, and former Sen. Mike Gravel spoke out as well, with details here and here, respectively). My personal judgment is that these individuals, including highly respected Senators such as Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.), exhibited necessary caution and circumspection, doing the research necessary to make the right decision.

Sen. Levin has a press release available on his site concerning that Oct.2002 vote, which includes a number of points about why he voted against the resolution. One such point states the following: "This grant of authority is also unacceptable since it empowers the President to initiate the use of U.S. military force although the threat against which it is used is not imminent. International law has required that there be an imminent threat before one initiates an attack under the rubric of self defense." He goes on to say that the Administration based their argument on the idea of a "continuing threat," not an "imminent" threat, stating that this could lead to an "increase in violence and aggression throughout the world"--I have to agree, and so am really worried by those who, at the time, did not agree (even though almost all who voted for it then, regret it now). A quick survey question in light of all this:

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Of Campaigns and Contributions

$$$ + campaign = president?

Just a quick post to really mourn over the unbelievable hand finances play in candidate viability. I remember hearing Jimmy Carter talk about elections his Carter Center oversaw in some Central American country, talking about how much fairer the system was there. How do you think the system should be? This CQ article talks about a coming bill that would 1. increase the amount of public financing dollars available to candidates (from $50 & $75 million in the primaries and general election, to $100 million for each); 2. make the dollars available with $4 for every $1 raised, opposed to the current $1 for $1 (at least that's what they say is available in the primaries, not sure about general); 3. make the money available earlier (it was only available starting the 1st of Jan. of election year, but would be moved to 6 months before the first primary date); and 4. would change something I didn't even realize was the case now, with a checkbox that is available on income tax returns which, when checked, currently provides $3 to the public financing pot; the bill would change the option to $10 to increase the amount available to candidates to the levels noted above (either way a good reminder to consider checking that box). 

Any thoughts on what else should be done? I've heard it mentioned that we should evaluate the myriad conduits available, on TV specifically, for candidates to "communicate" their messages (read: sway the voters via quick messages often lacking depth, repeated and repeated in the same or multiple ads, depending on how much MONEY is available to do so). I'm not sure of the viability of utilizing a single station that would cycle through each candidates messages equally, but why the hell not something like that? Now I've tipped my hand in terms of an idea regarding the ad-frenzy that, at the surface level, seems to make definite sense to me. I think the question of money's role in choosing the leader of our nation is a vastly important one (and this does not even get into the hole that our democratic process seems to be lying at the bottom of regarding the donation system for Congress members that is not in a little bit interpreted as a suggestion of the direction their vote or proposed bills should slant; just read about Duke Cunningham, one among many, but himself an EIGHT-term member of the House of Representatives that resigned after pleading guilty to accepting bribes; quick overview available here).

Friday, December 14, 2007

Register your discontent with the Register (Des Moines that is)

Rep. Dennis Kucinich at the December 4th NPR debate.

I decided to do this blog because, as I indicate with the name I chose, I feel it is important to understand our options; however, I feel the ability to do so was muddied tonight. This evening, the final Democratic debate was held before the all-important Iowa caucus in January. The Des Moines Register held the debate, and made the decision on who could participate. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, in his sixth term in Congress and second run for the White House, was excluded, along with former Sen. Mike Gravel. The legitimacy (or not) of the exclusion is the question, and apart from your stance on one candidate or another, one party or another, I think it is a sobering reality check to consider that some of the most important exposure for voters (if not the only) , is via the various television debates. There are no one-on-one conversations and handshaking with the candidates for most Americans, and so, apart from the internet, the debates are the closest we will get to those one-on-one conversations, the best sense we may get of their character and commitment, integrity and so forth. Therefore, based on the facts I outline in the below letter I sent to the editors of the Des Moines Register, I find it an encroachment on my right, and the rights of US citizens, to hear and consider the full swath of candidates, for an exclusion to take place on the basis that it did tonight (check here to read an overview that hits some key points from the Kucinich campaign on the exclusion). I would urge, again, no matter your stance or perspective, any who feel the basis of this exclusion inequitable, to write (or call) the editors yourself at:

Carol Hunter - 515-284-8502

Laura Hollingsworth - 515-284-8041

You may also want to consider visiting this site to sign a petition to send a quick (or more detailed if you prefer) note to Howard Dean, Democratic National Committee Chair, and Mike Duncan, Republican National Committee Chair; the petition includes Rep. Ron Paul and former Sen. Mike Gravel in the language. Here is the note I sent to Mr. Dean and Mr. Duncan, which includes the longer letter I sent to the Des Moines Register:

Greetings, Mr. Howard Dean and Mr. Mike Duncan:

I sent the following letter to the Des Moines Register editors, Ms. Carol Hunter and Ms. Laura Hollingsworth. I feel it expresses clearly the issues with Rep. Kucinich's exclusion from the Dec. 13th debate (along with the related issues with previous exclusions of him, along with Rep. Ron Paul and former Sen. Mike Gravel). I hope you both will work to remedy this situation, perhaps by holding another forum prior to the Iowa caucuses, as our democratic process depends on voters hearing the candidates, particularly at such a decisive time when more and more citizens realize the primaries are almost here, and are naturally beginning to pay attention to the process. Here is the aforementioned letter:

Greetings, Ms. Hunter and Ms. Hollingsworth:

I am deeply frustrated that Rep. Dennis Kucinich was excluded from tonight's debate--the last debate before the Iowa caucuses. It is disturbing enough that elections ride so much on money, I cannot believe that this was done. This is untenable at a time when, to name one example of note, on National Public Radio, the Senior White House correspondent for Newsweek pointed out that the Democratic candidates' positions are beginning to drift towards Rep. Kucinich (albeit not in substantive enough ways; ). This is still the only candidate that is proposing a not-for-profit health care system, among other stances which truly require courage to take. The answer should not be to exclude viable stances such as this from the discussion, if at all possible to include.

Further, numerous online polls have shown that Rep. Kucinich has noteworthy support. The ruling suggests that the decision-makers at the Register have lost sight of the fact that this is a national debate, and at a time when over half of the voters in important primary states have still not made up their mind (not to mention the rest of the country). And although he himself admits he is a long shot candidate, the idea of electability is, as Sean Penn pointed out in a recent endorsement of Rep. Kucinich, changing, else the democratic right to choose whom one will vote for is stripped. The American people deserve to hear and consider the voice of this serious, six-term Congressman who has functioned as a clarion voice in an otherwise overly cautious campaign season. I simply feel more equitable rules could have been formed if those in charge had more carefully considered the possible scenarios that could develop. I am less familiar with former Sen. Mike Gravel, however I think he may also have deserved to participate.

I hope a more thorough explanation and engagement with the true concerns of myriad Americans is published and made available to the public via the Register, and in a more thorough fashion than the short explanation currently available on the site ( ). According to the site, "Campaign officials say Kucinich's Iowa office is in donated space at the home of a Dubuque organizer. Register Vice President of Marketing Susan Patterson Plank said the campaign's explanation did not suffice. 'The decision by the Des Moines Register was that they needed to have an office, not in someone's home,' she said." The premise of this rule that requires a definite office in the state of Iowa in order to participate in the debate, is questionable in and of itself, particularly when there are clear campaign strategies that could encourage a candidate to focus more on other states. Furthermore, this rule (number 3 of those posted on your site), says "Candidates must have had a campaign office inside the State of Iowa as of October 1, 2007," yet there is no stipulation of the details on what the office should be. Are there further details on this? If so, they should have been sited and posted on the site, along with the basic set of rules I am referencing. However, given Ms. Patterson Plank's above explanation, it does not appear that the rules did stipulate between offices and home-based offices, as she seems to be stating that "a decision" was made after the issue with Rep. Kucinich's home-based office surfaced. Without clear stipulations beforehand, how should Rep. Kucinich's campaign know what type of office is needed? I respectfully ask for greater explanation, and if this decision proves unjustifiable (as it appears to be), another debate with Rep. Kucinich and perhaps former Sen. Mike Gravel in attendance--prior to the January Iowa caucus.



By the way, as a note to those reading my blog, if you got this far, you should really check out the text at the NPR link above, as it gives a good sense of Rep. Kucinich's place amid the current campaign (along with this bit on the NPR site with a slew of public comments on Kucinich). As I mentioned in the letter to the Register, he is certainly, by his own admission, a long shot candidate, but really speaks of vision and conviction and integrity from where I sit.

Update: I posted this in a section on the Des Moines Register site, where they allow you to start a blog. Check it out here, as there may or may not be some interesting comments that come around; and check here and here for their two (unsatisfactorily short) pieces on Kucinich's exclusion, as there are myriad comments, many of which are just various people who come across as sincerely bothered by this.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Presidential forum on social justice-related issues

I recently watched an unreal presentation/questioning of Democratic presidential candidates from community organizations/activists. It was completely worth my time. I was just floored again and again by the stories shared by the community workers involved who generally worked in some sort of human service job. Each candidate hears these short stories and is then asked related questions on a number of issues. Each candidate takes about 15-20 minutes or so if you decide to watch.

Here's the link, you can watch the whole thing, or scroll down to find videos of individual candidates. I’d recommend watching at least Kucinich and Edwards, both very key in my opinion. I think both expressed some real vision. But shoot some comments back and let me know what you think if you check either of them or the others out.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Web stats thus far (continually updated)...

Thanks to Google Analytics--a great, free tool--here are some of the running stats for my site so far, dating back to the first visit on Dec. 3rd (thanks Christy!). I put them up here because I think readers like to know that they're not the only ones checking out a blog, and to know that others who are visiting are actually spending some time on the site. Every once in a while I'll throw some new stats up here.

From Dec. 3rd to Nov. 4th (election day!):

2.492 Visits
1,351 Absolute Unique Visitors
5,636 Pageviews
2.26 Average Pageviews
00:04:31 Average Time on Site
54.17% New Visits

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Hola, and welcome.

Post numero uno. I've actually succumbed to the Facebook phenomenon and was placing a handful of comments/links there in hope that some of the research I had done might be of help to others who are trying to consider which candidate they may support; so, the first handful of posts here are the ones I already posted there (and I post-dated those so this intro comment would appear at the beginning). The posts will generally just be a short bit on my perspective with references out to useful articles/resources I’ve found. It may only last through the primaries, I'll see how it goes.

In terms of the overall scope of this blog though--at the risk of repeating a common idea--I would urge any out there to consider ways they might get involved in the primary season (and general election for that matter). I especially think this is incumbent upon us as citizens, period. Further though, it is the simple reality of life today that people are dying, whether one finds it justified or not, because of decisions the current President made (in conjunction with others); the Middle East in general is massively affected by various decisions related to the war and the Administration's approaches to diplomacy, etc. So it cannot be said that it does not matter who sits in the White House, because it does; again, regardless of one's view of the Administration and its approach to governance, I think we have an obligation to consider the full swath of candidates, else we undermine the characteristic that divides democratic nations such as us, from those where the people have zero to little say, such as North Korea or Saudia Arabia (for example, something like this from today's Washington Post is allowed to happen in Saudia Arabia, to reference one of the somewhat lesser, but no less disturbing qualities of life in non-democratic countries--although sadly, we have seen many signs that we are heading downhill as well, with allowances of torture, etc.).

This blog is part of my attempt to to consider ways I might get involved, so I am working through these considerations as I write. Here's a few ideas I'm looking at though, that I'd suggest that anyone considering some form of involvement might think about as well:

-doing research to come to some conclusion about one or two candidates you want to try to support;

-contributing financially (as unfortunate as the sway of money is in the current system, it has a direct effect on how many voters see and hear from a given candidate--e.g., ad money, travel money to various speaking events and debates, and so forth);

-finding an organizing group for that candidate in your state (most if not all candidates have a feature for this on their websites);

-contributing to candidate exposure (bumper stickers, signs, dialoguing with others, etc.).

Please feel free to add any comments and start a dialogue with any of my posts, if something comes to mind.

Update: Over the two months since I first wrote this introduction, I eventually decided to support Obama. This blog chronicles much of my thought process leading up to that decision, although I may keep it going up to the general election.

Update 2: Here's a great link I found with 12 suggested ways to get politically involved.

Update 3: As of November 11th when I wrote this, I probably won't go much beyond Obama's inauguration with these posts--just becomes too much to keep up; but man am I happy to be able to say that Obama's inauguration is coming, man do we need him in there!!

Obama, weakness on health care?

I wrote the following post some months ago, but have since learned that it does not appear to be accurate. Please see my most recent post here, as I mention in the 2nd update below, to learn more about what is clearly a complex issue (as I describe in the above post, it seems like it may be a benign issue in the end).

Ah, despite Obama's real strengths, he looks weak on health care from my read on this (might need free registration), and really just as though his plan would not be as effective as some others. He says he is open to the possibility of eventually mandating people have health insurance, but that is CLEARLY needed to really make the idea of an ECONOMICAL, as well as practicable universal system of care possible (as the above article talks about).

Update: GREAT New York Times piece by two Harvard medical professors that casts doubt on all of the frontrunners' plans, turning instead to that of Rep. Dennis Kucinich, and his single payer approach.

Update 2: I got some feedback from some people on the Daily Kos website about this post, and it seems things are not this clear cut, so I have an updated, more in-depth look at it here.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

What did Obama actually say when he spoke against the war before it began?

Picture of Obama during his 2002 speech opposing the Iraq war.

It's ridiculous how much a symbol like Obama's name and logo can so quickly become kitsch and tacky with overexposure, however it may just be that I've been spending enough time looking at things that it appears that way to me. Nevertheless, I had never read or heard what exactly Obama said in his oft-mentioned opposition to the Iraq war PRIOR to it being declared--take 3 minutes and read his short speech, it is a remarkably accurate prediction of what has happened, I can't believe it. He gave it during his campaign for U.S. Senate--not a time when it is very safe to oppose a war that was framed (wrongly I believe) as part of our "payback" for 9-11 (as an important sidenote, the whole concept of paypack or revenge is not helpful in my view; dealing with the root problems to make sure they don't arise again seems a more worthwhile, humane approach). Here's the little bit of it that was caught on tape too (with a bunch of people after filling in some pieces of what he said that was not caught on tape): (check out the written speech to hear it all though, it really is short). You can also look at his overview page on Iraq here.

Update: In reading over Obama's speech another time, I thought I would pull a few quotes to place right in this post, although I would once again encourage anyone interested to read the whole thing, as it is literally just a page long. Here's a few excerpts:

-“What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other armchair, weekend warriors in this administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne.”

-“That's what I'm opposed to. A dumb war. A rash war. A war based not on reason but on passion, not on principle but on politics. Now let me be clear - I suffer no illusions about Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal man. A ruthless man. A man who butchers his own people to secure his own power. He has repeatedly defied UN resolutions, thwarted UN inspection teams, developed chemical and biological weapons, and coveted nuclear capacity. He's a bad guy. The world, and the Iraqi people, would be better off without him.”

-"I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a US occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of Al Qaeda.”

-“You want a fight, President Bush? Let's fight to make sure our so-called allies in the Middle East, the Saudis and the Egyptians, stop oppressing their own people, and suppressing dissent, and tolerating corruption and inequality, and mismanaging their economies so that their youth grow up without education, without prospects, without hope, the ready recruits of terrorist cells.”

-“You want a fight, President Bush? Let's fight to wean ourselves off Middle East oil, through an energy policy that doesn't simply serve the interests of Exxon and Mobil. Those are the battles that we need to fight. Those are the battles that we willingly join. The battles against ignorance and intolerance. Corruption and greed. Poverty and despair. The consequences of war are dire, the sacrifices immeasurable.”

-“We may have occasion in our lifetime to once again rise up in defense of our freedom, and pay the wages of war. But we ought not -- we will not -- travel down that hellish path blindly. Nor should we allow those who would march off and pay the ultimate sacrifice, who would prove the full measure of devotion with their blood, to make such an awful sacrifice in vain.”

Update 2: Here's a great seven-and-a-half minute video clip of Obama talking about: the thought process he went through prior to deciding to oppose the war early on; his overall take on where the war has gone wrong, including interesting notes about such things as the need to punish high-ranking officers in cases like Abu Ghraib; and finally, on the need to launch "the greatest diplomatic effort in recent history" in order to move the Iraq region to a positive position. Here's the video:

Update 3: Here's a link I'll write more about later, to an unbelievable speech before the war by Presidential candidate Rep. Dennis Kucinich on the floor of the House of Representatives. It is incredibly prescient, taking portions of the 2002 Iraq War Resolution, which authorized use of force in Iraq, prior to its passage, piece by piece, and dismantling the justifications behind it. This is the type of judgment that was not shown by those who voted for it--Clinton, Edwards, Biden and Dodd--that is based on very accessible information, as you'll see with the Kucinich speech. That is why I wrote this piece, "What's in a Vote (for War)," about how I think we should be able to expect better proven judgment and sober-minded caution from those who are seeking to run our nation.

Update 4: I did write about the above piece by Kucinich, and it's damning, in my view, for any who voted for the war. Read the piece I wrote on this with specific excerpts from his House floor speech here.

Update 5 (I also added this same note to the end of this post): There's just so many issues related to our decision to go into Iraq, and therefore a number of updates I've had here. As an addendum here, I just watched Obama speaking at a faith forum where he talked about the "solemn obligation that you do everything you can to get that decision right," talking about decisions of war and peace (see the last 30 seconds of this video, where he also talks about how he "agonized" over the entire decision of whether to go into Iraq); that's a solemness I must say I do not see in the disgusting casualness with which McCain approaches issues of war--e.g., in the way he has literally joked about the idea of bombing Iran (video here). I'll hope to write more about the faith forum and McCain's overall views on war later.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Health care part deux

Hey whoever might be reading this, a good follow up to that last post of mine on '08 options for hlth insurance. This website has online videos available of forums that are being done with most of the candidates from both parties, and are nicely in depth with questions from a panel of reporters from ABC News, NPR, the Wall Street Journal, and the PBS NewsHour. It's takes a LOT of time to learn about the candidates in some depth, and I think the paramount importance of this issue makes it a good place to start (even if it is the only issue one might end up having much of a specific sense about with the candidates). At least I'm personally trying to understand at least one issue with some decent measure.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Health care how?

A key article on how Kucinich is the only presidential candidate offering a single payer health care system. I don't know if it's the most realistic or how it compares to the other candidates sort of mixed approaches to providing health care for all via govt. and private collaboration, but it is certainly interesting and something I'll personally be checking out. I just can't get past the basic issue of health care as a right that so many are being kept from because of unnecessarily high costs (ie, costs that reflect insurance companies' profits, not simply the cost of the care). I would challenge people to see Sicko, even though Moore has been somewhat imbalanced in previous films, i think for the most part, he does a good job of telling the story of what I think is the criminal state of our health care system.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Whoever's out there, check out this 10 questions thing here: important questions I think (along with some that are less so). It's a way people can submit questions via video that they want the presidential candidates to answer. Then people vote on the questions that have been submitted (which has now happened) and the 10 with the most votes will be answered (via video also) by each of the candidates (hopefully that is; you can push two quick buttons or so on the homepage there though, to encourage all the candidates to participate; it's sponsored by the NY Times and others though, so candidates will likely partcipate).