Monday, March 22, 2010


Historic Vote?

By Reginald Johnson
March 22, 2010

After what was said to be a momentous weekend in American history, all I can say is this: it wasn’t so momentous.

The backers of the health insurance reform bill passed by the House Sunday said the legislation was “historic” and a great step forward. Supporters like Speaker Nancy Pelosi likened the vote to approve the bill to the moment in 1965 when Medicare was passed or to the time in the 1930s when Social Security was approved.

Please, please. The measure OKed by the House is in no way nearly as strong or as sweeping as Medicare or Social Security. Those programs have stood the test of time for decades, and hundreds of millions of people have benefited.

I doubt seriously hundreds of millions of people will really benefit from this plan, if the bill is finally approved by the Senate and signed by President Obama. Some people on the lower end of the income scale, not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid and not wealthy enough to buy health insurance on their own, will benefit by getting government assistance to buy a plan. But there’s no option to buy a government plan, like Medicare. They’ll have to buy coverage from private health insurance companies, which offer, as we all know, weak policies.

Then for the bulk of the population --- loosely defined as the middle class --- the bill does nothing. No government aid, because you make too much to be eligible. No control on health insurance rates. It is a fact that a majority of the people who have filed for bankruptcy due to health care costs are people who had health insurance.

The new law will actually do harm, in the view of Dr. Margaret Flowers, a leader of the group Physicians for a National Health Care Plan, which has pushed for a single-payer program. Vast sums of government money will be turned over to private corporations to help them provide plans for those qualifying for assistance. This guarantees that high profits will continue to roll in for insurance carriers. There’s little, if any sacrifice demanded here from the Aetnas and Blue Crosses of the world.

“This bill further cements the privatization of health care, further enriches the industries that are the problem,” Flowers said in a statement Sunday.

Flowers said the action to approve the Obama plan actually pulls us further away from getting what we really need, a Medicare-for- all, single- payer plan. I think that’s right, and it’s very regrettable, because in the long-run, single payer is the only way to go.

One other thing about the weekend: the behavior by Tea Partiers was a disgrace. Tea Party members were at the Capitol to protest the health care bill, because they think it creates too much big government. Boy, have they got that wrong.

As inaccurate as that view is, they’re entitled to their opinion. But it is unacceptable for people to hurl racial and anti-gay insults at congressmembers as they walked into the Capitol to work on the bill. That’s what some Tea Party members did, directing their venom at the likes of civil rights hero John Lewis of Georgia and Barney Frank of Massachusetts.

If the Tea Party people want to vent about big government and the unfairness of the economic system, I don’t have a problem. I understand their frustration.

But if they want to act racist, homophobic, or hint at the need for violence, they’ve really lost me. This kind of thing has to be roundly condemned.

Saturday, March 6, 2010


Where Will the Anger Lead?

By Reginald Johnson
March 6, 2006

You get the feeling these days something is going to pop.

Everywhere you look, whether it’s here or overseas, there seems to be so much stress on the part of regular people, so much anger building, that you just wonder when people have had enough. When they’ve hit that breaking point, things are going to blow.

I started thinking this way when I opened my computer one day this week, went on the Internet and began glancing at the day’s lead stories.

The first one I saw had the following headline: “Greece announces new $6.5 billion austerity plan.” The story said the Greek government was set to impose sweeping spending cuts, under pressure from the European Union. Greece has run up a huge deficit, due to the recession and some dubious financial advice from the American investment firm, Goldman Sachs.

The EU has told Greece, impose deep spending cuts to slash the deficit, or we won’t help you out with financial aid.

So the government has decided workers and regular people are going to take the hit. Pay and benefits will be cut. Pensions will be frozen and taxes raised.

Last month, when the government first indicated these measures were being considered, some 2 million people took to the streets to protest. That’s about 20 percent of the total population of Greece!

An official from the EU came to Greece recently and said there would be a lot of pain for Greeks for 20 years before things got better. That’s nice.

The government, pushed by the business-friendly European Union, is basically forcing these cuts on the people. Take it, or else. You wonder if the people will. Could the government fall if millions take to the streets again and say, no, they won’t take it?

Greece is not alone in this crisis. Italy, Portugal and Spain, among others, are also in dire financial straits. What does this portend for the governments of those countries and the European Union? For the globalized economy of the world?

When I finished the story on Greece, I spotted another article --- seemingly smaller in scope, but actually tied to a much larger and similar issue in the U.S. The headline read: “South Carolina to cut benefits for 30,000 disabled residents.”

The story said that “Children with autism, people with spine and brain injuries and the long-term disabled in job programs are among 30,000 people who would lose help under a $5.1 billion state spending plan” approved by a legislative committee.

So this is what it has come down to in South Carolina --- cutting aid for the disabled in order to make up a budget deficit. How cruel and insensitive can these legislators be?

The action in South Carolina is shocking, but sad to say, the state is not alone in its drive to reduce costs. From New York to California, services are being slashed so states can find the savings to make up for revenue shortfalls due to the recession/depression. Most states have balanced budget rules, so it’s either raise taxes or cut spending, or both, to square the budgets.

Health benefits, pensions, education funding and an array of social services are being slashed in many states. Aid to municipalities is also being cut, so many towns and cities are reducing services or laying off.

Medicaid, the health care program for the low-income, is being chopped in a number of states. New York alone is considering a $400 million cut in Medicaid reimbursements to providers, including doctors, nursing homes, hospitals and clinics. Those type of cuts will mean poor and disabled people will have a more difficult time finding health care services.

As all these cuts kick in, there is mounting resistance. The funding reductions in education are causing an uproar. Just as this piece was being written, hundreds of thousands of people around the country protested education cuts in a “National Day of Action.”

It’s clear that people are getting fed up with the picture they see in our society, just as folks are in Europe. The big banks, which in good part have been responsible for the global economic crisis with their reckless investment schemes, have gotten trillions of dollars in bailouts from the federal government. Reports now come in that huge bonuses are being handed out again on Wall Street. Yet ordinary people are being told their kids’ education is being cut back, their doctor won’t take Medicaid anymore, or their job with the city or state government is being eliminated.

This is a recipe for a political explosion.

Yet in the halls of the state legislatures and in Washington, D.C., there seems to be a disconnect. Except for a minority of progressive elected officials, not that many people in the political realm are speaking out about the contradiction that’s going on.

The disconnect goes right to the top with Barack Obama. Last month, the president, stressing the need to tackle the federal deficit, proposed a budget which would freeze spending on all social programs, including health care, education and job training. By executive order, he set up a commission which will study and then mandate spending reductions, particularly on entitlements like Social Security, in order to balance the budget. ( A hard-line conservative and Social Security opponent was appointed to head the panel.)

But at the very same time Obama proposed raising the military budget up to the record level of $750 billion dollars.

Obama has shown little leadership to try to get through serious financial reforms to curb the excesses of the banks. He made no effort to stop the Federal Reserve from shoveling over trillions to the banks last year to save them from their own self-created mess with “toxic assets.” These huge bailout packages, together with the massive sums lavished on the military – for weaponry that in many cases we don’t need and two disastrous wars --- has led to the sky-high government debt that Obama now says ordinary people are going to have to pay for.

The left needs to wake up and tap into the frustration among people about what the government is doing --- and not doing. Some of the “Tea Party” protests have been instigated by outsiders and manipulators, but some of this anger is borne from a genuine sense of disenfranchisement and alienation. I don’t agree with the tactics or things being said at these gatherings, but the left needs to seize on this situation, present positive solutions and try to channel the alienation into a real and productive movement to change national priorities.

People on the left also need to recognize at this stage Obama is not the answer. He’s little more than a Democratic conservative who’s not committed to progressive values. He lied about what he was and fooled a lot of people. Far from being the solution, he’s part of the problem.

As it always has been, it will take a real, broad-based social movement in this country to change things. It better get underway soon, or else the anger and frustration in our society could spin out of control and take a very negative turn.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Case Closed on 911? Not So Fast

By Reginald Johnson
March 2, 2010

More than 1,000 architects and engineers are demanding a new investigation of 911, in the wake of evidence that explosives may have been used to bring down the World Trade Center towers.

The group Architects and Engineers for 911 Truth say the evidence they’ve uncovered calls into question the official version of how the towers came down --- namely that fires sparked by the crashes of two hijacked planes damaged higher floors in the buildings to the point where they collapsed, setting off a chain reaction of floors falling on each other, in a “pancake effect.”

Richard Gage, a San Francisco architect and founder of the group, said that dust samples taken from the World Trade Center site after the destruction of the New York City buildings on Sept. 11, 2001, showed the presence of “advanced explosive nano-thermitic composite material.” The powerful explosive could explain why the buildings fell in a manner similar to controlled demolition, Gage believes.

Gage and many other critics of the official version of 911 maintain that fires set off by exploding jet fuel could not have burned hot enough to weaken the steel beams in the buildings to the point where they would have collapsed.

Other forensic evidence the group has brought forth also casts doubt on the official version:
· Complete destruction of both Twin Towers in just 10-14 seconds, in near free-fall acceleration;
· Over 100 first responder reports of explosions and flashes;
· A 1200-foot-diameter debris field: but “pancaked” floors not seen in the debris;
· Several tons of molten metal found in debris.

Gage and others in the group recently held press conferences around the country to announce their findings and state that they are sending petitions to Congress demanding a new inquiry to “uncover the full truth surrounding the events of 9/11/01 – specifically the collapse of the World Trade Center towers and Building 7.”

Architects and Engineers for 911 Truth are also calling for a grand jury investigation of officials of the National Institute of Standards and Technology which studied the collapse of the WTC twin towers, and Building 7, which was not hit by a plane.

“The official FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Administration) and NIST reports provide insufficient, contradictory and fraudulent accounts of the towers’ destruction,” the group said in a press release.

None of the official investigations of the events of Sept. 11, 2001 --- including those by the 911 Commission, a U.S. Senate committee, FEMA and NIST --- examined the possibility that explosives were used to bring down the trade center buildings or that there might have been collusion between the hijackers and other parties to facilitate the attacks.

The government’s storyline holds that 19 al-Qaeda terrorists, acting alone, hijacked four U.S. commercial airliners, crashing two into the World Trade Center, another into the Pentagon, and a fourth into a field in Pennsylvania. Nearly 3,000 people died in the attacks.

Michael Donly, a member of Architects and Engineers for 911 Truth, said in an interview with “Russia Today” that some of the evidence that the group looked at was originally found by government investigators, but never adequately pursued.

Donly said FEMA scientists and engineers took dust samples at the World Trade Center site and found evidence of molten steel. That pointed to the possibility that other factors besides airplane crashes and fires could have been responsible for the building collapses, and the FEMA team recommended further investigation. But that was never done, and the information on the samples was put in an appendix in the FEMA report, Donly said.

Since authorities arrived at their final conclusions on what happened on 911, critics have charged that the government’s version of events had numerous flaws. Some have even charged that 911 was an “inside job,” with government involvement.

But people raising doubts about the official story have routinely been dismissed as “conspiracy nuts” or “kooks.” Critics have generally gotten little play in the mainstream press.

However, groups like Architects and Engineers for 911 Truth and others press on, demanding a new and more thorough investigation of 911.