Archive for November, 2010

Watch: Ron and Arnie Koss discuss The Earth’s Best Story

Friday, November 12th, 2010

Take a look at the newest video on Chelsea Green TV featuring authors Ron and Arnie Koss, whose book is The Earth’s Best Story: A Bittersweet Tale of Twin Brothers Who Sparked an Organic Revolution.

In The Earth’s Best Story, twins Ron and Arnie Koss masterfully recount their transition from eking out livings as sprout growers and broom makers to creating Earth’s Best baby food—the first organic food to sit beside mainstream competitors on the nation’s supermarket shelves. That feat revolutionized and empowered the organic-foods movement and benefited hundreds of farmers as well as the millions of babies whose very first foods have been organically grown.

Watch the video below to hear Ron and Arnie discussing their journey and describing their book.

Visit The Earth’s Best Story page to learn more.

Jamie Court on GRITtv with Laura Flanders

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

Jamie Court, author of The Progressive’s Guide to Raising Hell, was interviewed by host Laura Flanders on GRITtv on Tuesday, as seen in the video below.

He pointed out that Democrats should not be discouraged by the recent election results, and that, instead, they should look to key progressive victories in California – including the failed attempts of oil and insurance companies to buy the elections – for inspiration going forward.

“If you want evidence that populism is alive in America, I say look to California,” said Jamie. Democrats around the country, he points out, are often more concerned with raising money than raising hell. “We’ve got to change our tactics…We can’t wait for Obama, we have to take it into our own hands”.

Check out the video below to learn more.

Jamie Court is the author of The Progressive’s Guide to Raising Hell, available now.

Charlotte Dennett: How to Prosecute a President

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

One wonders if former President George W. Bush actually thinks he will be politically resurrected — and absolved of all his crimes — following a tide of Republican electoral victories last week and the publication of his memoir this week.

Already there has been a good deal of commentary about the timing of the book’s release. Theories range from Bush not wanting to hurt the electoral chances of his fellow party members during campaign season, to Bush anticipating and then capitalizing on a Republican landslide, to the most sophisticated theory of all: by Bush’s publishing date (November 9) the statute of limitations will have ended on prosecuting the CIA’s destruction of torture tapes, something that has been under investigation by Special Prosecutor John Durham with no legal action yet announced.

Adding to this speculation are questions over why Bush would admit in his book to authorizing the torture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in March, 2003.

But rather than get bogged down in speculative legal theories about whether the former president can be prosecuted for violating U.S. and international laws on torture, allow me to focus on a simple fact that is consistently overlooked: there is no statute of limitations for murder. Bush and his fellow co-conspirators are criminally liable for murder by taking our troops to war under false pretenses, resulting in the deaths of over 4,000 American soldiers.

The first lawyer to make this proposition was legendary prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi, in his bestselling book, The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder. When I read in his book that any attorney general or district attorney could prosecute Bush for this crime in a state court, I took up his challenge — as a candidate for attorney general in Vermont — and then wrote about it in my own political memoir, The People v Bush: One Lawyer’s Campaign to Bring the President to Justice and the National Grassroots Movement She’s Encountered Along the Way (Chelsea Green, 2010).

I was ignored by the mainstream media. But I took solace in enthusiastic endorsements from authors like Naomi Wolf, Glenn Greenwald and Howard Zinn — with Zinn writing just weeks before his death that I was trying to “awaken the conscience of the nation,” with a “clarion call for the people to confront the crimes of government, for democracy to come alive.” In fact, as I pointed out in the book, every effort to hold Bush accountable has been incremental, starting with prosecutor Elizabeth de la Vega’s call for prosecuting him on fraud charges for tricking us into war, and a national impeachment movement which turned to a prosecution movement after impeachment was squashed by Democratic party leaders intent on winning elections. Next came Bugliosi’s book on murder and other books on war crimes, the authors all coming together at a conference on “Planning for the Prosecution of High Level American War Criminals” sponsored by Dean Larry Velvel at the Massachusetts School of Law in September, 2008. Out of this was born the Robert Justice Jackson Steering Committee of lawyers and journalists — of which I am a part — committed to prosecuting war criminals on the principles established at the Nuremberg trials.

But of all these efforts, the case for prosecuting Bush on murder in a state court could have the best chance precisely because the Feds — including our “I prefer to look forward, not backward” president — show no inclination of pursuing prosecutions and certainly none that would implicate the CIA, the Bush White House or its enablers, Justice Department lawyers, John Yoo and Jay Bybee. As Dean Velvel has so aptly put it, “Trial for murder in state courts… is the lawful and necessary counterweight to what has become the federal monster the framers so desperately wanted to avoid.”

All that’s required to move prosecution forward is education – and popular will. Initially, people have a hard time accepting the mere proposition that a former president is no longer immune from prosecution once he leaves office. But here’s a little history lesson: President Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon for obstruction of justice during the Watergate scandal. Otherwise, Nixon would have ended up behind bars.

As for Bush, I invite you to go to the “How to Prosecute a President” section on my website under Frequently Asked Questions. Here are a few abbreviated excerpts:

Q: What is the evidence to convict Bush of murder?

A: Bush’s lies to the American people on television on October 7, 2002, when he claimed, shortly before seeking Congressional support for his Iraq war, that Saddam Hussein was a “great danger to our nation.” (The answer goes on to point out that only six days earlier, Bush’s own intelligence organizations had told him in a classified report that Saddam Hussein was not an imminent threat.) In short, Bush was misleading innocent American soldiers into war.

Q: How can Bush be treated as a criminal if what he did in Iraq had the consent of Congress?
A: Fraud vitiates consent. Bush led Congress into the war under false pretenses, as described above, thereby nullifying its consent.

Q: What are the legal theories conferring jurisdiction to try Bush in a state court?

A: Conspiracy to Commit Murder: This crime does not require… the death of an individual, whether in Vermont or any other state. All that is needed is an agreement between two or more people to carry out the war in Iraq and an “overt act” in the state to “further the object of the conspiracy.” That would include Bush’s lies outside of any given state, which were carried by radio and television straight into the homes and cars of the American people, including into the state where Bush would be prosecuted.

Q: If you are charging murder, how can you show intent?

A: There are two types of malice aforethought: express and implied. Implied malice does not require an intent to kill. It simply requires a showing that Bush intended to do an inherently dangerous act with wanton and reckless disregard for the consequences and an indifference to human life. This state of mind is certainly satisfied by Bush taking this nation into a deadly war.

Q: What defense does Bush have for the crime of murder?

A: Bush’s only defense would be… that he took this nation to war in self defense — i.e. his so-called preemptive strike. But because evidence shows that Saddam Hussein was not a threat to our national security, and because Bush, knowing that, nonetheless sent troops to their deaths under false pretenses, Bush had no legitimate reason to invade Iraq, and therefore cannot persuasively argue that his defense was self defense.


That’s just a snapshot. There are many more legal sophistications described in the FAQ’s. My book, meanwhile, goes one step further in building the case against Bush by showing how the crime of torture can be folded in to the crime of murder. How? The early acts of torture committed by the CIA on detainees seized in the early days of the war in Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002 were not designed to get actionable intelligence; instead, they were committed to strengthen Bush’s flimsy pretext for war — by getting false confessions from detainees about nonexistent links to Al Qaeda, Saddam Hussein, and 9/11. As Paul Krugman put it in a New York Times blog, “So it [the Bush administration] tortured people to make them confess to the nonexistent link. There’s a word for this: it’s evil.” And what can be more evil than murder whether it be murder of tortured individuals for spurious reasons (at least 100 have died from torture) or intent to send American soldiers to war on false pretenses?

If you want to help in this educational process, call your local bookstore and let them know that my publisher is offering a special deal, in return for placing The People v Bush next to Bush’s Decision Points. There is also a growing accountability movement that allows for pro-democracy people to find each other and take action. You can find an appendix of groups dedicated to accountability in People v Bush, and I encourage you to check out the website. It takes a village — and a global one at that — to reverse the tide of lawlessness in this country. Only when we join together and insist that enough is enough will we be put George W. Bush and his co-conspirators in their place: out of the bookstores and behind bars, where they belong.

Read the original article at The Huffington Post.

Charlotte Dennett is a lawyer, investigative journalist, and author of The People v Bush: One Lawyer’s Campaign to Bring the President to Justice and the National Grassroots Movement She’s Encountered Along the Way, available now.

Watch: Bob Cavnar on MSNBC

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

Bob Cavnar, author of the newly released Disaster on the Horizon: High Stakes, High Risks, and the Story Behind the Deepwater Well Blowout, was on Countdown with Keith Olbermann last night, talking to guest host Thomas Roberts about the President’s Oil Spill Commission and its findings.

Yesterday marked the first of two days of public hearings held by the Oil Spill Commission in Washington, DC, and one of the central messages conveyed seemed to be that, despite media reports to the contrary, officials from TransOcean and BP were not aware of any safety concerns about the cement mixture used in the Macondo well. As seen in the video below, Cavnar explains that the design of the well itself was intrinsically risky, regardless of any claims by the companies’ representatives that no decisions were made on April 20th to prioritize dollars over human and environmental safety.

Have a look at the video to learn more.

Bob Cavnar’s Disaster on the Horizon is available now.

Jamie Court: 10 Rules of Populist Power

Monday, November 8th, 2010

The following is an excerpt from Jamie Court’s The Progressive’s Guide to Raising Hell: How to Win Grassroots Campaigns, Pass Ballot Box Laws, and Get the Change We Voted For, which originally appeared on the web exclusively at 

Turning the tables on a powerful opponent revolves around a few core principles. By understanding what works and what hasn’t for change makers, an informed public can better stake its claim to change. In fact, there are ten simple rules that can help an awakened public see and seize the outside opportunities for creating changes that the vast majority of Americans believe in.

Rule 1: Forcing Opponents to Make Mistakes Is the Goal of Effective Advocacy for Change; Promoting Issues Is Not Enough

Any major change in public policy requires a shift in the balance of power. A big opponent with a self-interest in the status quo stands in the way of the popularly sought reform, or that reform would have happened already. When the powerful opponents of change make egregious mistakes, they vastly amplify the value and force of our campaigns by proving the point we cannot demonstrate on our own: our opponents’ values are out of touch with the public’s.

Every campaign for real change must (1) define an opponent; (2) be waged to trip up the opponent; and (3) be ready to create change from the opponent’s mistakes.

Consider how Congress finally banned so-called drive-through deliveries when HMOs tried to save some money by discharging newborns and their mothers from the hospital as early as eight hours after birth. The practice caught Congress’s eye only after a Kaiser HMO bureaucrat got a little too cute in a memo written to staff at the HMO’s flagship Sunset Boulevard hospital in Los Angeles. A whistleblower gave me the memo, titled “Positive Thoughts Regarding the Eight Hour Discharge.” Among the “reasons” given for hospital staff to explain the hasty departure to new moms were “hospital food is not tasty” and “better bonding with siblings at home.” Our exposure of the memo to the media became big news and was soon the subject of congressional hearings. Not only were the HMOs slighting motherhood, but data showed that newborns discharged early were twice as likely to end up in the emergency room with problems that proved to be expensive.

HMO executives were confronted with their penny-wise, pound-foolish policy. The rare glimpse into the cynical attitude of an HMO administration, coupled with exposures about mothers thrown out of the hospital before they learned to breast-feed, drove a Newt Gingrich–controlled Congress to require that newborns and their mothers not be discharged from the hospital any sooner than forty-eight hours without their consent. Congress rarely acts quickly, but when it does it’s because there is little doubt what the public wants and that those who oppose the public’s interest, like HMOs, cannot be trusted because they are so out of step. Only our opponents’ mistakes can demonstrate so clearly why things need to change.

When opponents of new financial privacy protections claimed our privacy was not at risk, I proved the point in a novel way. I bought the Social Security numbers of Attorney General John Ashcroft, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and other cabinet officials on the Internet for $26. When California legislation to protect financial privacy stalled in the statehouse, I decided to up the ante. I easily and legally bought the Social Security numbers of all the state legislators who opposed the legislation or refused to vote on it. Then I put up their partial Social Security numbers on the Internet along with the partial Social Security number of Governor Gray Davis. The politicians went ballistic. They called on the California Highway Patrol and attorney general to investigate and prosecute me. Their hot reaction to a risk to their personal privacy proved my point. It allowed me to turn the media spotlight they created onto their own failure to be concerned about the privacy of the public at large. The legislators drew attention to their own hypocrisy. Later that year, the California financial privacy protection legislation was revived, passed by the legislature and signed into law by Governor Davis.

True change almost always involves a public opinion war with those who control the status quo. This is where President Obama fell down on the job as a health reform change maker. He buckled early on to the drug companies, health insurers, and other medical complex lobbyists, as well as stalwarts in his party, rather than putting them to the test of whether their values were in sync with the public’s. He didn’t think he could fight the barrage of advertising the lobbies could afford to shape public opinion, and in doing that he put too little faith in the public and his own ability to use his opponents’ own weight against them. Obama largely refused to put the opponents of real change in the Capitol and on K Street on the spot so that their mistakes would betray their interest in the status quo. Ironically, his success in finally enact­ing federal health insurance reforms was a result of one health insur­ance company’s big mistake. When health reform looked like it was in the mortuary, Anthem Blue Cross raised premiums by 39 percent in California. President Obama had the good sense to seize on the public outrage and make the company a poster child for reform. The presi­dent effectively used his media pulpit to vector the public anger into a final, successful push for enactment of a new law, even though it had no teeth to stop premium increases like Anthem Blue Cross’s. Obama’s early capitulations to the medical insurance establishment had created a patient protection act that protected the medical industries’ greatest interests and put new financial burdens on most Americans.

Public success often hinges on the quality of opponents’ mistakes and the ability of change makers to exploit them. When opponents make mistakes that show they are out of touch, they amplify our case and weaken their own. Mistakes are the turning points of most populist battles, because mistakes provide the leverage and ammuni­tion to finish the fight.

Rule 2: To Make Big Changes, Target the Little Things and a Few People

We have only so much energy, time, and capital to spend creating the changes we want. Often the impulse to get involved can be over­whelmed by how difficult it seems to change anything or anyone, particularly powerful institutions, industries, or officials. So it should be a comfort to know this trade secret of change makers: big changes are created by a small number of people who do little things right.

Think Paul Revere. In his bestseller The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell shows how Revere had the right connections to knock on the right revolutionary leaders’ doors, those who knew him, with his “sticky” message: “The British are coming!” Stickiness means that a message has an impact and is memorable. Another messenger who rode out in the opposite direction failed in the same charge because he wasn’t as well connected as Revere, or apparently as persuasive. The Tipping Point, a must-read for effective advocates, sums up a growing body of research that shows how big changes on social issues come down to a few decisions and a few key decision makers. Whether you’re trying to stem the tide of teen smoking, reduce your local crime rates, or sway opinion on any other issue, you need to influence the few to affect the many. Focus on identifying the smallest number of people who have the right connections and who can act with the greatest impact.

The small resources of my consumer group have necessitated that we find the right pressure points—the little things and right people—that will have a big impact. For proof that little things matter, consider the case of what happened after my colleagues and I took Arnold Schwarzenegger’s red carpet away.

After his election as governor during the 2003 California recall, Arnold Schwarzenegger got an even bigger ego. The Republican governor embraced a thoroughly reactionary agenda. Although he had run for office as the anti-politician in a progressive state, Schwarzenegger called students, teachers, firefighters, and even the disabled “special interest groups” in an attempt to cut their budgets and pensions. But Schwarzenegger claimed that the label did not apply to big corporations that funded his campaign committee with tens of millions of dollars.

Shades of the same arrogance had surfaced during the recall, which is why my colleagues and I created “” to publicly track the hidden hand of special interests in the Schwarzenegger administration. We knew the California public would not look fondly upon being been lied to.

Ultimately Governor Schwarzenegger was forced to apologize for his tactics. Chapter 6 offers the blow-by-blow of that campaign, but a key turning point hinged on doing a small thing right. Early on, a small group of us began in-your-face protests, starting at the governor’s house on Super Bowl Sunday, and shadowing him across the state. Ultimately the protests grew to ten thousand strong. We knew that for a celebrity, used to basking in the public’s spotlight, facing angry fans would be debilitating. The psychological turning point in the campaign came midway, during a premier for the Danny DeVito film Be Cool in Sacramento. DeVito was Schwarzenegger’s acting partner in the movie Twins and a close friend.

We knew that if we could keep Schwarzenegger from walking the red carpet into that premier it would be symbolically devas­tating. The mighty California Nurses Association, great progressive allies, rented the Greek restaurant next door to the theatre, a block from the Capitol. Hundreds of nurses occupied the restaurant and its adjoining space on the red carpet with anti-Arnold signs and critical props. Schwarzenegger had to enter the theatre from the back exit. The symbolism said we would turn Arnold’s celebrity around on him and that he couldn’t show his face in California if he continued on his course. The governor suffered a near-knock­out blow at the ballot box eight months later, when all five of the regressive ballot measures he opened fire with post-election were defeated. Schwarzenegger apologized the day after, reversed course, and regained some of his celebrity.

In a populist fight, targeting the right person can change the entire campaign. That’s how Consumer Watchdog ended one insur­ance company CEO’s two-decade war against voter-backed insur­ance regulation and won an end to insurers’ redlining of poor and urban neighborhoods.

George Joseph is one of the four hundred richest men in the United States. He made his wealth from his Los Angeles–based company, Mercury Insurance. No one has more hatred for the insurance-regulating Proposition 103, nor has anyone done more to undo it. Joseph’s company gave millions in campaign contributions to statehouse politicians to undermine the law. When Democrats bucked him, Joseph gave an even bigger, six-figure contribution to the opposite party. That sent a chilly message to both parties’ leaders.

By the time Joseph turned eighty-four in 2006, California Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi had at long last finalized rules to end auto insurance rates based on motorists’ zip codes. It was the last unfulfilled promise of the 1988 insurance reform initiative.

Mercury did a lot of business in urban areas, and George Joseph apparently didn’t want to be told that he had to charge people based on how they drive, not where they live. So good drivers in the inner city were being required by the state to buy auto insurance, but insurers would not sell them a policy at an affordable price. In the poorest areas, the cheapest, most basic auto policies cost thousands of dollars a year because insurers didn’t want to sell insurance there. So when the end to zip-code-based insurance was at hand, as final regulations were about to be implemented to make this change real, Joseph gave some top political consultants a big check and a green light to file a ballot measure overturning this long-awaited provision of Prop 103. After almost two decades of resistance, Joseph decided on all-out war.

Our response? We proposed a ballot measure of our own that would strictly curb Mercury’s profits. We started a boycott of Mercury Insurance. But the key to turning George Joseph around was an Internet video we made about him for the “Boycott Mercury” Web site. Robert Greenwald, a friend and the progressive movie director behind Iraq for Sale, Outfoxed, and Wal-Mart Movie, sent a film crew to shadow the octogenarian from his luxurious Hancock Park home to his office. The camera crew confronted Joseph about the initia­tive in his office garage. They asked why Mercury would want to charge African Americans who lived in low-income communities and poorer zip codes more money. An angry letter from civil rights leaders also appeared on his desk. Within about a week, Mercury had withdrawn the initiative. But not before calling my colleague and Prop 103 author Harvey Rosenfield.

Joseph told Harvey his wife had asked him why there had been a video camera at his home. When he explained, she said she also thought it was wrong for his company to charge customers based on their zip code. A few months later, Joseph resigned as Mercury’s CEO, though he retained his position as chairman of the board. New rules charging people based on how they drive, not where they live, finally took effect in 2008. California is the only state in the nation that forces insurers to base premiums on motorists’ driving record, how far they drive, and how many years of experience they have, and not on where they live.

Only a few people were involved; only a small number of actions were needed. Less yielded more—something that is often not the case with staging a mass demonstration or other Herculean labor of protest. For example, for almost a year a group of doctors called “Physicians Who Care” worked to organize massive protests against HMO medicine on “Rescue Healthcare Day.” The lead doctor bothered me nearly daily, and I kept warning him that the key to rescuing health care was what would happen the day after the protest. Nonetheless he continued to believe the outburst of physician energy would change everything. Of course, things didn’t change on their own the day after the protests. The doctor and his group quickly disappeared. I didn’t hear from him again for almost seven years. Just before the 2008 election he e-mailed to ask how he could raise questions about Senator McCain’s failure to disclose his health records. I pointed him to Robert Greenwald, who had already created a video on the topic and a petition signed by thousands of doctors calling for a release of those records. Greenwald started out with only a few doctors but ultimately grew the effort to include thousands, a popular online video, and a front-page New York Times story that turned McCain’s health into a campaign issue.

The question progressives must ask themselves is which small things and few people to target to turn things around.

Applying this to a national scale leads to some interesting options. Obama may not be the leader of the progressive movement, but it doesn’t mean the movement cannot make him move. And if you were going to target a few people for the greatest change, you prob­ably wouldn’t have to look far. Progressives could demand a shake-up at the White House to oust Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. The jobs of Tim Geithner and Larry Summers should also be on the chopping block. The strategy of these three men is largely respon­sible for the setbacks for progressives in health care, financial regula­tion, and climate change legislation.

Rule 3: Simple Moral Sentiments Can Change the World When Public Opinion Propels Them

The public’s power to create change against the wishes of powerful interest groups springs from simply phrased, widely shared moral sentiments. A short, simple articulation of the moral viewpoint driv­ing a campaign sums up exactly what we are fighting for or against. The right sentence can rouse public opinion and spread the spirit of change like wildfire.

Here are some of the morals-based phrases that I have put to work:

• Newborns and their mothers should not be kicked out of the hospital eight hours after birth.

• Doctors, not HMO bureaucrats, should make medical decisions.

• Motorists should not be forced to choose between paying for auto insurance and buying food for their family.

• Oil companies should not be able to make more profit by making less gasoline.

• Our private financial information should not be bought and sold like pork bellies to the highest bidder.

• Insurance premiums should be based on how we drive, not where we live.

I have run successful campaigns around each of these irrefutable moral sentiments precisely because big industries and their allies in government tried to refute them. Campaigns for change rely on a social, ethical, or populist belief so powerful that our smartest oppo­nents will not openly take issue with it for fear of losing their stand­ing with the public. Most opponents do argue, though, and that is often their big mistake.

The sentiment of any issue-based campaign should (1) articulate a popular moral principle; (2) be simple and human; (3) put our opponents on the spot and force their tactical decision to support it or oppose it. Clever opponents will claim we are mistaken and that they don’t really disagree with the populist sentiment and don’t violate it. Then we must gather evidence to expose them to win our campaign, which creates opportunities for those with that informa­tion to come forward. Smart campaigners will have the evidence in their pocket first, ready to release once their opponent claims to support the sentiment.

The Kaiser bureaucrats who gave new meaning to the term “maternity leave” showed disregard for social mores about how to treat mothers and reaped their own shame. I spent years, with the help of whistleblowers, proving that HMO bureaucrats did indeed make medical decisions. HMOs tried to argue back with reasons why doctors should be paid bonuses to deny care to patients. They tried to defend their use of accounting manuals to dictate hospi­tal stays and their bureaucrats in far-off states overriding a treat­ing doctor’s decisions. They found out quickly that offending the public’s sensibilities is quicksand for those who want to maintain the status quo.

Campaigns for change, ironically, are often about preserving tradi­tional values like fairness, justice, and privacy. They are about getting back something that has been lost. That is a powerful message that doesn’t frighten the public: it involves returning lost values through new plans, not embarking on a dangerous new course. People fear change, even as they desire it. Popular change almost always is built on the bedrock of existing values that are threatened.

The greatest tactical objective of change makers is to expose our opponents’ opposition to social mores, ethical customs, and the rule of law. Then we seize the moment to reassert these mores through new laws, stronger codes of conduct, or new decisions. The public should recognize these telltale signs and lend their opinion.

When you hear a moral sentiment worth fighting for, go for it. If you are trying to build a campaign, craft a statement that defines it. Moral sentiments have the power to create change when fueled by the last credible source of information in a culture of disintegrating trust: word of mouth. And Americans now have the best conductor of “word of mouth” in human history, the Internet.

Candidates already know how to win elections based on clearly expressed moral sentiments. Here are some of the ones that brought Obama to the White House:

• Health care should be accessible and affordable so that medical bills bankrupt no one.

• Americans must end dependence on the petroleum economy and stop gasoline prices from destroying our economy.

• Lobbyists and special interest groups shouldn’t control Washington, D.C.

Republican senator Scott Brown, who foiled many of Obama’s ambitions on the president’s one-year anniversary in office, was remembered for this sentiment during the campaign: “This isn’t Ted Kennedy’s seat. It’s the people’s seat.”

During campaigns, candidates have opponents to hold them accountable for such sentiments, but, after elections, too many inter­est groups are afraid to hold officials to their campaign pledges for fear of losing access. There’s no more fertile ground for outsiders who seek to hold elected officials accountable to a platform of change than the field of the candidates’ own words on the campaign trail. This was the tactic, for example, that finally forced Arnold Schwarzenegger to redefine special interests to include corporations that were giving him money. Even allies have to be reminded of the sentiments they espouse in order to keep them to reasonable time­lines for taking action. One moral sentiment Americans agree with is politicians shouldn’t forget their promises after taking office.

Rule 4: Forget Sun Tzu: The Bigger the Fight, the Better the Odds; Fight Even If You Cannot Win Today, and Someday You’ll Win without a Fight

Politics may be the art of the possible, but often “realism” or, as Hillary Clinton put it, “reality-based politics” undermines the possibility of genuine political change based on an outside game. By “outside game,” I mean the notion that forces outside the Washington Beltway can move the insiders, based on the power of public opinion. Politicians tend not to believe or put much hope in the outside game unless the public’s sentiment is a clear and present danger for them. Rousing public opinion begins with a strategy to invite conflict.

Sun Tzu’s The Art of War is the classic strategy manual for poli­tics, business, and military conflict. The Chinese general argues that if your forces are unequal to your opponent’s, you should avoid conflict. That may be true for classical warfare, but in the game of populist change, be it a fight with a government agency or a Fortune 500 company, the odds are always unequal. Engaging a fight with a more powerful opponent on an issue that may not seem winnable at the moment is essential because confrontation creates opportunities for your opponent to make mistakes and creates a public record of the battle. Look for the big fight if you want the big payoff, even if you lose some battles.

When our consumer group first took on the HMOs’ cost-cutting practices, many of our allies said they were too strong and we would alienate a potential force for universal health care by trying to bring them under control. But we changed their worst abuses by exposing and confronting them.

When he went to the California ballot with insurance reform Prop 103 in 1988, Harvey Rosenfield had to deal with angering allies who claimed he could never beat the property-insurance industry’s money. Consumer groups and trial lawyers wanted to avert a ballot war and cut a deal with insurance companies, who ulti­mately put their own anti-consumer agenda on the ballot to confuse voters. Harvey wouldn’t back down, even though he had raised no significant money to spend on a campaign. Insurers spent over $60 million against Harvey’s landmark ballot measure and on making the case for their own, and that turned out to be their downfall. The companies so saturated the airwaves with television advertisements against Prop 103 that the public realized insurers were against the measure. That convinced 51 percent of voters to support the ballot measure, because it was the real-deal insurance reform. You have to love populist jujitsu.

When matched against a much more powerful opponent, the more our opponent attacks, the stronger we become. So provoke the more powerful opponent to attack. The more a powerful opponent engages and acknowledges us, the more power our arguments gain in the court of public opinion. When the more powerful opponent lends us his spotlight, he places us on the same stage and credentials our point of view. The powerful attack only when threatened. The more we attack, the more they react, and the stronger we become.

Rule 5: Creating the Record Creates the Seeds of Change

Building a record of one’s battles and one’s opponents’ errors is criti­cal to the power of the less-resourced advocate. Letters, demands, exchanges, and exposés that confront opponents—and force them to respond publicly—create a record that can later be used against your target. In the court of public opinion, creating a public record and forcing a decision maker to respond is the equivalent of the legal discovery process in the court of law. You are trying to uncover a discrepancy and take advantage of a mistake, now or later.

A campaign that can and will create a record is a triple threat to a powerful opponent.

1. We can lose the battle and still negatively affect our opponent’s standing in the court of public opinion.

2. We can lose the battle yet create the conditions by which we can win the war.

3. We can win the battle by forcing our opponent to make a big mistake.

Building a record builds our power and leverage because an oppo­nent who knows of our ability to build the record and willingness to wait for the right moment to use it will have to take us seriously.

Consider the most famous example of a well-fought loss that led to victory. The debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas as they vied to become the U.S. senator from Illinois are among the most famous in American history. Lincoln lost the elec­tion, but the record he established in those debates won him the platform to ascend to the presidency a few years later.

Or consider a more recent case from my consumer group’s files, one that shows the value of building a public record on an opponent.

As recently as 2005, then Senate majority leader Bill Frist of Tennessee was a presumed front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination to succeed President Bush. Today he’s not even in the Senate. Here’s the story.

When Frist controlled the U.S. Senate in 2003 and 2004 as major­ity leader, he made a big mistake. At the time there was little chance that he or the Senate Ethics Committee would respond favorably to my consumer group’s written concerns about his conflicts of inter­est with his family’s business. But we created a record that years later undermined Frist’s power and helped to end his political career.

Frist, a doctor whose family controlled one of the nation’s larg­est hospital chains, was then backing a Senate bill to limit legal accountability for doctors and hospitals when they commit medical malpractice. We publicly demanded that Frist sell at least $25 million of stock he held in the Frist family company, HCA. HCA was one of America’s largest hospital companies and owner of HCI, the nation’s fifth biggest medical malpractice insurer. No one had ever heard of this issue before we put it on the map for the media and opinion leaders, but afterward it was closely tracked.

“HCI, HCA and your entire family stand to profit directly from the passage of malpractice caps legislation,” we wrote to Frist. Of course, Frist did not divest his stock, nor recuse himself from the medical malpractice vote. We got some press at the time, but, more importantly, the record we created came back to haunt Senator Frist two years later.

When Frist finally sold the stock in September 2005, he did it just before the stock price tumbled, suggesting his family had given him an insider tip. A lot of eyes were watching by then. Frist was subpoenaed by the Justice Department and the SEC in an insider trading investigation of his well-timed sale. The investigation was made public two days after we sent another letter calling for an inquiry to the SEC and U.S. attorney. The record we had created years before, when it looked like we could not win the fight, was significant in the demise of Frist’s political career.

The scandal put an end to Frist’s presidential ambitions. His medical malpractice legislation, stained by the insider-trading allega­tion, never passed. The record, not the outcome of the initial battle, mattered most in the end.

Doing the right thing at the right time usually produces the right result in the end. The tension between progressives, who want their officials to stand on principle, and politicians, who want accomplish­ments before the next election, is constant and inevitable. It’s our job to urge the politicians to put what’s right over what’s convenient.

Rule 6: Keep It Human, Put People First

Never underestimate the power of one person’s story to change the world; indeed such stories may be the only thing that ever has. The sincere experiences of individuals who have suffered injustice are the best weapons against injustice. Winning campaigns are about the triumph of fundamental human truth, so real people with genuine stories are the best messengers of populist campaigns.

The language of the status quo is often statistical, actuarial, and data-based. This is not to say proponents of change don’t have science and statistics on their side. It’s just that opponents of change often base their objections on the hard, cold numbers that only accountants can muster and manipulate to show how they will bust budgets, bankrupt businesses, and break up families. My favorite example is tobacco companies’ argument against the Czech govern­ment’s smoking cessation plan. The industry’s actuarial study found that the country’s health care costs would skyrocket since people would live longer.

While it’s tempting to mix it up with scientists when you know you’re right, change-making campaigns typically mobilize the public and affect politics by sticking to the human case. Consider the medical patients’ wars in Washington, D.C., the classic arena where critical public policy battles with significant human consequences are too often fought over statistics and computer models. Powerful opponents use selective data to defuse change. So in the mid-1990s I pioneered a method to make sure Washington politicians looked patients in the eye before they took away their legal rights.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill were engaged in a debate over whether victims of medical negligence should have limits on their rights to go to court and recover damages for malfeasance. Of course, the medical-insurance industry instigated that discussion. So we began our first “casualty of the day” campaign. In the pre-Internet world, fax machines were the cutting edge of communication. Every day for five months, every congressional representative, every sena­tor, and key members of the press received a fax with a picture and tragic story of a casualty of medical malpractice who needed his or her rights preserved. I knew the campaign was successful when the medical-insurance lobby’s public relations machine answered back with its own “medical miracle of the moment,” highlighting life-saving medical advances. As I commented at the time, the industry’s reaction was like Ford putting out a press release about every Pinto gas tank that didn’t explode.

The power of the campaign was in its cumulative impact. Every day, another story. Legislative staff and the media paid attention. The drumbeat built. We defended against the assault on injured patients’ legal remedies.

A few years later, the time came to go on the offensive for the legal rights of HMO patients. We warmed up the fax machine again. The HMOs spent millions on television advertising to stop us. Here’s how CNN’s Brooks Jackson described the “HMO casu­alty of the day” campaign at the time: “The industry has its adver­tising too, but far more effective is this shoestring consumer group. A fax a day to keep the HMOs at bay.” The patients-first tactic fueled landmark HMO patients’-rights reforms throughout the nation.

More recently, I saw the “people-first” principle work when one woman with a compelling story was able to fell a whole industry. It’s the case of “Dana vs. Goliath.”

With health insurance costs skyrocketing in 2006, insurers hatched a plan to remove themselves from the patients’-rights laws that were passed in forty-four states in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The industry explained that the insurance companies wanted to “reduce their costs of compliance” so insurance would be cheaper. It sounded simple enough to President Bush and Congress, who were about to enact the plan. Attorneys general, governors, and state insurance commissioners complained, but it looked like the industry had the votes.

Then Dana Christensen came to Capitol Hill with my Consumer Watchdog colleagues Carmen Balber and Jerry Flanagan.

Christensen had been working with my consumer group to warn against the very type of “junk health insurance” policy that we feared would become the norm if state regulation were bypassed. She and her husband, Doug, had been technically insured, yet Dana was left with $450,000 in unpaid medical bills when her husband died of bone cancer.

The fine print in her insurance policy had no limit on “out-of-pocket cost.” So she had to pay most of the costs of his chemother­apy and cancer care. On his deathbed, Doug asked Dana to divorce him so she would not have to be liable for the medical bills. She refused. In the end, only because of a lawsuit under state law, which prevented fraudulent representations, was Dana able to recoup the cost of those bills from the insurer.

Dana flew into Washington on Monday, on the heels of a PBS NOW news story about her case that aired the previous Friday. She held a press conference with Senators Edward Kennedy and Richard Durbin, then lobbied other senators. The power of her story stopped the legislation dead in its tracks.

“What’s the point of paying for health insurance and then, when you need it, discovering the benefits you thought were promised and paid for just aren’t there?” Dana asked. “That’s what happened to my husband Doug and me.”

Human truth is very hard for a human being, even the most hard­ened Washington politician, to turn away from.

Rule 7: Make It Personal for Decision Makers

Confrontation creates change in human beings. It forces them to evaluate their positions because it warns of the consequences if they do not. If you want recalcitrant decision makers to change their ways, confront them personally and publicly about their actions. Don’t just tell them why they are wrong; show them how their position reflects on their personal character.

Publicly confront them in a way that forces them to examine their person, not merely their positions. Then they must take inventory of what you have described and stand by it or change it. Successful decision makers typically change to conform with deep-seated social mores and ethical customs. Sometimes they even become your allies. Less-successful opponents compound their mistakes and dig themselves in deeper, which can give us more leverage over them. Making it personal means not name-calling or making spuri­ous allegations, but forcing a confrontation with an opponent on the battlefield of values.

When he was in the California Legislature, Gray Davis, who later lost a recall election as governor in 2003, sponsored legisla­tion to put the faces of missing children on milk cartons. When my consumer group wanted to force Davis, as governor, to sign a strong HMO patient protection law in 1998, Harvey Rosenfield came up with the idea of putting the governor’s face on faux milk cartons. “Missing: California Governor. Last Seen at Fundraiser with HMO Executives.” We printed up thousands of the cartons and delivered them to hotel rooms in the San Francisco Hilton the night before Davis was scheduled to give a big breakfast speech. The flyer had all the details about how Davis met behind closed doors with HMO executives, raised big campaign contributions from them, and said he would not sign the tough patient protection law we wanted.

Davis received a chilly reception at the breakfast speech. He was upset by our tactics, especially a letter about the issue that we had Ralph Nader send to him, and went into a San Francisco Chronicle editorial meeting with a chip on his shoulder and angry that, as the governor, he was being taken to task. At that editorial board meet­ing he was asked about the patients’ rights legislation and made his big mistake. He said of the legislature, “Their job is to implement my vision.” When those words appeared in the newspaper, he was forced to retreat. The legislature put a very tough piece of legislation on his desk and he signed it. After the HMO patients’ bill of rights signing ceremony, Davis stopped me as I was walking in a crosswalk. He leaned out of the backseat of his Lincoln town car and said, “Jamie, you have to give me high marks for this one. I want to see it on the front page.” Never underestimate politicians’ regard for their self-image.

Making it personal obviously often comes with a personal cost. The governor was very angry with us for a long time. We heard from donors that Governor Davis had personally called them and asked that they not contribute to our group. I knew one of the organiz­ers of that Gray Davis breakfast very well. He wouldn’t talk to me for years. I have no doubt, though, that had we not personalized the issues, Davis would have carried through on his threat to veto the stronger patient protections.

Rule 8: Seize the Moment—Don’t Pick Your Time, Have the Goods and Let Your Time Pick You

Timing is the fulcrum of populist power. We cannot always choose it but we have to be ready for it to choose us. Create the record, plan for the right moments, and windows of opportunity should open to our advantage. These rare openings are awakenings in a public consciousness about an issue that can trump the human tendency to fear transitions and change itself. Moments of opportunity, events that focus public opinion like a beam, must be seized or they are lost. If it seems like the right time to jump into a campaign, don’t wait.

For example, the collapse of Enron following the burst of the dot-com stock bubble left people wondering what had happened not only to their nest eggs, but also to corporate governance rules. Our consumer group knew it provided a moment to act.

In the 1980s, an industrial accident led to a new California law requiring that managers tell regulators about workplace hazards or go to jail. We wanted the same individual accountability for corpo­rate executives on financial matters. Our first stab at reform was California legislation requiring that executives report financial fraud to government authorities or face jail time. We also wanted to create new protections for whistleblowers and a 1-800 hotline for them to report problems. Big business targeted the bill for defeat, calling it “tattletale” legislation and claiming the disloyal should not have new rights.

In the end, the legislature and the governor bowed to popu­lar opinion and granted whistleblowers their protections. They wouldn’t, however, make individual corporate executives person­ally liable for their financial statements. It took the U.S. Congress to do that a little later, seizing on the idea under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.

Corporate executives today must personally sign their financial statements and are personally accountable for the veracity. There is not a single provision of Sarbanes-Oxley that CEOs complain about more, which makes us happy and shareholders a little more secure.

Or consider the case of our “Rx Express.” The 2004 presidential election provided a moment of clarity for many Americans about the high cost of prescription drugs. The issue infected the presiden­tial debate between President George W. Bush and Senator John Kerry. So our consumer group chartered two private trains—dubbed the Rx Express—to take seniors to Canada to buy cheaper drugs, right in the middle of the presidential debates. My colleague Jerry Flanagan wanted to show how Americans pay about 60 percent more for prescription drugs than the people of other nations. The next president would then have to lower prescription drug costs.

One train went up the West Coast, another up the East Coast, picking up seniors along the way while we held whistle-stop press conferences in their communities. A train began in Florida and stopped for passengers and press conferences all the way to Toronto. The other train did the same from San Diego to Vancouver. In Canada, the Rx Express riders saved an average of 60 percent off the prescription drug prices they paid in the United States for a total annual savings of $2,000 each. And the journeys made a big impres­sion, in the media and with the presidential candidates.

The Rx Express train trips generated more than three hundred television appearances, with a Nielsen audience of sixty-five million, sixty newspaper articles, and one hundred radio interviews. The provi­sion of prescription drug benefits to seniors became a central issue in the election and ultimately translated to an expansion of Medicare, albeit a faulty one that will be corrected at the right moment.

We had one amazing windfall of luck during the trip, when the Bush administration tried to intimidate our seniors. Government officials boarded the eastern-seaboard train at its last stop before the Canadian border looking for drugs. On the night of a presidential debate no less. Of course, that mistake only gave Jerry and his crew of seniors another round of media stories. The only error we made was not asking then state senator Barack Obama to come along. Had we, he may not have been able to retreat in 2009 from his campaign pledge to reduce the nation’s prescription drug bill through bulk purchasing.

Rule 9: Exploit a Powerful Opponent’s Fear of Falling to Achieve Victory without Combat

Our powerful opponents, if they’re smart, will always be more afraid of us than we are of them. We have far less to lose. I had that revela­tion early in my career as a public advocate. At the time, I worked as an advocate for the homeless and was vacationing with my wife on the Yucatán Peninsula near the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza. As I ascended the great pyramid, the congressional welfare reform fight was on my mind—in particular how to fight on behalf of people most others in America didn’t care about. At the homeless shelter where I worked, there were several children. Their mothers did not have child care, so they couldn’t hold jobs and keep a roof over their children’s heads. But Congress wanted to take away their aid with­out providing them the child care they needed to go to work.

I remember how the climb up the narrow steps was hard and the view of the surrounding jungle was magnificent. But what really stuck with me was the feeling of standing at the top, on the broad plateau looking out on the dense forests of the Yucatán. My knees went weak. There was plenty of space to stand, yet as I looked toward the edge, I could not help fearing that I would fall, as improbable as I knew it was. It occurred to me then that this is how those at the top of any pyramid of power must feel—fearful of the fall, worried about their knees being cut out from under them, ever conscious of the ineluctable force of gravity pulling them down. It spurred me on to more aggressive tactics to get elected officials to pay attention to the families in our shelter.

I have taken that lesson with me. Exploiting our opponents’ fear of their own missteps, of falling from their perch, is the quickest way to win. Show them how bad they look early on in order to have them change course or preempt an attack. It’s a lesson some colleagues and I recently put into practice against the leaders of Yahoo and Intel to stop an assault on class action lawsuits in California.

In 2007, Intel was a household brand with tremendous popular approval. That’s probably why the company was called on to chair a corporate consortium in California bent on eliminating consumer class action lawsuits. The consortium chose Intel—rather than one of its drug companies, tobacco makers, or insurers—to occupy the top spot as it filed a ballot measure to put up so many legal hurdles that ripped-off consumers would never have been able to file class action cases holding the responsible corporation account­able. Before signatures were even collected to place the initiative on the ballot, though, a group of us trying to stop the effort caught a huge break.

I heard on National Public Radio that Intel was in the middle of a flap over an insensitive advertisement that many considered racist. The print ad, which had been published overseas, featured a white manager standing over six African-American sprinters kneeling before him. The ad proclaimed, “Maximize Your Power.” Intel withdrew the advertisement and apologized. Still, I knew immediately that Intel had made the fatal mistake that could be used to force withdrawal of the initiative. Its brand was now vulnerable. A major purpose behind class action lawsuits is to protect the civil rights of Americans, and Intel had shown a callous disregard on matters of ethnic sensitivity.

During the next two weeks, my consumer group launched an Internet campaign that asked, “Is Intel racist inside?” We called on the company to withdraw both the advertisement and the initiative. After our e-activists sent thirty thousand faxes online to the board of directors and kicked up a lot of bad press, Intel and its corporate consortium announced that the initiative would not go forward. In an internal e-mail to the consortium’s board of directors, a propo­nent blamed the retreat on the fact that the initiative campaign would be more “high profile” than initially anticipated.

“Fear of the fall” was directed not only at Intel, but at one of its key board members, Susan Decker. Decker had just taken the reins at Yahoo, right after CEO Terry Semel resigned for a major misstep. We knew Decker was particularly vulnerable to criticism as a new CEO. So a member of our group, Chris Lehane, who had been a lawyer and spokesperson in the Clinton White House, and Will Robinson of the New Media Firm created and produced a cable television ad that ran in Silicon Valley targeting Decker and provid­ing her office phone number.

The ad opened with the Yahoo logo flashing on a white back­ground while the announcer declared, “Yahoo is a leading global brand.” Then a photo of Decker swept in next to the Yahoo logo and the announcer continued, “And as president, Susan Decker helps set Yahoo’s vision.” The Intel logo swooped in, too, and the announcer added, “But she’s also on the board on Intel.” At that point, an image of the controversial Intel advertisement slowly crept onto the screen. “And Intel had been using advertising that has been called offensive, even racist,” said the announcer. Eventually, the image cut to a ballot box, and word discrimination with a big “no” circle over it. “Now,” continued the announcer, “Intel is supporting a ballot measure that makes it tougher to fight discrimination, and harder to stop big corporations, HMOs, and oil companies from hurting consumers.” At the ad’s close, the Enron logo flew in and pushed out the word discrimination, then “HMO” pushed out “Enron” and then finally an oil derrick pushed out “HMO” and the image changed back to Susan, with her phone number plastered below. The voice-over concluded, “So call Susan, and tell her maybe it’s time to start bring­ing Yahoo’s vision to Intel.”

The same week the advertisement aired, Intel decided to with­draw its ballot measure. Fear cuts both ways, of course. The public’s fear of change is often the target of our opponents’ campaigns to defeat reform. Special interest campaigns to stop popularly sought-after changes operate from a standard playbook that feeds upon the public’s well-conditioned fears and seeks to distract from the public benefits of a reform. Seeing through the standard ploys, though, may make it easier to resist them. The following table shows six of the most common “fear points” that opponents of change use in both their political attacks to counter reform and the claims they frequently make. You may recognize how the GOP and the medi­cal-insurance complex effectively used these arguments in the court of public opinion to fear-monger about the Democrats’ health care reform plan during 2010. The Tea Party’s playbook is little different, as it’s been constructed by many longtime GOP operatives, like Dick Armey, looking for a more populist chorus.

Appeals to the public’s fear that destroy reform efforts are typically strategic arson: a fire of fear sparked on the dry brush of parched populist ground. For example, the drug companies and insurers could ignite Americans’ fear of the bureaucrats in President Clinton’s health care plan because the Clintons failed to keep the populist soil fertile by engaging public opinion. Instead, the Clintons engaged in back-door negotiations with so-called stakeholders. President Obama fared far better with his health reform effort during the summer of 2009,when it contained a public health insurance option to compete with the private health insurance market, supported consistently by the vast majority of Americans in poll after poll. Obama lost ground to the fear factors only when he abandoned the public option and his progressive base. That’s when support for his plan fell under the 50 percent mark. The best prevention against public fear destroying a populist campaign for change is to constantly nourish public opinion and stay true to your message and values.

Rule 10: Don’t Worry about Your Seat at the Table; Find the Rock to Throw through the Window

The big coalition, the most famous names, or the politically diverse negotiating partners do not signal that the changes being espoused reflect a consensus about the public’s opinion—or even have a chance of success. In fact, when insiders are all on the same page, it’s very likely that their proposal won’t shake things up at all. Shaking endangers their interests.

Copyright Chelsea Green 2010 — All Rights Reserved

Read this excerpt on Alternet.

Jamie Court is the author of The Progressive’s Guide to Raising Hell, available now.

Maggie Kozel – Veterans Health Care: Why It’s the Wrong Time to Privatize

Sunday, November 7th, 2010

In the wake of this midterm election season, with all its dramatic and rhetorical pledges to America, we should not lose sight of the pledges we have already made. We have promised as a nation to provide our disabled veterans with the best health services that modern medicine has to offer. We need to honor that promise to our veterans, and we need to pay the tab as readily as we funded the wars that harmed them. Calls for privatization of veterans’ health benefits, touted by many fiscal conservatives as a way of tamping down big government, seems an odd way for us to try and meet those obligations.

Our civilian health care system, once the envy of the world, has suffered at the hands of the modern free market. We in the U.S. have, by a huge margin, the most expensive health care in the world, and we rank fairly low among developed nations in what that health care has achieved. The gap between our remarkable medical resources and the delivery of that as health care is widening all the time. We shouldn’t be surprised. The economic incentives that we have allowed to drive our health care are the same as those applied to brokerage firms and electronics stores. Our private, third party health care system, based on profit, is by its very free-market nature focused on minimizing services, cost-shifting to the “consumer,” and achieving short term goals. Its simply good business. Clinical effectiveness and rational public health policy take a back seat. This is the club that privatization gets you into, complete with plenty of out-of-pocket expenses, denied claims and gaps in coverage. Recent health care legislation has applied little more than a bandaid to these ills.

I learned firsthand about universal health coverage — similar to what disabled veterans now receive — by serving for eight years as a medical officer in that great bastion of socially progressive thinking known as the U.S. Navy. Health care priorities were set by — I swear I’m not making this up — health care professionals, based on clinical evidence, rather than what insurance company executives decided in strategy meetings. Drug formularies were driven by pharmacists working with physicians, not by marketing executives. There was no incentive to create medical conditions just so we could implement expensive tests and treatments. And no money ever changed hands; just show your ID and you were in. Before any of us dismiss universal, single-payer health care on the basis that it is socialism — or, even worse, European — it is worth taking a closer look at what our own military and veteran systems have managed to accomplish. And before we take the VA health system away from veterans, we should look at the facts.

The reality is that the VA health care system is one of the best in our country, based on physician quality, clinical outcomes and patient satisfaction. We should be studying the effectiveness of the military’s and the VA’s healthcare systems rather than devising ways to dismantle what works. Why would we want to insert veteran care into an overpriced civilian system that by almost all measures performs less well?

One particular danger of dismantling the VA system is the gap that would create in mental health services. Our civilian third-party-payer system has been particularly inadequate in dealing with psychological and emotional disorders for our population in general. In contrast, The VA, bolstered by recent funding increases, has been rising to the challenge of treating and supporting the growing number of our veterans who carry the invisible yet debilitating wounds of war in their hearts and minds. To release them into our civilian health care system, where psychiatrists get reimbursed for little more than monthly “med checks,” and where talk therapy is a luxury that few can afford, would be unconscionable. As startling numbers of our troops return from war with emotional or neurocognitive disorders, overwhelming the VA’s capacity, some indeed may be directed to civilian care. But even in those cases, it is important that the civilian psychiatrists be able to turn to a functional, experienced VA medical system for specialized training, guidance and support in the treatment of these uniquely military conditions.

This is the wrong time for talk of privatization of the VA system. While our nation debates what we want from a civilian health care system and how we are going to pay for that, let us all pledge to continue providing disabled veterans with the best option currently available — that provided by the VA — until we come up with something even better for all of us.

Read the original article on The Huffington Post.

Maggie Kozel is the author of The Color of Atmosphere, to be released in January 2011 and available for pre-order now.

The Resilient Gardener named one of’s Best Books of 2010!

Sunday, November 7th, 2010

Well-deserved congratulations to author Carol Deppe, whose book, The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times, has been named one of the Top 10 Books of 2010 (in the Home & Garden category) by!

Read the announcement and view the full list here.    

We are thrilled to see the Amazon editors taking notice of this practical new book packed full of information about how gardeners – and their gardens – can thrive despite difficult circumstances. Check out The Resilient Gardener now!

By the way, have you seen Carol’s must-read Q&A from Alternet yet?

Carol Deppe’s The Resilient Gardener is available now.

Eliot Coleman in Small Farm Canada

Saturday, November 6th, 2010

Organic gardening guru Eliot Coleman is featured in the latest issue of Small Farm Canada, a magazine devoted to small-scale farming. Take a look at the profile/interview below.

A Man for all Seasons
Eliot Coleman discusses the details of year-round gardening

It was his “disinclination to give over his markets to the Californians every fall” that first piqued organic grower Eliot Coleman’s interest in four-season vegetable production at his Harbourside, Maine farm. While traditionally growing vegetables in the winter has meant using heated greenhouses, Coleman, a true innovator, sought a different approach. He wanted to see how much he could produce without supplemental heat.

Simplicity, low external inputs, and high-quality outputs were the guiding criteria for his year-round gardening system. “Our goal was to find the lowest tech and most economical way to extend fresh-vegetable harvest through the winter months,” he says. Coleman, who has been growing vegetables year-round on a commercial scale since 1995, has developed a fine-tuned growing system through his attention to detail.

Last year he produced $120,000 worth of vegetables from 1.5 acres, with only a quarter of an acre under cover, using very little supplemental heat.

Farming on the “back side of the calendar,” as he calls it, has many advantages. It means he can hold his markets, keep his crew employed, and it provides a more balanced year-round income, he says.

Growing vegetables year-round at Coleman’s Maine farm is no small feat. Located two-thirds of the way up the Maine coast on the 44th parallel, temperatures can dip as low as -29 degrees C. Using standard, plastic-covered, gothic style hoop houses allows Coleman to mimic growing conditions 500 miles south of his farm. Adding a second layer of protection, a floating row cover 30 cm above the soil, simulates growing conditions a thousand miles south of his farm, he says. Coleman calls his unheated greenhouses “cold houses,” as opposed to “hot houses.”

“Using the double layer of protection lengthens the growing season on both ends, basically for free, no heat required,” he explains. The only cost is the cost of the greenhouse and the row cover material.

Another key to the system is growing vegetables that do well in the cold instead of heat-loving plants such as tomatoes. These vegetables include spinach, Mesclun (a mix of baby salad greens), carrots, mâche, watercress, and potatoes. Many cold-tolerant vegetables can easily survive temperatures down to -12 degrees C or lower as long as they are not exposed to the additional stresses of outdoor conditions, he explains. The double coverage also increases the relative humidity in the protected area, which offers additional protection against freezing damage. Any type of lightweight floating row cover that allows light, air and moisture to pass through is suitable as the inner layer of material in the cold houses, he says.

Coleman maximizes the use of his greenhouses by moving them to where they’re needed. For example, he starts spinach in the greenhouse and once it’s safe from frost, about the third week in March, he can move the greenhouse to another location and use it to start another crop like carrots. By the end of April, the carrots no longer need protection and then he can start another crop like zucchini. This allows him to double the use of his capital investment in the greenhouses, he says. “We became involved with greenhouses because of our interest in growing winter crops and then wondered how to best use them for the rest of the year,” he says.

Planting at the right time for your conditions and environment is also crucial, he says. “For example, the trick with winter-harvest crops is to get the seeds in the ground in September, not November, so the crop has a chance to grow and put out new leaves,” he explains. “I think of August-September as the second spring.” Successive seedings also ensure a continual harvest.

Read the full, original article at Small Farm Canada.

Eliot Coleman’s The Winter Harvest Handbook, The New Organic Grower, and Four Season Harvest are available now, in addition to his new workshop DVD, Year-Round Vegetable Production with Eliot Coleman.

Bill Kauffman, Secession, and Arundhati Roy

Saturday, November 6th, 2010

Bill Kauffman’s Bye Bye, Miss American Empire: Neighborhood Patriots, Backcountry Rebels, and Their Underdog Crusades to Redraw America’s Political Map, was mentioned in an article by Rady Ananda that appeared on last week and made the rounds to several other news sites as well. Check it out, below.

Is talk of secession sedition? Arundhati Roy responds to charges
by Rady Ananda

In a speech last week supporting ‘azadi’ — or freedom — for the occupied people of Kashmir, Arundhati Roy won the ire of right wing extremists who started a petition to have her arrested on charges of sedition. Even moderates are shocked by her support of secession. I sit on an Indian listserve, and the comments against her were vicious, with most people supporting prison for this freedom-loving, earth-loving, prolific writer and activist.

Sedition is being openly discussed in several states in the US. Bill Kaufman’s new book, Bye Bye, Miss American Empire, addresses the topic head on (Chelsea Green, 2010):

“Scoff if you will, but by 2012, a decade into a nightmarish ‘War on Terror’ that our rulers have assured us will last our lifetimes, will Americans be content with a status quo of perpetual war and unending empire? … When you consider that in 2008, 77% [of Vermonters] answered yes to ’Has the US government lost its moral authority?’ the savory makings of sedition are there.”

Ron Paul’s frank clarity reminds us, “A free society means you can dissolve it voluntarily.”

Kaufman argues that Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico have the strongest case for secession. Detailing the history of US thought on the issue — starting with the fact the US was born under secession — he also provides current thinking. In another poll, this one in 2008 by Middlebury Institute/Zogby Poll, he reports that researchers “found that 22% of Americans surveyed agreed that ‘any state or region has the right to peaceably secede and become an independent republic.’

“The South (26%) and East (24%) led the way, and among demographic categories Hispanics (43%), African Americans (40%), and eighteen- through twenty-four-year-olds (40%) gave the most support to the proposition. Liberals (32%) were likelier than self-described conservatives (17%) to agree. Hope abides.”

Ordinary people object to Earth-destroying corporate dominion, enforced thru war, here in the States and across the globe. Our cause is their cause. But, as Kaufman notes, “Establishment liberals and empire conservatives.… are the prison guards keeping the rabble from watering the tree of liberty with the blood of tyrants.”

Here is Roy’s response to the media furor, which she wrote yesterday, along with a video of the speech that sparked such controversy:

Pity the Nation
By Arundhati Roy

I write this from Srinagar, Kashmir. This morning’s papers say that I may be arrested on charges of sedition for what I have said at recent public meetings on Kashmir. I said what millions of people here say every day. I said what I, as well as other commentators have written and said for years. Anybody who cares to read the transcripts of my speeches will see that they were fundamentally a call for justice. I spoke about justice for the people of Kashmir who live under one of the most brutal military occupations in the world; for Kashmiri Pandits who live out the tragedy of having been driven out of their homeland; for Dalit soldiers killed in Kashmir whose graves I visited on garbage heaps in their villages in Cuddalore; for the Indian poor who pay the price of this occupation in material ways and who are now learning to live in the terror of what is becoming a police state.

Read the full article at

Bill Kauffman’s Bye Bye, Miss American Empire is available now.

Bob Cavnar: The Coming Showdown Over America’s Energy Future

Friday, November 5th, 2010

November 3, 2010

The change of control of the House of Representatives yesterday was not only a political loss for the Democrats; it changed the landscape in Washington and diminished the chance for meaningful progress on comprehensive energy policy any time soon. With leaders like Mitch McConnell saying that the Republicans’ single most important job for the next session is to make Barack Obama a one-term president, we can expect massive gridlock for the next two years, as the GOP renews its pledge, spelled out by Rush Limbaugh in 2009, to make the president a failure.

Among all the posturing and victory laps last night, especially by the members of the GOP’s renegade Tea Partiers, the chances of real progress on most fronts slipped away as more seats moved into the red column. Ohio Republican John Boehner’s trademark tear-filled speech will surely evaporate into even more stonewalling, subpoenas, and assaults on the Obama administration’s successes. Healthcare reform and the expiration of Bush-era tax cuts will face major and noisy challenges. Lost in the shuffle and power grabbing will be–as it has been–our own energy security.

Virtually everyone in the United States has already forgotten the tragedy in the Gulf that unfolded over the summer as BP’s well blew out, spewing millions of barrels of oil into the water, causing massive and as yet undetermined damaged to the economies of 5 states and a vast ecosystem. After the blowout, the Obama White House, late to the party, rushed a response that proved inadequate as the catastrophe dragged on for months, eroding voters’ confidence in the administration and paralyzing the coordinated effort to stop the well from gushing and clean up the mess. BP and the Obama administration did succeed, however, in achieving their number one goal: getting the blowing out well off of our televisions screens, and off our minds. But something else vanished from the American radar screen, too, and that was our new-found though short-lived commitment to finding a saner energy future.

During the crisis, the administration shut down all deepwater drilling and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar proposed new drilling rules that would be imposed before lifting the ban. His rules included primarily superficial regulatory reforms, but there were two key changes that required congressional action. First, he proposed raising the $75 million liability cap for companies operating in offshore US waters. Second, he proposed increasing the time period for new permit reviews from 30 to 90 days. On July 30 of this year, over the objections of Republicans and conservative Democrats, the House passed an offshore drilling reform bill that lifted the $75 million cap, but the bill, of course, died in the Senate. No legislative action has been taken on the permit review provision. But, unfortunately, Salazar and the Obama adminstration lifted the ban anyway–even before its expiration date.

Let’s hope that leaders once again take up the serious issues they so unwisely abandoned in political frenzy of the midterm elections. The $75 million cap is a huge issue. Without that cap, many companies would be forced to consolidate or exit the Gulf. With it, the risk is placed entirely on the US taxpayer. This problem is little discussed in the media, and the public is oblivious to the issue. Keep in mind that damage estimates from the BP well blowout range between $40 and $60 billion. With the cap in place, a company is only required to pay $75 million of their damages and the rest of the cleanup tab is on the taxpayer. The cap also allows risky operators to gamble on our shorelines. Consider this: of the dozen or so deepwater operators, only four or five are large enough to even survive a catastrophe the size of BP’s blowout and spill. Had this accident happened to others, without the liability cap, they would have almost immediately declared bankruptcy and the total cost of clean up and capping would have been on the taxpayer. The cap makes their gamble a safe one. But without a cap–since no company wants to risk bankruptcy–those operators wouldn’t be there in the first place.

The 30-day permit review limit is also huge. With it, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (formerly the Minerals Management Service) essentially was rubber stamping permit to keep the paper flowing. Without increasing the time limit, this will continue to happen.

I predict that there will be a showdown after the first of the year over offshore drilling. The Republican House, soon to be led by Boehner, is just going to sit there and stare at Obama and Salazar. They have no incentive to pass offshore reform: they are the largest recipients of oil industry contributions. The Obama administration–faced with threats of further layoffs, increased foreign oil imports, and losing the 2012 election–will cave. The administration will allow the industry to go back to work in the Gulf with only superficial regulatory reform. The industry will continue to self regulate and enjoy limited liability. And the safety of workers will continue to be in jeopardy.

Let’s be clear here about the risks that we are facing as a nation. We now import close to 70 percent of our daily oil needs from foreign countries, many of which hate us. Our own domestic production of oil, with the exception of the deepwater Gulf of Mexico, is declining. We have lost control of our own destiny, and the makeup of the next Congress gives me no hope that we are going to make any substantial moves to improve on our security. That would take leadership and courage, two qualities seriously lacking in Washington today, especially with another election coming up in two years.

After all, the 2012 campaign began at midnight last night.

This post appeared originally on The Daily Hurricane.

Bob Cavnar is the author of Disaster on the Horizon, available now.

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