Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Noam Chomsky: Remembering Howard Zinn


Noam Chomsky was awarded the Sydney Peace Prize. (photo: Ben Rusk/flickr)
Noam Chomsky was awarded the Sydney Peace Prize. (photo: Ben Rusk/flickr)

Remembering Howard Zinn

By Noam Chomsky, Al Jazeera

27 January 12

Editor's note: Today, January 27, is the second anniversary of the death of Howard Zinn. An active participant in the Civil Rights movement, he was dismissed in 1963 from his position as a tenured professor at Spelman College in Atlanta after siding with black women students in the struggle against segregation. In 1967, he wrote one of the first, and most influential, books calling for an end to the war in Vietnam. A veteran of the US Army Air Force, he edited The Pentagon Papers, leaked by whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, and was later designated a "high security risk" by the FBI.

His best-selling A People's History of the United States spawned a new field of historical study: People's Histories. This approach countered the traditional triumphalist examination of "history as written by the victors", instead concentrating on the poor and seemingly powerless; those who resisted imperial, cultural and corporate hegemony. Zinn was an award-winning social activist, writer and historian - and so who better to share his memory than his close friend and fellow intellectual giant, Noam Chomsky?

t is not easy for me to write a few words about Howard Zinn, the great American activist and historian. He was a very close friend for 45 years. The families were very close too. His wife Roz, who died of cancer not long before, was also a marvellous person and close friend. Also sombre is the realisation that a whole generation seems to be disappearing, including several other old friends: Edward Said, Eqbal Ahmed and others, who were not only astute and productive scholars, but also dedicated and courageous militants, always on call when needed - which was constant. A combination that is essential if there is to be hope of decent survival.

Howard's remarkable life and work are summarised best in his own words. His primary concern, he explained, was "the countless small actions of unknown people" that lie at the roots of "those great moments" that enter the historical record - a record that will be profoundly misleading, and seriously disempowering, if it is torn from these roots as it passes through the filters of doctrine and dogma. His life was always closely intertwined with his writings and innumerable talks and interviews. It was devoted, selflessly, to empowerment of the unknown people who brought about great moments. That was true when he was an industrial worker and labour activist, and from the days, 50 years ago, when he was teaching at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia, a black college that was open mostly to the small black elite.

While teaching at Spelman, Howard supported the students who were at the cutting edge of the civil rights movement in its early and most dangerous days, many of whom became quite well-known in later years - Alice Walker, Julian Bond and others - and who loved and revered him, as did everyone who knew him well. And as always, he did not just support them, which was rare enough, but also participated directly with them in their most hazardous efforts - no easy undertaking at that time, before there was any organised popular movement and in the face of government hostility that lasted for some years. Finally, popular support was ignited, in large part by the courageous actions of the young people who were sitting in at lunch counters, riding freedom buses, organising demonstrations, facing bitter racism and brutality, sometimes death.

By the early 1960s, a mass popular movement was taking shape, by then with Martin Luther King in a leadership role - and the government had to respond. As a reward for his courage and honesty, Howard was soon expelled from the college where he taught. A few years later, he wrote the standard work on SNCC (the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee), the major organisation of those "unknown people" whose "countless small actions" played such an important part in creating the groundswell that enabled King to gain significant influence - as I am sure he would have been the first to say - and to bring the country to honour the constitutional amendments of a century earlier that had theoretically granted elementary civil rights to former slaves - at least to do so partially; no need to stress that there remains a long way to go.

A Civilising Influence

On a personal note, I came to know Howard well when we went together to a civil rights demonstration in Jackson Mississippi in (I think) 1964, even at that late date, a scene of violent public antagonism, police brutality and indifference - or even co-operation - with state security forces on the part of federal authorities, sometimes in ways that were quite shocking.

After being expelled from the Atlanta college where he taught, Howard came to Boston, and spent the rest of his academic career at Boston University, where he was, I am sure, the most admired and loved faculty member on campus, and the target of bitter antagonism and petty cruelty on the part of the administration. In later years, however, after his retirement, he gained the public honour and respect that was always overwhelming among students, staff, much of the faculty, and the general community. While there, Howard wrote the books that brought him well-deserved fame. His book Logic of Withdrawal, in 1967, was the first to express clearly and powerfully what many were then beginning barely to contemplate: that the US had no right even to call for a negotiated settlement in Vietnam, leaving Washington with power and substantial control in the country it had invaded and by then already largely destroyed.

Rather, the US should do what any aggressor should: withdraw, allow the population to somehow reconstruct as they could from the wreckage, and if minimal honesty could be attained, pay massive reparations for the crimes that the invading armies had committed, vast crimes in this case. The book had wide influence among the public, although to this day, its message can barely even be comprehended in elite educated circles, an indication of how much necessary work lies ahead.

Significantly, among the general public by the war's end, 70 per cent regarded the war as "fundamentally wrong and immoral", not "a mistake," a remarkable figure, considering the fact that scarcely a hint of such a thought was expressible in mainstream opinion. Howard's writings - and, as always, his prominent presence in protest and direct resistance - were a major factor in civilising much of the country.

In those same years, Howard also became one of the most prominent supporters of the resistance movement that was then developing. He was one of the early signers of the Call to Resist Illegitimate Authority and was so close to the activities of Resist that he was practically one of the organisers. He also took part at once in the sanctuary actions that had a remarkable impact in galvanising anti-war protest. Whatever was needed - talks, participation in civil disobedience, support for resisters, testimony at trials - Howard was always there.

'History From Below'

Even more influential in the long run than Howard's anti-war writings and actions was his enduring masterpiece, A People's History of the United States, a book that literally changed the consciousness of a generation. Here he developed with care, lucidity and comprehensive sweep his fundamental message about the crucial role of the people who remain unknown in carrying forward the endless struggle for peace and justice, and about the victims of the systems of power that create their own versions of history and seek to impose it. Later, his "Voices" from the People's History, now an acclaimed theatrical and television production, has brought to many the actual words of those forgotten or ignored people who have played such a valuable role in creating a better world.

Howard's unique success in drawing the actions and voices of unknown people from the depths to which they had largely been consigned has spawned extensive historical research following a similar path, focusing on critical periods of US history, and turning to the record in other countries as well, a very welcome development. It is not entirely novel - there had been scholarly inquiries of particular topics before - but nothing to compare with Howard's broad and incisive evocation of "history from below", compensating for critical omissions in how US history had been interpreted and conveyed.

Howard's dedicated activism continued, literally without a break, until the very end, even in his last years, when he was suffering from severe infirmity and personal loss - though one would hardly know it when meeting him or watching him speaking tirelessly to captivated audiences all over the country. Whenever there was a struggle for peace and justice, Howard was there, on the front lines, unflagging in his enthusiasm, and inspiring in his integrity, engagement, eloquence and insight; a light touch of humour in the face of adversity, and dedication to non-violence and sheer decency. It is hard even to imagine how many young people's lives were touched, and how deeply, by his achievements, both in his work and his life.

There are places where Howard's life and work should have particular resonance. One, which should be much better known, is Turkey. I know of no other country where leading writers, artists, journalists, academics and other intellectuals have compiled such an impressive record of bravery and integrity in condemning crimes of the state, and going beyond to engage in civil disobedience to try to bring oppression and violence to an end, facing and sometimes enduring severe repression, and then returning to the task.

It is an honourable record, unique to my knowledge, a record of which the country should be proud. And one that should be a model for others, just as Howard Zinn's life and work are an unforgettable model, sure to leave a permanent stamp on how history is understood and how a decent and honourable life should be lived.

Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor emeritus in the MIT Department of Linguistics and Philosophy. He is the author of numerous bestselling political works, including 9-11: Was There an Alternative? (Seven Stories Press), an updated version of his classic account, just being published this week with a major new essay - from which this post was adapted - considering the ten years since the 9/11 attacks.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Hurrah for Egypt! by Uri Avneri

From: Sid Shniad: [mailto:sid-l@googlegroups.com]
Sent: Friday, January 27, 2012 12:34 PM



Hurrah for Egypt!

by Uri Avneri*

THE IMPOSSIBLE has happened. The Egyptian parliament, democratically elected
by a free people, has convened for its first session.

For me this is a wonderful, a joyful occasion.

For many Israelis, this is a worrisome, a threatening sight.

I CANNOT but rejoice when a downtrodden people arises and wins its freedom
and human dignity. And not by the intervention of outside forces, but by its
own steadfastness and courage. And not by shooting and bloodshed, but by the
sheer power of nonviolence.

Whenever and wherever it happens, it must gladden the heart of any decent
person around the globe.

Compared to most other revolutions, this Egyptian uprising was bloodless.
The number of victims ran in the dozens, not thousands. The current struggle
in Syria claims that number of victims every day or two, and so did the
successful uprising in neighboring Libya, which was greatly assisted by
foreign military intervention.

A revolution reflects the character of its people. I always had a special
liking for the Egyptian people, because they are - by and large - devoid of
aggressiveness and violence. They are a singularly patient and humorous lot.
You can see this in thousands of years of recorded history and you can see
it in daily life in the street.

That is why this revolution was so surprising. Of all the peoples on this
planet, the Egyptians are among the most unlikely to revolt. Yet revolt they

THE PARLIAMENT convened after 60 years of military rule, which also started
with a bloodless revolution. Even the despised king, Farouk, who was
overthrown on that day in July 1952, was not harmed. He was bundled into his
luxurious yacht and sent off to Monte Carlo, there to spend the rest of his
life gambling.

The real leader of the revolution was Gamal Abd-al-Nasser. I had met him
several times during the 1948 war - though we were never properly
introduced. These were all night battles, and only after the war could I
reconstruct the events. He was wounded in a battle for which my company was
awarded the honorary name "Samson's Foxes", while I was wounded five months
later by soldiers under his command.

I never met him face to face, of course, but a good friend of mine did.
During the battle of the "Faluja pocket", a cease-fire was agreed in order
to bring out the dead and wounded lying between the lines. The Egyptians
sent Major Abd-al-Nasser, our side sent a Yemen-born officer whom we called
"Gingi" (Ginger), because he was almost totally black. The two enemy
officers liked each other very much, and when the Egyptian revolution broke
out, Gingi told me - long before anyone else - that Abd-al-Nasser was the
man to watch.

(I cannot restrain myself from voicing a pet peeve here. In Western films
and books, Arabs often bear the first name Abdul. Such a name just does not
exist. "Abdul" is really Abd-al-, which means "servant of"' and is
invariably followed by one of Allah's 99 attributes. Abd-al-Nasser, for
example, means "Servant of (Allah) the Victorious". So please!)

"Nasser", as most people called him for short, was not a born dictator. He
later recounted that after the victory of the revolution, he had no idea
what to do next. He started by appointing a civilian government, but was
appalled by the incompetence and corruption of the politicians. So the army
took things into its own hands, and soon enough it became a military
dictatorship, which lasted and steadily degenerated until last year.

One does not have to take Nasser's account literally, but the lesson is
clear: now as then, "temporary" military rule tends to turn into a lasting
dictatorship. Egyptians know this from bitter experience, and that's why
they are becoming very very impatient now.

I remember an arresting conversation between two leading Arab intellectuals
some 45 years ago. We were in a taxi in London, on our way to a conference.
One was the admirable Mohammed Sid Ahmad, an aristocratic Egyptian Marxist,
the other was Alawi, a courageous leftist Moroccan opposition leader. The
Egyptian said that in the contemporary Arab world, no national goal can be
achieved without a strong autocratic leadership. Alawi retorted that nothing
worthwhile can be achieved before internal democracy is established. I think
this case has now been settled.

AS WINSTON CHURCHILL famously said, "democracy is the worst form of
government except all those other forms that have been tried." The bad thing
about democracy is that free elections don't always turn out the way you
want them to.

The recent Egyptian election was won by "Islamists". The tumultuous first
session produced by this whiff of freedom was dominated by deputies with
religious beards. Elected members of the Muslim Brotherhood and the more
extreme Salafists (adherents of the Salafiyeh, a Sunni tendency which claims
to follow the teaching of the first three Muslim generations) form the
majority. The Israelis and the world's Islamophobes, for whom all Muslims
are the same, are aghast.

Frankly, I don't like religious parties of any stripe - Jewish, Muslim,
Christian or what have you. Full democracy demands full separation between
State and religion, in practice as well as in theory.

I would not vote for politicians who use religious fundamentalism as a
ladder for their careers - whether they are American presidential
candidates, Israeli settlers or Arab demagogues. Even If they were sincere,
I would still vote against them. But if such people are elected freely, I
accept them. I certainly would not let the success of the Islamists spoil my
joy at the historic victory of the Arab Spring.

The way it looks now, Islamists of various shades are going to be
influential in all the new parliaments that will be the products of Arab
democracy, from Morocco to Iraq, from Syria to Oman. Israel will not be a
"villa in the jungle", but a Jewish island in a Muslim sea.

Island and sea are not natural enemies. On the contrary, they complement
each other. The islanders catch fish in the sea, the island shelters the
young fish.

THERE IS no reason for Jews and Muslims not to live peacefully together and
cooperate. They have done so many times in history, and these were good
times for both.

In any religion, there are many contradictions. In the Hebrew Bible there
are the inspiring chapters of the prophets and the abominable calls for
genocide in the Book of Joshua, for example. In the New Testament, there are
the beautiful Sermon on the Mount and the disgusting (and obviously false
and later inserted) description of the Jews calling for the crucifixion of
Jesus, which has caused anti-Semitism and untold suffering.
In the Koran are several objectionable passages about the Jews, but they are
overshadowed by the admirable command to protect the "peoples of the book",
Jews and Christians.

It is up to the believers of any religion to pick from their holy texts the
passages they want to act upon. Once I saw a Nazi book composed entirely of
quotations from the Talmud - hundreds of them. I was certain that they were
all false and was shocked to the core when a friendly rabbi assured me that
they were all authentic, only taken out of context.

JEWS AND Muslims can and did live peacefully together, and so did Israelis
and Egyptians.

Just one chapter: in November, 1944, two members of the pre-state
underground Lehi organization (aka Stern Gang) assassinated Lord Moyne, the
British Minister of State for the Middle East, in Cairo. They were caught,
and their trial in an Egyptian court turned into an anti-British
demonstration. Young Egyptian patriots filled the chamber and made no effort
to hide their admiration for the accused. One of the two (with whom I was
acquainted) reciprocated with a rousing speech, in which he dismissed
Zionism and defined himself as a freedom fighter out to liberate the entire
region from British imperialism.

When Israel was founded soon after, some of us suggested that the new state
use this and other acts in order to present ourselves as the first Semitic
state that had liberated itself from foreign rule. In this spirit, we
publicly welcomed Abd-al-Nasser's 1952 revolution. But in 1956, Israel
attacked Egypt in collusion with France and Great Britain, and was branded
as an outpost of Western colonialism.

AFTER ANWAR SADAT'S historic visit to Jerusalem, I was one of the first four
Israelis to arrive in Cairo. For weeks we were the heroes of the city,
lionized by one and all. Enthusiasm for peace with Israel gave rise to a
carnival mood. Only later, when the Egyptians realized that Israel had no
intention whatsoever of allowing the Palestinians to achieve their freedom,
did this mood evaporate.

Now is the time to try to restore this mood. It can be done, if we
resolutely turn our face toward the Arab Spring and its winter offshoots.

That raises again one of the most basic questions for Israel: Do we want to
be a part of this region, or an outpost of the West? Are the Arabs our
natural allies or our natural enemies? Does the new Arab democracy arouse
our sympathy and admiration, or does it frighten us?

This leads to the most profound question of all: Is Israel just another
branch of world Jewry, or is it a new nation born in this region and
constituting an integral part of it?

For me, the answer is clear. And therefore I salute the Egyptian people and
their new parliament: Congratulations!
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Krugman: Jobs, Jobs and Cars

Jobs, Jobs and Cars
Paul Krugman
NY Times Op-Ed: January 27, 2012
Mitch Daniels, the former Bush budget director who is now Indiana’s governor, made the Republicans’ reply to President Obama’s State of the Union address. His performance was, well, boring. But he did say something thought-provoking — and I mean that in the worst way.
For Mr. Daniels tried to wrap his party in the mantle of the late Steve Jobs, whom he portrayed as a great job creator — which is one thing that Jobs definitely wasn’t. And if we ask why Apple has created so few American jobs, we get an insight into what is wrong with the ideology dominating much of our politics.

Mr. Daniels first berated the president for his “constant disparagement of people in business,” which happens to be a complete fabrication. Mr. Obama has never done anything of the sort. He went on: “The late Steve Jobs — what a fitting name he had — created more of them than all those stimulus dollars the president borrowed and blew.”

Clearly, Mr. Daniels doesn’t have much of a future in the humor business. But, more to the point, anyone who reads The New York Times knows that his assertion about job creation was completely false: Apple employs very few people in this country.

A big report in The Times last Sunday laid out the facts. Although Apple is now America’s biggest U.S. corporation as measured by market value, it employs only 43,000 people in the United States, a tenth as many as General Motors employed when it was the largest American firm.

Apple does, however, indirectly employ around 700,000 people in its various suppliers. Unfortunately, almost none of those people are in America.

Why does Apple manufacture abroad, and especially in China? As the article explained, it’s not just about low wages. China also derives big advantages from the fact that so much of the supply chain is already there. A former Apple executive explained: “You need a thousand rubber gaskets? That’s the factory next door. You need a million screws? That factory is a block away.”

This is familiar territory to students of economic geography: the advantages of industrial clusters — in which producers, specialized suppliers, and workers huddle together to their mutual benefit — have been a running theme since the 19th century.

And Chinese manufacturing isn’t the only conspicuous example of these advantages in the modern world. Germany remains a highly successful exporter even with workers who cost, on average, $44 an hour — much more than the average cost of American workers. And this success has a lot to do with the support its small and medium-sized companies — the famed Mittelstand — provide to each other via shared suppliers and the maintenance of a skilled work force.

The point is that successful companies — or, at any rate, companies that make a large contribution to a nation’s economy — don’t exist in isolation. Prosperity depends on the synergy between companies, on the cluster, not the individual entrepreneur.

But the current Republican worldview has no room for such considerations. From the G.O.P.’s perspective, it’s all about the heroic entrepreneur, the John Galt, I mean Steve Jobs-type “job creator” who showers benefits on the rest of us and who must, of course, be rewarded with tax rates lower than those paid by many middle-class workers.

And this vision helps explain why Republicans were so furiously opposed to the single most successful policy initiative of recent years: the auto industry bailout.

The case for this bailout — which Mr. Daniels has denounced as “crony capitalism” — rested crucially on the notion that the survival of any one firm in the industry depended on the survival of the broader industry “ecology” created by the cluster of producers and suppliers in America’s industrial heartland. If G.M. and Chrysler had been allowed to go under, they would probably have taken much of the supply chain with them — and Ford would have gone the same way.

Fortunately, the Obama administration didn’t let that happen, and the unemployment rate in Michigan, which hit 14.1 percent as the bailout was going into effect, is now down to a still-terrible-but-much-better 9.3 percent. And the details aside, much of Mr. Obama’s State of the Union address can be read as an attempt to apply the lessons of that success more broadly.

So we should be grateful to Mr. Daniels for his remarks Tuesday. He got his facts wrong, but he did, unintentionally, manage to highlight an important philosophical difference between the parties. One side believes that economies succeed solely thanks to heroic entrepreneurs; the other has nothing against entrepreneurs, but believes that entrepreneurs need a supportive environment, and that sometimes government has to help create or sustain that supportive environment.

And the view that it takes more than business heroes is the one that fits the facts.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Mikhail Gorbachev: Is the World Really Safer Without the Soviet Union?

Hi.  Here's a wonderful read for Sunday.   I don't think I've ever read a speech by any political leader in any country with such understanding, compassion and lack of nationalism.  If taken seriously, it will add imensely to your understanding of the past two decades, where we are today and what can and should be.  As ot did mine. 
Is the World Really Safer Without the Soviet Union?
Mikhail Gorbachev

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Robert Reich: Who Is Sheldon Adelson and What Has Newt Promised Him?, Reminder: A Great Event This Sunday

Hi. Here's a partial answer to some of Robert Reich's question Adelson is the major financier of the illegal settlers in Palestine and friend to the most extreme elements in Israel's  government, society and policies.  Yesterday's Democracy Now reminds me that he owns one of Israel's largest newspapers and is a financier of 'TheThird Jihad,' the rabid anti-muslim film shown to over 1500 NYPD trainees and cops; right now raising a  city-wide and City Council demand that Bloomberg fire NY Police Comissioner Ray Kelly.  When Newt was asked why he got this money, he said it's because Adelson knew he'd support the Israel of Adleson's close friend, Binyamin Netanyahu.  Gingrich then ourlined what that was 'there are no Paestinian people and they deserve no homeland nor right of return, and there's nothing to negotiate. (That's even to the right of Netanyahu and AIPAC), and is pushing for war on Iran.  There's more - but for another day, if needed.  -Ed
Who Is Sheldon Adelson, What Has Newt Promised Him?
Robert Reich’s Blog (1/25/12)

(Editor’s Note: How appropriate that a casino owner is one of the big power players in the biggest “suckers lose” gambling operation on the planet – the Corporate States of America! – Mark L. Taylor)

Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino owner, is now the poster boy for what’s terribly wrong with our campaign-finance system. Adelson, you may recall, had, before the South Carolina Republican primary, donated $5 million to the pro-Gingrich Super Pac “Winning Our Future” – giving Newt a pile of money for negative advertising against Mitt Romney in South Carolina.

Adelson has done it again. He and his wife Marian have cut another $5 million check for Gingrich to go negative on Romney in Florida. The money won’t go as far as it did in South Carolina – TV ads cost a lot more in Florida

– but it’s enough to give the Grinch a solid footing.

And, who knows? The Adelsons are billionaires. They might decide to put in another $5 million or perhaps $20 million into Gingrich’s Super Pac. The point is, there’s no limit.

Do you know who Sheldon and Marian Adelson are? Do you know what Gingrich has promised them, or what they think they’ll get out of a Grinch presidency? I don’t. But if Newt becomes President of the United States, they’ll be singularly responsible. And we better find out, because Newt will owe them big time.

Forget the Lincoln Bedroom. The Adelsons and their kids will have the run of the White House, including the Oval Office. Hey, they’ll take over the Old Executive Building next door and turn it into a casino.

Never before in the history of American politics has a single couple given more money to a single candidate and had a bigger impact – all courtesy of the Supreme Court and its grotesque decisions that speech is money and corporations are people under the First Amendment.

* * *

From: estee chandler [mailto:losangeles@jewishvoiceforpeace.org]
Sent: Wednesday, January 25, 2012 7:57 PM
Sunday, January 29th - JVP-LA is a proud Community Sponsor of A Child's View of Gaza - Art Exhibit Opening in Los Angeles - Hollywood Woman's Club 4-7pm 1749 N. La Brea Avenue, LA 90046 - Event Reservations 310.657.5511

A Child's View of Gaza is an exhibition of 25 children's drawings from six children's centers in Gaza: Afaq Jadeeda Association, Life makers Center, Culture and Free Thought Association, Khan Younis, Qattan Center for the Child, Rachel Corrie Children's Center, and Al-Assria Children's Library. The exhibit will be on display at the Inside/Outside Gallery, Levantine Cultural Center, Jan. 17-Feb. 17, 2012. A special event will present the exhibit with guest speakers and the Naser Musa Ensemble at the Hollywood Woman's Club on Sun., Jan. 29, 4-7 pm, 1749 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles CA 90046. No ticket charge but donations will be requested. Event Reservations 310.657.5511.

In May 2009, an ad hoc delegation of 13 Americans traveled to Gaza to witness the aftermath of Operation Cast Lead. After visiting many children centers, homes, NGOs and seeing the powerful art the children had made during art therapy sessions, the delegation discussed how they could share Gaza's stories and needs with the world. A Child's View of Gaza lets the children share their own experiences through art.

Peace and HOPE,
~estee chandler
JVP-LA Organizer

"The opposite of good is not evil, the opposite of good is indifference." Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel



Friday, January 27, 2012

We the People, by Sen. Bernie Sanders and Roert Weissman

We the People

Posted: 1/20/12 02:52 PM ET

If you are concerned about the collapse of the middle class, you should be concerned about how American campaigns are financed. If you wonder why the United States is the only country in the industrialized world not to have a national health care program, if you're asking why we pay the highest price in the world for prescription drugs, or why we spend more money on the military than the rest of the world combined, you are talking about campaign finance. You are talking about the unbelievable power that big-money interests have over every legislative decision.

An already horrendous situation was made much worse two years ago this month when the Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United v. the Federal Elections Commission that multinational corporations have a constitutional right to spend whatever they want to influence election outcomes. A bare 5-4 majority lowered the floodgates on unchecked, unlimited, unaccountable corporate cash in political campaigns. Corporations were equated with people. A century of laws regulating business spending on elections were upended. In one fell swoop, five justices fantasized for corporations a right never conceived by the founders whose preamble to our Constitution begins with the words, "We the people..."

The ruling not only poisoned our political process. It contaminated the legislative process. It cast a permanent chill over all policymaking. Will the merits or the money tip the balance when an issue comes before Congress? What do you think? If the question is on breaking up huge banks, for example, every member of the Senate and the House, in the back of their minds, will ask themselves what the personal price would be for taking on Wall Street. Am I going to be punished? Will a huge amount of money be unleashed in my state? They're going to think twice about how to cast that vote. Not to put too fine a point on it, you will see politicians being adopted by corporations and becoming wholly owned subsidiaries of corporate entities.

We already have seen what kind of damage Citizens United can cause. In the first election after the decision was handed down, corporations in 2010 poured hundreds of millions of dollars into independent organizations not formally affiliated with parties or candidates. About half of the $300 million spent by independent organizations came from undisclosed sources. In 60 of the 75 congressional races in which power changed hands, the unaccountable outside groups backed the winners. They spent freely and overwhelmingly on negative ads. The early phases of this year's elections bear witness to projections that the Citizens United effect will be much worse. Karl Rove has announced plans to raise
$240 million. The Koch brothers promise to spend $200 million. It's fair to assume the Chamber of Commerce will spend at least as much. The Super PAC supporting President Obama, Priorities USA Action, aims to play in the same league. Hundreds of millions more will be in play.

It's a virtual certainty that all of this spending will fundamentally distort our democracy, tilting the playing field to favor corporate interests, discouraging new candidates, chilling elected officials and shifting the overall policymaking debate even further in the direction of giant corporate interests and the super-wealthy.

So now we face a choice. Americans can let Citizens United remain the law of the land, or we can have a functioning democracy. We can't have both. We choose democracy. With no reason to think that this court will reconsider its decision, we need a constitutional amendment.

Yes, legislative reforms could mitigate the damage. We should require better disclosure rules. We should make shareholders approve corporations' political spending. We should provide public financing of elections, but entrenched money interests have thwarted that for decades.

But nothing can truly cure the problem unless Citizens United is overturned with a constitutional amendment.

The Saving American Democracy Amendment in the Senate and a companion proposed in the House by Florida Representative Ted Deutch would do just that. The amendment would establish that constitutional rights belong to real people, not for-profit corporations. The amendment would prohibit corporations from making election-related expenditures. It would clarify that Congress and states have the power to regulate campaign spending, overturning the doctrine that election contributions and expenditures constitute First Amendment-protected speech and therefore may be subject only to limited restrictions. And it would affirm that nothing in the amendment limits freedom of press.

It's no easy thing to enact a constitutional amendment, but momentum for an amendment is building. People who have honest differences of opinion understand that there is something profoundly disgusting with what is happening in Washington and that there is something wrong with American democracy when you have a handful of billionaires and businesses putting hundreds of millions of dollars into the political process. Very few people think that has anything to do with American democracy. The American people desperately want to restore our democracy and return to rule by all of the people, not corporations and the superrich.

Bernie Sanders is a United States Senator from Vermont. Robert Weissman is the president of Public Citizen.

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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Fisk: The Demise of the Dollar - a must read!

The Demise of the Dollar

By Robert Fisk, Independent UK

26 January 12

n the most profound financial change in recent Middle East history, Gulf Arabs are planning - along with China, Russia, Japan and France - to end dollar dealings for oil, moving instead to a basket of currencies including the Japanese yen and Chinese yuan, the euro, gold and a new, unified currency planned for nations in the Gulf Co-operation Council, including Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait and Qatar.

Secret meetings have already been held by finance ministers and central bank governors in Russia, China, Japan and Brazil to work on the scheme, which will mean that oil will no longer be priced in dollars.

The plans, confirmed to The Independent by both Gulf Arab and Chinese banking sources in Hong Kong, may help to explain the sudden rise in gold prices, but it also augurs an extraordinary transition from dollar markets within nine years.

The Americans, who are aware the meetings have taken place - although they have not discovered the details - are sure to fight this international cabal which will include hitherto loyal allies Japan and the Gulf Arabs. Against the background to these currency meetings, Sun Bigan, China's former special envoy to the Middle East, has warned there is a risk of deepening divisions between China and the US over influence and oil in the Middle East. "Bilateral quarrels and clashes are unavoidable," he told the Asia and Africa Review. "We cannot lower vigilance against hostility in the Middle East over energy interests and security."

This sounds like a dangerous prediction of a future economic war between the US and China over Middle East oil - yet again turning the region's conflicts into a battle for great power supremacy. China uses more oil incrementally than the US because its growth is less energy efficient. The transitional currency in the move away from dollars, according to Chinese banking sources, may well be gold. An indication of the huge amounts involved can be gained from the wealth of Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar who together hold an estimated $2.1 trillion in dollar reserves.

The decline of American economic power linked to the current global recession was implicitly acknowledged by the World Bank president Robert Zoellick. "One of the legacies of this crisis may be a recognition of changed economic power relations," he said in Istanbul ahead of meetings this week of the IMF and World Bank. But it is China's extraordinary new financial power - along with past anger among oil-producing and oil-consuming nations at America's power to interfere in the international financial system - which has prompted the latest discussions involving the Gulf states.

Brazil has shown interest in collaborating in non-dollar oil payments, along with India. Indeed, China appears to be the most enthusiastic of all the financial powers involved, not least because of its enormous trade with the Middle East.

China imports 60 per cent of its oil, much of it from the Middle East and Russia. The Chinese have oil production concessions in Iraq - blocked by the US until this year - and since 2008 have held an $8bn agreement with Iran to develop refining capacity and gas resources. China has oil deals in Sudan (where it has substituted for US interests) and has been negotiating for oil concessions with Libya, where all such contracts are joint ventures.

Furthermore, Chinese exports to the region now account for no fewer than 10 per cent of the imports of every country in the Middle East, including a huge range of products from cars to weapon systems, food, clothes, even dolls. In a clear sign of China's growing financial muscle, the president of the European Central Bank, Jean-Claude Trichet, yesterday pleaded with Beijing to let the yuan appreciate against a sliding dollar and, by extension, loosen China's reliance on US monetary policy, to help rebalance the world economy and ease upward pressure on the euro.

Ever since the Bretton Woods agreements - the accords after the Second World War which bequeathed the architecture for the modern international financial system - America's trading partners have been left to cope with the impact of Washington's control and, in more recent years, the hegemony of the dollar as the dominant global reserve currency.

The Chinese believe, for example, that the Americans persuaded Britain to stay out of the euro in order to prevent an earlier move away from the dollar. But Chinese banking sources say their discussions have gone too far to be blocked now. "The Russians will eventually bring in the rouble to the basket of currencies," a prominent Hong Kong broker told The Independent. "The Brits are stuck in the middle and will come into the euro. They have no choice because they won't be able to use the US dollar."

Chinese financial sources believe President Barack Obama is too busy fixing the US economy to concentrate on the extraordinary implications of the transition from the dollar in nine years' time. The current deadline for the currency transition is 2018.

The US discussed the trend briefly at the G20 summit in Pittsburgh; the Chinese Central Bank governor and other officials have been worrying aloud about the dollar for years. Their problem is that much of their national wealth is tied up in dollar assets.

"These plans will change the face of international financial transactions," one Chinese banker said. "America and Britain must be very worried. You will know how worried by the thunder of denials this news will generate."

Iran announced late last month that its foreign currency reserves would henceforth be held in euros rather than dollars. Bankers remember, of course, what happened to the last Middle East oil producer to sell its oil in euros rather than dollars. A few months after Saddam Hussein trumpeted his decision, the Americans and British invaded Iraq.

Scheer: Obama's Faux Populism Sounds Like Bill Clinton


Obama’s Faux Populism Sounds Like Bill Clinton

Posted on Jan 26, 2012
AP / Saul Loeb

President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2012.

By Robert Scheer

I’ll admit it: Listening to Barack Obama, I am ready to enlist in his campaign against the feed-the-rich Republicans ... until I recall that I once responded in the same way to Bill Clinton’s faux populism. And then I get angry because betrayal by the “good guys” for whom I have ended up voting has become the norm.

Yes, betrayal, because if Obama meant what he said in Tuesday’s State of the Union address about holding the financial industry responsible for its scams, why did he appoint the old Clinton crowd that had legalized those scams to the top economic posts in his administration? Why did he hire Timothy Geithner, who has turned the Treasury Department into a concierge service for Wall Street tycoons?

Why hasn’t he pushed for a restoration of the Glass-Steagall Act, which Clinton’s deregulation reversed? Does the president really believe that the Dodd-Frank slap-on-the-wrist sellout represents “new rules to hold Wall Street accountable, so a crisis like this never happens again”? Can he name one single too-big-to-fail banking monstrosity that has been reduced in size on his watch instead of encouraged to grow ever larger by Treasury and Fed bailouts and interest-free money?

When Obama declared Tuesday evening “no American company should be able to avoid paying its fair share of taxes by moving jobs and profits overseas,” wasn’t he aware that Jeffrey Immelt, the man he appointed to head his jobs council, is the most egregious offender? Immelt, the CEO of GE, heads a company with most of its workers employed in foreign countries, a corporation that makes 82 percent of its profit abroad and has paid no U.S. taxes in the past three years.

It was also a bit bizarre for Obama to celebrate Steve Jobs as a model entrepreneur when the manufacturing jobs that the late Apple CEO created are in the same China that elsewhere in his speech the president sought to scapegoat for America’s problems. Apple, in its latest report on the subject, takes pride in attempting to limit the company’s overseas suppliers to a maximum workweek of 60 hours for their horribly exploited employees. Isn’t it weird to be chauvinistically China baiting when that country carries much of our debt?

I’m also getting tired of the exhortations to improve the nation’s schools, certainly a worthy endeavor, but this economic crisis is the result not of high school dropouts as Obama suggested, but rather the corruption of the best and brightest graduates of our elite academies. As Obama well knows from his own trajectory in the meritocracy, which took him from one of the most privileged schools in otherwise educationally depressed Hawaii to Harvard Law, the folks who concocted the mathematical formulas and wrote the laws justifying fraudulent collateralized debt obligations and credit default swaps were his overachieving professors and classmates.

If he doesn’t know that, he should check out the record of Lawrence Summers, the man he picked to guide his economic program and who had been rewarded with the presidency of Harvard after having engineered Clinton’s deregulatory deal with Wall Street.

That is the real legacy of the Clinton years, and it is no surprise that GOP presidential contender Newt Gingrich has been campaigning on his rightful share of it. The international trade agreements that exported good U.S. jobs, the radical financial deregulation that unleashed Wall Street greed, and the free market zealotry of then-Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan, who was reappointed by Clinton, were all part of a deal Clinton made with Gingrich, House speaker at that time.

As Gingrich put it in the first Republican debate in South Carolina: “As speaker ... working with President Bill Clinton, we passed a very Reagan-like program, less regulation, lower taxes.” Even the 15 percent tax break that Mitt Romney exploited for his carryover private equity income was a result of the unholy Clinton-Gingrich alliance. Both principals of that alliance were pimps for the financial industry, and that includes Freddie Mac, the for-profit stock-traded housing agency that Clinton coddled while it stoked the Ponzi scheme in housing and that rewarded the former speaker with $1.6 million to $1.8 million in consulting fees.

There were, finally, some bold words in Obama’s speech about helping beleaguered homeowners, but they ring hollow given this administration’s efforts to broker a sweetheart deal between the leading banks and the state attorneys general that would see the banks fined only a pittance for their responsibility in the mortgage meltdown. Obama could have had success demanding mortgage relief if he had made that a condition for bailing out the banks. Now the banksters know he’s firing blanks, and they are placing their bets on their more reliable Republican allies to prevent any significant demand for helping homeowners with their underwater mortgages.

Of course, Romney, Obama’s most likely opponent in the general election, will never challenge the Wall Street hold on Washington, since he is the personification of the vulture capitalism that is the true cause of America’s decline. Obama should shine in comparison with his Republican challenger, but there is little in his State of the Union speech to suggest he will chart a much-needed new course in his second term.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

DN Interview at Sundance: "Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare"

Medical Whistleblower Dr. Steven Nissen on "Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare"
Democracy Now
January 23, 2012

AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from Park City, Utah, home of the Sundance Film Festival, the nation’s largest festival for independent cinema. And we thank our host, Park City Television.

One of the issues raised over and over in the Republican presidential primary is the cost of healthcare. Since President Obama fought to pass his healthcare reform agenda, the issue has been the center of intense political debate. During the Republican presidential debate last Thursday, Newt Gingrich slammed Obama’s healthcare plan.

NEWT GINGRICH: The American people are frightened of bureaucratic, centralized medicine. They deeply distrust Washington. And the pressure will be to repeal it. And a lot of what Governor Romney just said, I think, is actually pretty good, sound stuff for part of the replacement. I would always repeal all of it, because I so deeply distrust the congressional staffs that I would not want them to be able to pick and choose which things they kept. But let me make one observation. You raised a good example. Why is President Obama for young people being allowed to stay on their parents’ insurance until 26? Because he can’t get any jobs for them to go out and buy their own insurance. I mean, I have an—I have an offer—I have an offer to the parents of America: elect us, and your kids will be able to move out, because they’ll have work.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Newt Gingrich, who won the South Carolina primary. Many say Obamacare is very similar to Romneycare. That’s the healthcare bill that Mitt Romney signed off on when he was governor of Massachusetts. Still, Romney is equally fierce in his criticism of President Obama’s plan.

MITT ROMNEY: We have to go after a complete repeal. And that’s going to have to happen—that’s going to have to happen with the House and the Senate, hopefully the Republican. If we don’t have a Republican majority, I think we’re going to be able to convince some Democrats that when the American people stand up loud and clear and say, "We do not want Obamacare, we do not want the higher taxes, we do not want a $500 billion cut in Medicare to pay for Obamacare" — I think you’re going to see the American people stand with our president and say, "Let’s get rid of Obamacare." But we’ll replace it.

And I’ve laid out what I’ll replace it with. First, it’s a bill that does care for people that have pre-existing conditions. If they’ve got a pre-existing condition and they’ve been previously insured, they won’t be denied insurance going forward. Secondly, I’ll allow people to own their own insurance, rather than just be able to get it from their employer. I want people to be able to take their insurance with them if they go from job to job. So, we’ll make it work, in the way that’s designed to have healthcare act like a market, a consumer market, as opposed to have it run like Amtrak and the post office. That’s what’s at risk here—at stake here. Do we—we go back to this. Ours is the party of free enterprise, freedom, markets, consumer choice. Theirs is the party of government knowledge, government domination, where Barack Obama believes that he knows better for the American people.

AMY GOODMAN: That was presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Well, we turn now to one of the most talked-about documentaries at the Sundance Film Festival. The film tackles the powerful forces behind the battle over healthcare cost and access. It’s called Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare.

To talk more about the question of healthcare reform, we’re joined now by Dr. Steven Nissen, whose work is featured in the film. He’s chairman of the Department of Cardiovascular Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, one of the nation’s leading clinics, and served as president of the American College of Cardiology. Dr. Nissen’s research into Vioxx and Avandia led to severe restrictions by the Food and Drug Administration reducing the use of both drugs. He features prominently in Escape Fire.

We welcome you, Dr. Nissen, to Democracy Now!, here in Park City. It’s great to have you with us.

DR. STEVEN NISSEN: It’s great to be with you.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, I know you’re a star in the field of cardiology, but now you’re a star in a film here that has just premiered. We’re coming out of the South Carolina primary. A major focus of attack against the Democrats is what the Republicans call "Obamacare." Can you talk about the criticism and talk about what we need today, especially in light of one of the headlines we just brought out, the Citizens United decision? Why would that weigh in? Why would you care about that as a doctor in this country?

DR. STEVEN NISSEN: Well, many things to talk about here, but first of all, let me say that I don’t like the use of the term Obamacare. What’s happened here is they’ve made this into some kind of a personal thing about Obama. Obamacare, or what they call Obamacare, was really a bill written by lots of people on Capitol Hill, and it happened to be supported by the President. Now, many of us think it didn’t go far enough, but it was at least an attempt to fix the system.

And my question is, if we’re not going to do—if we’re not going to do healthcare reform, what do these candidates—what do they want? We have a country where we’re spending 16 or 17 percent of every dollar on healthcare, and we’re not any healthier than our counterparts in Western Europe and other countries where they spend half that much. So, the problem is, we spend too much, we get too little, and the system isn’t working. We’ve got to fix it. Now, repealing the healthcare bill isn’t going to solve the problem. And I’d like to know is how they want to solve the problem.

AMY GOODMAN: How—talk about the forces at play. You’re a fierce critic of the pharmaceutical industry.

DR. STEVEN NISSEN: Well, let me, first of all, say that the pharmaceutical industry does lots of good. I mean, many new drugs that have saved lives have come from this industry. But selling pharmaceuticals is not the same as selling other kinds of products. There is a moral imperative here. And my concern is that, in several instances, drugs that their manufacturers knew were harmful, that harmed large numbers of Americans, continue to be marketed.

Now, you asked the question about the forces that are aligned against healthcare reform. And that indeed is the problem, is healthcare has become such a huge business that the forces that don’t want change—the insurance industry, the hospital industry, even physician professional societies—have so aligned to keep the system as it is that it’s very hard to overcome that. My fear in this election, because of the Citizens United ruling, is massive amounts of money from people with a huge stake in making a profit from healthcare are going to influence the electorate with just an amazing amount of money, television, every other media, and that could really turn the tide against what I thought was at least some momentum for healthcare reform.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s talk about the drugs that you investigated yourself. Start with Avandia.

DR. STEVEN NISSEN: Well, Avandia was the most recent of these. And, of course, it was a terrible tragedy. This was a drug introduced about a decade ago. It achieved enormous market success, eventually becoming the number one selling diabetes drug in the world. What is particularly shocking is that, early on, the manufacturer of this drug had very good evidence that it increased the risk of heart disease events. And it’s important to know that heart disease is the leading cause of death in diabetics. About 70 percent of all diabetics will die of heart disease. The company knew. They successfully concealed that information. And I was fortunately able to find enough data on the studies the company had done to do an analysis, which we published on May the 1st, 2007, that showed that the drug increased the risk of heart attack by about 40 percent. When you take a drug being used by diabetics, and if it increases the risk of heart attack by 40 percent, it’s truly a medical catastrophe. Over the next three years, a public battle was waged, involving the FDA, the media, ourselves, science, and eventually this drug was removed from the market in Europe completely—you can’t buy it there—and so severely restricted in the United States that nobody gets it.

AMY GOODMAN: Avandia hid this.


AMY GOODMAN: I mean, the company.

DR. STEVEN NISSEN: The company knew, yes. The company knew.

AMY GOODMAN: You found it by googling—


AMY GOODMAN: —and finding a report from what? London?

DR. STEVEN NISSEN: Well, it turns out there was a website. There’s a very interesting story here. Eliot Spitzer, when he was attorney general of New York, sued GlaxoSmithKline, the maker of Avandia, for concealing evidence that their anti-depressants were increasing the risk of suicide in children and adolescents. And rather than take a monetary settlement, the settlement of that suit was that the company had to post the results of all their clinical trials for all their drugs. And they did so at a website, that was not easy to find, in the U.K. We found it. We analyzed the data. And what we saw was frightening, to say the least. And we published it.

AMY GOODMAN: What is the criminal liability of [GlaxoSmithKline]?

DR. STEVEN NISSEN: Well, it’s interesting, because rarely, if ever, have these sorts of problems reached the level of the criminal courts. My own view is that they should. Importantly, it would create a deterrent. It would say, look, if you conceal information that can cost the lives of our citizens, that that should be treated the same way we would treat other violent crimes. Now, I don’t think it’s going to happen. You know, the whole idea of white-collar crime being treated differently is a problem in America, but the reality is, is a lot of people were very severely harmed.

AMY GOODMAN: How many people do you think needlessly died?

DR. STEVEN NISSEN: Well, the FDA Office of Surveillance and Epidemiology, which does this kind of analysis, estimated anywhere between 50,000 and 200,000 people either died or had a heart attack as a result of the marketing of this drug when it was marketed.


DR. STEVEN NISSEN: And Vioxx is a very similar story, yeah. In 2001, we analyzed data from a clinical trial of Vioxx, data that had not—

AMY GOODMAN: Who makes Vioxx?

DR. STEVEN NISSEN: Vioxx was made by Merck. And that data was concealed from a manuscript that was published about the drug. We got access to the data through the FDA website, again, through an unusual source; published it; and there then ensued a three-year battle, public battle, that ultimately led to the withdrawal of the drug from the market completely, worldwide, in 2004.

AMY GOODMAN: Because it did what?

DR. STEVEN NISSEN: It caused heart attacks. It dramatically increased the risk of heart attack, stroke and death.

AMY GOODMAN: So talk about the calculation that a company that Glaxo—well, the official name of the company?

DR. STEVEN NISSEN: GlaxoSmithKline.

AMY GOODMAN: GlaxoSmithKline. So often they merge that I get confused.

DR. STEVEN NISSEN: Absolutely.

AMY GOODMAN: GlaxoSmithKline, GSK.


AMY GOODMAN: And Merck. What are the calculations they make, in terms of what would it cost to reveal the information, what would it cost not to reveal and just pay out lawsuits when people die and some family members sue?

DR. STEVEN NISSEN: Yeah. Again, I want to say, make sure that everybody understands, that these are our outliers. I mean, there are very good and very ethical companies in the pharmaceutical industry and companies I work with every day. But there are also forces at play, powerful economic forces, that can cause companies, if they don’t have good supervision, to do the wrong thing. And what they did in both these cases is they looked at the information, and they literally did a calculus. What would it cost if we revealed the hazard and lost the sales of the drug? What would it cost if we took our chances that somebody will find out? And they decided that it was less expensive to conceal the information than to reveal it.

AMY GOODMAN: This was, in the case of—in the case of Avandia, an actual memo that you saw.

DR. STEVEN NISSEN: There is. There is a document that surfaced in court cases that literally makes a calculation of how much it would cost if this came to light and how much it would cost if it didn’t. And the ultimate calculation was it was better to keep this under wraps.

AMY GOODMAN: And yet, does the new legislation, the new healthcare bill, do anything about this, regulate this in any way? Would it change the situation?

DR. STEVEN NISSEN: No, it doesn’t. And again, what we ended up with healthcare reform bill was a bill that just kind of moves the needle a little bit in one direction. Now look, I think it was a step forward. At least it goes forward towards making certain that the 50 million Americans—it’s just scandalous that in a country with our wealth, 50 million of our citizens don’t have any health insurance. And they’re one illness away from bankruptcy, from the kind of catastrophes that can befall famillies. So this bill did help to close that gap, but it really was more about insurance reform than it was about healthcare reform. It is still light years away from what we need to solve the problem of healthcare in America.

AMY GOODMAN: And that is? What do we need?

DR. STEVEN NISSEN: Well, I think we need to contain costs with a system that doesn’t reward doing the wrong things. We have what I like to call "perverse incentives." And this is talked about in Escape Fire extensively by myself and by Don Berwick, the former administrator of Medicare, that these incentives basically pay physicians to do procedures, to do things to patients. We aren’t being paid for quality, we’re being paid for quantity. And as a consequence, we drive more and more utilization, more and more procedures, and that’s why we spend so much and we get so little.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about your own clinic. Cleveland Clinic is known throughout the world, and it’s a very interesting model. It’s similar, Dr. Steve Nissen, to Mayo Clinic.

DR. STEVEN NISSEN: Yeah. It is actually a little different, the Mayo Clinic. And I’ll tell you one thing that I am proud of in our institution, is we are not reimbursed on a fee-for-service basis. Every physician that works at the clinic gets a salary. So when you see a patient, there is no incentive to do procedures that may be not needed. There is a simple formula that says you get paid for coming to work every day and taking care of patients. You do your job. Now, we’re well paid. The physicians are well paid. And they all know they could make more money in private practice, not in an institution like that, but people feel very proud of the fact that we are not incentivized to do things to people.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you an example, the stent.


AMY GOODMAN: Why would a doctor in a different situation maybe deal with things differently?

DR. STEVEN NISSEN: Well, there’s been a lot of criticism—and I’ve been one of those that have criticized—the overuse of coronary stents. We now know that in patients that have chronic chest pain, that stents do not prevent heart attack or extend life.

AMY GOODMAN: Why do doctors put them in? And what are they exactly?

DR. STEVEN NISSEN: Stents are these little metal mesh devices that prop open the coronary. The coronary is narrowed. And they’re used very widely in millions of Americans. And in the right setting, they’re very useful. The problem is, we’re twice as likely to use a stent in patients in the United States as they are in other developed countries. And part of the reason is that every time you put a stent in, a bill is generated, and that represents revenue. Now, look, well-meaning people do respond to economic incentives. It’s the way our system is built. And so, I believe you have to take some of that incentive, some of that profit incentive, out of the system. And that’s what you do when you move toward a system that basically is a salary-based system, rather than a fee-for-service-based system. We’re a long way from having that in America.

AMY GOODMAN: Where does the American Medical Association stand on that issue?

DR. STEVEN NISSEN: Well, the AMA has not been on the forefront of healthcare reform. You know, you may—many people don’t realize that when Medicare was first proposed, the AMA was vehemently opposed to Medicare. They said it was socialized medicine to pay for healthcare in senior citizens. And now, they’ve come a long way since then, but they haven’t come far enough.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Steven Nissen, as we wrap up, what you feel people should understand, take from the problems with medicine, about the issues we must deal with in this country, like regulation? I dare say that everyone from Mitt Romney to Newt Gingrich would be deeply concerned if the medical devices and drugs that they themselves or their family members were given were not highly regulated. And yet, we are talking about a political discussion now that has to do with targeting regulation as the problem, the jobs killer in America today.

DR. STEVEN NISSEN: Well, it’s a terrible, terrible way to approach this problem. You know, regulation—under-regulation of the financial industry led to a catastrophe. And under-regulation of the medical industry has led to similar catastrophes. But believe it or not, there are people, on the right, who believe that the FDA should be abolished. And I’ve actually been interviewed on some channels, like Fox, where people have said, "Well, why do we need the FDA, Dr. Nissen? Why can’t the market regulate this? I mean, if drugs aren’t safe or effective, people won’t use them, right?" And the very idea is chilling, and should be chilling, to Americans. We need regulation. We need thoughtful regulation. Regulation is not a four-letter word. And we need regulation, and we need a government that looks out for the interests of its people, rather than the interests of business. And right now, most of the efforts of the federal government, many of these agencies, are so closely aligned with the business community that they’ve lost sight of what their real mission is: to represent the American people.

AMY GOODMAN: How does diet fit into this picture?

DR. STEVEN NISSEN: It’s a huge issue. I mean, look, we could prevent a lot of the diseases that we now treat, if we could deal with the problem of obesity. But, you know, obesity is also a problem of poverty. You know, you ask, why is obesity so problematic? Is because the most fattening foods are the cheapest and most easily obtainable. And that’s why, in low-income populations, obesity is on the rise. We need to do better. And that’s why, I think, when I hear comments like Obama is "the food stamp president," thank God for food stamps. Without food stamps, we’d have a lot of people starving in the streets.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to take that on in our next subject. Raj Patel will join us. Among his books, Stuffed and Starved. Dr. Steven Nissen, I want to thank you for being with us, but ask a final question. We are here at the Sundance Film Festival. You’re here because you’re one of the subjects of this film called Escape Fire, dealing with America’s healthcare system. Explain why the film was called Escape Fire, what that means.

DR. STEVEN NISSEN: Well, there was a fire a number of years ago, where an individual, in order to actually escape the fire—

AMY GOODMAN: The firefighter.

DR. STEVEN NISSEN: The firefighter, built a fire around himself.

AMY GOODMAN: So the flames were coming at all these firefighters that were going in to fight the fire.

DR. STEVEN NISSEN: That’s right. And he fought fire with fire. And—

AMY GOODMAN: He actually lit a match—

DR. STEVEN NISSEN: And formed a fire—

AMY GOODMAN: —in front of himself.

DR. STEVEN NISSEN: Exactly. And that—

AMY GOODMAN: Horrifying the other firefighters.

DR. STEVEN NISSEN: Exactly. He did, indeed. And, you know, I think that the analogy here, among others, is that we need to now fight fire with fire. And so, one of the things I loved about working on this film, with this wonderful crew, is that Escape Fire, they—it was done by people who share our passion for improving healthcare. And I think the film really speaks to the problem and talks about some of the solutions.

AMY GOODMAN: And just to say, with this firefighter, he encouraged the other fighters—firefighters to join him in the circle. He lit a flame. The fire would burn the area around him, and then the fierce fire that was coming at them would not scorch them, because the land would already be scorched. The firefighters thought he was crazy, ran away, and they were all enveloped in the flame and killed.

DR. STEVEN NISSEN: And unfortunately, the best solutions for the healthcare problem, people are running away from them, not running toward them.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Steven Nissen, one of the country’s leading cardiologists, featured in the new film Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare. Dr. Nissen is chair of the Department of Cardiovascular Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, one of the nation’s leading clinics.

This is Democracy Now! We’re broadcasting from Park City, Utah, from Park City Television. We’ll be back looking at another film that takes on an issue that is central to the debates that are taking place in this election year. It’s the issue of poverty and hunger. Stay with us.