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Here's how the pharmaceutical industry keeps America's drug prices among the highest in the world.
By Wendell Potter and Nick Penniman | March 18, 2016
W.J. "Billy" Tauzin during his tenure as House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman in 2001. (Photo by Alex Wong/Newsmakers)
The following is excerpted from Wendell Potter and Nick Penniman’s new book, Nation On the Take: How Big Money Corrupts Our Democracy and What We Can Do About It. You can also listen to an interview with the authors.
Bill and Faith Wildrick have never heard of Billy Tauzin, but they’re paying dearly for Tauzin’s tireless work for the pharmaceuticbal industry. So are Faith’s employer and all of her co-workers. We all are. And in the future, so will our children and grandchildren.
Thanks in large part to Tauzin and Washington’s infamous revolving door, the Wildricks are paying so much to fill Bill’s prescriptions every month — even with their insurance — that they’re barely able to make ends meet. They and most of the rest of us, including the executives and employees of MCS Industries, the Easton, Pennsylvania, company where Faith works, also have to fork over more money to health insurance companies every payday because of the deals Tauzin cut for Big Pharma.
We can also thank Tauzin and many of his friends in Washington for increases in both our taxes and the national debt. In fact, by 2023, the US government’s debt will likely be more than a trillion dollars higher than it otherwise would be because of the way Tauzin and other lobbyists — with the blessing of President George W. Bush and Republican leaders in Congress — wrote the Medicare drug bill in 2003.
And in large part because of Tauzin’s deal making and the millions of dollars at his disposal, the Affordable Care Act — with the blessing of President Barack Obama and Democratic leaders in Congress — was written in a way that boosts drug company profits while doing little to make prescription medications more affordable for the vast majority of Americans. In fact, drug prices are going up at a faster clip than ever before.
As drug industry profits soar, millions of people — including most of our elected officials — continue to accept as gospel Big Pharma’s talking points that (1) any constraint on pharmaceutical companies’ ability to gouge us would “stifle” or “have a chilling effect” on innovation and (2) they have to charge Americans more because other countries won’t let them gouge their citizens. For the success of this propaganda we can thank the millions of dollars in dark money the industry spends every year on deceptive PR campaigns.
In just a little more than three decades, our total spending on health care exploded to $2.9 trillion.
Americans pay far more for their prescription medications than citizens of any other country. In fact, we pay almost 40 percent more than Canada, the next highest spender on drugs, and twice as much as many European countries, including France and Germany. In 2013 we spent exactly 100 percent more per capita on pharmaceuticals than the average of the 34 countries that comprise the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), of which the United States is a member. And the portion of our tax dollars that go to Medicare likely will continue to increase because Congress, under the influence of the pharmaceutical industry’s cash, made it impossible for Medicare to negotiate with drug companies in order to lower costs.
In 1980, spending on health care in the United States totaled $255.8 billion. Of that total, we spent 39.3 percent on hospital care, 25.3 percent on physician/professional services, and 4.7 percent on prescription drugs. In just a little more than three decades, our total spending on health care exploded to $2.9 trillion. Between 1980 and 2013, the percentage of the total that we spent on hospital care dropped to 32.1, while spending on physician/professional services increased slightly, to 26.6 percent. Spending on prescription drugs, by contrast, almost doubled, to 9.3 percent.
Partly because of that steep increase, health care spending reached 17.4 percent of the US Gross Domestic Product in 2013, nearly double the average of 9.3 percent of the OECD countries. Spending on health care per person in the United States reached $9,255 in 2013, compared to the $3,484 average spent on health care per person in the OECD as a whole.
If you’re a young, healthy person you probably can’t even remember the last time you had to get a prescription filled. You may be wondering why you should even care about the rising cost of drugs and the ability of big corporations and their lobbyists to keep the status quo firmly in place.
US Pharmaceutical Spending, Per Capita, Compared to Other OECD CountriesSource: Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development Methodology: Numbers are per capita for 2013 or nearest year: Data not available for New Zealand, Turkey and the United Kingdom.
You should care because even if you’re not a regular customer at the pharmacy counter, you’re paying for the millions of other Americans who are, through taxes and health insurance premiums that are going up every year because drug companies have so many politicians, Democrats and Republicans alike, in their corner.
According to Express Scripts’ prescription price index, a branded drug that cost $100 in 2008 had almost doubled in price six years later. This rapid increase in drug prices is one of the reasons why health insurers and employers that offer coverage to their workers are constantly raising not only the premiums we have to pay but also our out-of-pocket costs through higher deductibles and coinsurance rates.
And if you do get sick enough to need meds that aren’t yet available in generic form, your insurer will make you pay much more for them than you would have just a few years ago. Since 2000, the average copayment for such drugs has doubled, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. And coinsurance rates for people who have to pay a percentage of their prescription drug costs instead of a fixed copayment have risen even faster. The average coinsurance rate for drugs was 14 percent in 2008. The rate had jumped to 32 percent by 2013, according to the consulting firm Towers Watson.
The Cagey Cajun
It’s worth taking a closer look at Tauzin’s life, both to understand the power a single industry wields over Capitol Hill and to witness the ways in which Washington’s revolving door works.
Born into a working-class French-speaking Cajun family in Lafourche Parish, Louisiana, Wilbert Joseph Tauzin II might have settled into the life of a construction worker — his father taught him how to wire houses and install air conditioners — had he not been bitten by the political bug even before college.
The “Cagey Cajun,” as he would later be called in Washington, was audacious enough to throw his hat in the ring for student council president of Thibodaux High School when he was just a sophomore. It was the first of many political campaigns he would win.
After graduation, he enrolled in Nicholls State University, which is just two and a half miles from his high school. Not being able to count on his family for much financial support, he worked, at various times, as an electrician’s helper, an oil rigger and a pipefitter to cover his tuition.
While in college, Tauzin realized that remaining loyal to a single political party has its drawbacks. Campus politics when he was a student was dominated by a party system. At the time, Tauzin, who later would be known as a conservative lawmaker, considered himself a Liberal. But when he sought the Liberal Party’s nomination for student body vice president, he came up a few votes short. Instead of supporting the Liberal candidate who beat him, however, the young Tauzin decided to stay in the race as an independent. He went on to victory.
He was a Democrat when the voters in Louisiana’s Third Congressional District elected him to Congress in 1980. Within a few years he had become one of his party’s assistant majority whips. He also would play a key role in bringing together a group of his conservative and moderate colleagues who came to be called Blue Dog Democrats, a name inspired by Cajun artist George Rodrigue’s famous Blue Dog paintings, one of which graced a wall of the congressman’s office.
But after the Gingrich Revolution of 1994, which put Republicans in charge of Congress, Representative Tauzin crossed the aisle and soon became the deputy majority whip for House Republicans. Thus he became the first member of Congress to have served in leadership positions of both parties. He’s “as wily as any alligator in the swamp,” former Tennessee congressman Jim Cooper, a Democrat, told The New York Times during the debate on what would ultimately become the Affordable Care Act.
For many years, Tauzin was one of the pharmaceutical industry’s most important allies in Congress, especially from 2001 to 2004, when he chaired the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees the Food and Drug Administration. While he held that chairmanship, drug companies and insurance and health professionals contributed nearly $1 million to Tauzin’s congressional campaigns, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. That’s chump change, though, compared to what the pharmaceutical industry paid him as its top lobbyist when he left Congress in 2005. His salary increased more than twelvefold — from $162,100 to $2 million — the minute he signed on as president and CEO of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the industry’s powerful trade group.
PhRMA spent $26 million on lobbying in 2009, during the debate over the Affordable Care Act, to shape the law to its satisfaction. Individual companies within the pharmaceutical and health products industry spent millions more on top of that. In fact, at $275 million, the industry’s federal lobbying expenditures in 2009 stand as the greatest amount ever spent on lobbying by one industry in a single year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The total swelled to $558 million when lobbying expenditures from hospitals, medical device manufacturers and other health care companies and organizations were included. The industry also doled out millions of dollars in campaign contributions in 2008 and 2009, much of it to Democrats who ostensibly were in charge of writing the reform legislation.
PhRMA’s ability to influence elections and public policy has made it the envy of most other corporate advocacy groups in Washington. Not only is PhRMA consistently among the top spenders on lobbying activities every year, it is widely considered to be the most effective. The PR and consulting firm APCO Worldwide asked hundreds of the city’s movers and shakers in 2013 which of approximately fifty leading trade associations had the most clout. PhRMA came out on top, garnering the most wins in the most categories. It was voted the best at lobbying, the most effective at having a local and federal presence and the group whose members most frequently “mobilize to contact policymakers.” In other words, what PhRMA wants, PhRMA is very likely to get.
PhRMA, Clinton, Bush, Obama
Although Tauzin’s five-year reign at PhRMA proved extremely successful, the group has been a major force in Washington for more than twenty years. One of the industry’s most important victories came in 1994, when it teamed up with lobbyists for doctors, hospitals, medical device manufacturers and insurers to defeat President Clinton’s health care reform proposal. Clinton wanted to give Medicare the ability to negotiate with drug companies and to make it legal for medications made in the United States and exported to Canada and other countries to be imported back into the States and sold at lower prices. Both of those policy changes undoubtedly would have cut into drug company profit margins. But the Clinton reform legislation never made it to the floor of either the House or Senate for a vote. Industry lobbyists were able to kill it in committee.
Lawmakers of both parties tried to put those proposals back on the table nearly ten years later, when President George W. Bush, looking to shore up his support among older voters, pledged to work with Congress to add a voluntary prescription drug benefit — which came to be known as Part D — to the Medicare program. Not wanting to risk losing generous campaign contributions from the pharmaceutical industry, however, Bush and congressional leaders, including Tauzin, who by then chaired the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas, invited drug company lobbyists to help shape what would become the Medicare Prescription Drug Improvement and Modernization Act of 2003. Also invited to the table were lobbyists for health insurers. They made certain that Medicare beneficiaries who wanted drug coverage would have to buy it from private insurers.
in full: http://billmoyers.com/story/the-man-who-made-you-pay-more-at-the-drugstore/
Vote for Bernie Sanders
Posted by Jefferson23 | Sun Mar 20, 2016, 09:46 PM (14 replies)
Robert W. McChesney, Prof. of Media and Communications, University of Illinois, says that Sanders has a good fighting chance to secure the Democratic nomination in spite of the traditional media's effort to undermine his success
March 20, 2016
Video only, running time 4.5 minutes approx.
Robert W. McChesney is the Gutgsell Endowed Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In 2002 he was the co-founder of Free Press, a national media reform organization – www.freepress.net – and served as its President until April 2008, and remains on its Board of Directors. McChesney also hosts the “Media Matters” weekly radio program every Sunday afternoon on NPR-affiliate WILL-AM radio – http://will.uiuc.edu/am/mediamatters/default.htm; it is the top-rated program in its time slot in the Champaign-Urbana area. McChesney has written or edited eighteen books. His work has been professionally translated into 28 languages. His latest books is called "Will the Last Reporter Please Turn Out the Lights: The Collapse of Journalism and What Can Be Done to Fix It". In 2008 the Utne Reader listed McChesney among their “50 visionaries who are changing the world.” In 2001 Adbusters Magazine named him one of the “Nine Pioneers of Mental Environmentalism.” In 2006 right-winger David Horowitz included McChesney on his list of the “101 most dangerous professors in America.” In 2010, along with John Nichols, McChesney was awarded the U.S. Newspaper Guild’s 2010 Herbert Block Freedom Award; according to the Guild’s Executive Council, “the two of you have done more for press freedom than anyone. Your body of work is second to none. This is a transformative year for journalism. If we're able to chart a course that will preserve what matters, it will be in large part due to both of you.” In 2011 McChesney was given the “Communication Research as an Agent of Change” lifetime achievement award from the International Communication Assn.
Posted by Jefferson23 | Sun Mar 20, 2016, 11:32 AM (123 replies)
The French and British governments enabled Isis to grow, but the media lets them off the hook
17 hours ago
The capture of Salah Abdeslam, thought to be the sole surviving planner of the Paris massacre, means that the media is focusing once again on the threat of terrorist attack by Islamic State. Questions are asked about why the most wanted man in Europe was able to elude the police for so long, even though he was living in his home district of Molenbeek in Brussels. Television and newspapers ask nervously about the chances of Isis carrying out another atrocity aimed at dominating the news agenda and showing that it is still in business.
The reporting of the events in Brussels is in keeping with that after the January (Charlie Hebdo) and November Paris attacks and the Tunisian beach killings by Isis last year. For several days there is blanket coverage by the media as it allocates time and space far beyond what is needed to relate developments. But then the focus shifts abruptly elsewhere and Isis becomes yesterday’s story, treated as if the movement has ceased to exist or at least lost its capacity to affect our lives.
It is not as if Isis has stopped killing people in large numbers since the slaughter in Paris on 13 November; it is, rather, that it is not doing so in Europe. I was in Baghdad on 28 February when two Isis suicide bombers on motorcycles blew themselves up in an outdoor mobile phone market in Sadr City, killing 73 people and injuring more than 100. On the same day, dozens of Isis fighters riding in pick-ups with heavy machine guns mounted in the back attacked army and police outposts in Abu Ghraib, site of the notorious prison on the western outskirts of Baghdad. There was an initial assault by at least four suicide bombers, one driving a vehicle packed with explosives into a barracks, and fighting went on for hours around a burning grain silo.
The outside world scarcely noticed these bloody events because they seem to be part of the natural order in Iraq and Syria. But the total number of Iraqis killed by these two attacks – and another double suicide bombing of a Shia mosque in the Shuala district of Baghdad four days earlier – was about the same as the 130 people who died in Paris at the hands of Isis last November.
There has always been a disconnect in the minds of people in Europe between the wars in Iraq and Syria and terrorist attacks against Europeans. This is in part because Baghdad and Damascus are exotic and frightening places, and pictures of the aftermath of bombings have been the norm since the US invasion of 2003. But there is a more insidious reason why Europeans do not sufficiently take on board the connection between the wars in the Middle East and the threat to their own security. Separating the two is much in the interests of Western political leaders, because it means that the public does not see that their disastrous policies in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and beyond created the conditions for the rise of Isis and for terrorist gangs such as that to which Salah Abdeslam belonged.
remainder in full: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/politics/how-politicians-duck-the-blame-for-terrorism-a6942016.html
Posted by Jefferson23 | Sun Mar 20, 2016, 11:00 AM (0 replies)
March 17, 2016
It’s too early to say what Bernie Sanders’s legacy will be, but he has already done more than just pull Hillary Clinton to the left.
As he has been for most of the past year, Bernie Sanders is on the road. On Thursday, he was scheduled to hold a town-hall meeting at the Twin Arrows Casino, east of Flagstaff, Arizona. You read that right: the seventy-four-year-old Vermont senator was set to issue his trademark call for a “political revolution” and to demand more income and wealth redistribution at a capitalist mecca in one of the most conservative states in the Union.
That, in itself, says something about Sanders and the historical significance of his campaign. He has cast aside many of the rules and adages of American politics, one of which is that it’s hard for liberals, never mind self-described socialists, to win support in the Sun Belt. And although Sanders now seems unlikely to win the Democratic nomination for President, he has achieved much more than that.
In reaching out to the young, the idealistic, and the disillusioned, he has earned far more votes than virtually anybody in the Democratic Party (or the punditry) expected. He has expanded the political space, bringing controversial issues like rising inequality and political corruption, which had previously been considered the province of leftists and policy wonks, into their rightful place at the center of the discussion. And by refusing to accept corporate money and basing his campaign on individual donations, he has reinvigorated American democracy.
It is obvious that Sanders has, in the process, put a scare into Hillary Clinton’s campaign. What is perhaps less widely acknowledged is how close he came to upending it. Of the twenty-five states that have held Democratic primaries and caucuses, Sanders has won nine and Clinton has won sixteen (plus American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands). But outside the South, where Clinton has won large majorities of black voters, many of Sanders’s losses have been narrow.
Given the way the primary calendar was structured, with many Southern states voting in February and March, Sanders’s route to victory was always going to be precarious. It depended on stunning Clinton early, building up momentum in the Rocky Mountain and Midwest regions, then scoring some big victories in the Northeast and on the West Coast.
The Sanders campaign achieved its initial goal, virtually tying Clinton in Iowa, trouncing her in New Hampshire, and losing by a whisker in Nevada. Had Sanders earned a few thousand more votes in Iowa and Nevada, he would have won all three contests. Given his opponent’s strength among black voters in the South, Super Tuesday was always going to be tricky for him. On election day, Clinton’s victories in the Southern states were even bigger than expected, and they earned her a sizable lead in the delegate count.
Still, Sanders carried Colorado, Minnesota, Oklahoma, and Vermont, and in Massachusetts he came within two percentage points of victory. Over the next week, he won three more states—Kansas, Nebraska, and Maine—and then, of course, Michigan. Had Sanders followed up that shocking triumph by carrying Illinois, Missouri, and Ohio, this past Tuesday, his insurgent game plan would have been back on track.
That it didn’t quite work out doesn’t detract from the impact Sanders has had. To gauge his influence, you need only listen to one of Clinton’s campaign speeches. On issues like inequality, trade, the environment, corporate offshoring, and bringing Wall Street miscreants to justice, the former Secretary of State has adopted Sanders’s language—and, in some cases, his policies. Clinton had undoubtedly always intended to run as a center-left progressive in 2016, just as she did in 2008, but Sanders has forced her onto ground she hadn’t originally intended to occupy.
It isn’t just Clinton, either. Even Republicans have been taking up some of Sanders’s themes. “The top one per cent under President Obama, the millionaires and billionaires that he constantly demagogued, earned a higher share for our national income than any year since 1928,” Ted Cruz said earlier this year. Donald Trump has talked about the need to raise taxes on hedge-fund managers and leveraged-buyout tycoons. John Kasich has rebranded himself as a champion for the poor and excluded. Of course, the regressive tax policies that Cruz, Trump, and Kasich are advocating would exacerbate inequality, rather than reduce it, but the fact that Republicans have felt obliged to address these issues at all surely owes something to Sanders and the populist wave that he represents.
Sanders’s other big theme is money in politics. Particularly since the Citizens United ruling, many politicians, Clinton included, have warned of the corrosive effects of big money on our democracy. But nobody has made the argument as passionately or as powerfully as Sanders. “American democracy is not about billionaires being able to buy candidates and elections,” he said in launching his campaign. “It is not about the Koch brothers, Sheldon Adelson, and other incredibly wealthy individuals spending billions of dollars to elect candidates who will make the rich richer and everyone else poorer…. This is not democracy. This is oligarchy.”
Since Sanders uttered these words, last May, his message hasn’t changed. Day after day, he has spoken in terms that haven’t been heard from a serious major-party candidate since William Jennings Bryan, the great prairie populist, who famously accused his opponent, William McKinley, and the moneyed interests who supported McKinley, of trying to “crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.” (Bryan was referring to the gold standard, which he opposed.) In much the same way that Trump has labelled Sanders a Communist, the Republicans of Bryan’s day called him a fanatic who would wreck the American economy. Even some Democrats depicted Bryan as a dangerous radical with impractical policy proposals.
Bryan never became President, but in attacking the powerful interests that dictated policies in Washington, and calling out the corrupt politicians who were beholden to those interests, he helped to create a popular movement—Progressivism—that would have an enormous impact on American policymaking in the first half of the twentieth century, from Teddy Roosevelt’s trust-busting to F.D.R.’s New Deal.
It’s too early to say what Sanders’s legacy will be, or whether some of the ideas that he is pushing—such as breaking up the big banks, introducing a single-payer health-care system, and returning tax rates on the rich closer to the levels that F.D.R. introduced—will eventually be adopted. Given the Republicans Party’s grip on Congress and the centrist mindset of Clinton’s advisers, it is hard to see much movement in this direction any time soon.
But it is also evident that, in the past ten months, Sanders has defied the pundits, alarmed the comfortable, and inspired the young. He has turned what looked to be a political coronation into a lively and hard-fought contest, forcing his opponent to modify her positions and raise her game. He has demonstrated that Presidential campaigns don’t have to be beholden to big donors. And he has shown that, surprisingly enough, there is still a place in American politics for an independent-minded speaker of uncomfortable truths. What’s more, he isn’t done yet.
Posted by Jefferson23 | Fri Mar 18, 2016, 03:49 PM (2 replies)
Syria war five years on Bringing conflict to an international level is helping to hold the ceasefire
The withdrawal of Russian forces from Syria strengthens the current ceasefire, de-escalates the violence and brings in view the distant prospect of an end to five years of war. The extent of the Russian pull-out remains uncertain as some of its bombers flew home on 15 March, while others attacked Isis fighters holding the ancient city of Palmyra.
Russia has succeeded in achieving most of its war aims since it started air strikes in support of President Bashar al-Assad and against his opponents on 30 September last year. At that time the Syrian army was retreating after a series of defeats, while today it is advancing on all fronts, though it is unlikely to win a total victory.
Russian military success means that it has re-established itself as a great power in the core region of the Middle East for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. By pulling out most of Russia’s forces at this stage, President Vladimir Putin avoids overplaying his hand and being sucked into the Syrian quagmire as his critics had predicted.
Russia never sent great forces to Syria and its intervention primarily involved launching air strikes in support of the Syrian army, which were carried out by 35 fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters and long-distance missiles. But this was enough to multiply vastly the firepower of the Syrian army and change the balance of power on the ground. At the same time, it has become clear over the past month that Russia does not want to give Mr Assad a blank cheque enabling him to fight on until final victory.
This was the mistake made by the US and its allies, including Britain, in Afghanistan after the defeat of the Taliban in 2001 and again in Iraq after the invasion in 2003. In both cases, a US-led coalition failed to turn military victory into political success because it was propping up a weak local partner seeking to use foreign backing to monopolise power locally. Mr Putin is evidently trying to avoid this trap and maximise political gains without being dragged into a long conflict. He pursued a similar strategy in the 2008 war in Georgia when Russia won a quick victory and brought the conflict to a close.
Posted by Jefferson23 | Fri Mar 18, 2016, 11:26 AM (0 replies)
March 15, 2016
Washington should first put an end to its own violations against the small island nation before "teaching" Cuba about human rights.
Internationally renowned professor Noam Chomsky urged Washington on Tuesday to end its economic blockade and military occupation of Guantanamo on the Cuban territory, a few days before President Barack Obama is expected to “give a lesson of human rights” in Havana.
In a letter co-signed by many prominent figures and organizations including Eva Golinger and Rev. Michael Kinnamon, Chomsky criticized the blockade for having deprived Cubans of an estimated US$117 billion between 1960 and 2014.
“The blockade not only hurts Cuba, but also the U.S.,” highlighted the text. “The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which advocates lifting the embargo, states the cost to the U.S. economy of the 54 year sanctions range from $1.2 to $3.6 billion per year.”
This content was originally published by teleSUR at the following address:
Posted by Jefferson23 | Wed Mar 16, 2016, 09:02 AM (0 replies)
Rights groups slam refugee deal; insurgents seize hospital in Thailand; release DR Congo activists; Australia wants to return failed refugees to Iran; South Sudan death toll; redefining terror in Turkey; a crucial test for Cambodia; China's efficient courts; & Syria's war turns five...
The EU's proposed deal with Turkey to stem the flow of migrants to Europe has come under fire from Human Rights Watch, which warns the plan represents "a disturbing disregard for international law".
remainder in full: https://www.hrw.org/the-day-in-human-rights
Posted by Jefferson23 | Tue Mar 15, 2016, 01:23 PM (0 replies)
Scholar Meleiza Figueroa by evoking the history of US interventions in Latin America, Sanders offered a "teachable moment" for the American people - March 10, 2016
Meleiza Figueroa is a Ph.D. candidate in geography at the University of California at Berkeley and a producer at KPFK in Los Angeles. She recently wrote the piece "Hillary Clinton Cries Crocodile Tears for Latin American Immigrants." In addition to trade and migration, Figueroa also stresses U.S. backing of coups in Latin America, the recent assassination of an indigenous environmental activist in Honduras and how governmental policies lead to environmental degradation.
Clinton and Sanders Spar over Coups and Deportations JAISAL NOOR, PRODUCER, TRNN:
I'm Jaisal Noor for the Real News Network.
During the Univision Democratic Debate on Wednesday, candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders sparred over a series of issues, including deportation and US policy towards Latin America.
JORGE RAMOS: I want to be very specific. So, you're telling us tonight that if you become president you won't deport children who are already here?
HILLARY CLINTON: I will not.
RAMOS: And that you won't deport immigrants who don't have a criminal record?
CLINTON: That's what That's what I'm telling you.
BERNIE SANDERS: Children fled that part of the world to try, try, try maybe to meet up with their family members in this country, taking a route that was horrific, trying to start a new life. Secretary Clinton did not support those children coming into this country. I did.
CLINTON: And I think both Castros have to be considered authoritarian and dictatorial, because they are not freely chosen.
SANDERS: I think we have got to end the embargo. I believe that we should move toward full and normalized political relations with Cuba.
NOOR: The debate, which was broadcast in both English and Spanish, comes just days before the crucial March 15 primaries, with over 500 delegates up for grabs.
Well, now joining us to discuss all of this from Brazil is Meleiza Figueroa. She's a PhD candidate in geography at the University of California Berkley. She recently wrote the piece, "Hillary Clinton cries crocodile tears for Latin American immigrants." Thanks so much for joining us.
MELEIZA FIGUEROA: Thank you very much.
NOOR: So, let's get right into the debate. We just heard a clip of Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton talking about the issue of deporting children. They were both asked about that specifically, and also Bernie Sanders brought up the issue of Hillary Clinton's position on Honduran child refugees. This was just the topic of your recent article. Give us your thoughts on how they answered these questions.
FIGUEROA: Okay. I think I'll break it down in three different aspects that I noticed. Yesterday, first of all, it's very interesting the way, you know, Hillary Clinton tends to pivot based on, again, who she's targeting, what's asked, et cetera. I think she has forgotten, A, that the internet exists and that people can look up her past statements rather easily, but that also, even in the last debate that took place on February, I think February 11, Hillary Clinton not only talked about her decision regarding immigrant children, not just in terms of their protection but also in, quote on quote, to send a message to the families of those children not to send them to the United States.
She seems to have dropped that part of the message in her response in the debate last night, but I think that is important, because I think it delineates a pivot that she's doing towards trying to seem more sympathetic to especially the immigrant population, the immigrant vote. That her sending a message bit was, even existed in the first place, I think indicative of an overall approach that she had as secretary of state to the region, and also, I think, in her foreign policy approach in general.
NOOR: And so, switching over to the issue of foreign policy, Bernie Sanders is getting some flack for not bringing up the state department's role in the Honduran coup, which helped destabilize the country and is a big part why so many refugees are fleeing Honduras. Do you think he should have brought that up in this debate?
FIGUEROA: Yeah. I was disappointed that he did not bring that up, because it's a very concrete example of the differences between Bernie Sanders' approach to foreign policy and Hillary Clinton's approach to foreign policy. He did frame it in terms of, generally in terms of her wanting to get Kissinger's praise for her foreign policy approach, when she had responded, you know, I don't want Kissinger's praise.
But this is a very important thing to address, and Honduras being a very emblematic example of Hillary Clinton taking a sort of Kissinger-esque approach towards regime change in Latin America. The destabilizing of democratically elected Latin American governments. This is something that, you know, again, has existed since and the US involvement in the coup in Guatemala, and so this has been a consistent foreign policy of the United States, of which Hillary Clinton is completely unrepentant that she is intent on continuing.
NOOR: And so Bernie Sanders, as you mentioned, he did raise the issue of Nicaragua and the Sandinistas, his support for Daniel Ortega, he was asked about that. And so, studio crew, just so you know, we're going to the last , because this is really important history, US history, US involvement for the contras in Nicaragua, US support for basically terrorist attacks against the Cuban government which failed to materialize. Let's take a listen to what Bernie Sanders' response was.
ELENA SALINAS: In South Florida there are still open wounds among some exiles regarding socialism and communism. So please explain, what is the difference between the socialism that you profess and the socialism in Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela.
BERNIE SANDERS : Well, let me just answer that. What that was about was saying that the United States was wrong to invade Cuba, that the United States was wrong trying to support people to overthrow the Nicaraguan government, that the United States was wrong trying to overthrow, in 1954, the government, democratically elected government, of Guatemala.
Throughout the history of our relationship with Latin America we've operated under the so-called Monroe Doctrine, and that said that the United States had the right to do anything that they wanted to do in Latin America. So, I actually went to Nicaragua, and I very strongly opposed the Reagan administration's effort to overthrow that government, and I strongly opposed, earlier, Henry Kissinger and the overthrow of the government of Salvador Allende in Chile. I think the United States should be working with governments around the world, not getting involved in regime .
NOOR: So that's a really remarkable thing to hear. We know Sanders has brought it up, but I think he went further in this debate than he has before. Your final thoughts?
FIGUEROA: Oh, this was an amazing exchange because, you know, for those who have known about the history of US imperialism and US interventionism in other countries around the world, you know, we never hear this on mainstream media. We never hear this on TV networks, and to hear, you know, names like Salvador Allende, names like Árbenz being mentioned on mainstream media, in terms of an entire history of US interventionism is, that's just a remarkable feat in itself, and it's an incredible teaching moment to the American people about, you know, what their government has done around the world, what, you know, our taxpayer resources has been spent on.
I mean, another thing I wanted to maybe mention about Honduras in particular is that, you know, not only is just a question of American resources, American policy, American time, but also, you know, the human cost of this, not just in terms of children, you know one week ago was the murder of Berta Cáceres. She was an environmental activist, indigenous person, in Honduras who was murdered by the regime that Hillary Clinton helped put in power and maintain in power. Now, this has incredible impact on, again, how going to think about, you know, what the US is and what role it plays in immigration?
I mean, you know, the violence there, I've heard what's happening in Honduras being described as the worst femicide of the century. Women are being killed in great numbers, and you know, no wonder people want to leave that country and migrate somewhere better. And those are, the conditions that the US government creates in other places affects not only affects incredibly, you know, people's lives there.
And, you know, in Johnson's words, the late Johnson, it blows back onto the united states in many, many ways, and so, you know, that, Bernie Sanders is pointing out the long, long history of this type of foreign policy approach, this interventionism, and that he, frankly, was, stood up and was very principled in his insistence that the United States government has no right to interfere in the affairs of Latin American countries or overthrow the governments of other countries. You know, an incredibly brave stance for a politician, for a US politician to take, and is something that, frankly, has needed to be heard by the American people for quite some time.
NOOR: Thanks so much for joining us.
FIGUEROA: Thank you.
NOOR: Thank you for joining us at the Real News Network.
Posted by Jefferson23 | Fri Mar 11, 2016, 10:33 AM (0 replies)
On Tuesday, FAIR published a straightforward recapping of 16 hours of Washington Post stories that displayed a remarkable run of negative articles about Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. The FAIR post and a corresponding tweet went viral: retweeted thousands of times, shared on Facebook and Reddit thousands more, and written up in TruthDig, The Young Turks, USUncut and the Daily Caller.
Due to this surge of coverage of our coverage of its coverage (yes, media criticism gets somewhat meta), the Washington Post (3/8/16) decided to respond to our criticism, staffing out the unenviable task to The Fix’s Callum Borchers, who gave us:
Has the Washington Post Been Too Hard on Bernie Sanders This Week?
Right off, the framing is inaccurate: The scope wasn’t “this week,” it was a 16-hour period after the Flint, Michigan, debate—and following a weekend in which Sanders won three of four state contests with Hillary Clinton. The do-or-die stakes for Sanders in Michigan couldn’t have been higher, and how one of the most influential newspapers in the United States covered his debate performance and his primary showing was important.
After arguing that working for the Washington Post would not impede his ability to show why the paper was in the right, Borchers begins by casting aspersions on Sanders conspiratorial partisans:
The notion of an anti-Sanders agenda clearly resonated—no surprise, given that the Vermont senator has complained about media coverage, generally, and the Post, specifically.
It doesn’t “resonate,” is the implication, because it’s actually true; it must be that Dear Leader has poisoned minds with thoughts of media conspiracy.
Borchers’ main effort is to narrow the definition of a “negative” story.
First, the definition of “negative” — in this case and in a lot of media griping — is overly broad. For example, the “negative” category, according to FAIR, included a story by The Fix‘s Philip Bump with the following headline: “Bernie Sanders Pledges the US Won’t Be No. 1 in Incarceration. He’ll Need to Release Lots of Criminals.”
Bump pointed out that to keep a campaign promise — “At the end of my first term, we will not have more people in jail than any other country” — Sanders would need to set free roughly a quarter of the United States prison population, or about 567,000 criminals.
Is that negative? I mean, it’s math.
At a moment when even the Koch brothers are coming out against overincarceration, a story that thumbnails it as “releasing lots of criminals” can indeed be considered a negative framing, if not more importantly one that shortchanges readers’ intelligence and understanding.
Still, note that “negative” is not intended as the opposite of “factual.” When the George Bush Sr. campaign focused on Michael Dukakis’ prison furlough program—the so-called “Willie Horton” issue—its attacks were nominally fact-based. Yet many people saw them as an unfair exploitation of racial fears, and it was relevant to address them on those terms.
Bigger picture: The reason the graphic and FAIR’s blog post went so viral is because people can intuitively look at a litany of stories over such a short period and see bias. Nature made us pattern-seeking mammals for a reason, and the Washington Post’s post-debate coverage displays an obvious pattern.
And Borchers doesn’t so much deny that pattern as attempt to justify it:
It is important, of course, that a newspaper’s opinion and analysis pieces reflect a range of perspectives. Overall, I can confidently say the Post‘s do. But if you’re going to take a one-day sample — on a day when Sanders was coming off a debate performance that was widely panned — you’re going to find a lot of opinion and analysis that reflects that consensus.
His evidence, though, is unpersuasive; for evidence that Sanders’ debating was “widely panned,” he links only to a piece by Salon’s Amanda Marcotte—author of such articles as “Why I’m Supporting Clinton Over Sanders” and “Let’s Storm the Sanders’ He-Man Women-Haters Club.”
It’s true that many corporate media pundits thought Sanders did poorly in the Flint debate, and that opinion was the content of many of the negative stories that FAIR highlighted. But that only spurs questions about the editorial choice to focus overwhelmingly on debate etiquette in a time period in which Sanders’ actual electoral performance included a victory in the Maine caucuses (announced during the Flint debate) and top pollings in two out of three states. The former reflects pundits’ opinions, while the latter reflects actual voters’ choices.
For a piece ostensibly intended to prove the Post unbiased, Borchers’ conclusion is problematic, in that it suggests that they are biased, but consider it compensatory:
Finally, even if we accept the idea that Post reporting, analysis and commentary combined to put Sanders through the wringer, I fail to see the inherent trouble. As I’ve written before, Sanders skated through the early portion of the primary season on stories about his “yuge” crowds and better-than-expected poll numbers. It was one of the perks of being an underdog.
Readers and voters don’t ask for media to use their coverage to offer “perks” or comeuppances to candidates as they see fit, but to render accurate coverage that reflects what voters are concerned about.
In this case, a dry-eyed reading suggests that the range of perspectives reflected by the Post‘s pundit roster simply does not include many people who identify with the challenge to the political establishment Sanders’ candidacy reflects—and considerably more people who feel an affinity with the network of political, economic and media elites who have thrown their support behind Clinton. That this should be reflected in their editorial decision-making is not particularly surprising, just worthy of consideration.
Posted by Jefferson23 | Thu Mar 10, 2016, 01:03 PM (4 replies)
Whether he knows it or not, the Vermont senator has laid the groundwork for a vital reimagining of American foreign policy.
By Steven Cohen
March 9, 2016
Bernie Sanders only has one issue. The pundits have been telling us so all along, and the Vermont senator even admitted it himself during the last Democratic debate. “ Secretary Clinton says I’m a one-issue person—well, I guess so,” said Sanders, after months of dancing around the accusation. “My one issue is trying to rebuild a disappearing middle class. That’s my one issue.”
It appears his confession didn’t hurt him in Michigan, where he pulled off a remarkable come-from-behind upset against Clinton on Tuesday. And looking ahead to other industrial Midwestern states in the March 15 contest, there are definitely worse things to be than an obsessive class crusader. Some campaigns spend an entire election searching for the strong, consistent message that Sanders, for better or worse, has deployed since the start of this race. Why not own a perception you’re going to get tagged with anyway?
But from a policy standpoint, this is all complete nonsense. Set aside the fact that Sanders has indeed put forward detailed plans on everything from immigration to climate change. It takes a certain kind of myopia to relegate an economic platform as ambitious and multi-faceted as Sanders’s to the status of “single issue.” Rebuilding the middle class, under Sanders, would entail nothing less than correcting half a century of macroeconomic policy. Would that it were so simple.
A more accurate version of the “one issue” criticism would be that Sanders has fixated on the domestic, largely to the exclusion of global affairs. Given Clinton’s diplomatic resume, this is probably closer to the contrast her camp originally intended to draw. Here, Sanders has indeed been a disappointment. He changes the subject whenever possible and stumbles through vague, sometimes painfully bad answers when he can’t. His most compelling moments have come when he has tied Clinton’s interventionist streak to a broader critique of U.S. transgressions past. Still, the very framing of his preferred attack—extolling the virtues of “judgment” over “experience”—concedes that Clinton’s time in office is meritorious; her errors reflect flawed personal decision-making, not a fundamentally objectionable worldview.
Sanders, in that sense, has not only missed an opportunity to score points with a Democratic electorate well to Clinton’s left on matters of statecraft, but also deprived the country of a more profound debate as to the nature and purpose of U.S. military might.
Only occasionally do the categories used to organize presidential debates and talk-show roundtables reflect the world as it actually works. Case in point: foreign policy, defined, for the purposes of a campaign year, as a narrow set of invariably perilous scenarios, the solution to which always seems to involve blowing something up. Sanders himself is guilty of playing into this facile paradigm. A year into his improbable experiment in populist revolution, he’s laid out the basis for a robust, even radical foreign policy vision and doesn’t appear to realize it.
In his recent book-length study, Democratic Militarism, Northwestern University political scientist Jonathan Caverley attempts to determine “when voters in a democracy will support belligerence in pursuit of international political gains.” Especially “in wealthy democracies,” he writes, “the preparation for and conduct of military conflict has largely become an exercise in fiscal, rather than social, mobilization.” And after a thorough comparative analysis of various historic examples, his conclusion is that “economically unequal and heavily capitalized democracies are more likely to threaten, initiate, and join small wars; and will often fight them in ways that make winning less likely.” (In this case, ”small” is a technical term meaning voluntary and asymmetric, not a characterization of the costs, human and otherwise.)
The stated aspiration of Sanders’s foreign policy is to extricate the United States from its “perpetual warfare” footing. And the best approach to accomplishing that goal may be the one Sanders has already embraced: reining in the power of the financial sector and reversing the immense redistribution of wealth that its global expansion enabled.
Posted by Jefferson23 | Wed Mar 9, 2016, 03:49 PM (2 replies)