Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
April 1, 2012

Unfortunately, what you are about to read is not an April Fool.

Secret Ballot
Though it won’t be revealed until June, the nine exalted black robes of the U.S. Supreme Court have presumably made their decision on the fate of the Affordable Care Act, aka ObamaCare. Expert speculation about their landmark decision has evolved at revolutionary velocity. Court watchers at three days of oral arguments not only parsed interrogatory syntax but explained tone of voice and facial muscle movements as well. While the week began with early bets that the high court would avoid major changes in health care “reform,” the odds-makers both in Vegas and on Wall Street are now expecting gloom and doom.

The Court will do as the Court does. Having no horse in this race I’ll save my betting budget for Mega-Millions. As a headline on the National Nurses United site aptly summed up, Health Care Crisis Will Continue No Matter How Court Rules.

The President’s attorney, U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, tried to explain to the prudent jurists that the hard won compromise was essential to covering all within the framework of the private sector market. He candidly acknowledged that the Administration had rejected the simpler, cheaper, more effective systems found in every other industrialized country. The bogus reason cited was that Americans don’t want that level of government intervention.

The fact is that when pre-ACA polls offered an option of Canadian-style single-payer, that was the majority choice every time. The AFL-CIO went on record for single-payer at Trumka’s coronation convention. America’s top labor statesman drew several lines in the sand during the health care debate in Congress–and got the sand kicked back in his face by his “friend” in the White House. After surrendering all principles, the head of the House of Labor joined in his friend’s victory celebration and has since been the most reliable and energetic supporter of “reform” that stands to benefit mainly the insurance and drug robber barons.

I will not dance with joy if the Court, as many now believe, has decided to scrap the whole law. A gratifying sense of pay back for a reactionary Administration and their labor collaborators hardly offsets the chaos that will ensue in an already dismal health care system. Unlike the politicians and insurance moguls, our concern should be actual health care delivery. Our goal has never been to just dump ACA–we need to replace it with truly fundamental reform.

At the very least, we should insist on a nation-wide system similar to what the Canadians call Medicare. That’s universal mandate–everybody is in, nobody out. The government becomes the single payer of the costs of care with no private sector gatekeepers. The single payer has the clout to negotiate more reasonable medical fees and drug prices.

According to a 2010 OECD comparison, Canada spends less than half of what the USA pays per capita for health care. They are in general healthier than us Yanks and live longer. Their health care model is one Canadian import that should be–and actually is–sought by most U.S. workers.

Of course, the Canadians have a not so secret weapon that the arsenal of workers south of the border lacks–a labor party. The political movement now known as the NDP, under the leadership of the late Tommy Douglas–a treasured national hero--led the battle that won Medicare in Canada.

Tommy Douglas may be inimitable. But the goal of a labor party in the country that produced May Day and International Women’s Day should be a modest enough achievable goal.

In the meantime, we should rally around the Labor Campaign for Single-Payer and their allies in reviving the demand for Medicare for All–no matter which way the ponderous wind from the Supreme Court blows.

Fracking Leads to Breakup
A few weeks ago, I commented on a story, originally broken by Time, exposing the Sierra Club had received 25 million dollars over three years from the giant gas-driller Chesapeake Energy. After denying earlier rumors about such secret funding of the country’s oldest and biggest environmental group by the other side, executive director Michael Brune acknowledged their accuracy in the newsweekly’s report. He tried to soften the blow by saying he had subsequently turned down the offer of millions more from the frackers.

Of course, I was not the only long-time, now ex- Club member outraged by this worst yet example of their corporate partnership strategy. Heinz Award-winning author Sandra Steingraber, once hailed by the Sierra Club as the next Rachel Carson, has a blistering open letter to SC on the Orion magazine web site entitled Breaking Up with the Sierra Club. She writes,

“I was proud to be affiliated with you. I hoped to live up to the moniker you bestowed upon me. But more than a month has past since your executive director, Michael Brune, admitted in Time magazine that the Sierra Club had, between 2007 and 2010, clandestinely accepted $25 million from the fracking industry, with most of the donations coming from Chesapeake Energy.”

Fracking is a particularly hot button issue to her. Continuing,

“Here, on top of the Marcellus Shale, along the border between Pennsylvania and New York—where we are surrounded by land leased to the gas industry; where we live in fear that our water will be ruined, our mortgages called in, our teenage children killed in fiery wrecks with 18-wheelers hauling toxic fracking waste on our rural, icy back roads; where we cash out our vacation days to board predawn buses to rallies and public hearings; where we fundraise, donate, testify, phone bank, lobby, submit public comments, sign up for trainings in nonviolent civil disobedience; where our children ask if we will be arrested, if we will have to move, if we will die, and what will happen to the bats, the honeybees, the black bears, the grapevines, the apple orchards, the cows’ milk; where we have learned all about casing failures, blow-outs, gas flares, clear-cuts, legal exemptions, the benzene content of production fluid, the radioactive content of drill cuttings; where people suddenly start sobbing in church and no one needs to ask why—here in the crosshairs of Chesapeake Energy, Michael Brune’s announcement was met with a kind of stunned confusion.”

She has some parting words for Brune,

“The path to salvation lies in reparations—not in accepting praise for overcoming the urge to commit the same crime twice. So shutter your doors. Cash out your assets. Don a backpack and hike through the gaslands of America. Along the way, bear witness. Apologize. Offer compensation to the people who have no drinkable water and can’t sell their homes. Whose farm ponds bubble with methane. Whose kids have nosebleeds and mysterious rashes. Write big checks to the people who are putting their bodies on the line in the fight to ban fracking, and to the grassroots groups that are organizing them.

“Finally, go to Washington and say what the Sierra Club should have said in 2007: Fracking is not a bridge to the future. It is a plank on which we walk blindfolded at the point of a sword. There is no right way to do it. And the pirates are not our friends.”

As we used to say–right on, sister.

Nuclear Fall Out
Historians still debate the effectiveness of General Jeffrey Amherst’s instructions to Colonel Henry Bouquet to give blankets used by those who died from small pox to a delegation of Delaware Indians meeting to discuss ending the siege of Ft Pitt during the 1763 Pontiac's Rebellion. But there’s no doubt about Amherst’s intention to use biological warfare as he understood it and no question that many Indians died from the hideous disease unknown to them before the settlers brought it to the “New World” from Europe.

Genocide against the remaining descendants of the indigenous peoples is no longer the official policy of North American governments. Science has advanced considerably from the days when the British Crown left America with a heritage of Indian suppression and chattel slavery. But science put to work for war and corporate profit still leaves collateral victims among the Navajo Nation.

In today’s New York Times, Leslie Macmillan writes about abandoned uranium mines scattered across the 27,000 square miles of Navajo territory in Arizona, Utah and New Mexico. She says they are,

“the legacy of shoddy mining practices and federal neglect. From the 1940s through the 1980s, the mines supplied critical materials to the nation’s nuclear weapons program. For years, unsuspecting Navajos inhaled radioactive dust and drank contaminated well water. Many of them became sick with cancer and other diseases.”

One site she visited

 “is said to measure one million counts per minute, translating to a human dose that scientists say can lead directly to malignant tumors and other serious health damage, according to Lee Greer, a biologist at La Sierra University in Riverside, Calif. Two days of exposure at the Cameron site would expose a person to more external radiation than the Nuclear Regulatory Commission considers safe for an entire year.”

But she notes,

“there are still no warning signs or fencing around the secluded and decaying site. Crushed beer cans and spent shell casings dot the ground, revealing that the old mine has become a sort of toxic playground. ‘If this level of radioactivity were found in a middle-class suburb, the response would be immediate and aggressive,’ said Doug Brugge, a public health professor at Tufts University medical school and an expert on uranium.”

These sites were not the product of fly-by-night prospectors. They were left behind by such major corporations as General Electric and Chevron working under government contract and regulation.

This article is well worth using part of your now ten free articles a month at the NYT. The Navajo need and deserve urgent remediation and reparation. And this should be a reminder that whether used for weapons or power plants, nuclear fuel is not clean, not renewable, and can unintentionally and unexpectedly kill for more generations to come than have passed since Pontiac’s Rebellion.

That’s all for this week.


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