May Day 1971: Daniel Ellsberg on Joining Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn at Historic Antiwar Direct Action

MAY 03, 2021 (democracynow.org)


GUESTS
  • Daniel Ellsbergformer defense analyst who leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971.

LINKS

This week marks the 50th anniversary of the 1971 May Day protests, when tens of thousands of protesters demonstrated against the Vietnam War in Washington, D.C., and brought much of the capital to a standstill through acts of civil disobedience. The mass demonstrations terrified the Nixon administration, and police would arrest over 12,000 people — the largest mass arrest in U.S. history. Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, who attended the May Day protests, says it was part of a wave of popular discontent about the war that mobilized millions. “There was a movement of young people who felt that what was happening in the world … was wrong, had to change, and they were ready to risk their careers and their lives to try to change it. And we need that right now,” Ellsberg says. He recently spoke with Amy Goodman at an event marking the 50th anniversary of the release of the Pentagon Papers. We play excerpts from that conversation, which also included National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden.

SHOULD WE CANCEL POLITICAL PARTIES?

Throughout the world, traditional political organizations are increasingly seen as dysfunctional. But can democracies live without them?

By Katherine Ellison 

04.30.2021 (knowablemagazine.org)

In 1796, President George Washington lambasted political parties for allowing “cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men” to “subvert the power of the people.”

His indictment seems brutally timely today, just a few months after 147 Republican US congress members publicly challenged the results of a free and fair general election. But even long before then, many Americans shared Washington’s concern. The popularity of parties is at a nadir, with both the Democratic and Republican parties widely condemned as not only unrepresentative but also hopelessly corrupt and hijacked by elites. Indeed, a steadily increasing share of American voters — 38 percent in 2018 — are identifying as unaffiliated with either party. That proportion is now larger than the share of voters identifying with either Republicans or Democrats. Asked why he thought Donald Trump was “charismatic,” TV talk show host Bill Maher said: “I think it’s because he hates both parties.”

“People in politics often try to go around parties, to go directly to the people, but without the parties, we’d have chaos.”NANCY ROSENBLUM

It seems to be an international phenomenon. In Europe, for example, traditionally powerful center-left parties are being accused of ignoring their voters, potentially contributing to a backlash that helped push the United Kingdom into Brexit.

The mounting animosity toward the parties has inspired debate among political scientists. Defenders of the traditional party system contend that democracy depends on strong, organized and trustworthy political factions. “People in politics often try to go around parties, to go directly to the people. But without the parties, we’d have chaos,” says Harvard University political scientist Nancy Rosenblum, who explored the challenges facing political parties today in the 2020 Annual Review of Political Science

A historical painting showing the drafters of the US Declaration of Independence.
John Trumbull’s painting, Declaration of Independence. The Founding Fathers did not envision a role for political parties in the government.CREDIT: JOHN TRUMBULL / PUBLIC DOMAIN

Yet a small group of scholars, many of them young, say it’s time to start visualizing a more open and direct democracy, with less mediation by parties and professional politicians. Such proposals were seen as “completely fringe” until a decade ago, says Hélène Landemore, a political scientist at Yale University. But events including the 2008 economic crisis and Trump’s 2016 election as president, she says, have enlarged the scope of debate.

Several trends have sped the declining popularity and power of the parties in the United States. Party-run patronage schemes that rewarded supporters with government jobs have long given way to more meritocratic systems. The rise of independent political action committees has given candidates a source of campaign funding — around $4.5 billion in the last decade — outside the party channels that once dominated access to campaign money. This has made many candidates more entrepreneurial and less beholden to the party bureaucracy.

A few scholars are now asking people to imagine how democracy might function with less or even zero reliance on political parties and without costly political campaigns.

Thirdly, parties now determine their candidates through primary elections instead of with meetings of party insiders. Just 17 primaries were held in 1968; today every state has a primary or caucus. This switch to universal primaries has shifted influence from party veterans to more extremist activists, who are more likely than average voters to vote in primaries, says Ian Shapiro, a political scientist at Yale. In 2018, the Democratic National Committee even cut back on the influence of superdelegates, the hundreds of party VIPs who also had votes in selecting candidates. This was to reassure voters that party officials were listening to them, party vice-chair Michael Blake said at the time.

In many parts of the United States, partisan gerrymandering has contributed to making candidates less representative of their constituents by creating “safe seats” for both parties. That means that the winners are, in effect, decided in the primaries that pit Democrats against Democrats and Republicans against Republicans. This phenomenon helps explain the 2018 election of Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, then a 28-year-old democratic socialist who had never before held elected office, says Shapiro. Ocasio-Cortez beat an establishment Democrat in a primary in which less than 12 percent of voters turned out.

Not everyone agrees that political parties are weaker today than they once were. Today’s extreme polarization means that much of the public is more strongly attached to their own party, says Rosenblum, and party-led voter suppression or voter mobilization efforts in fact make party leaders more powerful than ever.

Still, Shapiro and many other experts believe political parties have suffered a major loss in clout, which in turn has been a loss for democracy in general.

Line graph showing declining favorability ratings of US political parties between 1980 and 2016, as determined by surveys.
Positive attitudes toward both main US political parties have declined since 1980, with the sharpest decline in people’s ratings of the party they do not support, according to data from American National Election Studies surveys. The graph shows a “feeling thermometer” reading computed by political scientists, which measures how favorably members of the public view each party. The values for 2016 were the lowest ever measured for either party, with findings true for both Democrats and Republicans.

“Political parties are the core institution of democratic accountability because parties, not the individuals who support or comprise them, can offer competing visions of the public good,” write Shapiro and his Yale colleague, Frances Rosenbluth, in a 2018 opinion piece for The American Interest. Voters, they argue, have neither the time nor the background to research costs and benefits of policies and weigh their personal interests against what’s best for the majority in the long run.

To show what can go wrong with single-issue voting that lacks party guidance, Shapiro and Rosenbluth point to California’s notorious Proposition 13, a 1978 ballot initiative that sharply restricted increases in property taxes. At first, the measure seemed like a win to many voters. Yet over the years, the new rule also decimated local budgets to the point where California’s per-pupil school spending now ranks near the bottom of a list of the 50 states.

Parties serve many other important roles, including facilitating compromise, says Russell Muirhead, a political scientist at Dartmouth University and Rosenblum’s coauthor. As an example, Muirhead points to the US Farm Bill, which the two parties renegotiate roughly every five years. Each time they sit down, “the Democrats want food support for urban people and Republicans want support for farmers, and somehow they always come to an agreement,” Muirhead says. “The alternative is favoring one side or simply passing nothing at all.”

Perhaps most important, America’s two main parties have traditionally cooperated in acknowledging their opponents’ legitimacy, as Rosenblum and Muirhead write. Other nations, such as Thailand, Turkey and Germany, have banned political parties that their governments have seen as too destabilizing to democracy. American parties’ cooperation has helped keep the peace by reassuring US voters that even if they lose today, they may well win tomorrow. Now, however, this fundamental rule is being broken, say Rosenblum, Muirhead and others, with some party leaders even accusing their opponents of treason.

“The key thing going on now is that we have an explicit argument that the opposition party is illegitimate,” says Rosenblum. “Trump has been calling the Democrats the enemy of the people and illegitimate, and saying the election is fraudulent. This is the path to violence, as there’s no way to correct this with another election.”

Casually dressed people wearing masks standing and applauding in a legislative chamber.
French citizens participating in the Citizens’ Convention on Climate on June 21, 2020. Randomly chosen in a way similar to jury selection, participants were asked to develop policy proposals to reduce French emissions of greenhouse gases. Citizen assemblies of this sort can be an alternative to political parties for developing government policy.CREDIT: ABACA PRESS / ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

Political parties throughout the world have lost considerable goodwill and influence, says Shapiro, yet he suggests that rather than ban them or further sap their power we must strengthen them and make them more reliable. He and his colleagues advocate reforming campaign financing, to eliminate the currently chaotic bidding wars for candidates’ loyalties, although that goal continues to be elusive. To combat the rise in extremism, they also urge that the job of redistricting go to nonpartisan commissions instead of gerrymandering pols.

To further reduce the risk of primaries increasing polarization, Shapiro proposes that party leaders be allowed to choose candidates if the turnout in a primary election has fallen below 75 percent of the turnout in the previous general election.

Landemore and her faction contend these ideas don’t match the urgency of the current dilemma. She invites people to imagine how democracy might function with less or even zero reliance on political parties and particularly without costly and potentially corrupting political campaigns. One possibility, she says, would be to randomly appoint groups of citizens, chosen much as today’s juries are, to lead government, while rotating in fixed terms through a permanent “House of the People.” These citizens’ assemblies would be more representative than the current US Congress, wrote Rutgers University philosopher Alexander Guerrero in a 2019 opinion piece for NJ.com, in which he advocated choosing representatives by lottery. “In the United States, 140 of the 535 people serving in Congress have a net worth over $2 million, 78 percent are male, 83 percent are white, and more than 50 percent were previously lawyers or businesspeople,” he wrote.

Several European nations have already tried alternatives to party-driven democracy. In 2019-20, France held a Citizens’ Convention on Climate, calling on 150 randomly chosen citizens to help devise socially just ways to reduce greenhouse gases. In December 2020, French President Emmanuel Macron agreed to hold a referendum on one of the convention’s suggestions, the inclusion of climate protection in the national constitution. And in 2016, the Irish Parliament assembled 99 citizens to deliberate on stubborn issues, including a constitutional ban on abortion. A majority of the assembly proposed that the ban be struck down, after which a national referendum confirmed the result and changed the law — all accomplished without involvement of established political parties.

Despite the limited impact of these efforts to date, Landemore says the tide of public opinion is turning. Just five years ago, colleagues mocked the notion of an “open democracy” at a political science conference, she says, adding: “Five years from now I’m guessing we’ll be completely mainstream.”

Katherine Ellison is a journalist and author whose most recent book is Mothers & Murderers: A True Story of Love, Lies, Obsession … and Second Chances.

Will Nancy Pelosi call it quits? Here’s one way to tell

(FILES) In this file photo US Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, holds her weekly press briefing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on October 1, 2020. - The US Congress opens its new session on January 3, 2021, kicking off an explosive week in Washington as Republican lawmakers vow to challenge Joe Biden's election win, pro-Trump protesters gather and voters in Georgia decide who controls the Senate. The rebel push by a group of 12 senators loyal to President Donald Trump to block formal certification of Biden's November victory is all but certain to fail, but has raised tensions on Capitol Hill as lawmakers return to work. On Sunday, when lawmakers take their seats in the House of Representatives, top Democrat Nancy Pelosi faces a possibly tricky battle for reelection as speaker -- an office that places her only two heartbeats from the presidency. (Photo by Nicholas Kamm / AFP) (Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images)
(FILES) In this file photo US Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, holds her weekly press briefing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on October 1, 2020. – The US Congress opens its new session on January 3, 2021, kicking off an explosive week in Washington as Republican lawmakers vow to challenge Joe Biden’s election win, pro-Trump protesters gather and voters in Georgia decide who controls the Senate. The rebel push by a group of 12 senators loyal to President Donald Trump to block formal certification of Biden’s November victory is all but certain to fail, but has raised tensions on Capitol Hill as lawmakers return to work. On Sunday, when lawmakers take their seats in the House of Representatives, top Democrat Nancy Pelosi faces a possibly tricky battle for reelection as speaker — an office that places her only two heartbeats from the presidency. (Photo by Nicholas Kamm / AFP) (Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images)NICHOLAS KAMM / AFP via Getty Images

By Joe Garifoli

May 2, 2021 (SFChronicle.com)

The question of whether House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will retire after next year is a momentous one for more than just Washington. Her decision has far-reaching implications in her San Francisco district, where everyone and their chihuahua is likely to run when the seat opens up.

When Pelosi stops working to raise money, then we’ll know the end is nigh.

Two years ago, as part of a deal she cut with Democrats who threatened to oppose her for the top job in the House, Pelosi promised not to serve as speaker beyond this term. She said in November, “I will abide by those limits.”

So what does Susan Page, author of a new Pelosi biography, “Madam Speaker: Nancy Pelosi and the Lessons of Power,” think she will do? Page had 10 sit-down interviews with Pelosi while researching the book.

“I don’t know the answer to your question, but I’ll tell you what I think: I think this is her last term. I think this is her valedictory term,” Page said on my “It’s All Political” podcast. “She’s working hard to get Joe Biden’s big legislative agenda through the House, but I would be surprised if she ran again.”

Congressional Progressive Caucus chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., told me on my podcast that “whether it’s her last or not, I can’t say. But she is looking at this (session) as a crucial moment and perhaps a legacy-making moment for her.”

The reaction from Pelosi spokesperson Drew Hammill: “The speaker is not on a shift, she’s on a mission.”Politics with Joe Garofoli

Part of that mission — after trying to pass Biden’s agenda — is raising money. And no Democrat is better at that than Pelosi.

In the first quarter of this year, she raised $32.4 million for Democrats, according to her campaign office. Since entering House leadership in 2002, she has raised more than $1 billion for the party. Yes, billion.

When Pelosi stops working to raise money, then we’ll know the end is nigh. Until then, keep your chihuahua on a leash.

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These Bay Area cities offer — or are studying — guaranteed income pilot programs

By Sarah Ravani and Todd Trumbull | April 21, 2021 | Updated: April 30, 2021 4:12 PM (SFChronicle.com)

Guaranteed income programs have been around for centuries with a mention in Thomas More’s 1516 book “Utopia.” While the various welfare programs sprung up in the 1930s, a backlash was brewing by time the War on Poverty was launched during the 1960’s. Critics argued that increasing welfare encouraged people to reject work. In 1996, President Bill Clinton passed legislation that added work requirements for aid and capped how much aid a person could get. Politicians today say the narrative surrounding welfare must change. Support has recently grown for guaranteed income — giving cash payments to those who need it without any strings attached. Former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang introduced a proposal during his candidacy to give $1,000 a month to every U.S. citizen over the age of 18. Now, cities throughout the country are creating their own guaranteed income pilot programs. It’s also getting traction at the state level. A San Jose state senator has introduced a bill to provide universal basic income to youth aging out of the foster care system. The bill, SB739, would provide $1,000 a month to about 2,500 youth and would require a $60 million state investment. Supporters argue that pilot programs will ultimately show the federal government the benefits of these programs. They say that people will work just as hard and the extra cash helps keep people from falling deeper into poverty. In the Bay Area, several cities have launched or are in the process of creating guaranteed income program pilots. The pilots are so far small — Los Angeles just announced the biggest program nationwide, offering $1,000 to 2,000 families for one year — but with the automation of many jobs on the horizon, supporters argue this will one day be the norm.

More at: https://www.sfchronicle.com/projects/2021/bay-area-guaranteed-income-programs/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=sfc_mustread&sid=53b8a5219dbcd4db6500018b

‘Bernie Sanders and I Agree,’ Says Schumer on Lowering Medicare Age and Drug Prices

April 30, 2021 by Common Dreams (commondreams.org)

“It’s almost insane to think that we would have to fight for these obvious steps,” says Sanders. “But we must.”

by Jessica Corbett, staff writer

 33 Comments

Senate Majority Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) celebrates before President Joe Biden addresses a joint session of Congress on at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on April 28, 2021. (Photo: Melina Mara/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)

Senate Majority Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) celebrates before President Joe Biden addresses a joint session of Congress on at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on April 28, 2021. (Photo: Melina Mara/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Friday made clear that he supports lowering the eligibility age for Medicare and allowing the program to negotiate directly with pharmaceutical companies to cut the price of prescription drugs, policies that are being pushed by progressive advocacy groups and lawmakersparticularly Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders.

Despite growing demand for the Medicare eligibility and drug pricing reforms, President Joe Biden left the policies out of the American Families Plan he unveiled earlier this week, just before his first address to Congress. Schumer (N.Y.) discussed the healthcare policies, Biden’s infrastructure proposal, and a variety of other topics with writer Anand Giridharadas, for his newsletter The.Ink.

The potential changes to Medicare came up near the end of the interview:

ANAND: I want to talk about some parts of the big, bold agenda that have fallen to the wayside. The public option, which Biden advocated for…

CHUCK: Oh, yeah, Bernie Sanders and I agree on this. I believe we should be negotiating—we just talked about this at some length; he and I must talk almost every single day—Medicare negotiating with the drug companies and using that money to expand Medicare.

ANAND: And what about the reduction in the Medicare eligibility age or adding a public option?

CHUCK: Yeah, I’d be for either of those, both of those.

ANAND: And is that going to be brought to the floor?

CHUCK: Well, we’re going to push it. It’s too early. I want to pass the biggest, boldest bill that, of course, we can pass. And we’ve got to figure all that out. We’re going to try to fight hard to try to get these in the bill.

Although Biden’s American Families Plan—the second prong of his infrastructure proposal—notably includes massive subsidies for the private insurance industry while leaving out the Medicare changes, the president did say in his speech to Congress, “Let’s give Medicare the power to save hundreds of billions of dollars by negotiating lower drug prescription prices.”

“And, by the way, that won’t just… help people on Medicare; it will lower prescription drug costs for everyone,” Biden added. “And the money we save, which is billions of dollars, can go to strengthen the Affordable Care Act and expand Medicare coverage benefits without costing taxpayers an additional penny.  It’s within our power to do it; let’s do it now.”

The Hill reported Friday that “congressional Democrats such as House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (N.J.) and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (Ore.) say they might add measures to lower prescription drug prices when the American Families Plan moves through Congress.”

Sanders (I-Vt.) has publicly promised to keep fighting for an expansion of the program in terms of both eligibility and benefits, funded by the drug pricing reforms.

“My own view, as you know, is that we need a Medicare for All, single-payer system,” Sanders said in a Wednesday video. Citing estimates that allowing Medicare to negotiate with Big Pharma would raise $450 billion over a decade, he expressed hope that the U.S. could move toward universal care by lowering the eligibility age from 65 and improving the program’s benefits.

“It is outrageous that more than 50 years after Medicare was enacted, seniors still do not receive basic hearing, vision, and dental coverage. Many seniors are left unable to see because they can’t afford eyeglasses, unable to hear because they can’t afford hearing aids, and have trouble eating because they can’t afford dentures,” Sanders said in an email to supporters Friday.

“It is the moment for a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress to do what the American people want. We must expand Medicare benefits and lower the age of Medicare eligibility. Using our majority to take this step is not only the right thing to do for the American people—it’s good politics as well,” he continued, urging those who agree to sign his petition.

Sanders also took aim at Big Pharma, saying that “the lobbying power of the big drug companies means they are ripping off the government and charging the American people any price they want. Not only that. Because of the power of the pharmaceutical industry, all Americans are forced to pay—by far—the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs. This absurdity must end.”

“Negotiating drug prices is what every other major country on Earth does,” Sanders noted. “The Veterans Administration does it. Only Medicare is prohibited from taking this obvious step.”

Arguing that “this is the very definition of a win-win-win situation,” he added that “it’s almost insane to think that we would have to fight for these obvious steps. But we must.”

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Nancy Pelosi and These Centrists Want Biden to Go Left on Drug Costs and Medicare

April 29, 2021 by Common Dreams (commondreams.org)

Are more Democrats finally recognizing that fighting for drug price reductions and Medicare expansion is something they must do to win elections?

by Richard Eskow

 15 Comments

U.S. President Joe Biden elbow bumps Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi as he greets her and Vice President Kamala Harris after concluding his address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress in the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol April 28, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Jonathan Ernst-Pool/Getty Images)

U.S. President Joe Biden elbow bumps Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi as he greets her and Vice President Kamala Harris after concluding his address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress in the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol April 28, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Jonathan Ernst-Pool/Getty Images)

These are strange days for a former Bernie Sanders staffer like me. In the days leading up to President Biden’s Wednesday speech about the American Families Act, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and some pretty conservative congressional Democrats urged Biden to pivot left and do more on drug prices and Medicare expansion. Those measures weren’t in Biden’s speech and won’t be in his draft legislation, but the demands reflect a significant change in the political center of gravity.

To be sure, these proposals fall far short of Medicare For All and the other programs people like me have spent years fighting for. But the policies these Democrats are espousing would have been considered the leftmost flank of the political spectrum a few short years ago.  It’s significant that they’re being pushed by the House Speaker and some of the more conservative members of her caucus.

In the run up to Biden’s speech, Pelosi was quoted by the Wall Street Journal as saying, “Lowering health costs and prescription drug prices will be a top priority for House Democrats to be included in the American Families Plan.” House reforms are focused on allowing the government to negotiate prices with drug corporations on behalf of Medicare and other government programs, and then making those negotiated rates available to private health insurers.

“These proposals fall far short of Medicare For All and the other programs people like me have spent years fighting for. But the policies these Democrats are espousing would have been considered the leftmost flank of the political spectrum a few short years ago.”The public strongly supports such measures. A recent poll from Data For Progress shows that voters strongly support a wide range of measures to reduce drug prices, including the House negotiating proposal (supported by 72 percent of voters and opposed by only 17 percent) and matching US drug prices to those paid in other countries (supported by 76 percent). There is also strong support for a proposal spearheaded by Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) and Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) that would let multiple companies produce generic equivalents of the same drug and compete on cost.

In a related development, more than 80 House Democrats co-signed a letter calling on Biden to: a) expand Medicare coverage to include dental, vision, hearing, and an out-of-pocket cap; b) negotiate drug prices; and c) lower the eligibility age for Medicare. Among them were some representatives with centrist reputations, like Reps. Conor Lamb (D-Pa.), Deborah Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) and Jared Golden (D-Colo.). That suggests that both ideological wings of the party now support action to lower drug prices.

This reflects considerable movement on the politics of Medicare, too. As HuffPost’s Jonathan Cohn noted, “Pelosi and her allies have already endorsed adding dental, visual and hearing benefits to Medicare, because they know the lack of those benefits causes real hardship for many seniors.”

This is a major shift from the Democratic Party “center” of five years ago, when major Medicare expansions were considered unthinkable. While it represents an expansion of the public sector, a Kaiser Family Foundation report indicates that it saves money for individuals, employers, and the federal government.

Cohn adds, however, that party leaders “think reducing the Medicare eligibility age is a difficult lift politically.” The letter on Medicare expansion spearheaded by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) indicates that this is changing rapidly. Forty percent of House Democrats, including Lamb, Wasserman Schultz, and Golden, have signed on to this idea.

What isn’t likely to change is industry opposition to both measures. Lowering the Medicare age still faces resistance from the hospital industry and other interests that would lose revenue if more claims are paid under Medicare’s rates.  Big Pharma is resolutely opposed to changes that would curb its trillion-dollar death trip. Party leaders who raise money from industry donors are undoubtedly weighing the cost in lost campaign cash against the political popularity of these measures.

One thing’s for sure: rhetorical genuflections aren’t enough anymore. People like me will continue to fight for Medicare For All, especially as uninsured and under-insured Americans keep dying. We won’t win that fight this year, but that effort is clearly moving the political center. Pelosi and these members of her caucus are reflecting that change in their statements. Perhaps it will soon be seen in their legislation.

Some people say it’s all political posturing. Some of it probably is. For others, it may reflect goals they’ve long kept hidden. But will it change anything? Some people will compare voters who believe these promises to Charlie Brown, falling one more time as Lucy pulls away the football. Maybe, but I don’t think so. The number one job of a politician is to get elected. I believe these Democrats recognize that fighting for drug price reductions and Medicare expansion is something they must do to win elections in this environment.

Other people will point out that, even if Biden and the House deliver, these ideas will never pass the Senate as long as politicians like Joe Manchin or Mark Kelly hold veto power. That, too, may be true. But, as Lamb, Wasserman Schultz and Jared Golden can attest, last year’s roadblock can become this year’s ally.

These positions reflect the new contours of the politically possible—and of what is politically required of a Democrat. It’s happening slowly, and many lives will be lost in the meantime. Tragically, that’s how change sometimes happens. That’s all the more reason for the activist community to persuade more of their representatives, as well as the president, to save as many lives as they possible by backing these measures. There’s no time to waste.

Richard Eskow

Richard (RJ) Eskowis a freelance writer. Much of his work can be found on eskow.substack.com. His weekly program, The Zero Hour, can be found on cable television, radio, Spotify, and podcast media. He is a senior advisor with Social Security Works. He can be reached at richard@thisisthezerohour.com.Follow him on Twitter: @rjeskow 

Sanders Vows to Fight for Medicare Expansion Left Out of Biden’s American Families Plan

April 29, 2021 by Common Dreams

“We must take on the greed of the pharmaceutical industry, lower drug prices, and use the savings to expand Medicare.”

by Jake Johnson, staff writer (commondreams.org)

 24 Comments

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) arrives before President Joe Biden addresses a joint session of Congress in the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol April 28, 2021 in Washington, D.C.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) arrives before President Joe Biden addresses a joint session of Congress in the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol April 28, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Melina Mara-Pool/Getty Images)

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont made clear Thursday that he will continue pursuing a sizable expansion of Medicare as part of the American Families Plan after President Joe Biden excluded the overwhelmingly popular idea from his $1.8 trillion proposal, which contains massive subsidies for the private insurance industry.

Sanders told the Washington Post that he “absolutely” intends to continue pushing to lower Medicare’s eligibility age and broaden its coverage to include dental, vision, and hearing aids once Congress takes up Biden’s opening offer, which also omits a widely supported proposal to lower sky-high prescription drug costs.

“It’s time for Medicare to finally cover hearing, dental, and vision care.”
—Sen. Bernie Sanders

During his primetime address to a joint session of Congress Wednesday night, Biden gave lip service to both ideas, proclaiming, “Let’s give Medicare the power to save hundreds of billions of dollars by negotiating lower drug prescription prices.”

“And the money we save, which is billions of dollars, can go to strengthen the Affordable Care Act and expand Medicare coverage benefits without costing taxpayers an additional penny,” the president said. “It’s within our power to do it; let’s do it now.”

The White House has yet to explain the disconnect between the president’s rhetorical commitment to lowering drug costs and expanding Medicare and his apparent willingness to delay action on both by leaving them out of his American Families Plan—a decision that angered patient advocacy groups.

As chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, Sanders is positioned to have significant influence over the legislative package, particularly if Republican opposition forces Democrats to push the bill through the budget reconciliation process.

“We must take on the greed of the pharmaceutical industry, lower drug prices, and use the savings to expand Medicare by lowering the eligibility age and providing dental, hearing, and vision care to tens of millions of older Americans,” Sanders tweeted earlier this week.

Lowering the Medicare eligibility age and expanding the program’s benefits are extremely popular with the U.S. public and inside the Democratic caucus. Last week, as Common Dreams reported, more than 80 House Democrats sent a letter urging Biden to support lowering the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 60, a move that would extend coverage to an additional 23 million people.

Spearheaded by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the letter was signed by centrist Reps. Conor Lamb (D-Pa.) and Jared Golden (D-Maine.), an indication of broad support for the proposal within the Democratic Party.

In a statement Thursday, Jayapal said Congress “must include in the Families Plan bringing down the price of pharmaceutical drugs for all Americans who are paying over twice as much as those in other countries.”

“We must also expand Medicare benefits for seniors to include dental, vision, and hearing benefits while lowering the Medicare eligibility age to cover tens of millions more,” the Washington Democrat added.

“This push for Medicare expansion offers a rare opportunity to shore up a legendary public program with a decades-long track record, while delivering a mighty blow to the private insurance industry that leaves it less able to resist the demise it eventually deserves.”
—Natalie Shure

This past weekend, Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and more than a dozen other Democratic senators also implored Biden to support expanding Medicare, arguing that “the time is long overdue for us to expand and improve this program so that millions of older Americans can receive the healthcare they need, including eyeglasses, hearing aids, and dental care.”

But at least one powerful Democratic senator, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, is already signalling his opposition to adding Medicare expansion to the American Families Plan.

“No, I’m not for it, period,” said Manchin, whose vote Democrats need to keep intact their razor-thin majority in the upper chamber.

In column for Common Dreams Thursday morning, Richard Eskow noted that any effort to lower drug costs and expand Medicare is also sure to face intense opposition from the industries benefiting most from the status quo.

“Lowering the Medicare age still faces resistance from the hospital industry and other interests that would lose revenue if more claims are paid under Medicare’s rates,” wrote Eskow. “Big Pharma is resolutely opposed to changes that would curb its trillion-dollar death trip. Party leaders who raise money from industry donors are undoubtedly weighing the cost in lost campaign cash against the political popularity of these measures.”

“One thing’s for sure: rhetorical genuflections aren’t enough anymore,” he added.

Healthcare writer Natalie Shure similarly argued in the New Republic Wednesday that it would be a huge moral and political mistake for Biden and the Democratic Party to push off Medicare expansion any longer.

“By improving the benefits of traditional Medicare and luring enrollees away from privately managed Medigap and Advantage plans, Democrats can bolster the healthcare financing system by funding public programs, as opposed to sending billions of dollars in ACA subsidies straight to private gatekeepers,” Shure wrote. “Meanwhile, aging Americans will be materially relieved of staggering costs that push them to, say, skip filling both prescriptions and cavities.”

“To top it off, there are rumors afoot that suggest the age cohort that would reap these benefits votes in large numbers!” Shure added. “For supporters of single-payer healthcare, like Bernie Sanders, Pramila Jayapal, and their allies, this push for Medicare expansion offers a rare opportunity to shore up a legendary public program with a decades-long track record, while delivering a mighty blow to the private insurance industry that leaves it less able to resist the demise it eventually deserves.”

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Democratic Socialism, explained

ThinkProgress More U.S. candidates are openly calling themselves socialists. From Bernie Sanders to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, far-left candidates are getting recognized as serious contenders in races across the country. But socialism is often misunderstood in U.S. politics. So what does it actually mean to be a democratic socialist in America? Subscribe to our channel: https://www.youtube.com/thinkprogress​ For more ThinkProgress: Read: www.thinkprogress.com Like: https://www.facebook.com/thinkprogress/​ Follow: https://twitter.com/thinkprogress

Australians mark 25 years since massacre changed gun laws

Australia has marked the 25th anniversary of a lone gunman killing 35 people in Tasmania state in a massacre that galvanized the nation to drastically tighten gun laws

By ROD McGUIRK Associated Press

April 28, 2021, 12:43 AM (abcnews.go.com)

On Location: April 30, 2021

On Location: April 30, 2021.

CANBERRA, Australia — Australia marked the 25th anniversary on Wednesday of a lone gunman killing 35 people in Tasmania state in a massacre that galvanized the nation to drastically tighten gun laws.

A service was held at the Port Arthur tourist town where the shooter, Martin Bryant, armed with two semi-automatic assault rifles, killed 35 and wounded another 23 on Sunday, April 28, 1996, among the ruins of an 18th century British prison.

Within two weeks, the federal and state governments had agreed to standardize gun laws with a primary aim of getting rapid-fire weapons out of public hands. The changes were met by fierce political resistance from the gun lobby.

Michael Field, a manager of the World Heritage-listed historic prison site and a former Tasmanian government leader, told the gathering that Australians should remember the courage of government leaders in response to the massacre.

“These changes to gun laws are now quoted by those wanting change around the world, particularly in the United States of America,” Field said.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in the northern city of Darwin that the gun reform that followed the nation’s worst recorded massacre “put us in another class around the world and has been keeping Australians safe ever since.”

“That is a day that is etched in infamy in Australia’s history,” Morrison said.

Since the massacre, there have been three mass gun homicides — defined as at least four dead victims — in Australia. The worst was in 2018 when a farmer killed six family members before turning a gun on himself in Western Australia state.

In the decade before the massacre, there had been 11 such mass shootings.

John Howard, the conservative prime minister at the time of the massacre who drove gun law reform, said the nation had been “united in horror and grief and there was a very strong level of support for what we had to do.”

“The goal was to prohibit possession of automatic and semi-automatic weapons and that’s been achieved,” Howard told Australian Broadcasting Corp. “The country is a much safer place.”

The shooter remains in prison without possibility of parole.

Obituary: Irene Smith

by BAR staff

Wednesday Apr 28, 2021 (ebar.com)

Irene Smith

Irene Smith  

January 23, 1945 — April 4, 2021

San Francisco lost one of its greathearted citizens when the beloved Irene Smith, the first person to offer massage to people with AIDS, left her body from complications of esophageal cancer. As she transitioned, the woman whose touch was the last loving contact that so many received prior to their deaths was surrounded 24/7 by equally selfless caregivers who ensured she could die in her longtime Cole Valley garret.

Irene may have been born in Seattle, but it was the fierce independent spirit of a staunchly idiosyncratic Texan and niece of country singer Hank Williams that lived within her. Voted the prettiest girl in her high school, she migrated to San Francisco where a life of drugs, alcohol, and sex work was transformed through workshops with the foremost expert on death and dying, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. Inspired by her mentor, Irene began offering massage through Hospice of San Francisco. When AIDS hit, she began going room-to-room on Ward 5B, the AIDS Ward of San Francisco General Hospital. Years later, Irene was the first person inducted into the National AIDS Memorial Grove for AIDS service.

After establishing massage programs for people living with AIDS worldwide through her organization, Service Through Touch, Irene founded Everflowing and taught mindful touch as an integral component to end-of-life care. Untold numbers of people worldwide have died feeling loved thanks to her book, “Massage in Hospice Care, An Everflowing Approach,” videos, workshops, and personal example.

An online memorial for Irene Smith will be held Thursday, May 27, at 3 p.m. To register, click here.

For more on her life, see the recent letter to the editor (second item).