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Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Written by: Rick Staggenborg, MD on May 21, 2009 7:40 AM PDT

This essay is dedicated to James Madison, chief architect of the American Constitution.

Americans need to know that Congress is refusing to consider the single payer approach to universal health care for a reason: Max Baucus and other key committee members writing the legislation refuse to betray the interests of medical insurance industry lobbyists. Go to opensecrets.com and see for yourself how Baucus received 1.65 million from these corporate interests to come up with an expensive taxpayer bailout of the failing private insurance industry.

Democratic senator Charles Schumer  has announced his intention to refuse to vote for any public option plan that does not force the public option to be handicapped in such a way that it will not compete with private insurance plans using its inherent cost advantages. The result is that tens of millions of Americans will continue to suffer from lack of insurance or underinsurance.

The whole point of health care reform is not just to provide universal access to health care, but to do so in a sustainable way. We cannot afford to continue to sacrifice our children's future for the sake of the profits of these soulless corporate entities. It was a group of particularly fallible men on a previous Supreme Court that erroneously or deliberately decided that corporations have all the rights of citizens. 

Some of us find convincing Jeffrey Toobin's argument that the current court has so little respect for precedent that the rule of law itself is threatened. Fortunately, more recent decisions suggest that they have begun to take their responsibilities more seriously. (Note to reader: This was written prior to the Citizens United decision).

Thank God that erroneously decided opinions can be reversed by a more enlightened Court. The legal argument that corporations are persons as referred to in the Fourteenth amendment and thus possess the rights of natural persons was not based on precedent and is incontrovertibly erroneous. The due process clause of the Fourteenth amendment clearly states that "All persons born or naturalized" in the United States are guaranteed all the rights of the Constitution. If corporations are born, then it seems that the government should be able to execute them for crimes against humanity, but this does not seem to be the case in the Incorporated States of America.

Corporate personhood has resulted in formerly illegal lobbying practices corrupting Congress and the Senate in particular. This Court must recognize the danger of discarding stare decisis, or We the People may have to call for a constitutional convention to restore the meaning of "person" under the Fourteenth amendment to its original, intuitively obvious meaning. The only other alternative is for Congress to pass such an amendment itself, which is clearly beyond the realm of the possible with this Congress.

It is not that all politicians are working against the public interest. Many understand the problem and want to stand up for single payer but are afraid to make themselves the target of smear campaigns by these ruthless advocates of naked greed. President Obama himself has repeatedly stated that the single payer plan is optimal but that he believes it is politically impossible. This may simply represent a failure of imagination. He is said to be a political chess grandmaster and I do not rule out the possibility that he foresees the results of this blatant antidemocratic process and is waiting for the American people to rise up in righteous anger and "Be the change."

It makes little sense to me to hold the President responsible for failing to expect more out of this Congress, when he sees passage of some form of reform as critical to his ability to advance the rest of his domestic agenda. Whether or not he is considered sufficiently progressive by Democrats, the consequences of his being replaced by an even more neoconservative President with a veto pen would be disastrous, as recent history has demonstrated. 

Failure to recognize the culpability of a bought and paid for plurality in Congress would be a grave tactical error if progressives want to ever advance our cause. The only recourse is to follow the lead of Republicans and organize together to elect those Senators and Representatives who would best represent what we consider to be American principles. 

While some believe that the Democratic Party can be reformed just as the Republican Party was transformed into a blatant arm of the corporatocracy, human nature suggests that true change will only come from outside the Party. It is clear that its leadership feels that cooperation with the corporate interests that now control the political process is in their own best interests. I am sure that they believe that this is the only way to represent the People against corporate power, but their actions belie their stated intentions.

I believe that President Obama will withhold his support of single payer until the public stands up as one and demands it. This is our chance to prove that despite a dysfunctional Congress, we still have the power to take back the American government and demand that it serves the interest of the people it is supposed to represent.

Will we have a government of the people, by the people and for the people or will we simply continue to shrug and drop out of the political process in despair of the prospect of taking back our government from corporate rule? Our task is to build a movement that will take to the streets and demand that the interests of the People be given precedence to those of the corporate sponsors of campaigns for our Congressional representatives. Failure to do this would be to surrender the fight to restore democracy in America.

We need to write, call, fax and email our Congressmen and demand single payer now. If a complicated and expensive substitute is created now, we will eventually have to borrow more money from China to finance it, since there is no constituency willing to bear the burden of paying the ever-increasing cost of a multipayer system accessible to all and there is no way to prevent cost inflation in such a system. China has already indicated its hesitancy to continue financing our profligate ways. Wake up, America! We have no real choice. When the average income is projected to equal the average individual insurance premium by 2025 at current rates of growth, we must have single payer and no other form of health care reform.

It is ironic that the birthplace of modern democracy has ceded its leadership role to the former monarchies of Europe who have been able to achieve this obvious means of providing what the UN has declared is a human right. We have to stand up to the fundamentalists of the cult of Ayn Rand and prove to them that they are wrong. The pursuit of individual self interest is ultimately destructive. Just look at what it has done to the world economy if you still need proof.

Get off your knees and join the fight to preserve democracy in America. There is no use  praying that our President expend some of his enormous political capital to give us real health reform or that he would find the Senate receptive if he tried.

To paraphrase the immortal words of Jack Crabb in the classic movie "Little Big Man" as he simply used the truth to set up his revenge against the arrogant and cocksure General Custer: "You go, General. You go into the streets of America with your army of corrupt and cowardly Congressman armed only with corporate blood money. You are going to be facing millions of angry Americans. These ain’t helpless men, women and children. Them are American warriors, brave and true. They are going to fight to the death to protect their children's future. So you go, general. You go out there and see what happens."

Rick Staggenborg, MD

Physicians for a National Health Plan

Coos Bay, OR


  1. When I wrote this, I was still naively under the impression that Congress listened to voters when they spoke loudly enough. Subsequent experience has proven to me that this is the exception rather than the rule. Our Senators in particular are much more concerned about the concerns of their corporate sponsors than those of the citizens who actually elect them.

    More recently, I went to Washington to lobby for Senator Sanders to introduce a Constitutional amendment abolishing corporate personhood, with or without the cooperation of other Senators. I also proposed the idea to his friend Thom Hartmann on his national radio show on the day before this postscript was written.

    The point of doing this now is not to pass such an amendment in this corrupt Congress, but to spotlight the corporate tools in the Senate who would be stupid and venal enough to argue against it. They would then become obvious targets for elimination by reformers within both Parties.

    As Sanders is a true Independent, he seems like the natural choice to do this. Will he risk angering his allies who feel they have "no choice" but to accept the status quo if they want to be sure and stay in their chosen careers? If so, then list me among those who considers "career politician" to be a term of derision.

  2. In re-reading this I noted that China had signaled diplomatically that it would not pay for the bailout of the medical insurance money. The bigger message was that they were already letting be known their willingness to abandon the dollar altogether in suggesting that it not be used as the unit of exchange for petroleum, a move that Russia supported.

    The interesting backdrop to this story is that some 7-10 days before NPR reported that "The Chinese are watching the health care reform debate in Congress with great interest," I had emailed the Chinese mission at the UN as the founder of the then-unknown Soldiers For Peace International asking them to do just that. It could be coincidence, but if so it is a remarkable instance of synchronicity.

    As an update, ABC radio news reported this morning that there are now 60 million Americans without health insurance, up from 47 million at the start of this debate. Another 40 million were classified as dangerously underinsured. Of the uninsured, less than half met the federal guideline for poverty, meaning that many more come from the ranks of the working poor.

    What percentage of uninsured will it take for the libertarians frightened of losing what they have in responding to the needs of the have-nots realize that their self-centered view of personal responsibility denies their responsibility to society as a whole? I wonder how many of them call themselves Christian.

    Perhaps these radical individualists do not understand that in Christ's admonition to care for the least among us, he was warning them how easily they could let themselves fall into that class, by which time there might be no one left to stand up for them.


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