Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Dr. Margaret Flowers - Grassroots Response to Health Care Reform

cross-posted from Sum of Change

(This segment was recorded live on Ustream on 3/24/2001 at 12:00pm EST)

I was privileged to have the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Margaret Flowers of Physicians for a National Health Program today. We talked about the health care bill that passed, the general movement for health care reform, and the lessons we learned during this struggle.

This is part of a concerted effort we at Sum of Change have undertaken to reach out to grassroots folks who devoted a lot of energy to fighting for health care reform. We want to use the microphone we have to get the feedback of voices from the grassroots. Part of this involves reaching out to a wide array of activists so as to hear different views from the fight for reform. Feel free to contact us if you would like to suggest someone for us to interview.

Dr. Flowers said that she was "disappointed" with the reforms passed and criticized the bill for not including some type of national "health system that guarantees that every person in our country can get health care."
With this legislation we're forcing people to purchase private insurance, and that moves us to further privatizing the financing of our health care which is kind of the opposite direction of where we were hoping to go...

What we saw over the past year or so is a very powerful influence from the industries that profit off of the current health care situation, the health insurance companies and pharmaceuticals companies. And this legislation is going to further enrich them. So our concern is that that power that they've had is going to grow and that will make it more difficult to push for the types of reforms we need to have...

This was a very tightly scripted kind of process... The administration and the leadership knew before going into this what they wanted to see and they drove the whole process in that direction. And what we had wanted to happen was a real kind of open honest debate about what's best for our country and will improve our health outcomes. And we found that we ran into a lot of roadblocks with that. But we were successful in some ways of getting our message out. And now I think many people have heard the term single-payer.
When asked whether or not she thinks it was a good decision to rule out single-payer before negotiations began, she had this to say:
I think part of the problem with the public option movement is that the public option was a very vague concept and people didn't really understand what that was all about or how that was supposed to work. But our experience of talking to people of all different bakcrounds is that when you describe what a national improved medicare for all system is, not only do they get it, but they really, they like it...because it saves money, it makes sure that you can get health care that you need, you know, if you need to change jobs or go back to school you don't have to worry about not being able to get health care if you need it. So, it's a very appealing concept, it's a simple concept to explain.
Q: What lessons did you learn from this process?
The biggest lesson that we learned from this process is that we can't leave it up to our leadership right now to do what we consider to be good evidence-based health reform, there's too much influence from the industry. And so, tying ourselves to particular political parties or legislators leads us to always compromise in the end, you know, to save their political career. What we need to do as a people is to say that this situation is not acceptable to us, that we want a national health system that provides real health security and build an independent movement, an independent social movement that will push our legislators in that direction...

It was an interesting year, this was a really new experience for the American people and at this point we're just saying don't stop, don't give up... It was, I think, new in that there was so much energy around this issue. There's so many more people, you know, if you look at compared to the 90's, the effort that went on in the 90's, I think so many more people now get it or are feeling the situation that we have and so many more peole did get involved from both sides, there was a real heated and involved discussion.
On progressive groups supporting the President and not the policy:
As it came down to the wire they were throwing out kind of all their constituents. Women's reproductive rights and the labor unions who didn't want to have the excise tax and, and the people that wanted the public option that all got compromised away.
Q: Do you feel like the compromises were one-sided?
Yeah, yeah, I think they were all really done, at the end of this deal what it came down to was that the President had staked his future reelection on this reform and that whatever was passed, they needed to have something passed just to say that they did it. And so the content was no longer important the closer it got down to the line. And we're a different movement. Physicians for a National Health Program has been around for 22 years. We do the research, we look at other systems, we look at what works here and so we're very, very strong on, you know, what our beliefs are because we want evidence-based reform and so we don't compromise away from that. I think that attracts people to our cause because they know that if they're gonna fight with us that we're gonna fight for something real.
Q: What is the one big lesson we learned?
The biggest thing, I think, is to kep in mind that the people are the ones that push the politicians to do what we want them to do and that this has gotta be about the issues. We need to be really clear on what we want and educate ourselves on, on why that's important and stand up, you know, for what we need...If you look at us compared to people in other industrialized nations, we, we settle for so little and, and we don't have a strong social infrastructure that supports us as a people because of that and I think that really needs to change.

Dr. Margaret Flowers, Physicians for a National Health Program, and several other progressive groups are looking forward and continuing to push for single-payer systems at the State level. The doctor urges non-physicians to join Healthcare-Now!

Si Se Puede! Sights and Sounds of the Immigration Rally on Washington DC Mar 21st 2010

On the very day that the historic healthcare bill was passed in the house, reportedly over a hundred thousand people gathered for a rally on the National Mall in Washington DC. Though I have heard some think that this is unfortunate planning, since much of the news and media were obviously focused on the epic legislative action. But I take a different approach, whether plastered on daytime cable news all day or not, having the rally on the same day sends a message that we should celebrate, but that the work is not over. Health Care reform is one of several major issues that need addressing (in addition to our financial regulatory system, our Education system, and our Green Energy Policy to name a few). But the turnout on the mall on Sunday is be evidence that Immigration Reform is an issue that is of critical importance to many people in America and can not wait to be addressed.

This was only the beginning of a major push across the country to enact meaningful immigration reform. There is a lot still to happen, so keep coming back to for more information and grassroots coverage of the effort as it progresses.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

David Sirota Personally Delivering Public Option Petition Tomorrow Morning

David Sirota just sent out this press release:
Contact: Jenny Godehn – Promotions Director
Clear Channel Colorado - 4695 S. Monaco St.
Phone: (720) 373-0301 Fax: (303) 713-8424


Denver, CO, March 23rd, 2010. . .AM 760 host David Sirota will be making a visit to Senator Michael Bennet’s office tomorrow at 11am to personally deliver him a petition tomorrow demanding he introduce a public-option amendment to the current health care reform bill.

Earlier this year, Senator Michael Bennet sent a letter demanding Senate leaders use reconciliation to create a government-run insurer to compete with private insurance. For this, he received a lot of media attention and praise from media outlets including AM 760. After President Obama signed the major portion of the health care reform this week, the Senate will have a chance this week to vote on a separate reconciliation bill in which Senator Bennet will have the opportunity to offer a public option amendment.

Progressives intend to hold Bennet to his promise and have produced a petition signed by 35,000 Americans in just 4 days demanding Bennet fulfill his public option pledge.

Right now, the public option amendment could pass with 51 Senate votes thanks to reconciliation procedures. The House has already passed a public option in the past. As a standalone bill, the public option would likely require 60 votes and likely wouldn’t pass.

In Michael Bennet’s own words: “A strong public option is one of the best, most fiscally responsible ways to reform our health insurance system. ... Much of the public identifies a public option as the key component of health care reform -- and as the best thing we can do to stand up for regular people against big insurance companies.”

Senator Bennet’s office is located at 2300 15th St. Suite 450.
Please contact Jenny Godehn for media inquiries at 720-373-0301

The David Sirota Show can be heard on AM 760 weekdays from 7am – 10am.

While the reality is grim for the public option, if it could get through the Senate it would likely make it through the house without much trouble. There is one big question: can the public option be considered in reconciliation?

There is no definite answer to that right now. Many progressives would argue that since it reduces the deficit there is a direct relation to the budget, while some would say the savings are indirect and therefore it cannot be included in a reconciliation package. I suspect it would be allowed, but I highly doubt the Senate will take it up. But, as I said, should they take it up and pass it they need not worry about the house doing the same.

ps: Sirota is also sending around a link to sign the petition.

Government Transparency: Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Hearing

Today, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee held a hearing on government transparency. This was to be a follow up on the Open Government Directive.
This memorandum is intended to direct executive departments and agencies to take specific actions to implement the principles of transparency, participation, and collaboration set forth in the President’s Memorandum.
We heard lots of numbers, new websites, and bold visions of people powered politics. We heard aspirations, including the declassification of 400 million pages of previously classified documents by the end of 2013. The panelists we heard from were
Vivek Kundra, federal chief information officier and administrator for electronic government and information technology in the Office of Management and Budget

Aneesh Chopra, assistant director for technology in the Office of Science and Technology Policy

Archivist of the United States David Ferriero of the National Archives and Records Administration
We were also supposed to hear from:
Ellen Miller, co-founder and executive director of the Sunlight Foundation

Rob Pinkerton, director of public sector solutions for Adobe Systems, Inc.

Stephen O'Keeffe, founder of Meri Talk Online

Thomas Blantonm director of National Security Archives
However, these folks we cut off during the introductions when all Senate hearing had to cease, I believe, having to due with the Senate health care actions.

"Open government isn't an abstract notion, it's a new way of doing business in Washington," said Kundra. He did, however, caution that the interest of national security must also be weighed when talking transparency. When pressed by Senator Coburn on accountability he declared that many of the problems regarding that stem from what he called a "culture of faceless accountability" where no person can seemingly be held accountable for actions that do not meet the expectations of the law.

"The core of our mission is serving democracy by providing" acces to information and an open government, added Ferriero. Our "government cannot be accountable" if it does not preserve documents yet "the federal government has not deemed record keeping a high priority in IT systems."

The simple availability of information, a task not nearly met as of yet, is of the utmost importance. Chopra listed of a number of reasons that is so. When the Department of Labor makes information available "employers can better protect their workers." All the panelists made references to people-powered-politics.

Kundra spoke of moving towards an architecture that empowers third parties to hold government accountable and improve their communities. He referenced YouTube, saying that they "didn't go out there and create every video that you see there, it's the american people."

This all sounds good, and the President's Open Government Directive sounds good, but the big hurdle towards transparency became blatantly apparent when no one answered Senator Coburn's question, "Is there any consequence to not following the law?"

Obscura Day 2010 From Washington DC: The National Museum of Health & Medicine

In the middle of everything else happening for Sum of Change and America this weekend (you know, like the passage of health care reform bill, a giant march on Washington in favor of immigration reform, and a conference we covered for feminist campus to name a few), I made a quick stop at an event that was specifically off the beat and path, the 1st Annual Obscura Day, hosted by Atlas Obscura (,‘a compendium of this age's wonders, curiosities, and esoterica’ or a guide the unusual and hard to find treasures across the world.

I, (obviously) went to the DC event at the National Museum of Health and Medicine on the Campus of Walter Reid Army Medical Hospital (more on that in a bit) but Obscura Day was celebrated in over 80 cities around the world. The event kicked off in Australia with a tour of a bio-luminescent glow worm filled tunnel in Australia, and featured such diverse events, such as a trip the world’s largest tree house, an underground tour of the Atlantic avenue tunnels in NYC, a time travel buss tour of 1050s LA, and our event at the Museum of Health and Medicine in DC.

Though few artifacts at the museum were unusually obscure, the museum collects very important items to the survival of our society that many of us take for granted, such as the largest collection of microscopes and brains for research. It is one of the only museums dedicated not only to the overall history of health, but also to the study of military medicine. So it features areas on the development of human beings, from pre-birth to death, in addition to more military specific sections, such as a room about the identification of human remains.

The museum however is quite large and diverse and has over 25 million items in its collection. The most unique artifacts are probably the bullet that killed Abraham Lincoln and a fragment of his skull. This is a true rarity, not only for the historical significance of the artifacts themselves but because this is one of the few displays of the actual ‘mortal remains’ of one of our country’s most historic figures, as Tim Clark, the Museum’s communications director describes it.

From all accounts Obscura day was quite a success around the world and I know everyone in DC had a great time. To see videos, pictures, blogs and tweets from all the Obscura Day events, go to

For more info on the museum, please go to their website ( and visit them on the campus of the Walter Reid Army Medical Hospital (while it still exists) in Washington DC.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Music Monday: Futureman and His Syntax Drumitar

One of the more interesting and creative musicians I have seen in my life is Futureman, the 'drummer' in Bela Fleck and the Flecktones and one of the superiorly gifted Wooten Brothers (Bassist Victor probably being the most famous but they're all pretty amazing). However, Futureman is much more than a 'drummer' due in large part to his Syntax Drumitar, an invention of his own creation. Essentially, it is shaped somewhat like a bass guitar, but instead of have strings, it has a ton of small pads that each play a different sound when touched or tapped. This gives him the ability to play individual percussive instruments, and a wide variety of non-percussive sounds, with just the touch of a finger.

Since it only takes a single finger to make a sound instead of a whole hand, the Drumitar gives him the ability to individually play the role of three drummers simultaneously.
Furthermore, since he records his own sounds and has more buttons on the instrument than he has fingers, he can easily play a large number of different sounds. This allows him to integrate diverse percussion styles in a way that a single musician could never do. It's an amazing instrument that really separates him from other drummers (some may say unfairly so, but it's cool with me).

I've found a few videos of Futureman explaining his unique instrument. The first is a very short and overly simplified explanation of the instrument, but the next two are from an 'interview/jam session' hosted and posted by James Ross where Futureman explains and demonstrates the amazing abilities of the drumitar. The last video is of the 'Zendrum', a commercialized drumitar that isn't as cool as Futureman's but available for you to purchase and try out on your own (for >$1k). Enjoy.

For more Music Monday articles, please go to

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Grassroots Response To Health Care Passage

Tonight we are doing something new here, something I have wanted to start doing for a while, reaching out to grassroots folks to respond to major happenings. On this historic night, as we pass substantive health care reform, we are bringing you a grassroots response from David Hart, the founder of Grow the Hope. The response will start very shortly after the vote is done.

Throughout this fight we at Sum of Change spent a lot of time filming and writing about the work being done by grassroots activists engaging the community to work for reform. We hope to reach out to a variety of grassroots activists on any number of issues, and welcome your insight on future grassroots responses.

Text as prepared by David Hart:
This bill is not everything many of us had hoped for but we celebrate its passage. We must recognize that this bill is a significant reform to private health insurance. In fact, it is a good fix for many horrific abuses that now impact many Americans. When this bill is signed into law people with pre-existing conditions can no longer be denied coverage. Insurance companies can not drop customers who have developed catastrophic illness. And young people can remain on their parents policies until they are 26 years old. These are just a few key provisions that make this bill worthy of our support.

Sadly, the debate on this legislation has been dangerously debased by fear mongering and ridiculous charges that have nothing to do with the facts. After this bill is signed into law the American people will see that there are no death panels. They will wake up and see that our society does not, in fact, look like Nazi Germany. Instead, the sun will rise as it did before this debate began and somehow we will not experience the expected Armageddon.

The rhetoric of mass distortion has not served us well during this important national debate. In the last few days, we have seen members of the US House of Representatives attacked in the halls of Congress. A civil rights icon was called the n-word. Another Representative was spat on and a third was insulted because of his sexuality.

Let this be a wake up call. Those who spew hate must shift their course. This angry rhetoric leads to dehumanizing opponents and can lead to violence.

Now that this bill has passed, let’s celebrate it for what it actually does and allow the rhetoric to cool. Now let us move forward together to address the many pressing challenges facing this great country.

We want to know what you think about this historic debate. Sum of Change has provided a great way to do just that. Please tell us your story. Join the conversation by visiting

And, please check out for more on our important work. Thank you and good night.

McGovern on Storytelling at the House Rules Committee

I have written about the power of personal stories on multiple occasions. Personal stories make abstract issues like health care reform real. They paint a picture, like a good author detailing the numerous traits of a single brick in a wall. And storytelling creates empathy amongst neighbors. Last night, we heard plenty of personal stories, from one side of the aisle.

The other side was noticeably absent from that form of debate. Republicans offered vague references of seniors who would be taxed more if the reforms go through, leaving out that they would have to be making over 250k/year for that to happen. Vague stories of the struggle that could be caused by these reforms. Whereas the Democrats offered stories of daughters with preexisting conditions and sisters denied care the same day her family's premiums go up.

Afterward, I asked Congressman McGovern for his thoughts on this. “They don’t have the stories,” he told me. Then the Congressman threw out a few examples of the stories from individuals that Republicans are defending: insurance company executives complaining about smaller profits, big contributors with less to give to the RCCC. Real tearjerkers.

“This is very personal for many of us,” he added. McGovern told me they hear all kinds of stories from constituents then he immediately jumped into one of an individual from his state who suffered to get adequate care because the problems were arguably dental, and not covered.

Storytelling has, undoubtedly, been the staple of the health care movement and will surely go far to reinforce the belief many organizers have that there is nothing more powerful than and individual's personal experience. As Congress prepares to pass this historic health care legislation, I thank all those folks who told their health care stories to us.

Feel free to tell your story, or the story of a loved one in the comments.

Livefeed: National Young Feminist Leadership Conference

Free video streaming by Ustream

9:45 – 11:15
Women’s Rights on the Global Stage (PG)

We are approaching an era where the struggle for gender equity in every facet of society is becoming the fundamental basis for foreign policy for the U.S. and other nations around the world. During this session, speakers will discuss the significance of the United States’ newly revived commitment to empower and improve the quality of life for women globally. They will examine the implications for securing the country’s obligations to pass IVAWA, ratify CEDAW, and fulfill the promises of the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals and the 1994 Cairo Conference. They will also recommend how young women can get involved in the cause for advancing women’s rights everywhere.

Daphne Jayasinghe, Women’s Human Rights Advocacy Director, Amnesty International
Feroza Yari, Feminist Majority Foundation Afghan Scholar
Tamara Tunie
Anushay Hossain, Global Programs Coordinator, Feminist Majority Foundation

And later on this evening...

3:30 – 5:00 General Assembly
Fired Up? Ready to Go! (VV)

There is tremendous power in the feminist movement today, and it is up to us to harness that energy moving forward. In order to do so, we all must step up as skilled leaders and informed advocates, raising our voices for a better tomorrow. Join us for tips on leadership and advocacy, skills that will serve you well in any field, whether you’ll be joining us tomorrow on Capitol Hill or heading back to campus! This session will also include an opportunity for participants to share their action pledges and ideas for moving forward.

Congresswoman Donna Edwards (MD-4)
Jehmu Greene, President, Women’s Media Center
Jane Campbell, Chief of Staff, Office of U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu (LA)
Alison Friedman, Senior Advisor, Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, U.S. Department of State
Shelby Knox, Feminist Organizer
Grace Mulenga, University of the District of Columbia Student Government Association Vice President

Activism Pledge Sharing and Summary
Val Vilott, National Campus Organizer, Feminist Majority Foundation
Emily Kadar, National Campus Organizer, Feminist Majority Foundation

8 Yay, 5 Nay

This will be easy.

Every last one of the proposed amendments went down on party line votes, with four Republicans voting in favor and nine Democrats opposed. Republicans called for a recorded vote on all amendments (folks who consistently criticize bureaucracy as inefficient come across rather comical using bureaucracy for the sole purpose of slowing a process down).

The final vote to move reconciliation forward went down almost the same way but for Congressman Michael Arcuri joining Republicans in voting no. This was not a complete surprise, many progressive groups had called on people to pressure this very Congressman. What consequences Arcuri will face from the left is not hard to predict, many groups have spoken openly about interest in challengers.

This is sure to be an election to keep your eye on. The Working Families Party had a serious hand in helping Arcuri last time around. He defeated his challenger "by just 10,000 votes, while winning 9,500 votes on the Working Families Party line." (Quote from Daily Politics link above).

To sum up, oodles of 4-9 votes on amendments, a 8-5 vote to move reconciliation forward, and one Congressman officially has a problem with the left.

Witness to History

Walking around Capitol Hill still awes me. I have grown somewhat used to being here, but I still find myself in a haze walking along what are arguably the most powerful blocks in the world. Decisions are made on a daily basis here that affect lives all around the world and I would hope I never grow more accustomed to being present for it.

If you have never stood in the center of the Capitol building late at night, when no one else is around, you really should try it. I stood there tonight as I returned from the recess and took a deep breath. I am fortunate enough to have gotten a seat in the Rules Committee meeting as a blogger, a label I wear with pride tonight. I often avoid using the term, simply calling myself a journalist or reporter so as not to raise alarms, but in my soul I am a blogger. So it truly is significant to me that this bastion of main stream society has opened its doors for this blogger on what may be one of the most memorable weekends of my life.

I am thoroughly moved. This weekend, the congress so many worked so hard to elect over the past several years is going to declare that the Government will take action to address the health care crisis. By no means am I satisfied with what will pass. Then again, I am hard to please. I am thrilled with the work our President is doing but will settle for nothing less than universal social justice. That is an oath I took a long time ago.

So I stand, moved by what we are doing, in the center of one of the most powerful buildings in the world, fortunate enough to call myself a blogger, officially witnessing history in the making from the back of the room with a laptop and a blackberry.