Senate Finance Committee chair
–the insurance-industry-friendly Democrat who grabbed the lead in the collaboration between Congress and the Obama administration on healthcare reform–has come up with a novel way to express his commitment to provide care for the nearly 50 million Americans who have no health insurance and the roughly equal number who have inadequate coverage. Baucus is having doctors and nurses arrested. Medical practitioners who have shown up at Baucus-chaired “roundtable discussions” to propose a cure–a single-payer plan designed to ensure that all Americans have access to healthcare while at the same time holding down costs–are being taken into custody and removed from the hearing rooms.
At the first Finance Committee session on May 5, Dr.
and seven others were arrested when they urged Baucus to include witnesses who support single-payer. A week later, at the opening of the committee’s second hearing, five more members of
Physicians for a National Health Care Program
California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee
were taken into custody when they objected to the narrow character of the deliberations. Single-payer advocates went the civil disobedience route only after their repeated requests for a place at the table had been rejected by Baucus. “They just don’t want to hear from single-payer,” explains Dr. Flowers, a pediatrician from Maryland. “We’ve been trying for months now, meeting with members of Congress, to be included in the hearings and the events that they are holding, and they keep excluding us.”
Baucus’s approach is an unhealthy one–for the reform debate and for democracy. JOHN NICHOLS
In April The Nation‘s
broke the story of a multibillion-dollar alternative-fuel tax loophole that was subsidizing paper companies to add fossil fuel to a process that didn’t need it. (The credit was designed to incentivize the reduction of fossil fuel use through the addition of biofuels.) Now it appears the jig is up.
At the time the story was published, the loophole had received scant attention in the press, though the paper industry was abuzz with speculation about just how long it would be before someone noticed. In response to Hayes’s reporting, criticism of the loophole gained momentum. Environmental groups were quick to spring into action and begin advocating that Congress close the loophole. That prompted coverage from the New York Times and the Washington Post.
On April 23 Democratic Senator
of Montana called the loophole an “unintended adverse consequence. It’s very expensive, and it should be closed.” Senators from paper-producing states (
from Maine and
from Arkansas) defended the credit, pointing to the hard times the industry is facing. The machinists’ union, which represents members in paper plants, also rose up in support of the credit.
But (thankfully) it appears that their arguments have failed to keep the White House from acting. In May the Office of Management and Budget released its “green book” of proposed changes to tax law. Included on page 124 is an amendment to the alternative-fuel tax credit that would close the paper industry loophole.
Now the question becomes one of timing. Industry analysts project that the loophole could cost as much as $8 billion this year. Will Congress manage to pass a bill that closes the loophole soon, or will the industry’s defenders succeed in stalling action until the credit expires at the end of the year? As with many of the administration’s initiatives, it remains to be seen how much political capital the White House is willing to expend to make sure that the loophole is closed soon. LAURA DEAN
AIDES TO APARTHEID:
An April 8 court decision has allowed lawsuits to proceed against firms that assisted in torture, killing and apartheid in South Africa, including
But the decision dismissed claims against corporate defendants accused merely of doing business with the apartheid government, including major banks. Now lawyers for the victims are investigating claims that banks supplied covert credit cards to South African security forces for secret operations.
With such new evidence, the victims’ lawyers hope that the court will reconsider this part of its decision and reinstate claims against banks. The attorneys are basing their case on testimony given by the notorious former police spy
Truth and Reconciliation Commission
, of the Southern District of New York, found that the automobile companies were responsible for providing armored military vehicles that violently suppressed and terrorized South Africa’s black population, and that company employees were “intimately involved” in torture. IBM, according to the judge, knew that its computers and software were used to “register individuals, strip them of their South African citizenship and segregate them in particular areas of South Africa.”
, a lead attorney for the plaintiffs, called the decision “a major advancement in international human rights law.”
The victims are seeking unspecified monetary damages. Their class-action suits test the extent of the 200-year-old
Alien Torts Act
, which allows non-Americans to sue companies that have significant assets in the United States if they can prove violations of international law. “Thousands of apartheid victims can now have their day in court,” said
, another lead attorney for the plaintiffs. JOHN S. FRIEDMAN
: The Nation‘s June 30, 2008, special issue, “The New Inequality,” a collaboration with the
Institute for Policy Studies
, was awarded the 2009
Sidney Hillman Foundation Prize in Magazine Journalism
. The award recognizes journalism that “fosters social and economic justice.” Journalist
was named a finalist for the
Livingston Awards for Young Journalists
, in recognition of his reporting in The Nation about the denial of health benefits to veterans. Finally, The Nation has been nominated for “General Excellence” by the
Utne Reader Independent Press Awards
, which honor the best work in independent print journalism.