The Nation

Unregulated, Uninspected Food For Thought

After an audit released last week that amounted to a complete and utter indictment of the Food and Drug Administration, Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt yesterday admitted "our [food safety] system is not adequate for the future."

But making a system that is might be hard when Leavitt's boss, President Bush, has already vetoed a bill that would give a modest, five percent increase in agency funding.

"Money doesn't solve everything but it does indicate the nation's priorities," Ted Kennedy said at a Senate Health, Education and Labor Committee hearing yesterday. "The FDA does not have the capacity to ensure the safety of the nation's food."

Kennedy's assertion was backed by a FDA Scientific Advisory Panel Board report he highlighted that blasted the lack of qualified scientists, inspectors, staff, information technology resources and agency mission.

"FDA is engaged in a reactive, fire-fighting regulatory posture instead of pursuing a culture of proactive regulatory science," the panel concluded. And it was a good thing they took the time to find this out because FDA inspector's reports, "are still handwritten and not rapidly analyzed."

Saying he had a "master plan" to improve the FDA, Leavitt sort of defended the White House. He said that money was not as important as the need to better communicate and reach understanding with China to prevent more incidents like the imported toxic toothpaste this summer. And he urged the coordination of 12 government agencies for greater food and drug safety. Still, he noted that those agencies would need across-the-board upgrades in resources.

Republican Senators like Wayne Allard of Colorado were more loyal to Bush's proclamations, viewing the issue instead as one of educating food processors and consumers. "Make sure your hamburger is well-cooked," the Senator counseld. "Don't let mayonnaise and eggs sit in the sun."

Democrats countered Allard's compelling arguments by saying government might have have to do more than education to protect the food supply. "It's fun to bash government, it's everybody's game," said Washington Democratic Senator Patti Murray. "But government is the one that regulates this."

What money the government has in 2008 to make regulations will say a lot about how much, or little, a Democratic Congress has affected the Bush Administration.

Left-Leaning Male Pundits Heart Huckabee

Have you noticed how liberal white male reporters get crushes on right-wing male candidates? For years John McCain had Democratic and even left men swooning at his feet--a straight talker! A war hero! He's cool and macho, and he'll invite you over for barbecue! Never mind that McCain was basically a militaristic reactionary with occasional twinges of sanity. Even at The Nation, McCain was a popular guy with the guys. in 2004, one of my Nation colleagues argued in an edit meeting that the magazine should endorse him.

This time round, the so-called-liberal-media men's Republican sweetheart is Mike Huckabee. He plays the bass guitar! He cares! He's not a total maniac like the other evangelical Christians even though he doesn't believe in evolution and probably thinks you're going to Hell! Ari Berman declares him " humble, decent, and funny." In The New Yorker, Rick Hertzberg is surprised to find himself charmed: Huckabee is "funny," "reassuringly ordinary" in appearance and demeanor, "curiously unthreatening" in affect; he speaks "calmly" and declines to serve up "red meat" on abortion, immigration, the Clintons, and other issues dear to rightwingers' hearts.

Marc Cooper, who can't throw enough rotten tomatoes at Democrats and "progressives," or as he likes to call them "pwogwessives," writes in his blog that Huckabee " radiates a core decency." Newsweek's Jonathan Alter: He "speaks American." (oh lord, where's Mencken when you need him?) "Even on faith and politics, Mike is easy to like." Really? It's easy to like a man who tells Bill Maher that "we really don't know" whether the earth is six thousand or six billion years old? Who doesn't think human beings are primates? Who wants to outlaw almost all abortion because "life begins at conception"? Gail Collins-- yes, yes, not all Huckabee fans are men -- thinks indeed, it is.

Hertzberg ruminates so pleasantly on Huckabee's sympathy for the poor, his attacks on the Club for Growth, his lack of the spit-flecked viciousness that has characterized so many religious wingnuts, that you almost forget Huckabee is a religious wingnut himself. Only in his second to last paragraph does Hertzberg get around to acknowledging that "None of this is to say that Huckabee's policy positions are much better than those of his Republican rivals; in some cases, they're worse. He wants to replace the federal tax code with a gigantic, horribly regressive sales tax; he cannot name a single time he has ever disagreed with the National Rifle Association; he wants to amend the Constitution to ban gay marriage and abortion." But not to worry: "In practice, however, the sales tax and the amendments would go nowhere, and he couldn't do much about abortion except appoint Scalia-like Justices to the Supreme Court--which his rivals have promised to do, too."

Just so you know: One of Huckabee's first acts as governor of Arkansas was to bar state Medicaid from paying for an abortion for a retarded teenager raped by her stepfather, despite federal regulations requiring such payments. Is that your idea of a nice, decent, "curiously unthreatening guy ? As Todd Gitlin writes at TPMcafe, the media relentless scrutinizes the health-care plans of the Democratic candidates, but when Republicans say they want to ban abortion and declare that life "begins at conception,"--anti-choice code for banning most methods of contraception -- they get a free pass, including from the so-called liberal media.

Is there some weird masochism operating here, whereby left-leaning men, weary of failure and scorn, roll over for rightwingers who smile and throw them a bone? Does the issue of abortion-- which is a marker for a whole range of women's issues--just not matter to them the way it does to women with the same politics? Are they so desperate for a candidate who uses the language of "economic populism," --when he isn't pushing regressive taxation-- that they'll overlook everything else? Which is more likely: a Republican president who limits women's access to abortion, or a Republican president who limits laissez-faire capitalism? The question answers itself. I just wish more liberal male pundits were asking it.

UPDATE: Marc Cooper e mailed me to say he felt I quoted him out of context and am a good example of the "pwogwessives" he despises. He also called my attention to this staggering breaking news story from Murray Waas on the Huffington Post, a story Marc helped edit and has linked to on his blog. Be sure to check it out -- it's truly horrific.

NOTE: Apologies to John Nichols, to whom I originally attributed Ari Berman's quote. Far from being charmed by Huckabee, Nichols wrote a persuasive post on this website attacking him for applying religious tests to Romney. And before anyone else writes in to point out that the pundits I mentioned were discussing Huckabee's public persona, not his character, "decent" is a moral term that describes someone's actual character as expressed in action, not their social manners as expressed in an interview or debate. It's not a synonym for "affable," "pleasant," or "seemingly not insane, despite adherence to nutty beliefs about imminent end of world etc."

Washington Post Attacks the Man who Got Iran Right

The Washington Post's Al Kamen has a snarky little item in today's paper about the International Atomic Energy Agency's Director General Mohamed ElBaradei. Kamen awards ElBaradei "a yellow flag and 15-yard penalty for..unsportmanlike conduct --taunting--after the new intelligence assessment on Iran was released." Remember that ElBaradei is the man who warned the Bush Administration in 2003 about the lack of a nuclear program in Iraq and was subsequently attacked for his position by the Bush machine, the neocons and by many, including the Washington Post, in the mainstream media. Had ElBaradei's work on Iraq been heeded, imagine the treasure, the lives--not to mention our international reputation and security --that would have been saved.

So, maybe the guy does deserve to gloat. But that's now what he appears to have done. All Kamen can come up with as an example of what he describes as "his unseemly I-told-you-so gloating" is that ElBaradei "notes in particular that the estimate tallies with the [IAEA's] consistent statements over the last few years that, although Iran still needs to clarify some important aspects of its past and present nuclear activities, the agency has no concrete evidence of an ongoing nuclear weapons program or undeclared nuclear facilities in Iran."

Maybe Kamen and his paper should set aside some time to reflect on how dead wrong they were in blasting ElBaradei on his Iraq assessment. While they're at it, they might also remember that the Post's failure to give ElBaradei and the IAEA a fair hearing didn't stop with Iraq. The paper's editorial page kept up its attacks, with guns blazing, on the agency's Iran assessments. You'd hope that institutions like the Post might have some humility given the magnitude of its past mistakes, the failure to ask tough questions, the willingness to accept the Adminsitration line, making it more difficult for the IAEA to play a role in maintaining international peace and security. But, naaah. Instead, Kamen prattles on : "Next thing you know, [Elbaradei] will be angling for another Nobel Peace Prize and reminding us about his report before the war that Saddam Hussein had no WMDs. That would would have drawn another 15 for unecessary roughness. Whatever happened to etiquette? Propriety?" Whatever happened to shame.


Everybody Look What's Going Down

Recently, I wrote about the No Nukes crowd fighting to remove $50 billion worth of nuclear industry subsidies from landmark energy legislation. Indeed, an upwelling of grassroots opposition – including 130,000 signatures collected by Nukefree.org – has kept the Energy Bill to be voted on in the House this week nuclear subsidy-free

"There are no subsidies for nuclear industry in the bill," Brendan Daly, spokesman for Speaker Nancy Pelosi, confirmed for me yesterday.

"We're celebrating a partial victory," said Harvey Wasserman, co-founder of Musicians United for Safe Energy (MUSE) and editor of Freepress.org. "But we're not out of the woods yet."

That's because – like nuclear waste itself – the industry and its cronies never go away. $50 billion is enough to fund 25 plants, and despite the fact that so few people want these monstrosities that can't pay for themselves and are environmental and security nightmares to boot – Big Nuclear will not walk away from bundles of free taxpayer money without a fight.

Senator Pete Domenici is expected to fight the Energy Bill's 15 percent renewable portfolio standard(the amount of electricity utilities must produce from renewable sources) and perhaps condition his support on including the $50 billion nuclear bailout. And with every piece of legislation requiring 60 votes to overcome the seemingly permanent Republican filibuster, Domenici & Friends will wield their power like a radioactive weapon. If the Nukes fail there, there will probably be another battle on the Appropriations bill, or even the Lieberman-Warner climate legislation where the nuclear industry has already submitted a "wish list" of amendments to the bill.

The coalition working with NukeFree.org includes the core of the environmental movement, as well as TrueMajority, MoveOn.org, Nuclear Information and Resource Service, and others. The Union of Concerned Scientists has circulated a separate petition, and the Cato Institute and Forbes magazine have voiced strong opposition to the subsidies as well. Look for the coalition to continue to reach out to conservatives, libertarians and taxpayer rights groups like Taxpayers for Common Sense, Grover Norquist, Paul Gigot (editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial page), the American Enterprise Institute and other free marketeers and fiscal conservatives.

Representatives John Hall (a MUSE co-founder, longtime anti-nuke activist and great musician formerly of the band Orleans) and Shelley Berkley of Las Vegas are circulating a letter for their colleagues to sign onto – addressed to Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Harry Reid – which reads in part, "Given [its] record of risk and nonperformance, expanding taxpayer support for nuclear power would be throwing good money after bad. In order to truly make the most progress possible toward a clean, profitable, independent energy future for our nation it will be more effective to devote maximum federal support to renewable energy technologies like wind, solar, geothermal as well as new technologies and improvements in efficiency…. We urge you to take one more step by removing new taxpayer supports for nuclear power from the final legislation that will be considered by Congress…."

Moving forward, it's clear that continued vigilance will be needed – even if NukeFree.org and its allies are successful on the Energy Bill which Wasserman expects to be "a real cliffhanger, with our future in the balance." But, he says, vigilance isn't a problem: "We've won this much and are committed to continuing the fight as long as it takes."

Shame on Obama and Clinton for Skipping Peru Trade Vote

New York Senator Hillary Clinton and Illinois Senator Barack Obama desperately want Democrats to believe that they are serious about serving the American people as the next president of the United States.

But the party faithful – along with the independent and even Republican voters who may be asked to consider these contenders – would be well advised to distrust any claim of conscientiousness from this pair.

Clinton and Obama -- along with fellow Democrats Joe Biden, of Delaware, and Chris Dodd, of Connecticut, and Republican John McCain, of Arizona -- are not even serious about serving in their current positions as members of the U.S. Senate.

When the Senate voted Tuesday of the Peru Trade Agreement, a critical test of U.S. economic policy that raised fundamental questions with regard to how this country will frame its economic ties to hemispheric neighbors, the five senators who would be president were the only members of the chamber who missed the vote.

If we are to trust their statements with regard to the issue: Biden and Dodd would have voted against the Peru deal, while Obama and Clinton would have supported it.

But senators who don't bother to show up get the out of being able to rewrite history – including their own statements. And that appears to be more important to Clinton, Obama and their fellow senator-candidates than doing the job to which they were elected.

Would the presence of Obama, Clinton or the other contenders have changed the practical result of the vote? No. The Senate approved the Peru deal by a 77-18 majority, meaning that, in the words of Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, "Congress (has) passed another job-killing trade agreement that will shut down our factories, hurt our communities, and send more unsafe food into our kitchens and consumer products into our children's bedrooms."

But if the standard that is applied to senators seeking the presidency is that only their positions on close votes matter, then Clinton would have been wise to skip the fall 2002 vote on whether to permit President Bush to attack Iraq. Then, she could have played the issue different ways, depending on the crowd she was talking to – just as Clinton, and to an even greater extent Obama, cynically portray themselves as corporate critics when they are in front of labor and farm audiences and corporate allies when they are shaking down Wall Street donors.

The fact is that the votes senators choose to skip tell us just as much about them as do the votes they cast.

Clinton, Obama, Biden, Dodd and McCain all have track records on trade issues that have tended to place them on the side of multinational conglomerates and investors rather than workers and farmers in the United States and abroad.

They have all taken too many wrong stands in the clearest and most meaningful economic debate facing the country today. Notably, their positions on past trade tests – and their failure to recognize the significance of Tuesday's Peru vote -- put them at odds with key voters in battleground states such as Ohio, which the Democratic presidential nominee will almost certainly need to win in November, 2008.

As Ohio Senator Brown, arguably the Senate's savviest critic of our country's misguided approach to trade, explained, "The trade polices set in Washington, and negotiated across the globe, have a direct impact on places like Toledo and Steubenville, Cleveland and Hamilton. And that is why voters in my state of Ohio, and across the country, sent a message loud and clear last November, demanding a new direction for our trade policy."

Brown, like the other freshmen Democrats elected to the Senate in 2006, understands something that Clinton and Obama are still missing."Our current trade model chases short-term profits for the few, at the expense of long-term prosperity, health and safety for the many. It's a model that doesn't work. Look at our trade deficit, look at manufacturing job losses, look at wage stagnation, look at imported product recalls, look at forced labor, child labor, slave labor. Look what it does to communities," says the senator, who made changing trade policy a central issue in his successful challenge to Republican Senator Mike DeWine, as did other Democratic winners such as Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Claire McMaskill of Missouri, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, John Tester of Montana and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island – all of whom opposed the Peru deal.

Senators who have actually faced the voters in key states in recent elections share Brown's position that, "We want trade and plenty of it – but under rules that raise standards and ensure American exports have a lasting and sustainable market of consumers. Trade can be a development tool. The American people want a pro-trade, pro-development, pro-labor and forward-looking approach."

That's the sort of statement that a Democratic presidential nominee should be making next year.

But neither Clinton nor Obama will be in a position to deliver the message -- at least not to any voter who expects more than empty rhetoric.

The Peru vote gave both senators a chance to send a clear signal that they understand the need to set a new course on trade. That signal would have helped to distinguish them from any of the likely Republican nominees. But they skipped the chance to make it. As such, Clinton and Obama are stuck with their records – which, at least on this issue, mark them as unacceptable choices.

Hopefully, Iowa voters, who are hearing so much from Clinton and Obama these days, will notice that both of the apparent frontrunners failed to stand with their own senator, Tom Harkin, a one-time proponent of free trade who saw the light some years ago and who on Tuesday voted against the Peru deal.

Renewing the Cold War

This past June, Katrina vanden Heuvel blogged about President Bush's plan to deploy a proposed a missile defense system in both the Czech Republic and Poland despite the reluctance of the host countries, where public opinion polls show most Czechs opposing the planned base as well as the little fact, as amply reported, that the system's technology doesn't yet work.

The project is also a bad idea because it's a blatant provocation to Russia which has fiercely opposed US plans to deploy new missile defenses in Poland and the Czech Republic, asking that Washington use radars on Russian soil to counter possible missile threats from Iran. The two countries have held a series of talks on the issue, but so far the US has been un-accepting of a compromise.

This past November 16 a group of peace activists, organized by the Campaign for Peace and Democracy, presented a statement of support to Ambassador Martin Palous at the Permanent Mission of the Czech Republic to the UN in Manhattan. It was presented in support of Czech demonstrations against a military base the US and Czech Republic plan to set up near Prague for radar for an anti-missile system that will be based in Poland.

The letter is posted below. It details numerous good reasons to oppose the base plan. Click here to join Naomi Klein, Noam Chomsky, Ariel Dorfman, Katha Pollitt and many others in signing on in support of the statement.

Solidarity with Opponents of Proposed US Military Base In the Czech Republic

We, the undersigned, declare our solidarity with the November 17, 2007 protest by the No Bases Initiative in the Czech Republic, where demonstrations took place against the plans of the Czech government to host the radar for a US anti-missile system.

The No Bases Initiative chose the date of November 17 because, in their words, this date "has come to symbolize the overthrow of the undemocratic regime in the former Czechoslovakia and the return of representative democracy. This change came about because of the protest of hundreds of thousands of people in the streets of Prague eighteen years ago." In the view of these Czech activists, resistance to the introduction of new foreign military bases is the most fitting way to commemorate that anniversary.

Polls have shown that a significant majority of the people in the Czech Republic oppose the US. military facilities, but the Czech government is flagrantly ignoring public opinion. As the No Bases Initiative notes, "Politicians had known for a number of years of US plans to install a military base on Czech territory but had kept this information from the public. They didn't consider it important to tell voters before last year's parliamentary elections either." This Saturday, Czech protestors will be calling for a popular referendum to vote on this critical issue.

The proposed new US base in the Czech Republic and related interceptor missiles to be based in Poland mark a dangerous escalation. As activists from the Czech Republic and Poland, as well as from Hungary, Belgium, Greece, France, Italy, Germany and the United Kingdom have stated, "The realisation of the US plan will not lead to enhanced security. On the contrary - it will lead to new dangers and insecurities. Although it is described as 'defensive,' in reality it will allow the United States to attack other countries without fear of retaliation. It will also put 'host' countries on the front line in future US wars." (Prague Declaration, "Peace Doesn't Need New Missiles -We say no to the US missile defense system in Europe" May 2007)

Indeed, the announcement of the plans for military bases in the Czech Republic and Poland has already produced an ominous response from Russia. The projected US radar in the Czech Republic and 10 missile interceptors in Poland don't constitute an immediate threat to Russia's nuclear deterrent, with its thousands of warheads, but as the New York Times pointed out on October 10 of this year, "Kremlin officials are believed to fear that the system in Central Europe will lead to a more advanced missile defense that could blunt the Russian nuclear force. Russian officials have threatened to direct their missiles toward Europe if the United States proceeds with the system. They also have said they will suspend participation in a separate treaty limiting the deployment of conventional forces in Europe." This is an unjustified reaction, endangering innocent populations, but is part of the crazy logic of superpower confrontation that the US move exacerbates.

Washington claims that the new facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic are designed to respond to a missile threat from Iran, but there is no credible evidence that such a threat exists today. And the militaristic stance of the United States, far from protecting the US or Europe from such a threat in the future, only enhances its likelihood. We need only to look at the example of North Korea, where years of military threats from the United States provided a strong inducement to seek nuclear weapons for their defense.

We do not believe that any nation should develop nuclear weapons, which by their nature are weapons of vast and indiscriminate mass destruction. The United States and other nuclear powers can best reduce the danger of nuclear warfare by taking major steps toward both nuclear and conventional disarmament and refraining from waging or threatening "preventive" war -- not by expanding the nuclear threat. Such steps by the existing nuclear powers would create a political context that would powerfully discourage new countries from developing their own nuclear weapons.

Many of us, as Americans, have a particular moral responsibility to speak out. US bases threaten the world. According to respected foreign policy analyst Chalmers Johnson, in 2004 the U.S. had 737 overseas military bases, not counting garrisons in Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, Kyrgyzstan, Qatar, and Uzbekistan, nor U.S. military and espionage installations in the UK. This vast network of overseas bases supports a foreign policy of military interventions and global intimidation.

We are dismayed that the Czech Republic, rather than standing as a beacon for peace, is cooperating with the expansion of the Pentagon and allowing a military base to be imposed on the country. We are further dismayed by the fact that the Czech Republic recently opposed a UN resolution highlighting concerns over the military use of depleted uranium. It was one of only six countries to oppose the resolution that was supported by 122 nations. With such actions, the Czech government is doing a disservice both to its own real security, by making the Czech Republic a target, and to the prospects for peace and the spirit of November 17.

We are inspired by the principled actions of the people in the Czech Republic who are taking to the streets to resist the steps toward a new Cold War being pursued by elites unresponsive to public opinion. We join with them in a commitment to bring together the people of all countries in building an international movement for peace, democracy and social justice.

Please go to the Campaign for Peace and Democracy website to sign, donate, or see the full list of signers.

Hillary, Obama and Healthcare

With Iowa one month away, the almost obsessive horserace coverage is in full swing and, as it has for much of campaign, it shortchanges the substance of the serious and urgent issues in dispute.

Take the fight between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama over whose healthcare plan would cover more people or cost less. The substance of that battle received about two sentences in today's Washington Post front page story out of Iowa. But here's the real problem (because we all know horserace coverage is what we're going to get at this stage in this endless campaign)....Even if the Post or the Times devoted a full story analyzing the leading candidates' healthcare proposals, how much attention would the two papers give to alternatives offered by someone like Congressman Dennis Kucinich--the only candidate supporting a truly universal, Medicare for all, healthcare plan that, according to recent polls, has majority support? I suspect very little. In our downsized politics of excluded alternatives, media polices the parameters of what's considered "realistic" when it comes to many choices, including healthcare reform.

That's why a recent analysis of the mainstream candidates' healthcare proposals is so valuable. Released byHealthcare-NOW, an organization committed to universal single payer reform, it's a useful guide for voters who want to understand the full range of choices they should be seeking in this campaign. It's not that all of the leading candidates' proposals aren't advances over what we have now, but as voters and citizens we could demand more. And it will require an independent progressive movement to push truly universal healthcare reform onto the next president's agenda.

Check out the analysis below, prepared by Len Rodberg, Research Director, New York Metro Chapter, Physicians for a National Health Program, September 25, 2007. Presented to the New York Chapter of Healthcare-NOW on November 6, 2007.

The Mainstream Democratic Candidate' Proposals for Universal Healthcare

The mainstream Democratic candidates for President -- John Edwards, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton -- have each put forward their proposals for "affordable quality health coverage for all." The three Democrats' proposals, while purporting to provide "universal health care", will not actually achieve this goal:

None of these plans offers a realistic way of containing the rising cost of health care. All will add additional funds to an already too-costly system. None will truly provide universal access to care.

Only a single payer national health insurance program can actually achieve affordable, workable universal access to health care.

The three proposals share a set of common elements:

The private insurance system would remain in place, with no fundamental change in the way it operates. Those who currently have insurance would not experience any change in how they are insured or the coverage they have.

Large employers would be required to provide insurance for their employees or (in the case of Edwards and Obama) pay into a fund to subsidize insurance for their employees.

Everyone (for Edwards and Clinton) or children (for Obama) would be required to have insurance, either through their employer or purchased on their own (an "individual mandate"). Income-related subsidies would be provided through the tax system.

Insurers would be required to offer coverage to everyone ("guaranteed issue") without limits on pre-existing conditions, and without "large premium differences based on age, gender, or occupation" (from Clinton's plan).

All would make available a "choice" of private insurance plans, as well as a public insurance option modeled on Medicare. (They use the language of the insurance industry -- and Hillary Clinton uses it in the name of her plan itself, the "American Health Choices Plan" -- suggesting that what consumers want is a choice of plan.)

All claim to achieve cost savings through expanded use of information technology, an emphasis on prevention, and better chronic care management.

What is missing from these plans?

Since multiple payers would remain (even if one of them might be a public payer), few of the savings and simplifications that are possible with a singe payer can be achieved.

Consumers must purchase insurance, but no limits are proposed on what insurers can charge them.

No regulations are proposed that would assure the adequacy of benefits or that would affect either the restrictions that insurers now impose on the choice of doctor and hospital or the way they handle, and deny, claims.

There is no simplification of the complex and wasteful private insurance system with its copays, deductibles, exclusions, and claim denials.

There is no assurance of a "level playing field" between the public insurance plan and the private ones. Insurance company advertising and targeted marketing will still be used to promote private plans over public and to avoid the poor and the sick. At the same time, the private insurers will surely insist on the additional subsidies they already enjoy in the Medicare Advantage program.

Nothing is proposed that would control the rising cost of health care. (The measures they suggest to achieve savings may well increase costs rather than reduce them. In any case, the possibility for savings is speculative at this point.)

Are these plans politically "realistic"?

The insurance companies will resist guaranteed issue and community rating, as well as other requirements in some of the plans (e.g., Edwards would require that they spend at least 85 percent of their revenue on medical care).

Business will resist a mandate that they purchase insurance. (In Massachusetts, they were unwilling to pay more than $295 per employee, and even objected to that small fee.)

None of these plans improves the situation of those who currently have insurance. Thus they are unlikely to generate strong popular support.

The proposed subsidies -- amounting to about $2,400 per uninsured individual -- are about half the cost of purchasing group insurance today. Millions will continue to find insurance unaffordable. (The attempt to impose an individual mandate in Massachusetts is already showing that, as long as the program continues to rely on private insurers, very large subsidies will be needed if coverage is to be both affordable and comprehensive; without such subsidies, either coverage will be limited, or it will be unaffordable.)

Millions of Americans who are currently underinsured, and threatened with bankruptcy in the event of serious illness, will continue to be underinsured and insecure.

These plans would add significantly to our overall spending on health care, already the highest in the world, with much of the additional spending going to insurance company administrative costs and profits.

Conclusion: These Plans Will Not Work! None of these plans will truly provide universal access to care. They do not overcome the very significant deficiencies of private insurance. None assures the American people of comprehensive coverage, none offers a realistic way of containing the rising cost of health care, and all would add additional funds to an already too-costly system.

They are at best a diversion from the direction we should be going, toward the creation of a single national, publicly-funded insurance pool that can provide comprehensive, continuous, cost-effective coverage along with the budgetary tools needed to begin containing costs.

Bush Buddy Putin Trumps Democracy, Chavez Embraces It

So how's George Bush's campaign for to spread his version of "democracy" going?

The results are in from the American president's favorite former superpower, the Russian Federation, and from his least favorite hemispheric neighbor, Venezuela.

Russian has been a special project of the Bush presidency.

Since claiming his chair in the Oval Office -- with an assist from a 5-4 Republican majority on the Supreme Court -- Bush has done his best to maintain friendly relations with Russian President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.

Famously, Bush declared after meeting with Putin in June of 2001 that, "I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. We had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul; a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country."

Bush has worked hard to encourage Putin to respect the popular will and the American president has guarded against isolating the man in Moscow, even going so far as to front the drive to secure Russia a place in the World Trade Organization.

Venezuela, on the other hand, has always been written off as a lost case.

President Hugo Chavez's efforts to redistribute the country's oil wealth to aid the poor never sat well with our oil-man president, who administration quietly encouraged an attempted military coup against the elected leader.

Every effort has been made to isolate Venezuela, and to diminish and demonize its president as a dictator.

So the stage was set for the weekend's voting in Russia and Venezuela.

What a remarkable juxtaposition the elections in these two country's would provide!

And so they did.

In an election so managed and manipulated that key opposition parties were tossed off the ballot and critics of Putin were jailed, the Russian president has completely consolidating power in himself. The United Russia Party ticket he headed has claimed total control of the national government in voting that opposition campaigner and former world chess champ Garry Kasparov dismisses as "the dirtiest" in Russian history.

"There can be no doubt that, measured by our standards, these were not free and fair elections, they were not democratic elections," says German government spokesman Thomas Steg. "Russia was no democracy and it is no democracy."

And what of Venezuela?

In voting that saw a massive turnout but few serious complaints about irregularities, voters in the South American country rejected Chavez's request for constitutional changes that would have increased his authority and allowed him to serve as president for so long as he continued to win elections. In effect, the voters chose to maintain term limits on a popular leader who was seen as having overreached.

Accepting the results, Chavez held up a copy of the constitution he had attempted to alter and declared, "We will continue constructing socialism but under this constitution."

Thus, in the country where Bush worked with Putin to advance some kind of democracy, there is no democracy.

And in the country where Bush did everything he could to undermine the elected and popular leader, democracy appears to have prevailed.

Incident in Rochester, Challenge for Clinton

The problem for Hillary Clinton that arises from the incident in which a disturbed man invaded her Rochester, New Hampshire, campaign headquarters is not any kind of physical threat. Clinton is the most carefully-managed and thoroughly-secured presidential candidate since Ronald Reagan, who when he began to show the first signs of the dementia was placed in a sort of protective custody during the 1984 campaign. Clinton is is no greater danger now than she has been in since the start of her campaign; and neither, thankfully, were her New Hampshire supporters, who exited the headquarters without injury.

The problem for Clinton is a political one.

The incident in Rochester reminds prospective Democratic primary voters and caucus-goers that the front-runner for the party's presidential nomination is a celebrity candidate who attracts controversy, who is legitimately seen as divisive and who-- barring a major shift in tone and style -- will always campaign at a distance from the American people.

This is not entirely fair to Clinton. She has indeed been the victim of the "vast right-wing conspiracy" that she named after millionaire conservatives and their paid minions defining her as a cruel and conniving egomaniac who would stop at nothing to obtain power and position.

But there is nothing fair about American politics. And, while Clinton has made some progress when it comes to softening her image, she has not begun to transform herself so successfully as did the "ruthless" Bobby Kennedy in 1967 and 1968 -- or even the "boring" Al Gore in the period since he ceded the presidency to George Bush.

Hillary Clinton remains a charged figure who excites great passions. She is a highest-profile politician whose fame is both blessing and curse. The blessing is that, without offering much more than platitudes, she has been able to wink and nod her way to the top of most Democratic polls. The curse is that, if an desperate man in Rochester, New Hampshire, is looking for a campaign headquarters to invade, it's going to be Clinton's.

If a few other desperate men target the Clinton campaign in coming weeks -- or even a desperate woman as hyped up as the one who called the Democratic senator a "bitch" at a recent John McCain event -- the contender who so recently seemed inevitable will be in trouble.

It's won't be Clinton's fault, at least not wholly. But incidents of this kind will make Democrats, who think they have a good chance of winning the presidency in 2008, start asking: Why invite the volatility that goes with Hillary Clinton? Why not nominate someone -- a John Edwards, a Barack Obama, even a Bill Richardson -- who provokes a little less passion?

To deny that such thinking will go on in the heads not just of pundits but of grassroots Democrats would be absurd as the calculus that said John Kerry was the most electable Democrat of 2004.

The challenge for Clinton, then, is not to avoid the issue. She must confront it. She must turn her volatility to her advantage. She should take a risk that puts her outside the comfort zone of her own campaign -- and of contemporary politics. She should speak bluntly about the bitter partisanships, the crude tactics, the open hatreds that now characterize campaigning and that so undermine the ability of elected leaders to govern in a functional, let alone inspiring, manner.

The incident in Rochester was not a big deal. It was overplayed by the media. Clinton and her aides are safe, as safe as any serious presidential contenders and their hangers on. But the Friday's headquarters invasion got the attention it did for a reason. Everyone recognizes the emotions -- both positive and negative -- that Hillary Clinton inspires. And everyone suspects that they could boil over again, either physically or politically.

Clinton needs to address her perception and her reality as a remarkable political figure who has already made a great deal of history and could make a great deal more. She cannot do it with spin. The reliance on spin, on managed messages and manipulated moments, is a big part of what Americans -- even some of her supporters -- distrust about her.

Hillary Clinton needs to open up. She needs to speak frankly. She needs to acknowledge that, for better or worse, she inspires intense reactions. She needs to start talking about that intensity. And she needs to explain to the American people -- if she can -- how that intensity, as opposed to silly spin about "bringing us all together, is what this country needs after George Bush's sleepwalk across the minefield.

If Clinton does this, it will not matter what passions play out during the course of the coming campaign. She will be on her way to the Oval Office. If she fails to do so, Clinton will remain vulnerable to the incidents that are all but certain to unfold, and that vulnerability will beg questions that could well cost her the presidency.