The Breakfast Table

On the Greens’ Back

Good afternoon, Jim,

Your recollection of times past, when many young college and graduate students came to Washington to investigate corporate and government wrongdoing and write books from their research that received wide notice and brought about significant changes, brings back fond memories. One is that you, at barely the age of 21, wrote one of the best books ever under our umbrella called The Water Lords—on the serious polluters of the Savannah River.

One point, just one point (for more you and others can read my book Crashing the Party) on Election 2000. If the selective what-if game is to be played, the Greens can take credit for sending Maria Cantwell to the U.S. Senate—thereby giving the Democrats a 50-50 split and setting the stage for Sen. Jeffords’ switch to Independent and tipping the control of the Senate to the Democrats in June 2001. Sen. Cantwell won over the incumbent, Sen. Gorton, by a mere 2,300 votes, and, absent a Green senatorial candidate, my 103,000 votes went heavily for Cantwell, in part because of their deep aversion to Gorton’s votes and policies. Sen. Harry Reid told us in his office that he and Cantwell were “very well aware” of the Green spillover vote.

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On today’s news—perhaps one reason for the Catholic pedophilia story being largely “an American rather than a worldwide scandal,” as you out it, is that civil litigation—yes, the tort system—took the issue to a public court and made public the abuses. It was not the criminal laws, which are enforced by the states, but the personal injury laws, which are invoked by the plaintiff—victim—that started the engines of justice. The tort-feasors lobby needs to take note of that the next time they try to get laws passed that restrict the access to the courts of wrongfully injured Americans—a persistent effort of these lobbyists that they have given the Orwellian term “tort reform.”

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Your guess that a “celibate, all-male priesthood will seem as foggily antique as fish on Friday does now” seems itself to be a major leap of faith. Rome decides such matters, and resistance is strong at the Vatican against allowing priests to marry. It would take a break from the church on the part of cardinals in the United States to defy such doctrine. Not likely.

Richard Cohen’s piece is well-taken and well-reasoned. If criticizing the Israeli government is seen by that government’s partisans as “anti-Semitic,” there must be half of the Israelis in that category. It is remarkable how much more freedom there is in Israel to criticize that government’s practices—inside the Knesset (as compared with the Congress), inside Israeli human rights and veterans’ groups than is the case in the United States. About three weeks ago, some 15,000 Israeli peace advocates marched together with the speaker of the Knesset and other notables in Israel while the invasion was ongoing. That is the equivalent of over 750,000 marching in this country (population ratio), yet it received very little coverage in the U.S. media.

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Whenever I read, as you did in the New York Times today, about spiraling health-industry prices, I recall the General Accounting Office report in 1992 that estimated that 10 percent of health-care costs goes down the drain due to billing fraud and abuse. This year, 10 percent will amount to about $130 billion dollars. This system is broken, and there are studies and reports halfway to the moon documenting the waste, redundancy, fraud, crimes, deception, and malpractice. Of course, the United States, 52 years after President Truman sent his universal health-insurance proposal to a recalcitrant Congress, should join all other Western democracies (and some Third World countries) and provide full Medicare for everyone, including an emphasis on prevention of disease and trauma. Americans spent 500 million citizen hours watching the NFL Superbowl one afternoon/evening. That amount of citizen time in key congressional districts, well-organized for a year, would bring us that long overdue legislation, provided that there are also 1,000 full-time organizers back in those districts. Recall, about 120 members of the House were for universal health insurance (called “single payer”) in 1993, with very few organized demands from back home. Matters have reached worse levels now, and the number of uninsured Americans keeps climbing—millions more than in 1993.

Over to you, Jim.

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