Frontline’s “Obama’s Deal” doesn’t explain what HMOs fear most

I watched PBS’ “Frontline” called “Obama’s Deal” which attempts to explain the behind-the-scenes machinations that produced an HMO-written American health care plan which essentially forces Americans to purchase a health care insurance package from an HMOs. But I didn’t see any clear examination of what the HMOs were fighting against. Frontline’s report mentioned a little about a “public option” (the details of which were unclear)—a government-funded health care plan. But I knew there was more to it than that.

HR676, Medicare for all, is a long-standing bill which would get the US a larger single-payer health care plan that would cut out the HMOs entirely. This bill is short and easily read in an afternoon. A clear explanation of what this bill says would help audiences understand more of the pressure the HMOs are facing.

Polls of the American people have long indicated what CBS and CNN’s polls indicated in 2007: Americans want universal health care even if it costs more in taxes to get it. A clear explanation of the implications of this for HMOs would have framed the debate around health care more clearly as well.

But Frontline viewers didn’t get any cogent explanations of either HR676 or poll results. Instead Frontline viewers got what commercially-sponsored media is designed to give—mischaracterizations that divert attention away from what its’ sponsors fear.

Dr. Margaret Flowers, M.D. was one of the protesters in Sen. Max Baucus’ hearings in which single-payer advocates were purposefully left out and HMO corporations were overrepresented. Dr. Flowers wrote an article about “Obama’s Deal” in which she explains how and why, as she says, “The producers at Frontline carefully cut single payer out of the film”:

When the host, Mr. Kirk, interviewed me for “Obama’s Deal,” we spoke extensively of the single payer movement and my arrest with other single payer advocates in the Senate Finance Committee last May. However, our action in Senate Finance was then misidentified as “those on the left” who led a “counterattack” because of “liberal outrage” at being excluded. This occurred despite an email exchange following the release of the preview in which I specifically requested that the producers identify that we are a nonpartisan group fighting for single payer: a health reform model based on evidence of what is effective here and abroad and on health policy principles. This mischaracterization unfortunately mirrors the way in which the health industry has portrayed the single payer movement (verified by Wendell Potter, a former Cigna executive).

Dr. Margaret Flowers, M.D.

Update 2010-04-25: More on this from FAIR.

Michael Moore’s unjustified anger at Ralph Nader

On March 25, 2010 famous documentarian Michael Moore appeared on Democracy Now! (video, audio, transcript) and spoke about how disappointed he was in President Obama’s health care reform (which he got largely right: pushing people into buying health care insurance from HMOs is a strong victory for capitalism; I’d have also pointed out the bailout aspect of it and how insurance is the wrong model for delivering health care because it’s not something we rarely need like fire or flood insurance but I’m not finding fault with what Moore said here) and how the US sorely needs universal single-payer (Moore has backed HR676—Medicare for all—in the past).

But when Amy Goodman asked him about his appearance on Bill Maher’s program where he got on his knee to beg Ralph Nader not to run for President, he did not justify anything he leveled at Ralph Nader:

AMY GOODMAN: Michael, do you still feel the same way? You and Ralph Nader pretty much agree on a lot of things.

MICHAEL MOORE: I have this basic position about Ralph. I’ve known him for many, many years. He has done so much good for this country. People are alive as a result of the things that he worked on over the years. I also believe that he doesn’t really have a handle on what the proper strategy is to get this country in our hands. And, you know, unlike Ralph, I guess maybe I’m not in this for just to say it so I can hear myself talk or to be some””or to take some poser position. And I hope that doesn’t sound too harsh, but I don’t see him ever working with the grassroots or with the people or being in touch with the people in any way, shape or form.

And so, I just””I think that””I mean, what I’ve proposed for the last few years is that if we really want to try and get this power in our hands, in the people’s hands, in the hands of the working people of this country, then we should, on a very grassroots level, from the bottom up, be doing things to””whether it’s running for local office, taking over the local Democratic Party. The game is rigged in America when it comes to third parties. There’s no way that that’s ever going to work. And so, then how””instead of letting the game, I guess, rig us, what can we do to the game itself? And if the game is, well, we have these two political parties which are really very much like one party, why don’t we make sure that one of those parties actually is a second party and start locally and do that? And that’s what I encourage people to do. That’s my approach.

Ralph’s approach is, put his name on the ballot and run for office. Where are we as a result of that? I don’t””you know, I don’t see us anywhere other than in the same pitiful state we’ve been in for some time.

I don’t take his criticism about Nader not working with the people seriously because Moore doesn’t explain how he arrived at this conclusion and because Nader’s policies sound like people-focused policies to me: end the two major occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, pass single-payer universal healthcare, and stop invading other countries to name a few. I’d like to hear Moore explain exactly how running for US President is an improper strategy for increasing public participation in power. Shouldn’t we fault Democrats for doing exactly that?

I’m currently reading “Grand Illusion” by Theresa Amato, Nader’s former campaign manager (at least twice in 2000 and 2004), where she gives a remarkably detailed accounting of the challenges third parties and independent candidates face just to be heard alongside the colluding Democrats and Republicans. She writes very clearly and critiques the situation facing the nation from the position of fairness and what’s in the best interest of the citizen. She details the vindictive litigation, the double standards, and all the other barriers the two major parties use against Nader’s campaign, schemes which adversely affect anyone else’s chances to run and be taken on their merits. I guess I had become used to such explication when I heard Moore on DN! and expected better from him.

There ought to be room for more than one “approach” and more than two candidates from more than two parties (whom even Moore seems to admit are too similar). I’m not disappointed in Obama because I didn’t expect better from him. The way the corporate media kept talking about him told me that he had been vetted by the major donor corporations and come out favorably—Obama’s campaign was a sound investment that would return many times its worth in money, opportunity, and power. I expected that Moore, while caving to the Democratic Party which helps rig elections against third parties and independents, would at least recognize that Nader’s candidacies give Nader supporters someone with an enviable political record to vote for (as opposed to not voting for president at all). Joining one’s oppressor is not how one fights. Clear, continuing, and repeated opposition is how one fights.

Moore really is a Democrat who takes on all of that party’s values on election fairness—”The game is rigged in America when it comes to third parties. There’s no way that that’s ever going to work.” is encouraging capituation. We know how the Democrats will marginalize someone who isn’t a proper corporatist. Look how they treat Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH). He ran for President twice and both times made Medicare for All his health care plan. He gets shafted in so-called “debate” time and his fight for single-payer universal health care goes either unmentioned or ridiculed, despite that the country has long supported it (even if it means paying more in taxes in a country that already pays more per capita for healthcare than any other country and doesn’t cover everyone). Corporate rule is how Obama became “electable”.

At least I know I’m not the only one to react against Moore’s unjustified screed.

Apple’s iPhone OS license is worth avoiding

As if you didn’t already have enough reasons to avoid doing business with Apple, here’s one more—read The iPhone Developer Program License Agreement (versions 20100127 and 20100302).

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital civil liberties organization based in San Francisco, used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain a copy of the secretive license agreement Apple offers as the only way to distribute applications through their “app store”. According to this license agreement the Apple app store is the only means by which compliant iPhone OS application developers may distribute their iPhone OS applications once the developer agrees to Apple’s onerous terms. How onerous? Take a look at EFF’s highlights from the license agreement:

Ban on Public Statements: As mentioned above, Section 10.4 prohibits developers, including government agencies such as NASA, from making any “public statements” about the terms of the Agreement. This is particularly strange, since the Agreement itself is not “Apple Confidential Information” as defined in Section 10.1. So the terms are not confidential, but developers are contractually forbidden from speaking “publicly” about them.

App Store Only: Section 7.2 makes it clear that any applications developed using Apple’s SDK may only be publicly distributed through the App Store, and that Apple can reject an app for any reason, even if it meets all the formal requirements disclosed by Apple. So if you use the SDK and your app is rejected by Apple, you’re prohibited from distributing it through competing app stores like Cydia or Rock Your Phone.

Ban on Reverse Engineering: Section 2.6 prohibits any reverse engineering (including the kinds of reverse engineering for interoperability that courts have recognized as a fair use under copyright law), as well as anything that would “enable others” to reverse engineer, the SDK or iPhone OS.

No Tinkering with Any Apple Products: Section 3.2(e) is the “ban on jailbreaking” provision that received some attention when it was introduced last year. Surprisingly, however, it appears to prohibit developers from tinkering with any Apple software or technology, not just the iPhone, or “enabling others to do so.” For example, this could mean that iPhone app developers are forbidden from making iPods interoperate with open source software, for example.

You will not, through use of the Apple Software, services or otherwise create any Application or other program that would disable, hack, or otherwise interfere with the Security Solution, or any security, digital signing, digital rights management, verification or authentication mechanisms implemented in or by the iPhone operating system software, iPod Touch operating system software, this Apple Software, any services or other Apple software or technology, or enable others to do so

Kill Your App Any Time: Section 8 makes it clear that Apple can “revoke the digital certificate of any of Your Applications at any time.” Steve Jobs has confirmed that Apple can remotely disable apps, even after they have been installed by users. This contract provision would appear to allow that.

We Never Owe You More than Fifty Bucks: Section 14 states that, no matter what, Apple will never be liable to any developer for more than $50 in damages. That’s pretty remarkable, considering that Apple holds a developer’s reputational and commercial value in its hands””it’s not as though the developer can reach its existing customers anywhere else. So if Apple botches an update, accidentally kills your app, or leaks your entire customer list to a competitor, the Agreement tries to cap you at the cost of a nice dinner for one in Cupertino.

How long will it be before Apple tries more restrictive terms with their other operating system, MacOS? You should declare your software freedom, refuse to buy Apple’s devices, and do not agree to these terms.

Update 2010-04-15: New version of the license terms posted by EFF, copied locally.

Glenn Greenwald versus Rachel Maddow and Andrea Mitchell on whether Andrew Joseph Stack is a terrorist and his suicide note

I happened to see the 2010-02-18 Rachel Maddow show and the 2010-02-25 Democracy Now!. Both discussed Andrew Joseph Stack III, the man who flew his plane into Building I of the Echelon office complex in Austin, Texas which killed Stack and IRS manager Vernon Hunter. Stack left a suicide note (local copy) published on his website. These shows covered Stack in a remarkably different way which is telling about the power to frame an issue.
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Eben Moglen’s talk on Freedom in “The Cloud”

Prof. Eben Moglen, head of the Software Freedom Law Center, gives another must-not-miss talk on software freedom with hosted services (Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and other third-party services run on behalf of their users), colloquially known as “the cloud” (a purposefully vague reference to hosting services somewhere else, a virtual place that contains your data). What are the social and civic consequences of letting these services watch as you place your information (email, calendaring, private chats, etc.) into these services? How do we in the free software movement rise to the challenge of services users don’t control?

This recording comes to us courtesy of the Internet Society New York chapter The recordings are licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.


Download Audio: hosted at Punkcast, hosted at Columbia University, hosted locally

Download Video: hosted at Punkcast, hosted at Columbia University, hosted locally


Audio: hosted at Punkcast, hosted at Columbia University, hosted locally

Video: hosted at Punkcast, hosted at Columbia University, hosted locally

When Moglen talks about what your server should do, he talks about the kinds of services you should be free to host yourself. I’m reminded of how useful it might be to control your file sharing yourself without placing your faith in those who are untrustworthy by default.

Update 2010-02-10: The Software Freedom Law Center posted highlights from Eben Moglen’s talk.

Sita Sings the Blues vs. Ink: How licensing treats us differently

Sita Sings the Blues” is an independently produced movie that is widely legally copied on the Internet. Writer/director/producer Nina Paley released “Sita” under a license that allows sharing (and far more, actually, but the details of how much more are beside the point of this article). Sita is also for sale on her store and anyone may download the movie from countless sources online (including locally—DVD ISO). The Internet Archive lists over 153,000 downloads from their site alone.

You can also download the soundtrack online and share it with anyone you choose (not all the tracks are sharable, but that’s not Nina Paley’s fault, the copyright holder for some music is not willing to share).

“Ink” is an independently produced movie that is widely illicitly copied on the Internet. Ink stands out because unlike chiefs of more famous movie studios, Ink’s writer/director Jamin Winans and producer Kiowa K. Winans wrote to TorrentFreak to thank them for promoting the movie and to say that the illicit sharing has made the movie far more popular, including increasing sales of home video copies.

But how do these movie makers treat you, the audience?
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Remote control of your computer with non-free software is unwise


BitTorrent is the most popular filesharing protocol on the Internet today. BitTorrent users typically obtain pieces of the data they want and share pieces of the same data with others. By cooperating in this fashion, almost everyone who wants a copy of the data gets what they want.

There are many programs one can use to share data using the BitTorrent protocol. Many are free software—one can inspect, share, and modify the program to suit one’s needs. uTorrent is a popular non-free (or proprietary) BitTorrent client. Like any proprietary program, exactly what the uTorrent program does when it runs is not clearly known to anyone except its developers. uTorrent became popular because it is a zero-cost, small, and quick program which requires little computing power. Many BitTorrent clients allow web-based control: one can set up Transmission (a free software BitTorrent client) to host a web-based control panel that lets users remotely control Transmission. With some savvy, one could set up one’s computer at home to run Transmission all the time and use this web-based remote control to keep track of and control Transmission from anywhere on the Internet.

The next version of uTorrent is due out soon; codenamed “Falcon”, an article on glowingly describes this version because this version of uTorrent offers a different kind of web-based control panel: users can control their copy of uTorrent by logging into the Falcon website and controlling their copy of uTorrent from this website.

Freedom and privacy

What’s the difference? The difference is who has access to your computer and who has access to data on what you’re sharing.
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A free software conference or an open source conference? describes itself as a “conference about Open Source Software, including Linux that brings together the world’s community of Linux enthusiasts who contribute to the Linux operating system“. The description is apt because it clearly states how focused on the “open source” philosophy that conference is. Their views and conclusions would differ if they focused more on software freedom instead. “Free software” and “open source” are terms expressing different values and different values give rise to different conclusions.

The free software movement is primarily concerned with building and defending software freedom—the freedom to run, share, and modify published computer software. This is an ethical consideration borne out of considering how we ought to treat one another using computers and software. The open source movement pushes aside software freedom and pursues attracting business to the open source development methodology. To that end they concern themselves primarily with speaking to programmers who can help business develop its software. These concerns share some common ground but they can reach polar opposite responses to practical questions as the aforementioned essay illustrates:

It is remarkable that such different philosophical views can so often motivate different people to participate in the same projects. Nonetheless, there are situations where these fundamentally different views lead to very different actions.

The idea of open source is that allowing users to change and redistribute the software will make it more powerful and reliable. But this is not guaranteed. Developers of proprietary software are not necessarily incompetent. Sometimes they produce a program that is powerful and reliable, even though it does not respect the users’ freedom. Free software activists and open source enthusiasts will react very differently to that.

A pure open source enthusiast, one that is not at all influenced by the ideals of free software, will say, “I am surprised you were able to make the program work so well without using our development model, but you did. How can I get a copy?” This attitude will reward schemes that take away our freedom, leading to its loss.

The free software activist will say, “Your program is very attractive, but I value my freedom more. So I reject your program. Instead I will support a project to develop a free replacement.” If we value our freedom, we can act to maintain and defend it.

If were more concerned with teaching people about software freedom they’d recognize that the Linux kernel is a part of an operating system, not the whole thing. If you have only the Linux kernel on your computer you don’t have all the software you need to do things people expect a modern computer to do such as browse the web, compute in spreadsheets, and play movies. The Linux kernel allows an operating system to share computer hardware resources harmoniously so Linux is an important part of an operating system (for instance, a GNU/Linux system or a Busybox/Linux system as one might use on their home computer or Internet router) but we should give credit where credit is due. Calling attention to the name “GNU” helps draw attention to the cause of freedom and cooperation. hosts many talks and broadcasts them online in live streams. Apparently the live streaming is an opportunity for the online audience to install some non-free software, Microsoft’s Silverlight, via the conference’s live stream webpages. This year, is hosting a talk by Robert O’Callahan, a hacker for Mozilla (makers of Firefox) who is giving a talk on “why open video is important for free software“; an important topic for free software activists everywhere. Viewers are given a mixed message when talks like these are streamed via patent-encumbered protocols over a proprietary program instead of the protocols and software O’Callahan will likely cover. A message rooted in freedom is subtly undermined when free and proprietary are presented as equals. Other conferences around the world have no problem streaming their talks in formats one can play with unencumbered free software (Debian’s conference, a very large Brazilian conference). The technology O’Callahan describes is viable today but if “unencumbered baseline codecs are critical for the Web and for the free software community” one wonders why this approach is not used exclusively to publish these live streams. Viewers/listeners to the online stream should be directed to install a free software browser which supports playing Ogg Vorbis+Theora not directed to install proprietary software.

Laying bare the myth of Obama’s beneficial presidency

How good can a president be when he continues the hated acts of his predecessor? How valuable can that president’s support be when they challenge the predecessor’s wrongdoing but remain virtually silent about continuing the same bad policies?

Glenn Greenwald on Bill Moyer’s Journal in a web exclusive (video, transcript) had this to say about President Obama’s continuation of rounding up people around the world and locking them up for as long as we like.

[O]ne of the principle controversies of the Bush Administration, one of the defining aspects of their radicalism, was the idea that we can take human beings who we don’t capture on a battlefield, who we simply abduct and pick up, who we suspect of engaging in terrorism and put them into cages for years or decades without having to charge them with any crime.

That — simply based on executive authority — the ability to point to someone and say, “This is a terrorist,” then justifies the elimination of all due process and putting them into prison forever. Obama, several months ago, said that he not only believes in that power, but wanted Congress to enact a statute that would permanently enshrine this theory of law into Presidential power.

He gave up on that because there was going to be difficulty in terms of getting the bill that he wanted passed through the Congress. So, instead what he did was he embraced the Bush/Cheney justification as to why the President can do that, which is that the Congress implicitly authorized it.

And so, we’re continuing our scheme of indefinite lawless detention, free of due process, free of any charges of any kind. Where we can pick up people anywhere around the world and put them into cages. He’s actively defending that power in Afghanistan, by saying that people who we abduct far away from the battlefield, far away from Afghanistan, and then ship to Afghanistan and imprison at Bagram have no rights even to habeas corpus, which the Supreme Court said at least that Guantanamo detainees have.

And so, that’s just one example where for years liberals yelled and screamed vehemently that Bush was subverting the Constitution and degrading the American culture, political culture, by asserting this power. And yet, here you have Barack Obama not just refusing or taking his time undoing it, but himself actively defending and advocating it. And there’s very little outcry. And that repeats itself in terms of the state secrets privilege. And the effort to block accountability for torture victims. And a whole variety of other powers that Bush and Cheney asserted to great controversy.

Glenn Greenwald

The Left has profoundly mischaracterized Obama’s campaign promise to end the use of Guantanamo Bay: during the campaign this was widely celebrated as a reason to vote for Obama. But even if that prison is destroyed and never to be used again, the US maintains a system of prisons around the world (some unknown to us, I can only guess). It’s reasonable to believe that in those other prisons the US tortures (whether directly or by proxy hardly matters) and detains people indefinitely. Shifting the site of illegal unethical behavior is not the same as ceasing that behavior.

Obama’s support for your civil liberties is profoundly lacking. You’ll recall his administrations support of the telecommunications corporations’ illegal wiretapping which surpassed the Bush administration.

I hope that by the time Obama’s first term is over we can look at his presidency and name a dozen seriously beneficial things he has done for the US (ideally, 12 things John McCain would have been unlikely to do). Not being Bush isn’t good enough.