Rufo’s Third Grade Argument

The Origin of the “Critical Race Theory” Propaganda 

Jerry LeClaireApr 30

Throughout the United States Republican legislators are using the magic words “critical race theory” to justify efforts to outlaw the teaching of legitimate subject matter in the public schools. (See Critical Race Theory??) The entire flap can be traced to one self-promoting journalist, Christopher Rufo, appearing on Tucker Carlson’s show last September. It appears that the Rufo/Carlson presentation of “critical race theory” as a dangerous idea spurred Donald Trump to ban the federal government and its contractors from offering “diversity training on racial and gender biases,” calling it “divisive, anti-American propaganda.”

Rufo’s inspirational fear-mongering argument around “critical race theory” recently appeared on the Hillsdale College website. It is a transcript of a lecture Rufo gave at Hillsdale College on March 30, 2021, entitled “Critical Race Theory: What It Is and How to Fight It” 

In his lecture Rufo leads off with several paragraphs detailing the evils of Marxist thought introduced by “In explaining critical race theory, it helps to begin with a brief history of Marxism.” Then, under the subtitle “What it is” he simply asserts that critical race theory “is an academic discipline, formulated in the 1990s, built on the intellectual framework of identity-based Marxism.” Having, to his satisfaction, established the evils of the discipline by association to communist thought, Rufo jumps to his master stroke: he lumps all modern efforts to improve race relations under his non-definition of “critical race theory” (the Bold is mine):

There are a series of euphemisms deployed by its supporters to describe critical race theory, including “equity,” “social justice,” “diversity and inclusion,” and “culturally responsive teaching.” Critical race theorists, masters of language construction, realize that “neo-Marxism” would be a hard sell. Equity, on the other hand, sounds non-threatening and is easily confused with the American principle of equality. But the distinction is vast and important. Indeed, equality—the principle proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence, defended in the Civil War, and codified into law with the 14th and 15th Amendments, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965—is explicitly rejected by critical race theorists. To them, equality represents “mere nondiscrimination” and provides “camouflage” for white supremacy, patriarchy, and oppression. 

Wow. That is a stunning leap of intellectual dishonesty that would merit an “F” on a high school term paper. Equity is the idea that helping people begin at the something like the same starting line promotes the equality declared by our country’s founding documents. To Rufo any effort to promote equity is a dangerous Marxist idea. With a breath-taking and incomprehensible further twist he then claims to be defending our founding documents and laws around civil rights from the looming threat of the “critical race theory” that he never defines. 

He doesn’t stop there:

An equity-based form of government would mean the end not only of private property, but also of individual rights, equality under the law, federalism, and freedom of speech. These would be replaced by race-based redistribution of wealth, group-based rights, active discrimination, and omnipotent bureaucratic authority. Historically, the accusation of “anti-Americanism” has been overused. But in this case, it’s not a matter of interpretation—critical race theory prescribes a revolutionary program that would overturn the principles of the Declaration and destroy the remaining structure of the Constitution.

According to Mr. Rufo, promotion of equity is a threat to the very foundation of America! The rest of the lecture consists of un-referenced quotes snatched from their context with the sole purpose of demonizing all efforts to promote racial harmony and awareness of systemic injustice. 

Mr. Rufo, never one to pass an opportunity for self promotion, goes on to take credit for his cleverness:

Last year, one of my reports led President Trump to issue an executive order banning critical race theory-based training programs in the federal government. President Biden rescinded this order on his first day in office, but it provides a model for governors and municipal leaders to follow.

Rufo’s leaps from Marxism to “critical race theory” to diversity training to the imminent collapse of capitalism and the American experiment is what passes for scholarship at Hillsdale College. (Hillsdale itself is a story for another day.)

The next time you read of the horrors of “critical race theory” or of the need to legislate against diversity training and the teaching of equity and social justice, remember Rufo and his specious argument.

Keep to the high ground,


P.S. For me the flap over “critical race theory” bears a distinct resemblance to Christian Fundamentalist efforts to ban the teaching of biological evolution, like those immortalized in the classic movie “Inherit the Wind.” It should come as no surprise that Mr. Rufo was once the director of a wing of the conservative think tank in Seattle, the Discovery Institute. Unable to outlaw the teaching of the science of evolution in the public schools, the Discovery Institute is dedicated to the promotion of the teaching of “Intelligent Design,” a creationist construct. “Intelligent design” creationism is put forward as legitimate science under a campaign to “Teach the Controversy”, when, in the biological sciences, no such controversy exists.

P.S.S. Christopher Rufo is propagandist and self-promoter well-versed in the techniques of the digital age. Google his name and you will instantly find multiple websites extolling his accomplishments and associations with supposedly august institutions. Take his bio at the Discovery Institute for instance. There he is lauded as the “former director of the Discovery Institute’s Center on Wealth & Poverty.” What does that mean? “The Center on Wealth & Poverty” appears to consist of a paragraph on a webpage that mentions homelessness. Is there even a physical office? At the Heritage Foundation Mr. Rufo is “a documentary filmmaker.” On yet another webpageMr. Rufo is the director of “The Documentary Foundation,” a 501(c)(3) established in 2019. The Documentary Foundation consists of a webpage Mr. Rufo constructed to advertise four documentaries spanning from 2012 to 2019 for which Mr. Rufo was the director. I watched Mr. Rufo’s latest and most prominent documentary, “America Lost.” It chronicles the sad travails of a few struggling residents remaining in Youngstown, Ohio; Stockton, California; and Memphis, Tennessee as these towns undergo economic contraction. Rufo’s point seems to be to chronicle misery, not offer analysis or solutions. He mentions, for instance, that the steel mills in Youngstown have closed, but never hints at why they closed, abandoning their workforce to watch the town decay and property values plummet. I was reminded of “Seattle is Dying,” the Republican fear-mongering propaganda film that Nadine Woodward used in her campaign for mayor of Spokane. Elsewhere one finds that Mr. Rufo ran for Seattle City Council in 2018 as a “centrist” candidate that was “socially liberal and fiscally conservative.” His speech at Hillsdale belies that self-characterization.

Jim Crow of the North

“Colorblind” or just blind?

Jerry LeClaireApr 28

I grew up in the North. I went to high school in a lily-white suburb of Milwaukee. I never questioned—and I certainly was never taught in school—that there was a reason embedded in law that people of color lived only in what locals referred to as the “Milwaukee ghetto.” The citizens of my white suburb condemned the people living in the “inner city” for their presumed sloth. When that “ghetto” burned in the summer of 1967 we wondered at the inanity of rioting and burning their own neighborhood. 

When you grow up on the white side of a systemically racist system, when you are surrounded by well-meaning, church-going, civil rights supporting people in that system, you grow up blind to your own society’s complicity in the outrages of the day. 

Much of the wealth average Americans possess is tied to home ownership. Obtaining and steadily paying off a mortgage on a home is a savings program and a source of pride and credit. I was five years old when my economically lower middle class family of three purchased a modest home. It was a memorable event. The course of my life would have been quite different if my parents had been people of color who were denied a mortgage because the only place they were allowed to purchase a home were in a re-lined district. How different my life would have been without my parents’ home investment, how much of a blow to the family’s tiny financial nest egg and overall self-esteem? 

For much of the 20th century for anyone not “Caucasian” (sometimes stated as “Aryan”) being shut out of home buying was the legal and economic reality. For black, brown, Jewish, asian and other minorities faced this reality when they tried to establish themselves and their families in the cities of the North—while we smug, white Northerners, oblivious to our own complicity, decried the more obvious racism of the South. 

This history of legal systemic racism is now coming to light. To shine that light requires combing through the wording of thousands of deeds, a project now aided by digitized records, optical character readers, and computerized searches. I highly recommend an hour long documentary focused on such a project in Hennepin County, Minnesota, the county that contains the City of Minneapolis. It is entitled “Jim Crow of the North.” You can watch it on Youtube (with annoying commercials) or on KSPS (which might require a membership—well worth your money). 

It should come as no surprise that Spokane has its share of racially restricted covenants written into property deeds. There have been a few articles in the Spokesman (for example) about such covenants. Efforts to map these local covenants by a local historian, Logan Camporeale, are part of his blog, The Local History, a fascinating resource.

This is exactly the sordid history of racism in our country that white supremacists like Tucker Carlson, Christopher Rufo, and their (sometimes unwitting) Republican legislative allies seek to ban from our schools as they demonize “Critical Race Theory,” weaponizing the words even as they carefully avoid discussing what it really is. (See Critical Race Theory??) My fervent hope is that the Carlsons, Rufos, Trumps, and Allsups of this country are too late, that this train of historical understanding of our racist past has already left the station, that honesty will prevail, and that we can teach our children of the past of which we were made intentionally unaware. 

Keep to the high ground,


P.S. After you’ve watched “Jim Crow of the North” be sure to watch “13th” on Youtube or Netflix, the story of mass incarceration based on a loophole in the 13th Amendment.

County Redistricting Impasse

County Power Politics 

Jerry LeClaireApr 23

An historic change in the governance of Spokane County is about to occur. In 2022 Spokane County will elect five county commissioners each from five new commissioner districts to the County Commission. Importantly, the new commissioner elections must use district nominations AND district elections. This is in contrast to the current process where the three member County Commission is elected on a county-wide basis in the general election after surviving an in-district top-two primary. Having five commissioners directly representing five districts should offer markedly better representation than the current system. 

Predictably, the three Republican Spokane County Commissioners, especially Al French, have fought tooth and nail against this new system put in place by state law. County Republicans, happy in their ascendant power, see the expansion as “a solution to a non-existent problem.”

Usually 40-45% of the votes cast in Spokane County go to Democrats. It seems reasonable to expect, absent partisan gerrymandering, that two of the five commissioners might be Democrats, people who would offer a different perspective than the current three-person, all-Republican County Commission.

The voters will elect five district-based Spokane County Commissioners in 2022, but, first, the new district lines must be drawn by the all new Spokane County Redistricting Commission (CRC). That process deserves our close attention. County Republicans hold a lot of the cards. They will do everything they can to control the process. At the very least they need to know the voters are watching.

The structure and function of the CRC is specified by state law passed in 2018, and codified in the Revised Code of Washington (RCW). (See RCW 36.32.053 and RCW 36.32.054.) The CRC is closely modeled on the Washington State Redistricting Commission. The principle of both the state and county redistricting commissions is that redistricting is a balanced partisan process, a process in which the two major parties of the time are charged with reaching 3-1 or 4-0 agreement on the new political district boundaries based on the decennial nationwide census. (This is in contrast to the majority party of a state legislature shutting out the minority party, still the process in many states.)

By law, the four voting members of the five member Spokane County Redistricting Commission (CRC) are appointed by specified Democrats and Republicans currently serving in the Washington State Senate and House. 

On March 1 the appointments of Natasha Hill and Brian McClatchey were announced by the Democratic legislators. The appointments of Robin Ball and James McDevitt by Republican legislators was announced a little after the March 1 deadline. 

So far, so good. The next step was for these four appointed members to appoint a fifth member to the CRC by April 15. Although this fifth member is non-voting, they hold considerable power. They serve as the chairperson of the commission, setting the agenda and running the meetings. In an ideal world this person would be relatively non-partisan—but this isn’t ideal, this is local politics. After three meetings in which the four CRC members suggested nominated, interviewed, and winnowed candidates they met on the April 15 deadline for final votes on a fifth member to serve as chairperson.¹ (See the footnote for notes on all four meetings.) 

Jim Camden (who was not physically present) detailed the candidates and the commission members’ objections during the final meeting of the CRC in an article in the Spokesman entitled “‘Only going to get tougher from here’: Spokane County redistricting committee deadlocks on picking leader.” Four candidates were interviewed during the prior day’s meeting (see footnote below). Only two of those were put to a vote on the 15th.. Both of these votes ended in a 2-2 deadlock. A third vote, on a nominee who was not interviewed at the meeting, ended the same way, deadlocked at 2-2. (James McDevitt had said earlier that he would have “trouble working with her based on past experiences with the city.”)

Robin Ball and James McDevitt, the Republican appointees to the CRC hold the cards—and they know it. They read the law (RCW 36.32.053). All they had to do is vote “no” on any nominee put forward by the Democrats in order to throw the selection to current Spokane County Commissioners, Al French, Mary Kuney, and Josh Kerns, all of whom are staunch Republicans who take a dim view of this whole process.

The prime (and only) candidate McDevitt and Ball finally nominated, Bill Hyslop, has a long record of donating to Republican candidates, including current Spokane County Commissioner Al French. French is a staunch opponent of the whole idea of redistricting. Mr. French sued (and lost) to block implementation of the state law that mandated it. Considering that fewer than 10% of Americans ever contribute to a candidate’s campaign, it seems fair to view Mr. Hyslop as a certified Republican partisan with a high probability of being antagonistic to the whole process.

The objections raised at the meeting by Jim McDevitt and Robin Ball to Gary Stokes, general manager of KSPS and a journalist with a long history of covering politics, were weak by comparison. Robin Ball objected that Gary Stokes lacked “mediation training”, while Jim McDevitt pointed out that Mr. Stokes voted on the Democratic ticket in the last two Presidential Primaries. Wow. Really? There are two major parties in this country. Deciding to help choose a presidential candidate of one of those parties makes you a staunch partisan? Hardly. No one asked about Bill Hyslop’s presidential primary voting record. The answer would have been obvious. The third vote, on Gloria Ochoa’s nomination (also mentioned above), was doomed from the start by McDevitt’s unspecified aversion. 

You can bet Al French already knows who the fifth member, the non-voting chairperson, of the CRC will be, just like he presented Dr. Lutz’ replacement to the Spokane Regional Board of Health moments after Dr. Lutz was fired. Al French holds more power in Spokane County than any other elected official—and he’s not about to let any of that power go without twisting every political and legal knob at his disposal. All he needs to assure the appointment of his preferred candidate is the agreement of one other county commissioner, either Mary Kuney or Josh Kerns. Not a difficult task.

The deadline for Spokane County Commissioners to announce the fifth member and chairperson of the County Redistricting Commission is April 30, just eight days away. Here’s what you can do to let the County Commissioners know that you’re paying attention:

1) Contact the County Commissioners. Visit , click on each name and email them. Ask to be updated on the redistricting process. Suggest that it is inappropriate to name a fifth member to the CRC who has contributed to the current commissioners’ campaigns. Ask if the public can attend the County Commissioners’ deliberations on the appointment. (There is a “Public Hearing” on Tuesday, April 27. Is that where the decision will be made?) Make the point. Ask a question. Keep it short.

2) Visit . Go to the far bottom right corner of the page under Site Links and click “Notify Me.” Follow the directions to receive notifications of the County Commissioners “Special Meetings” and “Weekly Meetings”. If they receive a bunch of signups it might give them notice that people are taking an interest and their choices could have consequences. 

Keep to the high ground,


P.S. It gets worse. According to RCW 36.32.053, “The legislative body of the county will provide adequate funding and resources to support the duties of the redistricting committee.” In other words, the current three County Commissioners control the purse strings of CRC. Moreover, it looks like the staff that will provide technical assistance to the CRC are all county staff employed by, and directly accountable to, the current Commissioners. Brian McClatchey and Natasha Hill will need technical assistance of their own. 

If the CRC deadlocks on the final district proposal the decision goes to the Washington State Redistricting Commission. (If the WSRC deadlocks it goes to the WA State Supreme Court.)1

Bill Siems, a member of Spokane Indivisible, listened in or physically attended all four meetings of the CRC. Below is his detailed summary of the proceedings. 

The Redistricting Commissioners met 4 times: April 7, April 13, April 14, April 15.
On April 7 McDevitt nominated Bill Hyslop, Ball nominated David De Wolf (attorney and emeritus Gonzaga law professor, never mentioned again) and Catherine Brazil (UW’s Director of Government and Community Relations for Spokane and Eastern Washington, board member Hutton Settlement, STCU, has worked for Slade Gorton and Cowles Corp), McClatchey nominated Judge Jim Murphy, and Hill nominated Gloria Ochoa- Bruck. The Commissioners were to consider these nominations and meet again for discussion on April 13.

On April 13 McDevitt refused to consider either Ochoa-Bruck (she had butted heads with McDevitt when he served as interim Spokane police chief) or Murphy (“too liberal”), McClatchey and Hill objected that Hyslop is too partisan (McClatchey cited $ contributions to all 3 current Commissioners). McClatchey and Hill spoke strongly for a less partisan Non-voting Chair, both to keep the process peaceable and to present an appearance of impartiality to the public. They suggested Lars Gilbert (CEO of Spokane University District) and Gary Stokes (President of KPBS) as possibilities. Agreement to meet on April 14 to interview Lars Gilbert, Bill Hyslop, Gary Stokes, and Catherine Brazil, if they are available. Note the effect of the looming April 15 deadline on an orderly process. What are the chances that the slow-walking of the CRC meetings was not a deliberate choice emanating from the County Commission?

On April 14 Gilbert, Hyslop, Stokes and Brazil were interviewed, in that order, for about 15 minutes each. The interviews nominally had four points 1) introduce yourself and background, 2) why are you interested, 3) why are you ideal, 4) any questions for us. Hyslop was scheduled to interview first but arrived late. One effect of this was that Hyslop was present in the room for most of Gilbert’s interview! Another irregularity was that Brazil, whose interview was last, never got a chance to ask questions. The questions from Stokes elicited declarations from both McDevitt and Ball that the redistricting (which they took oaths to perform to the best of their ability) was a “solution” to a non-existent problem. Stokes also suggested that a good first act for the full CRC would be to provide a joint editorial about their work to the S-R and other media. Both McDevitt and Ball made joking references to the liberal bias of the S-R. The Commissioners agreed to meet the following day to offer resolutions.

On April 15 McDevitt and Ball said they would support only Hyslop. Their objections to Gilbert and Brazil were perfunctory, on the order of “fine people, but not qualified.” Stokes’ experience with resolving workplace disputes was deemed shallow compared to Hyslop’s professional mediation experience (McClatchey said “this is not a mediation.”). McDevitt had discovered that Stokes had voted in the Democratic primary in the past two Presidential elections. No one mentioned Hyslop’s voting in these elections. McClatchey said he found only Hyslop unacceptable, in part because during the interview Hyslop conducted himself as though he were “interviewing to become my boss,” and because he stared at McClatchey the entire time, never meeting the eyes of either Ball or Hill. When asked how he would counter a public perception of his partiality, Hyslop replied that the public should watch him and see for themselves. Hill and McClatchey spoke eloquently of the negative effects of selecting a chair as strongly partisan as Hyslop, both for the smooth progress of the work, and for public perception of partiality. Three nominations (Hyslop, Stokes, Ochoa-Bruck) all produced 2-2 votes.

County employees present ex officio at the four meetings were Gerry Gemmill (Chief Executive Officer, administered oaths of office, chaired first 3 meetings), John Dickson (Chief Operations Officer, chaired 4th meeting and described himself as a technical type), Ginna Vasquez (Clerk of the Board, secretary/recorder), and an attorney for the County whose name I did not catch supplied legal advice and properly worded texts for resolutions. For example, the Commissioners were inclined to discuss candidates in Executive Session (public not allowed), but were informed by the attorney this was not legal. Also present for all four meetings as a “member of the public” was Karen Corkins, Al French’s assistant. The only others present as “members of the public” at each meeting were one to three representatives of Spokane Indivisible.

Chief Operations Officer John Dickson said that all staffing and support for the CRC will come from the County. He mentioned as a possibility contracting with an outside firm to provide technical assistance to the CRC. This timeliness and sufficiency of the County support will bear close watching. This would be the next arena of foot dragging and slow walking.

The Road to Herd Immunity

Will Republican anti-government rhetoric doom us to chronic circulation of Covid-19?

Jerry LeClaireApr 21

I want to draw your attention to a column from the Seattle Times entitled “COVID herd immunity? Parts of Washington state appear in no mood to join this herd.” Re-posting of Danny Westneat’s article was inspired by Betsy Brown, MD’s, April 19 post about vaccine hesitancy and how to address it. Statistically, more Republicans than independents and more independents than Democrats are vaccine hesitant, but each person is different. For example, my elderly, very Trumpian, Evangelical Christian former neighbor whom I’ve sometimes quoted in these posts, the one who now extolls the “honest journalism” of the The Epoch Times…She is already vaccinated. After reading Westneat’s article below I encourage you to check out Betsy Brown’s hints for talking with the vaccine hesitant, a group that might include your very Democratic neighbor.

One caveat: Should someone who has survived a bout with Covid-19 still get vaccinated? Yes. Evidence is accumulating to suggest that at least the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines induce a more durable and effective immunity than most infections. 

Keep to the high ground,


By Danny Westneat Seattle Times columnist

Ever since early February, when some software volunteers debuted a website to help the public find COVID-19 vaccine appointments, they’ve had a unique window into the ebb and flow of what one engineer there dubbed “the spice.”

Who wants the vaccines, and who doesn’t? Where in the state are the shots snapped right up, and where are they left wanting?

They noticed one major trend right from the start.

“Once you start driving east from Seattle, for a few hours, you can find vaccine easily and readily available,” says Jessica Chong, a University of Washington assistant professor of genetics who is volunteering as a data scientist for the WA COVID Vaccine Finder, at

This regional disparity in vaccine thirst was a curiosity at first, but now has become cause for concern.

“Tri-Citians slower than others to get the COVID vaccine,” the Herald newspaper reported this week. Thousands of vaccine appointments are available there, and most days the mass vaccination site at the Benton County fairgrounds hasn’t been able to fill all its slots.

“There seems to have been some reluctancy in a lot of citizens to be vaccinated,” the Pasco mayor said in that story.

State data spells it out. The 10 counties with the lowest vaccination rates have all seen 22% or fewer of their residents get the first shot so far — with nine of those 10 being red counties east of the Cascades.

That compares to 31% of the entire state starting the vaccination shots. One county — Jefferson, home of Port Townsend, on Puget Sound — has crossed over the 50% vaccinated threshold. King County sits slightly above the state average at 34%, according to state data as of April 3.

Why does this matter? Because public health officials say to reach herd immunity, to the point that life could return to a semblance of normal, 70% to 80% of state residents need to be immune. Unless you live in Jefferson County or the San Juan Islands (where 47% have gotten at least one shot), we are a looong way from reaching the herd goal.

In Eastern Washington in particular, segments of society appear to be in no mood to be a part of any herd.

“Government can kiss my ass,” posted the Franklin County Republican Central Committee, on the topic of getting vaccinated. This was on the official Facebook page of the county’s GOP organization! Franklin is in the Tri-Cities area; it’s probably not coincidental that it has the third worst vaccination rate in the state, at 18.7% (lower are Garfield County, at 18.5%, and Stevens County north of Spokane, at 17.3%).

Chelan County, in Central Washington, has a 39.5% vaccination rate, defying the general east-west trend.

Chong, the data scientist, said there are many reasons counties could have varied vaccination rates, such as age demographics, language barriers and driving distance to vaccination sites. But with appointments going unused in more rural counties, it can’t be vaccine scarcity anymore.

“This has been studied, though,” she added. “The No. 1 correlating factor for whether you’ll get the vaccine is whether you voted for Trump.”

Recent polls have indeed shown that nearly half of Republican men don’t intend to get the vaccine (GOP-voting women were more open to it). That could be simply resistance to a government program, or it could be part of a sentiment among many Republicans that the coronavirus was exaggerated, or even hyped to bring down former President Donald Trump.

A new survey for the Economist found that among these “vaccine rejecters,” more continue to trust Trump for sound medical advice than trust the CDC or Dr. Anthony Fauci. Trump did get vaccinated himself in January, but a majority of GOP voters told pollsters they hadn’t heard about that (nearly twice as many had heard the news about the Dr. Seuss books being pulled).

Vaccine skepticism is also one of those issues where the far right sometimes meets the far left, over on the back side. So getting all the way to 80% could be a stretch for any part of Washington state, red or blue.

“Without vaccine hesitancy, we’d be in really good shape,” Carl Bergstrom, a UW evolutionary biologist, said in a commentary the other day on herd immunity. “With vaccine hesitancy, it could be close here in the U.S. I’m hoping that much of the hesitancy we see is really more like … vaccine deliberation.”

Hope so, too. It’s perfectly understandable that people would be leery, or in “wait and see” mode. The data cited above suggests something else may be going on, though — something familiar and cultural that’s plagued us with the coronavirus from the start. Which is that America may just be too tribal and rebellious to get to where 80% of us ever agree to do anything.

It was nearly a year ago — and about 500,000 national deaths ago — that Clint Didier, Franklin County commissioner and local GOP chairman, suggested we go for herd immunity the old-fashioned way. “We can take care of this virus by letting the people catch it,” he said.

Even with a medicine now available, it seems like in some quarters that’s still the plan.

Danny; Danny Westneat takes an opinionated look at the Puget Sound region’s news, people and politics.

An Insane Healthcare System

A couple of months ago I underwent a complex surgical procedure in a Spokane hospital. The care was exemplary, but, as the bills and Explanations of Benefits (EOBs) roll in, I am reminded that the healthcare system in this country is the most expensive in the world, bears no resemblance to a “free” market, and is unnecessarily deceptive and complex. 

The summary on the front page of my bill from the hospital was meant to impress. It says I received $73,837.81 of hospital goods and services. (This does not include the surgeon’s and anesthesiologist’s fees.) All I was going to have to pay was $780. I’m led to believe my Medicare Advantage carrier, at great expense to itself, has saved me from an enormous expense, exactly what insurance is supposed to do. 

Well, not quite. The second page of my bill tells me my Plan’s “Medicare Adjustments” were $62,229.85 and the Plan’s “Medicare Payments” were $10,827.96. That is, the hospital accepted, by contract with Medicare and with my Medicare Advantage Plan, $10,827.96 (most or all of it paid by Medicare, not actually from my Medicare Advantage carrier) plus my $780 as total payment for the bill. $62,229.85 simply vanished. 

At first, being relatively naive about these things, even as a retired physician, I thought, “Hmmm, I suppose that $10,827.96 is the “Medicare Allowable” for my diagnosis and if I didn’t have a Medicare Advantage I would be liable for 20% or $2165. But I had forgotten one of the many obscure rules of this insane game. This was a hospital bill, not a doctor’s or outpatient surgery bill. As a hospital bill under Medicare Part A this 20% does not apply. I would have been liable only for the Medicare Part A hospital deductible of around $1408 (that was the deductible in 2020). 

In what system will a business entity routinely contract to provide goods and services at a discount of 85%? Only in the American healthcare. Medicare says what it will pay the hospital for a particular diagnosis and then pays that amount (minus my deductible). My Medicare Advantage Plan carries none of this risk even as I’m led to believe (by subtle omission) that my Plan’s heroic contract battle with the hospital has saved me tens of thousands of dollars in hospital bills. By signing up with my Plan I agree to a restricted provider list, a restricted geographical area and list of hospitals in which I am covered, and a restricted list of medications they will pay for. Dealing with my Plan is as byzantine as anything I’ve ever encountered. 

It not really my insurance carrier that is responsible for my good fortune. It is Medicare, the government program, the program I paid into my entire working carreer, not private insurance, that is responsible for the relatively small payment I owe. Let’s give credit where credit is due. 

For those covered by Medicare a reasonable case can be made to sign up and pay for Medicare Part A and Part B (and maybe Part D), but forget about buying a pricey Medicare “Supplement.” This is among the reasoned arguments found in “The Great American Healthcare Scam” by David Belk, M.D. and Paul Belk, PhD. I’ve been following David Belk for years. I respect his analyses. I found his new book a fascinating read, even more so as I pore over my own medical bills. 

This Wednesday, April 14, at 7PM Dr. David Belk is the featured guest at a Zoom meeting sponsored by Health Care for All-WA. Here’s the link to sign up for the Zoom:

One caveat: I have read a lot of Dr. Belk’s work, but I do not know how he is as a speaker. You can visit his website, True Cost of Healthcare, for the flavor of his work.

Keep to the high ground,


Another Origin in Slavery?

The Second Amendment is another compromise with the slave states.

Jerry LeClaireApr 7

“The great enemy of truth is very often not the lie–deliberate, contrived and dishonest–but the myth–persistent, persuasive and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the cliches of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.

John F. Kennedy [Commencement Address at Yale University, June 11 1962]

Over decades I have had much “discomfort of thought” over the origin and meaning of the Second Amendment:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Who is “well-regulat[ing]”? Does security of “a free State” refer to the “state” of an individual, one of the states of the union, or the whole country?

Recently, I became aware of a scholarly article published in the Winter 1998 edition of the U.C. Davis Law Review that definitively answers these questions. The article sets the Second Amendment in the tumultuous politics swirling at the time the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights were written and ratified. The article, written by Carl T. Bogus is entitled “The Hidden History of the Second Amendment.” It an engaging read (even without the many footnotes), but quite long. You can download it here.

Professor Bogus makes a convincing argument that the Second Amendment was written to counter anti-Federalist attempts to scuttle ratification of the Constitution by pumping up slave state fears of federal government. The Constitution, as presented for ratification (and as eventually ratified), gave the U.S. President and U.S. Congress control over the “Militia.” Anti-federalist (i.e. anti-ratification), southern state slaveholders like Patrick Henry (of “Give me Liberty or Give Me Death” fame) drummed up fear that federal control of the Militia could result in southerners losing control over the slave patrols that kept them safe from slave rebellion. James Madison who wrote and assembled what we now recognize as The Bill of Rights offered the Second Amendment as yet another compromise with slavers. In this light the “State” in the amendment refers to the southern slave states, the “Militia” refers to the state-regulated slave patrols, and the Second Amendment becomes one more of the twisted compromises necessary to bind states together as the United States under the just-drafted Constitution. 

Professor Bogus’s detailed historical analysis offers a window on the messiness of the founding of our country that we are not taught in school. It torpedos the myth we are taught of the origins and necessity of the Second Amendment.

I became aware of Carl Bogus’s work by reading a provocative March 23 blog post by Thom Hartmann. Hartmann’s post owes much to Bogus’s article and lays out much of the professor’s argument in a shorter form. 

Keep to the high ground,


Thom Hartmann’s Blog Post:

Another mass gun murder just happened in America, the seventh in 7 days, and already “Second Amendment legislators” are offering the 2021 version of thoughts and prayers. Lauren Boebert just tweeted, “May God be with them.” Standing in front of her wall of assault weapons, most likely.

And, of course, today on rightwing talk radio and Fox News they’ve already begun lengthy bloviation about the Second Amendment. So, let’s just clear a few things up.

The real reason the Second Amendment was ratified, and why it says “State” instead of “Country” (the Framers knew the difference – see the 10th Amendment), was to preserve the slave patrol militias in the southern states, an action necessary to get Virginia’s vote to ratify the Constitution.  

It had nothing whatsoever to do with making sure mass murderers could shoot up public venues and schools. Founders including Patrick Henry, George Mason, and James Madison were totally clear on that, and we all should be too.

In the beginning, there were the militias. In the South they were called “slave patrols,” and were regulated by the states. 

In Georgia, for example, a generation before the American Revolution, laws were passed in 1755 and 1757 that required all plantation owners or their male white employees to be members of the Georgia Militia, and for those armed militia members to make monthly inspections of the quarters of all slaves in the state.  The law defined which counties had which armed militias and required armed militia members to keep a keen eye out for slaves who may be planning uprisings. 

As Dr. Carl T. Bogus wrote for the University of California Law Review in 1998, “The Georgia statutes required patrols, under the direction of commissioned militia officers, to examine every plantation each month and authorized them to search ‘all Negro Houses for offensive Weapons and Ammunition’ and to apprehend and give twenty lashes to any slave found outside plantation grounds.”

It’s the answer to the question raised by the character played by Leonardo DiCaprio in Django Unchained when he asks, “Why don’t they just rise up and kill the whites?”  It was a largely rhetorical question, because every southerner of the era knew the answer: Well-regulated militias kept enslaved people in chains.

Sally E. Haden, in her brilliant and essential book Slave Patrols: Law and Violence in Virginia and the Carolinas, notes that, “Although eligibility for the Militia seemed all-encompassing, not every middle-aged white male Virginian or Carolinian became a slave patroller.” There were exemptions so “men in critical professions” like judges, legislators and students could stay at their work.  Generally, though, she documents how most southern men between ages 18 and 45 — including physicians and ministers — had to serve on slave patrol in the militia at one time or another in their lives.

And slave rebellions were keeping the slave patrols busy. 

By the time the Constitution was ratified, hundreds of substantial slave uprisings had occurred across the South.  Blacks outnumbered whites in large areas, and the state militias were used to both prevent and to put down uprisings by enslaved men and women.  As I detail in my book The Hidden History of Guns and the Second Amendment, slavery can only exist in a police state, which the South had become by the early 1700s, and the enforcement of that police state was the explicit job of the militias.

Southerners worried that if the anti-slavery folks in the North could figure out a way to disband — or even move out of the state — those southern militias, the police state of the South would collapse.  And, similarly, if the North were to invite into military service enslaved men from the South, then they could be emancipated, which would collapse the institution of slavery, along with the southern economic and social “ways of life.”

These two possibilities worried southerners like slaveholder James Monroe, George Mason (who owned over 300 enslaved humans) and the southern Christian evangelical, Patrick “Give Me Liberty Or Give Me Death” Henry (Virginia’s largest slaveholder). 

Their main concern was that Article 1, Section 8 of the newly-proposed Constitution, which gave the federal government the power to raise and supervise an army, could also allow that federal army to subsume their state militias and change them from slavery-enforcing institutions into something that could even, one day, free their enslaved men, women and children. 

This was not an imagined threat.  Famously, 12 years earlier, during the lead-up to the Revolutionary War, Lord Dunsmore offered freedom to slaves who could escape and join his forces.  “Liberty to Slaves” was stitched onto their jacket pocket flaps.  During the War, British General Henry Clinton extended the practice in 1779.  And numerous freed slaves served in General Washington’s army.

Thus, southern legislators and plantation owners lived not just in fear of their own slaves rebelling, but also in fear that their slaves could be emancipated through the newly-forming United States offering them military service.

At the ratifying convention in Virginia in 1788, Henry laid it out:

“Let me here call your attention to that part [Article 1, Section 8 of the proposed Constitution] which gives the Congress power to provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United States. . . .  

“By this, sir, you see that their control over our last and best defence is unlimited. If they neglect or refuse to discipline or arm our militia, they will be useless: the states can do neither … this power being exclusively given to Congress. The power of appointing officers over men not disciplined or armed is ridiculous; so that this pretended little remains of power left to the states may, at the pleasure of Congress, be rendered nugatory.”

George Mason expressed a similar fear:

“The militia may be here destroyed by that method which has been practised in other parts of the world before; that is, by rendering them useless, by disarming them. Under various pretences, Congress may neglect to provide for arming and disciplining the militia; and the state governments cannot do it, for Congress has an exclusive right to arm them [under this proposed Constitution]…”

Henry then bluntly laid it out:

“If the country be invaded, a state may go to war, but cannot suppress [slave] insurrections [under this new Constitution]. If there should happen an insurrection of slaves, the country cannot be said to be invaded. They cannot, therefore, suppress it without the interposition of Congress . . . . Congress, and Congress only [under this new Constitution], can call forth the militia.”

And why was that such a concern for Patrick Henry?

“In this state,” he said, “there are 236,000 Blacks, and there are many in several other states. But there are few or none in the Northern States. … May Congress not say, that every Black man must fight? Did we not see a little of this last war? We were not so hard pushed as to make emancipation general; but acts of Assembly passed that every slave who would go to the army should be free.”

Patrick Henry was also convinced that the power over the various state militias given the federal government in the new Constitution could be used to strip the slave states of their slave-patrol militias.  He knew the majority attitude in the North opposed slavery, and he worried they’d use the new Constitution they were then debating ratifying to free the South’s slaves (a process then called “Manumission”). 

The abolitionists would, he was certain, use that power (and, ironically, this is pretty much what Abraham Lincoln ended up doing):

“[T]hey will search that paper [the Constitution], and see if they have power of manumission,” said Henry. “And have they not, sir? Have they not power to provide for the ‘general defence and welfare’? May they not think that these call for the abolition of slavery? May they not pronounce all slaves free, and will they not be warranted by that power?

“This is no ambiguous implication or logical deduction. The paper [the Constitution] speaks to the point: they have the power in clear, unequivocal terms, and will clearly and certainly exercise it.”

He added: “This is a local [Southern] matter, and I can see no propriety in subjecting it to Congress.”

James Madison, the “Father of the Constitution” and a slaveholder himself, basically called Patrick Henry paranoid.

“I was struck with surprise,” Madison said, “when I heard him express himself alarmed with respect to the emancipation of slaves. . . . There is no power to warrant it, in that paper [the Constitution]. If there be, I know it not.”

But the southern slavemasters’ fears wouldn’t go away. 

Patrick Henry even argued that southerner’s “property” (enslaved humans) would be lost under the new Constitution, and the resulting slave uprising would be less than peaceful or tranquil:

“In this situation,” Henry said to Madison, “I see a great deal of the property of the people of Virginia in jeopardy, and their peace and tranquility gone.”

So Madison, who had (at Jefferson’s insistence) already begun to prepare proposed amendments to the Constitution, changed his first draft of one that addressed the militia issue to make sure it was unambiguous that the southern states could maintain their slave patrol militias. 

His first draft for what became the Second Amendment had said: “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well armed, and well regulated militia being the best security of a free country [emphasis mine]: but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms, shall be compelled to render military service in person.”

But Henry, Mason and others wanted southern states to preserve their slave-patrol militias independent of the federal government.  So Madison changed the word “country” to the word “state,” and redrafted the Second Amendment into today’s form:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State [emphasis mine], the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Little did Madison realize that one day in the future weapons-manufacturing corporations would use his slave patrol militia amendment to protect their “right” to manufacture and sell assault weapons used to murder people in schools, theaters and stores, and use the profits to own their own political party.

In today’s America, you have the “right” to a gun, but no “right” to healthcare or education. In every other developed country in the world, the reality is the exact opposite.

Pointing out how ludicrous this has become, David Sirota (and colleagues) writes in his Daily Poster newsletter today: “Last week, the National Rifle Association publicly celebrated its success in striking down an assault weapons ban in Boulder, Colorado. Five days later, Boulder was the scene of a mass shooting, reportedly with the same kind of weapon that the city tried to ban.”

The Second Amendment was never meant to make it easier for mass shooters to get assault weapons, and America needs rational gun policy to join the other civilized nations of this planet who aren’t the victims of daily mass killings.

It’s long past time to overturn Heller, which Ruth Bader Ginsberg repeatedly argued the Court should do, and abolish today’s bizarre interpretation of the 2nd Amendment.

H.R.1 and Georgia on my Mind

Various Republican defenders of Georgia’s new voting law have the audacity to claim, with a straight face, that the law “expands” voting rights. They must not have read the plain words of the 98 page law. If they have read it, they must be assuming their listeners will not. 

On Friday April 2nd Nick Corasaniti and Reid J. Epstein of the New York Times went to the trouble of actually reading and analyzing the law that has resulted, among other things, in Major League Baseball pulling the All-Star Game out of Atlanta in protest. The article itself is a scathing point by point layout of the meaning of the words of the law. If you have access to the NYTimes (or haven’t used up your free articles) here’s the link: What Georgia’s Voting Law Really Does. I’ve pasted the article’s summary below. (Note that clicking any one of the bullet points will take you to the NYTimes article.) 

Here are the most significant changes to voting in the state, as written into the new law:

The no food and water clause has gotten quite a bit of press, simply because it is so blatantly inhumane, but it is actually one of the least of the sweeping efforts to differentially strangle voting rights that are contained in this law. The words of the law result in cutting the number of drop boxes in most of metropolitan Atlanta (a predominantly Democratic area) from 94 to 23 while at the same time limiting access to them to government hours only. As a Washington State voter who often drops his ballot in a drop box in that late evening or early morning at an outdoor drop box at the local library, that restriction hits home. Still more chilling is the partisan legislature’s takeover of election control from the Georgia Secretary of State and county election officials. Recall that Brad Raffensperger, the current SOS, stood up to Donald Trump’s attempt to overturn Georgia’s election result—and recorded the conference call as evidence. Raffensperger succeeded Brian Kemp as Secretary of State. Kemp became the current governor (and signer of this law) by purging the voter roles and then overseeing his own election to the governorship. 

For a close look at Brian Kemp and the history of voter suppression in Georgia (and elsewhere) watch All In: The Fight for Democracy available on Amazon Prime. 

There are several ways to fight this egregious attempt to breathe new life into Jim Crow. Support the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Georgia NAACP, and other groups that have filed legal challenges to the law. Support the growing chorus of corporations that have issued statements condemning this anti-democratic power grab—and urge them to quit funding the political campaigns of those who voted for the law. (See Judd Legum, Popular Information.) But most importantly, learn about H.R.1/S1, the For the People Act, currently under consideration in the U.S. Senate, a bill that would supersede not only Georgia’s voter suppression but that of other states as well. (Of course, that also means encouraging Senators to scrap the filibuster.) 

You will hear the howl of “states’ rights!!” a howl that arose from the South in response 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to our Constitution enacted following the Civil War. These are Amendments that for some years (under federal oversight) expanded the right to vote against the will of many white Southerners. The descendants those Southerns are the ones seen tear-gassing and beating voting rights marchers, including John Lewis, at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in film clips from the 1960s. Having made that connection, and having traveled a little in the South in that decade, the words “states’ rights” are forever tainted. 

You will also hear that H.R.1/S1 is “unconstitutional.” Those people need to read the Constitution. The U.S. Constitution, in Article I, Section 4 Elections reads [the bold is mine]:

The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of chusing Senators.

H.R.1/S1, the For the People Act, polls well among both Democrats and Republicans for the simple reason that it defends what most Americans feel is important: bolstering the voice of the people and shining light on big money influence in politics. The Act is so popular that wordmeisters hired by wealthy Republican cannot find an argument that sways voters against it. They conclude that to block the Act they will have resort to “under the Dome” strategies—a scathing indictment of their intent.¹

There is no issue that is more fundamental to the preservation and furtherance of our democracy than the passage of the For the People Act. Pay attention. Add your voice. Write to your Senators. Talk with people—this should not be a partisan issue. Donate your support. 

Keep to the high ground,


From Thom Hartmann’s April 2 column, “There’s a Bizarre Strategy Behind the GOP Culture Wars & Obstruction.”

When Grover Norquist’s research showed that HR1, the For The People Act, was popular even with conservatives because it “prevents billionaires from buying elections,” the Republicans on the phone call decided they’d have to double down on their “under the dome strategy.”

“Under the dome” is GOP-speak for political obstruction in the state and federal capitols. Buying off legislators and twisting arms. Threatening the political futures of people who may do what’s best for the country but doesn’t enrich the billionaires. The sort of thing they’ve been all about for 40 years now, instead of the people’s business.