James Ridgeway

James Ridgeway

In 1965, James Ridgeway helped launch the modern muckraking era by revealing that General Motors had hired private eyes to spy on an obscure consumer advocate named Ralph Nader. He worked for many years at the Village Voice, has written 16 books, and has codirected Blood in the Face, a film about the far right. In 2012, he was named a Soros Justice Media Fellow.

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Real-Life "Norma Rae" Dies After Battle With Insurance Company

| Wed Sep. 16, 2009 12:14 PM EDT

Crystal Lee Sutton, 68, formerly Crystal Lee Jordan—on whom Sally Field’s Norma Rae was based—died last Friday of brain cancer. Her insurance company at first had refused her treatment, then after two months relented, but the cancer moved too fast, and Sutton died.

Would the new health care reform legislation proposed this morning by Senator Max Baucus—minus, as predicted, the public option—have helped her? Probably not. The nation is full of stories like this, stories which have scant impact on the Republican right in Congress, who have made it abundantly clear that their only goal is to take out Obama—whatever that may require.

But the case of Sutton is especially poignant.

Sutton was earning $2.65 an hour folding towels at the J.P. Stevens textile plant in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina when she was fired for trying to organize a union. Before she was removed by the cops, Sutton wrote the word 'union' in capital letters on cardboard and got up on her work table to lead workers in turning off their machines in solidarity. Her efforts were not in vain. In August, 1974, the plant recognized the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, which has since become part of the Service Employees International Union.

Sutton was had meningioma, a usually slow growing cancer of the nervous system. In her case, it spread quickly. "How in the world can it take so long to find out [whether they would cover the medicine or not] when it could be a matter of life or death? It is almost like, in a way, committing murder," she said.

Last year, Sutton told a reporter how she would like to be remembered:

It is not necessary I be remembered as anything, but I would like to be remembered as a woman who deeply cared for the working poor and the poor people of the U.S. and the world, that my family and children and children like mine will have a fair share and equality.

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The Phony Age Gap War

| Tue Sep. 15, 2009 2:25 PM EDT

In “Politics and the Age Gap,” featured in Sunday’s New York Times, Adam Nagourney adds to the litany of recent articles that position old people as a primary obstacle to health care reform. In part, the target of these pieces is the tea party geezers who rant about socialism--but it goes well beyond that. Seniors tend to be depicted, explicitly or implicity, as obstinate or selfish because they fear cutbacks in Medicare will be made in order to provide health care for younger people. What’s more, they refuse to accept that Medicare benefits must be cut now to keep the program from going bankrupt before younger generations even get to use it.

Thus, the argument goes, what’s really going on in the health care struggle is a fight by the old against the young, in which we miserly old coots are unwilling to give up what we’ve got for the sake of the greater good. “As the population ages and the nation faces intense battles over rapidly rising health care and retirement costs,” Nagourney writes, ”American politics seems increasingly divided along generational lines.”

But the whole intergenerational conflict is a phony one. This health reform debate is about substituting a trumped up intergenerational war for what ought to be, if anything, a class war--pitting the old against the young, instead of pitting the rich against the poor, or the corporations against the little guy. 

If health reform moves forward, there surely will be cuts to Medicare--that isn’t some paranoid fantasy on the part of demented old folks. And you can be sure the cuts won’t only apply, as promised, to “waste and inefficiency.” But the real scandal is this: The only reason that any cuts at all need to made to Medicare is because pols are unwilling to cut the profits of insurance and drug companies. That’s where the money to finance health reform really should be coming from.

In other countries, single-payer systems deliver better health care at far lower cost.  If we did the same here--or at least made moves in that direction--there would be enough for everyone. We could have Medicare for all--the young as well as the old.

The 9/11 Questions That Remain

| Fri Sep. 11, 2009 2:53 PM EDT

It’s been five years since the 9/11 Commission released its studious but timid report, and questions still remain. But believing that additional investigation is necessary and vital doesn’t require a subscription to the conspiracy theory about the attacks pushed by the so-called 9/11 Truth movement. In my 2006 book The Five Unanswered Questions About 9/11: What the 9/11 Commission Report Failed to Tell Us, I focused on straightforward, even obvious questions: Why was the airline industry, with its army of well-connected lobbyists, permitted to resist safety regulations that could have saved lives? How did our foreign policy, and "allies" like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, help pave the way for the attacks? Why did a politically driven, Iraq-obsessed administration ignore repeated warnings of the coming danger? Who was in charge as the attacks unfolded?

Some of these questions ought to practically answer themselves. Yet in its 664-page report, the 9/11 Commission managed not to address them—in many cases, by the simple means of not asking them in the first place. The commissioners themselves announced their limited intentions in the report’s opening pages, where they wrote: "Our aim has not been to assign individual blame. Our aim has been to provided the fullest possible accounting of the events surrounding 9/11 and to identify lessons learned." The contradiction inherent in these stated aims is obvious: without blame, there can be no true accountability, and without accountability, there is nothing to ensure that the lessons of 9/11 will be learned.
 

"My Name is Betty Ong. I’m Number 3 on Flight 11"

| Fri Sep. 11, 2009 10:48 AM EDT

Take a few minutes to listen to the last phone call of Betty Ong, a flight attendant on American Airlines Flight 11 before it hit the World Trade Center, eight years ago today on September 11, 2001. Ong is calm and matter-of-fact as she describes what was occuring within minutes of the hijacking to skeptical airline personnel on the ground. She was forced to repeat the same basic details again and again: "Ok. Our Number 1 got stabbed. Our purser is stabbed. Nobody knows who stabbed who, and we can’t even get up to business class right now cause nobody can breathe…" She remained on the phone for 23 minutes, calmly relaying information up to seconds before the impact. Just over four minutes of the phone call were replayed at the 9-11 commission hearings. Her last words were "Pray for us. Pray for us."

Joe Wilson: Confederate Heritage Is "Honorable"

| Thu Sep. 10, 2009 6:44 PM EDT

Rep. Joe Wilson, the congressman who accused the President of lying last night during his address on health care to a joint session of Congress, isn’t just some mean-spirited buffoon. As a South Carolina legislator, he was one of only 7 state senators who fought to keep the confederate battle flag flying over the state capital. South Carolina, of course, was the first state to leave the Union after Lincoln was elected. Flying the confederate battle flag was a big deal in the south, which was once—and in some cases is still—inhabited by the KuKluxKlan and its successors. Here, via Kris Kromm’s excellent blog Facing South, is what happened when South Carolina's state legislature voted to take down the flag in the 1990s:

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