Politics for the People Book Club Recordings — A Conversation with Dr. Elisabeth Rosenthal

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On Sunday, December 2nd the book club had the pleasure of spending an hour in conversation with Dr. Elisabeth Rosenthal, the author of An American Sickness: How Healthcare Became Big Business and How You Can Take It Back. You can listen to our full conversation at the end of this post.

Dr. Rosenthal is a graduate of Stanford University and Harvard Medical School.  Dr. Rosenthal practiced emergency medicine before joining the New York Times where she was a senior writer. She is currently editor-in-chief of Kaiser Health News, an independent non-profit DC-based newsroom focusing on health and health policy.

In the introduction of the call, you can hear Dr. Rosenthal and P4P founder and host, Cathy Stewart, discuss Dr. Rosenthal’s journey from the emergency room to writing about healthcare reform, thinking she would one day be able to return to her calling as a doctor. Twenty years later, Dr. Rosenthal decided to write An American Sickness and told us that in working on the book she “…dug into each area of healthcare to see for myself really how it came to be that we put profit on the front burner and health on the back burner.”

Give a listen here or below:

 

Steve Hough of Florida Fair and Open Primaries kicked us off by asking what Dr. Rosenthal’s views were on the demand for the U.S. to move to a single-payer healthcare system. You can hear Dr. Rosenthal’s response and how she feels that the solution to our healthcare crisis is a political decision here or below.  On the role of the insurance industry, Dr. Rosenthal thinks “…much of what we get from the insurance world, or from a lot of the layers in our healthcare system, has nothing to do with health care, it adds layers of complexity and cost…”

 

Our next question came from Cynthia Carpathios of Independent Ohio. Cynthia asked about part two of Dr. Rosenthal’s book—Diagnosis and Treatment: Prescriptions for Taking Back Our Healthcare—specifically how she sees us changing the culture of healthcare and how can we transform our healthcare system into one where patient care is the primary concern. Listen here.

 

Harriet Hoffman of New York, a consultant who helps people understand the Medicare system and make the best, most cost-effective and access-friendly decisions, raised the push by some for ‘Medicare for All.’ She asked if Dr. Rosenthal thinks a ‘Medicare for All’ system would be viable or even desirable as it is now. Hear her answer or check it out below.

 

Dr. Jessie Fields pointed out that though the healthcare industry spends $3 trillion a year, our life expectancy is going down in the United States. Dr. Fields went on to talk about how the medical industry is the country’s biggest lobbying force, which requires political reform and the removal of profit incentives from healthcare. Despite all of this, Dr. Fields asked Dr. Rosenthal what glimmers of change she can see. An enlightening discussion followed where Dr. Rosenthal shared her view that “…there’s great hope for a kind of physician-patient alliance to bring change.”

 

Reverend Carl McCluster, an independent organizer in Connecticut, spoke of how many of his parishioners are suffering from high medical and drug costs. Reverend McCluster asked Dr. Rosenthal for three suggested steps that advocates could take to push back against the medical industry. Listen to how to fight back here.

 

Susan Massad, a retired physician and a clinician educator of over fifty years, worked with young physicians on their listening skills and their abilities to respond to patients. Susan asked if there are things that Dr. Rosenthal thinks patients should be doing that will amplify their voices and could be helpful to challenge the system. Hear the response.

 

Cathy and Dr. Rosenthal wrapped up the conversation on a note of hope for change and reform. “I tell everyone when I go talk to hospitals,” Dr. Rosenthal said, “just do something. Do something in whatever space you exist to start changing things because I think that’s how empowerment starts.”

 

You can listen to our entire conversation below:

 


For easy reference, from An American Sickness:

Dr. Rosenthal’s

Economic Rules of the Dysfunctional Medical Market

  1. More treatment is always better. Default to the most expensive option.
  2. A lifetime of treatment is preferable to a cure.
  3. Amenities and marketing matter more than good care.
  4. As technologies age, prices can rise rather than fall.
  5. There is no free choice. Patients are stuck. And they’re stuck buying American.
  6. More competitors vying for business doesn’t mean better prices; it can drive prices up, not down.
  7. Economies of scale don’t translate to lower prices. With their market power, big providers can simply demand more.
  8. There is no such thing as a fixed price for a procedure or test. And the uninsured pay the highest prices of all.
  9. There are no standards for billing. There’s money to be made in billing for anything and everything.
  10. Prices will rise to whatever the market will bear.

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STAY TUNED
We will announce our next selection soon.

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Reminder: P4P Conference Call with Dr. Rosenthal TONIGHT!

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TONIGHT 

Join us on a conference call with
An American Sickness Author Elisabeth Rosenthal

Sunday, December 2nd
at 7 pm EST

Call in and Join the Conversation  

Phone number: 641-715-3605   

Passcode: 767775#

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An American Sickness New York Times Review

 

Why an Open Market Won’t Repair American Health Care

CreditPing Zhu

 

AN AMERICAN SICKNESS 
How Healthcare Became Big Business and How You Can Take It Back 
By Elisabeth Rosenthal 
406 pp. Penguin Press. $28.

A few years back, the future of American health policy appeared to hinge on how similar medical care was to broccoli. It was March 2012, and the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare) was before the Supreme Court. Justice Antonin Scalia zeroed in on its controversial requirement that all Americans purchase health insurance. Yes, everybody needs health care, Scalia conceded, but everybody needs food too. If the government could make people buy insurance, why couldn’t it “make people buy broccoli”?

The Affordable Care Act survived, of course — though not before a fractured court made the expansion of Medicaid optional, leaving millions of poorer Americans without its promised benefits. But the question Justice Scalia asked remains at the heart of a debate that has only intensified since: Why is health care different? Why does it create so much more anxiety and expense, heartache and hardship, than does buying broccoli — or cars or computers or the countless other things Americans routinely purchase each day?

For those leading the charge to roll back the 2010 law, the question has a one-word answer: government. President Trump’s point man on health policy, the former congressman (and ultrawealthy orthopedic surgeon) Tom Price, has said that “nothing has had a greater negative effect on the delivery of health care than the federal government’s intrusion into medicine through Medicare.” Senator Rand Paul (another surgeon) and House Speaker Paul Ryan have claimed that the affordability of Lasik eye surgery — generally not covered by health insurance — shows that a much freer health care market would be much less expensive. Their idea of “reform” is to cut back public and private insurance so consumers have “more skin in the game” and thus shop more wisely.

Elisabeth Rosenthal
Credit Nina Subin

The physician-turned-journalist Elisabeth Rosenthal offers a very different answer in her eye-opening “An American Sickness.” Rosenthal — formerly a reporter for The New York Times, now the editor in chief of the nonprofit Kaiser Health News — is best known for a prizewinning series of articles, “Paying Till It Hurts.” In them, Rosenthal chronicled the seemingly endless pathologies of America’s medical-industrial complex, from prescription drugs that grew more costly as they became more dated to hip-replacement surgery so expensive it was cheaper for a patient to fly to a hospital in Belgium.

Rosenthal thinks the health care market is different, and she sums up these differences as the “economic rules of the dysfunctional medical market.” There are 10 — some obvious (No. 9: “There’s money to be made in billing for anything and everything”); some humorous (No. 2: “A lifetime of treatment is preferable to a cure”) — but No. 10 is the big one: “Prices will rise to whatever the market will bear.” To Rosenthal, that’s the answer to Scalia’s question. The health care market doesn’t work like other markets because “what the market will bear” is vastly greater than what a well-functioning market should bear. As Rosenthal describes American health care, it’s not really a market; it’s more like a protection racket — tolerated only because so many different institutions are chipping in to cover the extortionary bill and because, ultimately, it’s our lives that are on the line.

Consider the epicenter of America’s cost crisis: the once humble hospital. Thanks in part to hit TV shows, we think of hospitals as public-spirited pillars of local communities. Yet while most are legally classified as nonprofits, they are also very big businesses, maximizing surpluses that can be plowed into rising salaries and relentless expansion even when they are not earning profits or remunerating shareholders. And they have grown much bigger and more businesslike over time.

Rosenthal tells the story of Providence Portland Medical Center, a Northwest hospital system founded by nuns. Four decades ago, its operational hub in Portland, Ore., consisted of two modest hospitals: Providence and St. Vincent. As it happens, my mother was a nurse at St. Vincent for more than half those years, and thus had a front-row seat as Providence transformed from a Catholic charity into one of the nation’s largest nonprofit hospital systems, with annual revenues of $14 billion in 2015.

Along the way, Providence jettisoned most of its original mission, replacing nuns with number crunchers. Once run mainly by doctors, it filled its growing bureaucracy with professional coders capable of gaming insurance-reimbursement rules to extract maximum revenue. Meanwhile, Providence stopped paying doctors as staff and reclassified them as independent contractors (though not so independent they could skip a “charm school” designed by its marketers). Yet even as its C.E.O. earned more than $4 million, Providence touted itself as a “not-for-profit Catholic health care ministry” upholding the “tradition of caring” started by the nuns (now listed as “sponsors” in promotional materials). Rosenthal sums up the result as “a weird mix of Mother Teresa and Goldman Sachs.”

Actually, not much of Mother Teresa: Providence-like consolidation in every part of American health care has created a structure at least as concentrated as the European systems conservatives decry, yet without the economy or coordination of care such concentration might offer if it were focused on people rather than profits. The Yale economist Zack Cooper has shown that prices paid by private insurers are not just massively higher than those paid by Medicare. (They’re in a different orbit from those paid abroad.) They are also hugely variable from place to place and even institution to institution, without any evidence that higher prices produce better care. Providers charge high prices not when and where they need to; but when and where — courtesy of consolidation — they can.

Rosenthal’s book doesn’t conclude with conglomerates. She also provides an eye-opening discussion of skyrocketing drug prices, as well as the less-familiar pathologies of excessive medical testing and overpriced medical devices, such as artificial hips and knees — a market dominated by a few manufacturers that, like big drug companies, shun direct competition in favor of building cozy relationships with the people who prescribe their products. In each case, Rosenthal diagnoses the incentives of the system by recalling the professional advice of Willie Sutton, who said he robbed banks because “that’s where the money is.” What outsiders might see as inefficiency or a conflict of interest, she shows, insiders have carefully constructed to maximize their bottom line. She also weaves in moving tales of those who are paying dearly for that enhanced bottom line — which, in the end, includes all of us.

Where Rosenthal’s account falls short is in explaining why this deeply broken system persists. Early on, Rosenthal seems to side with Speaker Ryan and Senator Paul, describing “the very idea of health insurance” as “in some ways the original sin that catalyzed the evolution of today’s medical-industrial complex.” But, as Rosenthal (too briefly) discusses, countries where people are much better insured don’t have anything like our self-dealing, upside-down incentives and outrageous costs. Somehow, despite largely keeping citizens’ skin out of the game, other rich democracies manage to have much lower costs per person — as well as greater utilization of physician and hospital services and better basic health measures.

The fact is that people need insurance for the highest costs they face. They may be able to pay for Lasik, a nonessential, nonemergency procedure for which consumers have plenty of time to shop around. But the biggest-ticket items — cancer care, cardiac surgery, organ transplants — are beyond the reach of all but the richest, and not so easy to shop around for when they’re needed. Just as we shouldn’t blame the idea of mortgages for the financial crisis, we shouldn’t blame the idea of health insurance for the health care crisis.

The difference between the United States and other countries isn’t the role of insurance; it’s the role of government. More specifically, it’s the way in which those who benefit from America’s dysfunctional market have mobilized to use government to protect their earnings and profits. In every country where people have access to sophisticated medical care, they must rely heavily on the clinical expertise of providers and the financial protections of insurance, which, in turn, creates the opportunity for runaway costs. But in every other rich country, the government not only provides coverage to all citizens; it also provides strong counterpressure to those who seek to use their inherent market power to raise prices or deliver lucrative but unnecessary services — typically in the form of hard limits on how much health care providers can charge.

 

In the United States, such counterpressure has been headed off again and again. The industry and its elected allies have happily supported giveaways to the medical sector. But anything more, they insist, will kill the market. Although this claim is in conflict with the evidence, it is consistent with the goal of maximum rewards to (and donations from) the industry. As a result, Medicare beneficiaries have prescription drug coverage (passed by Republicans in 2003), but Medicare administrators have no ability to do what every other rich country does: negotiate lower drug prices. In January, President Trump said drug companies were “getting away with murder” because they had “a lot of lobbyists and a lot of power,” insisting he would get Medicare to bargain. Should we really be surprised that the dealmaker in chief dropped the subject after meeting with pharma executives earlier this year?

Without a clear view of the political economy of health care, it’s easy to see the problem as Justice Scalia did. If we could just start treating health care like broccoli, the market would solve the problem. But as Rosenthal’s important book makes clear, the health care market really is different. Speaking of her Times series in 2014, Rosenthal told an interviewer her goal was to “start a very loud conversation” that will be “difficult politically to ignore.” We need such a conversation — not just about how the market fails, but about how we can change the political realities that stand in the way of fixing it.

Jacob S. Hacker, a co-author of “American Amnesia: How the War on Government Led Us to Forget What Made America Prosper,” is the Stanley B. Resor professor of political science at Yale.
Original content at New York Times American Sickness Book Review

Politics for the People May Column on IVN

Below is my Politics for the People column from IVN this month.  It includes Caroline Donnola’s review of The Secrets of Mary Bowser.  Then join us as we read Lois Leveen’s wonderful historical novel.  Our conference call with Lois will be on Sunday, June 3rd at 7 pm EST.

Politics for the People Book Club: The Secrets of Mary Bowser

Editor’s note: this article was co-authored by Cathy Stewart (introduction) and Caroline Donnola (main article).

The Politics for the People (P4P) Book Club brings together independent-minded Americans to read a wide range of books—both fiction and non-fiction—of interest to independents.  With each selection, we have a lively dialogue on the P4P blog culminating in an hour conference call conversation with our author.

We just finished reading Greg Orman’s book, A Declaration of Independents: How We Can Break the Two-Party Stranglehold and Restore the American Dream. On Sunday, April 15th we spent an hour with Greg talking about his current independent campaign for Governor of Kansas; the lessons he learned in his independent run for US Senate in 2014, and much more.

You can listen to our conversation on the blog.

Our next selection is the historical novel, The Secrets of Mary Bowser by Lois Leveen.  I am a fan of historical fiction. It can free us up to actually gain a deeper understanding of a particular moment in time, the leaders, the lives and the actions of ordinary people that shape history.

This book was recommended by P4P member Caroline Donnola, and I asked her to write the review below.  You can visit the blog, read along and join us on Sunday, June 3rd  at 7 pm EST when we will be talking with author Lois Leveen.

politics for the people

 

I’ve always loved to read, and then I majored in literature and writing. A lifelong fan of history, I often gravitate toward historical fiction as it combines these two great loves. Every day, on my commute from Brooklyn to Manhattan, I travel with my well-stocked Kindle. When I discovered The Secrets of Mary Bowser by Lois Leveen, I knew I wanted to share it with members of the Politics for the People Book Club.

The story is an intriguing one. As a young girl, Mary, a Virginia slave, is freed by Bet, the daughter of her master who sends Mary to Philadelphia to be educated. There Mary lives as a free Black woman and becomes active in the Underground Railroad. She builds a new life for herself.

But when Mary’s mother dies and her father becomes ill, she returns to Richmond where she must live, once again, as a slave. When she sees the chance to continue her fight for freedom for all slaves, she becomes a servant in Confederate President Jefferson Davis’ household where she spies on him and reports her findings to Union commanders.

Based on a true story and a real heroine, most of us have never heard of Mary Bowser. And because so little is known about her, the author is forced to imagine how Mary would think, speak and act as a child, in addition to as an educated woman and as a spy who must speak and act like a slave to conceal her identity.

Leveen creates Mary’s world and populates it with real and imagined historical figures in the years before and during the Civil War. We see, hear and feel Mary’s world of loving parents who are determined for Mary to have a better life.

We meet Elizabeth (Bet) Van Lew, the real-life daughter of Mary’s slaveholder who becomes an abolitionist, and upon her father’s death, frees all of her family’s slaves. But Bet cannot free Mary’s father who is owned by another family, and Mary’s mother will not leave without him. We feel Mary’s conflicts as she moves to Philadelphia to live as a free woman but has to leave her parents behind.

During her years in Philadelphia, Mary gets to know ordinary and extraordinary fellow travelers—free Blacks, Quakers and other abolitionists. She learns which parts of town she cannot enter and she encounters hate-filled white mobs.

We learn about the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society and the fights that took place amongst the abolitionists. We hear their arguments about John Brown, and we discover a historic event that took place when the train carrying his dead body passes through Philadelphia on its way to Brown’s burial site. We experience major Civil War battles and turning points. We witness Mary carefully and painstakingly carrying out her work as a Union spy.

I loved how the author was able to get inside Mary’s turbulent thoughts, her fears, her willingness to risk everything. Her relationships with her friends, parents, colleagues, and husband are complex and nuanced. In particular, her relationship with Bet is thorny, but it develops through their joint efforts to end slavery.

Leveen begins the book with two quotes that help shed light on how she thinks about this mix of history and imaginings. From Ralph Waldo Emerson:

“If the whole of history is in one man, it is all to be explained from individual experience… Each new fact in his private experience flashes a light on what great bodies of men have done, and the crises of his life refer to national crises.”

And from African American abolitionist and women’s rights leader Maria Stewart:

“Who shall go forward, and take off the reproach that is cast upon the people of color? Shall it be a woman?”

In The Secrets of Mary Bowser, we go on a journey filled with love, hope, pain, and sorrow. I hope you will relish this journey as I did and join the Politics for the People call with author Lois Leveen on Sunday, June 3rd.

 

Politics for the People Celebrates National Poetry Month

2018 National Poetry Month Poster

April is National Poetry Month and over the next week, we will be celebrating the role of political poetry in our lives.  Please send me your favorite political poem—and that might be a poem you have written—to be included in our celebration. [You can submit your selection to me at cathy.stewart5@gmail.com.]

Today, we’ll kick off with a poem by Pablo Neruda.  I love Neruda’s work and have since I read my first Neruda poem in high school.  Recently, a friend shared “Keeping Quiet/A callarse” with me, a beautiful contemplation that I had never read.

neruda

 

Keeping Quiet / A callarse

Now we will all count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

This one time upon the earth,
let’s not speak any language,
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be a delicious moment,
without hurry, without locomotives,
all of us would be together
in a sudden uneasiness.

The fisherman in the cold sea
would do no harm to the whales
and the peasant gathering salt
would look at his torn hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars of gas, wars of fire,
victories without survivors,
would put on clean clothing
and would walk alongside their brothers
in the shade, without doing a thing.

What I want shouldn’t be confused
with final inactivity:
life alone is what matters,
I want nothing to do with death.

If we weren’t unanimous
about keeping our lives so much in motion,
if we could perhaps do nothing for once,
perhaps a great silence would interrupt this sadness,
this never understanding ourselves
and threatening ourselves with death,
perhaps the earth is teaching us
when everything seems to be dead
and everything is alive.

Now I will count to twelve
and you keep quiet and I’ll go.

-By Pablo Neruda

-from Full Woman, Fleshy Apple, Hot Moon
-English translation by Stephen Mitchell

 

Reminder:

Secrets of Mary Bowser Bk Cover

The Secrets of Mary Bowser is our new Politics for the People Book Club selection.  Hope you will pick up your copy of the book today. 

We will be talking with author Lois Leveen on Sunday, June 3rd at 7 pm EST.

 

Greg Orman Tonight on Politics for the People

Imagine if we had a country where Independent voters and Independent elected officials held just as much sway in Washington as Republicans or Democrats. The way Washington is governed and the way candidates approached elections could change forever.”  —Greg Orman

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Greg Orman and Cathy Stewart @ Unite America NYC launch 2/18 

Tonight at 7 pm EST, Politics for the People will be talking with Greg Orman, the independent candidate for Governor of Kansas and the author of A Declaration of Independents: How We Can Break the Two-Party Stranglehold and Restore the American Dream.  

Join the conversation

641-715-3605 and passcode 767775#

 

Below is my Politics for the People column from IVN this month about Greg’s book.  Give it a read and call in this evening for an interesting, in-depth conversation.

“Declaration of Independents”: A Candidate’s Scathing Indictment of Two-Party Duopoly

Independents and the political establishment are keeping a close eye on what is happening in Kansas this year. Greg Orman, a successful business leader and entrepreneur, is running as an independent for governor of Kansas in one of the highest profile independent gubernatorial races in the country.

In 2014, Greg made national political headlines in his first independent run. He challenged incumbent Senator Pat Roberts in a race that was neck and neck. The Democratic challenger, Chad Taylor, dropped out, recognizing that Greg had a better opportunity to win. Greg earned 42% of the vote, not enough to win.

He went on to write, A Declaration of Independents: How We Can Break the Two-Party Stranglehold and Restore the American Dream, the current selection of the Politics for the People (P4P) Book Club.  Orman will be my guest on our Book Club Conference Call on April 15.

Although they create the illusion of competition, duopolies compete against one another while working together to suppress outside competition.

Greg Orman, independent candidate for Kansas governor

This important book is part memoir, reflections on his 2014 run for the Senate, a scathing indictment of the two-party duopoly, and an assertion of the need for a “vibrant independent movement –- one that includes officeholders elected as independents.”

As we head toward our conversation with Greg, independents are reading, discussing and writing about his book on the Politics for the People Reader’s Forum. As P4P member Maureen Albanese writes, “Mr. Orman’s book is a conversation starter…We need to talk to each other without the prison of political parties.”

I’ve had the pleasure of spending time with Greg and meeting his wife, Sybil. They are a dynamic and dedicated team as the book makes clear.

In one of my favorite chapters, “My Path To Political Independence,” Greg shares his history. He talks about the impact of his parents’ divorce when he was 5 and writes how he “learned to consider my folks’ respective point of view with an open mind and an empathetic heart,” which he takes to be central to his independence.

Many P4P members were touched by Greg’s story and have been sharing their own.

Steve Richardsona founding member of the Virginia Independent Voters Association who serves on IndependentVoting.org’s national Election Reform Committee writes, “I think each of us can relate to Greg’s journey to political independence, whether our trip has lasted just a few years or over fifty.”

The book makes the case that the two parties function as a duopoly, and:

“In some ways, duopolies can be worse than monopolies. Although they create the illusion of competition, duopolies compete against one another while working together to suppress outside competition. They define the parameters of the game – and then rig the rules of that game to keep others out.”

A major focus of the duopoly is, as Greg puts it, “squeezing out Independents.” Greg outlines the ways the system is constructed by the duopoly to marginalize independent candidates and independent voters.

Orman is at his best giving us a detailed indictment of how the two-party system by design is incapable of solving problems, and how partisanship has become “weaponized” to win elections and lead the American people to believe all politics and policy are binary.

Greg writes: “[B]oth parties lead us to believe that there are only two answers to any problem. Generally, these answers have been hyper-distilled to such an extent that they’re troublingly simplistic.”

Many political professionals said if Greg had run as a Democrat or a Republican in 2014 he would have won the Senate seat. Greg has this to say:

“Most people say that in modern politics, winning is everything. But my view is that how you win is important too. If you get elected by talking about issues and opportunities, you have a mandate to go get something done. If you get elected by tearing down your opponent, you have a mandate for further hatefulness and partisanship.” 

Michelle McCleary, a veteran independent activist and the President of the Metro NY Chapter of the National Black MBA Association shared her take away:

“I applaud Mr. Orman for having the courage to run for office in a race that he was unlikely to win. In a grossly competitive country like America, ‘losing is for suckers’ and should be avoided regardless of who gets hurt or what gets destroyed. In my more than thirty-five-year history of activism in student, political and professional organizations, I have stood next to, supported and worked with ordinary people who knew that it was unlikely they would be giving the victory speech at the end of election day, but who gave everything they had because it was the right thing to do.”

I am very glad that Greg is in this race this year and who knows, Kansans might just be ready to have an independent Governor.

I hope you will join me on the Politics for the People Book Club talk with Greg Orman on April 15 at 7 pm EST. As you can see, the P4P readers are thoughtfully engaging with Greg’s book. I can guarantee our conversation will be thoughtful and give us an inside look at the Kansas gubernatorial race and explore the critical issues and controversies raised in Greg’s book.Visit the blog for call in details and pick up a copy of A Declaration of Independents today.

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POLITICS for the PEOPLE BOOK CLUB

CONFERENCE CALL

With Author GREG ORMAN

A Declaration of Independents

How We Can Break the Two-Party Stranglehold and Restore the American Dream

TONIGHT

SUNDAY, APRIL 15th @ 7 PM EST

P4P launches monthly IVN column

Last week I launched a monthly column on IVN, a nonpartisan on line news outlet that provides thoughtful political news and policy analysis. It is my go to read every day for national news on the independent and reform movements.  I am very pleased to bring Politics for the People to IVN readers.  Hope you enjoy my opening column.

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Politics for the People:

A Book Club for the Curious Independent

 

by Cathy Stewart in Campaigns Mar 8, 2018

 Book clubs have been a part of American life since 1634 when Anne Hutchinson started a “literary circle” for women as they crossed the Atlantic en route to the colonies. In 1840, Margaret Fuller founded the first book club sponsored by a book store, and by the mid 1800’s book clubs began to spread across the Midwest.

Today, estimates are that 5 million Americans participate in book clubs.

In 2011, I established the Politics for the People (P4P) Book Club for independents. The book club was an extension of a popular education series that I ran for the New York City Independence Clubs. I wanted to provide a national forum for independents to build a community of curiosity that was exploring politics and history together from a nonpartisan, independent point of view.

A book club seemed the perfect fit.

The Politics for the People Book Club has a unique approach. We’ve created a forum for club members to engage with world-class authors about critical issues and moments in the American experiment at a time when civic discourse is corroded by both partisanship and superficiality.

We read each of our selections over six to eight weeks. Our reading is echoed in an interactive blog that includes videos, literary reviews, background materials and, most importantly, the thoughts, reflections, and commentary from our members.

The P4P blog becomes a crossroads that adds depth to our reading experience and creates a sense of community among our members. And just as we read our authors’ words, they read the words of independent Americans responding to their work.

I wanted to provide a national forum for independents to build a community of curiosity that was exploring politics and history together from a nonpartisan, independent point of view.

Cathy Stewart, Vice President for National Development at Independent Voting

Each selection culminates in a conference call with our author where we explore the book and create a conversation through questions from our members. Authors and book club members alike find the conference calls stimulating and thought-provoking.

Alex Myers, the author of Revolutionary (a historical novel about Deborah Sampson who pretended to be a man to serve in the Revolutionary army) had this to say about our conference call and P4P members, “These were people who had read and thought about my novel on levels far beyond plot and character. It felt like the kind of conversation we need to have as a country.”

Politics for the People authors find the discussions unusual both in the depth of the dialogue and in the diversity of the participants. They often tell me that we ask questions that they have never been asked before and they thank me for the P4P experience.

These were people who had read and thought about my novel on levels far beyond plot and character. It felt like the kind of conversation we need to have as a country.

Alex Myers, author of Revolutionary

Our members (now over 335) are as diverse as the independent movement, from all walks of life, and from all racial, ethnic and economic backgrounds. P4P members range from avid readers to people who never picked up a book before joining the club. For many of our readers, P4P has introduced them to new genres and insights into history, and current events.

We have created a P4P community that is welcoming of a wide range of views, that is fun, and that supports everyone to read, grow and learn together. Tiani Coleman, the President of New Hampshire Independent Voters has said the book club “motivates me to read, contemplate and write about thought-provoking books that I likely wouldn’t find time for otherwise, helping me grow as a person and as a leader in the independent movement.”

Our selections include fiction, poetry, and non-fiction. We have had several Pulitzer Prize winning authors join us for intimate conversations about their work, including Isabel Wilkerson (The Warmth of Other Suns); Eric Foner (Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad); Matthew Desmond (Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City)Hedrick Smith (Who Stole the American Dream? Can We Get It Back?) and Megan Marshall (Margaret Fuller: A New American Life).

Historical fiction selections like Jerome Charyn’s I Am Abraham: A Novel of Lincoln and the Civil War and Alex Meyers’ Revolutionary give us a portal to experience and imagine the lives, the challenges and the circumstances of the people–both ordinary and extraordinary–who are the movers of history. P4P is an opportunity to question the notion that there is one truth or a single view of history.

How do I pick selections for Politics for the People? A mixture of recommendations, serendipity, and scouting. I look for selections that challenge conventional ways of thinking, and are written by authors we would enjoy talking with. Perhaps, most importantly, I am always reading…

I will be sharing P4P selections and reviews of other books of interest to independent-minded Americans in the months to come. If you have a book you would like to recommend for P4P, please send me a note.  And please join me in the Politics for the People book club!  Visit the blog and sign up to join our book reading, conversation creating independent community.

Happy Reading.

Cathy Stewart
Cathy L. Stewart has been a political activist in the independent movement since the mid-1980’s. She is the Vice President for National Development at Independent Voting and the founder and host of Politics for the People.

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POLITICS for the PEOPLE BOOK CLUB

CURRENT SELECTION:

A Declaration of Independents

How We Can Break the Two-Party Stranglehold and Restore the American Dream

CONFERENCE CALL with Author GREG ORMAN

SUNDAY, APRIL 15th @ 7 PM EST

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