An Interview with Dr. Rick Staggenborg, Soldiers for Peace International

Rick Staggenborg is a former staff psychiatrist at the Coos Bay VA hospital.  He is anti-war, because it is anti-people; the wars serve only the corporate overlords turfing out and pawning American patriots into hegemonic actions that often run counter to what makes America the exceptional democracy it often claims to be.

At Rick’s website, SOLDIERS FOR PEACE INTERNATIONAL, he describes a goal for the soldiers he supports:

To challenge the US Congress to put the needs of the people above those of their plutocratic sponsors. We can only establish democracy in America and the world by working together to abolish the “rights” of corporations and those who control them to determine the collective destiny of the Peoples of the United States and of the world.

By this token, Rick seems out to abolish Joe Biden’s state of Delaware, where there are more registered corporations (1.8 million) than there are people (just over 1 million).

The following discussion took place by Zoom on August 30, 2022.

It is edited for condensation and the usual grammar doohickies that ruin flow.


Hawkins: I was looking at your website the other day, Soldiers for Peace International, and I was taken by your Mission Statement. It goes:

Our mission is to join individuals and groups working in different ways to ensure that our children live in a rational, sustainable world. When enough people abandon the belief that war is inevitable, it will become unthinkable. War is conducted for Corporate Empire. Therefore, the first step to ending wars, is ending corporate control of the U.S. government. All social justice efforts lead to the end of war, the ultimate injustice. Those who work for justice are soldiers for peace.

Do you want to say more about that? Sounds like an old hippies kind of mission.

Staggenborg: For one thing, I didn’t include the definition of peace, except to say that anybody working for justice locally, nationally, or in the world at large is a soldier for peace. That’s important to remember because it’s not actually an organization. It’s more of a network. And I don’t speak for it. I call myself the founder because I sort of invented the concept.

Hawkins: You’re a doctor and I understand that you worked for the VA system?

Staggenborg: I did.

Hawkins: Does the idea for the movement come out of your work with veterans in hospital?

Staggenborg:  No. It actually started about 20 years before, when I first got involved in antiwar work during the Persian Gulf War. Yeah, I just missed out on [that] myself, because I’d just been discharged from the army [right] before that.

Hawkins: Are you finding that there are more and more soldiers for peace?

Staggenborg: There’s always been many, many millions of us. Different people are working on different social justice issues. Certainly the anti-war movement, if I can use that term so loosely, is not gigantic, and it’s not growing very fast. But, like I said, anybody who’s working for social justice is working against war. Because when you accept any kind of social injustice, it’s just normalization of deviance, and eventually even war becomes thinkable. And it’s the most outrageous injustice.

Hawkins: It sounds like you’re trying to decouple the military hyphen to the industrial complex. If we could remove the corporate from the military, we might actually be able to settle the whole thing down. Right?

Staggenborg: Exactly. That is the other major part of the mission statement. I think that that is the key. Specifically, passing a constitutional amendment that will overrule the Supreme Court and establish that money spent to purchase politicians is not free speech. And it can be and it must be regulated and that corporations are not people. I think that would be a great start to establishing true representative democracy in the United States, which we’ve never had.

Hawkins: A while back I was interviewing a researcher from Brown University that detailed the costs of war since 9/11. Specifically, Iraq and Afghanistan. The study said that we essentially threw away $6 trillion and had a significant detrimental impact on the climate by filling the air with noxious toxins.  Near the end of the interview, the researcher worried  that, in Ukraine, we can already see the makings of an intentionally lengthened war because, she said, the military contractors are already involved again and the profit motive is already there and it works against a a compromise solution to ending the war.

Staggenborg: Well, yeah, I would say that the wars have not necessarily been unsuccessful. They sold a lot of weapons, although they miscalculated what they could get away with. The people that plan these wars and profit by them, in some ways they accomplish some of their goals. For instance, in Iraq, okay, people say, well, we lost that. Well, did we? I mean, right now you might say there’s a stronger argument for that because of the riots in the street and the possibility of driving us out by force. But the fact of the matter is, we did succeed in Balkanize the country, and that was the basic strategy that was formulated or being formulated throughout the fifties, sixties and up until about 1982. Balkanized in countries in the Middle East so that none of them can challenge Israel, our proxy in the Middle East.

Oded Yinon published an article in 1982 —  “Greater Israel”  — that basically outlined this plan to reshape the Mideast and make sure that Israel had had hegemony over the whole Mideast by making sure that any country that tried to resist would be broken into little statelets, like they did in Iraq, and like they’re trying to do in Syria, so that none of them could have the power to challenge Israel. Again, Israel is our vanguard in the Middle East. They are already the empire, the US being the lead player. But our politicians are military, they are they’re being directed, so to speak.

There’s a whole establishment that looks out for itself, that’s very powerful. They don’t make a move unless it serves the interests of the international bankers, for instance. I guess that’s one way to look at it. And then the multinational corporations that they control. The same rich, extremely rich individuals. Global economic elite.

Hawkins: Well, okay. I wanted to talk with you today about the battle for Medicare for All. You say the two things you are most prepared to talk about are American imperialism and Medicare. Is there a connection between the two?

Staggenborg: Oh, absolutely. Because one of the goals of the global economic elite is to strip states, where they want to supersede nations, and strip them of their assets. This is why the IMF requires countries to privatize once they’re put in a position where they’re forced to take loans they want. They want to control all those things. And one of the things in the United States is they want to privatize all medical care. They haven’t found proof that that’s the long range plan, but they’ve been privatizing Medicare since Medicare Advantage was invented, and they’ve been trying to privatize schools, and they’re making progress there. And basically, they’re privatizing water in some countries. So that’s another goal is to privatize all water.

Hawkins: Well, that should be that’s something that should cause a revolution in the near future, because, you know, we’re 65% water, each of us. So we can’t have water privatized. That’s a life and death situation. If you can’t afford water, then you die or, you know.

But so you see the linkage between working capitalism and the privatization of public services, and, you’d have to say, a final dismantling of FDR’s New Deal, right? It’s the final step — Social Security. Not so much the monthly retirement benefit, which is a pittance, but rather, Medicare, which is the most important entitlement that’s left. There is evidence that the trust fund that supports Social Security entitlements has been “borrowed from”  and given to corporates to play with at the Wall Street Casino.

Staggenborg:  Well, I’m not an expert at Social Security, but my understanding is it’s not the same as Medicare. There are two different taxes, two different pools of money. And Social Security has definitely been raided. To balance budgets, the Democrats originally raided that fund, and they’ve never made up for the deficit. But since it’s the government that owes it to itself, they pretend it doesn’t really matter. Because ever since Reagan, we’ve said deficits don’t matter.

I suppose they’re right, except we’re facing a situation now where [deficits] might start to matter if the rest of the world isn’t dependent on the dollar. And that is the situation that we may have created, thanks to our stealing billions of dollars from Russia, which means they have to set up a separate system. They’re doing it with China, India, Iran. So if there’s a separate system, deficits are going to start to matter. So this whole house of cards is going to collapse, I believe.

And that’s I think that’s why they’re forcing the issue right now, which is just insane. Expansion of the wars and proxy wars and regime change operations. They’re desperate, but they’ve gone too far, I think, because, like I said, Russia and China in particular, along with the rest of the BRICS countries and other countries around the world, are forming an entirely separate system that won’t depend on the world or the Swiss system.

Hawkins: Alright. Well, that’s an IOU system. And, if they cash in their IOUs, we’re in deep shit, especially if the Chinese do us.

Staggenborg: Yeah. Yeah.

Hawkins:  Okay, so we establish this sort of global hegemony — American imperialism related to Medicare by way of privatization, because privatization is controlled by these corporate elites. But let’s get into Medicare for the people, just the insurance itself.  What does Medicare for All mean? There are places you’ve mentioned, say Germany or Australia or Canada, that have free Medicare. How does Medicare for All compare to what we have right now?

Staggenborg: Well, none of this stuff is free. It’s all paid for through taxes. So yeah, like Canada is literally a Medicare for All system. They even call it Medicare, but it’s paid through provincial and national taxes. Germany is a very different model, because instead of the government being the payer, the provincial government, the ultimate payers are private insurance companies, but they’re tightly regulated. They all offer the same plans they may detail. They may throw in some extra stuff to make it more attractive because they were competing with each other. It’s a very different model from private insurance in the United States, which is very much unregulated, and they use all kinds of tricks to deny people care. They can’t do that in Germany.

I understand in Australia that 55% of people do have private insurance, which to me is a measure of the inadequacy of the public system. I mean, people that I know of in Australia, like Caitlin Johnstone, really appreciates the fact that she has access to something,. And the amazing thing is that the more wealthy Australians are willing to pay for that and private insurance. And somehow, as I understand it, it still comes out cheaper than America’s crazy system. And people do have access to care. But the reason that I made the big deal about payment is because the difference between these systems is primarily how they’re paid for and how that money is used. So, yeah, it is an important distinction.

Hawkins: Right. No, I understand. And I think in the States, you know, one of the things it seems to me even now, even despite Bernie and his softening up the notion of democratic socialism, is this resistance towards communism or the sort of collectivism or coming together to make the common weal a better place to be. It’s totally against the wishes of the corporate elites, as you’re saying. And is that the main resistance to Medicare for All?

Staggenborg: Well, yeah, there’s been a dumbing down of the public, and maybe ‘dumbing down’ is not the right term — a systematic public propaganda campaign, really ever since the Russian Revolution, and before, against all things socialist.  Socialism and Communism are conflated. But socialism is an economic system, not a political system. And there’s different ways to implement different varieties of socialism. But all depends on how you define things.

So we’ve got this term democratic socialism where people have the trappings of democratic government, and the government assumes that it has some responsibility towards the citizens. And so they have things like the National Health Insurance in Britain, which the people are willing to fight for, now that they have it. And people don’t realize that. They say, Oh, it’s so bad, it’s so expensive. Well, it’s more expensive than some, but it’s also one of the finer health care systems, and it would be even better if people [weren’t] trying to privatise it all the time.

The same goes with Canada. There’s a constant effort to privatize Canadian Medicare, and now they’re really working on privatizing American Medicare under a new model that’s much worse than Medicare Advantage. It’s extremely profitable, profitable enough that private equity firms want to get involved, you know, like BlackRock, Vanguard, which are companies that are owned literally by the global elite.

Hawkins: In a recent Counterpunch article, you talk about the death spiral of insurance costs. The rise in the cost of insurance. Fewer people who can afford it, leading to a new round of rising premiums and out of pocket costs. If this cycle continues indefinitely, you say, it almost has to lead to a socialization of Medicare for All situation.

Staggenborg: Well, I believe that [death spiral will] inevitably lead to some kind of health care for all. Here in Oregon, where I live, they’re rising by 6.5% a year over a ten year period, meaning it would double in 11 years at that rate. You know. And yeah, it’s unsustainable. And this is another way of looking at the death spiral. The prices are going up. They’re always going up faster, the inflation, because they’ve got to report increased profits every quarter so that the CEOs get rewarded for these phony, inflated values of their stock. And I don’t want to get too much into the business aspects, but let’s just say there’s certainly a motivation to privatize because they’re going to break the system otherwise. And Obamacare just delayed the inevitable. It’s a bailout for a failing insurance industry.

Hawkins: Okay. Well, what would like Medicare for All look like in an ideal situation, if you leave out the politics of the corporate elites for a moment?

Staggenborg:  I’m glad you askd that. We think that we could afford a system better than Canadian. Medicare, because it could include drugs. It would include vision, dental. Alternative therapies like chiropractic. Acupuncture. The numbers have been crunched and it’s doable. But the obstacle obviously is political. So it would include all those things. There’d be no cost. That point of service, which I think is what you meant when you said free. You don’t have to pay when you see the doctor. It would be cheaper. Be substantially cheaper. The United States pays an average of about twice of what other countries do who have universal health care.  We could do something much better. I mean, the VA is not Medicare for All, but the VA is the best health care I know of in the world. That is, where it’s adequately funded. It’s integrated. It offers every service. The doctors talk to each other, doctors and other providers, so they know what they’re doing. They coordinate the care, which is also more efficient because, believe it or not, the VA is cheaper than private care. And so they’re trying to privatize that, too.

What they’re doing is, they said, oh, veterans don’t have enough choice. They should be able to go anywhere they want. Well, this is the way privatization works. They said the same thing about school vouchers. But what happens? They take all the money that’s supposed to go into the public system and they break it. Break it by taking all that money and giving it to private corporations that provide this private education. They’re doing the same thing with the VA. The last I heard a couple of years ago, 55% of the outpatient visits at the VA were farmed out to privates. They don’t know how to deal with veterans. A lot of those veterans have PTSD. They don’t have a standardized suicide prevention, which the VA has the best in the world. They don’t know how to treat traumatic brain injury, and other things, such as military sexual trauma. All these things are specific to veterans and they’re talking about farming out mental health. Well, the suicide rates are going to go up for sure, no doubt. But it’s profitable, right? The so called private doctors now, over half of them work for corporations, for hospital associations, which are mostly corporations. So even if you say, oh, yeah, they’ll see private doctors, the doctors are going to be employees for these corporations, in one way or the other.

Hawkins: Corporatism, whether we like it or not?

So Medicare for All would cover all your basic needs. You could get anything, including specialists, or would you have to get private insurance to that?

Staggenborg: That’s the way we envision it. It would have everything that Medicare Advantage has –Medigap, all of it put together.

Hawkins: Somewhere you mention a so-called Sickness Score. Sounds bizarre.

Staggenborg: So they’ve done studies of Medicare Advantage, these privatized forms of Medicare that people can opt into in 2020. They found that they’d paid out $12 billion in excess payments to Medicare Advantage providers because they took advantage of a part of the system that allowed them to be paid extra if they had a sicker population. So they go around and they look at all the available records of each of their covered clients. And they take all of those diagnoses that have been on their chart, even if they’re not well established. And they establish a Sickness Score and they can get paid at a higher rate. The insurance companies is given a lump sum. So if they have a million folks, they look at how much it costs to provide care, and they give them enough money for that. Well, they claim that because these people are sicker than they really are, the amount they get for the exact same services is more than they would get if it was traditional Medicare. It’s called that up-billing. And they abuse it to the point of fraud, routinely. That’s $12 billion in one year. That’s 1.2 trillion over ten years. All those numbers they were throwing around when Bernie Sanders tried to talk about Medicare for All. $1 trillion. Well, that’s just in Medicare Advantage, which is only 40% of the market.

Hawkins: You’ve stated that only Biden can prevent the complete privatization of Medicare now. But he has a history of being pro-privatization. Given that we’re coming up to a very critical midterm election, what are we likely to hear in the next month or so, if he’s pushed on the Medicare position?

Staggenborg:  Well, frankly, I think we have to embarrass Biden. But it’s really hard for average individuals to do that. So I think the only realistic way we’re going to do it is if we can push enough of our elected officials to go public with this scam. You know, they don’t have to say, oh, look what Biden did. They’re Democrats. But they can say, you know, this isn’t going to work. This is going to really be a bad thing. So there are enough, I think, Democrats that might stand up and say something like that without insulting the president.

And there’s a lot of Republicans that will be happy to insult the president and embarrass him for this system. They won’t call it privatization. They’ll just say how bad the current system is. Privatization is a good thing to Republican politicians, but it won’t work. it’s not economically viable, but it’s the only way to deal with the death spiral, if it keeps feeding more tax money into it, or fiat money that’s just invented out of thin air. If you keep pouring that into it, people won’t realize how expensive it’s getting. The New York Times isn’t going to interview me, or anybody else that knows the facts, any more than they interview somebody who knows the facts about what’s going on in Ukraine. They’ve got their job to do, and they’re good stenographers, and they get paid well for it.

The reason only Biden can do it is because it was written into Obamacare that anything that the Medicare Center for Medicare and Medicaid Centers for Intervention comes up with, Congress can’t mess with. Well, that was supposed to be a good thing, because, of course, we all trust the Democrats, right? And we trust Medicare because they’re all good, good people. And well, I’m sure the people who do the work are, but the people that are at the top are politicians like everybody else. They’re put in there as political favors, and they do what they’re told.

Yeah. So Biden is the only one that can do anything about it. The only way that’s going to happen is if we make noise, get out on the streets. And really, I guess in a lot of cases, we’ll have to embarrass politicians into saying something — writing letters to the editor and editorials. Believe it or not, I know my Congress people are my representatives in Congress, in the House and Senate. They read letters to the editor. They know what people are being told. They know when they’re being told the truth. And sometimes it makes them a little anxious to just let it go on and not say anything about it. So this is not pie in the sky. Personally, I think if more people knew that Biden is a big advocate of privatizing Social Security, then they’ll take it more seriously. When I say, Well, he should be doing something, that’s why he’s not doing anything about privatizing Medicare, because he likes privatization. He’s in the pockets of the banking industry. And everybody that knows anything about Biden knows that if make the connection, it’s all about Wall Street running the country.

And American interests have been defined as the interests of international corporations that are owned by the so-called global economic elite. And people just don’t understand that they hear these phrases and their mind, the subroutines that have been programmed into them start operating. Oh, American interests. That’s a good thing, right?

Hawkins: Is this going to end well or not? Are we going to get Medicare for All sooner than later? Or are we going to end up in a revolution where nobody gets anything?

Staggenborg: What do I think’s going to happen? Well, I don’t know. I think that a lot of what’s going on right now is completely unpredictable because we don’t know what the effects are going to be when 80% of the world is operating under a different economic system. It’s not under control of the West and the international bankers in Basel. When that happens — I’ve read different theories — some people think the dollar is going to collapse and it’ll be worthless. I don’t think that’s going to happen because the banksters will come up with some other way to preserve this imaginary wealth that they’ve accumulated. They’re not going to just let vanish into thin air

How that’s going to affect you and me? Well, I think that we can pretty much guess that it’s not going to be good because they don’t care about us. They never have. But this is end stage capitalism. So, really, all bets are off. I mean, it could be an Escape from New York sort of situation, where most of us would live in ghettos, violently killing each other off for scraps of food. And the only people in New York’s proletariat that would be okay are the ones that are serving in their mercenary armies.

Staggenborg: And that is a possibility. You know, it all depends on what their next move is. But they’re also talking about Great Reset. There’s a great video called Monopoly, and they have a whole series of people, leaders of different countries, using that exact same term, the great reset, the great reset, you know, in all these different languages, all using the exact same language because it came out in Davos, the idea of the great reset and the idea is basically when they’re done privatizing everything and they own everything, you don’t own anything, but you rent from them. You work for them, you rent from them, just like the company store. And so whatever they decide to give you. You’ll be satisfied with,  because you’ll come to accept that as normal, as we always do. Every time we get screwed, we’ll come to accept that as normal. Well, I’m still working. I’m still making money. I got a decent standard of living. What do I care? What’s happening to the people dying on the streets? Right? And the other side of town? So they’re talking about maybe even the universal basic income. So that you can continue to buy iPhones and pay for your Netflix and all that stuff. Where the money’s going right back to BlackRock and Vanguard and like corporations, you know, private equity firms.

Hawkins: Definitely sounds bleak enough.

Staggenborg: Well. I guess it beats a violent revolution. Because that wouldn’t work either. And then, of course, you’ve got to factor in climate change. That’s the wild card.. Well, not completely a wild card. But it’s going to influence how decisions are made. Pretty soon, when it becomes obvious, and if anything lies between what’s going to happen to the dollar and climate change, we have a choice, like I said, between a police state like Escape from New York scenario or, ideally, it is possible that people are decent enough where they can actually come together and say, We’re not going to let you do this to us anymore and take care of each other. Is that going to happen? I don’t know. Are you religious?

Maybe the rich’ll even establish a satellite like in the movie Elysium to live on and just bring pylons up when they need new slaves. I don’t want to sound too blatant, really, because —

Hawkins:  Don’t worry. I’m there already, so —

Staggenborg: I do believe in that. Not everything is foreseeable. I can’t imagine a better scenario unless people wake up and try to learn to care about each other and fight together for decent stuff. And I like to think that’s possible. I don’t know what the odds are. We don’t know. Maybe there will be a mass change in consciousness. I wrote one time about something I call the tectonic paradigm shift. That’s what it’ll take to save human civilization, I think. With global climate change and all the other things that we’re facing, overpopulation, period.

Hawkins: Yeah. Definitely, days of rolling, rolling pearlharbors.

Staggenborg: Is. That’s what I’m looking for – [a paradigm shift]. That’s what this Soldiers for Peace International is all about.

Hawkins: That’s good. Yeah, it’s good to have that kind of availability for seeing options. You know, for an alternative way of looking at things, go to your website and see that there are people checking in with you and checking in with each other that are offering an alternative to the bleakness, because the corporates probably want us to sort of sink into the bleakness, and really give up, you know, that’s resistance is futile.

Staggenborg: I agree. If we do it together, you know, even in our system, it’s still one person, one vote, one corporation, one vote. Theoretically, if they’re really people and enough of us work together, we could throw out the bums and put in decent people. Yeah, and we have some decent people in Congress who could do a hell of a lot better, if they thought it was possible. We can show them by getting rid of all the crooks in Congress.

I didn’t mention it, but the Pledge to Amend campaign, if you look at my website, is there, too. The idea is to do what I did, you know, run for office on a promise to introduce the kind of constitutional amendment I talked about in the beginning, to establish that money spent for purchasing politicians is not considered free speech. It can be and must be regulated and that corporations are not people. We’ve got to make that a litmus test for national office. Like I said, that’s the big first step. And it’s something that could unite people because almost everybody knows that Congress is crooked. Yeah. American politics is just rife with corruption. It’s designed that way. We need a completely different system and we need people who care.

John Kendall Hawkins is an American ex-pat freelancer based in Australia.  He is a former reporter for The New Bedford Standard-Times.