Is Obama Sending Mixed Message on Public Option?

The answer is yes. Just a day after his Health and Human Services Secretary says the administration can live without a public option, other aides now say he hasn’t given up on it. And what exactly is involved with the health insurance co-ops that would take the public option’s place? Nobody seems to know.

All this is why, in a previous blog post, I argued that President Obama needed to start the health care reform debate with single payer, universal care.

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Those who oppose him couldn’t care less about the public option, co-ops, or anything else he comes up with. Their end game is, simply, nothing, no change at all. That’s why they spent so much time and energy packing town hall meetings with loudmouthed screamers, some of whom still can’t fathom the fact that Barack Obama is President of the United States.

Now, progressives are crying foul, saying Obama is abandoning real reform in favor of a watered down alternative. It is, as New York Times columnist Bob Herbert accurately describes it, “like sending a peewee footballers against the Super Bowl champs” when it comes to co-ops vs. big insurance. So the question must be asked, why? Why is the administration making so many concessions?

Do they not see that for some of those who oppose healthcare reform, Obama himself is the issue? Maybe the president is having trouble digesting the ugliness that came out of so many of those town halls. But he doesn’t seem to understand that nothing will mollify that small segment of the American public. Nothing, that is, short of his resignation.

You can say it’s racial, you can say it’s generational, whatever. There is a loud minority in America who see “their country” slipping away from them. They see Barack Obama and his agenda as the cause of that slippage, and they don’t like it one bit. Ditching the public option gives emboldens them like nothing else could. It tells them, “we’re winning”.

Worse yet, big business is winning. They’re the ones bankrolling the politicians and in some cases the groups that are ¬†loudest in opposing reform. They’re the ones whose bottom lines will get fatter if costs aren’t controlled. And they’ll have a giant new pool of clients if everyone’s required to purchase insurance.

And what does the public get? Not a whole lot.

I for one understand politics well enough to know you don’t always get what you want, that compromise is part of the game, a necessary one if you talk to those who play it.

But at what price? You tell me.

Are Progressives Wimps?

Do Progressives need to learn how to fight? Progressives (and I count myself among them) do fight, it’s just that too often the fight is among ourselves.

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Meanwhile, the opposition goes to town. Whether it’s the birthers, tea parties, or disrupting town hall meetings, the Right acts…and we react.

I’ve seen a lot of media about why progressives, liberals, whatever…always seem to be on the back foot. All I know is, it’s time for that to change.

Progressives in the US stand to lose the battle over healthcare reform because there was no unified game plan ahead of time to fight for what we wanted (single payer, universal care). And I guarantee you, whether reform is passed or not, conservatives will claim victory. And well they should. They were better organized.

It’s true they hijacked the discussion on healthcare with half truths, faulty rhetoric, and straight up lies.

And no one, least of all me, wants to match them lie for lie. I don’t think progressives have to go that way. Yet the infrastructure they’ve built to spread their doctrine on a number of issues (the stimulus will bankrupt America, Obama was born in Kenya, the death panels) merits some scrutiny.

Believe it or not, I receive some of their stuff via e-mail. One thing you realize right off the bat. Conservatives never admit defeat. When the stimulus bill passed, they didn’t waste time with recriminations or blame passing. They told their followers, “you made a difference”. And then prepared them for the next battle. Sure, there may be some behind the scenes finger pointing, but when you’re fighting and fundraising at the same time, it pays to give the rank and file a sense of purpose.

Progressives can learn from this. The most important lesson, in my humble judgment, is to act rather than react. We can make fun of birthers and hostile healthcare reform opponents, but our message gets lost. The fact that, with few exceptions, there was little vocal presence in favor of single payer at most town halls to date points up the depth of the problem.

WE NEED TO LEARN HOW TO FIGHT!

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That means fighting to win, and fighting not with fists, but ideas for the long term health of the nation. We are engaging in battle on the enemy’s terms when we don’t stake out clear positions and act on them before they do.

We also need to fight with every means at our disposal. That means, and I’ve said this many times before, engaging progressive people of color on a level we don’t now see. We have groups of white progressives, black progressives, Latino progressives, etc.

How about groups of integrated progressives? They are out here, believe me. If Barack Obama’s election is to mean anything in the long run, more groups of integrated progressive Americans need to be formed, and plans to take the fight to our opposition put in place.

Or am I just nuts? You tell me.

Death Panel? What Death Panel?

So now Sarah Palin, private citizen, weighs in on healthcare via (what else?) Facebook.

She calls President Obama’s healthcare reform “downright evil”, and opines it will create a “death panel” that would determine who gets access to care. Death panel indeed! Where do they get this stuff from?

In this case, Palin’s fears about her son Trig and her parents have to do with a provision in the House healthcare reform bill that would provide VOLUNTARY end of life counseling to terminally ill patients. Somehow, and no one seems to be sure exactly how, that’s been turned into euthanasia, and medicine circa 1930s Germany (I’m not making this up).

So I guess this is what Palin means by trying to “effect change” from outside her elected office. Nice try. Combine Palin’s utter nonsense (and the attention it’s getting) with the disruption of town hall meetings on healthcare reform, and you have a small but vocal segment of the American body politic trying to impose its will on the rest of us.

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Their end game is to dilute reform to make it virtually unrecognizable from what we have now. Anything else, they bleat, like a public option or single payer puts us on the path to socialism. But what path does the current system put us on? Could it be something like Social Darwinism, where only the healthy survive?

Strip away all the rhetoric, and what leg do opponents of healthcare reform have to stand on? Put simply, they want no part of a system that affords the working poor access to quality care. If you make so little as to qualify under Medicaid, fine. If not, those geometric increases in the cost of health insurance premiums are on you, pal.

And who funds reform opponents? A guy named Rick Scott, the founder of “Conservatives for Patients Rights”. He also founded a hospital corporation that paid out $1.7 billion dollars to Uncle Sam for fraud. So let’s see now. We’ve got a group of vocal opponents of Obama’s healthcare plan who disrupt meetings at the behest of a failed governor and a medical fraudster. Nice.

I for one am still not ready to give up on single payer, universal care for all. I know people are saying it’s not politically feasible, people have said the same thing about other, equally worthy pieces of legislation. There’s something utterly galling about having the debate on this issue hijacked by the small, the petty, the misinformed, and the deliberately misleading.

As they say across the pond, death panel my arse. What do you think?

We Lost Another Giant – Healthcare NOW advocate Marilyn Clement.

I’m fully aware that some of you do know, but longtime health care activist Marilyn Clement died Monday at the age of 74. Her list of accomplishments would take up this entire space, but suffice to say she was one of the nation’s greatest advocates for universal, single payer health care. This means she was talking about it a long time ago, before the current debate.

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Coretta Scott King and Marilyn Clement

And she spoke up for single payer, universal health care right up until her passing. Marilyn Clement was national co-ordinator for the organization Healthcare-NOW. Universal care was her passion. I consider it one of the missed opportunities of my career that I never had a chance to interview her. And yet, she shares a lot with many of the great people I’ve met in my life.

One word links them, selflessness. That is, to think of the greater good beyond what’s good for you. Marilyn Clement had this in abundance. Whether it was her work with the civil rights movement or helping fledgling organizations like Progressive Democrats of America, she did the work not for personal celebrity, but for regular, just plain folks.

Check out her speech at the Judson Memorial Church in New York back in June…

It was an event to honor her, but something struck me while watching it. Conservative groups that are trying to kill any type of health care reform (let alone single payer) constantly rally their troops. They send out e-mails that say keep up the fight, that progress is being made.

So it was with Marilyn Clement, though obviously in the opposite direction. She told that audience at Judson that we don’t have single payer yet, but eventually, we will. That the fight must be kept up, and so must the spirits of those waging the battle. She said those words knowing she wouldn’t live to see the result. To me, that’s the true definition of selflessness.

Let’s be clear. What passes the Congress and gets signed into law by President Obama won’t be single payer health care. Supporters like Cong. Henry Waxman say universal care could never pass the Congress. Still, because of the work of Marilyn Clement and those she inspired to get involve, universal, single payer care is closer than it’s been in my lifetime.

So, rest in peace, Marilyn Clement. I didn’t know you, but I am one of those who is grateful for all you did, and deeply mourn your passing. Your legacy is with those you’ve left behind to carry on your good work.

Is the GOP Fighting a Civil War?

Is it North vs. South all over again? Recent public statements seem to indicate moderate Republicans, mostly from the North and Midwest, are getting tired of their conservative, southern brethren.

Witness the recent shot across the bow by Ohio Senator George Voinovich. “We’ve got too many Jim DeMints and Tom Coburns. The party is being taken over by southerners”, the outgoing senator says.

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Some of this is pushback from DeMint’s now infamous “Waterloo” statement regarding the Obama health care plan. Yet that doesn’t tell the whole story. The GOP has been steadily losing support in areas where just a few years ago, they did well in elections. Only in the South do they dominate, and that’s because they’re generally so conservative.

So what to do to stem the tide? As a progressive, I shouldn’t really care about this.

However, I do remember a time when the GOP was a very different party.

When I was coming up, people like Nelson Rockefeller, Jacob Javits, and Lowell Weicker were prominent figures in the Republican Party. Even now, there are moderates like Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe among the ranks of Republicans. Trouble is, their numbers are shrinking.

Part of the problem is that conservative Republicans have an army of support, not only in their home states, but among the right wing punditocracy that rules conservative talk radio and television. For some reason, even the mainstream media tends to overblow their importance to, for example, the confirmation of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. The mitigating circumstance there was the decision by South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham to support the nomination.

The battle over health care reform has emboldened the conservative wing as well, as evidenced by De Mint’s ¬†“Waterloo” remark.

The question is, at what cost? Can the conservative wing of the Republican Party actually expect to turn back the clock? Do they really think there’s any currency left in the ideology of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney?

Maybe conservative think tanks have convinced them it can happen. Maybe the tea parties, and the birthers, and the people clamoring for the status quo on health care can sway the American people one more time. I’m not betting on it, though.

One thing the conservative Republicans forgot all about was the economy.

To this day, there have been few bold proposals coming from the Jim DeMints and Tom Coburns of the world as to how that gets fixed. Without the vision to deal with that, the GOP could be a minority party for many years to come, no matter how many times they say “no”.

And the South would lose the war. Again.

Corruption- You From Jersey?

Suffice to say the Garden State, my home by way of full disclosure, has had its problems with corruption before.

Three ex-mayors of Newark, the state’s largest city, have been convicted of crimes.

Yet the arrest of 44 people, including the mayors of three municipalities and five rabbis takes the notion of corruption to a whole new level.

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It’s a twisted tale, this one, and involves allegations of kidney selling, fake Prada bags, and a box of Apple Jacks cereal stuffed with $97,000 dollars. And it should surprise no one living in New Jersey that it all began with a real estate developer.

Developers in Jersey, you see, have almost become synonymous with double dealing. In order to get profitable projects built, the logic goes, they’ve got to grease the wheels. That sometimes means making nice with elected officials who hold the fate of an office tower or condo block in their hands. In this case, the developer is one Solomon Dwek, who himself was charged with scamming a bank out of millions back in 2006.

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The feds turned him into an informant, and what a snitch he turned out to be! All of what follows are allegations, and those charged are innocent until proven guilty.

Most of the rabbis involved are accused of laundering Dwek’s money through charities they controlled. Some of them also allegedly laundered their own profits from the sale of fake Gucci and Prada bags in a similar fashion. The politicians allegedly took bribes to make sure Dwek has those necessary permits and approvals to get projects finished.

Yet the most outrageous allegations are against Levy-Izhak Rosenbaum.

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He’s allegedly been running a kidney peddling operation that makes the $10,000, to $25,000 bucks the pols were scamming pale in comparison. According to prosecutors, Rosenbaum would buy kidneys from people in Israel for $10,000, then resell them here for $160,000. The story goes that Solomon Dwek introduced the kidney merchant to an undercover agent posing as his secretary. She told Rosenbaum her uncle needed a transplant, to which he allegedly assured her he’d been in the business for a long time.

Even more startling is word that many of the key players involved in the corruption dealt with Dwek knowing that he’d been a government target for his bank scam. The probe that netted the 44 suspects began a decade ago out of two cases, and Thursday arrests involved 200 FBI and IRS agents. In one case, the Mayor of Hoboken, NJ, Peter Cammarano had just been sworn in at the beginning of the month.

One wonders what the politicians are thinking now that they know the money they got was pitifully small when compared to the $3 million dollars allegedly laundered by the rabbis. No matter. The one person who must really be sweating after all this is New Jersey Gov. John Corzine. Facing a nationally watched election some say he could lose, the last thing this “corruption fighting” governor needed as to see a bunch of predominately Democratic elected officials led away in handcuffs.

Yet this is the public perception of New Jersey anyway, isn’t it? Should it be? You tell me.

Can Obama Win on Health Care?

barack-obama-healthcareThe president’s supporters have gotten nervous over poll slippage for his health care plan. That’s why he went on the offensive Wednesday, emphasizing the need to reform the current system. President Obama is fighting this battle on several fronts. Congressional Republicans want to see his plan go down, pure and simple. Jim DeMint isn’t the only one hoping this is Obama’s “Waterloo”. Despite their minority status, they’re pressing their opposition in part by playing the “Fear of the Unknown” card.

What we have is bad, their argument goes, but what Obama is proposing is worse. Plus, they have a couple of non partisan analyses that say his plan won’t save the money he says it will. Next on the list are so-called “Blue Dog Democrats”, who seem to willing to break ranks over issues of cost, and whether new taxes will have to be levied to pay for the plan.

Some of these folks represent constituents who are scared of government involvement in their health care decisions. President Obama tried to mollify them Wednesday, saying his plan won’t make Uncle Sam America’s doctor. To make matters worse, an awful lot of Americans don’t know the difference between the Obama health care plan, and the versions currently being taken up by the House and Senate. Even some of his congressional allies are saying he needs to trim his sails and accept a compromise solution.

I would argue differently. While Americans may be confused about the current competing plans, they do know what single payer means. And that’s the problem. Barack Obama missed a singular opportunity by not advocating for universal, single payer health coverage for all Americans. Telling the American people “If you’re sick, you’ll be treated, no matter what” would present a clear choice that most people can understand and support. Keep things as they are, and risk having to declare bankruptcy even with insurance, or move to a universal, single payer plan that while not perfect, is measurably better than what exists now.

Opponents would trot out their “socialized medicine” arguments. So what? President Obama could then point to the dramatically lower administrative costs associated with Medicaid and Medicare as opposed to the current system. They holler about Britain, and the supposed shortcomings of their system. I could tell them of one personal experience about that.

On a visit to London some time ago, my daughter was injured by a painting that fell on her head in our hotel room. My wife and I were panicked. What to do? Fortunately, we were staying down the street from a hospital. We took her there, and waited anxiously while she was examined and treated. It took about three hours. Never once were we asked for an insurance card, or for that matter, whether we were British citizens (my wife is). She received a number of stitches, but in the end they told us she’d be fine.

I asked how much this treatment would cost, preparing for the worst. To my utter amazement, the answer was “Nothing. The treatment is free”. It was my first, and to date only experience with universal health care.

What about you? Should the nation be arguing about health care reform, or should we take the giant leap to universal health care?