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.

Did Michael Vick on 60 Minutes Convince You?

The first word I thought of after watching Michael Vick’s interview on 60 Minutes Sunday night was stoic.

The young man was stoic, unemotional, yet at the same time straight to the point, and quite direct in taking personal responsibility for the actions that led him to a prison cell.

The second thing I thought about was the fact that I didn’t think the conversation with James Brown (CBS Sports) would change many minds, one way or the other.

Michael Vick has his supporters, and for them his was a stellar performance. For his detractors, performance is the operative word. They won’t be convinced by what they saw Sunday that Michael Vick has transformed himself from the guy who oversaw the dogfighting ugliness now so closely associated with his name.

Not knowing Michael Vick personally, I take him at his word that he understands the depravity of dogfighting, and his responsibility to steer young people away from it, as he says the elders in his community didn’t do with him. Yet from the beginning, the most powerful ally Vick has is former NFL coach Tony Dungy. When he speaks of working with young people in prison, his words have a ring of truth no matter what you think of Michael Vick. It’s Tony Dungy, after all, who lost his own son to suicide.

So for Michael Vick, there are second chances. His signing by the Philadelphia Eagles was as much about commerce as altruism , but that’s the nature of professional sports. Animal lovers in Philly may hate what team ownership has done, but if Michael Vick can help his team get to the Super Bowl, it will have been worth the risk.

The risks for Michael Vick, however, are different. Nobody in their right mind thinks he’ll ever get near dogfighting again, but his judgment will be tested in other, more subtle ways. Like when his teammates decide to hang out at that most dangerous place for professional athletes, the strip club. There were reports, since vehemently denied, that he spent his first night out of prison ay a Virginia Beach strip club with NBA star Allen Iverson. Iverson’s agent  said he hadn’t seen Vick since his release, but what happens down the road?

Will he take up with the same group of hangers-on he consorted with when he was with the Atlanta Falcons? The Michael Vick on 60 Minutes Sunday seemed smart enough to avoid such pitfalls, but you never know. Plaxico Burress didn’t seem dumb enough to carry a loaded weapon into a Manhattan club and shoot himself with it, either.

What do you think?

Did Michael Vick convince you he’s sincere?

Dead Prostitutes – Does Anyone Care? MOMS does.

So many American cities have women who, for one reason or another, live on the margins. In some cases, they are that sad combination of hooker and drug addict. They sell sex to feed their habits, or to feed their children.

In one small, North Carolina City, nine such women have vanished since 2005.

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Six were later found dead, murdered but so decomposed that finding a cause of death became near impossible. All of the victims were black.

The city is Rocky Mount, 60 miles northeast of Raleigh. Sadly, the story of prostitutes who die by violence is not unique to this particular place. Yet residents of Rocky Mount tell a story of alleged police inaction due largely to the lifestyles of the victims. That too is not unique. It’s almost a given that serial killers can ply their trade among prostitutes and drug addicts because it takes so long for the law to recognize what’s happening.

In the case of Rocky Mount, it wasn’t until the latest victim was discovered in June that  local and state police formed a task force, and it was last month that the FBI got involved. They won’t say if they suspect a serial killer, but an awful lot of people in Rocky Mount think its the work of one man. Keep in mind that three women have disappeared, and none of them have been found.

The issue here, beyond the tragedy of these homicides, is the value of human life. Say what we will about all being equal, we treat some as less than equal, in some cases, far less. The life of a drug addicted hooker isn’t one to envy on any level. Still, our own humanity should demand we care, especially if such women are deliberately targeted.

In a couple of cases, women who walked the streets of Rocky Mount and jumped in and our of cars with men decided it wasn’t worth the risk.

One woman who knew two of the victims has founded a group to publicize the slayings, and to search for the three women who remain missing.

The group is called Murdered or Missing Sisters or MOMS. They’ve raised awareness to the point that national media has begun to cover the story.

While that’s all well and good, one wonders if these killings would have been highlighted sooner if the women involved weren’t part of that shadow world of people living on society’s margins.

Will we ever consider that their lives mean as much as anyone else’s? 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.

Is Hillary Jealous of Bill? Or was it sexism?

Jealousy probably is the wrong word to use, but that’s exactly what a lot of media watchers concluded after the Secretary of State got testy in answering a question thought to be about her husband. Bill Clinton, you see, casts a long shadow. His work in freeing those two journalists from North Korea sent speculation abuzz.

What new role might he play in an Obama Administration? Did he freelance? How much did Hillary know about the mission in advance? There were even jokes about his being on the plane with two women.

For a lot of people, this meant the Big Dog was back.

For his wife, it meant having to share the spotlight on a situation that’s normally handled by her office. And remember, this is a woman who came close to being President of the United States, and now handles foreign policy for the most powerful nation in the world. So how is this made manifest?

A university student in Kinshasa, Congo asks her what was translated as “Mr. Clinton” would think about a World Bank concern regarding a Chinese loan offer to the Congolese government. Clinton fired back, “My husband is not Secretary of State. I am”. If you look at the video of her response, her exasperation is clear.

And you know what? She’s got a point.

Reverse the people involved here, and ask yourself if Bill Clinton would have been asked a similar question in an identical situation. Maybe, maybe not, but could Mrs. Clinton have been reacting to what she felt was a sexist inference? To add an ironic twist to the saga, ABC News says the translator got the question wrong, and that the student was actually asking what President Obama, not former President Clinton thought of that loan offer.

So now we’ll go through at least one news cycle with snarky talking heads, male and female, cocking their eyebrows and asking “What’s wrong with Hillary”? And the substantive work she’s been doing since her appointment will mean nothing. Is she getting enough rest? Will Bill be ordered to fade into the shadows? How are they really getting along?

And once again, we’ll see one unintended consequence of cable news without end. I’ve talked about it far too many times on this blog, but only the demands of the 24 hour news machine can take a possibly misunderstood question and run with it like this. And that’s because we as news/political junkies need our fix.

Too bad. But what do you think?

Does Michael Vick Matter?

Ordinarily I shy away from blogging about sports. There are more than enough people who seem to live or die by what their favorite team or athlete does or doesn’t do.

Yet over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been asked a bunch of times about Michael Vick, and what I think about his incarceration, suspension, reinstatement, and possible return to football. What’s startling to me is the passion the mere mention of the man’s name engenders, whether the person is a supporter or detractor.

Vick Surrenders Football

There’s really no reason to go over Vick’s dogfighting transgressions here. Right now the media frenzy isn’t over his conditional reinstatement, or even when he’ll play again. It’s who he’ll play for, and that question has become a parlor game in sports media. The coach of a team says he’d like to have Vick on his squad, the the general manager or owner says the exact opposite. It’s great summer theater.

Yet the central question is more about whether he’s deserving of playing football again, and, one expects, earning that multi-million dollar paycheck. On the one hand, you have the Vick supporters, some of whom argue the man has paid his debt to society, and therefore should be able to play immediately. I’ve also heard some people make the argument, “well, they were just dogs”. I take specific issue with that. Cruelty to animals ought not be taken lightly. What Vick did was reprehensible, and one hopes he understands that.

However, the argument that he’s done his time does tend to resonate. Maybe he should have gotten a longer sentence, but he didn’t. Should he be banned from making a living because people still are repulsed by what he did?

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One of Michael Vick's dogs

I don’t think so, not in this case. There are those who say he hasn’t been publicly contrite, or not contrite enough for them. That’s a tough one. How do you look inside a man’s heart, and determine if he’s really sorry for a wrong?

There is, by the way, something else looming over this entire debate . That would be the world of professional football. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell knows only too well that world has more than its share of miscreants, and to keep Michael Vick out of football for too long would invoke comparisons with past discipline meted out to others.

That’s why, on balance, Michael Vick got what he deserved. And he will play football again, not because some team is making a moral judgment one way or the other, but because they need that most precious of commodities, a seasoned quarterback.

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Animal rights groups may protest, but it won’t do any good. I say this as a dog lover myself, one who can’t conceive of the horror Vick inflicted on those animals.

What do you think. Will Michael Vick play in the NFL this season? Should he?

“Beer Summit”- Teachable Moment or Insult?

So was anything really accomplished at Thursday’s meeting between President Barack Obama, Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates and Cambridge police Sgt. James Crowley? Perhaps, in its own way, it was an amicable means of defusing what threatened to become a racial time bomb. The July 16th incident, and the president’s reaction to it, touched off a media firestorm only partly explained by the fact it’s summer, and media typically trolls for news about now.

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I have to admit, there’s a part of me that takes umbrage at the notion that this meeting represented a watershed event in US race relations. In fact, the idea of a “beer summit” insults the memories of people like Medgar Evers, the four little girls bombed to death in the basement of a Birmingham church, Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner. These were people who died so these three plus Vice President Joe Biden could share that beer at the White House.

A harsh assessment? Maybe. But in this age of media hype, there’s no other way to put it. Put simply, could Gates have chilled a bit when confronted by Crowley? Sure. Could Crowley have defused the situation instead of blowing it up by arresting Gates? Yep. Could Obama have chosen his words more carefully, so as not to stoke the media fire? Yes again. Yet none of these things rise to the level of scrutiny the incident has received.

Why all the fuss? Because by using the words “acted stupidly”, Barack Obama stepped out of his assigned role as America’s non racial black president. Suddenly, as far as the media was concerned, he became a spokesman for his race. You can almost hear people thinking, “Geez, we didn’t elect him to talk about racial injustice. Racial responsibility, fine. But not this”.

Which brings up the question, why not this? Why shouldn’t this president be as free to talk about race in  this context as, say, Bill Clinton was? Why hasn’t the issue of racial profiling moved beyond the occasional story in local media? Alas, Barack Obama learned he won’t be able to opine about these sorts of things in the future. Politically, the cost was too high.

When you’re trying to get health care reform passed, talking about race creates a problem. Barack Obama knows this, just as he knows knocking back a cold one with Crowley and Gates won’t change the attitude of that Boston cop who referred to Gates as a “jungle monkey”.

That actually takes work. So just what did Thursday’s beerfest actually accomplish? You tell me.