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.

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Cash for Clunkers…cars… A New Partisan Fight?

It sure looks that way. The Cash for Clunkers program, which gives buyers of new, fuel efficient cars rebates of up to $4500 for turning in old gas guzzlers, has become a political football.

That should be no surprise. What’s interesting is the fighting now is directly because of the program’s popularity. The $1 billion dollars budgeted for the program has quickly run out. Now, the House has passed an additional $2 billion dollars, but the Senate may not follow suit.

So what’s not to like? New car sales during Cash for Clunkers have gone up, dealer inventory has dropped, and in theory, gas guzzling relics are leaving American roads.

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The problem, say Republican senators, is the cost and the fear on the part of people like John McCain that speculators are already abusing the program. In fact, he threatens to lead a filibuster against extending Cash for Clunkers any more money.

As usual, the McCains and Jim DeMints of the Congress are just saying no. Never mind that buyers exhausted all the money in the program in about a week. Never mind that Ford will post its first monthly sales increase since 2007. The point is to never give an inch, unless you absolutely have to. The government says it will continue the program until the Senate acts (or doesn’t), but like with health care, one has to ask why the GOP is so good at forging a united front, while Democrats seem to be hedging their bets.

To be sure, no one is saying Cash for Clunkers should go on forever, And yes, there have been some problems, like the government’s Website crashing, and too much paperwork. But still, it’s a popular program even has an environmental benefit (though no one’s talking about it).

Cash For Clunkers

Maybe this time Republicans are overreacting. It’s hard to argue with a program that offers a serious discount during times like these. Americans like Cash for Clunkers. Otherwise, the McCains and DeMints would be arguing it was a bad idea in the first place.

So give it the extra $2 billion, and let it run its course. More than that the Republicans might have a point. US car buyers know that nothing is forever, not zero percent financing, not employee pricing, and certainly not Cash for Clunkers. It’s a shot in the arm the economy could use, and, more importantly, you can’t treat every Obama Administration initiative like it’s health care.

But the Republicans should know that by now, shouldn’t they?

What do you think? More Cash for Clunkers, or no?

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?

Will the Bronx Hear Obama’s Message?

President Obama always makes a big splash when he comes to New York City.

Thursday was no exception. He spoke at the NAACP’s annual convention, and brought the audience to its feet more than once. It was his most direct speech on issues of race since the campaign, and contained more than one reference to the need for black people to take individual responsibility for bettering our condition.

I spent part of Thursday in a part of New York City that’s not too far from the Hilton Hotel in Manhattan where the president spoke. Not too far, at least, as the crow flies.

In some ways, the  West Bronx is a world away from Midtown. Walk its streets and you experience hope and despair simultaneously. There’s the hopeful hum of road repair and new construction. Unlike “back in the day”, a good number of wearing the hard hats are people of color.

You look in wonder at a vest pocket community garden on Morris Ave. just below 181st St.

You hear the laughter of young children at a playground up the block. A couple of blocks away, the rumble of the elevated subway provides a tympani roll every five minutes or so. Whether walking or driving through the Bronx, you realize this place has a rhythm all its own. The smells of restaurant food from the English and Spanish speaking Caribbean come together to remind you it’s almost lunchtime.

Yes, warts and all, the Bronx is a beautiful place to me. Yet I know better than to try to romanticize it. As President Obama told the NAACP, much still needs to be done. On that note, a thought came to me as I digested the speech and my trip to the Bronx at the same time. While it’s fine for the president to talk about individual and family responsibility, what about the responsibility of politicians to better the conditions of poor, working people in places like the West Bronx?

Recent local developments could lead one to conclude some politicians are acting as irresponsibly as fathers who make babies and then abandon them. They build fiefdoms through providing needed services like health care, then pay themselves princely salaries in addition to what  they make as lawmakers. The recent gridlock in the New York State Senate, the inability of California lawmakers to work out a budget agreement, and other examples around the country seem to say the need for responsibility doesn’t stop at the doorstep of black America.

Maybe one day soon, President Obama will get to walk the streets of the Bronx?

He certainly walked the streets of Chicago as a community organizer, so he knows the pain of poverty and dashed expectations first hand. That’s why his message resonates with many in the black community. He needs to deliver that same message to greedy, avaricious politicians, even if they’re members of his political party.

You think it would make a difference?

Will Madoff Sentence Deter Future Hustlers?

As the world watches cheap hustlers trying to pimp off the name, likeness, and legacy of Michael Jackson, it’s time to take a look at what happened to the world’s biggest hustler.

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He would be Bernard Madoff, and he’s been sentenced to 150 years in prison for running a multi billion dollar Ponzi scheme. Such was his betrayal of people like former baseball great Sandy Koufax, Larry King, John Malkovich, Zsa Zsa Gabor, and literally hundreds of other just plain folks that he received not one letter of support prior to sentencing, not even from his family.

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What did Madoff’s victims have in common? They trusted him. Any hustler worth their salt will tell you trust is essential. In this case, they all wanted to make money, and lots of it. There were reports that Madoff promised some investors they’d make 35% on their money. That led one friend of mine to opine that he had no sympathy for the victims, none at all. “Who in their right mind would trust they’d get that kind of return? They were just plain greedy, straight up,” he sneered.

I don’t know if I’d go that far. However, it’s interesting to hear some of Madoff’s investors, people who lost their life savings so he could live large, take the government to task for not keeping a closer eye on what he was doing. Some of them, not all but some, don’t want the government involved in the financial markets in any way, shape, or form. Not, that is, unless they get burned by Bernie. Some victims said they didn’t even care about the money. They wanted a trial so the truth would come out.

While we don’t actually know the exact amount of money Madoff ripped off during the course of his lucrative hustle, we do know he’s been ordered to forfeit $171 billion dollars.

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His wife Ruth, who originally tried to protect $80 million dollars she said was hers alone, is now down to about $2.5 million. Worse yet for him, a growing number of prison experts think Bernie will do his time not in a country club style minimum security prison, but in a medium to high security facility.

Maybe it’s a sign of the times that as the world mourned Michael Jackson, the second most asked question of the weekend was “How much time ya think Madoff will get?” So now we know. Yet aside from any pity one might feel for those who lost their life savings, there’s a nagging feeling that the Madoff example won’t act as the strong deterrent US District Judge Denny Chin thought it might be.

Hustlers will always be among us, preying on some very basic human emotions. People will still get swindled, no matter how much time Bernie Madoff got.

Trust me on that one.

So, did Madoff get the right sentence, or was it too harsh? You tell me.

GM Bankruptcy- Good for America?

So, early Monday, the deed was done. GM, the nation’s largest automaker and in a way the face of the American car, filed for Chapter 11.

2006 GM TEN Event - Stacy Keibler

Ironically, it was an affiliate, Chevrolet-Saturn of Harlem, that started the ball rolling. Folks in the world’s best known black community must be scratching their heads about that one. In the end, it will be the city of Detroit that takes it on the chin.

Maybe there was no other way to do this. After all, we’re talking about a company whose stock was valued at $40 a share two years ago. As of Friday, the value was 75 cents. The litany of GM mistakes, blunders, and shortsightedness doesn’t need to be chronicled here. Suffice to say it’s been left to Uncle Sam and to the US taxpayer to clean up the mess.

The “New General Motors” will get just over $30 billion dollars in bankruptcy financing from Uncle Sam. That’s in addition to the nearly $20 billion in loans the “Old GM” already received. Of course, none of it comes with guarantees, and it puts the government in the unique position of owning a big chunk of an American corporation. While the reorganized company will have to comply with salary cap restrictions like those imposed on financial institutions back in February, the impact on workers has yet to be calaulated.

It’s likely to be severe. GM says it plans to close 11 factories and idle another 3, and that was before the filing. There will likely be a big cut in the company’s workforce, with some estimates at 21,000 jobs gone by the end of the year. Almost half of GM dealerships will close, leaving hundreds if not thousands of others out of work. Not a pretty picture by any stretch of the imagination.

Make no mistake. The aftershock of this action won’t just be felt in Detroit, which must feel a lot like a punch drunk fighter by now. Cities and towns across America will also feel the pain. The Obama Administration has acknowledged as much, sending members of his cabinet to reassure citizens in the four states likely to be hardest hit.

There is another, potentially devastating aspect to the GM bankruptcy. That’s the possibility that the government will preside over the exportation of autoworker jobs to non union southern states, or, worse yet, overseas. While the Obama Administration does have a great deal of leverage over the “New GM”, it can’t directly tell them where to build new cars.

That leaves open the possibility that states hardest hit by the bankruptcy, states Obama won last November, will be forced to sit by and watch as the next generation of GM cars are manufactured in Mexico or Korea. Suffice to say Obama needs to use every means at his disposal to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Can he make this bankruptcy work, or at least be a viable alternative to liquidating GM, which most everyone agrees would be a total disaster? You tell me.

Isn’t it Time for Burris to Go?

Illinois’ once (and probably not future) Senator Roland Burris has even seasoned political junkies scratching their heads in amazement. Even as secretly recorded conversations between Burris and disgraced former Governor Rod Blagojevich’s brother were being played in state and national media, this guy mounts what he thinks was a counteroffensive. From our “Ya Gotta be Kiddin Me” department:

Burris is telling the nation that those conversations with Robert Blagojevich prove he’s innocent of any pay to play allegations. The Blago sibling, for those who have forgotten, was his brother’s chief fund raiser. Burris wanted very badly to be appointed to Barack  Obama’s vacant Senate seat. So badly, in fact, that he tried to figure out ways to raise money for Blagojevich without making it look like that’s what he was doing. 

Burris says the fact that he never actually sent a check. Trouble is, he promised in the phone conversation to do just that by December 15th. Blagojevich was busted on December 9th. One would think that in light of all this Burris would  finally acknowledge that his time as a US Senator was coming to a close. Nope! His media blitz Wednesday indicates he’s not going quietly into anyone’s good night.

This blog has long maintained Burris’ original appointment was tainted by the alleged actions of his benefactor. At best he should have publicly announced that he was a placeholder, and that he wouldn’t run in next year’s election. No such luck. Whether it’s ego, chutzpah, or just plain political blindness, Roland Burris continues to act as though he’s not tarnished by this ethical firestorm, and that he can win a primary battle for the seat he now holds. 

Even most of his ardent black supporters in his home state are off the bus now. They realize his chances in a primary are slim, and in a general election against a crusading Republican, nil. Maybe President Obama, who has already interceded in one possible Senate battle (in New York) can make Burris see the handwriting everyone else sees on the wall. 

Perhaps an appeal to the legacy Burris holds so dear might work. If not, how about this. The president calls Burris and tells him if he doesn’t either quit now or pledge not to run next year, he, Barack Obama, will campaign in Illinois’ black communities for whoever is Burris’ strongest primary opponent. There are reports that’s just what he did in New York.

Yet it shouldn’t come to this. Roland Burris should do the right thing, which, in light of these phone conversations, is quit, and quit now. Anything less opens up the possibility of a Republican winning that seat in next’s year’s election.

What do you think. Will Roland Burris quit? Should he?