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Peter Dreier: Pass the Health Care Bill – Then Improve It

December 25th, 2009 admin No comments

There are many lessons to learn from the health care war that has raged over the past year. We’ll get to some of them below. But here’s the bottom line: Pass the bill, then improve it.

The health care bill that will emerge from the House-Senate conference committee won’t be what most progressives had hoped for, but it is a major, historic turning point in American social reform legislation, comparable to the Social Security Act, the National Labor Relations (Wagner) Act, the Fair Labor Standards (minimum wage/40 hour week) Act, the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, the Clean Air Act, and other progressive breakthroughs. None of those laws were what their advocates wanted. They all involved compromises that, at the time, were heart-breaking to activists. Each one was subsequently improved by amendments, although not without reformers doing battle with reactionary opponents.

It is incredibly irresponsible for some radicals and progressives to call for killing the health care bill. It is important to push for changes that would improve the Senate version of the bill. For example, the House funding plan (a tax on families with incomes over $1 million) is much better than the Senate version (a tax on so-called “Cadillac” health insurance plans). That’s what the labor movement, liberal and progressive Democrats in Congress, pro-choice advocates, and others will be doing in hopes of putting a better bill on President Obama’s desk, as Harold Meyerson discusses in his latest Washington Post column. But the idea that we should scrap this bill and start from scratch next year is both immoral and impractical. If we don’t pass health care reform now, we won’t have another chance for at least a decade. And, like taking food out of the mouths of hungry children, killing this bill will hurt tens of millions of real people who are now suffering physically, psychologically, and economically.

For proof, check out this chart, put together by Jonathan Cohn and Jonathan Gruber (a health care economist at MIT), based on CBO cost estimates of the Senate bill. It shows the health care cost projections for a family of four at different income levels. For example, a family of four earning $60,458 — 250 percent of the federal poverty line — would pay an estimated annual premium of $12,042 and an annual out-of-pocket maximum of $12,600 without the legislation (in total, 41 percent of annual income). If the legislation passes, the comparable numbers are $5,797 and $6,300, respectively (or 20 percent of annual income). Families with lower incomes benefit even more. Here’s Cohn’s article, that explains this in greater detail.

After the Senate passed its version of the health care bill earlier today, Obama said: “This notion that somehow the health care bill that is emerging should be grudgingly accepted by Democrats as half a loaf is simply incorrect,” Mr. Obama said. “This is nine-tenths of a loaf. And for a family out there that right now doesn’t have health insurance, it is a great deal. It’s a full loaf for a lot of families who have nothing to fall back on if they get into a medical emergency.”

We can differ with Obama on the math — I’d say the House bill is 3/4 of a loaf and the Senate bill is 2/3 of a loaf — but he’s basically correct about the real human impact. The bill will make life better for most Americans — those who don’t currently have health insurance and those who currently have inadequate health insurance. Every serious progressive health care expert agrees that the bill is a significant step forward — a stepping stone toward universal health insurance — although they may differ on some particular issues. The health care experts writing this week in the left-wing The Nation, the progressive American Prospect, and even the barely-liberal New Republic share this view.

Here’s what J. Lester Felder writes in The Nation :

“Despite these very serious shortcomings, however, the bill the Senate passed would reduce the number of uninsured Americans by 31 million by 2019. The Medicaid program will be open to new ranks of the country’s poorest residents, and the near-poor and middle class will get subsidies to buy insurance. The Senate also advanced some important delivery system reforms that could chart a path towards reining in costs.

As disappointed as progressives are with the compromises Democratic leaders made to get this bill through the Senate–and as tempting it is to believe they may have gotten a better deal if they’d pursued a more aggressive strategy–they are on the verge of doing many other lawmakers have tried and failed to do. And if this effort fails, another generation may pass before another chance will come to try again.”

Here’s what Jacob Hacker, the policy expert and Yale political scientist who is credited with devising the original “public option” plan, wrote in the New Republic :

“Since the first campaign for publicly guaranteed health insurance in the early twentieth century, opportunities for serious health reform have come only rarely and fleetingly. If this opportunity passes, it will be very long before the chance arrives again. Many Americans will be gravely hurt by the delay. The most progressive president of my generation–the generation that came of age in the anti-government shadow of Ronald Reagan–will be handed a crippling loss. The party he leads will be branded as unable to govern…

The public option was always a means to an end: real competition for insurers, an alternative for consumers to existing private plans that does not deny needed care or shift risks onto the vulnerable, the ability to provide affordable coverage over time. I thought it was the best means within our political grasp. It lay just beyond that grasp. Yet its demise–in this round–does not diminish the immediate necessity of those larger aims. And even without the public option, the bill that Congress passes and the President signs could move us substantially toward those goals.

As weak as it is in numerous areas, the Senate bill contains three vital reforms. First, it creates a new framework, the “exchange,” through which people who lack secure workplace coverage can obtain the same kind of group health insurance that workers in large companies take for granted. Second, it makes available hundreds of billions in federal help to allow people to buy coverage through the exchanges and through an expanded Medicaid program. Third, it places new regulations on private insurers that, if properly enforced, will reduce insurers’ ability to discriminate against the sick and to undermine the health security of Americans.

These are signal achievements, and they all would have been politically unthinkable just a few years ago.”

Paul Krugman in the New York Times, Ezra Klein in the Washington Post, Paul Starr in the American Prospect, and many others echo versions of these same sentiments.

The bill that eventually winds up on Obama’s desk won’t be what we’d hoped for a year ago. There will be lots of articles and even some books diagnosing what went wrong and what went right. Some initial thoughts:

1. Lesson #1: We need major campaign finance reform, preferably mandatory “clean money” public financing plan (http://www.publicampaign.org), as an alternative to our current system of legalized bribery.

The biggest obstacle to more progressive reform is our system of campaign finance. The drug companies, insurance companies, the hospital lobby, and the American Medical Assn. have too much political influence because they’ve spent hundreds of millions of dollars in campaign contributions and lobbying — something I’ve written a lot about over the past year. The Republican Party is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the medical industrial complex, as they’ve shown during throughout the battle over health care reform. Unfortunately, a handful of moderate Democrats in both Houses are also in the pockets of the health industry lobby – most obviously Senators Max Baucus, Ben Nelson, Mary Landreiu, Blanche Lincoln, and Kent Conrad. And let’s not forget one-time-Democrat-now-Independent-who-acts-like-a-Republican Joe Lieberman, whose vanity, hypocrisy, and double-cross should be rewarded by the Democrats by stripping him of his committee chairmanship. Moreover, all people of conscience around the country should unite in defeating Lieberman when he runs for re-election for his Senate seat from Connecticut in 2012. I’ve written about Lieberman as the “Senator from Aetna” , but he’s worse than that.

2. Lesson #2: Kill the undemocratic filibuster rule.

Lefties have been too quick to criticize Obama and the Democratic Party for compromising with the moderate Dems and their sponsors, the insurance industry. The truth is that of the 58 Democrats in the Senate, 53 of them supported the public option and, later, even more supported the Medicare buy-in proposal (for people 55-64), as a way to create competition with the insurance industry. In a true democracy, 53 votes (out of 100) should be enough to pass a bill. So the second obstacle to real reform is the filibuster rule, which gave the five-member “Baucus Caucus” (who together represent states with 3 percent of the country’s total population), and then Lieberman, too much influence.

3. Lesson #3: Grassroots organizing saved health care reform from an early death.

Recall, at the end of the summer, pundits were already writing obituaries for major healthcare reform. Particularly during the August Congressional recess, an epidemic of right-wing anger against Obama and his policy agenda–of which healthcare reform was simply an immediate and convenient target–captivated the media, which reported disruptions at Congressional town hall meetings as though they were an accurate reflection of public opinion rather than a pep rally for extremists, encouraged by Fox News and talk-show jocks. The right-wingers stoked fear and confusion by warning that Obama’s “socialized medicine” plan would create “death panels,” subsidize illegal immigrants, pay for abortions and force people to drop their current insurance. Republican officials, including Senator Charles Grassley, Senator Jim Demint, and Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele, and conservative pundits Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly and Betsy McCaughey repeated these myths. And support for the public option tumbled over the summer in response. In June, 62 percent of Americans told Washington Post/ABC pollsters that they favored a public option. By mid-August, support had slipped to 52 percent. Obama’s popularly fell, too, as jobs continued to disappear and the administration’s proposals to bail out the banks and the auto industry met with right-wing attacks and public skepticism. The death in August of healthcare reform stalwart Senator Ted Kennedy bolstered Baucus’ influence as chair of the Senate Finance Committee.

As Marshall Ganz and I wrote in the Washington Post at the end of August , the grassroots momentum from the Obama campaign seemed to be stalled. To the rescue came Health Care for America Now (HCAN), a coalition of unions, community organizations, consumer groups, environmentalists and netroots groups such as MoveOn, that began spearheading the reform campaign since the group was launched in July 2008.

I’ve written about HCAN’s influence elsewhere. Suffice it to say that in late August, seeing defeat on the horizon, HCAN and other reform activists regrouped. They decided to act more like a grassroots movement and less like an interest group. That meant mobilizing voters, focusing attention on the insurance industry, humanizing the battle by giving insurance company victims an opportunity to tell their stories and using creative tactics to generate media attention. They sponsored rallies and protests, including civil disobedience, in cities around the country. They helped focus public attention on the insurance industry’s outrageous profits and executive compensation, its abuse of consumers and its outsized political influence. And they warned Democrats not to get duped by the industry’s pledges of cooperation. Public support for the public option recovered after taking a tumble over the summer. In late October, a Washington Post/ABC poll found that 57 percent favored a public insurance option, while 40 percent opposed it. If a public plan were run by the states and available only to those who lack affordable private options, support for it jumped to 76 percent. Under those circumstances, even a majority of Republicans, 56 percent, favored it. That kind of grassroots pressure helped the liberal Democrats in the Congress fight to keep a decent bill alive, even though eventually Lieberman forced the Dems to compromise on the public option and then the Medicare buy-in.

4. Lesson #4: Watchdog the media.

The mainstream media made it very difficult for Obama, the progressive Democrats, and health reform advocates. During the past year, the mainstream media gave right-wing activists a megaphone that gave them a much larger voice than they deserved. The ultra-right — including the “tea party” lunatics, and reactionary Republicans like Senators Jim DeMint and Charles Grassley, egged on by Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, and their Fox News colleagues — got much more attention than they should have. As Todd Gitlin and I noted, the media covered the right-wing protests AGAINST health care reform, but barely reported on the protests sponsored by health care reform activists like HCAN.

The mainstream media acted like stenographers, repeating the right wingers’ lies about the health care plans, without trying to verify them or put their outrageous statements in context. At the same time, the mainstream media completely shut out the voices of the left wing of the health care debate, the advocates for a single-payer system. With a few exceptions, the media repeated the right wing’s lies about Canada’s health care system without correcting them, and allowed them to frame the mainstream Democrats’ public option plan as “socialism.” Trudy Lieberman, the nation’s best media critic, has been keeping tabs on the media’s misreporting of the health care debate all along. It is worth reading her regular columns and blogs to see how much the media set the public agenda and framed the debate in ways that undermined progressive activists and President Obama.

5. Lesson #5: This isn’t just about health care.

Last summer, Republican Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina said out loud what most Republican members of Congress were thinking and plotting. DeMint called the president’s health care proposal “D-Day for freedom in America” and said that stopping Obama’s plan for health care overhaul could be the president’s “Waterloo,” a reference to the site of Napoleon’s bitter defeat in 1815. What DeMint meant, and what his Republican colleagues and their allies like Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and others intend, is that defeating Obama’s health care reform would undermine his presidency, and set the stage for major GOP victories in the 2010 elections and again in 2012, including defeating Obama’s re-election bid. They understood that if the unholy alliance of medical industry muscle, right-wing mob tactics, Republican Party hardline unwillingness to compromise, and a handful of conservative Democrats’ obfuscation is able to defeat Obama’s health-care proposal, it will write the conservative playbook for blocking other key components of the president’s and progessives’ agenda — including action on climate change, immigration reform, marriage equality, a second jolt of economic stimulus, and updates to the nation’s labor laws. So those progressives, like Howard Dean, who say, “kill the bill” are doing more than dooming tens of millions of Americans to health care hell; they are setting the stage for a Republican resurgence.

Obama has certainly disappointed many progressives on a number of fronts, including the Wall Street bail-outs, the weak foreclosure program, the too timid stimulus plan, and most recently by expanding the war in Afghanistan. What’s missing from these criticisms is the failure of progressive forces to mount an effective grassroots movement to push Obama and the Democrats. Both grassroots groups (including unions, enviros, community organizing groups, gay rights groups, peace groups, and others) and the Obama administration haven’t yet learned how to play the inside-outside strategy game as effectively as they could. Like FDR, Obama’s success depends on the existence of a progressive movement that organizes, protests, influences public opinion, lobbies, and keeps the heat on so that the inevitable legislative compromises are stepping stones to further reform. When activists asked FDR to support progressive legislation, he told them, “I agree with you. Now go out and make me do it.” Obama has sent the same signals.

The Right understands this. That’s why Glenn Beck, Limbaugh, O’Reilly, Congressmembers King and Issa, and others have been so persistent at attacking SEIU, ACORN, Van Jones, and others. They want to destroy the progressive movement and make it more difficult for Obama to be a successful (and two-term) president.

For example, The Right’s persistent attack on ACORN over the past year and a half was effective. ACORN, with a strong constituency in Arkansas, was expected to play an important role in keeping the heat on Senator Blanche Lincoln, a moderate Democrat who seemed to be in bed with the insurance industry. ACORN did some effective grassroots organizing to hold Lincoln accountable, but it was weakened by the Right’s attacks, and so busy fighting for its own survival, that it couldn’t mount the kind of full-court press on Lincoln that was needed.

The failure of many Democrats, even many liberal Democrats, as well as many liberal funders, to stand up for ACORN when it was under attack made it more difficult to pass health care reform, and to build the kind of progressive grassroots movement that is necessary to pass reform legislation. Their behavior is even more shameful in light of a new report, released this week by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, documenting that the various accusations against the group by Republicans and the right-wing media echo chamber — especially about alleged “voter fraud” — are totally bogus. Here are some of the report’s key findings:

  • There were no instances of individuals who were allegedly registered to vote improperly by ACORN or its employees and who were reported “attempting to vote at the polls.” Memorandum from the Congressional Research Service to the House Judiciary Committee, “ACORN Investigations” (December 22, 2009), at 1.
  • As of October 2009, there have been 46 reported federal, state, and local investigations concerning ACORN, of which 11 are still pending. “ACORN Investigations,” Table 1.
  • No instances were identified in which ACORN “violated the terms of federal funding in the last five years.” “ACORN Investigations,” at 1.
  • Recently enacted federal legislation to prohibit funding to ACORN raises significant constitutional concerns. The courts “may have a sufficient basis” to conclude that the legislation “violates the prohibition against bills of attainder.” Congressional Research Service, “The Proposed ‘Defund ACORN Act’ and Related Legislation: Are They Bills of Attainder?” (November 30, 2009), at 25. [A recent court ruling did, in fact, find that the legislation violated the law]
  • Concerning recent “sting” operations relating to ACORN, although state laws vary, two relevant states, Maryland and California, “appear to ban private recording of face to face conversations absent the consent of all the participants.” Memorandum from the Congressional Research Service to the House Judiciary, “Allegations of Recording Conversations with Various ACORN Affiliated Individuals without Their Consent” (October 9, 2009), at 1.

Peter Dreier is Professor of Politics and director of the Urban & Environmental Policy Program at Occidental College.

More on Max Baucus


Mort Zuckerman: God Bless America

December 25th, 2009 admin No comments

The end of a year always provides an opportunity to think about the true joys of living in this wonderful country we call America.

One quality integral to the American sense of community is giving. It has traditionally been a key characteristic of our society — “the spirit of mutual helpfulness” that so impressed the young French visitor Alexis de Tocqueville early in the 19th century. Private philanthropy in the United States has long been far greater in proportion to either our population or our total economic output than philanthropy anywhere else in the world. Last year, the gifts of Americans across the whole range of income groups added up to approximately $308 billion or 2.2% of our annual gross domestic product.

Twenty-one individuals or couples have made philanthropic pledges in excess of $100 million, and we have observed the largest single pledge ever made — the $30 billion ($30,000,000,000!) to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation from Warren Buffett. The Sage of Omaha might have left his fortune to his family, but he pithily explained why he didn’t: He wanted to give his children “enough money so that they would feel they could do anything, but not so much they could do nothing.” Amen to that.

The urge to give and to be seen giving is almost as universal as our urge to acquire, something else de Tocqueville noted. Sometimes this urge goes overboard–witness the excesses of Wall Street. At the heart of American capitalism there seems to be an unwritten contract that those who acquire the most wealth will share it with those who have the least. We give to causes ranging from medical research to scholarships for disadvantaged minority students, from supporting opera houses to preserving our historic landmarks. And we do this not only for our citizens but also for those of other countries-witness the extraordinary work of Bill and Melinda Gates to wipe out malaria in Asia and Africa, and the millions of dollars raised here to halt the rampant AIDS epidemic in Africa.

We are blessed by our history. The early immigrants came mostly from countries with a strong, central government, a dominant church, and an energetic aristocracy. Central government assumed the responsibility for the public good, with its costs underwritten by taxes. America, by contrast, was a young, frontier society with no tradition of strong, central government, with no state religion and no established aristocracy. When American pioneers wanted to raise a church or a school or a hospital in their new communities, they had to build it themselves. One farmer couldn’t put up a barn by himself, so individual farmers called on friends and neighbors, and when they needed help, the favor was promptly returned. The party the farmer threw for his neighbors after the barn was completed lives on in the wonderfully American phrase “raising the roof.”

Other rich countries have a far higher proportion of hospitals, libraries, and universities-all funded by the state. This reduces the sense of community. The commonplace cry is “Why don’t they do something about it?” instead of “Why don’t we do something about it?” Many Europeans believe that simply paying taxes absolves them of any further responsibility to their fellow citizens. It is an attitude that is beginning to change somewhat, given the American successes-the “thousand points of light” that the elder President Bush commended. But European governments vary from the stingy to the downright mean in their attitude to philanthropy.

Of course, government has hardly been rendered redundant in the United States, but its role in relation to philanthropy is a positive one. Our government, irrespective of political control, encourages giving, with indirect subsidies and tax exemptions for cultural institutions and tax relief for individuals. This jibes with the American instinct for individualism. We don’t want government to make all moral or aesthetic judgments. But studies have shown that the tax relief Americans enjoy from giving doesn’t explain the impulse to give. Happily, that is something deeply ingrained in our national psyche.

It has to be admitted that this system works well for middle — and upper-income Americans who can take advantage of tax deductions and arts subsidies but functions less well for lower-income groups. That’s why our universities, hospitals, and art museums are among the world’s finest, while healthcare and preschool education for poor Americans are below European standards. Here, still, is a challenge to the American spirit we celebrate as we give thanks for our blessings.

Thomas Wolfe put what America is all about well:

“So then, to every man his chance… his shining golden opportunity… to live, to work, to be himself, and to become whatever thing his manhood and his vision can combine to make him — this, seeker, is the promise of America.”

This is the very promise that binds into one society so many races, languages and national cultures. The vision of what we might become enables us to endure the injustices and inequalities of American society today. We do not feel embedded in the past or trapped by the present. We feel we have a future, not for the purpose of glorifying the state, but rather to realize our private ends in peace and freedom.

At this time of celebration of family and community, we can all sing ” America! America! God shed his grace on thee.”

More on Christmas


Mort Zuckerman: God Bless America

December 25th, 2009 admin No comments

The end of a year always provides an opportunity to think about the true joys of living in this wonderful country we call America.

One quality integral to the American sense of community is giving. It has traditionally been a key characteristic of our society — “the spirit of mutual helpfulness” that so impressed the young French visitor Alexis de Tocqueville early in the 19th century. Private philanthropy in the United States has long been far greater in proportion to either our population or our total economic output than philanthropy anywhere else in the world. Last year, the gifts of Americans across the whole range of income groups added up to approximately $308 billion or 2.2% of our annual gross domestic product.

Twenty-one individuals or couples have made philanthropic pledges in excess of $100 million, and we have observed the largest single pledge ever made — the $30 billion ($30,000,000,000!) to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation from Warren Buffett. The Sage of Omaha might have left his fortune to his family, but he pithily explained why he didn’t: He wanted to give his children “enough money so that they would feel they could do anything, but not so much they could do nothing.” Amen to that.

The urge to give and to be seen giving is almost as universal as our urge to acquire, something else de Tocqueville noted. Sometimes this urge goes overboard–witness the excesses of Wall Street. At the heart of American capitalism there seems to be an unwritten contract that those who acquire the most wealth will share it with those who have the least. We give to causes ranging from medical research to scholarships for disadvantaged minority students, from supporting opera houses to preserving our historic landmarks. And we do this not only for our citizens but also for those of other countries-witness the extraordinary work of Bill and Melinda Gates to wipe out malaria in Asia and Africa, and the millions of dollars raised here to halt the rampant AIDS epidemic in Africa.

We are blessed by our history. The early immigrants came mostly from countries with a strong, central government, a dominant church, and an energetic aristocracy. Central government assumed the responsibility for the public good, with its costs underwritten by taxes. America, by contrast, was a young, frontier society with no tradition of strong, central government, with no state religion and no established aristocracy. When American pioneers wanted to raise a church or a school or a hospital in their new communities, they had to build it themselves. One farmer couldn’t put up a barn by himself, so individual farmers called on friends and neighbors, and when they needed help, the favor was promptly returned. The party the farmer threw for his neighbors after the barn was completed lives on in the wonderfully American phrase “raising the roof.”

Other rich countries have a far higher proportion of hospitals, libraries, and universities-all funded by the state. This reduces the sense of community. The commonplace cry is “Why don’t they do something about it?” instead of “Why don’t we do something about it?” Many Europeans believe that simply paying taxes absolves them of any further responsibility to their fellow citizens. It is an attitude that is beginning to change somewhat, given the American successes-the “thousand points of light” that the elder President Bush commended. But European governments vary from the stingy to the downright mean in their attitude to philanthropy.

Of course, government has hardly been rendered redundant in the United States, but its role in relation to philanthropy is a positive one. Our government, irrespective of political control, encourages giving, with indirect subsidies and tax exemptions for cultural institutions and tax relief for individuals. This jibes with the American instinct for individualism. We don’t want government to make all moral or aesthetic judgments. But studies have shown that the tax relief Americans enjoy from giving doesn’t explain the impulse to give. Happily, that is something deeply ingrained in our national psyche.

It has to be admitted that this system works well for middle — and upper-income Americans who can take advantage of tax deductions and arts subsidies but functions less well for lower-income groups. That’s why our universities, hospitals, and art museums are among the world’s finest, while healthcare and preschool education for poor Americans are below European standards. Here, still, is a challenge to the American spirit we celebrate as we give thanks for our blessings.

Thomas Wolfe put what America is all about well:

“So then, to every man his chance… his shining golden opportunity… to live, to work, to be himself, and to become whatever thing his manhood and his vision can combine to make him — this, seeker, is the promise of America.”

This is the very promise that binds into one society so many races, languages and national cultures. The vision of what we might become enables us to endure the injustices and inequalities of American society today. We do not feel embedded in the past or trapped by the present. We feel we have a future, not for the purpose of glorifying the state, but rather to realize our private ends in peace and freedom.

At this time of celebration of family and community, we can all sing ” America! America! God shed his grace on thee.”

More on Christmas


Mort Zuckerman: God Bless America

December 25th, 2009 admin No comments

The end of a year always provides an opportunity to think about the true joys of living in this wonderful country we call America.

One quality integral to the American sense of community is giving. It has traditionally been a key characteristic of our society — “the spirit of mutual helpfulness” that so impressed the young French visitor Alexis de Tocqueville early in the 19th century. Private philanthropy in the United States has long been far greater in proportion to either our population or our total economic output than philanthropy anywhere else in the world. Last year, the gifts of Americans across the whole range of income groups added up to approximately $308 billion or 2.2% of our annual gross domestic product.

Twenty-one individuals or couples have made philanthropic pledges in excess of $100 million, and we have observed the largest single pledge ever made — the $30 billion ($30,000,000,000!) to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation from Warren Buffett. The Sage of Omaha might have left his fortune to his family, but he pithily explained why he didn’t: He wanted to give his children “enough money so that they would feel they could do anything, but not so much they could do nothing.” Amen to that.

The urge to give and to be seen giving is almost as universal as our urge to acquire, something else de Tocqueville noted. Sometimes this urge goes overboard–witness the excesses of Wall Street. At the heart of American capitalism there seems to be an unwritten contract that those who acquire the most wealth will share it with those who have the least. We give to causes ranging from medical research to scholarships for disadvantaged minority students, from supporting opera houses to preserving our historic landmarks. And we do this not only for our citizens but also for those of other countries-witness the extraordinary work of Bill and Melinda Gates to wipe out malaria in Asia and Africa, and the millions of dollars raised here to halt the rampant AIDS epidemic in Africa.

We are blessed by our history. The early immigrants came mostly from countries with a strong, central government, a dominant church, and an energetic aristocracy. Central government assumed the responsibility for the public good, with its costs underwritten by taxes. America, by contrast, was a young, frontier society with no tradition of strong, central government, with no state religion and no established aristocracy. When American pioneers wanted to raise a church or a school or a hospital in their new communities, they had to build it themselves. One farmer couldn’t put up a barn by himself, so individual farmers called on friends and neighbors, and when they needed help, the favor was promptly returned. The party the farmer threw for his neighbors after the barn was completed lives on in the wonderfully American phrase “raising the roof.”

Other rich countries have a far higher proportion of hospitals, libraries, and universities-all funded by the state. This reduces the sense of community. The commonplace cry is “Why don’t they do something about it?” instead of “Why don’t we do something about it?” Many Europeans believe that simply paying taxes absolves them of any further responsibility to their fellow citizens. It is an attitude that is beginning to change somewhat, given the American successes-the “thousand points of light” that the elder President Bush commended. But European governments vary from the stingy to the downright mean in their attitude to philanthropy.

Of course, government has hardly been rendered redundant in the United States, but its role in relation to philanthropy is a positive one. Our government, irrespective of political control, encourages giving, with indirect subsidies and tax exemptions for cultural institutions and tax relief for individuals. This jibes with the American instinct for individualism. We don’t want government to make all moral or aesthetic judgments. But studies have shown that the tax relief Americans enjoy from giving doesn’t explain the impulse to give. Happily, that is something deeply ingrained in our national psyche.

It has to be admitted that this system works well for middle — and upper-income Americans who can take advantage of tax deductions and arts subsidies but functions less well for lower-income groups. That’s why our universities, hospitals, and art museums are among the world’s finest, while healthcare and preschool education for poor Americans are below European standards. Here, still, is a challenge to the American spirit we celebrate as we give thanks for our blessings.

Thomas Wolfe put what America is all about well:

“So then, to every man his chance… his shining golden opportunity… to live, to work, to be himself, and to become whatever thing his manhood and his vision can combine to make him — this, seeker, is the promise of America.”

This is the very promise that binds into one society so many races, languages and national cultures. The vision of what we might become enables us to endure the injustices and inequalities of American society today. We do not feel embedded in the past or trapped by the present. We feel we have a future, not for the purpose of glorifying the state, but rather to realize our private ends in peace and freedom.

At this time of celebration of family and community, we can all sing ” America! America! God shed his grace on thee.”

More on Christmas


Cenk Uygur: How Progressives Can Move Obama to the Left

December 24th, 2009 admin No comments

There are many debates among progressives now on the true nature of Barack Obama. Did he mean anything he said on the campaign trail? Is he really a progressive? Did he ever mean to challenge the status quo or was he using the word “change” as a campaign gimmick? Is he just a corporatist like most other politicians?

After talking about this with a great many progressives on our show, I’ve come to some conclusions. These are so self-evident that they will be viewed as obvious in hindsight.

Does he mean well or does he have bad intentions? Come on, don’t be ridiculous. Of course, he means well. But in his own mind, George Bush thought he meant well, too (for the most part). I’m positive that Obama thinks that he is doing the best he can to bring about as much change as he can within the limits of this system.

Is he a true progressive or a corporatist sell out? Well, that depends on what you mean. Has he wound up helping corporate America tremendously through health care “reform,” finance “reform,” etc.? Well, Wall Street certainly seems to think so (and so do most progressives). Did he do that because he thought, “I can’t wait to help corporate America and screw over the little guy”? No, I’m sure he thought he had to accommodate the powers that be in order to affect any change at all in this system. But the bottom line has been the same, either way – the system has been tweaked but corporate America chugs along with even more government largesse than before.

I’m sure Obama is a progressive that would help the average American if he thought he could. But apparently he thinks he can’t. He can only bring them a small amount of change because of what he thinks the system will allow.

You can criticize him for lack of imagination, duplicity during the campaign, lack of spine and political miscalculation. And you might be right about some or all of that, but all of those aren’t the essence of Obama. The core of Obama is a man who is a cautious politician. That is what he is at his center. He can’t help himself. Asking him to be something else is asking a rock to be a little less hard. He is what he is.

So, what Obama does by his nature is find the middle ground. As an excellent innate politician, he will find the political center of any field and rush to it. That’s where elections are won – the center. So, that’s why he sounded so progressive during the primaries, because that was the center of the left. And why he sounded like such a reformer during the general election because the great majority of Americans desperately wanted change.

So, what happened to that Obama? The country is the same, so why did Obama drop the progressive reformer angle and go toward the right and corporate America? Because his field changed. He went from campaigning all across the country to being in the middle of Washington, DC. The center of Washington is very different than the center of the country.

The Washington bubble leans far more to the right than the rest of the country (poll after poll indicates this). The corporate media in Washington are pros at protecting the status quo and view people who challenge the system as fringe players. A natural politician would naturally move right to accommodate this new environment. Obama can’t help himself. Why does a scorpion sting, why does a horse gallop? Because they were made to. Hoping Obama snaps out of it is hoping against reason and nature.

So, what can we do? Well, showing him data on where the American people actually stand didn’t help at all. Nearly a dozen polls showed overwhelming support for the public option across the country. That didn’t budge him. There are now polls showing 40% of Democrats are not going to show up in the 2010 elections because they are so disenchanted. It hasn’t even made a dent in Obama. The Washington force field is strong.

So, our only hope is to move the island. We have to move his center. If we can move what he perceives to be the center, he will naturally flow to it. In Lost, when they move the island they move across time. In our case, when we move the island we need to move across the political spectrum.

Right now, Obama perceives the center of the country to be somewhere between Dick Cheney and Harry Reid. Do you know where that leaves him? Joe Lieberman. That’s why we’re in the sorry shape we’re in now.

The reality is that Howard Dean is a moderate. Progressives in Vermont were upset with him when he was governor because they thought he was too far right. I just heard from someone who was on a cruise that The Nation organized and that Howard Dean spoke at. The crowd on the cruise nearly booed him when he spoke because they thought he was far too moderate.

If you look at Dean’s policies, they are right down the middle of the country. That’s part of the reason his 50 state strategy worked so well. But the establishment media hate him. Why? Because he points out when they’re doing something wrong – and he winds up being proven right in the end. There’s nothing that irritates the establishment more than that.

As things stand, Howard Dean is perceived to be to the left of all of the Democratic senators in Washington (not because he’s more liberal than Bernie Sanders or Harry Reid; it’s because unlike them, he’s willing to fight for his positions (sorry Bernie, at this point, it’s true)). That’s unconscionable. Washington has shifted so far right that Dean is considered some sort of wild-eyed liberal. We have to move it back if we are to have any hope that Obama will move further left (and much closer to the true center of the country).

So, how do we do this? It’s not pretty, but it’s necessary. We have to attack Obama relentlessly from the left. Right now he is a giant that is unmoved by anything in his left flank, he keeps looking to his right and ducking and worrying and moving to accommodate them. They are so loud and so visible. It’s hard to miss them. We have to make him look left. We have to shake him off his foundation.

Rahm Emanuel gave a wonderfully condescending interview to the Wall Street Journal where he explained that the White House has nothing to worry about from the left. That’s exactly what we have to change. Unfortunately, the only way to capture their attention and make them accommodate us rather than Fox News Channel is to hurt them. When we can put on the same kind of pain and pressure on the Obama White House as Fox does, that’s when they’ll have to move, at least to get out of the way.

You inflict political pain by voting things down. So far progressives have been completely unwilling to do this. They got rolled on healthcare because they had no intention of putting their foot down – and everyone knew it.

The next time Obama pushes a corporate agenda, progressives have to knock him upside the head. Deny him. Or as the kids would say, send his shit. And make a big stink out of it. Draw everyone’s attention to how far right Obama is and how out of whack he is with the American people.

If that scares you and you start to worry about damaging a Democratic president, you’re never going to win at this game. You’re never going to get the policies you want. They don’t listen to reason, they listen to power.

Let’s get real, we already lost the health care fight. But luckily, something even more important is up next. Financial reform. That’s where we know for a fact the American people have our back. We also already know that Obama’s Treasury Department is a joke. Tim Geithner has fought reformers in the House every step of the way. It’s time to take out a couple of lead pipes and a blow torch and go to work on his ass.

If Obama wants to fill the legislation full of loopholes, he should be called out at every turn. We vote no and we point out in no uncertain terms that Obama is pushing that agenda to help corporate interests so that he can fill Democratic coffers.

This has the advantage of being true. If you don’t have the stomach for being this tough on Obama and the Democrats, well then you don’t have the stomach for politics. And you will permanently be the Republican’s bitches.

If you don’t move the island, the rest is futile. You have to shift the ground underneath them. And the only way to do that is to create such a strong and aggressive progressive movement that they cannot help but notice it – and respond to it. Move the center and you’ll move Obama. And he’ll move the country. There is no other choice.

Watch The Young Turks Here

More on Barack Obama


Huff TV: Roy Sekoff Discusses Latest AIG Bonus Outrage On ‘The Ed Show’ (VIDEO)

December 24th, 2009 admin No comments

HuffPost’s Editor, Roy Sekoff, was on The Ed Show Wednesday night to discuss the latest AIG outrage: the refusal of company executives to follow through on their promise to return $45 million in bonuses by the end of the year.

While agreeing with Ed Schultz that this amounted to “business as usual on Wall Street,” Sekoff lamented the American public’s habit of “getting really mad about the little things, and then we lose sight of the big outrages.”

Among the “major outrages” Sekoff cited: the sweetheart $38 billion tax break the IRS just gave Citibank, the fact that the nation’s four biggest banks have cut lending by $100 billion over the last six month, and the fact that banks and their lobbyists have “gutted all the financial reforms that would make sure that another AIG didn’t happen again.”

WATCH:


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Cheers and Jeers: Wednesday

December 23rd, 2009 admin No comments

From the GREAT STATE OF MAINE…

“It’s A Festivus Miracle!”

Today is Festivus. In accordance with tradition, I submit my 2009 list for the Airing of Grievances. The following have disappointed me over the past year:

>> President Obama, for not enacting my agenda fast enough.

>> Olympia Snowe, for hanging up when history called.

>> John McCain and Sarah Palin, for being the whiniest losing presidential ticket ever.

>> The traditional media, for another year of quoting politicians, “experts” and spokespeople without asking the fundamental question: “Are they speaking the truth, or am I being played for a sucker?” Too many times the answer is: Like a Tootsie Pop.

>> Whoever felt it was necessary to take from us this year: Walter Cronkite, Ted Kennedy, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Bea Arthur, Michael Jackson, Corazon Aquino, Henry Gibson, Mary Travers, Farrah Fawcett, John Hughes, Andrew Wyeth, and our 21 year-old cat.

>> Teabaggers, for achieving with ignorance and venom in the public square what a two-year-old achieves with creamed corn in his diaper.

>> Family values titans Tiger Woods, John Ensign and Mark Sanford, for thinking with the wrong head.

>> Credit card companies that skirt new federal regulations and charge 80 percent interest.

>> Joe Lieberman, walking proof that backstabbers and liars do, indeed, prosper. Remember that, kids!

>> Dick Cheney, for not going fishing more often.

>> Wall Street barons, for returning to their greedy, greedy ways and not even having the decency to pick the confetti out of their hair and the caviar out of their teeth before they tell us how grateful they are to us for bailing them out.

>> Compromises that seem to only extract concessions from the left.

>> The 53 percent of Maine voters who repealed our gay marriage law and proved that we are, in fact, not a “live and let live” state.

>> All the two-faced “concernvative” citizens and pundits who are nitpicking things Obama is doing that Bush also did but they never nitpicked him for those things, did they? Noooooooooo, they most certainly did not.

>> God, for not coming down here and straightening out this mess of a planet. She’s dating another universe, isn’t she?

To them I say…

“I HAVE A LOT OF PROBLEMS WITH YOU PEOPLE!”

Cheers and Jeers starts in There’s Moreville… [Swoosh!!] RIGHTNOW! [Gong!!]


Categories: Politics Tags: , , ,

Eric Lotke: The 2010 Elections: Bring ‘em on!

December 23rd, 2009 admin No comments

I’m looking forward to the 2010 elections. We need them.

Many dread how badly the election is shaping up. Commentators predict double digit Democratic losses in the House and further retreat from the sixty vote threshold in the Senate. We fear a progressive era strangled in its infancy.

But there’s a sunny side too. The election can bring the fight out of us. We can turn complaints about how bad things are into complaints about how we got here and how long it will take us to dig out. Like in 2008, the elections in 2010 give us an opportunity to point out the failures of long conservative reign and dare conservatives to try to take us backward.

• Don’t like the deficit? Three times as much of it came from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (unpaid for) and the Bush tax cuts (without offsets) as from the Obama’s Recovery Act.

2009-12-23-CBPPdeficits.JPG
Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

• Don’t like the job situation? We lost 11,000 jobs in November. That’s bad. But we lost 533,000 jobs in November of last year, the crowning achievement of Bush’s presidency. It will take a long time to turn this around. But at least we’re turning.

2009-12-23-AFLjobsgap.JPG
Source: AFL-CIO

• Frustrated about health care reform? Me too. But don’t forget how bad it was. Health care spending rose from 13.8 percent of GDP when Bush took office to 16.6 percent last year — even as the number of uninsured grew by a million people every year. So we spent more every year but got less for it. In personal terms, the cost of a family premium more than doubled, from $5,791 in 1999 to $12,680 in 2008.

2009-12-23-kaiser2008summary.jpg
Source: Kaiser Family Foundation

A few years ago, guaranteed, affordable health care for all was an impossible dream. Now it’s just a few votes away. Let’s thank the progressive forces that got us this far rather than assailing them for compromise. Save the attacks for the forces that compelled the compromise.

Other changes haven’t even begun to take effect. We’re beginning efforts to regulate financial markets so Wall Street serves the real economy, not the other way around. We’re taking baby steps towards energy independence, and even starting to make sure that the components of our new energy economy are made in America — so we don’t replace a dependence on foreign oil with a dependence on foreign manufacturing. We’re starting to reign in private contractors who took over public functions but left the public interest behind, especially in Afghanistan and Iraq.

We want those things to happen. All that and more. But we won’t get there if we start circling the firing squad over who’s to blame over health care reform. We know who’s to blame. Obstructionist senators, obsolete 60 vote filibuster rules, and giant corporations who buy their influence. Our deep hole comes compliments of conservative ideologues who valued private interest over the common good.

The President doesn’t talk about that much. In a non-election year, the leader of our great democracy chose to govern not to campaign. Senators who wanted change tried in good faith to work with Senators who preferred failure to reform. They treated gridlock like bad weather, a chance misfortune, not a deliberate strategy by the opposition party.

An election year can be different. We can bring the fight back — for the ideas and ideals that will put the government on the side of working people and heal our broken economy. The people want these changes. An election is a chance to fight. Bring it on.

More on Economy


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Eric Lotke: The 2010 Elections: Bring ‘em on!

December 23rd, 2009 admin No comments

I’m looking forward to the 2010 elections. We need them.

Many dread how badly the election is shaping up. Commentators predict double digit Democratic losses in the House and further retreat from the sixty vote threshold in the Senate. We fear a progressive era strangled in its infancy.

But there’s a sunny side too. The election can bring the fight out of us. We can turn complaints about how bad things are into complaints about how we got here and how long it will take us to dig out. Like in 2008, the elections in 2010 give us an opportunity to point out the failures of long conservative reign and dare conservatives to try to take us backward.

• Don’t like the deficit? Three times as much of it came from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (unpaid for) and the Bush tax cuts (without offsets) as from the Obama’s Recovery Act.

2009-12-23-CBPPdeficits.JPG
Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

• Don’t like the job situation? We lost 11,000 jobs in November. That’s bad. But we lost 533,000 jobs in November of last year, the crowning achievement of Bush’s presidency. It will take a long time to turn this around. But at least we’re turning.

2009-12-23-AFLjobsgap.JPG
Source: AFL-CIO

• Frustrated about health care reform? Me too. But don’t forget how bad it was. Health care spending rose from 13.8 percent of GDP when Bush took office to 16.6 percent last year — even as the number of uninsured grew by a million people every year. So we spent more every year but got less for it. In personal terms, the cost of a family premium more than doubled, from $5,791 in 1999 to $12,680 in 2008.

2009-12-23-kaiser2008summary.jpg
Source: Kaiser Family Foundation

A few years ago, guaranteed, affordable health care for all was an impossible dream. Now it’s just a few votes away. Let’s thank the progressive forces that got us this far rather than assailing them for compromise. Save the attacks for the forces that compelled the compromise.

Other changes haven’t even begun to take effect. We’re beginning efforts to regulate financial markets so Wall Street serves the real economy, not the other way around. We’re taking baby steps towards energy independence, and even starting to make sure that the components of our new energy economy are made in America — so we don’t replace a dependence on foreign oil with a dependence on foreign manufacturing. We’re starting to reign in private contractors who took over public functions but left the public interest behind, especially in Afghanistan and Iraq.

We want those things to happen. All that and more. But we won’t get there if we start circling the firing squad over who’s to blame over health care reform. We know who’s to blame. Obstructionist senators, obsolete 60 vote filibuster rules, and giant corporations who buy their influence. Our deep hole comes compliments of conservative ideologues who valued private interest over the common good.

The President doesn’t talk about that much. In a non-election year, the leader of our great democracy chose to govern not to campaign. Senators who wanted change tried in good faith to work with Senators who preferred failure to reform. They treated gridlock like bad weather, a chance misfortune, not a deliberate strategy by the opposition party.

An election year can be different. We can bring the fight back — for the ideas and ideals that will put the government on the side of working people and heal our broken economy. The people want these changes. An election is a chance to fight. Bring it on.

More on Economy


Categories: World Tags: , , , , , ,

Eric Lotke: The 2010 Elections: Bring ‘em on!

December 23rd, 2009 admin No comments

I’m looking forward to the 2010 elections. We need them.

Many dread how badly the election is shaping up. Commentators predict double digit Democratic losses in the House and further retreat from the sixty vote threshold in the Senate. We fear a progressive era strangled in its infancy.

But there’s a sunny side too. The election can bring the fight out of us. We can turn complaints about how bad things are into complaints about how we got here and how long it will take us to dig out. Like in 2008, the elections in 2010 give us an opportunity to point out the failures of long conservative reign and dare conservatives to try to take us backward.

• Don’t like the deficit? Three times as much of it came from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (unpaid for) and the Bush tax cuts (without offsets) as from the Obama’s Recovery Act.

2009-12-23-CBPPdeficits.JPG
Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

• Don’t like the job situation? We lost 11,000 jobs in November. That’s bad. But we lost 533,000 jobs in November of last year, the crowning achievement of Bush’s presidency. It will take a long time to turn this around. But at least we’re turning.

2009-12-23-AFLjobsgap.JPG
Source: AFL-CIO

• Frustrated about health care reform? Me too. But don’t forget how bad it was. Health care spending rose from 13.8 percent of GDP when Bush took office to 16.6 percent last year — even as the number of uninsured grew by a million people every year. So we spent more every year but got less for it. In personal terms, the cost of a family premium more than doubled, from $5,791 in 1999 to $12,680 in 2008.

2009-12-23-kaiser2008summary.jpg
Source: Kaiser Family Foundation

A few years ago, guaranteed, affordable health care for all was an impossible dream. Now it’s just a few votes away. Let’s thank the progressive forces that got us this far rather than assailing them for compromise. Save the attacks for the forces that compelled the compromise.

Other changes haven’t even begun to take effect. We’re beginning efforts to regulate financial markets so Wall Street serves the real economy, not the other way around. We’re taking baby steps towards energy independence, and even starting to make sure that the components of our new energy economy are made in America — so we don’t replace a dependence on foreign oil with a dependence on foreign manufacturing. We’re starting to reign in private contractors who took over public functions but left the public interest behind, especially in Afghanistan and Iraq.

We want those things to happen. All that and more. But we won’t get there if we start circling the firing squad over who’s to blame over health care reform. We know who’s to blame. Obstructionist senators, obsolete 60 vote filibuster rules, and giant corporations who buy their influence. Our deep hole comes compliments of conservative ideologues who valued private interest over the common good.

The President doesn’t talk about that much. In a non-election year, the leader of our great democracy chose to govern not to campaign. Senators who wanted change tried in good faith to work with Senators who preferred failure to reform. They treated gridlock like bad weather, a chance misfortune, not a deliberate strategy by the opposition party.

An election year can be different. We can bring the fight back — for the ideas and ideals that will put the government on the side of working people and heal our broken economy. The people want these changes. An election is a chance to fight. Bring it on.

More on Economy


Categories: World Tags: , , , , , ,