Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Real Story Behind the “Rogue” in Sarah Palin’s New Book.

AK Mudflats
The Mubflats
September 28, 2009

“Going Rogue,” is the title of Sarah Palin’s soon-to-be released memoir. It’s cute, it’s catchy and it will sell some books. The 400-page tome will hit the shelves on November 17th, with a massive first printing of 1.5 million copies.  And each one of those book jackets is another jab at two of the many casualties of the Palin administration in Alaska.
Politico reports that the phrase has its roots in an Oct. 20 story by Slate’s John Dickerson, with the lead: “Has Sarah Palin “gone rogue”?”
But those of us who live in Alaska, and who have been following this story from the beginning know the real root of that phrase, and will understand the ugly irony of Palin’s title.
During the ethics investigation of Sarah Palin now known as “Troopergate,” that phrase became seared into the collective consciousness of Alaskans.  Palin’s spokeswoman Meghan Stapleton used that word referring not to Palin, but to the former Commissioner of Public Safety Walt Monegan.  Palin had pressured Monegan to fire her ex-brother in law Trooper Mike Wooten whose nasty divorce from Palin’s sister had left bitter feelings.  Monegan refused to fire him, and was subsequently dismissed by the governor, leaving the Department of Public Safety without leadership, and leaving many Alaskans with a bad taste in their mouths.
In a stinging press conference, Stapleton said that Monegan, a particularly well-liked and respected public servant, former police chief and ex-Marine had displayed “egregious rogue behavior.”  Stapleton, who had been a respected news anchor before her association with Palin, suffered withering criticism from Alaskans on both sides of the political spectrum.  Alaska is a small town. Monegan was no “rogue,” everyone knew it, and the use of the term disgraced her.
What had Monegan done, according to the governor, that earned him this brand?  He had planned a trip to Washington D.C. to seek funding to help combat sexual assault in a state that leads the nation in that category.  Rogue, indeed.
In September of 2008, Alaskans for Truth held a rally in downtown Anchorage.  More than 1500 Alaskans showed up to protest the administration’s handling of “Troopergate,” the insinuation of the McCain campaign’s attorneys into Alaska’s Department of Law,  and the outrageous behavior of Meg Stapleton, then Attorney General Talis Colberg, and Palin herself.  One of the speakers at the rally was Betty Monegan, the mother of Walt Monegan, who carried a sign referencing the outrageous accusations made by the Palin administration.

But Monegan was not the only one to stand accused of being a “rogue.”  Mike Wooten, the infamous ex-brother-in-law was called a “rogue trooper” and Palin said he was a danger to her family and to the public.  She made it clear that in no uncertain terms that being a “rogue” was not a good thing.   These accusations were soundly refuted by Steven Branchflower, an independent investigator hired by the bipartisan Legislative Council to investigate Troopergate.
“I conclude that such claims of fear were not bona fide and were offered to provide cover for the Palins’ real motivation: to get Trooper Wooten fired for personal family reasons,” Branchflower wrote.
The Branchflower report states Todd Palin used his wife’s office and its resources to press for Wooten’s removal, and the governor “failed to act” to stop it. But because Todd Palin is not a state employee, the report makes no finding regarding his conduct.
The bipartisan Legislative Council, which commissioned the investigation after Monegan was fired, unanimously adopted the 263-page public report…
The Branchflower Report was to find Governor Palin guilty of abusing her power as governor under the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act. Attorney General Talis Colberg would ultimately resign his position, and Todd Palin and several administration officials would be found guilty of contempt of the Legislature for ignoring subpoenas.
Trooper Mike Wooten ended up with a desk job because Palin’s accusations that he was a “rogue” and a danger to the public had brought about threats that made it impossible for him to work out in the open as a trooper, despite the findings of the Branchflower Report.
Walt Monegan was denied a request for a due process hearing before the governor-appointed Alaska Personnel Board to address reputational harm because of the insults he endured from an administration who chose to call him a “rogue.”  That’s the same board to which Palin filed a complaint against herself, and was subsequently cleared of wrongdoing.
And now Sarah Palin apparently hopes to make the term “rogue” impish and endearing, and hopes it will help her sell a lot of books.  But that term is no such thing to many Alaskans. It wasn’t “cute” when it was used as a finely sharpened tool in the Palin toolbox, used to malign the characters of those who stood in the way of her power scramble to become the Vice President of the United States.
She may have fooled her ghost writer, and the folks at Harper-Collins, and she may fool many of those in the Lower 48 who will wait on line for their copy of “Going Rogue,”  but she will not fool Alaskans.
Copyright 2009 The Mudflats

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Once again, Americans are smarter than the media

Joan Walsh
September 23, 2009

A slumping President Obamabattered in the polls and facing charges he's "overexposed" in the media, will get the blame if he doesn't pass healthcare reform this year. Or so goes an increasingly negative media narrative in the wake of a tough month for the new president.
But the most recent NBC/WSJ poll released Tuesday turns almost all of those assumptions on their head. Only a third of those polled said Obama is "overexposed" in the media -- 63 percent said his exposure was either just right or too little. Thirty-seven percent said congressional Republicans would be to blame if Obama's healthcare reform drive fails; only 10 percent would blame Obama. Almost 80 percent of Americans said they like the president personally, and his job approval has held steady over the last rocky month, at 51 percent.
Far from hurting the president or his agenda, this week's media blitz seems to have improved his numbers on healthcare, specifically. Last month, only 41 percent of Americans approved of the way he was handling the issue, while 47 percent disapproved; now it's 45 percent-46 percent. In particular, Obama has rallied Democrats behind his plan: Last month 62 percent  of Democrats backed Obama's plan; now 69 percent  do.
It's not all good news for Obama and those who support robust health insurance reform, including a public option. MSNBC's Ed Schultz pointed to a vexing paradox: While an impressive 73 percent of those polled say it's extremely important that the plan have a public option (only 23 percent say it's unimportant), 48 percent oppose the public option, while 46 percent support it. Go figure.
There's similar confusion about Obama's stimulus plan: 45 percent said it was a bad idea, with 34 percent supporting it, and yet on balance -- 46 percent to 43 percent -- they believe the recession would have been worse without it.
And a combination of confusion and dissent over Afghanistan seems to be pulling down Obama's approval rating on foreign policy issues: It's dropped from 57 percent to 50 percent since July.
Clearly the president still has a slog ahead of him as the competing versions of healthcare reform plans -- all crafted by Democrats, by the way -- make their way through Congress. But it's also clear that the Obama administration's best political asset is Obama, and the White House should continue to tune out Beltway doubters.
Meanwhile, though, the best news about healthcare reform came from Will Ferrell and MoveOn today: The left has a sense of humor, and this video spoofing the insurance industry's syrupy "We're on your side" ad campaign made me laugh out loud. (Jon Hamm's harried, sexy health insurance exec could make me turn against the public option.) Great work, MoveOn!
Copyright ©2009 Salon Media Group, Inc.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Even Glenn Beck Is Right Twice a Day

Frank Rich
Op Ed Columnist
The New York Times
September 19, 2009

IF only it were just about the color of his skin. With all due respect to Jimmy Carter, the racist component of Obama-hatred has been undeniable since the summer of 2008, when Sarah Palin rallied all-white mobs to the defense of the “real America.” Joe Wilson may or may not be in that camp, but, either way, that’s not the news. As we watched and rewatched the South Carolina congressman’s star turn, what grabbed us was the act itself.

What made the lone, piercing cry of “You lie!” shocking was that it breached a previously secure barrier. It was the first time that the violent rage surging in town-hall meetings all summer blasted into the same room as the president. Wilson’s televised shout was tantamount to yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater. When he later explained that his behavior was “spontaneous” rather than premeditated, that was even more disturbing. It’s not good for the country that a lawmaker can’t control his anger at Barack Obama. It gives permission to crazy people.

The White House was right not to second Carter’s motion and cue another “national conversation about race.” No matter how many teachable moments we have, some people won’t be taught. (Though how satisfying it would have been for Obama to dismiss Wilson, like the boorish Kanye West, as a “jackass.”) But there is a national conversation we must have right now — the one about what, in addition to race, is driving this anger and what can be done about it. We are kidding ourselves if we think it’s only about bigotry, or health care, or even Obama. The growing minority that feels disenfranchised by Washington can’t be so easily ghettoized and dismissed.

Many of those Americans may hate Obama, but they don’t love the Republican establishment either. Michael Steele, who was declared persona non grata at one of the mad “tea parties” in April, was not invited to that right-wing 9/12 March on Washington last weekend. There were no public encomiums for McCain or Bush. No Senate leader spoke to the gathering, and perhaps only Palin and Ron Paul would have been welcome from the ranks of what passes for G.O.P. presidential timber. If there was a real hero to this crowd, it was the protest’s most prominent promoter, the radio and TV talker Glenn Beck.

Time put Beck on its cover this week. Man of the Year may not be far behind. Beck is not, as many liberals assume, merely the latest incarnation of Rush Limbaugh. He is something different. That’s why he is gaining on his antecedents — and gaining traction in the country’s angrier precincts.

Though Beck’s daily Fox News show is in the sleepy slot of 5 p.m., his ratings are increasingly neck and neck with the prime-time tag team of Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity, and he has beaten them in the prized 25-to-54 demographic. It’s not just because he is younger (45). This self-described “rodeo clown,” who wells up with tears for dramatic effect, doesn’t come across as cranky or pompous, like Limbaugh and O’Reilly. A fervent Mormon convert and proselytizer, he is untainted by association with the old Dobson-Robertson-Reed religious right. Unlike Limbaugh, he bonds with his fallible listeners by openly and repeatedly owning up to his own mistakes, including his history of drug and alcohol abuse. Unlike Hannity, he is not a Republican apparatchik.

Beck has notoriously defamed Obama as a “racist,” but the race card is just one in his deck. His ideology, if it can be called that, mixes idolatrous Ayn Rand libertarianism with bumper-sticker slogans about “freedom,” self-help homilies and lunatic conspiracy theories. (He fanned Internet rumors that FEMA was establishing concentration camps before tardily beating a retreat.) It’s the same crazy-quilt cosmology that could be found in last weekend’s Washington protest, where the marchers variously called Obama a fascist, a communist and a socialist, likening him to Hitler, Stalin, Castro and Pol Pot. They may not know that some of these libels are mutually exclusive. But what they do know is that they need a scapegoat for what ails them, and there is no one handier than a liberal, all-powerful president (who just happens to be black).

Beck captures this crowd’s common emotional denominator — with appropriately overheated capital letters — in his best-selling book portraying himself as a latter-day Tom Paine, “Glenn Beck’s Common Sense.” Americans “know that SOMETHING JUST DOESN’T FEEL RIGHT,” he writes, “but they don’t know how to describe it or, more importantly, how to stop it.” This is right-wing populism in the classic American style, as inchoate and paranoid as that hawked by Father Coughlin during the Great Depression and George Wallace in the late 1960s. Wallace is most remembered for his racism, but he, like Beck, also played on the class and cultural resentment of those sharing his view that there wasn’t “a dime’s worth of difference” between the two parties.

Now, as then, a Dixie-oriented movement like this won’t remotely capture the White House. Now, unlike then, it is a catastrophe for the Republicans. The old G.O.P. Southern strategy is gone with the wind. The more the party is identified with nasty name-calling, freak-show protestors, immigrant-bashing (the proximate cause of Wilson’s outburst at Obama) and, yes, racism, the faster it will commit demographic suicide as America becomes ever younger and more diverse. But Democrats shouldn’t be cocky. Over the short term, the real economic grievances lurking beneath the extremism of the Beck brigades can do damage to both parties. A stopped clock is right twice a day. The recession-spawned anger that Beck has tapped into on the right could yet find a more mainstream outlet in a populist revolt from the left and center.

“Wall Street owns our government,” Beck declared in one rant this July. “Our government and these gigantic corporations have merged.” He drew a chart to dramatize the revolving door between Washington and Goldman Sachs in both the Hank Paulson and Timothy Geithner Treasury departments. A couple of weeks later, Beck mockingly replaced the stars on the American flag with the logos of corporate giants like G.E., General Motors, Wal-Mart and Citigroup (as well as the right’s usual nemesis, the Service Employees International Union). Little of it would be out of place in a Matt Taibbi article in Rolling Stone. Or, we can assume, in Michael Moore’s coming film, “Capitalism: A Love Story,” which reportedly takes on Goldman and the Obama economic team along with conservative targets.

Unlike liberal critics of capitalist inequities, of course, Beck and his claque are driven by an over-the-top detestation of government. Washington is always the enemy, stealing their hard-earned money to redistribute it to the undeserving and shiftless poor (some of whom just happen to be immigrants or black). Though there is nothing Obama can do to stop racists from being racist, he could help stanch the economic piece of this by demonstrating how a reformed government can at times actually make Americans’ lives better. That’s what F.D.R. did, and that’s the promise Obama made, swaying some Republicans and even some racists, during the campaign.

Too many Americans are impatiently waiting for results. It’s hard to argue that the stimulus package reviled by big government-loathers is a success when unemployment continues to rise and most Americans feel none of the incipient “recovery” spotted by Ben Bernanke. The potential dividends to be gained at the end of the protracted health care debate also remain, for now, an abstraction to many who have lost and are continuing to lose their jobs, their savings and their homes.

Nor has Obama succeeded in persuading critics on the left or right that he will do as much for those Americans who are suffering as he has for the corporations his administration and his predecessor’s rushed to rescue. To mark the anniversary of Lehman’s fall, the president gave a speech on Wall Street last Monday again vowing reform. But everyone’s back to business as usual: The Wall Street Journal reported that not a single C.E.O. from a top bank attended. The speech sank with scant notice because there has been so little action to back it up and because its conciliatory stance was tone-deaf to the anger beyond the financial district.

That same day a United States District Court judge in New York, Jed S. Rakoff, scathingly condemned the Obama Securities and Exchange Commission for letting Bank of America skate away with what Rakoff called an immoral and unjust wrist tap to settle charges that it covered up $3.6 billion paid out in bonuses when it purchased Merrill Lynch. How is this S.E.C. a change from the Clinton-Bush S.E.C. that ignored all the red flags on Bernie Madoff?

Beck frequently strikes the pose of an apocalyptic prophet, even insisting that he predicted 9/11. This summer he also started warning of domestic terrorism in the form of a new Timothy McVeigh. On this, one fears he knows whereof he speaks. For all our nation’s unfinished business on race, racism is not Obama’s biggest challenge during our unfinished Great Recession. He — and our political system — are being seriously tested by a rage that is no less real for being shouted by a demagogue from Fox and a backbencher from South Carolina.

Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company

Monday, September 14, 2009

Why the Public Option Is Not "Fading" -- Just the Contrary

Robert Creamer
The Huffington Post
September 13, 2009

The Sunday New York Times ran a front page story headlined "The Fading Public Option." Since the beginning of the health care debate in April, the main stream media and purveyors of Conventional Wisdom have regularly pronounced the public option dead and gone. But in fact they continue to be dead wrong.
In fact, the prospects that there will be some form of public option in the final health insurance reform measure this fall have actually increased over the last month. Here is why:
1). The odds have dropped that some sort of "bipartisan" consensus will become the final template for a bill. That has reduced the ability of Republicans to tube a public option as a condition of their support.
From day one, the Republicans were never going to support a public health insurance option for everyday Americans. The Republican party staunchly opposed Medicare forty years ago. Despite former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's hope that it would "wither on the vine," Medicare is now an unassailably popular public health insurance option for seniors. The Republicans and private insurance industry will do everything they can to prevent the American people from having access to another -- undeniably superior -- public health insurance plan.
The insurance industry desperately wants to protect its "right" to raise prices and take home huge profits -- to skim off as large a portion as they can of every dollar spent on health care.
So the insurance industry and Republicans were never going to agree to a public option. What has changed is that the Republican decision to try to block health insurance reform has completely eliminated their leverage over what will be in the final bill. In the end, Democrats are increasingly clear that they will have to pass health insurance reform with Democratic votes -- which we can -- either by using reconciliation rules or by securing 60 votes for cloture from Democrats and 50 votes for final passage.
2). The pundits ignore the legislative facts on the ground. Four of the five committees with jurisdiction in this debate have reported out bills with a strong public option. The bill that passes the House at the end of this month will include a strong public option. Whether or not the bill that passes out of the Senate has such a provision, the House-Senate conference committee will likely send a final bill with some form of public option to both chambers for final passage. That's because a bill without a public option will have a hard time passing the House and a bill with a public option can, in fact, get more than 50 votes in the Senate.
3). The president has made it very clear that he not only supports a public option, but he will demand some mechanism to assure a competitive market place and drive down costs.
The Republicans played right into his hands with their new talking points on this week's Sunday news shows. Virtually every Republican argued that the Massachusetts plan -- that requires everyone to purchase health insurance -- has the highest health care costs in the country. Precisely. You can't force everyone to purchase insurance from private health insurers unless you create competitive pressure to control costs by giving consumers the right to choose a public health insurance plan.
The private insurers would love the government to require every citizen and most businesses to buy their product -- who wouldn't? What they don't want is regulation, or worse yet, competition, that prevents them from doing whatever they can to make as much as they can. And remember that the insurance companies are exempt from the anti-trust laws that seek to assure competition in other markets. They can collude, divide up territories and drive up prices until they're blue in the face.
An AMA survey, released in late January, gives a score gauging the concentration of the commercial market for 314 metropolitan statistical areas. The report showed 94% had commercial markets that were "highly concentrated" by standards set by the Federal Trade Commission and Justice Department.
In Maine, for instance, one company -- Wellpoint -- had 71% of the market. The second competitor was Aetna with only 12%.
There is another way to control the behavior of the private insurance companies when we mandate coverage -- serious rate regulation -- treat them like regulated public utilities.
Rate regulation is an even more serious political lift than a public option -- which is also a much more efficient means of assuring competitive prices than rate regulation.
The pundits, insurance companies and Republicans need to get used to one idea. Many Democrats -- including the president -- will ensure that the final bill have some robust means of ensuring competition and controlling prices, and a robust public health insurance plan is the best option on the table.
4). Giving Americans a choice of a public health insurance option remains incredibly popular. A poll conducted for Americans United for Change by the respected firm of Anzelone and Liszt -- completed last Friday -- shows that, by a 62% to 28% margin, likely 2010 voters would be more inclined to support President Obama's healthcare reform plan if it included a public option that gave people a choice between private insurance plans and a public health insurance plan.
Voters like the idea of making a choice themselves -- and not having the choice made for them by Republicans who are trying to defend the profits of private health insurers. The voters have been unaffected by the insurance industry-generated talk that giving them that choice would prove the demise of the private health insurance industry.
There are three major forces that keep pushing the notion that "public option is dead." First are the Republicans and insurance industry that want to weave a "public option is impossible" narrative in order to create a self-fulfilling prophecy. They hope that if public option proponents think it is impossible, they will give up. That motivation is completely understandable, but Progressives shouldn't fall for it -- or contribute to it.
The second is a desire in the media to create a story that President Obama has "mishandled" the health care debate. That is simply wrong. President Obama has moved us closer to giving America universal health care than any other president in 60 years, and the odds are very good he will succeed where all others have failed.
But the third is the most insidious. It is the cynicism in the media -- and Washington Conventional Wisdom -- that anything fundamental cannot pass out of Congress. That there isn't any hope that everyday Americans can defeat the special interests. It is the same cynicism that convinced most of the "sophisticated" in-the-know Capitol Hill insiders that Barack Obama could never be elected president. And to that cynicism I give the same answer that we gave then, and that thousands gave at the president's Minneapolis health care rally on Saturday: "yes, we can."
Copyright 2009

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Boy, Oh, Boy

Maureen Dowd
Op-Ed Columnist
The New York Times
 September 12, 2009

The normally nonchalant Barack Obama looked nonplussed, as Nancy Pelosi glowered behind.

Surrounded by middle-aged white guys — a sepia snapshot of the days when such pols ran Washington like their own men’s club — Joe Wilson yelled “You lie!” at a president who didn’t.

But, fair or not, what I heard was an unspoken word in the air: You lie, boy!

The outburst was unexpected from a milquetoast Republican backbencher from South Carolina who had attracted little media attention. Now it has made him an overnight right-wing hero, inspiring “You lie!” bumper stickers and T-shirts.

The congressman, we learned, belonged to the Sons of Confederate Veterans, led a 2000 campaign to keep the Confederate flag waving above South Carolina’s state Capitol and denounced as a “smear” the true claim of a black woman that she was the daughter of Strom Thurmond, the ’48 segregationist candidate for president. Wilson clearly did not like being lectured and even rebuked by the brainy black president presiding over the majestic chamber.

I’ve been loath to admit that the shrieking lunacy of the summer — the frantic efforts to paint our first black president as the Other, a foreigner, socialist, fascist, Marxist, racist, Commie, Nazi; a cad who would snuff old people; a snake who would indoctrinate kids — had much to do with race.

I tended to agree with some Obama advisers that Democratic presidents typically have provoked a frothing response from paranoids — from Father Coughlin against F.D.R. to Joe McCarthy against Truman to the John Birchers against J.F.K. and the vast right-wing conspiracy against Bill Clinton.

But Wilson’s shocking disrespect for the office of the president — no Democrat ever shouted “liar” at W. when he was hawking a fake case for war in Iraq — convinced me: Some people just can’t believe a black man is president and will never accept it.
“A lot of these outbursts have to do with delegitimizing him as a president,” said Congressman Jim Clyburn, a senior member of the South Carolina delegation. Clyburn, the man who called out Bill Clinton on his racially tinged attacks on Obama in the primary, pushed Pelosi to pursue a formal resolution chastising Wilson.

“In South Carolina politics, I learned that the olive branch works very seldom,” he said. “You have to come at these things from a position of strength. My father used to say, ‘Son, always remember that silence gives consent.’ ”

Barry Obama of the post-’60s Hawaiian ’hood did not live through the major racial struggles in American history. Maybe he had a problem relating to his white basketball coach or catching a cab in New York, but he never got beaten up for being black.

Now he’s at the center of a period of racial turbulence sparked by his ascension. Even if he and the coterie of white male advisers around him don’t choose to openly acknowledge it, this president is the ultimate civil rights figure — a black man whose legitimacy is constantly challenged by a loco fringe.

For two centuries, the South has feared a takeover by blacks or the feds. In Obama, they have both.

The state that fired the first shot of the Civil War has now given us this: Senator Jim DeMint exhorted conservatives to “break” the president by upending his health care plan. Rusty DePass, a G.O.P. activist, said that a gorilla that escaped from a zoo was “just one of Michelle’s ancestors.” Lovelorn Mark Sanford tried to refuse the president’s stimulus money. And now Joe Wilson.

“A good many people in South Carolina really reject the notion that we’re part of the union,” said Don Fowler, the former Democratic Party chief who teaches politics at the University of South Carolina. He observed that when slavery was destroyed by outside forces and segregation was undone by civil rights leaders and Congress, it bred xenophobia.

“We have a lot of people who really think that the world’s against us,” Fowler said, “so when things don’t happen the way we like them to, we blame outsiders.” He said a state legislator not long ago tried to pass a bill to nullify any federal legislation with which South Carolinians didn’t agree. Shades of John C. Calhoun!

It may be President Obama’s very air of elegance and erudition that raises hackles in some. “My father used to say to me, ‘Boy, don’t get above your raising,’ ” Fowler said. “Some people are prejudiced anyway, and then they look at his education and mannerisms and get more angry at him.”

Clyburn had a warning for Obama advisers who want to forgive Wilson, ignore the ignorant outbursts and move on: “They’re going to have to develop ways in this White House to deal with things and not let them fester out there. Otherwise, they’ll see numbers moving in the wrong direction.”

Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Why the public option matters

Paul Krugman
Op-Ed Columnist
The New York Times
Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Most arguments against the public option are based either on deliberate misrepresentation of what that option would mean, or on remarkably misunderstanding of the concept, which persists to a frustrating degree: I was really surprised to see Joe Klein worrying about the creation of a system in which doctors work directly for the government, British-style, when that has nothing whatsoever to do with the public option as proposed. (Forty years of Medicare haven’t turned the US into that kind of system — why would having a public plan change that?)

But what is one to make of the practical, political argument from the likes ofEzra Klein, who argue that any public plan actually included in legislation probably wouldn’t make that much difference, and that reform is worth having even without such a plan?
There are three reasons to be suspicious of that argument.
The first is that I suspect that Ezra and others understate the extent to which even a public plan with limited bargaining power will help hold down overall costs. Private insurers do pay providers more than Medicare does — but that’s only part of the reason Medicare has lower costs. There’s also the huge overhead of the private insurers, much of which involves marketing and attempts to cherry-pick clients — and even with community rating, some of that will still go on. A public plan would probably be able to attract clients with much less of that.
Second, a public plan would probably provide the only real competition in many markets.
Third — and this is where I am getting a very bad feeling about the idea of throwing in the towel on the public option — is the politics. Remember, to make reform work we have to have an individual mandate. And everything I see says that there will be a major backlash against the idea of forcing people to buy insurance from the existing companies. That backlash was part of what got Obama the nomination! Having the public option offers a defense against that backlash.
What worries me is not so much that the backlash would stop reform from passing, as that it would store up trouble for the not-too-distant future. Imagine that reform passes, but that premiums shoot up (or even keep rising at the rates of the past decade.) Then you could all too easily have many people blaming Obama et al for forcing them into this increasingly unaffordable system. A trigger might fix this — but the funny thing about such triggers is that they almost never get pulled.
Let me add a sort of larger point: aside from the essentially circular political arguments — centrist Democrats insisting that the public option must be dropped to get the votes of centrist Democrats — the argument against the public option boils down to the fact that it’s bad because it is, horrors, agovernment program. And sooner or later Democrats have to take a stand against Reaganism — against the presumption that if the government does it, it’s bad.
Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company

Saturday, September 5, 2009

I'm a Former Obama Campaign Staffer, and I Want the President to Lead Like He Promised Us

Mike Elk
Campaign for America's Future
September 4, 2009

I just joined thousands of others, including several hundred former staffers from the 2008 presidential campaign, in signing a petition to President Obama, telling him that health care reform without a public option is not "change we can believe in."

As an staffer Obama campaign staffer working as a community organizer in rural Western Pennsylvania's Crawford County, I fought hard for him during the campaign. I worked 16-17 hours a day with no days off for nearly four months, working to get the president elected.

I worked in an overwhelmingly Republican area where there had previously never been a full-time Democratic organizer. I organized more that 250 volunteers into five autonomously run neighborhood teams that conducted aggressive door-to-door and over-the-phone voter contacts every day of the week. These were people who had never been involved in Democratic politics because their area was so overwhelming Republican, but they fought with everything they had because they believed in a presidential candidate who promised to be a fighter against special interests.

There were people like Shelia Lane, a recently laid-off single mother of three, who worked 10 hours every day in the most mundane, inglorious of tasks making sure we elected a president who represented people like herself. There was 66-year old Wayne Hanson, an old-time community organizer, who was recovering from a heart attack and would stay at the office till three in the morning, making sure the plans for our massive Get Out The Vote operations were properly executed.

Their understanding of how important it was to elect Barack Obama led people like Harmony Grogan, from Texas, to quit her high high-paying job as an architect and drive all the way to Pennsylvania to volunteer full time, without pay, to work for change.

It was an incredible moment in American history, when people come together for a common purpose. Never in my life have I seen people open up and work towards a common cause as the good folks of Crawford County did. They endured countless hours of volunteering, vandalism of their properties and, in one instance, being threatened by a man with a shotgun.

On election night, the tears didn't stop streaming down my face -- we won 44 percent of the vote in our county (the biggest win for Democrats in 50 years in that county) and won my home state of Pennsylvania. So many people had given so much and had fought so hard together because they believed in this man's capacity to stand up and fight for them.

I will never forget my experience of those few brief months as long as I live. I'll never forget what I learned: that we could beat any powerful interest in this country if we were just willing to fight hard enough for it.

Speaking at a party for former staffers, a day after he was inaugurated, President Obama called on his staffers to continue the fight they had fought during the campaign. (Watch
the clip at around 2:30 -- I've watched it dozens of times and it has never ceased to inspire me!)

He said, "I promise you if everybody in this hall is willing to keep doing what you guys did over the last two years, then I am optimistic about America. I may make some mistakes, but you'll set me right."

Mr. President, we have not forgotten the promise we made that night.
We are here to set you right.

There are rumors that you are considering dropping the public option,
despite 77% of the American public and the majority of U.S. Senators supporting it. Sir, there is no way we can have real health care reform without a public option. Any real change requires the inclusion of a strong public option to promote competition, bring down costs and serve the people.

If a vigorous public option is not included, it would be a major victory for the health insurance industry.

As Marshall Ganz and Peter Dreier, two of the leading visionaries of Obama's community organizing strategy
pointed out in an op-ed this past weekend:

If the unholy alliance of insurance industry muscle, conservative Democrats' obfuscation and right-wing mob tactics is able to defeat Obama's health-care proposal, it will write the conservative playbook for blocking other key components of the president's agenda -- including action on climate change, immigration reform and updates to the nation's labor laws.

Mr. President, we are here to say that there is only one force in this country more powerful than the insurance industry and its corporate allies -- us!

During the campaign, we defeated two of the strongest political machines ever assembled in the primary and the general election. We can beat these guys, too.

We are ready to fight, sir. You are the most inspirational leader of our generation, sir, and we will follow to hell and back in this fight.

Therefore, I am asking my fellow campaign staffers, team leaders, and volunteers to
sign this pledge promising to fight for the public option and urging President Obama to fight for it. Also, feel free to email me (at if you are a former staffer and interested in ways you can help organize other staffers to help set the President right, as we promised him we would.

We are the most powerful grassroots army ever assembled in American history, and we want you to fight for a public option. We promise to fight with you every step of the way, just as we did during the campaign.

Mr. President, we are fired up and ready to go!

Are you ready to lead?

© 2009 Independent Media Institute.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Healthcare didn't have to go this way

Obama gave away the store on this crucial issue. It's time to take it back

Joe Conason
The Huffington Post
Friday, Sep 4, 2009

Achieving humane and affordable healthcare in America was never going to be easy, even with an audacious new president and large majorities in both houses of Congress. Compromise between the Democratic Party’s diverse representatives -- let alone with the tiny handful of Republicans who actually care about the need for reform -- was always inevitable. And when the moment for compromise arrived, the result was certain to disappoint many of the president’s most ardent voters, who cherished his campaign’s promises of change. But the mundane grind of making legislation need not have been quite as painful as it is today, when progressives feel betrayed, and Democrats feel deflated. 
The essence of President Obama’s problem can be found in an anonymousquote, attributed to a White House official, that appeared on the front page of the New York Times last Wednesday. “It’s so important to get a deal,” confided the unnamed aide, that the president “will do almost anything it takes to get one.” Such desperate confessions of politics as usual, which have appeared in dozens of such remarks in the press over the past several months, not only serve the president poorly but damage the fresh brand that he brought to Washington after his triumphant election last year. They are the residue of an ill-conceived strategy that has left Obama politically vulnerable, attenuated his connection with loyal progressives, and blurred his most important message. 
That message was Obama himself, of course -- meaning what he represented and what he meant to accomplish. From the outset of the 2008 campaign, the rationale for his long-shot candidacy was that he stood firmly for a set of principles in policy and governance and against political business as usual, as well as a style of politics that emphasized citizen activism. He would drive the corporate lobbyists away from Capitol Hill, the White House and the federal agencies. He would insist on transparency and integrity in conducting the people’s business. Above all, he would pursue the public interest forthrightly rather than inch forward triangularly and incrementally. 

Perhaps none of these happy promises was likely to be fulfilled, and perhaps that was something Obama and his campaign aides always understood. But as the new White House came to terms with the realities of Washington, they seem to have thrown off their original images and ideals insouciantly -- as if unburdening themselves of unfashionable baggage that embarrassed them in the big city. 
Nowhere has this fundamental mistake been more visible than in the effort to reform healthcare. From more than six decades of struggle over the question of universal coverage and cost control, the Obama team must have known that they would face enormous opposition. They should also have known, from the ugly mood of the Republican campaign during the final weeks of the election and the partisan history of the past 15 years, that chances for bipartisan agreement were minimal. And they ought to have realized that the energy of the progressive movement, expressed in their own campaign, could become their most formidable weapon in that battle. 
That was the insight attributed to FDR in a famous anecdote. When progressive leaders approached him with a wish list of reform programs and liberal legislation, he nodded. "I agree with you, I want to do it. Now make me do it." Although Roosevelt biographers consider that story apocryphal, it expresses a truth of political history that remained salient from the labor organizing of the Depression through the civil rights, antiwar, feminist and environmental movements. For a president who wants reform and change, citizen agitation is an important instrument of power, not an obstacle to deal making. 
But this president surrendered that powerful weapon when he chose aides who prefer lobbyists to activists and adopted a strategy that ranks bipartisan agreement above policy substance. The telltale remark came from still another anonymous aide who boasted recently that the White House would welcome a "confrontation" with Democratic liberals over healthcare because it would "show he is willing to stare down his own party to get things done." 

No doubt this willingness to further divide Democrats and punish liberals ispleasing to Beltway pundits. It arises from the same instinct that welcomed a parade of lobbyists into the White House and that fawned over Republican senators and Blue Dog representatives, even as they conspired to wreck reform. Meanwhile, the political environment was suffused with right-wing messages about the president and his program, while the White House failed to promote or explain its plan. (No great sophistication is required to determine who, aside from the president himself, bears the greatest blame for these tactical and strategic errors.) 
While this depressing scenario may seem preordained, especially in the conventional idiocy of Washington politics, there were other possibilities, had Obama remained true to his promise and platform. Instead of seeking to silence supporters of a single-payer, Medicare-for-all plan, for example, the Obama team could have encouraged those organizations to create pressure from below. Then the public option might have become part of the ultimate deal, rather than an ideal that gets traded away. All the whispered White House waffling over the public option -- which remains on Obama’s own Web site as a central feature of his reform plan -- has only made him appear weak, indecisive and unreliable. 
Can he regain the initiative and restore his brand when he addresses a joint session of Congress next week? Only if he returns to the principles enunciated in his campaign and his inaugural address. He must tell the people and their representatives again that it is time to put away childish things. He must explain why it is imperative to bring our healthcare system into the 21st century, like every developed nation that accomplished this fundamental task long ago. He must stand fast for universal coverage. 
And he must vow that he will do whatever must be done to achieve that promise -- rather than sell off whatever he can, including the security of millions of families, simply to pass any bill.
Copyright 2009