Friday, February 26, 2010

Healthcare Summit: The Party of No keeps saying 'no'

I am such a political nerd. I watched the healthcare summit yesterday and loved every minute of it. I generally listen to talk radio while working; instead, yesterday, I used my auxiliary computer screen to live stream the healthcare summit on C-Span. If you weren't able to watch it, here is the C-Span link where you can watch the recorded broadcast. Yesterday evening National Public Radio also aired an hour-long analysis of the summit, but it really paled in comparison to the real thing.

President Obama set the tone at the beginning by reminding the attendees that the purpose of the summit was to find bipartisan consensus on healthcare-- not to talk about process, not to campaign, not to dredge up differences, and not to spout hackneyed talking points. Throughout the day, he had to remind attendees why they were meeting.

Everyone had stories about constituents who gone bankrupt or lost loved ones because of poor insurance coverage or no coverage. Several-- including the President-- had stories about pre-existing conditions, and there was consensus that if they were not covered by the government's Cadillac health plan that they would have a hard time buying insurance on the open market today. I was impressed with their thorough knowledge of the problems. (Of course, they have been talking about healthcare reform for a year!)

The other consensus--besides recognition of the problems with the current non-system-- was the identification of the common enemy-- health insurance companies. The health insurance companies were vilified by Democrats and Republicans alike for raising rates, for dropping sick people, and for strict-- and sometimes absurd-- rules about pre-existing conditions. Although pre-existing conditions were discussed at length, the Republican's plan would expand coverage to only 3 million Americans-- compared to 30 million under the President's plan-- and would not get rid of pre-existing conditions, according to NPR.

Over and over again-- ad nauseam-- the Party of No said the Congress should start over, which in an election year means: "Let's just forget about this for a while." Despite repeated Republican calls for a "clean sheet of paper," President Obama and the Democrats pushed for comprehensive reform and expanding coverage throughout the day.

The other Republican suggestion was to address a piece of the problem-- rather than tackle comprehensive reform. Which piece was not clear. (This way, they could go back to their constituents and say they did something.) The Republicans also were clearly more worried about tort reform, the cost of healthcare to the government, and deficit spending than expanding coverage for uninsured Americans. (Ironically, the cost of Medicare skyrocketed under the Bush Administration with the prescription drug bill that does not allow the US government to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies-- so Republicans created this problem. Also, the Republicans under President Bush didn't worry about deficit spending. )

The Republicans-- including Arizona's Jon Kyl-- railed against "mandated coverage" because it would be too expensive and because people want choice. Basically, what they are calling "mandated coverage" the President calls a "minimum benefits package." He used the example of the fictitious Acme Car Insurance that he purchased as a college student, but when he was rear-ended, it didn't cover the repairs to his car. He said we have to eliminate insurance coverage that doesn't really cover anything and eliminate lifetime caps on coverage. Now people have the "choice" to buy really cheap insurance that in the end may or may not be adequate. Kyl said that these mandates would raise rates for some Arizonans; the President's point was that it may raise rates for people who have the really cheap policies that leave them underinsured.

One high point of the day was when Arizona Senator John McCain began grandstanding, and President Obama reminded him they were no longer on the campaign trail. Of course, McCain is on the campaign trail, since he is up for re-election, and conservatives, independents, and progressives in Arizona are not happy with his performance.

One of the day's best statements originally came from Senator Harry Reid but was repeated a few times by others. Reid reminded Republicans that they were entitled to their own opinions but not their own set of facts.

If you want to learn more about the different healthcare reform ideas and see your government at work, turn off the pundits and watch the C-Span live videos of this summit.

This article originally appeared in my Progressive Examiner column.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Tea Partiers: Show us the money

Thanks to the original Boston Tea Party in 1773--when revolutionary patriots dumped English tea into the Boston Harbor rather than pay the tax-- the US became a country of coffee drinkers. "Taxation without representation," was the battle cry to rally the colonialists against the English monarchy. Civil unrest continued for two years after the Tea Party until the Revolutionary War began in 1775.

What will come of the current Tea Party movement, which started as a corporate media-inspired publicity stunt on Tax Day 2009?

Whether they realize the historical significance of the original anti-tax Tea Party movement, a smattering of disgruntled voters across the country identify with the idea that they are being taxed, but the government does not represent them. On some level I agree that what is best for the American people is often lost once lobbyists get involved in legislation. I believe that our state and federal governments are controlled by multi-national corporations--not the people-- and that this trend toward corporatism could get worse, thanks to the Supreme Court's recent ruling.

We all know that campaigns are run with money. How is the Tea Party funded? According to National Public Radio, the national Tea Party is setting up a fund raising structure. The party is forming the Ensuring Liberty Corp., a tax-exempt 501(c)(4) and the Ensuring Liberty Political Action Committee.

Ironically, Tea Party organizer Mark Sokda told the attendees at the recent Tea Party convention that the fundraising would be totally transparent, but according to NPR, 501(c)(4) organizations like the Ensuring Liberty Corp. "can raise as much money as it can get-- no limits-- from wealthy donors and from corporations. And there's no disclosure."

This does not sound transparent; it sounds ominous. Multi-national corporations have a history of funding conservative organizations with warm-and-fuzzy names like Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks. Will the Tea Party become a mechanism for corporations to further control government? After all, the Tea Party's original event was heavily promoted by the country's most conservative corporate media outlet.

On the local level, the Tucson Tea Party's very sophisticated website rails against the Democratic-controlled City Council on the main page, but the "about" page focuses on anger over the corporate bailouts and gives no information about their funding.

Ironically, the big corporations that received these bailouts may be secretly funding the "grassroots" Tea Party movement in the future.

This article originally appeared in my Progressive Examiner column.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Disgusted? It's Time to Organize

No, I'm not joining the Tea Baggers... er...Tea Partiers. On the contrary, I believe that it's time for the left to get organized.

After weeks of discouraging news from Phoenix about the Arizona legislature's plans to dismantle public education, close the parks, increase taxes for the middle class, deny healthcare for thousands of poor Arizonans-- AND offer even more tax breaks for the rich, I must say I'm pretty disgusted with our state government. Arizona Legislators are pandering to the corporatists, the gun lobby, and anti-immigrant extremists while ignoring the citizens of this state -- especially our children and the poor. At the same time, Arizona's US Senators Jon Kyl and John McCain-- brought to you by big banks, big insurance, big pharma, and big guns-- are marching in lock step with the Party of No and stonewalling all progressive legislation offered by the Obama Administration.

What's a lefty to do? With lingering recession, high unemployment, deep budget cuts, and failed government (particularly at the state level), these are dark times for our country. The grass roots populists who elected America's first black president are no match for the corporatists' multi-million-dollar war chests. But as The Doors sang, "They got the guns. We got the numbers."

Three recent Tucson events have given me hope-- the Martin Luther King Jr. Day events sponsored by the local Black Chamber of Commerce and Pima County African American Democratic Caucus, the Corozon de Justicia Awards Dinner sponsored by Derechos Humanos, and the Charlie King concert sponsored by No More Deaths.

These events gave me hope because it brought me face-to-face with hundreds of local activists of all colors who are working quietly and organizing on multiple progressive issues.

Particularly inspiring was the Corozon de Justicia keynote speaker Roberto Lovato, a writer and Latino activist, who addressed a highly diverse activist audience on Friday night. In 2009, Lovato launched the successful Basta Dobbs campaign which led to the resignation of right wing commentator Lou Dobbs from CNN. This campaign is a shining example of how the masses can take on corporate America-- and win. On Sunday, KXCI's Amanda Shauger aired a very insightful interview with Lovato, whose latest projects can be found at

Lovato said that national boundaries are irrelevant to corporations and that there should be no national boundaries in the human rights struggle against corporatism and fascism. Ironically, Iranians protesting against their repressive government are using The Doors' anthem from the 1960s anti-war protests as a rallying cry against fascism and sexism in their country. Is it time for us to dust off the vinyl and take to the streets? The Tea Partiers are not the only ones who are disgusted.

This article originally appeared in my Progressive Examiner column.