Health Care – We Won’t Back Down

I felt inspired and empowered as I walked away from Seattle’s Health Care for All rally Thursday night with Tom Petty’s I Won’t Back Down playing as the crowd streamed out of Westlake Park. On the way home, though, I got to thinking about news reports that the President will drop the public option, and his administration seems to expect the Democrats to just fall in line; and worrying “Will they back down?”

I don’t think our Rep., Jim McDermott, will back down, but what about the others?

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We had about 3000 people in Westlake Park, but as the blog Horse’s Ass reported, the Seattle Times didn’t report it.  I was there, though, trying to connect with my Amnesty International friends and regretting I hadn’t thought to exchange phone numbers with the newer ones so we could find each other.

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Amnesty International believes that health care is a human right, and is working on it as part of our new Demand Dignity campaign.

Here’s some video of the highlights of the rally from the Washington State Labor Council:

In addition to Rep. McDermott, and the Rev. Leslie Braxton, who mc’d the event, we heard from a father struggling to get health care for his sick son because of the “pre-existing” condition clause, and from Jody Hall, the owner of Cupcake Royale on the struggles of a small business owner to keep her employees covered under a system that charges more and gives less in benefits for small businesses. Jody said that 25 cents of every cupcake go to employee health care, which is a larger expense than the combined rent of all four Seattle locations of her business.

We also had the Backbone Campaign’s puppets, including Count Bleed ‘Ya Dry, with his bats from the insurance and pharmaceutical companies, taking blood through an IV from a seriously ailing American health system.

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So, speaking of backbone, how are we doing on making sure President Obama and the other Democrats get and keep one on this issue?

I believe President Obama and the Democratic majority we elected can get meaningful health care with a needed public option to keep down costs from the insurance companies, if they are willing to fight for it. 

What is interesting is that the polling data that the Washington Post reports was sent around in a memo to the congressional Democrats by Joel Benenson, the President’s pollster, show a wide support for health care reform:

–82% of Americans say that the U.S. health care system needs either fundamental changes (55%) or needs “to be rebuilt” (27%). (CBS, Aug. 31)

•A substantial majority of Americans believe that the problems in the country’s health care system will eventually affect most Americans if they are not addressed.

–65% of Americans believe that the health care system’s problems will eventually affect most Americans, while only 31% believe most Americans will continue to get good health care. (CNN, Aug. 31)

What is the problem, then?

–Only 31% say they “understand the health care reforms under consideration in Congress, while 67% say they find them confusing. (CBS, Aug. 31) 
–Indeed, even Republican pollster Public Opinion Strategies found that 37% have no opinion yet on the President’s plan, while 25% support and 37% oppose. (POS, August 13)

However:

•When voters learn about the composition of the plan, support grows considerably.
–For instance, an NBC poll found that initially, only 36% said that the President’s health care plan is “a good idea” while 42% say it is a bad idea. (NBC, Aug. 17).
–However, 53% said they favored the plan after hearing a short description of it that included:
* Requirements on insurance companies to cover people with pre-existing conditions;
* Requiring all but the smallest employers to provide health coverage or pay a percentage of their payroll to help fund coverage for the uninsured
* Tax credits to help families and individuals to help them afford coverage

This is why the President’s televised speech to Congress on Wednesday is so important, and frankly, why both Congressional Democrats and pro-health care organizations should be focusing as much on educating the public as on rallies to counteract the conservatives whipped into a frenzy by talk radio.

Will the President have the courage to include the public option as an important piece of the plan in his speech?  President Obama certainly pushed for the Presidency, and inspired many by doing so.  One of his former campaign staffers, Mike Elk, has started a petition, and asking former campaigners and others to sign it, holding the President to the promise he made election night (and their promise to hold him to his promise):

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.

If the President is willing to take the stand, we are with him, as Mike Elk notes:

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?

Bill Moyers has called for President Obama to stand up to the Republicans and insurance companies as well:

He understands President Obama’s wish for bi-partisanship, but recognizes with the current political climate, that just isn’t possible:

Poor Obama. He came to town preaching the religion of nice. But every time he bows politely, the harder the Republicans kick him.

No one’s ever conquered Washington politics by constantly saying “pretty please” to the guys trying to cut your throat. 

Moyers notes that:

As it is, we’re about to get health care reform that measures human beings only in corporate terms of a cost-benefit analysis. I mean this is topsy-turvy — we should be treating health as a condition, not a commodity.

As with the former campaigners, Bill Moyers remembers the promises President Obama made during the campaign, and is calling on him to keep them:

Come on, Mr. President. Show us America is more than a circus or a market. Remind us of our greatness as a democracy. When you speak to Congress next week, just come out and say it. We thought we heard you say during the campaign last year that you want a government run insurance plan alongside private insurance — mostly premium-based, with subsidies for low-and-moderate income people. Open to all individuals and employees who want to join and with everyone free to choose the doctors we want. We thought you said Uncle Sam would sign on as our tough, cost-minded negotiator standing up to the cartel of drug and insurance companies and Wall Street investors whose only interest is a company’s share price and profits.

This is important:

This health care thing is make or break for your leadership, but for us, it’s life and death. No more Mr. Nice Guy, Mr. President. We need a fighter.

Fortunately, it looks like many of our Congressional leaders will stand their ground.  According to Politico:

Obama spoke by phone Friday with leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, and Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

“Caucus leaders expressed absolute commitment to the idea of a robust public option, and said they expect it to be part of any health care reform legislation,” the groups said in a statement. “The president listened, asked many questions, and suggested the dialogue should continue.”

It looks like the White House is leaning toward putting the public option back in, but still leaving room to waffle?

One top official gave this formulation: “He has consistently said that he thinks the public option is an important way to make sure there is both cost and competition control.  He has also consistently said that if someone can show him a better way or another way to get there, he’d be happy to look at it.  But he’s never committed to going another way.  He’s always said he’d be happy to look at any other proposal that gets to these goals, but he thinks this is probably the best better way to do it.”

I’d like to hear a more certain and committed statement than that on Wednesday, Mr. President.  You’ve showed you can fight and stand up for your principles during the election.  We are asking you now to stand your ground. 

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Official White House photo by Pete Souza

We are behind you, and there are a lot of us, even if newspapers like the Seattle Times don’t want to acknowledge it. Speak to the American public Wednesday and tell them the truth.  Give us hope for a health care system that really works, for all Americans, not the insurance and pharmaceutical companies.

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Golden Parachutes

The Bill Moyers Journal on PBS did a whole episode on the economic crisis last night. Bill Moyers paints this picture near the end of his show (reprinted on Thuthout (Moguls Steal Home While Companies Strike Out):

From our offices in Manhattan, we look out on the tall, gleaming skyscrapers that are cathedrals of wealth and power – the Olympus ruled by the gods of finance, the temples of the mighty, the holy of holies, whose priests guard the sacred texts of salvation – the ones containing the secrets of subprime lending and derivatives as mysterious and elusive as the Grail itself.

    This last couple of weeks, ordinary mortals below could almost hear the ripcords of golden parachutes being pulled as the divinities on high prepared for soft, safe landings – all this while tossing their workers like sacrificial lambs into the purgatory of unemployment.

While I know I shouldn’t be surprised, it is astounding how the very CEOs and board chairs who brought their financial corporations to disaster are so richly rewarded.

During the last five years of his tenure as CEO of now-bankrupt Lehman Brothers, Richard Fuld’s total take was $354 million. John Thain, the current chairman of Merrill Lynch, taken over this week by Bank of America, has been on the job for just nine months. He pocketed a $15 million signing bonus. His predecessor, Stan O’Neal, retired with a package valued at $161 million, after the company reported an $8 billion loss in a single quarter. And remember Bear Stearns’s Chairman James Cayne? After the company collapsed earlier this year and was up for sale at bargain basement prices, he sold his stake for more than $60 million.

    Daniel Mudd and Richard Syron, the former heads of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac – aka the gods who failed – are fighting to keep severance packages of close to $24 million combined – on top of the millions in salary each earned last year while slaughtering the golden calf. As it is written in the Gospel According to Me, when the going gets tough, the tough get going.

Guess we won’t find this bunch on street corners selling apples in the coming Depression.

According to the New York Times, the Bush administration wants Congress to “grant it far-reaching emergency powers to buy hundreds of billions of dollars of distressed mortgages despite unknowns on how the plan would work.”  Bush’s treasury secretary says “that the upfront cost of the rescue proposal could easily be $500 billion,” while “outside experts predicted it could reach $1 trillion.” Locally, WaMu is holding their breath that this will bail them out.  Why do I not feel very reassured about all this?

Moyers interviewed first Grethchen Morgenson and Floyd Norris, business and financial columnists from the New York Times.  None of what’s going on with Wall Street makes a lot of sense, especially, as much as I can make out, common sense.

Morgenson describes part of the situation (from the transcript):

There was a lack of accountability where a banker didn’t care whether the loan was repaid. And the Wall Street firm that sold the securitization trust didn’t care if it ever got paid back, because they were happy with their commission. The broker making the loan didn’t care, because he got, all the way up the ladder to the CEOs of these companies, who are allowed to walk away from a financial cataclysm with huge payments.

Then there was the speculation by companies like Lehman:

FLOYD NORRIS: I believe Lehman believed it. Lehman, consistently during this, has believed that the bottom was upon us.

So they were buying as this started down last year, taking advantage of what they believed to be a temporary ridiculous decline. And they never quite realized that they were wrong. The prices on many of these assets now probably are ridiculously low. But buying them on heavy leverage is risking if you’re a little wrong, you can die. And that’s what happened to Lehman.

Gambling on borrowed money is probably never a good idea.  Ironically, though, Lehman’s biggest problem, given the way the current situation is set up, is that they weren’t big enough.

GRETCHEN MORGENSON: Well, the problem is that now, everything in our financial markets is super-interconnected. And so, one failure has the potential to push over other dominos.

BILL MOYERS: But why AIG and not Lehman?

GRETCHEN MORGENSON: Because AIG was so enormous, it’s almost a paradox. It’s almost perverse. Lehman was not big enough in the derivatives market.

That has counterparties, where if you fail, then they might then push over another domino. Lehman was not large enough in those areas. AIG was enormous. AIG had those derivatives from European banks, which may have failed. And so, you see, it’s a worldwide problem.

FLOYD NORRIS: To let AIG go under now would have created an awful lot of problems for an awful lot of other institutions. And the government doesn’t have any way to know exactly who and how much. And they were scared. And they probably were right to be scared.

Moyers then interviewed Kevin Phillips, author of Bad Money: Reckless Finance, Failed Politics, and the Global Crisis of American Capitalism.  Phillips is pretty harsh on the roles of Alan Greenspan and both the Republicans and Democrats in their bi-partisan creation of the conditions that led to this mess.

Again, from the transcript:

BILL MOYERS: You’re very hard in here on Alan Greenspan’s tenure at the Fed.

KEVIN PHILLIPS: Well, I know Alan from the Republican campaign back in 1968. He was always a very scholarly, data-driven guy. But I think, for some reason or other, his chairmanship will be remembered as turn on the spigots.

BILL MOYERS: Turn on the spigots?

KEVIN PHILLIPS: Turn on the spigots. He started in 1987 with a crash that was a wicked one in one day in 1987. And he turned on the spigots. And they had the huge growth of the tech bubble in the 1990s. And then right after the tech and the stock market bubble blew up in 2000, you had 9/11. So there was a need for more stimulus. And they ginned up the stimulus again hugely.

And the upshot is that during Greenspan’s tenure from 1987 to 2006, what they call total credit market debt in the United States quadrupled, quadrupled from about $11 trillion up to $44, $45, $46 trillion. And finance got the great bulk of it. And Greenspan would do nothing to disturb finance.

He wouldn’t puncture a bubble. He wouldn’t crack down on the exotic mortgages. He really wouldn’t do much of anything except give obscure speeches in which, you know, he mumbled the different directions so nobody would know what he meant. But basically he gave finance what they wanted.

Then on the bi-partisan mess, especially Robert Rubin from the Clinton administration (and currently one of Obama’s economic advisors; and with McCain’s campaign being run by Phil Gramm, who also pushed through all this, it’s still a bi-partisan mess):

BILL MOYERS: And you write also that during this period the Clinton Administration aided and abetted this kind of speculation. Bill Clinton’s economic advisor, Bob Rubin, who later became Secretary of Treasury — wanting to fuel this, right?

KEVIN PHILLIPS: It’s been a bipartisan phenomenon. You can go back to the 1980s and say Reagan and George Bush, Sr., got a bubble started. Clinton got in and got an even bigger bubble going. And then George W. Bush with the biggest bubble of all. But it’s not that the Clintonites didn’t play. They did. Bob Rubin as Secretary of the Treasury — I mean, if he was a Hindu and he was being reincarnated, he’d come back as a pail because this guy bailed out everything you can imagine. They had the Mexican loan bailout. They had the long-term capital management bailout, the Russian Southeast Asian currency bailouts.

Then this:

Rubin was also central — Democrats more than Republicans in a lot of ways with the Clinton Administration — in getting rid of Glass Stiegel, was the old restriction that the banks couldn’t tie up with brokerage firms and insurance companies. Well, basically after they made their reform led by Clinton and by Bob Rubin, you had like four-color linguini here in a bowl. It’s all mixed up together.

BILL MOYERS: So you have it — for this disaster has bipartisan parentage.

KEVIN PHILLIPS: Absolutely.

Do we have hope?  I will say, from his statement on the economic crisis and bailouts (from a Truthout article), that Obama seems to not only get the crisis, but expresses his outrage at what’s going on.  He’s calling for help for Main Street, not just Wall Street (and, indeed, he has been speaking about these issues all along).  He’s calling for responsibility on Wall Street (and calling out the golden parachutes).  Obama is also calling for “tough new oversight and regulations of our financial institutions.”

Then he really nails how we got into this situation:

One last point. We did not arrive at this crisis by some accident of history. What led us to this point was years and years of a philosophy in Washington and on Wall Street that viewed even common-sense regulation and oversight as unwise and unnecessary; that shredded consumer protections and loosened the rules of the road. CEOs and executives got reckless. Lobbyists got what they wanted. Politicians in both parties looked the other way until it was too late. And it is the American people who have paid the price. The events of this week have rendered a final verdict on that failed philosophy, and it will end if I am President of the United States. We must build upon the ideas I have laid out over the last several years about how to modernize our financial regulation in this country, and establish commonsense rules of the road for our financial system to help restore confidence in our financial system.

Which is all really great, but. . . Obama’s financial advisors are still Robert Rubin and Lawrence Summers, who helped bring us this mess during the Clinton administration (with the bi-partisan help of people like Phil Gramm).

Kevin Phillips doesn’t hold out much hope for real change from Obama (though he has considerably less hope for any change from McCain):

KEVIN PHILLIPS: He doesn’t seem to have anything very specific to say. That’s part of the problem. A second problem is, for me at least, you know, just as I can’t believe that John McCain ever wanted to get his economic advice from Phil Gramm. I mean, Phil Gramm, a former Texas Senator, appalling. He and his wife were known as Mr. and Mrs. Enron because they were so flagrant, that’s McCain.

But then you’ve got Obama with Bob Rubin and he doesn’t have any problem with the hedge fund types. I mean, one of the Chicago people was a major financer of his. He gets a guy to pick his vice-president. Turns out to be somebody who was part of the Fannie and Freddie mess.

So I don’t exactly see Obama as this fellow riding in on a horse who represents all kinds of reformism. It’s an important thing probably to have to change from the Republicans but I don’t see that he is free of the ties to finance and Democratic Party financial types.

Phillips does mention Obama in the past telling him he read one of Phillips’ books, and said he would be impressed if Obama came in January and leveled with the American people (but doesn’t hold out much hope for Congress really wanting to deal with it other than a New Deal quick fix). 

Here’s a thought for Obama.  Why not have Kevin Phillips as one of your campaign economic advisors and/or Treasury secretary?  Or Gretchen Morgenson or Floyd Norris? 

Or is there really hope for that kind of change, when the reality is the Wall Street money helps fund both parties?

Don’t get me wrong.  I still think Barack Obama is our best hope, and will be the best President I’ve had a chance to vote for in my lifetime.  It’s just that the realities of who really funds the campaigns and has any politician in their back pocket, no matter how many of us send in $25 donations when we can afford it, makes real change really doubtful. 

 

A Dream in Doubt – Hate Crimes in post 9/11 America

Yesterday I went to a pre-screening of A Dream in Doubt at Northwest Film Forum, which will play on PBS’s Independent Lens later this month. A Dream in Doubt is about the murder of Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Sikh whose killed because of his beard and turban in a hate crime in the Phoenix area four days after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks; and his brother, Rana Singh Sodhi’s fight against the hatred threatening his family and community. While there is an outpouring of support against the bigotry from the greater Phoenix community, other friends in the Sikh community are also assaulted, and another brother is murdered under mysterious circumstances while driving a cab in San Francisco.

Ironically, most of the Sikhs immigrated to America because of the prejudice and discrimination against their religion in India.  Following Indira Ghandi’s murder in 1984 by two Sikh bodyguards, a large number of Sikhs were massacred in mob violence. 

I felt the movie was very fair with the perpetrator, who may very well have mental issues (and certainly, anger management problems); but also considered himself a “patriot” at the time for killing Sodhi, and trying to kill a couple others. While there may be something to the issue of how, as he maintained from death row (now reduced to life in prison), the news playing over and over again affected him (which he compares to the rioting in the black community following the Rodney King verdict, with the police abuse having played over and over); still, we’ve had that lynch mob psychology long before television existed. 

Really disturbing was another man they interviewed, who, while he thought they should ask questions first, if someone happens to look like the perpetrators of Sept. 11 (or really, more specifically, bin Laden); that if in fact, the people these vigilantes stop happen to be from the same country, they should be beaten (not killed, though, because then you’d be in trouble).  Of course, the stupidity of this logic would show if you applied it to the worst terrorist attack before Sept. 11, which was in Oklahoma City by Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, two clean cut former military men.  So, by this logic, it would be okay to randomly beat up white guys with short, military haircuts, just because they happened to look like and wear their hair the same as the terrorists in Oklahoma City (as long as they were from the same country, which was, the U.S.).

Which, of course, would never happen.  That is the thing, there is the whole racist and xenophobic element of the attacks on the Sikhs and others after the September 11 terrorism.  It’s too easy for a lot of people to see anyone different as the other, to feel uncomfortable with them being here in the first place, and judge them all together when even one person in their community does something wrong.

In addition to Rana Singh Sodhi and the film maker, the panel included Sukhvir Singh, a Sikh taxi driver who was violently assaulted right here in Seattle, and who’s perpetrator had just been sentenced.  This is one of those things you like to think “can’t happen here”.  Yet another reminder, the Seattle Civil Rights Commissioner who spoke about the attacks on gay people in the Capitol Hill neighborhood.

A Dream in Doubt is playing again in Seattle tomorrow, April 21, at 4 pm at the University of Washington, Gates Hall, Room 138.  There are also still upcoming ITVS Community Cinema screenings of A Dream in Doubt in other cities across the country, including in Portland, Oregon on Weds. April 30. Then it will be on PBS stations across the country on May 20.