Friday, July 24, 2009


The Arrest of Professor Gates... We still have a long way to go.

July 24, 2009
Professor’s Arrest Tests Beliefs on Racial Progress

CHICAGO — Ralph Medley, a retired professor of philosophy and English who is black, remembers the day he was arrested on his own property, a rental building here in Hyde Park where he was doing some repair work for tenants.

A concerned neighbor had called the police to report a suspicious character. And that was not the first time Mr. Medley said he had been wrongly apprehended. A call Mr. Medley placed to 911 several years ago about a burglary resulted with the police showing up to frisk him.

“But I’m the one who called you!” he said he remembers pleading with the officers.

Like countless other blacks around the country, Mr. Medley was revisiting his encounters with the police as a national discussion about race and law enforcement unfolded after the arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr., Harvard’s prominent scholar of African-American history. Professor Gates was arrested for disorderly conduct July 16 at his home in Cambridge, Mass., as the police investigated a report of a possible break-in there. The charge was later dropped, and the Cambridge Police Department said the incident was “regrettable and unfortunate.”

In interviews here and in Atlanta, in Web postings and on television talk shows, blacks and others said that what happened to Professor Gates was a common, if unacknowledged, reality for many people of color. They also said that beyond race, the ego of the police officer probably played a role.

But more deeply, many said that the incident was a disappointing reminder that for all the racial progress the country seemed to have made with the election of President Obama, little had changed in the everyday lives of most people in terms of race relations.

“No matter how much education you have as a person of color, you still can’t escape institutional racism,” said Keith E. Horton, a sports and entertainment lawyer in Chicago who is black. “That’s what the issue is to me.”

To be sure, people have found fault with how Professor Gates responded to the arresting officer, Sgt. James Crowley, who said he was simply fulfilling his duty in investigating the report of a burglary in progress.

The police and Professor Gates offered differing accounts of what happened after officers arrived. The police said Professor Gates initially refused to show identification and repeatedly shouted at officers. Professor Gates said that he had shown photo identification to Sergeant Crowley but that the sergeant had not appeared to believe that he lived there. He also said he had brought up race during the confrontation but was not disorderly.

Many comments posted online suggested that Professor Gates, 58, had made a tricky situation worse by not easily cooperating. Even some blacks acknowledged that he did not help himself by refusing to show deference to a police officer.

“It is unwise for anyone of any race to raise their voice to a law enforcement officer,” said Al Vivian, a diversity consultant in Atlanta who is black. “But the result at the end of the day is this was a man who violated no law, was in his own house, who is the top academic star at the top academic school in the nation, and he was still taken away and arrested.”

At a news conference on Wednesday night, President Obama said he thought the Cambridge police had “acted stupidly” in the arrest of Professor Gates.

“I think it’s worse than stupid,” said Mr. Medley, 65, the retired Chicago professor. “I think it was mean-spirited and ill-intended.”

In interviews, blacks and whites of various ages and experiences with law enforcement showed a tendency to give a benefit of the doubt to Professor Gates over the police.

“It seems to me that Dr. Gates was simply arrested for being upset, and he was arrested for being upset because he’s a black man,” said Wayne Martin, 25, an official at the Atlanta Housing Authority, who is also black.

The way Mr. Martin described himself, he could be the very definition of a “post-racial” American. “I have children I’m trying to raise not to see race,” he said. “I’m beyond the whole black-white thing. It doesn’t matter to me.”

Yet Mr. Martin could not think of any other way than racism to explain what had happened to Professor Gates. He is fascinated by the story. On Wednesday, he changed his Facebook status to: “Wayne Martin is wondering when it became illegal to be angry at a law enforcement official.”

Mr. Martin said that he was heartened to see Mr. Obama — who said he was a friend of Professor Gates — address the issue, and that while he agreed with Mr. Obama’s interpretation of the incident, he thought the word “stupidly” had been poorly chosen.

“That choice of the word was something that I don’t agree with,” Mr. Martin said. “To use such a common offensive term, it almost lowers him down to the level of the folks he’s wagging his finger at.”

Sabine Charles, 37, a white cardiologist who lives in Hyde Park, is married to a black man and said that she could not count how many times people had interrupted the two over the years to ask her, quietly, “Is this man bothering you?”

“I say, ‘Guess what? He’s not! We’re actually on a romantic date, can’t you tell?’ ” she said. “Even here in this diverse area I’ve heard people say, ‘Look at those black guys coming toward us.’ I say, ‘Yes, but they’re wearing lacrosse shorts and Calvin Klein jeans. They’re probably the kids of the professor down the street.’ ”

“You have to be able to discern differences between people,” she said, criticizing the practice of racial profiling. “It’s very frustrating.”

Mr. Vivian, the diversity trainer in Atlanta, said that what happened to Professor Gates was “age old” in America, but that what was different this time was that it happened in a so-called post-racial America.

Mr. Vivian, 47, said that he had been unfairly stopped by the police in the past, but that he lived by “an unwritten code” for dealing with these incidents. And Dr. Gates certainly did not obey the code, he said.

Quiet politeness is Rule No. 1 in surviving an incident of racial profiling, he said. So is the frequent use of the word “sir.”

“People used to say, ‘Look, there’s a Colin Powell. There’s an Oprah Winfrey.’ Now they say, ‘There’s a black president.’ I say, I’m happy to see the exceptions. There’s always an exception. But I’m interested in how society treats the average person.”

That there is a well-known code of behavior familiar to most minorities who are stopped by the police, Mr. Vivian said, is testament enough of a problem.

“It clearly says that we have a lot of work to do,” he said.

Susan Saulny reported from Chicago, and Robbie Brown from Atlanta.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


Sweet Deal.... Bailed out banks and auto companies use our money to buy Congress. Double bonus for them.

July 22nd, 2009 5:45 pm
Autos, banks spend $20M lobbying

By Silla Brush / Hill

Auto companies and eight of the country's biggest banks that received tens of billions of dollars in federal bailout money spent more than $20 million on lobbying Washington lawmakers in the first half of this year.

General Motors, Chrysler and GMAC, the finance arm of GM, cut back significantly on lobbying expenses in the period, spending about one-third less in total than they had in the first half of 2008.

But the eight banks, the earliest recipients of billions of dollars from the federal government, continued to rely heavily on their Washington lobbying arms, spending more than $12.4 million in the first half of 2009. That is slightly more than they spent during the same period a year ago, according to a review of congressional records.

The heavy lobbying comes as President Obama and congressional lawmakers work to overhaul the financial system and the auto industry undergoes a dramatic restructuring that has already witnessed GM and Chrysler pass through historic bankruptcy proceedings.

As lawmakers turn their attention to enacting major changes to the regulatory system, the financial industry is at a crossroads. Some smaller and regional banks continue to show considerable signs of weakness while several big Wall Street banks announce multibillion-dollar profits.

Those big banks traditionally are among the most active Washington lobbying interests in the financial industry, and the recession has done little to dent their spending. Major banking interests maintain it's important to have a seat at the table as lawmakers chart such large changes. Since last fall, companies receiving government funds have argued that none of the taxpayer money they were receiving was being spent on lobbying.

Still, lawmakers have pushed back hard on companies that continued to lobby, with some targeting the banking industry for scuttling legislative efforts while relying on government help. Democratic leaders blamed the industry when a major bankruptcy bill failed to pass the Senate earlier this year.

The bill would have empowered bankruptcy judges to rewrite the terms of primary home mortgages. Industry groups were stridently opposed to the effort, which they dubbed "cramdown."

Some of the biggest banks are also among the more than 30 that have already moved to repay funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), the formal name for the bailout package Congress passed last October. More than $70 billion has been repaid to the federal government.

Six of the eight banks spent more to try to sway lawmakers in the first half of 2009 than over the same period in 2008, before the worst of the financial crisis took hold. The eight banks include: Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase & Co, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Wells Fargo, State Street and Bank of New York Mellon.

JPMorgan was the top spender, at $1.76 million in the second quarter and $3.07 million in first half of the year. That is roughly 20 percent more than the bank spent on lobbying in the first half of 2008.

Citigroup, which has yet to repay any of the $50 billion in bailout money it has received, was the second highest, at $1.67 million in the quarter and $2.92 million in the first half. A spokesman for Citigroup declined to comment.

Only Bank of America and Goldman Sachs spent less on lobbying during the first six months of 2009 compared to the first half of 2008.

GM spent $5.56 million on lobbying in the first half of 2009, compared with $7.08 million in the same period in 2008. GM also has dropped a dozen lobbying contracts.

"GM's spending is proportional to its activity," said Greg Martin, GM's spokesman. "At any given time, GM is engaged with policymakers on a variety of complex policy issues with significant economic and competitive consequences to individual automotive companies."

Chrysler has continued its outside lobbying contracts after establishing itself as a legally new company during the bankruptcy proceeding. Chrysler spent $1.42 million in the first half of the year, compared with $2.78 million a year ago. GMAC spent $660,000 this year, compared with $1.15 million a year ago.

American International Group, the insurance firm crippled by trades in financial derivatives that received roughly $180 billion in bailout commitments, closed its Washington lobbying shop earlier this year. AIG continues to spend money on counsel to answer requests for information from the federal government, but the firm said it does not lobby on federal legislation.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


My New Congressional Hero....


The Utter Stupidity of the "Birther Movement"... Even if their claims are true, Obama would still be a Natural Born Citizen.

The Birther Movement are the fringe right wing morons who believe that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States. They believe that there is a vast conspiracy that is covering up the fact that he was born in Kenya. President Obama, and the State of Hawaii, and the Kapi'olani Medical Center in Hawaii, all claim that President Obama was born in Hawaii.

The Hilarious part about the birther movement, is that even if what they say is true, President Obama is still a Natural Born Citizen.

According to the Wingbats, Obama was born in Kenya, to a U.S. Citizen Mother and a Kenyan Father.

Under the laws of the United States at the time of Barack Obama's Birth, a person born outside the United States, to a U.S. Citizen Mother and an alien father, acquires Citizenship AT BIRTH. The only exception to this is if his mother did not live in the U.S. for at least 10 years prior to his birth. Which has never been claimed by the wingbats.

The only saving grace for the wingbats is if they claim that a "natural born" citizen means that you must have been born on U.S. Soil. Ironically this would mean John McCain wouldn't have been eligible either. However, there is NO CASE LAW to support this definition of "Natural Born Citizen" and in fact the U.S. Constitution states the opposite.

However, for both John McCain and Barack Obama, U.S. Law is very clear on this matter... "the Citizenship Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides an additional source of constitutional doctrine stating that birth "in the United States" and subjection to U.S. jurisdiction at the time of birth, entitles one to citizenship:
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


It's about damn time, Mr. President.

Obama Demands: The Bill I Sign Must Include Public Option
By Brian Beutler - July 20, 2009, 10:16AM

While we're talking health care reform: In his weekly radio address on Saturday, President Obama did what he's refused to do all along--he said the public option isn't an option at all.

[A]ny plan I sign must include an insurance exchange: a one-stop shopping marketplace where you can compare the benefits, cost and track records of a variety of plans - including a public option to increase competition and keep insurance companies honest - and choose what's best for your family.

That's a first. In the recent past, the White House has only demanded that health care reform expand and improve coverage while lowering costs. But Blue Dogs and conservative Senate Democrats have been raising noises about the public option, while citing concerns that the reform proposals on the table won't cut costs. And with the debate reaching its crescendo, Obama's letting them know they can't have it both ways.

He has a point--introducing a robust public option would be an extremely effective way to retard the growth in health care spending. And those who are both demanding a bill that bends the spending curve downward, but also opposing any measures that would accomplish that goal, are being pretty nakedly inconsistent.


Health Care Reform is Doomed. The Reason? Congress has been BOUGHT.

Industry Cash Flowed To Drafters of Reform
Key Senator Baucus Is a Leading Recipient

By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 21, 2009

As liberal protesters marched outside, Sen. Max Baucus sat down inside a San Francisco mansion for a dinner of chicken cordon bleu and a discussion of landmark health-care legislation under consideration by his Senate Finance Committee.

At the table on May 26 were about 20 donors willing to fork over $10,000 or more to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, including executives of major insurance companies, hospitals and other health-care firms.

"Most people there had an agenda; they wanted the ear of a senator, and they got it," said Aaron Roland, a San Francisco health-care activist who paid half price to attend the gathering. "Money gets you in the door. The only thing the other side can do is march around and protest outside."

As his committee has taken center stage in the battle over health-care reform, Chairman Baucus (D-Mont.) has emerged as a leading recipient of Senate campaign contributions from the hospitals, insurers and other medical interest groups hoping to shape the legislation to their advantage. Health-related companies and their employees gave Baucus's political committees nearly $1.5 million in 2007 and 2008, when he began holding hearings and making preparations for this year's reform debate.

Top health executives and lobbyists have continued to flock to the senator's often extravagant fundraising events in recent months. During a Senate break in late June, for example, Baucus held his 10th annual fly-fishing and golfing weekend in Big Sky, Mont., for a minimum donation of $2,500. Later this month comes "Camp Baucus," a "trip for the whole family" that adds horseback riding and hiking to the list of activities.

To avoid any appearance of favoritism, his aides say, Baucus quietly began refusing contributions from health-care political action committees after June 1. But the policy does not apply to lobbyists or corporate executives, who continued to make donations, disclosure records show.

Baucus declined requests to comment for this article. Spokesman Tyler Matsdorf said the senator "is only driven by one thing: what is right for Montana and the country. And he will continue his open process of working together with the president, his colleagues in Congress, and groups and individuals from across the nation to get this legislation passed."

Baucus's fundraising prowess underscores the enduring political strength of the health-care lobby, which led all other sectors in donations to federal candidates during the last election cycle and has shifted its giving to Democrats as the party has tightened its control of Congress.

The sector gave nearly $170 million to federal lawmakers in 2007 and 2008, with 54 percent going to Democrats, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks money in politics. The shift in parties was even more pronounced during the first three months of this year, when Democrats collected 60 percent of the $5.4 million donated by health-care companies and their employees, the data show.

Many of these contributions have been focused on Baucus, Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and other senators in the moderate camps of their respective parties, whose votes could prove crucial in a final health-care reform deal, as well as the leaders of five key committees leading the debate. Grassley, the Finance Committee's ranking Republican, received more than $2 million from the health and insurance sectors since 2003. House Ways and Means Chairman Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) took in $1.6 million from the health sector and its employees over the past two years; ranking Republican Dave Camp (Mich.) received nearly $1 million.

But Baucus, a senator from a sparsely populated and conservative Western state who is serving his sixth term, stands out for the rising tide of health-care contributions to his campaign committee, Friends of Max Baucus, and his political-action committee, Glacier PAC. Baucus collected $3 million from the health and insurance sectors from 2003 to 2008, about 20 percent of the total, data show. Less than 10 percent of the money came from Montana.

Top out-of-state corporate contributors included Schering-Plough, New York Life Insurance, Amgen, and Blue Cross and Blue Shield; individual executives such as Richard T. Clark, chief executive and president of drugmaker Merck, have also made regular donations. Most of these companies, particularly major insurers, strongly oppose a public insurance option, which is favored by President Obama and top House Democrats but has not received support from Baucus's committee.

Baucus is a longtime centrist in the Democratic caucus, and his committee chairmanship has made him a key broker in the health-reform debate. Many former Baucus staff members, including two chiefs of staff, lobby on behalf of the pharmaceutical industry and other health-care players and have been closely involved in negotiations on the legislation.

John Jonas, a Patton Boggs health-care lobbyist who has attended a Baucus fly-fishing event and other fundraisers, said the Montana senator is "key to getting anything done" when it comes to health-care legislation.

"This is not an overwhelmingly liberal Congress, and it's certainly not a liberal Senate," said Jonas, whose clients include Bristol-Myers Squibb, Pfizer and Northwestern Mutual. "I think Max is uniquely situated to try to accomplish that, because he's more of a centrist and moderate Democrat than others are."

But Jerry Flanagan, a health-care analyst with Consumer Watchdog, a California-based advocacy group, said the tide of campaign contributions amounts to "a huge down payment" by companies that expect favorable policies in return. "That is the cold reality of big-money politics," he said.

Baucus won easy reelection in the fall, but he has continued to hold fundraisers since then. In addition to the fly-fishing event, he held his "Eighth Annual Ski and Snowmobile Weekend" in Big Sky in February and celebrated the start of his sixth term with a $10,000-a-table dinner at the Washington Court Hotel later that month. Aides say another fundraiser scheduled for July 7 at Bistro Bis in Capitol Hill was scrapped.

Baucus's office declined to provide attendance and donation details about his fundraising events, and federal records laws do not require such disclosures. Starting in June, aides say, Baucus adopted an internal office policy to refuse contributions from health-care PACs and to continue doing so until after Congress passes reform legislation.

But new Federal Election Commission documents filed last week show that individual lobbyists and others with health-care connections continued to make contributions to Baucus committees throughout June. Examples from Baucus's Glacier PAC include $5,000 from the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America and $2,500 from lobbyists with U.S. Strategies, which represents numerous health-care firms. Overall, half of the $110,000 in donations to the PAC from April to June came from health-care firms and lobbyists, including Schering-Plough, Medtronic and New York Life.

Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for the Public Citizen advocacy group, said the continued fundraising by Baucus during the health-care debate is "very troubling."

"He's doing all this fundraising right in the middle of this effort to mark up a bill," Holman said. "When you put these events close to matters concerning these lobbyists, clearly it's a signal. You are expected to show up with a check."

Baucus and his aides strongly dispute any assertion that campaign contributions have an impact on the senator's policy views and proposals. Aides say he has frequently backed policies opposed by health-care companies, including support for greater availability of generic drugs, allowing drug imports from Canada and cutting payments to the Medicare Advantage plan.

During an interview earlier this year with the Missoulian newspaper, Baucus said that "no one gets special treatment." He added: "Your word is your bond back there."

Research editor Alice Crites contributed to this report.


Republicans Don't Want the Government To Do Anything About Health Care. Here's Why We Need Reform NOW!

Congress is behaving as if the Health Care System isn't in tatters.

by Mitchell Bard at HuffPO

When it comes to health care reform, I feel like the house is on fire, but nobody in Washington (except maybe President Obama) seems to see it. Or worse, they see it, and they don't care.

Here are some statistics, via the nonpartisan/bipartisan National Coalition on Health Care (NCHC), to demonstrate just how dire the current health care situation is:

  • 46 million Americans under the age of 65 (which represents 18 percent of the population) had no health insurance in 2007. And given the spike in the unemployment rate and downturn in the economy since then, that figure has to be even higher now.
  • 2.4 trillion was spent on health care in 2008, representing 17 percent of the U.S.'s gross domestic product. That's more than four times what we spend on defense.
  • Costs are trending in the wrong direction. Projections have costs reaching3.1 trillion in 2012 and4.3 trillion by 2016, if the same health care system remains in place.
  • The NCHC has compiled projections on the negative impact of spiraling health care costs on the economy, state and federal budgets and employers, large and small, and the effects are stifling. Health care costs are a major threat to our future.
  • We are also very inefficient. We spend more money per person on health care than nations that provide universal coverage to their citizens. The NCHC, citing the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, points out that health care spending was only 10.9 percent of the gross domestic product in Switzerland, 10.7 percent in Germany, 9.7 percent in Canada and 9.5 percent in France, all countries that provide single-payer health care.
  • And what about the small businesses Republicans are always pretending to defend? They are getting killed by health insurance payments. Employer-based premiums rose 5 percent in 2008. In 2007, rates for small employers went up 5.5 percent and companies with less than 24 employees saw an even bigger increase, 6.8 percent. The Republicans call any health care reform measure from the Democrats a job-killer, but nothing is killing the ability of small businesses to hire Americans more than the rising cost of health insurance.
  • Not that Republicans care about American workers, but I thought Democrats were supposed to be looking out for them. They are getting hammered, too, according to the NCHC. In 2008, employees had to pay a whopping 12 percent more in health insurance premiums than they did in 2007, so that the average worker is now paying $1,600 more a year for premiums than he/she did in 1999. In fact, since 1999, premiums for employment-based health insurance have increased 120 percent. (NCHC notes that during that same period, wages grew only 29 percent.) That means that health insurance costs are increasing four times faster for American workers than their wages are, on average.
  • Republicans love to talk about how bad health care will be if the government gets involved, and President Obama has taken great pains to assure Americans that, under his plan, if they like the coverage they have, they can keep it. But the evidence points to the fact that care in the United States isn't as good as it could or should be, and is not the best in the world. The NCHC notes that we are not in the top three in infant death mortality rate; ours is 7 percent, while the leaders are at 2.7 percent. The U.S. rate of mortality from treatable conditions is a third lower than the world's leader. A drop more than half of adult Americans get the care recommended for them, and less than half of those suffering from diabetes and less than a third with coronary heart disease receive proper care. There are also growing problems with medical errors and infections in hospitals.

It's not in question that there needs to be a complete overhaul of the health care system. The only question should be, how much can we change it? But if you listen to the debate in Congress right now, it sounds like a race to see who can do the least. And you would certainly never get the idea that the status quo is as broken and dangerous as it actually is.

The last time I wrote about health care, last month, my central concern was that Republicans were intentionally stoking fears of "socialized medicine" to kill a public option, all in defense of the insurance companies at the expense of the American people. A month later, my concern seems almost quaint by comparison.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll released over the weekend showed that support for President Obama's handling of health care dipped below 50 percent for the first time. (It should be noted that more respondents still supported him than not, 49 percent to 44 percent, and Republicans continue not to be thought well of on health care, with only 34 percent trusting the GOP on the issue.)

While I wish President Obama's rating was higher, I can't say I am surprised. Yes, part of the blame goes to Congressional Republicans who are on an all-out blitz to kill health care reform, and their motives for doing so -- the protection of the big corporations who control the industry, including the health insurers and drug companies -- are in no way involved with helping the American people.

But if the Republicans were the only problem, I wouldn't be too concerned. Reforming the country's broken health care system is such an obvious need, I am sure that the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate would be able to shepherd through meaningful legislation, if that's what they wanted to do.

The problem, as I see it, is that none of the bills working their way through the House and Senate committees now really address making fundamental changes to the broken-down health care system I described above. Instead, the proposed pieces of legislation would seek to find ways to pay for more Americans to be covered under the old, broken, insurer-dominated status quo.

I thought Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius did a pretty good job battling David Gregory on Meet the Press yesterday. She made a good case that no consensus bill has emerged yet, so it's unfair to claim that any eventual legislation would include the failings that any of the proposals currently contained. And she did an excellent job pointing out that we have a long way to go, from the current broken system to one that eventually achieves the president's three goals of improving quality, lowering costs and expanding coverage.

But the one fact that Sebelius could not get around, and one that Gregory pressed her on repeatedly, is that the current pieces of health care legislation in Congress, according to the Congressional Budget Office, will not significantly lower costs.

I wasn't surprised by this problem, since as the debate has unfolded, it seems as though the policies that might actually reduce costs by addressing the domination of profit-motivated health insurers are the ones that have been the most contentious, especially the introduction of a government-run public health insurance option to compete with the private insurers. As I pointed out last month, there is an inherent contradiction to right-wing criticisms of the public option. They say that such a policy would create poor care for Americans while wiping out private insurers. The problem, of course, is that if the care would be so bad, why would people choose it at the expense of their current private insurers? And, if the private insurers would be ruined because the public option would create less-expensive, superior care, why wouldn't we want to adopt a system that raises quality and lowers costs? The Republican argument is completely disingenuous.

And yet, there are plenty of Democratic senators who have come out against a public option or failed to openly support it.

The Republicans are seizing on the obstacles President Obama is facing with health care reform, sensing an opportunity to dent his popularity. A banner headline on the Huffington Post today trumpets that Republicans from Michael Steele to William Kristol are predicting, as Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina did over the weekend, that health care will be "Obama's Waterloo." Hell, things are looking so good to the Republicans that Kenneth the Page impersonator/governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal, has reappeared to chime in that he has "seen enough."

But blaming the Republicans for risking the health and economy of the American people to kneel in supplication at the altar of their big-business patrons is like blaming the scorpion of the famous proverb for stinging the frog. It's in their nature. Few of the GOP's policy positions actually benefit the majority of Americans, and even fewer are adopted for that purpose.

No, the blame gets spread across the entirety of Capitol Hill for the current state of health care reform, since not even all of the Democrats seem to realize the enormity of the problem. Rather than pushing for systematic change, they are dancing around the edges, trying to find ways to cover uninsured individuals without changing the way in which Americans receive (and pay for) health care.

I sincerely believe that President Obama sees the need for a massive overhaul of the health care system to lower costs, cover most Americans, and provide quality care. It's time for the Democrats in Congress to become as committed to these principals as the president seems to be. In light of the attacks by Republicans, which paint the president is some kind of take-over-crazed socialist trying to turn the U.S. into some amalgam of the Soviet Union, Sweden and hell, it seems like Democrats from pink and red states are running scared, afraid of being painted as too liberal in their next elections. And I'm sure that these same moderate Democrats are also feeding from the same insurance-company-supplied troughs as their Republican brothers and sisters.

Frankly, I'm less concerned about the "why" than the "how," as in, How do we move forward from here? So far, the concerns in Congress have led to tepid legislation that, if you believe the CBO, may cover more people, but won't address the underlying problems in the system. A government option should, if done correctly, help lower costs by forcing the private insurers to be more competitive in pricing and service. But even if a public option can find its way into a final bill, will it be strong enough to accomplish what it is designed to do?

In the end, we need a massive overhaul of the health care system that decreases costs, increases quality and covers most Americans. And it seems that right now, President Obama is one of the few players in Washington who seems to realize this fact. I was glad to read today that he is going to take a more aggressive approach to the health care debate, because I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that health care is shaping up to be the biggest leadership challenge of his presidency thus far.

The way things are going now, we are either going to get no health care reform (if the Republicans win) or watered-down health care legislation that acts as a bandage, helping some people but ignoring the larger problem creating the pain. Neither of those options are acceptable if we want to prevent a looming health care disaster that will not only risk our well-being, but also our economy, both individually and nationally.

We need fundamental change to the health care system, and President Obama has to find a way to convince his fellow Democrats on the hill that it's in their best interest politically to get on board. Because if the Democrats can come up with a solution that truly provides quality health care to more Americans for less money, their constituents will reward them in the voting booths. And if no health care legislation emerges, or if the bill that is produced is easily assaulted for threatening to balloon the deficit without addressing rising costs, voters will hold the Democratic lawmakers accountable.

The fire is burning, and it's time for real action to extinguish the flames. President Obama needs some help to do it. Let's hope he can convince enough of his colleagues in Congress to join him.

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