Posts Tagged 'obama'

Obama Disappoints Again … Health Care Reform Likely to Lose its Public Option

Boy, what a disappointment. According to published reports, the Obama administration is willing to give up a plan to create a government-run health insurance company – the so-called ‘public option’ – in order to get some sort of reform passed. Instead, they are now touting the creation of some kind of cooperative health insurance groups, which would be non-profit and owned by its members.

Now I don’t want to overstate the letdown I feel. If this is the only way some health care reform can get done, then fine. Something needs to be done, and the political realities on the ground are obviously quite tricky when you have a slim majority in Congress and even some of the Blue Dogs Democrats are barking like they don’t want to support anything that could increase our deficit.

And unlike getting pregnant, you can get ‘a little reform’ when it comes to health care. I’ll be relatively pleased if a bill passes that takes active measures to limit cost inflation by reducing waste or fraud or increasing efficiencies in the system and includes regulations forbidding insurance companies from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions or dropping people when they get sick.

But I wonder how many other compromises will find its way into the legislation before it reaches the President’s desk. Already, DF pointed out a blog post that indicated the administration agreed to some fairly serious concessions to the pharma industry in order to get it to agree to close the Medicare doughnut hole in prescription coverage.

When it comes to this nation’s health care system, the patient is very sick and needs a very strong prescription. A placebo won’t do. If and when this plan finally passes, will it have any teeth in it?

Or will it just be another example in a growing list of measures that Obama has either avoided pursuing or gotten passed only after it was strongly watered down. A stimulus bill was passed, but only after its size had been slashed, and several of the more left-leaning initiatives removed. An effort to end military tribunals was abandoned. Energy reform and cap-and-trade (an interesting idea that will likely do far too little to reduce global warming) linger in legislative limbo. Meanwhile, Obama has been silent on immigration reform, avoids changing don’t-ask-don’t-tell, and decides to fight the release of torture photos.

The area where Obama has had his biggest successes has been in the economic arena, yet many of the initiatives there – such as forcing GM into bankruptcy and doling out hundreds of billions of dollars in bailout money to banks and Wall Street institutions – hardly qualify as furthering the liberal agenda.

Why are liberals so friggin afraid of their own ideology? Can you imagine the Bush administration hemming and hawing the way Obama’s team has? They wanted tax cuts, they got it done. They wanted authorization to go to war with Iraq, they got it done. They wanted the Patriot Act passed, they got it done.

Granted, there’s very little on a political level that I want Obama to emulate from the Bush team. As someone who finds strict, unwavering adherence to an ideology a bit disturbing, I like the fact that Obama is open to compromise. Often, many of the most successful initiatives a president will accomplish come by reaching across the aisle in areas not normally associated with their side’s ideology (like Clinton’s welfare reform or Bush’s AIDS relief work).

But look, the folks on the other side had their chance. They messed up, and Americans voted for change. Not just change in process – in how things got done in Washington – but voted for change in policy, too.

Troubling public opinion polls and frequent displays of hostilities at town hall meetings shouldn’t matter much if you think the results of policy change will be successful.

Democrats now control both houses of Congress. There’s no justification for deadlock or watered-down, half-assed measures.

For at least the next three years, the Left has been given the opportunity to lead this country. It’s time they do just that.

Twist and Shout: Why the Politics of Anger Makes Me Want to Cry

“…it is a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”

I was livid when I first saw video from the health care town hall meeting that took place last week in my hometown St. Louis.  I had already seen enough similar footage from other cities, but the fact that these were in some ways ‘my folk’ infuriated me.

Ignorant rednecks, I thought, the whole lot of them.

Judging by their age and apparent socioeconomic status (yes, I was stereotyping), I couldn’t help but figure that many of these folks were already receiving a substantial amount of government-financed health care in the form of Medicare and Medicaid. I was convinced many of them were either paid shills of the health-care industry or just sheep lathered up into an unthinking rage by the reactionary talking heads that now populate the airwaves.

These people are the ones who have been chewed up, spit on and totally ignored for years. They have seen their jobs shipped overseas, their communities neglected. They may have a right to be angry but they should be venting their rage at the fat cats on Wall Street, who plundered and pillaged this country for a decade and then received trillions of dollars of our money, bailed out of the damage caused by their own incompetency and malfeasance.

But instead, of all issues, the thing that finally tipped these people over the boiling point was the prospect of trying to find a better way to provide health care for all of our fellow citizens, of trying to fix a broken system that eats up way too much of our GDP, that doesn’t work nearly as well as other less resource-rich countries, and threatens to topple our nation’s already creaky balance sheet.

Fucking uncaring, unthinking, rude, selfish idiots. That was what I thought of these people.

But now I realize that by thinking this way, I was engaging in their game, letting my emotions get the best of me. I was demonizing them just as they were demonizing Obama and The Other that frightens them so much.

Because here’s the truth: I have bought into The Politics of Anger. How could I not? It is now in full force. Everywhere. We should just call it ImPolitics.

We can’t have a rational debate anymore about anything without feeling the anger, letting it seep into our thoughts and words to the point where we no longer are listening to each other but shouting at each other. And when the issue at stake is something as important and as personal as health care, the tempers run even higher and hotter.

And while the extreme right may practice this form of politics with much more enthusiasm and effectiveness than most, they don’t have a monopoly on it.

Admit it, you think the religious right are a bunch of hypocritical assholes. You thought Bush and Cheney were evil. You’ve compared them to Hitler and the Nazis once or twice, at least in your thoughts. And this was before they abused the power of their office, led us into a war on false pretenses, and took away a number of our personal liberties. Perhaps you felt this way as soon as they were elected, when they clearly stole the election, using their mob tactics in Florida (some of those scenes in the election offices in Miami-Dade County certainly do have an eerie resemblance to the rage we’re seeing now).

I’d like to think I’m better. I have a sensitive soul and an open mind, after all. I appreciate fine art and literature and film and music. I can appreciate nuance, see things in colors other than black and white. I am enlightened. I know and appreciate how precious and short life is, and how we too often get distracted by issues that don’t truly matter.  For whatever we may think lies beyond, if anything, we should at least agree that we would make our temporal lives a lot more pleasant if we tried to understand the common humanity that links us all, binds us to the same shared fate.

But then I see the terrifying rage at these meetings, and it makes me wonder.

I know it’s the insult of the day to throw out the term Hitler and raise the specter of  Nazism whenever you disagree with your opponent. Both sides do it, and the inappropriateness of the metaphor has rendered it all but impotent.

But I wonder if the rage you see at these meetings doesn’t indeed spring from the same place that led us to a world where such a thing as the Holocaust – and all the other holocausts, the Rwandas, the Cambodias, the Bosnias, the Darfurs, etc. etc. – became possible, perhaps even inevitable. That perhaps the rage at these meetings, and the rage that rises in me as I watch, is the true realization of the common humanity of which I speak, and of which binds us to the same shared fate.

And then my rage dissipates, and is instead replaced by a deep sadness. It is much less fulfilling. I hope it is just as inappropriate.

Just looking at the menu … or ordering the rump??? (Obama and Mayara Tavares)

So the media is all abuzz of this picture of Barack and French President Nicolas Sarkozy apparently checking out the rear end of a 17-year-old girl from Rio de Janeiro.

Gotta love the New York Post writers, headlining this important, hard-hitting story – ‘Tail to the Chief’ and leading the story with ‘Baby got Barack!’ Damn, they’re good.

Now we know Sarkozy is a total horndog (and the legal age in France is 15, I believe) so no surprise or problem there, but I kind of expected better from Obama.

Oh, who am I kidding?? Men were born to look, and it’s not like this girl had her age tattooed on her forehead (or her backside for that matter). Oh sure, it’s juvenile-looking, kind of fratboyish and probably unbefitting of a President, but I just can’t throw stones here.

Checking out women is one of the things I do best, and I’m not secretive about it – I usually point out the hotter ones to my Beyonce. My dad always said you can still look at the menu even if you can no longer order. I don’t see it as disrespect – I just admire beauty in all its forms. I would love it if girls checked me and my fabulous tushy out on a regular basis.

And maybe Barack was just comparing this girl’s rear to his own wife’s impressive backside. Clearly, the guy favors a healthy rump.

EDIT:  Video shows Barack may not have been checking out the goods at all. Sarkozy, on the other hand, not so innocent.

Obama’s Too Big to Fail Rules Too Late to Matter

The AP has posted an article detailing Obama’s new regulatory plan that would if enacted impose serious penalties on financial institutions when they get too large.

Although there aren’t many specifics in the article about what those disincentives would be or exactly how the government would define ‘too big’, this is a much-needed step back on the road to financial sobriety. We should never as an economy or a country be held hostage to the failings of one single entity.

As deeply as I hated all of the bailouts we’ve been throwing around to woefully (borderline criminally, in my opinion) mismanaged institutions like Citigroup and AIG, I do believe their balance sheets may have been so enormous, their footprints and obligations so intertwined in the world economy, that their failure could have crippled the entire foundation of our credit-based system and brought it to its knees.

Yet don’t be fooled – our problems didn’t lie with any one or two entities, but with the entire system. What we had instead was a complete failure by the market as a whole – and even more damning, by the regulators in charge of watching those markets – to recognize the emerging credit/debt/mortgage bubbles whose eventual bursting forced this country to its day of reckoning.

A law breaking up large financial institutions or disincentivizing them from forming in the first place will help make future problems easier to spot and solve, perhaps, but it won’t by itself save us from our own worst behavior.

And it will do very little if anything to impact our current situation and economic crisis.

In fact, the most ironic thing about the Obama plan is that the entity which may now be most accurately considered ‘too big to fail’ is our own U.S. government, which through actions taken by the Fed and the Treasury has taken on much of the bad debt and obligations (and added a bunch of new ones) that will be stifling our economy for years to come.

We can only hope that the Chinese and other foreign governments continue to agree that the U.S. government is indeed too big to fail and allow us the time to work through our issues and restore some amount of fiscal and monetary discipline without cutting off their support in one fell swoop.

Yeah, I’m still in love with our president … (Obama’s Speech to Muslims)

What can you add when one man says everything you’re thinking and says it with such clarity and such poetry??

All of us share this world for but a brief moment in time. The question is whether we spend that time focused on what pushes us apart or whether we commit ourselves to an effort, a sustained effort to find common ground, to focus on the future we seek for our children and to respect the dignity of all human beings.

It’s easier to start wars than to end them. It’s easier to blame others than to look inward. It’s easier to see what is different about someone than to find the things we share. But we should choose the right path, not just the easy path. There is one rule that lies at the heart of every religion, that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us.

Newspaper bailout? Please no … but we do need The Watchmen

What a shock. A reporter (fearing for his own job, perhaps?) asked White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs if the potential imminent closure of the venerable Boston Globe calls for yet another government bailout, this time to save the flailing newspaper industry.

Gibbs was sympathetic to the plight of the industry but at best non-committal with his answer. Yet Clusterstock writer Joe Wiesenthal seems to think such a bailout is coming (although not in time to save the Globe), and that the Obama administration and Congress will justify such largess by carping “about how the lack of a thriving fourth estate posed (sic) ‘systemic risk’ to democracy.”

I don’t think Wiesenthal is right. The public appetite for more bailouts is basically nil, and if the auto industry is now getting the stiff arm from Congress then I can’t see how newspapers are going to be able to feed in any significant way at the public trough. The Obama administration has already rejected calls from house Speaker Nancy Pelosi asking for looser antitrust restrictions created under the Newspaper Preservation Act of 1970.

However, I’ve also seen our government do some stupid and surprising things over the past year, and it did after all once create a Newspaper Preservation Act, so perhaps we will see government intervention in the newspaper industry.

And make no mistake, a widespread newspaper bailout would be a stupid thing to do. No one under the age of 50 wants to read newspapers anymore. So what? Most of these people haven’t stopped staying up to date on current events, but are finding the news – at least the news they want – through other means, such as our beloved Internet and the emerging blogosphere.

As a former journalist, trained at one of our nation’s finest J-schools, I want to be sympathetic to the cry and hue I hear everyday from folks in the industry. But media companies should have to deal with the same technological creative destruction forces that numerous other industries have been forced to confront.

The newspaper industry will have to find a way to stay relevant amid emerging technological (perhaps the new large-screen Kindle will offer one answer) and societal changes, or die the slow death it deserves. I am confident a market will always exist – or at least eventually reemerge – for people who know how to effectively create and/or edit content.

However, I have one important caveat here. There is one function that newspapers perform that I do think is vital to our democratic society: Investigative journalism. I cannot begin to enumerate all of the political and business scandals that would likely never have seen the light of day had it not been for the fine investigative work funded by the newspaper industry.

Indeed, much of that investigative work is already disappearing as the industry adjusts to the new economic realities by paring their operations to the bone. Whether newspapers survive or not, the days are already numbered when editors would allow their best investigative journalists to go off the grid for months at a time pursuing a potential scoop that could net the publication a bunch of Pulitzer prizes.

Other media – like magazines and television – have occasionally shed some light on some very dark corners of American history, and certainly some in blogland would pick up the muckraking mantle of the newspaper industry, but it is possible that the private market will no longer be interested in supporting the important investigative work the newspaper industry has historically done.

If the newspaper industry does not survive, and no other privately funded source emerges to effectively replace the investigative work it once did, then the government should step in to create and fund an investigative agency that would perform that function.

A group of Watchmen, if you will (and Watchwomen, of course).

I haven’t given much thought about the organization or mandate such an agency would have – although it would have to have an extraordinary amount of independence from government interference and electoral politics, even more than the Fed and the Supreme Court currently enjoy – and certainly we’d need to figure out who would watch the watchmen. It could be that the creation of such an agency may be too complicated or costly for the federal government.

In any case, I can live easily in a world without newspapers. But a world without a functioning investigative journalism system would be scary indeed.

The dagbuzz for 3/23/09: The Geithner Bank Stability Plan

Details of the Geithner bank stability plan came out today, and Wall Street for one loved it. And why not,  for the plan basically allows financial institutions to take the worse of the toxic assets rotting away on their balance sheets and pawn off the vast majority of the risks of nonpayment onto the U.S. government (and ultimately the U.S. taxpayer).

I will give credit to Geithner for creativity in crafting the plan given our limited options. Without the use of private money and leverage, we would never be able to afford absorbing all the problematic assets without jeopardizing the health of the U.S. balance sheet and sending our foreign investors fleeing for the exits. And even if we could afford it, Congress would never step up with the money now that the public’s appetite for these Wall Street bailouts has totally disappeared, so Geithner cleverly bypassed that particular concern by giving extraordinary powers to agencies like the Federal Reserve and the FDIC.

It is quite apparent from reading the fact sheet the U.S. Treasury released today regarding the plan (which I encourage everyone to read since it actually provides a concise, rather easy-to-understand summary) that Geithner’s core assumption is that current market prices for these toxic assets are not reflective of their underlying value.

If Geithner is right, and prices of these assets are artificially low, then his plan could very well work. If he’s wrong and, as many experts believe asset prices fall further, then we are throwing good money after bad, and the leverage we are employing will cause even more damage.

Geithner says new plan is best option

Private-public partnership proposal poses plenty of problems

Oh goody. Looks like we’re about to hear the details of Geithner’s long-awaited financial stability plan, which has as one of its key components a public-private investment pool designed to help rid our system of the toxic assets rotting away on bank balance sheets.

Apparently, the Treasury will hire four or five private investment managers to run a fund that will purchase the assets. The government will then match whatever monies the private firms manage to raise and invest.

Sounds simple enough on the surface, but is it just me, or do bad things generally happen when government and the private sector get into bed together?

What often ends up occurring is one of two things:

1) The private companies – because they get all sorts of government breaks and incentives, including in many cases the assumption of losses should really big disaster strike – end up making decisions that do not properly assess risks vs. rewards, resulting in ultimate failure, whereupon the government must become more fully involved anyway. It’s exactly the kind of privatizing profits, socializing losses phenomenon we’ve seen with the current crisis. And it’s the taxpayer who gets screwed.

2) OR, public policy concerns get in the way of maximizing profits, and the government feels like it must step in to protect the interests of the American populace. In this case, the private enterprises get screwed, and are either forced to alter their investment strategy in inefficient ways or watch as their investments or ‘outsized’ gains get confiscated in one manner or another.

We saw both 1 and 2 when it came to the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac disasters, and watching the AIG fiasco unravel is like watching the same story over and over again.

Though your ideology may affect the way you ultimately view the AIG situation – either management knows the company is too big too fail so they are not spending the taxpayers resources wisely, or the government is being forced by public outrage to get involved in company decisions that would be better left to management – we should clearly have done one of two things: Let the company fail and allow the private markets to work its destructive magic (and risk systemic collapse as its unpaid obligations filter through) or fully take the company over and end this charade that AIG is still a private entity. Anything would likely be better than this half-assed, want-it-both-ways solution we currently are trying.

In most cases, public-private partnerships are just clever ways to try and remove large obligations off the balance sheet of the American government (but merely postpone the costs), and justified under the guise that private industry can do things cheaper and more effectively.

I’m sure there are instances where public-private partnerships have been successful (if you know of any, please let me know in the comment section), but when the goals of the two entities are ultimately so different – one wants to maximize profit, the other wants to address some sort of nonprofit-based public policy goal – it’s no surprise the end result often ends up being a disaster.

Look, I know I’m doing the very thing I’ve been complaining about: Criticizing the new administration without giving its agenda or policies a chance (hell, in this case, I’m criticizing without even seeing the plan!).

Obama & Co. inherited this giant, sticky, complicated financial mess and are trying to be creative about fixing it without making our government go broke. There are no easy answers, and I frankly don’t know what the alternatives are. But the idea that we’re employing the same basic strategy that helped get us into this crisis strikes me as very unwise, to say the least.

The dagbuzz for 3/11/09: Grading Obama’s Presidency??

So some jackass reporter decided to ask White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs to grade President Obama’s performance after a whoppin’ 50 days in office. Seriously? You could pass the question off as harmless, silly journalistic tripe, but I think it’s symptomatic of a rush to judge and criticize anything and everything Obama is trying to accomplish. It’s unhealthy, unproductive and unfair. The time to hand out grades will eventually come, but for now, how about giving the president a break and let him do his job.

Image: Gibbs Grades Obama's First Fifty Days In Office

The dagbuzz for 3/2/09: (Abuse, Co-Dependency and Fear of Change)

Today, I discuss codependent, abusive relationships, and our general resistance to change. Deadman understands the deal. He, too, just wants to relive the good old days and focus on things that will always stay the same, like the Middle East conflict.

Image: Chris Brown And Rihanna: Back Together For No Good Reason

Chris Brown And Rihanna: Back Together For No Good Reason

Image: Obama will sign spending bill despite earmarks      (AP)

Obama will sign spending bill despite earmarks (AP)

Image: US takes another crack at AIG rescue

US takes another crack at AIG rescue

Image: Clinton Pledges Gaza Aid

Clinton Pledges Gaza Aid

The dagbuzz for 3/1/09: (Obama’s War on the Wealthy)

Been away all week on business, listening to my colleagues and the talking heads on CNBC bitch and moan about Obama’s budget and economic policies. They believe he’s declaring war on the wealthy and is going to destroy the economy with his increased tax hikes.

Are you fucking kidding me?!?

Oh yeah, I feel a rant coming on …

Image: Obama's budget: huge ambitions, huge obstacles      (AP)

Obama’s budget: huge ambitions, huge obstacles (AP)

(PS This dagbuzz is far from my best performance, and you’ll probably notice a couple of rough cuts within the video. I just got caught up playing with Windows Movie Maker and eventually succumbed to fatigue. If you have any idea on how to make those cuts smoother, i’d be all ears. I’m just trying to find a way so that when I mess up, I don’t always have to restart my spiel from the beginning)

The buzz for 2/18/09: Cars and Houses and Chimps, Oh My!

I’m starting to feel the economy is like the chimp gone mad yesterday in Connecticut. You know, the one who ripped off the face of his owner’s friend.

“It’s eating us!! Listen to me, you have to shoot it!!”

Today’s economic damage tally:

$22 billion more for the car companies, 50,000+ expected jobs lost anyway.

$75 billion in mortgage relief for irresponsible homebuyers. (BTW, just got done reading through the details of the mortgage relief plan, and it actually looks fairly sensible on first blush. Bravo!)

Thanks again to Yahoo! buzz:

911 tape captures chimp owner’s horror

GM, Chrysler seek billions more, to cut more jobs (AP)

Image: $75 billion mortgage plan

$75 billion mortgage plan

Image: Recession will be worst since 1930s: Greenspan      (Reuters)

Recession will be worst since 1930s: Greenspan (Reuters)

The Buzz for 2/17/09: (Obama’s New New Deal?)

So Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 into law in Denver this afternoon. I’ve heard several pundits calling the $787 billion stimulus package the beginning of Obama’s New Deal. In today’s dagbuzz, I discuss why that comparison is foolish, and why we probably couldn’t even afford a new New Deal even if we desperately needed one.

I know Obama isn’t done with today’s bill. Homeowner and banking rescue plans are in the works and coming soon, but everything I’ve heard so far suggests that what the administration is trying to accomplish falls far short of the broad scope and scale of FDR’s New Deal plan.

The reason for our somewhat modest response may be partly that as bad as things are today, they’re not nearly as bad as they were when FDR took office (total shutdown of banking system, 25% unemployment), or maybe partly because of Obama’s more tenuous political situation (FDR got Congress to grant every single one of his ‘First 100 Days’ requests), but I worry that it’s mostly because we couldn’t begin to afford such a series of initiatives without totally jeopardizing the country’s long-term economic health and standing.

Image: Obama poised to sign stimulus into law      (AP)

Obama poised to sign stimulus into law (AP)

The dagBuzz for 2/12/09: (Darwin, Lincoln, and the new MOFT)

Exciting news, daggers (well, it’s at least exciting for Deadman)!! I have bought a snazzy new hi-res Webcam, and the videos should now end up being much, much clearer. However, the bad news is that not only do you now get to see all of Deadman’s defects in full glory, but I kind of liked the way the old dark and grainy images fit the Deadman persona.

All hope is not lost, though, as the new webcam can do some very cool things, some of which could help solve my persona dilemma.

The actual dagBuzz portion of the video today is brief, but please daggers watch the video all the way through to the end so you can see what the camera can do, and let me know what you think. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed, it’s pretty cool stuff – The Logitech 9000 Pro Webcam has been immediately anointed as My One Favorite Thing of the week – and as a bonus, I embarrass myself to the fullest throughout the proceedings.

Here are the Yahoo Buzz! stories:

Op-Ed Contributor: The Origin of Darwin

Obama looks to Lincoln while launching presidency      (AP)

Obama looks to Lincoln while launching presidency (AP)

The Buzz for 2/9/09: (Obama, Gaza, Octuplets, Grammies, Tiger)

OK, I don’t know how many people actually listened to my first attempt at the Daily Buzz, but two people commented they liked it (with reservations), and that’s all the encouragement the vain Deadman needed to continue the process. I think I solved the sunglass glare issue, and for whatever reason the slow-motion issue seems absent this time (tho the quality of the video is still atrocious and very dark – perhaps that’s appropriate for the deadman, tho!), and alas the length is still too long at just under 6 minutes, though at least 20 seconds of the video is dedicated to showing off my new Snuggie.

Here are the Yahoo buzz! stories I run down: (The video is below)

Obama to push stimulus at rally      (Reuters)

Obama to push stimulus at rally (Reuters)

Israeli aircraft hit 2 militant targets in Gaza      (AP)

Israeli aircraft hit 2 militant targets in Gaza (AP)

Octuplets’ grandmother criticizes daughter

51st Annual Grammy Award Winners Announced!

Tiger’s son Charlie arrives, already favored at ’26 Masters


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