As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Saturday, August 15, 2009

California - How Process Creates Crisis @Netroots Nation Open Thread

Below are what will approximate my opening remarks at today's Netroots Nation panel on the California budget and political crisis. If you're in the room (or not), you can participate in the session by submitting questions on Twitter using the #cabudget or the #cabudgetNN09 hashtags, or posting in the comments here. Consider this an Open Thread for the panel, featuring myself, Robert Cruickshank, Kai Stinchcombe and Jean Ross of the California Budget Project.

Over the last several months, we have started to see a lot of attention at the national level devoted to this topic of the California budget crisis. And this would be pleasing to me, if it wasn't for the minor point that all of it has been wrong. One hundred percent, no exceptions, wrong. You can start by the insistence on referring to it as a budget crisis. I'll give you a related example. Right now we're seeing this debate over health care, and the intensity of the town hall meetings and misinformation provided by Republicans and their allies in the health care industry. But really, none of that has to happen. With a Democratic President, and large majorities in the House and Senate, there should be no problem finding a majority that supports some form of decent legislation which includes insurance reforms and a public option to provide competition. But you have the hurdle of the filibuster in the Senate. In fact, the very undemocratic nature of the Senate itself, where the state of California and the state of Wyoming have the same representation despite one having over 70 times as many residents as the other, distorts the debate and creates abstractions from the expressed will of the people and the political will in Washington. Now, that ought to be understood as a political crisis, not a crisis over what to do about health care but a crisis about how to leap the institutional hurdles. Well, take that situation, multiply it by 10 orders of magnitude, and you start to understand the nature of the problem in California.

We have a center-left electorate and a center-right political system in which they must operate. And sure, Democrats in the state could do a much better job at negotiation and advocacy. But my contention is that this is not a problem of personality but process, and that process has created the crisis which we now face. We could elect Noam Chomsky Governor next year and still be saddled with the structural hurdles that must be jettisoned before we can even return to a baseline of sane and responsible governance in California.

And while the worst economic hole since the Great Depression certainly accelerated the problem, this is not the result of a perfect storm of factors contributing to the demise. It was a 70-year bout of rain, and at every step of the way, nobody properly challenged this slip into an ungovernable system. So it's going to take a lot of time to restore democracy to California, just as it took so much time to take it away. But I believe that we can solve this problem in a way that can truly be a harbinger for the country at large, which is the state's reputation. If we can really work to figure out the proper model for government that allows for the will of the people to be reflected in policy and provides the accountability for the public so they know whether or not they like the policy results, we will not only have saved California, but the whole nation. So that's what we'll be talking about today.

Labels: , ,


Valerie Jarrett @NetrootsNation

Baratunde Thurston starts off with "Wikipedia describes your office as..." This is an online media conference, isn't it?

Jarrett is trying to describe what she does, and frankly I still don't much understand it. Sounds sort of like she's a gatekeeper at the White House.

...So, Jarrett says that the reason Obama ran for President is that he wanted to move away from the nasty tone in Washington. And here we are, with a nastier tone than ever. You really cannot just tsk-tsk and demand other people to "be nice." She is correct that there have been literally thousands of health care town hall meetings where civil discussion has taken place, but the media is more interested in the yelling and screaming. But surely they should have known that in the White House beforehand. They waged a campaign with the same media focusing on the same ticky-tack bullshit. The media have not been a legitimate arbiter of political debate in as long as anyone can remember. Expecting civility and some Republic of Solon where the merit of ideas rules is simply nonsensical.

My attention is waning with this interview, because it's pretty fluffy. The only thing close to breaking news is the line she just said, "The President wants the public option," but that's not necessarily a blanket statement and a dodge from the question about whether he would veto a bill without it (which he clearly will not).

...On the question about repealing DADT and DOMA, Jarrett commits to repeal (we've heard weasel words like "change" in the past), but she says that the DoJ was in an untenable position of having to defend DOMA, when that's not true and certainly does not justify the hostile brief put out there.

This is getting a bit more heated, as Baratunde challenges the President on civil liberties issues. Jarrett has the kind of robotic responses to all of this, the "we have to balance defending our country and keeping people safe" responses, the "we're only six months in" stuff. This could have been printed out as a script weeks ago.

Labels: ,


Friday, August 14, 2009

Oddly, Nobody Protests This Health Care Forum

This week, Remote Area Medical, an organization that got its start providing health care services to the impoverished in the Third World, descended on Inglewood to provide those same services to the most disenfranchised group, from a medical care standpoint, in the industrialized world - the uninsured and underinsured in America.

They came for new teeth mostly, but also for blood pressure checks, mammograms, immunizations and acupuncture for pain. Neighboring South Los Angeles is a place where health care is scarce, and so when it was offered nearby, word got around.

For the second day in a row, thousands of people lined up on Wednesday — starting after midnight and snaking into the early hours — for free dental, medical and vision services, courtesy of a nonprofit group that more typically provides mobile health care for the rural poor.

Like a giant MASH unit, the floor of the Forum, the arena where Madonna once played four sold-out shows, housed aisle upon aisle of dental chairs, where drilling, cleaning and extracting took place in the open. A few cushions were duct-taped to a folding table in a coat closet, an examining room where Dr. Eugene Taw, a volunteer, saw patients.

These were not only uninsured patients, over 1,500 in the first day alone, but underinsured patients who cannot get the services they need with their coverage.

No cable news outlet discussing health care reform and the town halls around it ever get around to mentioning this reality. In the poorest areas of this country, health care access is so nonexistent that people will wait around for days in their cars, driving for sometimes hundreds of miles, to find a volunteer clinic that they now use as their primary care physician. South Los Angeles lost one of its only health care providers when King-Drew Medical Center shut down a couple years back, and really nobody, outside of Remote Area Medical, has filled the breach. This is an absolute tragedy, and at the end of the day, it costs our medical system far more than it would to cover everyone, because nagging problems only served by free clinics every couple years eventually find their way into the emergency room. And the disconnect between this circumstance and those right-wingers yelling and shrieking across the country is striking.

The enormous response to the free care was a stark corollary to the hundreds of Americans who have filled town-hall-style meetings throughout the country, angrily expressing their fear of the Obama administration’s proposed changes to the nation’s health care system. The bleachers of patients also reflected the state’s high unemployment, recent reduction in its Medicaid services for the poor and high deductibles and co-payments that have come to define many employer-sponsored insurance programs.

Somebody should leak to one of the astroturf groups activating the right about these town halls that there will be a major Congressional event over at the Forum in Inglewood, and then sit back and watch their face sink when they show up to protest and instead encounter the horrors of this broken system.

...from a reader:

"Obama should be at this event, talking to people and forcing the media to cover it. He should even invite/dare the three health care CEOs who told Congress they would still use recission to cut costs."

This is something Digby and I just said to each other about a minute ago. He's already out west this weekend. There's no sharper way to bring forward the case for changing the system. And sure, the Malkinites will start looking up the addresses of those being helped, and if they have cell phones or TVs or granite countertops, but I think the witness of this giant line of thousands of people with no outlet but to practically beg for health care would swamp the nonsense.

Labels: , , ,



He had a really good opening, about how all members of the military are Democrats, they just don't even know it.

He's generally doing well, with a strong backing of climate change and energy legislation and health reform (particularly the duopoly of the insurance market in PA). Got tripped up a bit by going into the weeds trying to explain his FISA vote. Sestak is a moderate, mainstream Democrat who can go on opposition media and state the Democratic case with authority. That's not a little thing.

Savaging Specter on his role in killing the Clinton health care reform in the 1990s. "Leadership is not just about crisis, but preventing crisis."

Susie asks the right question: the netroots "will you still love me tomorrow" question, where politicians say one thing to us before the election, and then distance after. "The girl under the bleachers who you won't take to the prom." Sestak's answer: "We try to get back to everyone." Sestak's great on constituent service, but that's not really what Susie is talking about. Sestak talks about various advisory groups he has, and maybe he should get a netroots advisory group.

Weird: "I hope you don't mind if I use the term blogosphere." Um, it's not a slur.

...strong on gay rights, he's always been a leader on repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell, coming from the perspective of authority as the commander of a Navy ship... comes out for fully-inclusive ENDA!

Sestak's elevator pitch is very strong, the one moment where he has real emotion in his voice.

Labels: ,



Arlen Specter sitting in front of a Netroots Nation banner.

...Ari Melber to Specter: "Who are you, why are you here?" Answer: "I'm a fella who has a good job I'd like to keep." At least he's honest. Specter is very selectively tiptoeing through his record. When you've been in the Senate for 30 years, you could pretty much present yourself as Dennis Kucinich or Jim DeMint, depending on the coloring.

...Specter talking about carrying the President's message in town hall meetings on health care. As he keeps going, Melber says "This isn't the Senate and you're not going to filibuster."

...Susie Madrak talks about the Specter move of condemning a Bush Administration initiative, and then voting for it. Specter: "You can pick an isolated example or two." Or 102. Now touting the Military Commissions Act to the Netroots Nation audience. That's going to go over well.

...To recap, Specter said about the Military Commissions Act, "It was unconstitutional to exclude habeas corpus, it would set America back 900 years." Then went ahead and voted for this.

Shorter Specter: Without my vote gutting state funding in the stimulus, PA wouldn't have received all that money in the stimulus!

Specter is bobbing and weaving, essentially.

...Specter says he can be helpful on health care with Chuck Grassley. Sen. Grassley, who legitimized the "death panel" smear so much that he got the Senate Finance Committee to deep-six it. Specter does say Grassley is wrong to say that. "I will call him up today and tell him he's wrong." We say call him now. Specter says "join me backstage and watch me dial." I'm going.

..."I don't know Glenn Beck, and I don't care to know Glenn Beck!" A bold stand.

...Specter thinks there are 61 votes for cloture (all Dems + Snowe).

...Susie or Ari need to go after Specter on Clarence Thomas.

...On the crowd here: "This is easy compared to yesterday." Gives his elevator pitch: "I have a lot of experience, I can speak for Obama on tough issues effectively."

...he did indeed call Grassley. Left a msg and requested a meeting.

Labels: ,


Right For The Room

I would say that Howard Dean's message, arguing strongly for a choice in health care and saying that the only element in the entire bill that can be credibly called health care reform is the public option, makes a lot more sense in this environment than Bill Clinton's "accept half a loaf" speech last night. Somebody has to make this argument, and if we don't, absolutely nobody will and there will be no progressive counterweight to the manic-obsessive centrism that too many Democrats are kind of dying to perpetuate.

Dean's also talking about the psychology of anger among the right wing in these town halls, and how it's not about the bill, but a major generational change in America, and the sense among a certain element that things are slipping away. This of course doesn't totally help us right now unless that new generation advocates for something worth doing.

...I'm glad Tanya Tarr talked about reproductive rights in the bill. Dean correctly argues that an independent panel of experts will decide the benefits package in the public insurance options, but obviously there can be some advocacy around that.

"We're doing good on this bill, the press never covers substance so you'd never know it..."

A very good point from Dean: nurse practitioners can perform about 60% of what he did as a primary care physician, and they should be able to work independently from primary care operations. We're just going to need to do that, because adding 30-35 million people to the health insurance rolls and emphasizing prevention will require so many doctors, probably much more than we can muster. So empowering nurse practitioners would help this out pretty well.

I'm very hopeful about Gov. Dean's remarks about ending fee-for-service medicine. He thinks the primary care physicians who make less than their counterparts in Britain right now will demand it.

He's also big on moving us from an illness system to a wellness system. The best groups doing this are the self-insured corporations like Safeway, who get crappy food out of the break room and give health club memberships and essentially emphasize prevention because it's better for their bottom line.

Labels: , , ,


Something We Can Call Health Care Reform NOW

So I decided to listen to the Clinton keynote instead of blog it. He's such a pro, he goes an hour without notes and weaves in a dozen subjects seamlessly. Lane Hudson, an LGBT activist, yelled out a challenge to Clinton about his signing of DOMA and Don't Ask Don't Tell, and while he was clearly angered, he never missed a beat, and gave his rebuttal (some of which is legitimate, some spin).

The overall thrust of his argument last night was the "half a loaf" argument, as Clinton implored the crowd to essentially settle for what we can get, because no bill would be a disaster. Which is true to an extent. Clinton was talking about the politics of health reform, and the idea that Obama's approval will skyrocket after a bill signing, and even more when all of the scare tactics put out there by conservatives fail to materialize. But there's another side to that. A bad bill, one where the tangible benefits do not outweigh the costs, will actually realize some of those worst fears, or at least give conservatives the opening to protest loudly about them. If middle-class people aren't getting enough in subsidies, if everyone waits around four years for the insurance exchanges and then they cannot be accessed by everyone, people will take it out on the President. So I do believe details matter.

Now we're in the hall waiting for the Howard Dean health care session, and there's a sign being handed out in the hall that says "we want discussion not disruption". It's not exactly the stuff of which stirring protest slogans are made. "CIVIL DISCUSSION NOW!!!!"

...Lane Hudson explains why he interrupted the President.

Labels: , ,


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Thursday Keynote Netroots Nation

Sitting here in the hall, listening to an organizer from the United Steelworkers (who's hilarious), waiting for the Bill Clinton keynote. The cocktail hour was sponsored by AFSCME, and they actually played the famous "we're the $%@^&! union" video to kick off the session. Good stuff.

There's a certain uneasiness this year, as everyone wants to get things done with the majorities we have in Washington. For all the talk of conservatives awakening a "sleeping giant" with their teabagger protests, there's a progressive block ready to howl, and I hope it readies itself this weekend.

More if my battery can stand it...

...Judd Legum, running for the Maryland House of Delegates, is now speaking. His website here.

...Debra Bowen coming to the stage. The only Secretary of State who needs her staff to keep her off of Twitter and Facebook.

Bowen mentioned a project to create a Wiki at the Secretary of State's page to use social networking toward participatory democracy. "Voters deserve transparent and verifiable elections... 'Just trust us' is not the basis of a viable democracy, just check out Iran."

...Bowen talks about the correlation between voter confidence and voter participation. Also, she is talking about how she isn't co-chairing anyone's Presidential campaign while running Presidential elections.

...New Democrat Network leader Simon Rosenberg introducing Bill Clinton speaking. I expect Clinton to get a rousing ovation.

John Futterman, the Mayor of Braddock, PA, is speaking. He is really an amazing success story, turning a steel town in the Monongahela Valley into a green oasis in Western PA. The guy looks like a pro wrestler, and he's building green enterprise zones all over the Mon Valley. I'll have a special post about a certain factory in the Mon Valley next week.

The County Executive of Allegheny County, a Democrat running for Governor, Dan Onoronda (sp?), is up.

...Onoronda talks about the story of Western Pennsylvania, how they moved away from the steel economy, invested in the people, and transformed the entire region. It's really a great untold story, based entirely on good government investment, that ought to get out there.

Labels: ,


You Have Every Right To Fear Chuck Grassley

This is the guy who is the lead Republican negotiator on the health care bill.

One of the three Republican senators working on a bipartisan health care bill perpetuated a particularly outrageous untruth about the legislation on Wednesday.

Appearing at a town hall in his home state of Iowa, Sen. Chuck Grassley told a crowd of more than 300 that they were correct to fear that the government would "pull the plug on grandma."

"There is some fear because in the House bill, there is counseling for end-of-life," Grassley said. "And from that standpoint, you have every right to fear. You shouldn't have counseling at the end of life. You ought to have counseling 20 years before you're going to die. You ought to plan these things out. And I don't have any problem with things like living wills. But they ought to be done within the family. We should not have a government program that determines if you're going to pull the plug on grandma."

Why is he in the room? Why is he NEAR the room? Why should we expect any health care bill that passes through his hands to be sufficient?

Labels: , ,


In The 'Burgh

I am back from a wonderful wedding and honeymoon. I didn't want the new wife finding me with the laptop furtively typing away while on the honeymoon, leading to me getting a quickie divorce, so I held to my pledge to stay away. I'm sure I missed pretty much everything, so I won't bother recapping. So this is just to day that I'm back and on the ground here in Pittsburgh for Netroots Nation. Just a reminder that, if you're at the conference, you can find me on one panel over the weekend.

California: How Process Creates Crisis

PANEL, 317
California is the nation's largest state, and is often seen as a bellweather for economic and social change. However, the peculiar dynamic of state government institutions has threatened that role, as the state has slipped into an almost perpetual crisis mode. Despite an overwhelming majority of progressive lawmakers in the state legislature, the two-thirds rule for passing a budget and tax increases, among other issues, handcuffs them and empowers a radical conservative minority. Thirty years of short-term fixes and failed leadership have only exacerbated the problem and put the state—and the nation—in real danger. As Paul Krugman recently said, "Years of neglect, followed by economic disaster—and with all reasonable responses blocked by a fanatical, irrational minority ... This could be America next." In this session, we will look at the reasons for California's budget tangle, the larger implications for the progressive movement at large, and what some organizations are doing to change these outdated rules and take back state government for the people.

And I will be around throughout the weekend, so if you're here, seek me out and say hi.

Labels: , , ,


Monday, August 10, 2009

Paul Krugman: making heads explode everywhere

Sorry I have not been a more reliable poster, but my weekend was relatively killer. I don't know how Dave does it. So I recommend you read Paul Krugman, like usual. This piece will make right-wing heads explode even more than anything else I've cited from him. Especially this part:

All in all, then, the government has played a crucial stabilizing role in this economic crisis. Ronald Reagan was wrong: sometimes the private sector is the problem, and government is the solution.

But there's one key word in there: sometimes. What separates the modern liberal from the modern conservative in this era is the politics of pragmatism. Paul Krugman is not going to go out of his way, for instance, to claim that the private sector is always the problem and government is always the solution--far from it. Instead, he is saying, in the fashion of a true Keynesian economist, that neither option is going to be right 100% of the time.

This stands in marked contrast to the modern conservative movement, which holds that any government "intrusion" is bad--because if it's government, it must be bad, without recourse to any further policy debate. The modern conservative does not start a policy debate with the baseline of "what works?" but rather one of "government is always bad. Taking that consideration into account, what's the best we can do?"

A pragmatist, simply put, is one who is not bound by the rigors of such ideological purity testing, and feels obligated to come up with what actually works. For instance--you can get that if the health care system worked well, there wouldn't be such pressure to reform it.