Speech Score: Obama 1, Jindal 0

For those of you that were so inclined last night, President Obama gave what many experts are classifying as the speech of his life last night.

He did not mince words or paint a falsely rosy picture of the economy or the effects of the recession which is gripping the country and the world.  What he did was, in effect, tell the nation that yes, things suck, but if we don’t take bold action, including providing immediate help to those who have lost their jobs and health care and those who have yet to lose them, then no amount of other tinkering is going to fix this, and the economic fiasco could last a decade or more.

The now-passed stimulus package is multi-faceted with both immediate and longer term assistance.  President Obama made that clear in his speech, which you can watch HERE and read HERE.

The immediate help, besides extending unemployment benefits and other immediate immediate help programs such as food stamps, also provides money to states for their financial obligations, including payrolls.  By providing that type of assistance to the states, more people remain gainfully employed and thus able to provide for their families, pay their bills and mortgages, and pay their taxes, which helps to fund the federal budget and reduce the budget deficit.  Basic math 101 stuff.

The longer term help is about saving and creating millions of jobs by fixing the nation’s infrastructure and developing alternate energy sources for all to access, which also helps fund the federal budget while providing an invaluable and necessary benefits the for entire nation.  President Obama outlined several of the programs that will be funded by the stimulus package in his speech.

To summarize, the president admitted that this entire process is clearly expensive, but that the cost of doing nothing (and spending nothing) would be much, MUCH greater.

He spoke very eloquently about the challenges ahead and made his arguments in clear, concise, coherent, articulate, grammatically correct language.  Hearing that type of oration is part of what was so wonderful about listening to the president’s speech.  It’s admittedly been a long time since American have had that opportunity.  Actually, it was quite a treat.  🙂

Following Obama’s speech, Bobby Jindal, republican governor of Louisiana and rising GOP presidential rock star wannabe, gave the GOP response.  It is important to note that Jindal is one of only five GOP governors out of 50 state governors in the USA rejecting the portion of the stimulus package that provides additional unemployment benefits to the states for distribution to the unemployed.  These same governors are still accepting all other funds provided them and their states in the federal stimulus package, which, by the way is now a law.  It seems these governors may be looking at a GOP presidential run in 2012, and this is their “statement” against the stimulus package.  You can, and should, read more about this HERE.

Giving credit where it’s due, Jindal started out fine with acknowledgement of President Obama’s achievement of becoming the first African-American president of the USA.  Jidal himself is India-American and thus has appreciation for this type of feat.

But from that point, Jindal descended into some kind of rambling diatribe seemingly intended for fourth graders.  At times Jindal seemed to say that almost everything the democrats are doing is wrong, but then proposed similar solutions to those passed by the democrats.  One example of this is where Jindal stated,

“To strengthen our economy, we also need to address the crisis in health care. Republicans believe in a simple principle: No American should have to worry about losing their health care coverage, period. We stand for universal access to affordable health care coverage.”

Gee.  Isn’t that the blueprint for President’s plan to reform health care?

Jindal went on to say, “What we oppose is universal government-run health care. Health care decisions should be made by doctors and patients, not by government bureaucrats.”

No one on the democratic side of the issue has EVER advocated that bureaucrats should be making health care decisions.  in fact, the truth is that this bureaucratic interference with doctor-patient medical decisions is exactly what happens today with the for-profit private health insurance system that the GOP so dearly protects.  You can read Jindal’s entire speech for yourself HERE.

Although many who watch the speech thought of Jindal’s speech as infantile and filled with inaccuracies, We the PEOPLE!! believes that he was simply staking out his claim to the 2012 GOP presidential nomination.  This view is reinforced by the numerous conservative web sites advocating Jindal for that very position.  Google “Jindal president 2012” if you want to check these out.

What’s lost on Jindal and the rest of the GOP is that for the first time in history, the average citizen can actually participate in getting real time information about government programs such as the stimulus package online at web sites such as Recovery.gov.  As more and more Americans become computer literate, more are finding out how to get to the truth about issues that affect them.  And more and more, Americans are going to become more proactive about the information and misinformation thrown at them.

By the way:  Recovery.gov was President Obama’s idea.  It’s just another example of the difference between the current administration and what preceded it.  It’s also an example of the difference between what is and what would have been if the GOP had won the presidential election,  since John McCain admitted he didn’t use a computer.

Amazing what a brilliant, eloquent, highly educated, tech-savvy leader can do, huh?  🙂

In the meantime, be glad you’re not unemployed in one of the five GOP-run states that are refusing the additional unemployment benefits included in the stimulus package.  Put another way, if you lost your job, at least be happy Jindal is not your governor

GOP Congressionals: Dead Men Walking

They say nothing succeeds like success.  But if you don’t want success, you hope for failure.

That’s exactly what every republican in the US House of Representatives, and all but three GOP senators have done by voting against the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, more commonly known as the stimulus package.

By doing so, in light of the fact that an increasing majority of the American people approve of this law, they have put party ideology above real economic help for millions of people.  And in order salvage any credibility, they are hoping, as Rush Limbaugh announced for the entire world to hear, for failure.  That failure could only be measured in misery for millions of Americans who would lose their employment, health coverage, houses, savings, retirement funds, childrens’ college funds and every part of the American dream.

Even if these GOP congressionals were right in predicting that this law will do nothing, or nearly nothing to stimulate the economy by saving and creating jobs in worthwhile pursuits such as fixing badly neglected infrastructure and developing new beneficial industries such as real alternate energy sources, they stand to be seen as part of the failure, since they could not find their way clear to offer a credible alternative that would appeal to the majority of congress and the American public.  In a failure, they will be seen as the “3D’s”, or deny, delay, do nothing.

But they’re wrong, and they have already lost the support of their own republican governors.  These selfsame governors are being crushed in their own states under state budget deficits caused by a drop in revenue due to the failing economy.  And remember that state governments cannot deficit spend like the federal government can.

These republican governors absolutely DO support the stimulus package because it is going to save their political asses from having to take such career-ending actions as not paying state tax refunds, laying off state employees and reducing or eliminating crucial state services.  It would have been cool to be a fly on the wall as these governors were calling their congresspeople and senators to tell them how badly their state needs that money immediately, and hearing the congressperson/senator tell the governor that making the democrats look bad was more important than saving jobs and services, and ultimately, the economy from a longer recession.

Yet, the stimulus package is not going to fail.  Far from it, it is guaranteed to be successful right from the get-go precisely because it is immediately going to prevent the lay-offs of hundreds of thousands of state workers and hundreds of thousands of other employees and contractors during all manner of public works for the states.  State tax refunds will get paid to residents and ultimately end up in the economy.

This is perhaps the biggest miscalculation on the GOP’s part:  The stimulus package will be successful almost immediately with working voters.  They are already aware that the recession started in December 2007 , according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, just four short years after the last Bush tax cuts in 2003, which were supposed to ensure years of economic prosperity.  They are also aware that it was the GOP that went along with every massive spending bill the Bush administration wanted, which doubled the budget deficit over the past two years as well as national debt over the past eight years.  For them to now claim “fiscal responsibility” in opposing a stimulus package primarily because it was proposed by the democrats defies credibility, and the American people know it.

That’s going to be a HUGE problem for every member of the GOP in the House of Representative, each of which is up for re-election in a mere eighteen months during the next mid-term elections.  It is also a problem for potentially a third of GOP senators, who also face re-election during the same mid-term elections.  The democrats only need to pick up two seats in the US Senate to achieve the filibuster-proof 60% “super-majority” that essentially locks out the GOP completely in both house of congress.

What’s more is that they might do even more harm to themselves with two upcoming issues:  The forthcoming foreclosure relief bill and the possibility of temporarily nationalizing the banks in the USA to stop the hemorrhaging of money from the economic system, as proposed yesterday by conservative expert economist, Alan Greenspan.  The GOP congressionals are going to hate that!  If their performance on the stimulus package is any indication, they will oppose both of these initiatives.

So the GOP congressionals and the GOP leadership are playing a very dangerous game.  They have to hope that the stimulus package fails, that if the banks get nationalized, that fails, and the foreclosure relief package also fails.  Then they have to hope that all of the now-penniless, homeless and jobless folks that the recession caused (because the packages didn’t work) will lose their memory of the previous GOP spending, and then blindly see the deny, delay, do-nothing GOP as their saviors.  The GOP has to hope these all of these folks will vote for them.

A note to the GOP:  As Dirty Harry was fond of saying….”feeling lucky?”

The Disgrace of the US Health System

There was a time when the United States prided itself on having the greatest practical achievements in the world.

America turned the Japanese destruction of much of its Navy in 1941 into the most powerful and advanced naval force on Earth.  It put fourteen men on the moon within eleven years of setting that goal, invented the space shuttle, and remotely explored the far reaches of our solar system.  US doctors and researchers discovered penicillin, engineered a vaccine for polio and many other diseases, and invented Viagra.  So how is it possible that the US has the worst, most expensive, least effective, most economically and medically discriminatory health care system of any industrialized nation on the planet?

How can it be possible that the richest nation on Earth has the poorest health care system of any of the western industrialized nations?

Before considering any other factor, it is important to understand that there are conservatively oriented folks in this country that, from a philosophical point of view, truly believe that making health care available to every citizen is not a function of government, any more than providing free food to everyone.  While one can disagree with this view, or label it as overly simplistic, at least it is possible to understand that some folks really do believe this.  So be it.

But the respect of opposing views ends right there.  The health care system in the US is run almost exclusively by private corporate enterprise, profit-motive based insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies.  Their sole vested interest is not the good health and longevity of US citizens, but the profit return to their stockholders.

US health insurance companies routinely evaluate which treatments to approve and which to disapprove for a patient based primarily on costs, and not upon the health benefits for the patient or the doctor’s treatment plan.  The pharmaceutical companies spend millions upon millions of dollars every year lobbying congress to ensure that the US does not enter into a “negotiation” model such as other countries have, for lowering the costs of medicines on a national scale.

An analogy to this absolutely heinous situation would be an army run by a for-profit corporation, which decides which battles in a war to engage in based upon the cost of the military materiel (not in lives since they’re cheap) needed to win the battle, buying only the cheapest weapons systems and minimum personnel armor, since lives are cheaper than bullet-proof vests.  It tells the soldiers that better armor and weapons available elsewhere are “experimental”, and therefore not a covered expense.  It further tells the soldiers that if they want the best equipment, they will  have to buy it themselves.  As an alternative, it offers big rocks to hid behind (and throw?).  It exports the more advanced military materiel to other countries at a fraction of what it would cost for the hired solder to buy that same equipment at the company store.

Put more empirically, here are some statistics that should make every American hang their heads in shame:

1.  In 2007 there were at least 47,000,000 Americans without health insurance. In 2008, at least another 1.2 million Americans lost their jobs and subsequently their medical coverage,  By then, it was estimated that 49,000,000 Americans had no health insurance.  Since the recession has caused over 3.6  million more job loses in the USA, and conservatively assuming that each job provided health benefits for a just a family of two, over seven million additional Americans are without health care.  That’s almost a fifth or Americans, or almost 20% of the nation’s population with no access to medical treatment or medicine if they need it.  And we’re not including children in these figures.

2.  The US spends more per-capita for health care than any other industrialized nation on Earth, but the average American receives far less medical care than citizens of those other countries, and Americans live at least four years less than Europeans and Canadians.

3.  Even with health insurance, 20% of Americans will die of curable cancer because their health care companies will not cover life-saving medications and therapies.  In other words, their health insurance is inadequate to save their lives based upon cost.

4.  Unless you qualify for a federal or state program or similar special deal, if you lose your health insurance, and later apply for new health insurance, or are applying for the first time, none of your pre-existing medical conditions will be covered.  Thus, if you have or have had any of at least 37 pages of medical conditions ever in your life, you’re on your own.

5.  Under the present US health care system, every medical decision made between you and your doctor is subject to review by an insurance company “medical director”, whose sole function is to save the company money.  In universal health systems, there is no such administrative/corporate bottom-line review of medical decisions.  Thus, the health care care you receive is motivated by one factor:  curing you.

There are, of course, those who will claim that the cost of universal health care systems is prohibitive and would be unbearably expensive.  But this simply isn’t true.  Europeans,  Canadians, and Australians seem to be able to provide for the highest quality of health care of all of their citizens with minimal effort.  Even a little piss-ant third world country like Cuba provides quality universal health care.  And if you are already paying for both health insurance and much of your medicine expenses through the co-pay system, your per-capita costs in a universal health care system will actually go down, not up!

Recognizing that some folks might question the issue of costs, consider that the US health care system presently passes on the costs of emergency room medical services provided to the uninsured (all 56,000,000 of them) and the under-insured (another 40,000,000), plus their administrative costs, including several hundred billion dollars yearly for their CEOs in salaries and monster bonuses, to those that pay for health insurance.

Surely, the hundreds of billions in salaries and administrative costs do absolutely nothing to provide even the most minimal medical care to even one single person.  And we haven’t even addressed the costs of meds, which Americans pay for at twice the price of anyone else in the world, while the folks in the universal health care countries pay nothing or next to nothing for the same meds.

Although anti-universal health care Americans love to cite Canada as an example of a universal health care system that purportedly doesn’t work well, this writer has interviewed over a dozen Canadians in Montreal, Ottawa, and Vancouver, and not one of them had anything but accolades for their Canadian system.  They did, however, wonder how the richest country in the world could tolerate such horrible abomination as the profit-based system in the USA.  Most questioned why Americans didn’t revolt against such a system.

Finally, consider that obesity is known to be at epidemic proportions in the USA, partly because of poor eating habits and lack of exercise afflicting much of the population, and partly because of a lack of available/affordable preventative medical programs to help folks lose and maintain weight before big health problems occur.  Consider further that there are prescription medications that your doctor can prescribe for you to help you control your appetite, thus facilitating the loss of weight and its resulting health benefits.  Finally, consider that many of these medications are in the US$40 a month range, which is well within a health-insurance prescription drug co-pay plan.

Would you believe that major American health insurance companies override doctors’ decisions to assist a patient who suffers from diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, with a history of heart disease in the family, to lose weight and thus decrease the risk of a heart attack or stroke daily, by ruling that appetite-control prescription medications are “not medically necessary”?

Believe it.  Major health insurance companies (email me for their names) in the US, do it every day.  It seems they would rather have a person risk their health with increased weight than pay a minor copay in the probable range of $7 to $30 a month to avoid more expensive problems later.  Oh wait.  They can deny services later as well!

And this is happening while the CEO’s are making millions of dollars a year each!

No wonder they’re fighting so hard to keep their corrupt, discriminatory, profit-motivated, non-quality driven money machine in place, while millions of Americans have to choose between eating and taking their meds.

That sucks.  HUGE.

Congressional Dems: Learn From Your Leader!

President Barack Obama did something last night that we haven’t seen a president do in over eight years.

The president was interviewed by Anderson Cooper on the CNN news analysis program “Anderson Cooper 360”.  During the interview, he admitted he had made a mistake regarding the nomination of former senator Tom Daschle for the position of Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Obama stated, in no uncertain terms, for everyone nationally and internationally watching the program to see and hear, “I think I screwed up…And I take responsibility for it and we’re going to make sure we fix it so it doesn’t happen again.” You can read about it HERE, or watch it HERE.

Of course, Daschle himself admitted to mistakes on his 2005 through 2007 tax returns when queried by senate republicans during his confirmation hearings.  But one can argue that he admitted these mistakes after getting caught, even though the information was known well before Daschle’s name was submitted into nomination for the cabinet post. Daschle has now removed his name from consideration for the post.

What Obama was admitting to was, among other points, that the Daschle nomination gave the appearance of special rules for special people, which Obama promised to change during his campaign and in the first days of his presidency.  By admitting that he made a mistake with the Daschle nomination, he made it clear that he had learned from that mistake and that it would not happen again.

That’s refreshing, considering that Obama’s predecessor W Bush operated from the perspective that there are special rules for special people (like everyone in his administration, for instance).  He also had a predilection for nominating such incompetent people such as Michael Brown for FEMA and Harriet Miers for Supreme Court Justice, as well as others whose primary qualification seemed to be their Bush-friendliness quotient and the amount of money they contributed to his campaigns.

We all know what happened during Hurricane Katrina, when Brown claimed to not know the extent of damage to New Orleans for four days after the storm (when everyone in the world with a TV or radio knew).  And Harriet Miers, who was Bush’s White House counsel until early 2007.  was nominated by Bush for the position of Supreme Court Associate Justice in 2005, based almost entirely on the fact that she was his friend.  She was clearly unqualified by every other merit-based factor to be a Justice of the US Supreme Court, as became apparent to both democratic and republican senators at the time.  You can read more about her lack of qualifications HERE.

As an addendum to this, Harriet Miers was replaced as White House Counsel by Fred Fielding whom, at Bush’s direction, issued letters to both Miers and Karl Rove directing them not to honor lawful congressional subpoenas for a second time, and this time claiming “executive privilege” in perpetuity on January 16th, 2009, just four days before Barack Obama was sworn in as president.  Bush not only didn’t admit mistakes, but he doesn’t want anyone else in his disastrous administration ever admitting them or testifying about them, either.  Ever!

That Obama has begun a change to that culture of false infallibility that preceded him is a very good thing, but it’s just scratching the surface.  The congressional democrats, who clearly control the House of Representatives but, though in the clear majority, are still three votes shy of being able to stop any republican filibuster in the US senate, have got to learn the lesson of admitting when they’re wrong and then taking corrective action for all to see that they are serious about the admission.

The economic stimulus package winding its way through congress is the perfect catalyst for that lesson.

During the six years that republicans controlled congress, they pushed through legislation that almost doubled the nation’s debt, turned budget surplus in to huge budget deficits, and passed legislation lobbied for by big business (ultimately resulting in the economic meltdown) and the ultra-conservative wing of their party (remember “abstinence only” programs?).  They supported tons of pork barrel spending, such as disgraced Alaska republican senator Ted Stevens’  bridge to nowhere.  Ultimately, the American people finally had enough, and voted them out.

Congressional democrats are embarking down a similar road with the non-immediate-job-creating spending included economic recovery bill.  Its laudable that they are attempting to promote such noble and necessary goals as better health care for all and alternative energy technologies.  We the PEOPLE!! fully supports these issues, but the Economic Stimulus package is not the place to put them.  Inclusion of these programs in this emergency bill only gives the republicans the opportunity to look like heroes who are attempting to be seen as trying (their all-of-a-sudden-new-found vision) to limit the rapidly expanding budget deficit and national debt, while making the dems look like irresponsible spenders.

Right now, the senate dems have the opportunity to correct the mistake made by the house dems in passing the US$819 billion bill in its gorged entirely.  They can and should admit that the original bill contains a lot of non-immediate-recovery spending, and willingly remove all of it, making the point to the American people that putting that spending in this bill was a mistake.

They should admit they screwed up.  In doing so, they will help move that “change we can believe in” on step further down the road.

If the dems can sieze the day and do this, the American people will love it.  The republicans will have nowhere to go, except down the “change” road with the dems.  Or out the door in November 2010.

So congressional dems:  Follow your leader.  Or as they say in chess:  Check:  your move.