Monday, January 31, 2011

Iran and Egypt: a tale of two failed U.S. responses

During the Iranian protests over what was believed to have been a rigged election, keeping Amahdinejad in power, Obama's stated U.S. policy was that he "didn't want to meddle".

The best opportunity the United States had to overturn the Iranian regime from within was lost as Obama refused to offer strong language of support for the demonstrators based on American values and principles of democracy and human rights. No one knows for sure what might have happened had Obama stood up for the demonstrators and even encouraged them, but in the world of seizing the moment and doing whatever could be done to support the forces for change in Iran, Obama backed down from a face off with Ahmadinejad, and said he " didn't want to meddle in the internal affairs of Iran" not unlike what we have seen him do in the face of political opposition from Republicans and conservatives.

Obama not only failed to encourage to the demonstrators in the streets and kept a hands off attitude, but Ahmadinejad rubbed his nose in it accusing him of "meddling" in the internal affairs of Iran anyway even though Obama bent over backwards to avoid a confrontation with Ahmadinejad.

In essence Obama decided to lay low. While no one can say for sure what the kind of effect encouragement from the US would have had, we know from an interview with a former head of the Revolutionary Guard that had Ahmadinejad ordered them to fire on Iranian civilians (which the security forces had been doing), they would have refused. Had that happened it would have shown that Ahmadinejad had lost control of the army and it could have been the end of Ahmadinejad. So attempting to escalate the revolt was worth the risk. But Obama didn't take it, instead deciding to try and preserve the viability of talks with a mad man which to day have borne no fruit.

In Egypt, the Obama administration has been doing what Obama does best -- talk out of both sides of his mouth offering support for both the demonstrators but also for Mubarak while other world leaders have been urging Mubarak to resign.

Obama continues to get criticism for his apparent siding with Mubarak,which is the result of Obama's ambivalence about what to do, an ambivalence borne of no real convictions or principles about anything and affects everything Obama does.It also makes even more of a mockery of Obama's empty campaign slogan of being the agent of change.

Obama has condemned violence,and supported the rights of the demonstrators to demonstrate and to demand reforms something he didn't do during the Iranian uprising. But in both cases there seems to be a real confusion about what to do and where the U.S. stands in that part of the world. Obama refused to call for a democratic government in Iran but has been doing so in Egypt even though Mubarak has ruled with an iron hand for 30 years. Even so, Obama is stopping short of calling for Mubarak to step down.

At the time Obama made his Cairo speech, I called it empty and vacuous, another example of Obama doing nothing more than trying to say something that will please everyone without regard for the consequences of what he was saying. I expressed a certainty that it was typical Obama and that there was nothing real behind a word of it. Now more than a year later, other commentators, notably on CNN have been saying similar things over the past few days, pointing out  that there is no correlation with any of Obama's statements in his so called Cairo speech and his actions and statements since the Egyptian revolt against Mubarak began.

There is a pattern here with regards to Obama's actual positions on issues affecting the middle east and it seems to be either to talk out of both sides of his mouth, or to do and say as little as possible which results in taking no real position at all in the wake of upheavals in the middle east.   So much for the policy of a president who campaigned on the idea of "change". When it came to trying to effect change in Iran, Obama shirked from it and blew the best chance the West had in 30 years to foment and encourage revolution and democracy in Iran. In Egypt there is now also a seamy reluctance to come out against a dictator who is the target of a revolution, but one that has been friendly to the U.S.

Senior experts on the middle east and Egypt in particular are already saying that Obama has been badly behind the curve in his response to events in Egypt and as one senior Fellow of Egyptian studies put it, "has already shown he is on the wrong side of history". The consensus is that Obama and the U.S. will be remembered by Egyptians as supporting Mubarak at the crucial moment and that even if the Obama comes out in support of the demonstrators after Mubarak steps down it will be considered too little too late.

This is a pattern that perisists with Obama in everything he does and  has also failed to bring about any progress in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. It's a know nothing do nothing approach that if continued will have serious consequences for U.S. influence in the middle east, or in any future crisis that hits closer to home. This is Hillary Clinton's Red Phone nightmare commercial come to life, the political commerical that ran during the Democratic primaries that asked,  if Obama was president and the red phone rang in the middle of the night would he know what to do? The implication in the commerical was that he wouldnt.

The phone has been ringing off the hook all week.   Obama still hasn't answered.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Obama's Sputnik Moment sputters.

The day after President Obama gave his State of the Union speech, it seems to have crash landed like a 53 year old satellite called Sputnik. Obama used the reference in his speech as a rallying cry that has most people confused about what he was talking about.

Aside from his misfired Sputnik reference, Obama spent a good part of about an hour and ten minutes in his State of the Union message telling us what, for the last 235 years, the country has stood for. And tell us, and tell us and tell us again.The speech probably left some of them wondering why politics came to mind
when they were choosing a career. In between he gave us the usual politically hackneyed slice of life stories ( "like Marjorie Appleoil, a schoolteacher from Fargo North Dakota who ...") which is supposed to accomplish what, I don't know.

The one interesting anecdote came in talking about the small businessman who thought he had drill bits that could be used to save the Chilean miners and they worked. It was probably the only thing Obama had to say all night that was something I didn't know and was truly interesting.

It was a tepid speech that brought an uncharacteristically tepid response from those in attendance. No cheers, no big applause lines ( even though on a couple of occasions Obama paused, clearly expecting an ovation that never happened). Democrats and Republicans sat together to show unity and it was symbolic of most of the evening, which is to say it was phony and mostly for show. Which in many ways was appropriate to the entire speech.

What added to the phoniness was Obama introducing a new voice inflection, one that he used so often you just know he practiced it for days. For dramatic impact, he would recite the last few words of a sentence with a voice lowered to almost a forced stage whisper, an imploring voice, dripping with sincerity and earnestness as if hoping to cue members of congress to pounce on the applause lines.

It didn't work. There was none of the dog and pony show jumping up to applaud and cheer as if there was someone pushing a button sending ice picks up through the  chair cushions as we have seen in other State of the Union speeches. There wasn't even the enthusiasm you usually see from the president's own party. Which considering reality, was fairly predictable given that Democrats had seen Obama sell out their agenda over the last two years and is responsible for the Democrats suffering the worst political defeat of any political party in 80 years after losing 63 seats in the House. So in one sense Obama did bring both sides together but only in their mutual distrust of him.

Democrats mostly gritted their teeth and listened to Obama state his concerns that the tax burdens on large corporations were too much ( a moment when Obama paused expecting an ovation from Republicans that never came).The unemployed also must have found Obama's concerns for businesses and their tax burdens heartwarming. But Obama did actually put his foot down and took a firm stand,now that its too late to do anything about it, and said that he wouldnt support making the tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% permanent. The sound you heard wasn't applause but the collective epiglottis flapping against the throats of Democrats as they started to gag.

It also didn't help the enthusiasm quotient for Democrats to hear Obama talk publicly about the flaws in his healthcare bill, a bill that he had 515 days to perfect but which didn't contain a public option something that not only made it a lousy bill that Democrats called "better than nothing",  but also cost the Democrats their majority.

Obama talked about education, a truly important subject since America is getting its bell rung by China and about 20 other countries in terms of how their children are performing compared to America. But he couldn't find a way to make that interesting either. In fact, if you wanted to see true bipartisanship all you had to do was look at Joe Biden and John Bohener sitting behind him to see that both were having a hard time staying awake.

He spoke to the Gabriella Giffords shooting and political rhetoric but instead of being inspiring, instead of finding a real point to make ( like maybe presenting the idea that in America those who disagree with us should be considered opponents not enemies) he was so boring no one was really moved.

But the main point Obama had to make had something to do with competitiveness, innovation, invention, and American leadership and that we are falling behind. He said " this is our generation's Sputnik moment" recalling the moment in 1957 when the Soviet Union, not the US announced the launch of the first artificial satellite. The problem with that slogan, and that's all it was -- a slogan -- is that, like so much of what Obama says, its just not true. There has been no comparable moment of singular great achievement by another country that we can call " a Sputnik moment" which shocked the United States into action. The decline in American competitiveness and American children falling behind in education has been slow and steady and its been happening for decades.

The reactions coming in to the speech have not been good from any quarter. It was not a Sputnik moment in America. It was another in a long list of Obama moments that simply sputtered.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Good riddance to Keith Olbermann

Keith Olbermann was never short of pretentiousness. Unfortunately he was very short on objectivity, professional journalism and what real liberal thinking is all about which always starts with the truth.

Olbermann had no problem attacking Fox News, Glenn Beck or Bill O'Reilly, an exercise that, given his audience was a complete waste of time and accomplished absolutely nothing. But Olbermann, like most faux liberals in the press spent most of his time behaving like the kind of knee jerk cocktail party liberal that populated Lenny Bruce routines on race back in the 1960's, the "Joe Louis sure is a helluva fighter" school of journalism, refusing to admit, acknowledge or even take to task during the Democratic primaries, the relentless lying and reneging of Barrack Obama and his daily demonstrations that he was unfit for the office he was seeking.

Olbermann, like most journalists, wanted to prove his racial bona fides by deciding that Obama's having a black father made him qualified and in so doing threw everything Martin Luther King lived for into a dumpster judging Obama by the color of his skin not the content of his character.

All this went on both during Obama's Democratic primary campaign and during Obama's presidency. And Olbermann was part of a few lunatic fringe members of a faux liberal press as well as some weak kneed congressional Democrats, relentless in criticizing Hillary Clinton for not getting out of the presidential race solely to try and make it easier for Obama, so that they could fill an agenda motivated only by race, the worst reason in the world to support anyone for anything. And in Pelosi's case, motivated by a desire to be the Democratic Party's Queen Bee, something that would never happen with a Hillary Clinton presidency.

The fact that Clinton had landslided Obama at the polls in the 13 biggest states in the country, simply buried him at the voting booth, and that Obama didn't have anywhere close to the 2/3 majority needed to win the nomination meant nothing to Olbermann who decided race, not character was enough.

Olbermann always attacked the easy targets, the ones that Democrats or people on the left who watched his show didn't need attacking. He didn't attack Obama which was the only line of attack that could have accomplished anything, or the Democrats in congress for not standing up to Obama as he sold the Democratic agenda down the river. Because for Olbermann to do so, he would have had to admit he was wrong. About everything. And from the very beginning.

Olbermann made some eloquent pitches for the public option and the need for it while his own father was in the hospital but in the end, kept his mouth shut when Obama sold it down the river and the Democrats went along. Which is what killed the Democrats in the last election.

Olbermann's refusal to take on Obama for his relentless lying, serial reneging on promises, endless capitulation to Republicans and character flaws like having no guts, no convictions, no principles and no real ability and not willing or able to stand up for anything, along with being the most politically dishonest underhanded, president since Nixon made Olbermann useless as a commentator. It is also probably wearing just as thin regarding the other commentators on MSNBC's prime time schedule who arent much different.Olbermann could have just as well showed up every night dressed like a cheerleader with a big "O" on his sweater.

In the end he was nothing more than a propagandist for Obama which made him nothing more than the other side of the same coin you see at Fox News, using bombast, just like the Republicans instead of irrefutable arguments and facts most of which should have been aimed at Obama. But Olbermann had been a guest at the White House, having face to face audiences with Obama and nothing seduces a bad journalist more than proximity to power.

Instead of admitting that it was Obama who was the real enemy of the Democratic agenda, selling out the public option , watering down financial reform, lying outright about his policies, and selling out Democrats, even though he had the biggest congressional majority in 60 years, Olbermann's courage was aimed at a Republican minority who had no power to do anything except for Obama's capitulation and people like Michelle Bachman, Sarah Palin and Fox News. Which might not make Olbermann the Worst Person in the World, but certainly one of the world's worst journalists.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Sarah Palin: Blood libel or liable to be blood?

When Sarah Palin complained that the criticism of her gun related rhetoric and symbolism amounted to a "blood libel" in the wake of the Arizona shootings, like just about everything else she and most conservatives say, the opposite is true.

Because for the last two years, Palin and other Republicans and conservatives have been constantly sending the messaage with their rhetoric and symbolism to those with whom they disagree and to those who do agree with them,that because of their political differences, there is liable to be blood.

When Sarah Palin said " dont retreat, reload" the message was, there is liable to be blood. When Sharon Angle said that healthcare reform might require " a 2nd amendment solution", the message was, there is liable to blood. When Michelle Bachman said she wants people to be "armed and dangerous" the message was, there is liable to be blood. When Palin places the crosshairs of telescopic sights against the names of Democratic members of congress she wants to see defeated, the message even if she didn't intend it literally is, there is liable to be blood. And when those who support Palin and the extreme right fired shots at the offices of Democratic members of congress who voted for Obama's ( gutted) health care bill, they were acting on the message that there is liable to be blood.

It was no "blood libel" to criticize Palin or anyone else for words that  were in fact designed to pander to the right wing, people who own guns, and people who think violence is justified because their ideas are just. Palins use of gun metaphors had a meaning even if she is too dumb to understand it herself. Especially since she knows she is pandering, and has been pandering, to gun owners.

That her words blew up in her face and the faces of Sharon Angle,Michelle Bachman, Rush Limbaugh, the Tea Party and Republican members of congress who sat back and said nothing while their supporters sent out that message is their own fault.

Now Palin is complaining and saying she is a victim of a "blood libel" a term that has already gotten her in hot water with Jews, the Defamation League, conservative christians, and others who quickly distanced themselves from her pity party. But there can be and should be no backing down from the attitude being formed because of the Loughner shooting that those terms will no longer be tolerated.

A reader here pointed out that Obama does not exactly have clean hands when it comes to violent rhetoric and she is right.  Like most everything else he does and says, Obama calling for civility in discourse is something of a joke with nothing real behind it. During the Democratic primaries Obama described engaging in some politically heated debates by saying, "if they bring a knife to the party, we'll bring a gun".

The press, as usual exercised (and still does) a mind boggling double standard when it comes to Obama and said nothing about it. Neither did anyone else. But  he made the remark and I remember at the time thinking to myself how class-less that a presidential candidate was invoking the imagery of back alley street gang violence into politics. And as everyone has seen, they were empty words anyway as Obama didnt bring anything to Republican or Wall Street pressure the last two years.

But Obama's double standard aside,  the efforts to make left wing rhetoric morally equivalent to the right, pointing out left wing groups who called Bush a Nazi, is preposterous. First those were fringe groups not anyone or any group that was considered mainstream. Contrast that with the rhetoric coming from the mouths of Republican members of congress, candidates for congress, right wing radio hosts and a former Republican vice presidential candidate. The difference between the two is night and day. And secondly, no one on the Democratic side was calling for anyone to use firearms or suggest using them as solutions to political problems, and to make it as a valid political threat, as Sharon Angle and Michelle Bachman did. And that threat became realized when someone shot up some Democratic offices.

While some conservatives still insist on defending their use of violent rhetoric and imagery and Palin has recently vowed she is "not going to shut up", she might want to ponder another religious admonition, this one from the New Testament that goes, "he who lives by the sword dies by the sword". And if they keep sending the same message  that when it comes to political disagreement the solution is that there is liable to be blood, there is liable to be consequences. For everybody.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

In the wake of Arizona, how two wrongs might kill the right

Conservatives as usual continue to miss the point over the debate on their violent rhetoric as a result of the Arizona shootings.

 It's irrelevant that Jared Loughner's shooting rampage in Arizona had no direct connection to any of the violence rhetoric that has been the hallmark of conservative politics for the last two years. It makes no difference ( though we will probably never know) if Sharon Angle's "2nd amendment solution", or Palin's " don't retreat, reload", or the shooting of the offices of Democratic members of congress over healthcare or Palin's cross hairs map  in any way influenced or put ideas in Loughner's mind, though it's hard to believe that if he was exposed to it, given his already deranged mind, that it wouldn't have had an influence.We will probably never know.

 But what the shooting has done, and which the right has been oblivious to, is it has created an increased national revulsion to their customary rhetoric, imagery and tactics. At the same time it has created an opportunity to bring the right wing's penchant for violent brownshirt rhetoric disguised as patriotism to the forefront and possibly bring it to and end. But instead the right, from Palin to Limbaugh have been ready to fight to defend it. The rhetoric and imagery was their first wrong. But what might actually kill them ( does anyone have a problem with that metaphor)  is their second wrong -- their attempts now at trying to defending it.

For 15 months, specifically over, of all things, healthcare, the right wing has employed violent rhetoric, violent imagery and in some cases violent tactics to try and get their way. The violent tactics have been designed to do one thing -- intimidate those who disagree with them.  That is fascim in its rawest form.

They showed up at town hall meetings and Tea party rallies with signs comparing Democrats who supported the public option to Nazis. And they showed up with guns strapped to their hips. Sarah Palin, now on the defensive, rallied conservatives with the slogan "don't retreat, reload" and put the cross hairs of a telescopic site next to the names of Democrats in congress she wanted to get rid of including Gabriella Giffords. Does it matter if Loughner's actions had nothing directly to do with Palin? No. In fact if they found a trove of writings by Loughner saying he was motivated  by Palin he would just seem even crazier than he is now. As is anyone motivated by Palin. But that doesn't get Palin, or Sharon Angle and her "2nd amendment remedy" or Michelle Bachman's lunatic fringe comments or those of Limbaugh, Beck and others off the hook.

The reason people are talking about them and their penchant for ratcheting up violent imagery is because conservative use of intimidation and the threat of force against those who disagree with them is right out of the fascist handbook. The Loughner shooting,while it may not be directly connected to conservative tactics, has become an instant metaphor for them. And that is why its become the big issue that it should have been a year ago.

We can certainly lay some blame on Obama for not using his position as president to stand up to it condemn  it, make it an issue, and rally public opinion against it. There is the outside chance that if he had, if the Democrats made that a campaign issue and asked Americans to vote on that issue, there may have been a slightly different outcome in the last election. Certainly it would have motivated a lot of Democrats and liberals who stayed home because of their disgust with Obama and his constant capitulation to the right, to cast their vote for something they believed in and supported.

What the right is gambling on now though is that they can retain the support of a majority by saying they have nothing to apologize for, that their violent imagery and the violent tactics had no connection to the Arizona shooting and therefore is perfectly ok. What they are not realizing is that because of the shooting, their tactics,have come back to haunt them. Their chickens have come home to roost, and in trying to defend themselves they are running the real risk of alienating the vast majority of the American people who will have no patience for those tactics now and in the future. Especially if the Democrats ignore those who will accuse them of "trying to politicize" what is clearly a political issue and continue to attack them and their bizarre attempts at political self defense.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Did violent right wing rhetoric motivate Loughner? It doesn't matter if it didnt.

The hollow, empty argument we are hearing now from the right, including Sarah Palin and many in the news media who want to duck responsibility for the toxic political atmosphere that surrounded the Arizona shooting, is that "there is no evidence that violent rhetoric and imagery had anything to do with Loughner's shooting spree."

The problem with that argument is that if there was nothing wrong with Palin's cross hairs targeting Democrats, or death threats to Bart Stupak, or swastikas displayed at healthcare reform town halls,or schmucks with guns strapped to their hips at anti-healthcare reform rallies ( no doubt carried by those who whose insurance wont cover a penile enlargement), if there were no consequences to Democratic congressional offices being shot at, no one would be talking about it now in the wake of the Arizona shootings. In other words, even if there is no actual connection between the violent rhetoric and Loughner's act, it shouldn't matter.Because the Arizona shootings have created an opportunity to deal with the right wing's violent imagery and rhetoric which should have been done a year ago.

The simple fact that everyone is talking about it, and that conservatives are spending so much time defending it, shows there is a collective guilty conscience that is rampant on the right for its imagery and violent behavior. There is also guilt in the news media and cable outlets like CNN who carried images of the most freakish right wing behavior during the town hall meetings as if it represented a legitimate point of view and was "just politics" which had the effect of legitimizing it. Obama himself said nothing about violent atmosphere created by conservatives including saying nothing about the shooting of the offices of congressional Democrats over healthcare and simply hid from the problem. Democrats in congress are also to blame for not being forceful enough in denouncing those actions, and holding those responsible for the reckless and irresponsible way these incidents were instigated, handled and portrayed. In other words, even if there is no direct connection between Loughner and the violent rhetoric of conservatives like Palin, the atmosphere created by them is still poisonous and needs to be dealth with more forcefully.

Even Giffords herself, who previously had publicly said she was "uncomfortable" with Palins cross hairs imagery "taregeting" her on her website didn't seem to protest  it with the outrage it deserved.

So it really doesn't matter whether Loughner was motivated by any of this or not. If it wasn't a real issue, if there was not a sense of collective guilt, if it wasn't a real problem no one would be talking about it.

The Arizona shooting has spurred the debate about inciting violence politically, because people have known for long time that the violent right wing rhetoric and behavior has been wrong from the beginning. Its no secret that many right wingers in congress were doing their best to stir up red faced hatred against healthcare reform making it an issue of anti-Americanism, fascism, trashing the constitution, and comparing those who supported healthcare reform to Nazi Germany.And the news media let them get away with it without comment treating it as "just politics".

Obama himself said nothing during all of this and instead gave the crazies every indication that their lunacy was working and it did, since he eventually cut a back room deal to kill the public option which was the biggest target of those opposed to healthcare reform.

 At the very least a politically violent atmosphere was created by Republicans and the right that certainly motivated those who shot at the congressional offices of Democrats and left death threats at the offices of Bart Stupak. And no one can say that Loughner wasn't a virus growing in a Petrie dish of toxic politics which, if not the cause, acted as a muliplier. So even if Loughner was not directly motivated to do what he did by Palin, Bachman, Angle, Bohener or Tea Party activists who toted guns to town hall meetings, if the behavior and lunacy of those on the right wasn't a real problem before Loughner opened fire, no one would be talking about it now.

Look at this way; suppose you got a call one day that your 10 year old daughter had been in a bad accident and was in intensive care. You drop what you're doing and race to the hospital. And on the way you experience a flood of remorse and regret for every time she asked you to see her in a school play, or a dance recital, or to help her pick out a Halloween costume and you didn't do it because you were too busy with your work, or a football game or going shopping or something else. You get to the hospital and find out it was just a case of mistaken identity,it was another little girl who was in the accident and your daughter is fine and at home. So what do you? Dismiss all the thoughts you had about how you could have done things better, things you regretted having done because you knew it was wrong, and just forget about it and go back to your old ways? Or do you take it as a wake up call and change the way you do things? That's what this is all about, not Loughner.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Giffords shooting, politics,violent rhetoric and news media cowardice

 In the immediate aftermath of the Giffords shooting the mantra of the news media was that they didn't know and didn't want to speculate if the shooting was politically motivated. But given that 20 people were shot and 6 killed, it didn't take a CSI to know that congresswoman Giffords wasn't shot by someone trying to steal her purse.

It took the sheriff of Pima county to make the point over and over and over again at the same press conference, that he blamed the violent rhetoric of "some" in the media and in politics, commentators on radio and television, political candidates and those in elected office, with motivating and unhinging an already unhinged person to pick up a gun and empty it at a Democratic congresswoman and a crowd of her constituents,  disturbed person who obviously believed the rhetoric he was hearing and took it literally. Rhetoric from conservatives that Democrats were tearing down America and turning it socialist. Especially when it came to, of all things, healthcare.

When the sheriff began talking about and blaming the violent rhetoric spewed by "some" as the motivation behind the shooting, everyone knew who the ":some" were. Conservatives in congress, on radio and television, and political figures like Sarah Palin and Michele Bachman. It was Palin who talked about putting political opponents "in the crosshairs".

But CNN, who was covering the story wall to wall refused to specifically talk about who the "some" were that the sheriff was referring to, keeping it vague and obtuse. It is the kind of cowardice by the news media and commentators that allowed the rhetoric to flourish in the first place. Cowardice that gave those who spewed the rhetoric confidence that they wouldnt be held accountable or slapped down by a media that is generally intimidated by conservatives. Or at the very least, chooses to let the red meat rhetoric heat up the atmosphere for the sake of ratings.

A particularly galling piece of journalistic cowardice came from a writer named Matt Lewis, who accused liberal bloggers of "immediately politicizing" the shooting. In Lewis' view, pointing out the connection between the violent rhetoric of conservatives and what happened in Arizona was "politicizing" the shooting. It obviously was too much for Lewis to realize that the shooting was political and airing political motivations behind a political shooting is not "polticizing". It is not besides the point that the target was a Democratic congresswoman who had been threatened before and had her office vandalized and shot at because of her yes vote on healthcare reform.

But Lewis was doing what most in his profession do -make excuses for the right wing use of violent words in polticial discourse, make excuses for the schmuck at the anti- healthcare rally with the sign that he brought his gun,  fake some kind of spineless objectivity so he doesn't have to offend anyone. And act like its just politics. Even over a horrendous tragedy like this. Even more galling was Candy Crowley on CNN Sunday morning, discussing the violent and inflammatory rhetoric that  has come from conservatives disgracefully saying while interviewing senators Lamar Alexander and Dick Durbin that " Democrats are just as guilty as Republicans arent they". This thoroughly dishonest characterization when Democrats are not just as guilty was some attempt on Crowley's part to be "balanced". Dont lay blame where it really belongs,dont identify the offenders for fear of offending the offenders,and pretend everybody does it.

It also has to be said the Democrats and Obama as well as those covering politics, bear much of the blame also. Instead of forcefully standing up against the violent rhetoric, instead of fighting back against it, instead of Democrats and the news media voicing outrage at the Hitler signs and swastikas showing up at town hall meetings on health care, instead of getting tough and taking the shootings at Democratic offices and threats made to people like Bart Stupak for his vote on healthcare as an example of conservative lunacy, news outlets like CNN treated all of it as just politics,and Democrats and Obama especially didn't fight back.Obama not only didn't fight back and use his office to condemn those attacks and make the ugly rhetoric and threats a major issue, an issue that could have even been used in the last congressional election, Obama just capitulated,stayed silent in the wake of the lunatic behavior of some conservatives, and everyone treated it as just politics.

Even now the news media is in denial. As recently as Monday morning, Chris Jansen on MSNBC said, "there is still no evidence that the shooting was politically motivated". The FBI has released evdience that the shooter referred to what he was about to do as an :"assassination". The victim was a member of the United States congress. Other vicitims were her staff members and constituents. Evidence has been found that the shooter attended a previous event hosted by Giffords as well as a letter from the shooter to Giffords indicating displeasure with her and her positions. And yet the media, still afraid, and still in denial, are still unwilling to look at and admit their own complicity based on their own low "man bites dog"  journalistic standards when it comes to politics, in contributing to a violent and hate filled political atmosphere. To them it was just politics.

Now 20 people are shot, six dead including a nine year old girl and a Democratic congresswoman is in intensive care after getting shot in the head at a political event.  And the media still won't say it was politics.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Proof that selling out the public option killed the Democrats.

When Scott Brown beat Martha Coakley in the Massachusetts senate race, the knee jerk reaction from Obama and many oxymoronic Democratic "strategists" was that it signaled a shift to the right and that people were opposed to healthcare reform. Obama, showing his true colors ( which are anything but black) was actually going to drop healthcare reform completely and it was only because of a shouting match between Al Franken and Axelrod in a closed door Democratic senate meeting where Franken accused Obama of having no convictions, that healthcare reform remained an issue.

But anyone who paid attention to the post election interviews heard people say that yes, they voted for Brown because he said he would vote against Obama's healthcare plan, but not because it was too liberal, not because it was socialism, but because it was weaker and  less liberal than the Massachusetts healthcare law they already had ( and which Brown had voted for) and didn't want to lose it.

All through the healthcare debate, polls kept reflecting that a majority was opposed to Obama's healthcare bill and a substantial majority disapproved of Obama's "handling" of healthcare. That was the cryptic, vague and truly idiotic way the pollsters framed the question, because it did not reveal the true sentiments of people when it came to the public option. The majority that disapproved of Obama's handling of healthcare included people who wanted the public option and were unhappy with how Obama was handling the entire issue and that it had not yet passed.

Republicans chose to spin it (and they still do) as America rejecting healthcare reform, but that was far from the truth. America was rejecting Obama's handling of healthcare and his proposed bill ( which was a bait and switch bill that dropped the public option -- check out the photo above and notice how it says health insurance reform, not healthcare reform, a not so subtle change that Obama tried to sneak past people)  not a public option. But the trained seals in the news media simply clapped their fins and swallowed the fish the Republicans threw and kept reporting only on the aggregate numbers of people unhappy with Obama and his bill, clearly still too afraid (as they had been in the Democratic primaries)  to directly criticize Obama and the mantel of "the first black president".

Now a new Gallup poll, taken on the eve of a Republican attempt to repeal Obama's health care bill confirms what the Democrats should have known and seen for more a year -- that the problem with Obama's bill wasn't that it was too liberal, but without the public option wasn't liberal enough.

According to the Gallup poll 46% favor repeal of the healthcare bill the Republicans call "Obamacare) while 40% support keeping the bill.

But of those who favor getting rid of it, only 37% said they wanted it repealed because its too liberal. That is a staggering number. It shows that 63% of those who don't like the bill don't like it NOT because they think its too liberal but want it repealed l on other grounds, the most mentioned being the mandate that uninsured buy insurance, a windfall for the insurance companies.

That mandate wouldn't exist if there had been a public option. A public option would have covered the 32 million people who didn't have insurance and would have been an option for tens if not hundreds of millions more who chose a government run plan that would have meant inexpensive to free healthcare coverage for all.

Most in the poll approved of and want to keep provisions that prevent insurance companies from dropping people, putting a cap on benefits, or rejecting people with pre-existing conditions. But those provisions would never have been necessary had the public option been passed.

Obama's Rube Goldberg-ish type healthcare law became a 2700 page monstrosity when a bill that included the public option would have been 20 pages. The reason of course is that it would have been unnecessary to mandate that insurance companies do anything or write laws pertaining to anything an insurance company could or could not do.  Insurance companeis would either compete with a government run plan which was inexpensive and didn't discriminate against anyone for anything or suffer the consequences, which is exactly what the Republicans wanted to prevent. And Obama gave in. The other aspect of the public option is that it would have eleminated all the waste that the healthcare industry has been famous for. A government run plan would not have simply paid for tests that were deemed repetitive or unneccessary. It would have forced the paperwork reduction which drives up costs. It would have done a lot of things that Obama's plan won't.

That Obama didn't have the oratory skills to be able to frame the health care argument in this way and make an open and shut case for the public option and harness the tremendous support it had and the benefits that a large majority so obviously still want, is another example of Obama having no convictions, no backbone, and as a speaker essentially being an overly verbose fraud with no powers of persuasion or the ability to frame an argument.

It also must leave the Democratic leadership looking for excuses as to why they didn't take matters into their own hands, take the issue away from Obama and pass the public option since as I had written a year ago, and wrote constantly, all the signs were there that if they didn't pass it, they would get wiped out in the fall election. And they did.

Had they passed the public option, it would have been impossible for Obama to have vetoed the bill no matter what backroom deal he made. Now the Democratic minority in Congress is left with nothing but ":what if's" and proof of what happens when they don't go to the mat for what they believe in.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

How Obama folding on the public option sunk the Democrats in 2010

With the Republican House majority promising a vote January 12 to repeal Obama's 4 humped camel of a healthcare bill its worth reviewing how and why Obama's personally selling out of the public option when the votes were there to pass it and the Democratic congress' inability to defy him and pass it anyway, were directly the cause of the Democrats suffering the worst political defeat by either party in 80 years.

In June of 2009 a CBS News poll showed that 72% of the American people wanted the public option and amazingly, 66% said they were willing to pay higher taxes to get it. A CNN poll showed 66% wanted the public option. It was one of the most popular, important, not to mention effective ideas on public policy to come along in decades.And when Obama sold it down the river and pulled what Matt Tabibii in Rolling Stone called a bait and switch with his own health care reform bill, dropping the one aspect of healthcare reform that insurance companies feared most, and with the congress deciding to reluctantly go along,it spelled the end of the Democratic majority.

Based on every poll conducted on the public option, lot more people wanted the public option than wanted Obama as president. Even as recently as January 2010, two polls - the Kaiser Family Foundation poll and a Washington Post poll showed that 58% wanted the public option and this after a year of Republican disinformation which Obama had no skills in refuting.

Based on the original CBS poll, everyone who voted for Obama in 2008 plus another 18% of those who didn't,  approved of and wanted the public option. Those are the people who stayed home on election day and handed the Democrats and Obama their catastrophic defeat.

One would have thought that passing the public option, something the CBO said would actually cut the deficit by $160 billion would be a no brainer not only in terms of sweeping healthcare reform that would have solved more problems and done more good than anything since the Civil Rights Act in 1964, but unlike the Civil Rights Act which had fierce opposition, would also be enormously politically popular.

Unfortunately the no brainer along  no backbone and no cojones ( as James Carville pointed out) was in the White House with a president who couldnt or wouldnt stand up to a loud, vocal minority and who caved in when criticism from the right became too hot.

Given that Obama and the Democrats had the biggest congressional majority in 50 years, it was especially galling for people to swallow the dropping of the public option since passing it would have been a breeze with reconciliation. It was a no brainer from day one who supposedly was ready to be president from day one,but as people quickly saw, it was Obama and the Democratic leadership in Pelosi and Reid who proved to have no brains politically, any spine either in terms of policy and politics.

Many Democratic pundits, politicians like Reid and Obama, and of course the press, missed the point entirely. Lawrence O'Donnell on Joe Scarbrough's MSNBC morning show sounded like he had spent the last two years in a coma when he blamed the pursuit of healthcare reform for the Democrats loss when it was actually the failure to deliver on the public option that was the Democrats' Waterloo.

No liberal or moderate Democrat and no independent supported Obama's mess of a health care bill in place of a public option. Howard Dean was on all the talk shows saying the Democratic congress should kill it and start from scratch. Those in the senate and the House who voted for it could only call it "better than nothing". Almost all the Democrats in the House opposed it but in the end, like with the tax cut cave in, went along.

But it was Obama who killed the public option and the Democratic congress after all the promises he made about the public option, promises which Obama after the fact, lied about and said he never made.

And Obama's lying about healthcare hasn't stopped. As recently as three weeks ago he complained that liberals were "sanctimonious purists" and didn't give him credit for his healthcare bill, claiming that " we got health insurance for 30 million people" while,according to him, the public option would have only helped 2 million.

Obama probably went into the Guiness Book of World Records for cramming more lies into a single sentence with that statement than anyone in history. First, Obama didn't get any insurance for anyone. What Obama got was 30 million new customers for the insurance companies by mandating that the uninsured buy insurance.

Second, he said that the public option would only affect 2 million people where his bill would ":get insurance for 30 million".. If he claims he is getting insurance for 30 million uninsured and the public option would have helped 2 million, then the minimum number of people the public option would have helped would have been 32 million -- the 30 million uninsured Obama is claiming to "help" by forcing them to buy insurance plus the 2 million he claims would have been helped by the public option. This of course doesn't include the tens or even hundreds of millions who would have switched to the government run option because it was so much cheaper and provided better coverage. So Obama showed how twisted he can actually get with his facts. As Woody Allen once said, when you tell the truth all the time you don't have to remember anything.

Healthcare reform was the signature Democratic issue of the Democratic congress and Obama sunk the Democrats when he deceitfully killed the public option by making a back door deal with healthcare lobbyists because he is not a leader, has no convictions and couldn't stand the criticism from the right. And the Democrats in congress sunk themselves with the 72% of those who wanted the public option when they didn't stand up to Obama and pass it.

People felt betrayed and lied to. Which they were. And those people let their feelings known on election day when they either voted Republican or stayed home in retribution, unwilling to have their vote be interpreted as giving any approval to Obama and his healthcare bill or the Democrats who they felt sold them out.

Had Obama actually believed what he was saying publicly, something that's been absent his entire political life, he could have passed healthcare reform with a public option back in June of 2009 using reconciliation. If he had, the healthcare issue would have been resolved quickly and he could have focused on the economy and jobs. Healthcare would not have even been an issue but a public option would have eased the health insurance burden on the unemployed and the Democrats would have gotten credit for that even with high unemployment numbers, something both Obama and the Democratic leadership didn't have the vision to see.

Instead Obama put the country and the Democrats in congress through a year of unnecessary political bloodletting and angst to play some amateurish political game he still plays about bi-partisanship.

When the Republicans were in power they cared nothing for bi-partisanship. They passed all the Bush tax cuts using reconciliation. Republicans still care nothing for bi-partisanship which is why they told Obama take it or leave it on the tax cuts for the wealthy -- its all or nothing and without so much as a whimper, Obama took it.

Obama groveled for a year for one Republican vote which he didn't get, let Joe Liberman steam roll him when a smarter president could have handled Lieberman easily, and then when the right wing heat got too hot, melted completely and made a back alley deal with healthcare lobbyists to drop it. Maybe he thought no one would notice.

When a proposition is supported by as many people as the public option,. when you have promised this proposition as Obama had countless times both while running for the presidency and after taking office, when you have the votes to pass it and then sell it out and lie about it as Obama did, you're going to get a lot of angry voters

Pelosi said after the healthcare vote that "we don't have a public option because the president didn't fight for it and didn't stand up for it". Liberals, independents and Democrats stayed home on election day because of it. The size of the Democrats defeat was in direct proportion to the size of their failure in not passing a public option. And those who stayed home on election day will do it again in 2012 if Obama is the nominee.