Archive for the ‘National’ Category

Liveblogging Obama’s Speech to Congress

I’m going to try something new for me and do a live blog of the President’s speech to Congress. Feel free to join me in the comments section.

This post will be updated as the show progresses. Right now I have to suffer through a few more minutes of “Entertainment Tonight.”

7:00 Ooooh… to blog the Republican response or not? Hmm…

7:02 First Lady looking great!

7:06 ABC announcers talking about why Massachusetts reform didn’t work, and I am prone to agree.

7:10 If I hear the word “trigger” one more time, I’m gonna scream.

7:13 45 minutes estimated… hmm. More pot roast is called for (thanks, Sarah!).

7:16 Oooh yeah let’s do this!

7:18 “back from the brink.” I sure hope so.

7:19 “I am not the first President to take up this cause, but I am determined to be the last.” Hell yeah!

7:21 Hitting all salient points of the problem, and reminding us that we are the ONLY modern democracy / wealthy nation without national health care.

7:24 “Our healthcare problem IS our deficit problem.” YES.

7:25 President Obama is going for the gradual, measured approach rather than a huge shift. Interesting.

7:27 It sure doesn’t FEEL like we’re “closer to reform than we have ever been,” but I suppose that’s correct.

7:28 3 goals: Security and Stability
Insurance for those who don’t
slow the growth of health care costs

7:30 No more preexisting condition denials of coverage. Right on.

7:32 Through security and stability. Keep your insurance. Individual insurance. “Insurance exchange” makes a market-based approach sound good, but I am suspicious.

7:35 Uh oh.  Individuals required to carry basic health insurance.  But without a public option…?

7:37 Were those few clapping FOR or AGAINST misinformation?

7:38 Still gotta confront the lie of death panels, even at this late stage in the debate.  So sad.

7:39 A fascinating little interchange starting when someone yelled out…

7:41 Holding insurance companies accountable is going to be a daunting task without a public option!

7:42 Oh finally, he brought up the public option.  The meat of the issue.  The analogy with public universities is a good one.

7:45 At least he’s insisting on a choice of insurance, whether it’s a “strong” public option or a weak one.  Hmm.

7:46 No deficit spending to make health reform happen.  Good.  Not like that last guy.

7:48 Careful seniors, he might be brainwashing you through the teevee!  (((((.))))) (((((.)))))

7:49 Hell yeah, those claiming that medicare is going away were the same ones trying to kill it all along!

7:51 Tort reform.  Here we go.

7:53 An initiative to study tort reform.  Hmm.

7:53 Putting the cost of health care in perspective — less than tax cuts for the wealthy OR the Iraq War!  And, mostly paid for by money we are already spending.

7:54 So basically, Obama and Michelle Bachmann won’t be talking any more. :P

7:56 Health reform is both an individual and a social issue.  And here comes the Ted Kennedy letter.

7:58 Health care IS a moral issue.  Thank you, ghost of Ted Kennedy.

7:59 Empathy 101.  Pay attention, America.  Empathy and liberty are NOT mutually exclusive!

8:00 Oh yeah, we’ve been through this ideological argument before with Medicare, and we made the right choice.

8:01 This is the meat of the speech right here.

8:02 “We did not come here to fear the future; we came here to shape it.”

8:04 All done.  ABC commentators calling it his most emotional speech, and I think there’s something to that.

8:06 Oh boy, here comes the Republican response.

8:07 Huh, where do you think our increased spending and economic woes came from?  Hmm…

8:08 OK, is the official GOP response really going to be to misrepresent the CBO estimate again?  He may as well show that crazy GOP health care chart.

8:09 So, it sounds like they’re down with 50% of the 80% that is consensus.  Yippie.

8:10 NO ONE IS TALKING ABOUT RATIONING CARE.  Ughhh.  And he’s done.  And here come ridiculous stats about who applauded and when and how many times.  Thank you TV media for ruining our national discourse.
Next up on the teevee: Australians falling into mud. (((((.))))) (((((.)))))

See you in the comments section

Neugebauer Town Hall Trip Report: Part 1

Except for the couple of jerks who insulted my girlfriend, the Randy Neugebauer town hall was very civil — not like the clips of town halls crashed by right-wing shouters or poster-rippers. It was an hour and a half of brisk Q+A from audience members lined up at 2 mics. People mostly showed how they felt by clapping/cheering or remaining silent, though there was some whooping and hollering now and then. One dude with an opposite view from mine took the time to shake my hand afterward to thank my friends and me for being decent, and I said the same to him. That was a very nice moment.

The Congressman’s staff were very pleasant and helpful as usual.

Oh, but there was the one gentleman who, during his turn at the mic, literally said, “When you’ve got a coon up a tree, bark!” in reference to the President. A very unfortunate choice of words at the least. A fellow Lubbock blogger I met at the town hall chronicled this line (and the event in general) very well.

It will take me several posts to present all the material from the town hall. A friend of mine took video of most of it, which we will clean up, put on YouTube, and link here. In the meantime, the hilarious-but-tired GOP health care chart (scary! confusing! colors! ugly fonts! boo!) made another appearance in giant poster and handout form.

Local media coverage of the town hall meeting was OK, though the number of people at the meeting varied widely among different media outlets. I’ll say that the hall was packed to standing-room-only, and there were 1,000 chairs in the room. Also, certain media outlets (KAMC and KLBK, for example) did not acknowledge that the questions were basically evenly divided between those who were in favor of a public option (or other health care reform at the federal level), those who were against, and those who had other things to talk about. To lump people into broad categories, there may have been more “conservatives” in attendance, but the questions and comments were hardly dominated by “conservative” opinions.

I did come to the conclusion that our Congressman is sucking up to the we-hate-government wing of his Party’s base. The person who introduced Congressman Neugebauer was from AFIIG, and Randy spent a whole lot of time painting our government as a boogeyman.

At any rate, I’ll soon post links to video of basically the whole event, so you can see for yourself. For now, here are a few pictures I’ve received from friends-with-cameras so far:

waiting
Some friends arriving early to get good seats by the mics.

dana-visits-with-mikel
Dana Neugebauer visits with LCRP Precinct 47 Chair Mikel Ward.

grayhaired-crowd
The hall starts to fill up.

More tomorrow!


And oh dear, as I am about to post this, I just saw news that Senator Ted Kennedy has died:

http://www.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/08/26/obit.ted.kennedy/index.html

RIP “The Lion of the Senate”

You Can Call Him Senator

al-franken-signLooks like this is the week! After fending off a long and mostly pointless legal challenge, Al Franken will be sworn in this week as the junior Senator from Minnesota.

(A quick word for all the right-wing conspiracy theorists out there: you look like fools when you claim that Franken “stole the election.” Minnesota has quite possibly the most populist, transparent, and deliberate election laws of any state in the USA. Florida it ain’t. The process has been out there for all to see.)

The question now is: so what? Will the 60-Senator Democratic “supermajority” (58 plus 2 independents, and I trust Joe Lieberman about as far as I can throw him) be willing and able to get legislation going that the American people demand? For example, 75% of Americans want a public option for health insurance — what is the holdup?! Republicans were able to ram their agenda down our throats with only 50 votes in the Senate, but thanks to the lukewarm leadership of Reid, the Democrats need 60 votes. Now we’ve got them. No more excuses.

For those of us in the progressive base of the Democratic Party, it’s time to do some arm-twisting of on-the-fence legislators. Getting their Party’s elected officials to pay attention and act according to their wishes is something that the far right base of the Republican Party is quite good at. It wouldn’t hurt progressives to flex political muscles in a similar way when it comes to our elected officials, especially Senators.

Toward that end, I believe that will be pleasantly surprised by the effectiveness of Senator Al Franken. He can hold his own against anyone in a debate, and he’s actually a policy wonk. Even though he is the “juniorest” of Senators, I predict that he will take on a leadership role early on.

He’s good enough, he’s smart enough, and doggone it: the people elected him.

www.alfranken.com

Sarah Palin Resigns

Apparently Sarah Palin just announced her resignation as Governor of Alaska. (CNN coverage)

Is she gearing up for 2012 Presidential run, getting out ahead of some unknown scandal, or something else entirely?

Discuss!

Randy’s Wrong-O

Mondays mean many things to me: back to work, plenty of Star Trek: The Next Generation to watch, and a fresh copy of “Randy’s Roundup” in my inbox. “Randy’s Roundup” is our Congressman’s weekly dispatch.

From Monday’s Roundup (I prefer “Wrong-O”), discussing the Cap and Trade energy bill that passed the House:

As I said on the House floor during the debate, this bill is not about science or sound policy, but it is really about driving up the cost of energy, sending millions of jobs overseas to countries like India and China, and placing an especially heavy burden on rural America.

What a load of crap.

I see 5 parts to this crapload:

1) no science
2) no sound policy
3) driving up the cost of energy
4) sending jobs overseas
5) an especially heavy burden on rural America

The whole point of Cap and Trade is to provide a market-based solution for getting our CO2 emissions under control, which any reputable climatologist will tell you is absolutely essential to minimize our damaging impact on our environment. There’s (1) the science and (2) sound policy.

(3) The cost of energy may rise briefly, but it will decrease over time as more renewable energy sources come online. If there is any iota of competition left in the energy industry, then companies that implement effective methods of clean energy production will win out over more polluting companies by offering a cheaper rate. It’s a fine, capitalistic solution that only entrenched big business interests would oppose. This bill is a good step toward tackling a global problem, and it won’t break the bank along the way.

(4) The great thing about green energy jobs is: they cannot be outsourced. I truly don’t understand Randy’s line about Cap and Trade “sending millions of jobs overseas to countries like India and China.” We will be creating new jobs here in the USA, many right here in sun-and-wind-rich West Texas. After all, it’s easier to put wind and solar farms out in the middle of nowhere than it is to put them in urban centers. This is (5) a clear win for rural America, which will have new and long-lasting industries based around wind and solar energy (as opposed to boom-and-bust oil economies). Our oil imports over time will decrease. Overall, our country will be more self-sufficient.

To conclude, I want to share a political cartoon (by a Lubbockite!) that captures the essence of No-gebauer and the rest of the Grand Obstructionist Party:

spring_plow

The cartoon illustrates that there is, in fact, one bad energy policy on the Democratic side: neglecting to harness all the hot air and friction emanating from today’s GOP.

Neugebauer is a Birther

Don’t know how I missed this one, but on the Monday edition of “Lubbock’s First News” on KFYO (hosted by Chad Hasty and Rex Andrew), apparently our Congressman Randy Neugebauer stepped into birther territory:

CHAD HASTY: So you believe the President is a US citizen?

NEUGEBAUER: You know I don’t know. I’ve never seen him produce documents that would say one way or another.

This gaffe made it to Keith Olbermann and ThinkProgress, thus incrementing by one the list of unfortunate things for which Lubbock is known.

Let me join the voices already out there in saying that there are many important things for the Congress to work on right now — sponsoring a birther bill is not one of them. This bill and No-gebauer’s unfortunate remark are distractions from a GOP that is out of ideas.

Market or Society: What’s Really Important?

I’ve been reading Dan Ariely lately. He’s the poster child for Behavioral Economics, and his book Predictably Irrational is fascinating (Amazon link).

In late 2008, when Alan Greenspan made the shocking statement that the free market did not behave as expected, I nearly fainted. Since that time, I’ve been interested in what proponents of behavioral economics have to say. So far, I’m finding their methods and conclusions fascinating, and I’ll have more to blog about behavioral economics now and then over the next few weeks.

For now though, I want to examine one of Dr. Ariely’s ideas through a partisan lens.

Try this thought experiment: Say you’re at thanksgiving dinner at your grandparents’ house. The whole family is there: aunts, uncles, cousins and all. You eat a delicious dinner with turkey, stuffing, casseroles — the works. At the end of the dinner, you stand up, take out your wallet/purse, and say, “Grandma and Grandpa, that dinner was delicious. It must have cost a lot to prepare. How much do I owe you? Three hundred? Four hundred?” What would the family’s reaction be? Almost certainly, jaws would drop and eyes would bulge at the highly inappropriate faux pas you just committed.

What is so embarrassing about trying to pay for a family thanksgiving dinner? Essentially, the embarrassment comes from trying to operate under market norms where it is more appropriate to operate under social norms. The important thing was to come together for a meal as a family and share in that fellowship. Bringing up money at a time like that would be like farting in church.

I am convinced that this market norms / social norms switcheroo happens all too often in the political world, and politicians and pundits (usually Republicans, but sometimes Democrats too) have been getting away with such transgressions unchallenged for too long. Without a winning moral argument, they substitute a market argument, even if it’s inappropriate (not to mention false most of the time even in market terms, but that’s a different post).

Health care is a perfect example. The social norms surrounding health care are pretty self-evident, I think. Public health is a public good. It’s good to live in a nation where, you and your fellow citizens will be healthy and have access to the health care they need. Desiring good health for your neighbor is a moral good. These ideas represent the framework in which our health care discussion should be taking place — the framework of social norms.

However, we see market norms setting the terms of the discussion on both sides of the health care issue. Health care is too expensive. Health care is too inefficient. Health care providers should compete to innovate. Cost, efficiency, and competition are important aspects of health care, to be sure — but they are secondary issues compared to having a working health care system nation-wide.

As I mentioned in the comments of my previous post, I think environment/pollution issues suffer from the same market norms vs social norms problem. The financial details are not as important as the big picture — we have to minimize pollution and maximize environmental protection for the good of everyone living on the planet because it’s the right thing to do.

Education is another arena in which we often get bogged down in a market values discussion when social values are more important. It’s more important for us to value education across the board as a nation than it is to send more or less money to this or that school or district. The social norm of valuing education for all is primary, and the market norms of cost and competition among schools are secondary. Yet, thanks to No Child Left Behind and similar legislation, our national dialogue about education has been stuck in a framework of competing students and schools instead of focusing on the public good of an education for all.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t ever talk about market values; someone needed to buy the ingredients for that thanksgiving dinner, after all. However, having the thanksgiving dinner with the whole family present is the key thing. I’m not saying that money isn’t an issue — it’s just not THE issue.

The thing about market norms vs social norms is that once you get started with a discussion under one framework, it’s very difficult to switch out of it and into the other one. In other words, we will lose sight of our big-picture social goals if we let the discussion bog down in this or that economic aspect. We have national priorities that need to be taken care of, and I believe that looking at them primarily through a market worldview tends to put us in the wrong mindset to get them done.

Isn’t It Ironic

I’m back from vacation. It was nice to have a blogging break for a while.

So, I’m catching up on news today, and everyone seems to be talking about the murder (Sunday, in church) of abortion provider Dr. George Tiller.

I didn’t know much about Dr. Tiller before today. Predictably, however, I find that the usual right-wing pundits have been dehumanizing Dr. Tiller (for years now) or making excuses for his murder. Examples:

Billo, in 2006
More Billo
Tucker Carlson, now

I think it’s ironic in a sad way that — after a recent Department of Homeland Security memo warning of right-wing terrorism in the U.S. — we have exactly that. I doubt right-wing pundits who were critical of the memo will offer an apology or an acknowledgment that the DHS memo was a serious piece of law enforcement rather than a partisan thing.

We shouldn’t glorify terrorists, foreign or domestic. That seems pretty straightforward to me. Whether we’re talking about Bin Laden or McVeigh or whoever shot Dr. Tiller, we shouldn’t be making apologies for them.

Anyway, I’m back and looking forward to blogging about happier topics throughout the week.

Recovery.gov Launches

I’m seriously geeking out over the newly-launched Recovery.gov website, both for historical-political reasons and for web design reasons. It’s a beautiful website with video, interactive charts, drag-able timeline, blog, contact form, and all sorts of goodies. It’s like someone turned on the light after being in the dark for eight years.

I mean, look at this gorgeousness:

I feel the same way I do when a movie I’ve been wanting to see finally arrives in theaters, or when a band I like is going to play a show in town.

If reform can be a pop culture phenomenon, then it’s this.

http://recovery.gov

Congressional Republicans Write Themselves Out of History

History will remember that zero Congressional Republicans voted for the economic stimulus package that passed the House today.

Zero.

Zero, even after President Obama met with a delegation of Republican Congressmen.

Zero, even after several items that the Republicans objected to were removed from the bill.

So much for the bipartisanship that Republicans were calling for a week ago.

The Republican solution? More tax cuts for the rich, because that’s worked so well the past six years. (Thankfully, that version failed 266-170.)

Lubbock’s own Randy Neugebauer got in on the act:

Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Texas, sought to strip out all the spending from the legislation before final passage, arguing that the entire cost of the bill would merely add to soaring federal deficits. “Where are we going to get the money,” he asked, but his attempt failed overwhelmingly, 302-134.

Obey had a ready retort. “They don’t look like Herbert Hoover, I guess, but there are an awful lot of people in this chamber who think like Herbert Hoover,” he said, referring to the president whose term is forever linked in history with the Great Depression.

Randy’s sudden concern for spending too much money is particularly galling, now that it might actually do some good to do so. I guess Congressional Republicans only want to spend taxpayer money to enrich their big business friends.

The Republican Party is out of ideas, and Congressional Republicans just made fools of themselves on the national stage. If the economic stimulus package works at all, then even the most outlandish gerrymandering (as with our own TX-19 Congressional District) won’t save House Republicans in 2010.


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