Category: Politics

We Need Healthcare Reform Now

The U.S. Capitol Building

The U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

President Barack Obama’s speech last night to a joint session of Congress was amazing. He is such an eloquent speaker. From the beginning of  his speech to the end, he spoke directly and clearly to Congress and the American people about what was needed to reform health care in America. It’s time for our elected officials to get behind the president and enact health care reform.

All of the other major industrialized countries in the world can’t be wrong. Citizens of the United States shouldn’t have to go bankrupt or lose their home because they get sick. It is time for the Republicans to shut up and do the right thing for their country.

The idea that the Republicans would lie about and fight against health care reform so that they could “defeat” the president is despicable.

In an interview with the Huffington Post last month, Congressman Henry Waxman, a Democrat from California said, “I think they have made a political decision that their best chance to pick up the Congress and to get power again is to be able to run in 2010 and say that Obama didn’t accomplish anything. And they are doing their best to make sure that happens.”

I was going to call Republican Congressman Joe Wilson from South Carolina, who shouted “you lie” at the president at one point during the speech, a “little weasel”, but I’m not. Maybe he is taking Wellbutrin to help him quit smoking and it’s making him a little paranoid. I was trying to quit smoking a few years back and was taking Wellbutrin. It made me paranoid and sometimes I would yell things out. I stopped taking it. As far as I am concerned, it would have been appropriate for the Sergeant-At-Arms to have removed him from the room.  I would have loved to have seen that.  Where was Wilson when Bush was lying to Congress about going to war with Iraq? He is more worked up about health care reform and illegal immigrants than he was about war. From what I have read, we are already giving free medical care to illegal aliens. If you have a medical emergency and show up at a hospital, the doctors have to treat you.

Cell phones and Blackberries should be banned from the room when the president is speaking. Republican Eric Cantor from Virginia could be seen playing with his Blackberry during the president’s speech. How disrespectful.  What could possibly have been on his Blackberry that was more important than what the president was saying? What? He should start paying more attention to what Barack Obama is saying and stop listening to Rush Limbaugh and John Boehner.

John Boehner, a Republican Senator from Ohio, was sitting right next to Cantor. They are the dynamic duo of the Republican party. They just say no to anything the president wants to do.

It wasn’t always so. Republicans were not always obstinate jackasses. Republicans have actually supported some important pieces of legislation in the past. Eighty-one Republicans in the House of Representatives voted for The Social Security Act of 1935. Fifteen voted no and 4 didn’t vote. The Democrats voted 284 yes, 15 no and 20 didn’t vote. The Senate vote was Republicans, 16 yes, 5 no and 4 not voting. Sixty Democrats voted yes, 1 no and 8 didn’t vote.

Many Republicans supported the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The House vote was Republicans 138 yes, 34 no, Democrats 152 yes, 96 no. In the Senate the vote was Republicans 27 yes, 6 no, Democrats 44 yes, 23 no.

It actually is possible for our elected officials to do the right thing and vote their conscience and not their party.

I don’t understand the rabid hatred that some elected officials have for President Obama. How can Republicans like former Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin and Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa spread lies about “death panels?”  It is the same mentality that allowed Bush and Cheney to start the war in Iraq. It’s obvious that lies are being told and that the emperor has no clothes.

The Republican party needs to come to its senses and support meaningful legislation to move this country forward in a positive direction. They can’t just sit back, do their best to thwart the president and hope he fails so that they can reclaim the White House in four years. They supported tax cuts for the rich. That was the first thing Bush did when he got elected. That is one of the reasons the deficit is so big today. They supported starting a war in Iraq that we didn’t have to fight. That was another unfunded, shameful, budget disaster. We can waste a trillion dollars on a needless war, but we can’t provide health care for our citizens. That would be too much like socialism.

Doctors today, with all of the  technology, drugs and knowledge available, can do some amazing things. I know. I have been a beneficiary of  some of that advanced care. I’m glad to still be here. At the time I worked for a great company that provided one of the best health insurance packages in the world. I don’t think I ever had to pay a bill except for small co-pays at the doctors office. I don’t work for that company any more and I buy my own health insurance. It’s not as good as what I had when I worked for the world class company.

If something happened to me again today, I know that I would have to pay out a lot of my own money. Perhaps if the members of Congress had to buy their own insurance and didn’t have a taxpayer paid plan, they would be more interested in reforming health care. Your health care shouldn’t be dependent on where you work or what you do.

Although I remember when they did, doctors don’t make house calls anymore. Health care has changed dramatically since Teddy Roosevelt and the Progressive Party Platform of 1912 mentioned it. Franklin D. Roosevelt wanted to create a national health care system in 1935 when Social Security was started, but couldn’t do it. President Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton tried to get health care reform passed in 1993. They were shouted down by the same mentality that is trying to shout down reform today.

Daniel Gross wrote a great article on Slate called, “The Private Option.” The subtitle is “Employment-based health insurance is in big trouble, but don’t blame Obama.” In it he says that 29% of Americans already get their health insurance directly from the government (people on Medicare, Medicaid and members of the military). That figure doesn’t include teachers, state workers, county workers, city workers, and town and village workers who get their insurance indirectly from the government, but still paid for by taxes.

On September 8, 2009 in the New York Times, Paul Krugman, one of my favorite writers, wrote a column called, “Why the public option matters.” The health care reform bill must contain a public option. Anything less will not be real reform.

It’s absolutely crucial that the reforms that President Obama outlined in his speech last night are implemented. The American public must win this fight over the special interests and lobbyists who want to defeat health care reform. Contact your Congressman and Senators and let them know that you support President Obama.

I support Barack Obama and I commend him for fighting for health care reform. You should too.

Nicholas D. Kristof wrote a column for the New York Times called, “Let Congress Go Without Insurance” on October 7, 2009. Take a few minutes and read what Nicholas Kristof has to say.

Reforming Albany

The New York State Capitol in AlbanyThere are 150 members of the New York State Assembly and 62 Senators. There are 19 million of us. They are seriously outnumbered.

How do you force the politicians in Albany to reform a rotten system that benefits them at the expense of the people of New York? The perception is that the government in New York state is corrupt, unethical, and dishonest, and that nothing can be done. That’s just the way it is and nobody can change it. It’s politics as usual.

I disagree. We can fix Albany. It is not an impossible task. A serious ethics law is the first step. No meaningful reform will come out of Albany until a real ethics law is passed. Everything else will flow from that. Here is how we can force them to enact a serious ethics law.

Common Cause or the League of Women Voters should write an ethics law for the New York Assembly and Senate. It should be written in plain English so that a fifth grader can read and understand it.

It should be published in all of the daily newspapers in New York state on the same day. That is important. It should take up the entire page. It should be published on their websites as well.   At the bottom of the document leave a space for every member of the Assembly and Senate to sign it.

It would be like the signatures on the Declaration of Independence. If the signature isn’t legible, print the name too. This will take ethics reform out of the State Capitol in Albany and put it in front of the public in plain view.

The newspapers should also publish the phone numbers, email, and postal addresses of each member of the legislature. The newspapers should ask each reader to contact their representatives and demand that they sign the new ethics law as published in the paper.

The League of Women Voters or Common Cause would be the main contact point for the legislators. They would have to send a letter saying that they supported the ethics law and to please sign their name to it so that their constituents could see it.

This document would be updated every day with the new signatures on the websites of the newspapers until there are enough signatures to make it a law. You would be able to see on a daily basis who supported it and who didn’t support it.

This should shame the politicians into doing the right thing, since they won’t do it themselves. Voters will be looking for the names of their representatives. If voters don’t see their names, they can call them and find out why. If not enough signatures are obtained after 30 days, proceed to step two.

Step 2 would be a daily protest at the State Capitol in Albany. A hundred people a day would do. This would go on every day while the legislature is in session.

If there are still not enough signatures and the legislature goes home, proceed to step three.

Step 3 would be several protesters following each individual legislator 24 hours a day until they sign the document. Everywhere the legislator went, there would be protestors with signs following them.

Eventually, there will be enough signatures. Someone will have to introduce a bill to make the ethics law a real, legal law that the Assembly and Senate must obey or face the consequences. The first person to step up and sign the ethics law in the newspaper should have the privilege of introducing the bill.

After the ethics bill becomes a law, the members of the Assembly and Senate should have to take an oath and proclaim that they have read it, understand it and will act accordingly.

There has got to be a way to reform the politicians in Albany. Business as usual is killing this state. The citizens of New York are being cheated everyday.

Paul Krugman, the Pulitzer Prize winning economist from Princeton University and a New York Times columnist, said on the Bill Maher show last September, “We need a better government than we’ve got.”

He was talking about the federal government in Washington, D.C., but you can apply it to New York state government just as easily.

We need a better government than we’ve got and we need it now.

Reforming Local Government In New York

The New York State Capitol in AlbanyAccording to New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, our system of local government is broken. There are 10,521 units of government that duplicate services creating needless, wasteful bureaucracies. He is proposing legislation to empower citizens and local governments to consolidate or dissolve these redundant entities.

You can read all about it on the Attorney General’s website. On the same site, you can also watch a half-hour video of AG Andrew Cuomo giving a presentation on reforming local government.

In a December 2008 press release Cuomo said: “Despite New Yorkers drowning for decades in some of the nation’s highest taxes, local leaders have been blocked from reforming local government in an effort to cut government waste and reduce the tax burden. During this economic crisis, leaders have an historic opportunity to fundamentally reform this state’s patchwork quilt of local government entities. These layers upon layers of taxing entities have a chokehold on state residents, and antiquated and arcane laws governing them perpetuate government inefficiency. Our goal is to reform those laws so communities, where appropriate, can reduce local government burden and reduce the cost of living in this great state.”

He is right. There are too many levels of local government. This may have made sense years ago, but it doesn’t make sense today. It has to change.

Cuomo goes on to say that current laws make reform almost impossible. The laws are inconsistent and difficult to understand, even for lawyers working for the Attorney General! Cuomo is proposing new legislation to empower the average citizen with the ability to initiate the consolidation or dissolution process for all local government entities.

Governor David Paterson had this to say: “We need to help our working families by doing everything we can to lower the cost of government. We cannot achieve real, sustainable property tax relief without addressing local government efficiency…. I applaud Attorney General Cuomo for addressing the root cause of these inefficiencies; layers of bureaucracy that duplicate service and drive up costs to residents.”

New York State Senator Betty Little said: “The state fiscal crisis is forcing every level of government to look at ways to control spending and increase efficiency. As a result, more communities are now interested in examining dissolutions and consolidations as a way to avoid property tax increases.”

Cuomo says that consolidating or dissolving inefficient local governments can save New Yorker’s an estimated 5 to 22 percent on their property taxes, which are the highest in the nation. Even if it is only 5 percent, I’ll take it. When was the last time your property taxes went down?

The Attorney General’s office has been conducting investigations into waste, fraud and abuse at various levels of government. Those investigations have resulted in numerous settlements and convictions that have saved taxpayers millions of dollars.

I would like to see Cuomo join forces with Thomas Suozzi who was the chairman of the New York State Commission on Property Tax Relief.  I wrote about the Commission’s report in a previous post, “Why Are Property Taxes In New York So High“.

New York needs to get moving on consolidating local governments and school districts. Having the highest local property taxes in the nation makes New York an undesirable place to live or start a business.

The New York State Association of Counties (NYSAC) recently released a report called, “The Gathering Storm, The Challenges Confronting the Future of New York.” It was written by Jeff Osinski, Director of Research and Education, New York State Association of Counties. It is a publication of NYSAC and the Dennis A. Pelletier County Government Institute, Inc.

The title, “The Gathering Storm” was no accident. It is the title of the first book in Sir Winston Churchill’s six volume memoir, “The Second World War.”

In the Forward to the NYSAC report, Stephen J. Acquario,  Executive Director says, “There is no question that our state faces an important crossroad. We face two possible futures: one where we continue to lose people, businesses and jobs to other states; or one in which we leverage our strengths to rebuild our economy, foster innovation and attract people and businesses.

“It is time that the leaders in this state—state and local leaders—work together to turn this ship of state in a different direction. We need to examine our public policy habits that have caused decades of overspending, overtaxing, over-regulating and overmandating. If our counties and our communities are going to grow again, state leaders need to fundamentally change the way they do business in Albany.”

The Introduction to the report says, a recent study conducted by the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania forecasts that 17 of the top 50 counties in population loss in the nation by the year 2020 will be New York counties.

The financial news network CNBC ranks New York State as the most expensive state in the nation in which to do business. Forbes ranks the state 49th in its business cost rankings. CEO Magazine ranks us 50th and the national Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council ranks New York State’s tax burden 44th.

New York also ranked 46th in costs of basic essentials, food, housing and energy. Only Alaska, New Jersey, California and Hawaii ranked higher in the costs for basic essentials.

New York ranked 49th in the quality of the workforce.

Is anybody in Albany listening?

What is it going to take for the New York State Assembly and Senate to stop being Democrats or Republicans and do what is best for the citizens of New York state?

Ethics Reform In Albany, New York

The New York State Capitol in AlbanyThe recent indictment of former New York State Senator Joseph A. Bruno on federal corruption charges has once again brought attention to the need for ethics reform in New York state government.

Albany has been the capital of New York state since 1797. That is 212 years. I think that is enough time to come up with a strong, meaningful ethics law for its lawmakers.

I have some commonsense suggestions.

Senate and Assembly “jobs” should be considered full time. We are paying them $79,500 a year for a job they consider “part time.” That is more than the full time pay of most New Yorkers who work 40 hours a week for the entire year. The legislature meets from January to mid-June, several days a week. While they have part time hours, they get full time pay. What are they doing the rest of the year? They should be representing the people of New York at all times.

Let’s tell our 62 Senators and 150 Assembly Members that their job is now considered full time. They are not allowed to receive one dime more than their legislative salary in compensation from any other employment or “consultant” source. If they don’t like it, they can go back to whatever they were doing before they got elected. That should weed out some of the ones that are in it for the money and the power.

Senators and Assembly Members should also be limited to three, two year terms. Six years is enough. These should not be lifetime career positions. This would also insure a turnover in the ranks. You wouldn’t have people hanging around for 30 years for the power trip and the what’s in it for me attitude. If we had average citizens in the legislature instead of “professional” politicians, a lot more meaningful work would get done. If you doubt that, let’s try it and see.

I read in a letter to the editor that rank and file state workers are prohibited from outside employment with, or financial gain from, companies that do business with state government. Why doesn’t this apply to the legislature? It’s ridiculous. Senators and Assembly Members should not be able to leave the legislature and go to work for a company that does business with the state for at least 5 years. Period. What is so difficult about that?

According to the Albany Times Union, New York’s rules for public officials are widely viewed as among the weakest of any large state. What does the physical size of the state or the size of the population have to do with ethics? The same rules should apply to Alaska that apply to Rhode Island. This is not rocket science. It is commonsense and it’s about time.

It should take Albany about an hour to create and pass a meaningful ethics law, but I’ll give them an entire day. It should be written so that a fifth grader can read it and understand it in less than 20 minutes.

If they don’t want to take my suggestions, Common Cause has a list called, “Ten Steps Lawmakers Can Take to Reform Albany.” Step 6 says: The Governor and legislators should agree to ban gifts from lobbyists and create an independent ethics commission. Well, I guess that would be a start. If they mean an actual commission that will watch over the shenanigans of the legislature after a strong ethics bill is in force, that would be fine. After 212 years, I think we need to put a strong ethics law together quickly. Isn’t there a state somewhere in this country that has an honest, straightforward, commonsense ethics law with teeth, to govern their lawmakers? Can’t we just copy that?

Step 1 of Common Cause’s 10 Steps is about redistricting. It says: “Support the creation of an independent redistricting commission based on the state of Iowa’s successful model.”

The way that the state of New York’s districts were made is just another form of unethical behavior. Commonsense, logic and fairness were completely absent when the legislative districts were created. The Senate Republicans and the Assembly Democrats are allowed to draw the district lines for their respective house. That is just unbelievable. Who thought that one up?

Read what Common Cause says about redistricting reform. Common Cause says that incumbent state legislative candidates are re-elected at a staggering rate. In over 2500 general election races in the past 24 years, a challenger has beaten an incumbent only 34 times. Holy cow. That is ridiculous.

A lot of people that I talk to seem to accept that New York and Albany have been dysfunctional and corrupt for years and that it will always be that way. What can you do? That’s just the way it is.

There must be something that can be done. There must be a way for New Yorkers to get an honest, functional government in Albany that works for the citizens instead of special interests.

Why can’t the citizens of New York get their representatives to create and pass a serious ethics law? That would be a good first step.

Bush Still Doesn’t Get It

I didn’t want to write this story, but I just can’t let it go.

Ed Rollins wrote an article for CNN on January 13th, 2009 called, “Commentary: Bush still doesn’t get it.” I agree that Bush still doesn’t get it. The problem is that Ed Rollins still doesn’t get it either.

Rollins is a Republican strategist who was the national chairman of Mike Huckabee’s 2008 presidential campaign. Take a minute and imagine how horrible you would feel right now if Huckabee was going to be inaugurated next Tuesday instead of Barack Obama.

Rollins says this about Bush in his article, “I don’t believe he is dishonest or an incompetent.” Well Ed, I think he is both.

Bush should have known, and I think he did, that the evidence for weapons of mass destruction was not credible. He should not have invaded another country based on the information that he had. I think that alone is evidence of both incompetence and dishonesty. Saddam Hussein may have been a ruthless dictator, but he wasn’t a threat to the United States.

Scooter Libby, Vice-President Dick Cheney’s Chief of Staff,  was convicted in a court of law for one count of obstruction of justice, two counts of perjury and lying to the FBI. There is no way that he deserved a pardon from Bush, but that is exactly what Bush did.  Libby did not serve 5 minutes of his 30 month sentence.

Judith Miller, a reporter for the New York Times, spent 12 weeks in jail for refusing to identify sources in this case. She didn’t disclose the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame. Libby did. The pardon is another example of dishonest and incompetent behavior by Bush.

Rollins brings up the fact that Bill Clinton was impeached. He asks (referring to Clinton and Bush), “Why did their presidencies not live up to those high expectations that we all have for our new leaders on Inauguration Day?”

How dare he compare Clinton to Bush. Comparing Bill Clinton to George Bush is ridiculous and obnoxious. It makes me want to spit. Clinton lied about something that was insignificant and trivial compared to war. Nobody died because of his lie. The impeachment proceedings distracted the president from running the country. What could he have accomplished if he had not been harassed by Congress? When Bill Clinton left office the United States was at peace and had a budget surplus.

Bush’s failures tower over Clinton’s. Bush should have been impeached for invading Iraq. I don’t understand why he wasn’t.

Thousands upon thousands of people have died because of his lies. Thousands more have been grievously wounded. Only Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich has had the courage to present Articles of Impeachment against Bush.

Throughout the article Rollins gives Barack Obama advice about things he should do and how he should do it. Ed, stop giving Barack advice. Stop telling him what he can and can’t do. You are very close to the bottom of the list for people giving Barack advice. You are somewhere down there with Rush Limbaugh.

Rollins says (to Bush), “Thank you, for serving your country.” I say good riddance. We would have been much better off without you.

I can’t wait for Tuesday when Barack Obama takes the oath of office.

P. S.

Barack Obama was asked recently if he would seek an investigation of possible crimes by the Bush administration. He answered, ” I don’t believe that anybody is above the law, but we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards.”

Paul Krugman wrote an article for the New York Times titled, “Forgive and Forget?” He believes that the Obama administration should investigate the crimes committed by the Bush administration. I agree completely.

If we don’t hold the Bush administration accountable for their crimes, then they are above the law.

We Are Taking Back Our Country

OBAMA!

That was the headline on Wednesday, November 5, 2008, in newspapers across America.

Just before the Democratic National Convention in 2004, my sister Judy told me that Barack Obama was going to give the keynote speech. I said, “who the hell is Barack Obama?” or something like that. Didn’t you, when you first heard his name? I thought that his speech at the convention was very good. He is an excellent speaker.

Fast forward to the Democratic debates earlier this year. Joe Biden, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Dennis Kucinich, Chris Dodd and John Edwards were on the same stage. I liked what Dennis Kucinich had to say.  Congressman Kucinich was the only one who had the guts to present a resolution in Congress to impeach  Bush and Cheney. More congressmen should have supported him. I thought Joe Biden was very good in the debates too.

Then it was just Hillary and Barack. I thought that Barack was a better speaker, but I liked Hillary’s healthcare plan better. I chose to support Barack, although I would have voted for Hillary if she had been nominated. I didn’t like the fact that we would have gone from four years of George H. W. Bush to eight good years of Bill Clinton to eight disastrous years of George W. Bush to at least another four years of Hillary Clinton. Why should two families have all the fun?

There is no way I would have voted for McCain under any circumstances. I think he and Sarah Palin ran an ugly, dirty little campaign. He kept pestering Obama about not admitting that the “surge” was working. I have never heard McCain admit that the war was a shameful waste, didn’t need to be fought and was based on lies.

Barack was an easy choice. I liked what he had to say and he inspired people. I kept hearing about his speech against the Iraq war. I looked it up and read it. I thought it was an extraordinary speech. He hit the nail on the head. Take five minutes and read it or watch it from the link above. It’s too bad he wasn’t a United States Senator at the time. More people might have paid attention.

I was born into a world where African-Americans in America, especially the southern states, were denied the right to vote. It wasn’t until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that something was finally done about it. I am so glad that we have made so much progress since then. We are not a color blind country yet, but we have come a long way. This election testifies to that.

It was amazing to see all of the huge celebrations going on in the United States and around the world on election night. I especially liked the celebration outside of the White House gates. I saw Jesse Jackson and Oprah crying tears of joy in Chicago.

Let the cynical Republicans go read their Wall Street Journals. I wish Barack and Joe Biden  the best.

We are taking back our country. January 20, 2009 can’t get here fast enough for me.

Your comments are welcome.

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