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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

In "Adversarial" Love: The Tavis Smiley Black Agenda

This was an interesting gathering and for what purpose? Tavis Smiley has been determined to make Barack Obama "accountable" to him since BEFORE the election. Smiley's agenda is for Smiley to have an agenda to which Smiley can hold the President accountable. That in essence was the problem with this gathering. It is true that the black community is suffering more than any other group in this economic downturn. That is not new. That is not to justify our being at the bottom but to understand the context of the struggle. Nonetheless, when it came to this forum, it was out of place. Its emphasis was wrong. It was adversarial, "in love."

The main "articulator" of this "adversarial love" is Professor Michael Eric Dyson. It was Dyson who said on "Morning Joe" that President Obama "runs from the issue of race like brothers on the block run from the police." What a demeaning metaphor? (See Harris-Lacewell analysis.) All of a sudden, the president is to be equated with "brothers on the block." It sounds like what someone on the left would say about George Bush, an opponent of civil rights. In the words of Lenin, Professor Dyson suffers from "an infantile disorder." Obama is where the American people are, black, white and others. Thankfully, he has a 53% approval rating and that's AFTER being black and the passage of health care reform that at the moment has negative approval. What Professor Dyson wants the President to do is to provide "black targeted" programs. While there is an urgent need in the black community, and as pointed out on the show by Dr. Julianne Malveaux, at the moment white employment numbers while for blacks they remain flat, the President has had to keep the Titantic from sinking.

What the President knows is that he has to win battles not provoke hostilities when there are alternative ways to achieve those same goals. He can see the hostility to the bail out of Wall Street and auto industry. What would be the hostility to "welfare" for black people in the name of welfare for black people? His job is to govern on our behalf, not become some sacrificial lamb.

There were three presentations that stand out in opposition to this "infantile disorder." They were by Reverend Jesse Jackson, Prof. Ron Walters and Minister Louis Farrakahn. Jackson, eschewing the black agenda, stressed the importance of getting the health care reform done. (This event was taped just prior to the health care bill passing.) He predicted that from that victory, other victories would follow. From that, jobs bills will follow. From that, the transformation to green energy will follow. Jackson's presentation provided evidence that at that moment there are policy issues out there that are more urgent than a black agenda.

Ron Walters made the important point that the president is not a dictator, he operates in a political context. Central to that political context is winning fellow politicians and policy wonks that you are correct. As Obama said, he is the president of even those people who did not vote for him. That is not to make a black agenda irrelevant or of lesser importance but before he can govern he must have the legitimacy of the electorate and not be their adversary. Walters also discussed the very delicate process of getting a president's wishes on the books.

The most impressive for numerous reasons, not the least of which are stature and his place in race politics, was minister Louis Farrakkahn. He warned that this event not be allowed to be used as blacks against the President. He made a very valuable point using his personal experience with that of mainstream black politicians. He spoke of how his defense of Jesse Jackson in 1984 was used against Jackson. The media made it out to be Jackson's embrace of anti-Semitism. He then spoke of how he had to lay low and out of sight so that Jews could support Dinkins for mayor of New York because of his heavy Jewish support. He went on to express his concern that this "adversarial love" might be used by the media to set up Obama against his real enemies, America's white nationalists. He stressed that this event and the ideas expressed here not expressed in such a way that they would hurt the President. The President is trying to govern a nation in which the white nationalist majority did not win. Though he remains popular, the white nationalists are on a campaign to make him meet "his Waterloo."

A fourth, and very useful, perspective was offered by Angela Blackwell. It was her position to synthesize understanding the political context in which Obama must operate, on the one hand, and on the other, using Smiley's covenant as a score card for what is being done toward a "black agenda."

While no harm may have been come from this "adversarial lovefest," the one thing is clear is that it sends the wrong message. It sends the message that we lost in 2008. We did not lose. In fact, for the first time in America's history the presidency is not viewed by the white nationalists as one of their own. They think black folks have won. That's why they say we need to take OUR country back. They assume a black man in office will not act in their interests. Rather than some protest group, we need to act like we won. The President is responsible for a major reform when it comes to health care. Given that blacks are disproportionately at the bottom rung when it comes to health care, blacks will be a major beneficiary of health care reform. When he takes on the banks about foreclosures, blacks will benefit from that. When the transformation to retrofitting the cities blacks will benefit from that.

I have all of my career fought off notions that our leadership is out there for the civil rights hustle. In this case, I must wonder is the leadership for this "black agenda in the age of Obama" is not just a civil rights hustle? Rather than an intellectual and enlightened perspective on where we are at this juncture, or how do we effectuate governance in our favor, this effort is still in the protest phase. Much of this forum was about performance not accomplishment. As Jimmy Boggs said to the black students at University of Michigan in 1969: "You'd better start thinking about running this country. If they can do it, you can do it." In this age of Obama, it's time to start thinking about governance from a progressive perspective. The future is in the hands of that 97% of blacks, 65% of Latinos, 62% of Asians and 43% of whites, this coalition of minorities. White nationalism was defeated at the ballot box and a new America is in the making.

The election represents a transformation away from the white nationalism of the "Reagan era" to a more progressive, economically and socially, just "Obama era." It's time we claim the victory that we won. RGN

For the program

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Other Nobel Laureate Speaks:on Punks and Pundits

That the Republicans are supporters of the economic ruling class and opposed to economic justice for the working class is exposed again in the case of John Boehner in his speech to the bankers recently in which he told thew banks to not let the punks (congression. Paul Krugman prepares us for the Party of No's obstruction when it comes to finance industry reform. The Republicans will continue its Orwellian shaping of reality. They will interpret regulation to reigning in the banks as a bank bailout. Go figure. Lies, distortions, and other misrepresentations of reality are commonplace for conservatives to maintain their place. RGN

March 29, 2010
Op-Ed Columnist
Punks and Plutocrats

Health reform is the law of the land. Next up: financial reform. But will it happen? The White House is optimistic, because it believes that Republicans won’t want to be cast as allies of Wall Street. I’m not so sure. The key question is how many senators believe that they can get away with claiming that war is peace, slavery is freedom, and regulating big banks is doing those big banks a favor.

Some background: we used to have a workable system for avoiding financial crises, resting on a combination of government guarantees and regulation. On one side, bank deposits were insured, preventing a recurrence of the immense bank runs that were a central cause of the Great Depression. On the other side, banks were tightly regulated, so that they didn’t take advantage of government guarantees by running excessive risks.

From 1980 or so onward, however, that system gradually broke down, partly because of bank deregulation, but mainly because of the rise of “shadow banking”: institutions and practices — like financing long-term investments with overnight borrowing — that recreated the risks of old-fashioned banking but weren’t covered either by guarantees or by regulation. The result, by 2007, was a financial system as vulnerable to severe crisis as the system of 1930. And the crisis came.

Now what? We have already, in effect, recreated New Deal-type guarantees: as the financial system plunged into crisis, the government stepped in to rescue troubled financial companies, so as to avoid a complete collapse. And you should bear in mind that the biggest bailouts took place under a conservative Republican administration, which claimed to believe deeply in free markets. There’s every reason to believe that this will be the rule from now on: when push comes to shove, no matter who is in power, the financial sector will be bailed out. In effect, debts of shadow banks, like deposits at conventional banks, now have a government guarantee.

The only question now is whether the financial industry will pay a price for this privilege, whether Wall Street will be obliged to behave responsibly in return for government backing. And who could be against that?

Well, how about John Boehner, the House minority leader? Recently Mr. Boehner gave a talk to bankers in which he encouraged them to balk efforts by Congress to impose stricter regulation. “Don’t let those little punk staffers take advantage of you, and stand up for yourselves,” he urged — where by “taking advantage” he meant imposing some conditions on the industry in return for government backing.

Barney Frank, the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, promptly had “Little Punk Staffer” buttons made up and distributed to Congressional aides.

But Mr. Boehner isn’t the problem: Mr. Frank has already shepherded fairly strong financial reform through the House. Instead, the question is what will happen in the Senate.

In the Senate, the legislation on the table was crafted by Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut. It’s significantly weaker than the Frank bill, and needs to be made stronger, a topic I’ll discuss in future columns. But no bill will become law if Senate Republicans stand in the way of reform.

But won’t opponents of reform fear being cast as allies of the bad guys (which they are)? Maybe not. Back in January, Frank Luntz, the G.O.P. strategist, circulated a memo on how to oppose financial reform. His key idea was that Republicans should claim that up is down — that reform legislation is a “big bank bailout bill,” rather than a set of restrictions on the banks.

Sure enough, a few days ago Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama, in a letter attacking the Dodd bill, claimed that an essential part of reform — tougher oversight of large, systemically important financial companies — is actually a bailout, because “The market will view these firms as being ‘too big to fail’ and implicitly backed by the government.” Um, senator, the market already views those firms as having implicit government backing, because they do: whatever people like Mr. Shelby may say now, in any future crisis those firms will be rescued, whichever party is in power.

The only question is whether we’re going to regulate bankers so that they don’t abuse the privilege of government backing. And it’s that regulation — not future bailouts — that reform opponents are trying to block.

So it’s the punks versus the plutocrats — those who want to rein in runaway banks, and bankers who want the freedom to put the economy at risk, freedom enhanced by the knowledge that taxpayers will bail them out in a crisis. Whatever they say, the fact is that people like Mr. Shelby are on the side of the plutocrats; the American people should be on the side of the punks, who are trying to protect their interests.

The Rage: It's Not About Health Care

Again, Frank Rich hits the nail on the head. This anger, these protests are not about health care. As Rich points out, what passed was in reality a Republican plan ala Romney's Massachusetts. This is about race and has been since the Palin rallies during the 2008 campaign. RGN

March 28, 2010
Op-Ed Columnist
The Rage Is Not About Health Care

THERE were times when last Sunday’s great G.O.P. health care implosion threatened to bring the thrill back to reality television. On ABC’s “This Week,” a frothing and filibustering Karl Rove all but lost it in a debate with the Obama strategist David Plouffe. A few hours later, the perennially copper-faced Republican leader John Boehner revved up his “Hell no, you can’t!” incantation in the House chamber — instant fodder for a new viral video remixing his rap with’s “Yes, we can!” classic from the campaign. Boehner, having previously likened the health care bill to Armageddon, was now so apoplectic you had to wonder if he had just discovered one of its more obscure revenue-generating provisions, a tax on indoor tanning salons.

But the laughs evaporated soon enough. There’s nothing entertaining about watching goons hurl venomous slurs at congressmen like the civil rights hero John Lewis and the openly gay Barney Frank. And as the week dragged on, and reports of death threats and vandalism stretched from Arizona to Kansas to upstate New York, the F.B.I. and the local police had to get into the act to protect members of Congress and their families.

How curious that a mob fond of likening President Obama to Hitler knows so little about history that it doesn’t recognize its own small-scale mimicry of Kristallnacht. The weapon of choice for vigilante violence at Congressional offices has been a brick hurled through a window. So far.

No less curious is how disproportionate this red-hot anger is to its proximate cause. The historic Obama-Pelosi health care victory is a big deal, all right, so much so it doesn’t need Joe Biden’s adjective to hype it. But the bill does not erect a huge New Deal-Great Society-style government program. In lieu of a public option, it delivers 32 million newly insured Americans to private insurers. As no less a conservative authority than The Wall Street Journal editorial page observed last week, the bill’s prototype is the health care legislation Mitt Romney signed into law in Massachusetts. It contains what used to be considered Republican ideas.

Yet it’s this bill that inspired G.O.P. congressmen on the House floor to egg on disruptive protesters even as they were being evicted from the gallery by the Capitol Police last Sunday. It’s this bill that prompted a congressman to shout “baby killer” at Bart Stupak, a staunch anti-abortion Democrat. It’s this bill that drove a demonstrator to spit on Emanuel Cleaver, a black representative from Missouri. And it’s this “middle-of-the-road” bill, as Obama accurately calls it, that has incited an unglued firestorm of homicidal rhetoric, from “Kill the bill!” to Sarah Palin’s cry for her followers to “reload.” At least four of the House members hit with death threats or vandalism are among the 20 political targets Palin marks with rifle crosshairs on a map on her Facebook page.

When Social Security was passed by Congress in 1935 and Medicare in 1965, there was indeed heated opposition. As Dana Milbank wrote in The Washington Post, Alf Landon built his catastrophic 1936 presidential campaign on a call for repealing Social Security. (Democrats can only pray that the G.O.P. will “go for it” again in 2010, as Obama goaded them on Thursday, and keep demanding repeal of a bill that by September will shower benefits on the elderly and children alike.) When L.B.J. scored his Medicare coup, there were the inevitable cries of “socialism” along with ultimately empty rumblings of a boycott from the American Medical Association.

But there was nothing like this. To find a prototype for the overheated reaction to the health care bill, you have to look a year before Medicare, to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Both laws passed by similar majorities in Congress; the Civil Rights Act received even more votes in the Senate (73) than Medicare (70). But it was only the civil rights bill that made some Americans run off the rails. That’s because it was the one that signaled an inexorable and immutable change in the very identity of America, not just its governance.

The apocalyptic predictions then, like those about health care now, were all framed in constitutional pieties, of course. Barry Goldwater, running for president in ’64, drew on the counsel of two young legal allies, William Rehnquist and Robert Bork, to characterize the bill as a “threat to the very essence of our basic system” and a “usurpation” of states’ rights that “would force you to admit drunks, a known murderer or an insane person into your place of business.” Richard Russell, the segregationist Democratic senator from Georgia, said the bill “would destroy the free enterprise system.” David Lawrence, a widely syndicated conservative columnist, bemoaned the establishment of “a federal dictatorship.” Meanwhile, three civil rights workers were murdered in Philadelphia, Miss.

That a tsunami of anger is gathering today is illogical, given that what the right calls “Obamacare” is less provocative than either the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or Medicare, an epic entitlement that actually did precipitate a government takeover of a sizable chunk of American health care. But the explanation is plain: the health care bill is not the main source of this anger and never has been. It’s merely a handy excuse. The real source of the over-the-top rage of 2010 is the same kind of national existential reordering that roiled America in 1964.

In fact, the current surge of anger — and the accompanying rise in right-wing extremism — predates the entire health care debate. The first signs were the shrieks of “traitor” and “off with his head” at Palin rallies as Obama’s election became more likely in October 2008. Those passions have spiraled ever since — from Gov. Rick Perry’s kowtowing to secessionists at a Tea Party rally in Texas to the gratuitous brandishing of assault weapons at Obama health care rallies last summer to “You lie!” piercing the president’s address to Congress last fall like an ominous shot.

If Obama’s first legislative priority had been immigration or financial reform or climate change, we would have seen the same trajectory. The conjunction of a black president and a female speaker of the House — topped off by a wise Latina on the Supreme Court and a powerful gay Congressional committee chairman — would sow fears of disenfranchisement among a dwindling and threatened minority in the country no matter what policies were in play. It’s not happenstance that Frank, Lewis and Cleaver — none of them major Democratic players in the health care push — received a major share of last weekend’s abuse. When you hear demonstrators chant the slogan “Take our country back!,” these are the people they want to take the country back from.

They can’t. Demographics are avatars of a change bigger than any bill contemplated by Obama or Congress. The week before the health care vote, The Times reported that births to Asian, black and Hispanic women accounted for 48 percent of all births in America in the 12 months ending in July 2008. By 2012, the next presidential election year, non-Hispanic white births will be in the minority. The Tea Party movement is virtually all white. The Republicans haven’t had a single African-American in the Senate or the House since 2003 and have had only three in total since 1935. Their anxieties about a rapidly changing America are well-grounded.

If Congressional Republicans want to maintain a politburo-like homogeneity in opposition to the Democrats, that’s their right. If they want to replay the petulant Gingrich government shutdown of 1995 by boycotting hearings and, as John McCain has vowed, refusing to cooperate on any legislation, that’s their right too (and a political gift to the Democrats). But they can’t emulate the 1995 G.O.P. by remaining silent as mass hysteria, some of it encompassing armed militias, runs amok in their own precincts. We know the end of that story. And they can’t pretend that we’re talking about “isolated incidents” or a “fringe” utterly divorced from the G.O.P. A Quinnipiac poll last week found that 74 percent of Tea Party members identify themselves as Republicans or Republican-leaning independents, while only 16 percent are aligned with Democrats.

After the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, some responsible leaders in both parties spoke out to try to put a lid on the resistance and violence. The arch-segregationist Russell of Georgia, concerned about what might happen in his own backyard, declared flatly that the law is “now on the books.” Yet no Republican or conservative leader of stature has taken on Palin, Perry, Boehner or any of the others who have been stoking these fires for a good 17 months now. Last week McCain even endorsed Palin’s “reload” rhetoric.

Are these politicians so frightened of offending anyone in the Tea Party-Glenn Beck base that they would rather fall silent than call out its extremist elements and their enablers? Seemingly so, and if G.O.P. leaders of all stripes, from Romney to Mitch McConnell to Olympia Snowe to Lindsey Graham, are afraid of these forces, that’s the strongest possible indicator that the rest of us have reason to fear them too.

Correction: Timothy Geithner’s title at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York was president and chief executive officer, not chairman, as I wrote here last week.

Friday, March 26, 2010

What Has He Done???

The question is often asked: What has Obama done? Below is a list that has been floating around for awhile. Now that the President has gotten passed, to quote the Vice President, "A big f******* deal," that is an added accomplishment to a long list. RGN

Subject: Mr. President-What have you accomplished in the past 12 months?
"Robert P. Watson, Ph.D. Coordinator of American Studies
Lynn University "

I am always being asked to grade Obama's presidency. In place of offering him a grade, I put together a list of his accomplishments thus far. I think you would agree that it is very impressive. His first six months have been even more active than FDRs or LBJs the two standards for such assessments. Yet, there is little media attention given to much of what he has done. Of late, the media is focusing almost exclusively on Obama's critics, without holding them responsible for the uncivil, unconstructive tone of their disagreements or without holding the previous administration responsible for getting us in such a deep hole. The misinformation and venom that now passes for political reporting and civic debate is beyond description.

As such, there is a need to set the record straight. What most impresses me is the fact that Obama has accomplished so much not from a heavy-handed or top-down approach but from a style that has institutionalized efforts to reach across the aisle, encourage vigorous debate, and utilize town halls and panels of experts in the policy-making process. Beyond the accomplishments, the process is good for democracy and our democratic processes have been battered and bruised in recent years.

Let me know if I missed anything in the list (surely I did).

1.. Ordered all federal agencies to undertake a study and make recommendations for ways to cut spending

2. Ordered a review of all federal operations to identify and cut wasteful spending and practices

3. Instituted enforcement for equal pay for women
4. Beginning the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq
5. Families of fallen soldiers have expenses covered to be on hand when the body arrives at Dover AFB

6. Ended media blackout on war casualties; reporting full information
7. Ended media blackout on covering the return of fallen soldiers to Dover AFB; the media is now permitted to do so pending adherence to respectful rules and approval of fallen soldier's family

8. The White House and federal government are respecting the Freedom of Information Act

9. Instructed all federal agencies to promote openness and transparency as much as possible

10. Limits on lobbyist's access to the White House
11. Limits on White House aides working for lobbyists after their tenure in the administration

12. Ended the previous stop-loss policy that kept soldiers in Iraq/Afghanistan longer than their enlistment date

13. Phasing out the expensive F-22 war plane and other outdated weapons systems, which weren't even used or needed in Iraq/Afghanistan

14. Removed restrictions on embryonic stem-cell research
15. Federal support for stem-cell and new biomedical research
16. New federal funding for science and research labs
17. States are permitted to enact federal fuel efficiency standards above federal standards

18. Increased infrastructure spending (roads, bridges, power plants) after years of neglect

19. Funds for high-speed, broadband Internet access to K-12 schools
20. New funds for school construction
21. The prison at Guantanamo Bay is being phased out
22. US Auto industry rescue plan
23. Housing rescue plan
24. $789 billion economic stimulus plan
25. The public can meet with federal housing insurers to refinance (the new plan can be completed in one day) a mortgage if they are having trouble paying

26. US financial and banking rescue plan
27. The secret detention facilities in Eastern Europe and elsewhere are being closed
28. Ended the previous policy; the US now has a no torture policy and is in compliance with the Geneva Convention standards

29. Better body armor is now being provided to our troops
30. The missile defense program is being cut by $1.4 billion in 2010
31. Restarted the nuclear nonproliferation talks and building back up the nuclear inspection infrastructure/protocols

32. Reengaged in the treaties/agreements to protect the Antarctic
33. Reengaged in the agreements/talks on global warming and greenhouse gas emissions
34. Visited more countries and met with more world leaders than any president in his first six months in office

35. Successful release of US captain held by Somali pirates; authorized the SEALS to do their job

36. US Navy increasing patrols off Somali coast
37. Attractive tax write-offs for those who buy hybrid automobiles
38. Cash for clunkers program offers vouchers to trade in fuel inefficient, polluting old cars for new cars; stimulated auto sales

39. Announced plans to purchase fuel efficient American-made fleet for the federal government

40. Expanded the SCHIP program to cover health care for 4 million more children
41. Signed national service legislation; expanded national youth service program
42. Instituted a new policy on Cuba , allowing Cuban families to return home to visit loved ones

43. Ended the previous policy of not regulating and labeling carbon dioxide emissions
44. Expanding vaccination programs
45. Immediate and efficient response to the floods in North Dakota and other natural disasters

46. Closed offshore tax safe havens
47. Negotiated deal with Swiss banks to permit US government to gain access to records of tax evaders and criminals

48. Ended the previous policy of offering tax benefits to corporations who outsource American jobs; the new policy is to promote in-sourcing to bring jobs back

49.. Ended the previous practice of protecting credit card companies; in place of it are new consumer protections from credit card industry's predatory practices

50. Energy producing plants must begin preparing to produce 15% of their energy from renewable sources

51. Lower drug costs for seniors
52. Ended the previous practice of forbidding Medicare from negotiating with drug manufacturers for cheaper drugs; the federal government is now realizing hundreds of millions in savings

53. Increasing pay and benefits for military personnel
54. Improved housing for military personnel
55. Initiating a new policy to promote federal hiring of military spouses
56. Improved conditions at Walter Reed Military Hospital and other military hospitals
57. Increasing student loans
58. Increasing opportunities in AmeriCorps program
59. Sent envoys to Middle East and other parts of the world that had been neglected for years; reengaging in multilateral and bilateral talks and diplomacy

60. Established a new cyber security office
61. Beginning the process of reforming and restructuring the military 20 years after the Cold War to a more modern fighting force; this includes new procurement policies, increasing size of military, new technology and cyber units and operations, etc.

62. Ended previous policy of awarding no-bid defense contracts
63. Ordered a review of hurricane and natural disaster preparedness
64. Established a National Performance Officer charged with saving the federal government money and making federal operations more efficient

65. Students struggling to make college loan payments can have their loans refinanced
66. Improving benefits for veterans
67. Many more press conferences and town halls and much more media access than previous administration

68. Instituted a new focus on mortgage fraud
69. The FDA is now regulating tobacco
70. Ended previous policy of cutting the FDA and circumventing FDA rules
71. Ended previous practice of having White House aides rewrite scientific and environmental rules, regulations, and reports

72. Authorized discussions with North Korea and private mission by Pres. Bill Clinton to secure the release of two Americans held in prisons

73. Authorized discussions with Myanmar and mission by Sen. Jim Web to secure the release of an American held captive

74. Making more loans available to small businesses
75. Established independent commission to make recommendations on slowing the costs of Medicare

76. Appointment of first Latina to the Supreme Court
77. Authorized construction/opening of additional health centers to care for veterans
78. Limited salaries of senior White House aides; cut to $100,000
79. Renewed loan guarantees for Israel
80. Changed the failing/status quo military command in Afghanistan
81. Deployed additional troops to Afghanistan
82. New Afghan War policy that limits aerial bombing and prioritizes aid, development of infrastructure, diplomacy, and good government practices by Afghans

83. Announced the long-term development of a national energy grid with renewable sources and cleaner, efficient energy production

84. Returned money authorized for refurbishment of White House offices and private living quarters

85. Paid for redecoration of White House living quarters out of his own pocket
86. Held first Seder in White House
87. Attempting to reform the nation's healthcare system which is the most expensive in the world yet leaves almost 50 million without health insurance and millions more under insured

88. Has put the ball in play for comprehensive immigration reform
89. Has announced his intention to push for energy reform
90. Has announced his intention to push for education reform

Oh, and he built a swing set for the girls outside the Oval Office

[RGN: AND He got passed historic health care reform!!!!!!]

I am blessed and highly favored.
The Lord BLESS you and KEEP you.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Breaking Down Health Care Costs

Here is a rather thorough analysis of the health care law from a progressive perspective. RGN

March 24, 2010
ObamaCare by the Numbers: Part 1
Posted by John Cassidy

The New Yorker

Addendum added.

Here goes another post destined to make me unpopular in some quarters. (You can find my previous contribution on the same subject here.)

From a political and historical perspective, the passage of health-care reform is a major victory for liberals, moderates, and even conservatives with a social conscience. It has long been a national disgrace that a country as rich as the United States failed to provide basic health care for tens of millions of its citizens. President Obama, to his credit, finally exploited the Democratic majorities in Congress to tackle this problem, and, in the process, demonstrated that he has an inner resolve and determination that I, for one, had doubted. In getting something—anything—done in today’s Washington, he has reinvigorated his Presidency and transformed the political calculus for the rest of his agenda.

But what about the economics of it all? In general terms, as I’ve said before, the case for reform is unassailable. Health care provides a textbook case of an industry plagued by numerous forms of market failure, including moral hazard, adverse selection, and free riding, as well as ad-hoc government interventions. The result is a horrendously costly mishmash, which manages to combine excessive expenditure in some areas (diagnostic testing) with too little expenditure in others (preventative care), and overall health outcomes that are middling, at best. According to Wikipedia, the U.S. ranks 38th in the global life-expectancy league table, just below Cuba (!) and just above Portugal.

Unfortunately, the reform bills that Congress has passed don’t tackle some of the system’s underlying problems, such as the lack of incentives to limit health-care expenditures. Yes, there is financing for pilot schemes that might eventually generate some savings, and, yes, a new independent board of experts will be tasked with identifying possible cuts, but to conflate these initiatives with a guaranteed cure for cost inflation is to fall victim to wishful thinking. Unless I am mistaken—and I hope I am—the reform will end up costing taxpayers considerably more than the Congressional Budget Office is predicting, and it won’t cover nearly as many people as hoped for. In another decade or so, Congress will be back at work, trying to provide genuine universal coverage at a more affordable cost.

The problem is fundamental. Setting aside the expansion of Medicaid and some long-overdue restrictions on the egregious behavior of health insurers, this isn’t really health-care “reform”: it is a significant expansion of the current system of private insurance, with the taxpayer footing the bill. It is Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts experiment writ large, a peculiar amalgam of egalitarian intent and corporate welfare: egalitarianism in the form of providing health care to those who can’t afford it; corporate welfare in the form of paying corporations such as Aetna and Wellpoint generously to take on millions of new enrollees. If the average American doesn’t realize this, people on Wall Street do. Since Obama’s election, in November, 2008, Aetna’s stock has gone from $20 to $35; Wellpoint’s has gone from $30 to $63.

Even now, I don’t think most people realize the size and scale of the subsidies involved in the new system. Take a typical family of four earning $45,000 a year, which is about twice the poverty line and slightly lower than the median household income. (No, you didn’t misread that statistic. More than half the households in the United States earn less than $50,000 a year.) Come 2014, such a family will be entitled to buy a health-care policy for just above six per cent of their income, or $2,800, with the government picking up the rest of the cost. (If you want to see the figures for other incomes and family sizes, check out the excellent health-care calculator at the Washington Post.)

But what will be the excess cost that the taxpayer has to shoulder? Here is where things get murky. After failing to find any definitive figures, I did some back-of-the-envelope sums of my own and came up with some rough estimates. My actual figures should be treated with skepticism—if anybody knows of better ones, please let me know—but I hope they are accurate enough to illustrate the general point. Using private insurance to expand health-care coverage is inordinately expensive!

According to the Kaiser Foundation, in 2008 the average health-insurance premium for a family of four for employer-based coverage was $12,680. Allowing for the subsequent inflation in costs, today’s figure is probably close to $14,000. By 2014, assuming health-care costs rise by five per cent a year, it will be about $17,000. If insurance companies on the new health exchanges were obligated to offer equivalent coverage, the subsidy per family would be at least $14,300 per family. Put another way, the federal government would be providing the typical lower middle class American family with a new entitlement worth roughly thirty per cent of its pre-tax income.

In practice, the cost might be somewhat lower, because the health plans offered to individuals won’t be as comprehensive as group plans are. Exactly what they will look like remains to be determined, but they will come in four varieties: bronze, silver, gold, and platinum. The bronze plan will cover sixty per cent of all medical benefits; the platinum plan will cover ninety per cent. Since individual insurance generally offers fewer benefits and involves more cost sharing, in the form of deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses, it tends to be cheaper. According to the Kaiser Foundation, the typical premium for non-group coverage for a family of three in 2006/2007 was $5,800. Adding a fourth member of the family (to keep things comparable) and allowing for inflation, brings this figure up to about $10,500 by 2014.

But that figure doesn’t include the cost of expanding coverage to include things the federal government (quite reasonably) wants covered. The Senate bill says this: “All plans must provide preventive and primary care, emergency services, hospitalization, physician services, outpatient services, day surgery and related anesthesia, diagnostic imaging and screenings (including X-rays), maternity and newborn care, pediatric services (including dental and vision), medical/surgical care, prescription drugs, radiation and chemotherapy, and mental health and substance abuse services…. In addition, plans could charge no cost-sharing (e.g., deductibles, copayments) … for preventive care services…. Plans could also not include lifetime limits on coverage or annual limits on any benefits.”

Even with cost-sharing on things other than preventative services, such plans won’t be cheap. All told, it seems reasonable to assume that the price of a typical policy on the new health-care exchanges will be about midway between the price of existing group and non-group coverage, which would put it at roughly $13,750 in 2014 dollars, of which the family earning $45,000 would contribute about $2,800. (See addendum.)

The bottom line: a government subsidy of slightly more than $11,000—or close to twenty-five per cent of the family’s income—all of which will make its way into the coffers of a private health-care company.

Now, that is what I would call redistribution. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of another federal program (or tax policy) that has been so generous to the working and lower-middle classes, at least at the outset. As I noted in my earlier post, and as the Times’s David Leonhardt points out in his column today, health-care reform dwarfs other recent programs designed to help the embattled, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit. And given the way it is being paid for—or not paid for—it is far more progressive than Social Security, which is financed in a regressive manner.

What we have, then, is a historic and overdue effort to provide sound health and peace of mind to a needy segment of the U.S. population. But how will it affect economic incentives, and can it be sustained financially? I will be writing on these questions, and others, in Part 2.

ADDENDUM: After putting up this post, I did some more research into the cost of non-group health-care plans, and it suggested to me that my top-of-the-head sums may have been somewhat off, at least for some parts of the country. In New York City, for example, the current cost of a typical non-group family HMO plan is about $10,000, and in Buffalo it is about $7,500. Allowing for annual health care inflation of five per cent, by 2014 these prices would have risen to about $12,150 and $9,120, both of which are considerably below my guesstimate of $13,750.

As I noted, however, additional government mandates could raise the costs of non-group plans offered on the new exchanges compared to existing non-group plans. For example, current non-group HMO plans often come with high deductibles—up to $3,000 per family—and limits on total coverage. Without knowing how the new health exchanges will operate, and what types of plans will end up being offered on them, it’s impossible to say exactly what level of subsidies a typical uninsured lower-middle-class family will receive. But it is probably fair to take my $11,000 guesstimate as an up

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The White Nationalism of the Christian Right and the Israeli settlements

The Obama administration is to be congratulated for standing up to the illegal settlements the Israelis are proposing to be built in Jerusalem. The Christian right is trying to exploit the administration's stand be labeling the President Obama anti-Israel. The white nationalists are the white nationalists, it doesn't matter if its health care or foreign policy -- they lie!!! The Robert Wright piece exposes Gary Bauer and the right on the strain between the U.S. and Israel. RGN

March 23, 2010, 10:00 pm
Against ‘Pro-Israel’
Robert Wright on culture, politics and world affairs.

Are you anti-Israel? If you fear that, deep down, you might be, I have important news. The recent tension between Israel and the United States led various commentators to identify hallmarks of anti-Israelism, and these may be of diagnostic value.

As you’ll see, my own view is that they aren’t of much value, but I’ll leave it for you to judge.

Symptom no. 1: Believing that Israel shouldn’t build more settlements in East Jerusalem. President Obama holds this belief, and that seems to be the reason that Gary Bauer, who sought the Republican presidential nomination in 2000, deems Obama’s administration “the most anti-Israel administration in U.S. history.” Bauer notes that the East Jerusalem settlements are “entirely within the city of Jerusalem” and that Jerusalem is “the capital of Israel.”

That’s artful wording, but it doesn’t change the fact that East Jerusalem, far from being part of “the capital of Israel,” isn’t even part of Israel. East Jerusalem lies beyond Israel’s internationally recognized, pre-1967 borders. And the common assertion that Israel “annexed” East Jerusalem has roughly the same legal significance as my announcing that I’ve annexed my neighbor’s backyard. In 1980 the United Nations explicitly rejected Israel’s claim to possess East Jerusalem. And the United States, which normally vetoes U.N. resolutions that Israel finds threatening, chose not to do so in this case.

By never criticizing Israel, we’ll all be “pro-Israel.” And that’s a good thing, right?

In short, accepting Gary Bauer’s idea of what it means to be anti-Israel seems to involve being anti-truth. So I don’t accept it. (And if you’re tempted to accept the common claim that Israel is building only in “traditionally Jewish” parts of East Jerusalem, a good antidote is this piece by Lara Friedman and Daniel Seidemann, published on Foreign Policy Magazine’s excellent new Middle East Channel.)

Symptom no. 2: Thinking that some of Israel’s policies, and America’s perceived support of them, might endanger American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan (by, for example, giving Jihadist recruiters rhetorical ammunition). This concern was reportedly expressed last week by Vice President Joe Biden to Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu. And General David Petraeus is said to worry about the threat posed to American troops — and to America’s whole strategic situation — by the perception of American favoritism toward Israel.

Identifying threats to American troops is part of a general’s job, and it seems to me Petraeus could honestly conclude — without help from dark “anti-Israel” impulses — that some of those threats are heightened by the Israel-Palestine conflict and America’s relationship to it. But Max Boot, writing on Commentary’s Web site, seems to disagree; if Petraeus indeed holds such opinions, that’s a sign of “anti-Israel sentiment,” in Boot’s view.

Now, for a lionized American general to even hint that America’s stance toward Israel might threaten American troops is a serious public relations problem for Boot’s ideology. That, presumably, is why Boot tries to show that this “anti-Israel” view, though attributed to Petraeus, is not in fact Petraeus’s view. Specifically, Boot aims to discredit journalists who attributed this quotation to Petraeus: “The [Israel-Palestine] conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel … . Meanwhile, Al Qaeda and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilize support.”

Boot assures us that this passage, far from being a good guide to Petraeus’s thinking, was just “pulled from the 56-page Central Command ‘Posture Statement’ filed by his staff with the Senate Armed Services Committee.” Well, I don’t know who did the filing, but the document itself is titled “Statement of General David H. Petraeus … Before the Senate Armed Services Committee.” So I’m guessing it’s a fair guide to his views — in which case, by Boot’s lights, Petraeus is anti-Israel, right? And in which case I’ll reject Boot’s criterion for anti-Israelism.
Boot has an ally in Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League. Foxman said the perspective attributed to Biden and Petraeus “smacks of blaming Jews for everything.”

America’s perceived support of Israel’s more inflammatory policies endangers American troops abroad and civilians at home.

Foxman’s claim may seem hyperbolic, but look at it this way: If he can convince us that blaming any Israeli policy for anything is akin to blaming Jews in general for everything, then anyone who criticizes an Israeli policy will be deemed anti-Semitic — and fear of that label will keep everyone from criticizing Israel. And by virtue of never criticizing Israel, we’ll all be “pro-Israel.” And that’s a good thing, right?

Actually, it seems to me that if we were all “pro-Israel” in this sense, that would be bad for Israel.

If Israel’s increasingly powerful right wing has its way, without constraint from American criticism and pressure, then Israel will keep building settlements. And the more settlements get built — especially in East Jerusalem — the harder it will be to find a two-state deal that leaves Palestinians with much of their dignity intact. And the less dignity intact, the less stable any two-state deal will be.

As more and more people are realizing, the only long-run alternatives to a two-state solution are: a) a one-state solution in which an Arab majority spells the end of Israel’s Jewish identity; b) Israel’s remaining a Jewish state by denying the vote to Palestinians who live in the occupied territories, a condition that would be increasingly reminiscent of apartheid; c) the apocalypse. Or, as Hillary Clinton put it in addressing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference on Monday: “A two-state solution is the only viable path for Israel to remain both a democracy and a Jewish state.”

So, by my lights, being “pro-Israel” in the sense embraced by Bauer, Boot and Foxman — backing Israel’s current policies, including its settlement policies — is actually anti-Israel. It’s also anti-America (in the sense of ‘bad for American security’), because Biden and Petraeus are right: America’s perceived support of — or at least acquiescence in — Israel’s more inflammatory policies endangers American troops abroad. In the long run, it will also endanger American civilians at home, funneling more terrorism in their direction.

The flip side of this coin is that policies that would be truly good for Israel (e.g., no more settlements) would be good for America. In that sense, there’s good news for Bauer and Boot and Foxman: one of their common refrains — that Israel’s and America’s interests are essentially aligned — is true, if for reasons they don’t appreciate.

Sadly, the Bauer-Boot-Foxman definition of “pro-Israel” — supporting Israel’s increasingly hard-line and self-destructive policies — is the official definition. All major American newspapers, so far as I can see, use the term this way. AIPAC is described as “pro-Israel,” but the left-of-AIPAC J Street isn’t, even though its members, like AIPAC’s, favor policies they consider good for Israel.
No doubt this twisted use of “pro-Israel,” and the implied definition of “anti-Israel,” keeps many critics of Israeli policies from speaking out — Jewish critics for fear of seeming disloyal, and non-Jewish critics for fear of seeming anti-Semitic.

So, if I’m right, and more speaking out — more criticism of Israel’s current policies — would actually be good for Israel, then the newspapers and other media outlets that sustain the prevailing usage of “pro-Israel” are, in fact, anti-Israel. I won’t mention any names.

Postscript: It has been reported that, notwithstanding accounts in Israel’s media, Biden did not, in fact, complain to Netanyahu in private about the threat of Israel’s policies to American troops. Perhaps predictably, the journalist who first reported this is the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, who has been described by one New York Times columnist as Netanyahu’s “faithful stenographer.” I don’t doubt that Goldberg found an administration source who downplayed Biden’s remarks to Netanyahu; obviously, once tensions started to subside, and the goal of both America and Israel was to smooth relations, it wasn’t going to be hard to find an administration official who would do that, regardless of the truth about what Biden said. So I attach little significance to the administration’s revisionist account of what transpired between Biden and Netanyahu — especially given the heat the administration no doubt took over the original account of what transpired.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

It's Time to Fight Back: Color of Change Takes on the Ugly White Nationalism

The is fighting back!! This is a very important struggle. In fact, it may be the most important struggle at this stage of the nation's politics. Let's be clear, this fight over health care is about race. The despicable treatment of members of Congress was clearly about race. With Barack Obama as President, there is no appearance white nationalism is in power in the White House. For a large segment of white society that is unacceptable. John McCain dis get 55% of the white vote. The election outcome defeated white nationalism as the ruling ideology. The T-Party movement is a white nationalist movement. As Keith Olbermann continues to as: where are the black folks? As white nationalism was defeated in the election, it must now be defeated in the body politic. Taking the leadership in this struggle is These fascist tactics that are being condoned by the Republican party must be defeated. Below is a letter distributed to those on the distribution list. RGN

It's time to hold the Republican Party accountable.

You've probably heard about Tea Party members shouting "Nigger!" at Black Congressmen during a protest in Washington, D.C. last weekend. One of the protesters spat on Congressman Emmanuel Cleaver, while another called openly gay Representative Barney Frank a "faggot" as the laughing crowd imitated his lisp.1

But Saturday was just the most recent example of the intolerance and hate coming from right-wing extremists this past year. At times it's been instigated by Republican leaders. When not, it's usually condoned and seen as part of a strategy to score politically. Either way, it's completely unacceptable and has to stop.

It's time to confront Republican leadership and force them to take responsibility for the atmosphere they've helped create. Join us in drawing a line in the sand, and ask your friends and family to do the same:

We're calling on RNC Chair Michael Steele, House Minority Leader John Boehner, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to publicly do two simple things:

1. Unequivocally condemn bigotry and hate among their supporters, and make clear that those who embrace it have no place in their party.

2. Make clear that they will not tolerate fear-mongering and coded appeals to racism from officials in the Republican party, at any level.

Republican leaders publicly denounced Sunday's ugly scene, but they failed to acknowledge that this is only the latest incident in a pattern of violent rhetoric, racially charged imagery, and paranoid conspiracy theories at Tea Party rallies.2 Many Tea Partiers aren't simply about dissent -- they use fear and hatred to assault the very legitimacy of our elected leaders. It's the worst America has to offer.

Despite this, Republican leaders court the Tea Party movement while methodically supporting, exacerbating and exploiting their fear and anger for cynical political ends.3 This is nothing less than a betrayal of American values, and it's up to us to force the Republicans to stop aiding and abetting this enterprise:

The Tea Party movement has been marked by racially inflammatory and violent outbursts since its inception a year ago. GOP leaders are trying to pass off this weekend's assaults on Congressmen Lewis, Cleaver, Clyburn and Frank as isolated incidents. But when so-called "isolated incidents" crop up again and again, a pattern starts to emerge. The examples are numerous.

At rallies held to protest tax day last year, Tea Partiers carried signs that announced "Obama's Plan: White Slavery," "The American Taxpayers are the Jews for Obama's Oven," and "Guns Tomorrow!"4 The Republican National Committee had endorsed the rallies, and RNC Chairman Michael Steele encouraged Tea Partiers to send a "virtual tea bag" to President Obama and Democratic Congressional leadership.5 After reports of the fear-mongering signs surfaced, Steele did nothing to distance his party from the lunatic fringe. He has even gone so far as to say that if he didn't have his current position, he'd be "out there with the tea partiers."6 Some Republican governors even planned a "Tea Party 2.0" for the following month in an effort to build on the rallies' momentum.7

The Tea Party's venomous rhetoric picked up steam over the summer, when angry mobs flooded town hall meetings legislators had organized as sites for rational, civil debate on health care reform. After one meeting in Atlanta, a swastika was painted on the office of Congressman David Scott (D-GA), who had also received a flier addressed to "nigga David Scott." 8 Some protesters showed up at town hall meetings carrying guns, including at least one man who was armed at an event where the President was speaking.9 Again, Republicans responded to these tactics with silence, doing nothing to denounce them.

Similarly, there was no public outcry from Republican leadership when Mark Williams, a leader of the Tea Party movement, was exposed for having described the President as "an Indonesian Muslim turned welfare thug and a racist in chief" on his blog.10 Instead, members of the GOP continued to show up to and endorse Tea Party rallies. And as recently as Sunday -- the day that the historic health care bill passed the House -- Republican members of the House riled up the same Tea Party crowd that had earlier harassed their fellow members with hate and bigotry.

Our country deserves better than this. No matter what party one supports, we should all take strong action to support civil, honest, and respectful public debate. Can you take a moment to call on Michael Steele, John Boehner, and Mitch McConnell to denounce the racist rhetoric and fear-mongering that have been ongoing, significant characteristics of the Tea Party movement, and tell those who embrace these divisive and un-American beiefs that they have no place in their party, as members or leaders? And when you do, please ask your family and friends to do the same:

Thanks and Peace,

-- James, Gabriel, William, Dani, Milton and the rest of the team
March 23rd, 2010

1. "Tea Party Protests: 'Ni**er,' 'Fa**ot' Shouted At Members Of Congress," Huffington Post, 3-20-2010

2. "10 Most Offensive Tea Party Signs And Extensive Photo Coverage From Tax Day Protests," Huffington Post, 4-16-09

3. "Memo Reveals GOP Plan to Exploit Fear of Obama," AOL News, 3-4-2010

4. See Reference 2

5. "Tax Day Tea Parties Officially Endorsed By Republican Party," Huffington Post, 5-15-2009

6. "Steele: I'd join the tea parties," Politico, 1-15-10

7. "GOP govs plan Tea Party sequel," Politico, 5-12-2009

8. "Rep. David Scott's (D-Ga) office spray-painted with Swastika," Daily Kos, 8-11-2009

9. "Armed and Dangerous?" Talking Points Memo, 8-11-2009

10. "Tea party leader calls Obama a welfare thug," The Loop, 9-15-09


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Monday, March 22, 2010

In Response to T-Bag White Nationalism Dems Show Unity

The Tea Party and the GOP, there's was no distinction on Sunday. While the tea party crowd was calling African American Congressmen the N-word and spitting on them and while they were also yelling epithets at Congressman Barney Frank, Republican members of the Congress joined in the demonstration by being cheerleaders holding up signs reading "Kill the Bill" and other denunciations of the health care bill. In defiance of the tea party attacks, the Dems marched to the Capitol to vote arm-in-arm. The question is when will the Republican party denounce these hostile and hateful expression of racism? RGN

Republican lawmakers stir up the 'tea party' crowd
By Dana Milbank
Monday, March 22, 2010; A01

The Democrats were blamed for many horrible things -- tyranny! socialism! corruption! -- as they marched toward Sunday night's passage of health-care legislation, but nobody ever accused them of making health reform look easy.

It all began 14 long months ago, when Ted Kennedy was still alive and everybody, Republicans and Democrats alike, seemed to agree that the nation's health-care system needed change. Then came the town hall meetings, the death panels, the granny killing, the images of Nazi concentration camps, the Cornhusker Kickback, the Louisiana Purchase, Joe Wilson's "You lie!" moment, the middle-of-the-night and Christmas Eve votes, the Massachusetts special election, the Stupak Amendment, the Slaughter Plan, the filibusters, the supermajorities, the deeming and passing.

It was one of the ugliest and strangest periods the American legislative process has ever experienced. And Sunday was no different. The day's debate on the House floor was in its early moments when two men, one smelling strongly of alcohol, stood up in the public gallery and interrupted the debate with shouts of "Kill the bill!" and "The people said no!" As the Capitol Police led the demonstrators from the chamber, Republicans cheered -- for the hecklers.

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who for the second day in a row had homophobic epithets hurled at him by demonstrators, called his Republican colleagues "clowns" for this display. But the circus was just beginning.

As lawmakers debated their way to a vote on the legislation, dozens of GOP lawmakers walked from the chamber, crossed the Speaker's Lobby, stepped out onto the members-only House balcony -- and proceeded to incite an unruly crowd.

Thousands of conservative "tea party" activists had massed on the south side of the Capitol, pushing to within about 50 feet of the building. Some Democrats worried aloud about the risk of violence, and police tried to keep the crowd away from the building.

But rather than calm the demonstrators, Republican congressmen whipped the masses into a frenzy. There on the House balcony, the GOP lawmakers' legislative dissent and the tea-party protest merged into one. Some lawmakers waved handwritten signs and led the crowd in chants of "Kill the bill." A few waved the yellow "Don't Tread on Me" flag of the tea-party movement. Still others fired up the demonstrators with campaign-style signs mocking House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Democrats, to show they wouldn't be intimidated, had staged a march to the Capitol from their office buildings, covering the ground where on Saturday African American Democrats were called racial epithets and spat on by protesters. Pelosi, carrying the speaker's gavel, linked arms with Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), who was harassed Saturday but is no stranger to abuse from his years in the civil rights movement.
Police ringed Lewis, Pelosi and other Democrats while the conservative activists formed a gantlet and shouted insults: "You communists! You socialists! You hate America!"

The tone was little better indoors. Pelosi, holding a news conference after a meeting with her Democratic caucus, was heckled by a demonstrator. Inside the House chamber, Republicans placed on Democrats' chairs photos of the Democratic lawmakers who lost their jobs in 1994. Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) went to the well to say that "freedom dies." Rep. Ted Poe (R-Tex.), sitting in the front row in a way that displayed the Lone Star flag on his cowboy boots, said Democrats were on "the path of government tyranny." Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) warned of a "fiscal Frankenstein."
After hours of procedural delays forced by the minority, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) began the final stage of the debate with an appeal to rise above the insults. "We have seen angry people at the doorstep of the Capitol," he said.

The angry people were closer than Hoyer realized. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) hollered on the floor about "dirty deal after dirty deal." Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) likened the Democrats to Soviets. "Say no to totalitarianism!" he said. Somebody in the Republican seats shouted "Baby killer" at Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), an antiabortion Democrat.

The legislators were making such a ruckus on the floor that they couldn't hear the ruckus just outside their walls. The tea-party demonstrators chanted "Nancy! Nancy!" and held signs saying such things as "Red Queen Nancy -- Joseph Stalin Was Not a Saint."

That would have been the end of it, had Republican lawmakers not stirred things up. First Reps. Buck McKeon (Calif.), Rob Bishop (Utah) and Mike Turner (Ohio) came out waving signs saying "KILL THE BILL." The crowd went wild. Reps. Mary Fallin (Okla.), Geoff Davis (Ky.) and Bill Posey (Fla.) held the "Don't Tread on Me" flag, and Rep. Pete Sessions (Tex.), head of the House Republicans' 2010 campaign committee, came out with half a dozen colleagues and more kill-the-bill signs. Rep. Jeff Miller (Fla.) dangled an American flag from the balcony.

"That's kind of fun," Fallin said cheerfully after a turn at riling the crowd with signs saying "No" in red letters.

Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner (N.Y.), crashing his Republican colleagues' mischief, went out on the balcony and waved. "I feel like Mussolini now!" he said as the crowd booed him.

The noise continued, inside and outside, late into the night. Inside the chamber, civil rights icon Lewis, brushing off the slurs that the demonstrators had sent his way, went into the well. "On this day, on this moment, in this chamber, answer the call of history!" he urged colleagues.

Outside, the demonstrators offered an answer to such appeals. They arranged themselves on the lawn to spell the word "NO."

By the time Minority Leader John Boehner took the floor at about 10 pm, the mood on the floor was barely distinguishable from the mood on the lawn outside. "Shame on each and every one of you," the Republican leader yelled at the Democrats, as the GOP lawmakers gave him a standing ovation. Boehner said the Democrats were a "disgrace" to Jeffersonian values.

"Hell, no, you can't!" Boehner shouted at the Democrats.

"No, you can't! No, you can't!" echoed the protesters outside.

But they could. And at 10:45 p.m., after 14 months of trying, 219 Democrats finally did.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

To Members of Congress: The N-Word or other Epithets

Tea Partiers Prove to be true to themselves. At the protests on Saturday out cam the racism, homophobia, and sexism. Calling Democratic congressmen names and spitting on them was the order of the day. In Buffalo, a Congresswoman's office was vandalized. As much as it is about health care, it is about preserving white nationalism and America as a white nation. Sam Stein of the Huffington Post tells the story. RGN

Tea Party Protests: 'Ni**er,' 'Fa**ot' Shouted At Members Of Congress First Posted: 03-20-10 04:56 PM | Updated: 03-20-10 09:00 PM
by Sam Stein

Abusive, derogatory and even racist behavior directed at House Democrats by Tea Party protesters on Saturday left several lawmakers in shock.

Preceding the president's speech to a gathering of House Democrats, thousands of protesters descended around the Capitol to protest the passage of health care reform. The gathering quickly turned into abusive heckling, as members of Congress passing through Longworth House office building were subjected to epithets and even mild physical abuse.

A staffer for Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) told reporters that Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) had been spat on by a protestor. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a hero of the civil rights movement, was called a 'ni--er.' And Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) was called a "faggot," as protestors shouted at him with deliberately lisp-y screams.

Frank, approached in the halls after the president's speech, shrugged off the incident.

But Clyburn was downright incredulous, saying he had not witnessed such treatment since he was leading civil rights protests in South Carolina in the 1960s.

"It was absolutely shocking to me," Clyburn said, in response to a question from the Huffington Post. "Last Monday, this past Monday, I stayed home to meet on the campus of Claflin University where fifty years ago as of last Monday... I led the first demonstrations in South Carolina, the sit ins... And quite frankly I heard some things today I have not heard since that day. I heard people saying things that I have not heard since March 15, 1960 when I was marching to try and get off the back of the bus."

"It doesn't make me nervous as all," the congressman said, when asked how the mob-like atmosphere made him feel. "In fact, as I said to one heckler, I am the hardest person in the world to intimidate, so they better go somewhere else."

Asked if he wanted an apology from the group of Republican lawmakers who had addressed the crowd and, in many ways, played on their worst fears of health care legislation, the Democratic Party, and the president, Clyburn replied:

"A lot of us have been saying for a long time that much of this, much of this is not about health care a all. And I think a lot of those people today demonstrated that this is not about health care... it is about trying to extend a basic fundamental right to people who are less powerful."

UPDATE 6:55 PM ET: Rep. Emanuel Cleaver's office released the following statement:
For many of the members of the CBC, like John Lewis and Emanuel Cleaver who worked in the civil rights movement, and for Mr. Frank who has struggled in the cause of equality, this is not the first time they have been spit on during turbulent times.

This afternoon, the Congressman was walking into the Capitol to vote, when one protester spat on him. The Congressman would like to thank the US Capitol Police officer who quickly escorted the others Members and him into the Capitol, and defused the tense situation with professionalism and care. After all the Members were safe, a full report was taken and the matter was handled by the US Capitol Police. The man who spat on the Congressman was arrested, but the Congressman has chosen not to press charges. He has left the matter with the Capitol Police.

This is not the first time the Congressman has been called the "n" word and certainly not the worst assault he has endured in his years fighting for equal rights for all Americans. That being said, he is disappointed that in the 21st century our national discourse has devolved to the point of name calling and spitting. He looks forward to taking a historic vote on health care reform legislation tomorrow, for the residents of the Fifth District of Missouri and for all Americans. He believes deeply that tomorrow's vote is, in fact, a vote for equality and to secure health care as a right for all. Our nation has a history of struggling each time we expand rights. Today's protests are no different, but the Congressman believes this is worth fighting for.

UPDATE 7:48 PM ET: The Buffalo News reports that Rep. Louise Slaughter's district office in Pine View, New York, was vandalized on Saturday.

Sometime early this morning, someone threw a brick through the front window of her Pine Avenue office.

The damage was discovered about 12:30 a.m., city police said.

The brick put a hole in the outer-most window at the office at 1910 Pine Ave., but did not damage a second interior window, police reported. A piece of broken brick believed to have caused the damage was found at the scene.

Damage was estimated at $350.

UPDATE 8:57 PM ET: The Associated Press reports that Capitol Police arrested the man who spit on Cleaver, but the Congressman won't press charges.

Friday, March 19, 2010

"Progressive Pragmatism": Is Obama a President of Consequence

The most interesting thing about this piece by Ron Brownstein is that it is reminiscent of an old saying: don't mistake kindness for weakness. According to Brownstein, on the issue of health care, Obama took the risk of doing really big and really risky, stood steadfast on achieving an accomplishment of historic proportions. Essentially, even though Brownstein does not say it exactly, with the passage of health care Obama will have been a consequential president. He will have gotten passed into law legislation a social policy no less important than the 1964 Civil Rights Act, or Medicare, or social security. That is the stuff upon which the terms greatness or at least significant presidencies are born. Brownstein argues, without saying so, that Obama really is a "progressive pragmatist," who is showing strength and determination in his major mission is to “transform America.” RGN

Obama And The Supertanker

The constant in Obama's presidency has been his determination to chart a new course.
by Ronald Brownstein
Saturday, March 20, 2010

At various points in health care reform's long slog through Congress, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel has offered President Obama options to settle for more-incremental change. But at each juncture, Obama has persisted in pursuing a
comprehensive, big-bang bill.

In an interview with National Journal, Emanuel said he has intermittently provided Obama his assessment of "the equities" in more- and less-ambitious approaches, especially "given everything [else] we're trying to do." He continued, "This is what I'm supposed to do as chief of staff. But he has... always said, 'This is what needs to be done,' and he has said he is willing to pay the political price to get it done."

The grueling health care struggle, now nearing a decisive vote in the House, has filled in a picture of Obama that remained stubbornly unfinished through his first year. Most immediately, it has shattered the image of him as a passionless president, too cool to fully commit to any cause.

Win or lose, Obama has pursued health care reform as tenaciously as any president has pursued any domestic initiative in decades. Health care has now been his presidency's central domestic focus for a full year. That's about as long as it took to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964, originally introduced by John F. Kennedy and driven home by Lyndon Johnson. Rarely since World War II has a president devoted so much time, at so much political cost, to shouldering a single priority through Congress. It's reasonable to debate whether Obama should have invested so heavily in health care. But it's difficult to quibble with Emanuel's assessment that once the president placed that bet, "He has shown fortitude, stamina, and strength."

The fight has opened a second window into Obama. The key here is his 2008 campaign assertion that "Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America" more than Richard Nixon or Bill Clinton did. The health care struggle suggests that Obama views changing that trajectory as the ultimate measure of a presidency's success. His aim is to establish a long-term political direction -- one centered on a more activist government that shapes and polices the market to strengthen the foundation for
aim is to establish a long-term political direction -- one centered on a more activist government that shapes and polices the market to strengthen the foundation for sustainable, broadly shared growth. Everything else -- the legislative tactics, even most individual policies -- is negotiable. He wants to chart the course for the supertanker, not to steer it around each wave or decide which crates are loaded into its hull.

Obama's core health care goals have been to establish the principle that Americans are entitled to insurance and to build a framework for controlling costs by incentivizing providers to work more efficiently. He has been unwavering about that destination but flexible and eclectic in his route. He has cut deals with traditional adversaries, such as the drug industry, and confronted allies to demand an independent Medicare reform commission. But Obama has also waged unconditional war on the insurance industry. He has negotiated and jousted with Senate Republicans. He has deferred (excessively at times) to congressional Democratic leaders but has also muscled them at key moments. He has pursued the liberal priority of expanded coverage through a centrist plan that largely tracks the Republican alternative to Clinton's 1993 proposal.

Yale University political scientist Stephen Skowronek, a shrewd student of the presidency, sees in this complex record evidence that Obama and his team are torn between consensual and confrontational leadership styles. The first, he says, stresses "the progressive reform idea of bringing everybody to the table [for] rational, pragmatic decision-making." The second argues "that you transform politics only through wrenching confrontation." Skowronek believes that the most-consequential presidents, such as Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt, usually start with the first approach and evolve toward the second as they encounter entrenched resistance.

Liberals who consider Obama too conciliatory have speculated that his willingness to use the Senate reconciliation process to force a final vote on health care signals a turn toward consistent confrontation. But it seems more likely that he will continue to seek broad coalitions on some issues (education, energy, immigration) while accepting, even welcoming, greater partisan conflict on others (financial reform).

The approaches that Skowronek views as alternatives Obama may consider tools he can wield in different combinations for each challenge. The constant is Obama's determination to turn the supertanker -- and his Reagan-like willingness to bet his party's future on his ability to sell the country on the ambitious course he has set.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Time to Abandon Bi-Partisanship: Time to say No to the Part of No!!

Kutter thinks that Obama has learned an important lesson when it comes to the Republicans: time to forget bi-partisanship. It is obvious that the Republicans are the "party of no." This an excellent analysis on Obama's development as President. Obama's style is reconcile differences in a non-ideological fashion. It seems as though the lesson to abandon "reaching out" to Republicans is a failed strategy and Obama's style the last few weeks in which he is taking on the Republicans is a reflection of lessons learned. Check out Kutter. RGN

The End of an Illusion

Robert Kuttner
Co-Founder and Co-Editor of The American
March 14, 2010 10:30 PM

Are we at a turning point in the Obama presidency? It
took far too long, but the president has belatedly
grasped that when the other party is out to destroy you,
the search for common ground is a fool's errand.

For over a year, Obama believed that reform required him
to govern as a post-ideological bipartisan. Now,
mercifully, he has learned that progressive leadership
demands taking on the Republicans, just as it requires
taking on the insurance and banking industries. There is
little common ground on those fronts either.

Since early March, Obama has begun to sound more like
the bold figure who won the hearts of voters during the
campaign. The showdown is expected late next week.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi seldom schedules a vote without
having a majority in her pocket. With all the bill's
deficiencies, winning its passage would be a triumph,
not just for expansion of health coverage, but for
Obama's capacity to learn and grow in office and defeat
Republican obstruction.

Should he succeed, there will be little public sympathy
for Republican caviling about the use of the
reconciliation progress to, well, reconcile differences
between the House and Senate bills. Technical
parliamentary complaints will seem more like the
bleating of sore losers. Obama can seize the high ground
of majority rule.

And thanks to the sheer extremism of episodes like Sen.
Jim Bunning's attempted blockage of unemployment
insurance, Liz Cheney's association of lawyers honoring
the constitutional right to legal counsel with treason;
and the refusal of Congressional Republicans to back
even token recovery spending, Obama is well positioned
to define a new political mainstream even as he becomes
a more effective partisan progressive.

This odyssey was not an easy journey, and it is far from
complete. Obama's belief in common ground runs very deep
in his being. It remains to be seen whether his
reluctant embrace of partisanship to win the health
reform battle marks a durable change in his governing
style, or a one-off. But a victory on this defining
issue, after months of defeatism, would surely taste
sweet and would very likely mark a shift in Obama's
conception of leadership.

I say all this despite serious misgivings about the
health plan itself. The compulsory mandate is a
fundamental flaw, as Obama himself recognized during the
campaign. There is a world of difference between true
social insurance and a mandate to purchase a private
product. The former reinforces the value of government
and of social solidarity; the latter signals a coercive
state in concert with private industry profits. The
proposed tax on decent insurance was a tone-deaf assault
on wage earners for whom good health coverage is a rare,
reliable island in a rising sea of economic insecurity.
The diversion of Medicare funds was a political gift to
Republicans. And the back-loading of benefits purely for
budgetary reasons made the bill a political piñata, with
the risks evident and the gains deferred.

All of these elements made the plan a harder sell with
legislators of Obama's own party -- but all can be
fixed. At the end of the day, even Congressional
Democrats who worried that voters might punish them for
supporting this measure grasped a more fundamental
political truth: winning beats losing. There will be
time to improve the bill, particularly now that
Democrats have given themselves permission to use
majority rule rather than defer to Republican

Obama's new stance also serves as a role model. Senate
Banking Chairman Chris Dodd's belated abandonment of a
futile bipartisan approach to financial reform provides
a bookend to the president's new partisan leadership on
health reform.

Obama has also just appointed three relative
progressives to the Federal Reserve, including Sarah
Bloom Raskin of Maryland, widely considered the best of
the state financial regulators. There is not a single
businessman or banker in the lot.

Including in the health package an overhaul of the
student loan program, long blocked in the senate, is
another welcome demonstration of presidential nerve. But
prevailing on this first round of health reform will be
just the first step on a long road back.

Though both Obama and the Republicans treated health
reform as the defining issue of his presidency, other
challenges loom far larger. Obama has to do better on
employment, mortgage relief, and financial reform. He
has to deliver more tangible help to people for whom
this recovery still feels like a depression.
Presidential leadership has been crowded out by the
grand distraction of health reform and by Obama's own
reluctance to think bigger and fight harder. In these
critical areas too, corporate and partisan adversaries
have blocked progress. For this to be a true turning
point, his new-found partisanship and bolder progressive
stance must extend to the larger enterprise of restoring

If Obama wins health reform, and goes on to fight harder
for a real recovery program, some future historian
(doubtless guided by extended interviews with Rahm
Emanuel) will report that this latest turn to aggressive
partisanship was all part of the grand design. Obama
would spend his first year seeking bipartisan consensus,
and then when it was clear to one and all that the
Republicans were hopeless obstructionists, he'd spring
the trap.

The reality was a lot messier. Obama's administration
was all over the place strategically, and only came to
presidential toughness belatedly and as a last resort.
But Obama's behavior during the past two weeks does
remind us why we saw great things in this man, and
better late than never.

Robert Kuttner is co-editor of The American Prospect and
a senior fellow at Demos. His forthcoming book is A
Presidency in Peril.

The Original

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Obama to Change Education

The President has been in office a little more than a year. During that time he has accomplished so much for what would be a progressive agenda. You would not realize the extent of his accomplishments by listening to and/or watching the tube. Fox News, followed by its imitators, presents a very negative picture of the President. The health care debate has robbed politics of an integrity -- opposition lies are now treated as respectable talking points. In a related discussion when it comes to this president, "Enhanced interrogation techniques" (e.g., water boarding) are not torture. He is making us less safe. They have no shame. Whatever!! In addition to bringing the nation back from the brink of economic disaster, he has a long list of accomplishments for his first year.

While saving us from economic disaster, taking on the heavy lifting of health care reform that has taken over 70 years to get passed, needing to address the high unemployment rates in the nation but twice the going rate in the black community with a program of jobs, jobs, jobs, the President is now taking on the schools. This is a bold move and likely to be successful since there's an earnestness as opposed to a cynicism that provides the impetus. Central city school have been educational wastelands. This president is determined to do something about it. Institutionalized failure is to be attacked at its core. Ineffective teachers will be weeded out, as will administrators who are just collecting a pay check. Accountability is to be the new order of the day. RGN

March 13, 2010
Obama Calls for Major Change in Education Law

The Obama administration on Saturday called for a broad overhaul of President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind law, proposing to reshape divisive provisions that encouraged instructors to teach to tests, narrowed the curriculum, and labeled one in three American schools as failing.

By announcing that he would send his education blueprint to Congress on Monday, President Obama returned to a campaign promise to repair the sprawling federal law, which affects each of the nation’s nearly 100,000 public schools. His plan strikes a careful balance, retaining some key features of the Bush-era law, including its requirement for annual reading and math tests, while proposing far-reaching changes.
The administration would replace the law’s pass-fail school grading system with one that would measure individual students’ academic growth and judge schools based not on test scores alone but also on indicators like pupil attendance, graduation rates and learning climate. And while the proposal calls for more vigorous interventions in failing schools, it would also reward top performers and lessen federal interference in tens of thousands of reasonably well-run schools in the middle.

In addition, President Obama would replace the law’s requirement that every American child reach proficiency in reading and math, which administration officials have called utopian, with a new national target that could prove equally elusive: that all students should graduate from high school prepared for college and a career.
“Under these guidelines, schools that achieve excellence or show real progress will be rewarded,” the president said in his weekly radio address, “and local districts will be encouraged to commit to change in schools that are clearly letting their students down.”

Administration officials said their plan would urge the states to achieve the college-ready goal by 2020.

The No Child law, passed in 2001 by bipartisan majorities, focused the nation’s attention on closing achievement gaps between minorities and whites, but it included many provisions that created what Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Friday called “perverse incentives.”

In an effort to meet the law’s requirements for passing grades, many states began dumbing down standards, and teachers began focusing on test preparation rather than on engaging class work.

“We’ve got to get accountability right this time,” Mr. Duncan told reporters Friday. “For the mass of schools, we want to get rid of prescriptive interventions. We’ll leave it up to them to figure out how to make progress.”

The administration’s turn toward education signaled that the president hoped to get beyond health care and broaden the agenda before the midterm elections make progress on legislative issues more difficult.

Mr. Duncan has been working behind the scenes on rewriting the No Child law with a bipartisan group of senior lawmakers in both chambers, and administration officials say they hope to complete work on a new bill by August, when the elections will dominate the Congressional agenda. Many skeptics question that timetable.

And while leading Congressional Democrats praised the plan, the nation’s two major teachers unions did not. “We are disappointed,” said Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said of the proposal, “From everything that we’ve seen, this blueprint places 100 percent of the responsibility on teachers and gives them zero percent of the authority.”

Christopher Edley Jr., a former Clinton administration official who is dean of the law school at the University of California, Berkeley, and an expert on civil rights law, said a briefing document he read had left him concerned about the administration’s direction.

“I worry about retreating from the notion of quality education as a civil right,” Mr. Edley said. “N.C.L.B. had some good sticks in it to compel equity. I’m alarmed by the frequent references to ‘incentives,’ and the apparent intention to reduce the federal role in forcing compliance.”

Representative John Kline of Minnesota, the top Republican on the House education committee, was also skeptical. “From 30,000 feet, the blueprint seems to set a lot of right goals,” Mr. Kline said. “Yet when we drill down to the details, we are looking at a heavier federal hand than many of us wish to see.”

But Susan Traiman, a director at the Business Roundtable, a group that represents corporate executives, called the proposals a “really positive step forward.” The business community especially liked the proposed new goal of helping all students graduate from high school ready for college and career, Ms. Traiman said.

Administration officials laid out their blueprint in briefings Friday and Saturday with governors, lawmakers, education organizations and journalists. Officials said they intended to leave the drafting of a bill up to Congress.

Mr. Duncan was scheduled to tour Iowa schools on Sunday with Senator Tom Harkin, the Iowa Democrat who is the new chairman of the Senate education committee. In a statement, Mr. Harkin called the proposals a “bold vision” that could help “fix the problems with the No Child Left Behind Act.”

Representative George Miller, Democrat of California and chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor, said, “This blueprint lays the right markers to help us reset the bar for our students and the nation.”

Under the current law, testing focuses on measuring the number of students who are proficient at each grade level. The administration instead wants to measure each student’s academic growth, regardless of the performance level at which they start.

The complete article

Rahm Emmanuel: The Good and the Not so Good.....

Rahm Emmanuel has been in the news recently from what has sounded like he was protecting his own image at the expense of the President. Much of the left has seen him as the enemy inside the White House. It was reported that back in the fall he referred to progressives as "a bunch of (expletive deleted) retards." It was progressives who worked the hardest for Obama’s election. Yet, rather than a “transformational” President like Reagan, we have noticed bi-partisanship erode opportunities for progressive gains. This compromise seems more like the DLC than the real d/Democrat we trust Obama to be. Below is a New York Times Magazine article on Rahm. “Rahmanism…. By Peter Baker. While some of Rahm’s advice may seem to be too cautious, Baker is pretty convincing that he serves Obama well. Let's just hope the man who worked the Congress to get us NAFTA is working his magic for the success of a progressive agenda. RGN

The Limits of Rahmism: He was chosen as Whit House chief staff because he could make things happen. What happened?

by Peter Baker

Rahm Emanuel, President Obama’s chief of staff, is arguably the second most powerful man in the country and already one of the highest-profile chiefs of staff in recent memory. During the transition, he played a crucial role in the selection and courtship of nearly every cabinet member and key White House staff member.

Renowned as a fierce partisan, Mr. Emanuel, who had hopes of becoming House speaker, stepped into a job characterized by short tenures, high burnout rates and the need to subjugate personal ambitions to the service of the president. As a staff member in the Clinton White House, a three-term House member from Chicago and the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, he was viewed by many as a consummate purveyor of a crass, kneecapping brand of politics.

Mr. Obama, who settled on his fellow Chicagoan to be his chief of staff well before he was elected, was drawn to Mr. Emanuel's experience in both the White House and Congress and called him ''the whole package'' of political acumen, policy chops and pragmatism. Mr. Emanuel was also a skilled compromiser. He initially resisted taking the job, but accepted after Mr. Obama insisted and assured him that the position would be the functional equivalent of ''a No. 2'' or ''right-hand man.''

In March 2010, after more than a year in the White House, Mr. Emanuel and his boss were facing a time of conflict and discontent. Mr. Obama and Mr. Emanuel, an unlikely tandem of inspirational leader and legislative mechanic that was supposed to enact the most expansive domestic program since the Great Society, have come nowhere close to accomplishing their goals.

After a Democratic debacle in January 2010 in Massachusetts — the loss to the Republicans of Ted Kennedy's Senate seat, which cost Democrats their Senate supermajority — Washington has engaged in a favorite exercise, conducting the autopsy before the body is actually dead. How had it come to this? How did the president's legislative drive drag on for so long that the surprise loss of a Senate seat could unravel it? Did Mr. Obama make a mistake by disregarding his top adviser's counsel? Or was it Mr. Emanuel who failed to execute the president's strategy? Was it both, or perhaps neither?