Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Beyond Obamacare

Healthcare.gov will be fixed. People will sign up and reap the benefits of universal health coverage starting in January. So what’s next?

No doubt, the Republicans will continue their quest to reverse the limited progress made to date. They will try to deny coverage to many, eliminate the cap on “administrative” costs to insurance carriers, and cut preventative care, which saves lives and money.

Democrats are counting on the projected ubiquity and success of Obamacare after January to lock it in and to shut down the GOP’s incessant and futile efforts to repeal. They’re wrong. Just take a look at other successful programs like Food Stamps. The Republicans are not hesitant to take food from children and veterans in the name of fiscal responsibility. They’re not even hesitant to shut down the government in the name of fiscal responsibility either, knowing that their shutdown cost tens of billions of dollars. And some Democrats are complicit, confusing “blackmail” with “compromise.”

But for now, let’s assume Obamacare survives the wounds being inflicted by the mean-spirited GOP. Like Medicare and Social Security, the Affordable Care Act will be meshed within the fabric of society while still being constantly attacked. So what’s next?

Recognizing that Obamacare is not health care reform, but rather insurance reform, the next logical step would be to join other developed nations that have better health outcomes in implementing some type of single-payer health care system – Medicare for all.  But that will be a challenge for the next generation. In today’s environment, when the mantra of one political party is “I’ve got mine. Too bad for you,” transformational change in health care is going to be a long, hard struggle. Add to that the lobbying power of insurance companies, whose profit is based on the maladies of the American people, and you have a recipe for the status quo at best, and regression at worst.

Even though it may take a generation to make the real improvements to American health care through single-payer, that’s no reason not to start the effort now. But there are other things we can do in the short term to make real progress, too.

One of the best parts of Obamacare is that it mandates free preventative care. This not only improves outcomes, but early detection of diseases also results in less expensive treatment, helping the fiscal balance sheet.

Unfortunately though, even with early detection, people will still suffer from chronic ailments like diabetes, cancer, mental illness, and other diseases that will require long-term, expensive treatment. But that doesn’t have to be. With the help of government, scientific research has eliminated similar diseases like polio, smallpox, and malaria. We should strive for the same thing with today’s diseases. For example, cures for cancer would not only save lives, but would dramatically reduce health care costs.

Unfortunately, funding for medical research is one more area that the troglodytic Republicans in Congress feel they must attack. Politics trumps science as evidenced by George W. Bush’s unilateral shut down of embryonic stem cell research early in his first term. (As an aside, I wonder how many lives would have been saved if the Supreme Court had allowed the Florida vote count to proceed in 2000.)


Today’s House of Representatives has a dangerous anti-science bias. Funding for medical research should be increased, not slashed. Sure, it will cost money in the short term. So did the research that led to the polio vaccine. But thanks to the foresight of previous generations, we are not paying billions of dollars to treat people with polio. This generation needs the same foresight. We need to elect representatives who understand that good scientific research pays off with savings in money as well as in lives.


A version of this diary was originally posted on Blue Jersey

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda in Two Words

Well, New Jersey is stuck with Governor Chris Christie (or later, Governor Kim Guadagno) for four more years. People decided to vote for a myth perpetuated by an Orwellian taxpayer-funded propaganda machine instead of a candidate who represents their best interests. And whose fault is that? Democrats.

Buono could have won if she had the support of the party. Buono should have won in a “blue” state. Buono would have won if she had had the requisite financial support to get her message out.

Not all Democrats were Christie enablers. People like Senator Loretta Weinberg and Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman were proactive supporters of the challenger. On the national level, Governors Martin O’Malley and Deval Patrick came to New Jersey to stump for Buono. To all of them, I have two words: Thank You.

Some supporters were late to the game, like DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman-Shultz and then-Mayor Cory Booker.  To these late-to-the-game players, I also have two words: “Nice try.”

Some key Democrats opted out of getting involved. Quite an un-patriotic thing to do. Bill and Hillary Clinton supported their friend Terry McAulliffe in Virginia but couldn’t they have made one appearance in the Garden State? Barack Obama had his photo op with Chris Christie but treated Buono as if she were invisible. Joe Biden swore in Jeff Chiesa and Cory Booker but acted as if Amtrak never went past the 30th Street Station. To them, I have two words: “Why not?”

But the big problem is that many Democrats proactively supported His Arrogance. “Democrats” like Brian Stack and Joe DiVincenzo are traitors to their party and should not receive one cent of support from the party coffers. Other Democratic organizations gave lip service to the Buono campaign and went through the motions, but their support was shallow and non-convincing. To all those “Democrats”, I also have two words.

Friday, November 1, 2013

To New Jersey Democrats Who Plan to Vote for Christie on Tuesday

The person you vote for is your prerogative. People who always vote strictly on party lines are probably not really thinking things through. Heck, I’m a Democratic committeeperson but have occasionally opted for a Republican either because I really felt that candidate was better than his or her opponent or I wanted to strengthen the two-party system by voting for a sane Republican. Unfortunately, they are a dying breed.

My guess is that you’re voting for Christie for one of two reasons.

Let’s get the first reason out of the way first, because it’s insidious but probably not that pervasive unless you are a Democratic officeholder. You’ve either negotiated a quid pro quo with the Christie campaign or you’re allowing yourself to be bullied so that your municipality doesn’t suffer from the Wrath of Christie. You’re the anti-Buono – not because you don’t like the Democratic candidate, but unlike Buono, you are sacrificing your principles for political gain. To that I say, “shame on you.”

The more likely reason that you’re voting for Christie is that you have fallen for his propaganda – the mythical persona created by his campaign and his staffers, and abetted by the media. In his 1968 campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, George Romney said that he was “brainwashed” by the generals on the status of the Viet Nam war. It doomed his campaign, but in 20/20 hindsight, we know that Romney was right.

Today, many Democrats and Independents are being brainwashed by a taxpayer-funded propaganda machine that would make the KGB drool. YouTube videos show Christie triumphantly standing on a reconstructed boardwalk, while blocks away Sandy-damaged homes are littering the shore landscape and their owners are still displaced. Christie campaign material touts a balanced budget, even though every governor in recent history has met that constitutional mandate. What’s not mentioned is that Christie’s accomplishment was done on the backs of public workers, the middle class, and the poor using one-shot gimmicks. You’re being fooled into believing that Christie is a moderate Republican because he’s not as crazy as Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, but you’re ignoring the fact that Christie is in the pocket of the same Koch Brothers who granted Steve Lonegan his 15 minutes of fame. Repeatedly.

So, my fellow Democrats – take the easy path and don’t do your homework. Vote for Christie because you buy into his myths and that’s the easy thing to do. Let New Jersey slip further back into an economic morass while your taxes are used to provide breaks for the wealthy. And a year from now, enjoy your voter’s remorse as you pass my car on the Turnpike with my bumper sticker that reads, “Don’t blame me – I voted for Buono.”

Monday, October 21, 2013

Faces of Equality

As I've been covering the marriage equality struggle for Blue Jersey over the last few years, I've had the privilege of meeting many of the hard-working folks who have seen their efforts come to fruition today. Some of them are in the photo, below. Whether I have a photo of you or not, you have all been an inspiration to me. Observing the workings in the halls of Trenton (or Washington) can make a person cynical of politics, but our victory today makes it all worthwhile. Your strength and perseverance is uplifting to me.


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Jon Runyan's Politicalization of Health Benefits

Recently, Congressman Jon Runyan sent out this letter to some of his constituents. Never mind the fact that the recipient of this copy is not Medicare-eligible, the letter shows that Runyan is more concerned with scoring political points than helping his constituents.

The letter was sent out on the eve of the sign-up period for Obamacare, something that the recipient of this letter might qualify for. Yet, there’s no mention in the letter on how to enroll or where to get more information. 

This is not surprising because Runyan has been a solid vote for the anti-healthcare Tea Party platform. That’s his prerogative. But he shouldn’t be misusing his franking privilege by leaving out an important program that his constituents can benefit from.

Congressman Runyan's Misleading Letter

Monday, September 23, 2013

Elections are not Horseshoes

The most optimistic supporters of Barbara Buono’s gubernatorial campaign are quick to point out that the gap between the challenger and the governor in the poll numbers is closing. Let’s assume that this gap continues to get smaller and that Buono loses the election by a small margin, say two percent.

Some Buono supporters will be mildly disappointed, but nevertheless ecstatic. Disappointed because their candidate lost, but ecstatic that she almost toppled the most popular politician in America. Buono’s campaign staff will move on and put this statistical “upset” on their résumés as they seek jobs for the 2014 campaigns.

There’s a saying that goes, “coming close only gets you points in horseshoes and thermonuclear war.”

Don’t ever assume that a close and underwhelming victory by Chris Christie will humble him. Remember when his mentor, George W Bush lost the 2000 election? Despite the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court decided to disenfranchise Florida voters and the fact that Al Gore won the popular vote, upon taking office Bush acted as if he had a mandate to promote the conservative agenda. Christie will do the same if our election is close. He’ll use state resources in court to fight the anticipated override of his veto of marriage equality. He’ll continue to throw lucrative state contracts to his cronies. And he’ll move further to the right on disenfranchising the poor and middle class in order to enhance his presidential ambitions.

A close loss for Buono is still a loss. Not only for her, but also for the people of New Jersey. That’s why it is critically important to pull off the electoral upset of the decade. Her own party is not helping her, so it’s up to the people to pull out all the stops to send Chris Christie back to his Mendham mansion permanently.

Despite the numerous missteps of Buono’s campaign staff, it’s time for anyone who gives a damn about this state to volunteer for the campaign. You hate making phone calls? Well, do you hate making phone calls more than you hate what Christie is doing to your state? You can’t afford to contribute to the campaign? Well, if you’re poor or in the middle class, the dollars that you don’t contribute will come back to bite you as higher fees and fewer services if Christie is re-elected.


Bush “won” in a close election, and the nation is still trying to recover from the mis-steps and damage he precipitated. A second Christie term will result in similar damage to the state – social, economic, and political – and it will take years to recover. A close election is not good enough. Let’s not make the same mistake twice.


Sunday, July 14, 2013

Balderdash



According to the NRA, we don’t need gun safety laws because criminals will not obey these laws. The NRA’s argument is that law-abiding citizens would be the only ones affected, and they would be inconvenienced by new gun safety laws.

According to a Florida jury, George Zimmerman is a law-abiding citizen. So by the NRA’s logic, his behavior would not change one iota if there were more stringent gun safety regulations in Florida.

Balderdash.

Suppose Florida had a law requiring law-abiding gun owners to carry liability insurance, just as most states require automobile owners and home owners to carry liability insurance.  Since insurance is sold on the open market by private companies, the cost of this insurance would be market-driven and risk-based.

I don’t know whether Zimmerman would have had trouble getting liability insurance before he murdered Trayvon Martin. If that were the case, and Zimmerman had gone out on his vigilante patrol without the required insurance, he could have been convicted and sentenced on those charges, regardless of how the altercation had played out. On the other hand, if Zimmerman was a law-abiding citizen and could not afford the insurance and consequently was not carrying a gun, Trayvon Martin would be alive today.

It puzzles me why liability insurance has not been a big part of the gun safety debate. If gun dealers and gun owners required proof of insurance at every sale, like auto dealers do today, we would not eliminate gun violence but we could reduce it and have more convictions of murderers.

Even if you accept the preposterous assertion that Trayvon Martin started the altercation, and given Zimmerman’s verdict of “not guilty”, it’s clearly demonstrated that Zimmerman has a propensity to get into trouble with guns. A market-driven insurance mandate would today raise his rates, just as if I were in an auto accident that was the other guy’s fault, my rates would go up. The insurance company’s logic is that I would have a propensity for accidents. If there were laws mandating gun liability insurance, today Zimmerman would be required to pay a substantially higher premium before the Florida police return his gun to him (which they did today.) Seems like a good idea.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

New Jersey Marriage Equality Rally and Press Conference

On Thursday, June 26, there was a rally on the steps of the State House in Trenton to urge New Jersey's elected officials to enact marriage equality in the state. Sponsored by Garden State Equality, Lambda Legal, and the American Civil Liberties Union, a vociferous crowd gathered under the hot sun and heard from advocates and legislators. Afterwards, a press conference was held inside the State House Annex. Below are links to videos of the various remarks.


Rally

Senator Barbara Buono
Troy Stevenson, GSE
Udi Ofer, ACLU
Hayley Gorenberg, Lambda Legal
Marie Corfield, LD-16 Candidate

Interview with Udi Ofer
Press Conference

Senator Barbara Buono
Asm. Reed Gusciora
Asm. Tim Eustace
Hazel Gluck
Senator Loretta Weinberg
Senator Ray Lesniak
Q&A


You may also be interested in:

NJ Legislature Hearings on Marriage Equality - February 2012

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Voter Suppression in New Jersey

Today’s Supreme Court decision is historic. Lest you think voter suppression is a problem for the Deep South, and not a problem in New Jersey, think again. A lot has been written about today’s Supreme Court decision effectively rescinding Congress’ power under Section 2 of the 15th Amendment. In a conference call this afternoon, Sherrilyn Ifill of the NAACP summarizes today’s decision as follows (audio): Governor Chrisite may not be as blatant about voter suppression as his buddy Ted Cruz, but he’s an acolyte of the GOP line of restricting access to the ballot box. He vetoed an early voting bill, claiming that it would cost too much (even though he concocted another costly voter suppression scheme by holding the Senate vote 20 days prior to his attempt to maintain his power in the State House.) Governor Howard Dean minces no words in describing today’s Supreme Court Decision. And the re-election of Governor Christie will certainly exacerbate the right to vote here in New Jersey as he takes a sharp tack to the extreme right in his quest for the White House.

Yes to Oprah. No to Suffering Kids

Yesterday, the New Jersey General Assembly passed a bill that would facilitate palliative care for children by allowing them access to certain marijuana-related drugs. The bill next goes to Governor Christie's desk where he will decide whether or not to allow parents to access these drugs in order to ease the pain and suffering of their children. These small kids suffer seizures and other medical conditions and often require expensive hospitalization. The drugs would not cure these symptoms, but would make the little children's lives less unpleasant and do not produce the "high" that is associated with marijuana.

After the bill passed, several parents asked for an audience with the Governor, presumably to urge him to sign the legislation. Incredulously, the Governor refused to grant them even a few minutes - instead pawning them off on a staffer.

It's difficult to understand the Governor's priorities. He apparently has time to gallivant across the country to promote himself and his education-industrial complex buddies. But he doesn't have the time to meet with parents of New Jersey kids suffering from debilitating diseases. He has the time to be in photo ops celebrating Federal dollars that Senator Menendez and the late Senator Lautenberg secured for hurricane relief, but says the use of medicinal marijuana is a slippery slope to making New Jersey more like California.

I don't see the right-wing using the term "compassionate conservative" any more. Perhaps even they can't live with that lie.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Barbara Buono - #NN13 Rock Star

Barbara Buono came to Netroots Nation in San Jose to extend her campaign to a national audience, and she did not disappoint anyone. Each year at this conference, there are a few candidates who become rock stars at the event. Last year that included Elizabeth Warren and Tammy Baldwin. This year, it was Barbara Buono's turn. After each appearance, the friendly audience of liberal bloggers and activists lined up to speak with her and have their picture taken. She mingled with a crowd at a reception sponsored by Emily's List, and gave a rousing speech (the best I've seen from her) at a candidate's forum which included other progressive icons like Senator Jeff Merkley and Congressman Keith Ellison. Earlier in the day, I met Buono at a café down the street from the Convention Center. Below is that interview. She talks about her mission at the conference, the special election, the budget, women's issues, and the choosing of a candidate for Lieutenant Governor. Below the fold: some photos of her interactions with the Netroots crowd.

Emily's List Reception
Candidate's Forum

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Fools

“I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee - that says, fool me once, shame on - shame on you. Fool me - you can't get fooled again.”
- Chris Christie’s mentor and patron, George W Bush

In a column extoling the support that Chris Christie is receiving from certain “Democrats”, Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Matt Katz discusses the reasons why the governor has received accolades. Unsurprisingly, it boils down to money and power.

What Katz and the general public fail to see is the wolf in sheep’s clothing. Christie is one of the most astute politicians of our lifetime. He rarely blunders in his quest for political power and influence, and his taxpayer-funded squad of spin doctors is among the best in the business.

They say that history repeats itself, and that is becoming apparent in the political ascent of Chris Christie.

Christie’s boss won re-election to a second term because the nation was traumatized by the 9/11 disaster. As Katz points out, Christie’s surge in popularity is based primarily on the governor’s handling of another disaster, Hurricane Sandy. This, despite the fact that any chief executive worth his or her salt would have handled similar disasters with compassion and decisiveness. Christie had the added advantage of learning from his bungling of previous natural disaster, “snowmageddon,” during which he took a hands-off approach while he was unsurprisingly out of state.

If he’s re-elected, Christie will make every decision of his second term through the lens of the 2016 Presidential election. That means he will accelerate his right-wing anti-middle class, anti-environment agenda while cleverly presenting the persona of a bipartisan leader. In a field of Republican candidates who are typically extreme, irrational, and bigoted, Christie will position himself as the sane and rational choice for the presidential nomination. (Whether the irrational core of the GOP power structure opts for a sane candidate is the subject of another article.)

As a result, New Jersey will suffer. Not only because Christie will keep his eye off of the ball locally, but because he will take a sharp tack to the right if he wins a second term.

Of course, things would be much worse in a second Christie administration if the Democrats lose control of either or both houses of the legislature. But as we have seen, and as Katz points out, many powerful Democrats are complicit with Christie’s consolidation of power into the hands of unelected officials and the governor’s office. The way New Jersey’s government is set up puts the governor in the driver’s seat.

We saw what happened after George W Bush won a second term. The economy tanked and despite the intransigence of the GOP House, President Obama and his team were able to rescue the nation from the brink of financial disaster after Bush went back to Texas. Let’s not be foolish again and give Chris Christie the opportunity to do similar damage to New Jersey.


“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”
- Chinese Proverb