July 20, 2009

Cantwell and the Public Option

At the July 9th rally, we presented a box of 291 pages of signatures collected by Moveon.org to Senator Cantwell's office. We wanted to get a clear statement of her position on the public health care option for the crowd and media gathered outside.

Her office presented us with a letter (dated July 9th) that was unambiguous in her support for a public option:

Let me be clear: a public option needs to be part of health care reform. I am pushing for a public option that will keep insurance companies honest by competing to drive down costs and improve quality nation-wide. This plan needs to be accountable to the people and must work to provide the best coverage for the best price.

I also received letter in the mail shortly afterward from the Senator dated one day earlier that says,

"An effective public option could help improve access to high quality health care....however, this will only be achieved if we take full advantage of our opportunity to overhaul America's health care system, instead of just expanding the flaws that exist in the current Medicare program."

Good news, right? The Senator pretty dramatically shifted her position from one day to the next.  Except that she has issued no press release to this effect, and news media are left guessing about her intentions.

Is the Senator saying one thing to protesters and another to the general public?  If so, why?

By Will Friedman in Health Care | Permalink | Comments (0)  | 

July 11, 2009

Hey, we're on TV

Our health care rally got picked up on the evening news, in the Seattle PI, in the Stranger, and on local blogs including one of the most prominent, HorsesAss.org.

Here's the King 5 newscast:

And here are some links to more coverage:

Please let me know if you see any more articles!

By Will Friedman in Health Care | Permalink | Comments (0)  | 

July 08, 2009

Thursday's Health Care Rally Featured in the Seattle PI


[T]he real craziness -- in a country where 46 million citizens lack health insurance -- is that so many have remained on the sidelines.

The most powerful lobbies in American society sure are involved.

By Will Friedman in Health Care | Permalink | Comments (0)  | 

July 07, 2009

Urgent: Health Care will be Fixed in July or Not At All

"I think it's fair to say that July is going to be the most historic and consequential period for health care reform --perhaps in all of history.  Never at any time that I can recall has so much come down to just a few weeks."

--Former Senate Majority Leader and Health Care Expert Tom Daschle, speaking today

The reason for the urgency is the timeline Congress operates on: basically there needs to be a draft bill ready before the August recess in order to get a bill done by the end of 2009.  If there is no bill by the end of the year, it's highly unlikely that a new plan will come together during Obama's presidency, and the issue will continue to worsen as it has since the last health care reform attempt in 1993, 16 years ago.

I'm personally passionate about the health care issue because I have a friend who is literally a health care exile. He has diabetes and is an independent contractor.  This is a lethal combination in the US.  He cannot get private health care because of his "pre-existing condition," and he can't work for a company because he is in a particular line of work (advising failed states on incorporating American values on media laws into their new constitutions) where it's very hard to find a company who will employ him.  He's even offered to pay for all diabetes-related expenses in order to get a private health care plan, but no insurance company would agree.  As a result he lives in France along with his wife (also an American citizen) and their two children.

I'm also passionate because my Mom would like to retire after having worked hard her whole life (she's a physicians' assistant at a nursing home), but she continues to work in order to pay for the health care to cover my Dad's prescriptions.  I'm also passionate because my Aunt, who is over 70 and lives on a fixed income after having worked at a university her whole career, pays $700 a month just for prescriptions because of the "doughnut hole" in Medicare Part D. 

And their stories are nothing compared to families that have gone into personal bankruptcy to cover health care costs, or had a loved one die because they couldn't get preventive care, early treatment or screenings.

Maybe you, or someone you know has had trouble getting the care they need at manageable prices.  If you're passionate about fixing this problem, your not alone. But it's not clear yet that Senator Cantwell (D-WA) understands the scope of the problem.  She sits on the crucial Senate Finance committe, but she has not come out in support of giving Americans a choice between a public and a private plan.  She has some ideas about health care, but it's not clear they are enough to really fix the problems my family and my friends have.  And given the urgency of getting this settled in July, time is short.

We need to push Senator Cantwell (whom I campaigned for, by the way) to come out clearly in support of guaranteed health care for all Americans, while giving us choice and control. Please join us for a short rally in front of the Senator's office downtown on Thursday at lunch time (12:15p).  More details here: http://tinyurl.com/seahcr.  If you can't be there, please get involved in other ways (ask me how).

Please help spread the word by telling people about this event and sending a link to the details.

Want to learn more? Listen to this NPR story from this morning.
Learn more about other rallies in the US on the same day.

By Will Friedman in Health Care | Permalink | Comments (0)  | 

April 01, 2009

Poisson d'Avril

I just love April Fools day.  My April Fools Day blog posts usually make me laugh all day long, though no one else seems to enjoy them as much as I do.  That’s probably because they usually mix an impenetrable reference to French culture with a wonky allusion to American politics. I cannot tell you how much I cracked up at my own post "Paris-based Hyper Delegate Supporting Clinton" last year.  (What ever happened to Rick Rolling, anyway?) 

On April 1, 2006 I wrote a post called “Rumsfeld Resigns,” which thankfully came true some time later. Then though a fluke of Google’s indexing algorithm, that post became the first search result for the topic.  It was definitely the most traffic this blog has ever seen (well, maybe tied with the Fous Ta Cagoule translation.)

In 2005 I posted what I now realize was a highly obscure faux news item about the French businessman and politician Bernard Tapis purchasing the NHL.  That one got a lot of yucks--NOT.

That’s as far back as they go, because I started writing Latte in November 2004.

Since November 2008, I haven’t been as inspired to post.  It’s partially due to a temporary sense of “mission accomplished,” and a lot due to me spending my free time nesting as we prepare our house for our first baby.

So this year I don’t have an April Fools day post to crack myself up with, and I don’t expect to do a ton of posting in the near future. 

But Happy April Fools Day everyone!  And watch your back, or you may get a Poisson d’Avril

By Will Friedman | Permalink | Comments (1)  | 

January 27, 2009

Mitch McConnell's Plan to Worsen the Economy

Paul Krugman wrote a compelling column in December called 50 Herbert Hoovers, about how state governments are cutting back on spending even though they're making the economy worse by doing so.  He wrote,

No modern American president would repeat the fiscal mistake of 1932, in which the federal government tried to balance its budget in the face of a severe recession. The Obama administration will put deficit concerns on hold while it fights the economic crisis. But even as Washington tries to rescue the economy, the nation will be reeling from the actions of 50 Herbert Hoovers — state governors who are slashing spending in a time of recession, often at the expense both of their most vulnerable constituents and of the nation’s economic future.

 Why are they doing this?

State and local government revenues are plunging along with the economy — and unlike the federal government, lower-level governments can’t borrow their way through the crisis. Partly that’s because these governments, unlike the feds, are subject to balanced-budget rules. But even if they weren’t, running temporary deficits would be difficult. Investors, driven by fear, are refusing to buy anything except federal debt, and those states that can borrow at all are being forced to pay punitive interest rates.

We have evidence right here in Washington State, where the government is being forced to cut education, public safety, health care, and other critical services. And there are cuts at the local level too. The Seattle school board is closing schools, and King County has eliminated prosecutors, police, and workers in the courts system and elsewhere. Even those cuts were alleviated by raiding funds set aside to maintain infrastructure and by requiring County employees to take a two week furlough. The Seattle Times quoted Superior Court Presiding Judge Bruce Hilyer, who said "if the courts take further cuts, 'The criminal-justice system is going to look like a train wreck.'"

These state and local cuts are exactly what the US economy doesn't need right now.  And only the Federal government can help.

But here comes Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who wants to take grants to states out of any economic stimulus package.  In an interview with NPR's Renee Montagne,

McConnell said the government should consider offering financial help to states in the form of loans, instead of grants. That approach could have an added benefit, he said: "I think they'd be more careful in how they spent it."

McConnell is completely out of touch if he thinks states are going to spend this aid profligately.  They just want to keep schools open, to keep professors employed, to maintain infrastructure, and to protect public safety.  Any fat was cut out in much earlier rounds of budget planning.

But McConnell's not alone—the Republican party position is to oppose direct aid to states. Just this past Sunday, House Minority Leader Boehner cited this aid as a key reason he plans to vote against the stimulus plan in its current form.

So what's McConnell's big idea?  What's Boehner's solution?

You guessed it.  Obama's $300 million middle class tax cut is not enough for McConnell and Boehner. They want more tax cuts for the rich, and less stimulus.  Hasn't anybody told these guys that we already tried that for eight years?  Have they seen the results?  I thought the Republican leadership had realized they need some new ideas if they want to stay relevant.  You would not know it to listen to McConnell and Boehner.

By Will Friedman in Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)  | 

December 01, 2008

So You Think The Auto Industry Should Be Allowed To Fail

Later this week, the CEOs of GM, Ford and Chrysler will return to Washington to make what will hopefully be a much better case for why the government should give their companies $25 billion in support. Leading up to that appearance, technology commentators in Silicon Valley (like this one and this one) have ventured far outside their area of expertise to call for the government to let the auto companies fail. They're being echoed by their Seattle counterparts as well.

Having just returned from the Detroit area where I spent Thanksgiving with my family, I believe wholeheartedly that this is a horrible idea.

Lord knows, much of the criticism of the auto industry is justified. It's true that the CEOs' first D.C. appearance was lamentable, deserving of the lampooning they received on Saturday Night Live and elsewhere.  These guys need to put forward a concrete plan, and it's crazy they didn't present one the first time, especially after Obama had basically given them the answer they should have provided: seriously reforming their business practices while focusing on more fuel efficient vehicles.

And so far, the auto makers (and the Michigan congressional delegation led by Senator Carl Levin) have hidden behind the argument that people just don't appreciate the reforms Detroit has already made.  Levin said on a recent Meet the Press appearance:

GM now produces more models getting more than 30 miles per gallon, twice as many, as any of its competitors.  Ford, Chrysler are moving into the hybrids.  We're doing the plug-ins.  GM is going to lead the way in plug-in hybrids if people will recognize that this isn't the '70s when the, when the Big Three were producing inferior products. 

While there may be some truth to this, it's far from good enough.  The 30 MPG that Levin cites is based on the faulty Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) measurement, which EPA has shown are 5-20% overstated, or worse. And a March '08 report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration showed that even going by the CAFE measurements for domestic automobiles, Honda and Toyota (at 35.2 and 34.7 respectively) outperformed the big three (at 29.5 for Ford, 29.4 for GM, and  29.3 for Chrysler), who barely exceed the minimum requirements. 

So these CEOs need to come back with a plan that goes well beyond just saying that what they're already doing is good enough.  And they need to do it in a big way.  For example, I'd love to see the automakers make a gesture like pledging to stop making new SUVs.  Just leave that part of the market to someone foolhardy enough to stay in it. Or pledge, as Toyota already has, to provide a hybrid option on every vehicle they sell. They've got to show that they understand that any financial support will be contingent on improving fuel economy and helping to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. And the CEOs have got to cut their own salaries, ideally to $0, while this bailout is going on.

They're probably not going to be big enough or bold enough.  If not, Congress needs to spell it out for them even more clearly than Obama already has, and to demand new CEOs. But they cannot allow the auto industry to collapse. Because Michigan is in big trouble already, even with the auto industry more or less intact.

Michigan's unemployment rate has already worsened over the past year so that now it is worse (at 9.3%) than France's (under 8%). Housing prices are through the floor.  If you are a tech commentator living in Seattle or SF and you think the housing market is weakening, just imagine what it would be like to try to sell a home in Detroit right now, where the average price of a home is $73,000, and the average price per square foot has already fallen to $34.  (Average home price in Seattle: $663,000, avg/sq ft: $354.  Average home price in SF: $1,227,450, avg/sq ft: $648.)  And the low price of gas in the Detroit area (at $1.68 late last week) is not enough to help; it's probably only making things worse.

On a national level, for all the comparisons of the current economic situation to the 1930's, things haven't gotten nearly as bad.  But if the auto industry crashes, things are going to get much worse than they are now, starting in Michigan. Congress needs to push the auto industry in the right direction, but it cannot allow it to fail.

By Will Friedman in Politics | Permalink | Comments (2)  | 

November 11, 2008

The Onion on the Election Results

"Obama Win Causes Obsessive Supporters To Realize How Empty Their Lives Are:"


And then there's this article: "Nation Finally Shitty Enough To Make Social Progress." 


By Will Friedman in Election '08 | Permalink | Comments (0)  | 

November 05, 2008

Obama's Organization

So much to be proud of.  One thing that stood out for me this morning, listening to the cacophony of commentary about "history in the making," is that we won a fair fight.  Obama had a better, more consistent message, incredible fund-raising, better debating skills (eventually), and perhaps above all, an incredibly solid organization.

One last story will illustrate my own experience, serving as I did as a tiny leaf in the giant organizational tree that was the Obama campaign. Tuesday morning I went out for one last day of volunteering, having let my colleagues know I was taking the day off.  I arrived at the meeting location at 8:15a, and by then there were so many volunteers that my precinct had already been given to another volunteer.  I took another one in the neighborhood (thankfully near a Starbucks).  A few people were home, all of them Obama supporters, most of them very nervous. I helped one woman locate her new polling location since the original location was closed.  The rest I just reassured, counting on Nate Silver's projections to hold. For those who weren't home I left door hangers with information about their polling station.

Returning to the meeting location, I looked at the grids on the wall listing all the precincts in the 46th District.  All of them had already been canvassed. Holy shit.  It wasn't even 11a. I found Erica, the regional organizer. She said that I could call the people who hadn't been home and leave one last message, but then another organizer came over to say they already had people calling all of them.  There were at least 500 volunteers in just this corner of Seattle. "Would you like to have lunch?" Erica asked.  "We have volunteers with turkey sandwiches."

In the end I went back to work, to the great consternation of my colleagues.  But at that point, it was done. All those volunteers over all those months had done their work.  Chris Gregoire, a good governor and a terrible campaigner who won four years ago by just 133 votes after two recounts, would ride to victory on Obama's coattails with a very safe margin (more than 130,000 votes with 64% reporting, and the margin likely to grow as King County comes in).

As so it was in so much of the country, where Democratic governors (seven), senators (at least five), and representatives (at least 19) gained ground thanks to a favorable political climate and thanks to the Obama organization.  What was maybe even overkill in Washington State was decisive in swing states: in Virginia, in Nevada, in Indiana?!?!, in Ohio, in Florida, and elsewhere.

I guess Obama's experience as a community organizer was worth something after all :)

By Will Friedman in Election '08 | Permalink | Comments (0)  | 

Freedom Fries?

Why the French never took John McCain that seriously:

Mccain foods

John McCain: not to be confused with McCain Foods.

McCain Foods Limited, fondée en 1957, est une entreprise canadienne spécialisée dans la transformation et la distribution de produits alimentaires. Elle est surtout connue en tant que productrice de frites.

McCain Foods is known above all for disgusting "American-style" microwave/freezer fries.  The French are often astonished that Americans have actually never heard of McCain fries; the company is Canadian.

I guess it's only fair; at one point I was surprised to learn that the French do not consider French fries to be français. "They're from Belgium!"

By Will Friedman in Election '08 | Permalink | Comments (1)  | 

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