The Long Road Back

NDN Senior Advisor Alicia Menendez on MSNBC 7.15.2011

NDN Senior Advisor Alicia Menendez on MSNBC 7.15.2011 regarding Obama and the debt ceiling vote.


NDN President Simon Rosenberg on FOX- 6/29

NDN President Simon Rosenberg was on FOX News this morning regarding President Obama's re-election chances in the current economic climate:

Fixing the Health Care Bill

Note:  Ordinarily, I write about clean technology matters, but the Senate health care vote today is so important to the country's future that I want to weigh in on the issue.  In my view, certain provisions of the bill raise grave issues. There is still time, however, by fixing key provisions, to make a better bill and prevent political disaster.  In casting their votes today, members of the Senate should make it clear that they reserve the right to modify this version of the bill in the final House and Senate package.

This morning, Christmas Eve, at 7AM, the Senate is expected to vote on party lines to pass a Health Care bill. All Democrats and two independents will vote for.  All Republicans will vote against.  The bill will pass but not in the way that anyone likes to see important legislation advance.

It is no secret that opponents of the bill have been virtually on the point of taking up arms. Supporters from Democratic leaders to Paul Krugman in the New York Times have generally argued that the bill has issues but contains more good than bad.  It caps a period that has been among the worst for any political party in recent history, sending President Obama's approval ratings plummeting from overwhelming positive to below 50%, the generic Democratic Republican matchup from about +10 to -9 and Congressional approval ratings lower.  Harry Reid is now trailing in polls in his home state.  In short, the bill has already exacted a high price from Democrats but is likely to exact an even greater price this fall. 

Here is how to improve the bill and stave off a political and policy disaster.

First, the bill has some features that enjoy broad support, notably a Patient's Bill of Rights that prevents exclusion for pre-existing medical conditions.  This is good policy and good politics.  This alone would have been a major accomplishment and political winner for the Obama Administration.  Unfortunately, this positive element has been lost in discussion of other elements of the bill. Two provisions, both of which punish key progressive constituencies, stand out as so deeply flawed they should be deal killers.  If the majority party is to recover from this chapter in political history, it must remove these provisions from the final House Senate version of the bill.

First, both the House and Senate bills force all Americans to purchase insurance from a private company or face the legal consequences.  President Obama campaigned against this idea, the so called individual mandate, which owes its existence in both the House and Senate bills to the relentless pressure of insurance company lobbyists.  The impact of this provision will fall most heavily on the young, poor and minority who have the least money to purchase health insurance and the least organizational skills to comply with a federal mandate.  Bruce Western at Harvard University who studies criminal justice has shown that the huge expansion of prison population in recent years has occurred among minorities locked up for the most part for administrative crimes like missing court dates not traditional common law offenses.  Once in the system, they no longer have a shot at upward mobility and often see their lives spiral downwards.  The health mandate will create a new category of offense that will disproportionately impact the young and poor.  More fundamentally, however, forcing American citizens to write a check every month to the Aetna corporation for the privelege of turning 18 runs deeply counter to the American tradition of freedom.   The provision which has so deeply troubled liberals like Howard Dean must be dropped from the final bill.

Second, the bill imposes a tax on good quality health care plans.  This is baffling politically as it targets union workers, a mainstay of the Democratic party--as well as anyone who has what the bill is supposed to provide.  The union struggle for quality health care has been at the center of the fight for social equality for more than a Century.  Taxing union benefits is deeply punitive to the labor cause as it will not only take money away from members but have the secondary effect of making it harder to organize.  Anyone with quality healthcare will instantly see a decline in their welfare from the bill.  More fundamentally, however, normally, one levies excise taxes on undesirable things, for example, cigarettes and alcohol.  Indeed, taxes on "bads" impacting health such as tanning salons which subject people to UV rays make sense in a healthcare package.  Taxing quality health care plans, in contrast, as the Senate has done in a bill designed to provide just that is not only counter-intuitive but imposed in place of a general tax or one on the wealthy, deeply regressive.  This provision, not present in the House bill, must be dropped in any final bill.

One can debate the political wisdom of pushing ahead with a bill that the American public so disklikes.  However, that debate is over.  The task now is to change the bill so that there is less to dislike, allowing the parts that do work to stand on their own and make the bill better as a result. 

In short, it is late in the game but not too late to fix these two flawed provisions. Failure to do so will have steep policy and political consequences.  Fixing them is not only good policy but good politics. 

Newt Gingrich Rips Off Ross Douthat, Messes with California

Is it just me, or does this column from today's FT by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich sound an awful lot like the one written a month ago by New York Times conservative columnist Ross Douthat?

Gingrich, like Douthat, uses California as a model for how states shouldn't manage their finances, and, like Douthat, uses Texas as a model for economic and budgeting brilliance. The only difference is that Gingrich avoids the explicit liberal and conservative name-calling that is a hallmark of Douthat's column, but even a cursory read uncovers the implicit partisanship.


California, like so many other states facing budget shortfalls, is a victim of decades of reckless spending and unsustainable budgets. It was not always like this. The Golden State’s government services and public institutions – including its prisons – were models for the country in the 1960s and 1970s. But Californian policymakers stopped planning for the future. The state’s population ballooned from 23m in 1980 to 36m in 2008, and demographics shifted dramatically due to immigration. Roads, schools and prisons built with 1975 in mind are now crumbling and overcrowded.

The narrative that Gingrich again tries to push, that always blue California is about to fall into the Pacific because it loves lefty agendas that offer profligate spending, is historically illiterate. The "Californian policymakers" about which Gingrich writes, who took the top notch services and schools California had in the 1970s and ruined them, were the conservatives who started the Reagan Revolution and the national tax revolt. They passed Proposition 13, essentially destroying the California property tax base.

I'm not going to go into the conservative destruction of California too much more; I wrote plenty about this ridiculous meme when Douthat published a column from the same set of talking points. On a serious policy note, let's just say that I agree with Gingrich that California "needs to rethink its long-term budgeting strategies," but that starts with a sensible tax code that generates the kind of revenue Californians demand, not by messing with the extremely flawed Texas model.

California "Always" Liberal? Ross Douthat Must Be Dreaming

In yesterday's New York Times, conservative columnist Ross Douthat accuses President Obama of "pushing a blue-state agenda during a recession that’s exposed some of the blue-state model’s weaknesses, and some of the red-state model’s strengths."

Asking readers to consider California, which he places against the stellar conservative governance of Texas, Douthat notes:

California, always liberalism's favorite laboratory, was passing global-warming legislation, pouring billions into stem-cell research, and seemed to be negotiating its way toward universal health care.

(his link points to a Time article about Arnold Schwarzenegger's work in this area, who, last I checked, has an R and a 28 percent in state approval rating next to his name)

While California is undoubtedly a national leader in trends of all stripes, understanding the legacy of California governance as being "liberalism's favorite laboratory," couldn't be more wrong. The reasons for California's epic struggles lie, not in the "always liberalism" that Douthat sees, but instead in the Ronald Reagan conservative tax revolt coming home to roost.

In contrast to, say, California's efforts on energy policy, which research shows have created prosperity in the state over the last generation, the tax revolt defining Proposition 13 destroyed a top notch public schools system and, more recently, rendered the state bankrupt. The 1978 ballot initiative, which capped property taxes and mandated a 2/3 rule for the state legislature to pass a budget, has created a structural shortfall in the state budget and a political inability for legislators to craft a solution -- but Douthat doesn't see fit to mention it.

Conservatives love to argue that California has incredibly high tax rates, and, in the case of some specific taxes, that's true. But that's only because Proposition 13 so drastically lowered property taxes as to necessitate raising taxes to compensate for lost revenue. As Ezra Klein, in discussing Robert Samuelson's op-ed on California (which, like Douthat's piece, conspicuously fails to mention Prop 13), notes this morning:

Total state and local taxes take up 11.73 percent of the average Californian's income. The national average is 11.23 percent. And it's been like that for many years:


Far from being "always" liberal, California's electoral votes were supposed to be safe for Reagan's Republicans, giving them a generational lock on the White House. Here again, California was ahead of the nation, this time in discovering that conservatives couldn't govern and is now as deep blue as the Pacific Ocean.

Now that the nation has learned its lesson from eight years of red-state governance under Douthat's vaunted Texas leadership, America followed California, this time for the better, in overwhelmingly rejecting failed conservative governance. Blue-staters (a lot of folks these days) have only had six months on the job after eight years of botched "red-state" governance. It will be a lot longer than that if conservatives like Douthat can't even figure out where they went wrong; Proposition 13 was certainly one of the first places.

Update: Ezra Klein just blogged on Douthat's column as well. He does a nice job taking down the argument that Texas is a good model for anything and the broader red-blue frame that Douthat tries to use.

Reflecting on How Our Concept of Race Is Changing

The Times has a wonderful piece today which takes a deep look into how the concept of race is evolving in America today:

MILWAUKEE — Although the civil rights movement gave Samuel Sallis equality under the law a long time ago, he was left wanting most of his life, he says, for the subtle courtesies and respect he thought would come with it. Being a working-class black man downtown here meant being mostly ignored, living a life invisible and unacknowledged in a larger white world.

Then Mr. Sallis, 69, noticed a change.

“I’ve been working downtown for 30 years, so I’ve got a good feeling for it,” Mr. Sallis said. “Since President Obama started campaigning, if I go almost anywhere, it’s: ‘Hi! Hello, how are you, sir?’ I’m talking about strangers. Calling me ‘sir.’ ”

He added: “It makes you feel different, like, hey — maybe we are all equals. I’m no different than before. It’s just that other people seem to be realizing these things all around me.”

As the readers of this blog know well we believe this nation is in the midst of perhaps its most profound demographic transformation since the arrival of the Europeans here in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries.   Due to large waves of non-white immigration over the past 45 years, America has seen its minority population triple, ending what was America's longstanding white-black, majority-minority racial construct.  Current projections have American becoming a majority minority country in the next 30 years. 

It was inevitable, given how our population was changing, that the America of the 21st century would end up having a very different - and much more tolerant - attitude towards race than any America that had come before. But the election and early success of our remarkable President, Barack Hussein Obama, the self-described "mutt," has hastened this process, allowing this nation to begin to truly realize, perhaps more than any time in our history, the radical promise of equality of opportunity offered by our Founding Fathers.

I was born in 1963, the last years of an America before the changes brought about by the Civil Rights, Voting Rights and Immigration Acts of the mid 1960s.   The legacy of this period, of Lyndon Johnson and JFK, of Martin Luther King Jr. and so many others is so profound that sometimes I am literally overwhelmed by all this.  But this week, as we saw images of President Obama horsing around in the Oval Office with Caroline Kennedy, we are reminded that the two beautiful children of our President today are not John-John and Caroline but Malia and Sasha - and what a different, and better world, this is today.

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