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The Short & Happy Presidency of Barack Obama
posted by Steve Blank on May 16, 2009

That’s life
That’s what people say
Flyin’ high in April
Shot down in May
—Frank Sinatra

Not since the ’69 Cubs or Skylab has our nation bore witness to such a spectacular fall from the heavens.

After running what was arguably the most brilliant presidential campaign in American history, Barack Obama won the 2008 election with a record number of votes and took office with a mandate for change. Polls indicated that the country was eager for an abrupt change in leadership and wanted an end to Bush policies including the occupation of Iraq, corporate tax policies that favored the wealthy, corporate access to the Treasury and a blatant disregard for our environment. Additionally, the large turnout for Obama was a call for job creation, immigration reform and universal healthcare. The people had spoken and they got their man.

Yet despite such clear ideological delineations, most Americans had highly contrasting expectations for the new presidency. Conservatives feared Obama would reveal himself to be a socialist while progressives hoped he would be the FDR of our times. Independent voters, for the first time representing the largest block of the electorate, were simply voting against eight years of W.

For everyone who wanted change, the rumblings of discontent should have begun immediately upon Obama’s appointments of Clinton-era corporate henchmen Rahm Emanuel and Lawrence Summers and Bush Defense Secretary Robert Gates, not to mention Timothy Geithner from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Within months it became clear that the new President was on a mission to emulate the Clinton presidency, defined by corporate-friendly policies and double-edged social policies that please nobody. Relying on a platform derived straight from the Democratic Leadership Council’s “sellout to the right” strategies written in response to the success of Ronald Reagan, Obama proceeded to court support from the most powerful sectors of society while shouting out to the people who voted for him with soaring rhetoric that hearkened back to his inspirational campaign.

While Clinton’s first year was marked by stunning defeats, Clinton 2.0 would be different under Obama. With a huge Democratic advantage in the House and a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, Obama planned to begin his tenure by succeeding exactly where Clinton failed… by passing a sweeping healthcare reform bill. And he had one more ace up his sleeve. He would usurp opposition from the big corporate interests by letting them shape the legislation in their own image. Their godly status would be “insured” by the passage of healthcare “reform,” not threatened by it.

It all seemed too easy. What could go wrong?

Simple. A healthcare bill cobbled together by congressional sellouts and corporate lobbyists is not what the people want. It’s sad that the most vocal opposition to Obama’s healthcare plan came from disillusioned former Republicans turned independents (now identified as Tea Baggers). The real opposition should have come from sensible, sentient Americans who knew all along that universal healthcare is only possible by eliminating the profits enjoyed by insurance companies and replacing them with a government-provided insurance, a single payer system. But after having just voted for him, Obama supporters were not up to questioning his big decisions so soon. He abandoned the people and struck out on the same old corporate path as his predecessors, and his leadership in the movement for change was ended. By protecting him, Obama’s supporters ensured his demise.

Last night, looking up in the sky’s over Massachusetts, shards of the Obama presidency were seen hurtling toward earth. The speed of their descent was breathtaking. Will our leaders ever learn?

Land of the Free?

By Steve Blank 9/17/09

For a minority of Americans, the notion of single payer health insurance is more than they can bear. These not-so-kind folks are apprehensive about paying taxes to ensure that all Americans have a health care safety net. They equate free markets with freedom, and like to frame public funding of health care as a threat to democracy.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Single payer sets you free.

You can be rich.
You can be poor.
You can be unemployed.
You can be self-employed.
You can start a business without worrying about the enormous cost of providing health care to yourself and your employees.
You can be queer and live with your partner without worrying about the legal right to share benefits.
You can have pre-existing conditions without worrying about qualifying for a private insurance plan.
You can see any doctor anywhere because the entire nation is in the network.

The list goes on.

You can be an artist.
You can be a stockbroker.
You can be mentally ill and receive the consistent, comprehensive treatment you need to prevent a crisis.
You can be an Iraq war vet.
You can be a senator or CEO.
You can be homeless.

And single payer, like Medicare, will operate with a 3% overhead cost. Private insurance operates at ten times that rate, with consumers paying 30% extra to cover the wasteful overhead costs for private administration and marketing fees. Single payer has far greater buying power than any of the 1300 private health insurance companies, resulting in substantially reduced rates for medicine and equipment.

Single payer helps free our children from a future of hopeless debt.

Single payer frees you from bureaucracy and paperwork because everyone knows how your services are being paid for. It’s an open door model with an emphasis on access. People deserve to know that health care is there for them whenever they need it.

Single payer provides freedom from fear and worry.

But freedom isn’t free. We have to pay for single payer insurance with our taxes. And that’s what makes the aforementioned minority of Americans so angry.

They oppose single payer and prefer the option of paying through the nose for private insurance companies. Evidently they enjoy the privilege of being charged more and receiving them less, as has been the trend with private insurance plans over the past ten years. They actually prefer private bureaucracy to an infinitely more streamlined government plan. But worst of all, they prefer knowing that people are suffering for lack of access to health care… and this small minority is fine with that.

It’s time the majority takes hold of the health care reform issue. Freedom means single payer… now.

NO-BLUEsmallObama’s Better Angels vs. the Corporate State 8/8/09

The issue of health care reform has made me feel even more like an outsider than usual. While conservative opposition to H.R. 3200 is unjustly based upon an expansion of coverage paid for by an increase in taxes, my opposition comes from the other direction. I am convinced that the bill, cobbled together by everyone from Tammy Baldwin to Blue Dogs to Blue Cross Blue Shield will amount to little more than a conduit for cash to private insurance firms.

First of all, the claim that the public option will effectively “keep private insurers honest” is dubious because AHIP has already lobbied to set minimum costs for the public plan. That means that even if the CBO or a specially-dedicated auditing department were to account for all of the coverage to be offered under the plan, they could not set a price for consumers that simply covered those costs (like a non-profit agency would). Instead, they would have to set a price that AHIP determines the private insurers can compete with.

Second, by mandating coverage, the plan ostensibly amounts to an enormous parade of consumers to be marched in front of the so-called “Health Care Exchange.” This is where insurance companies compete with the public option. As someone familiar with marketing techniques, I do not expect this to be a level playing field. In fact, I suspect that the slander we see and hear from the right about “socialized medicine” will continue unabated at this exchange because the plans are side by side, unlike Medicare, which exists separately (for now).

Unlike most liberals and some progressives, I will not support the plan because it represents Obama’s best chance to win the next election. The only way I will even consider supporting the plan is if it retains the Kucinich/Weiner proposal for states’ rights to enact their own Single Payer plans. This proposal passed the Education and Labor Committee a couple of weeks ago with bipartisan support.

See this 13-minute interview with Dennis Kucinich:

http://tinyurl.com/m4mrwe

I really enjoyed Robert Kuttner’s book, Obama’s Challenge. Written on the eve of the election, he lays out his hopes that Obama will use his political capital to set forth of series of mandates for real reform. He describes how the country was ready to be led down such a path by the right person, and how Obama, during the campaign and in the past, has alluded to such an agenda. He makes the case that Obama possesses the unique gifts to be a transformative president (like Lincoln, FDR and Johnson) and demonstrates how those figures overcame seemingly insurmountable opposition to change the course of the nation. Unfortunately, he also lays out a series of traps that Obama could easily fall into, including hiring Clintonistas to head the banking system (which he did), unnecessarily embracing the right in an attempt to gain bipartisan support (which he does consistently), and trying to tackle health care reform before clearly demonstrating that his brand of stimulus would end the recession and create jobs. Kuttner argues that only after the country truly understands that spending money wisely can save the economy can he attempt to reform health care with what he already knows is the most promising hope for saving our economy and helping millions of Americans; expanding Medicare (implementing Single Payer).

Imagine the consequences of unemployed and underemployed Americans living in poverty, having free (not mandated) access to comprehensive care, including preventative care, birth control and end of life care. Imagine employers, large and small, deleting the health insurance component from their human resources department. Imagine a progressive tax structure that would restore humanity to a nation that has lost its soul.

While he is a remarkable politician, I am convinced that Obama lacks the more important gifts that so many of us hoped he indeed possessed. To borrow his rhetoric, I suggest that he lacks the integrity to be guided by his “better angels.” Instead, he is guided by the all too visible hand of the corporate state.

June 10th Call to ACTION for Single Payer Healthcare!

It’s time for our elected officials to deliver the change we voted for! The United States continues to pour billions of dollars down the black hole of pointless wars while fifty million Americans cannot afford basic health insurance. Even though President Obama said that health care is a right, Single Payer national healthcare has been taken off the table.

What is wrong with our national priorities? How can we afford illegal wars and massive bailouts for Wall Street but not Single Payer healthcare? We need to stand up for what we really want! If you want Single Payer healthcare join us for a demonstration in front of Madison’s city-county building (215 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.) on Wednesday, June 10th at noon.
Special THANKS to David Koene for this call to action

White Phosphorus in Afghanistan
Is Obama presiding over the use of white phosphorus in Afghanistan? According to this AP report, at least 14 Afghan patients have been treated for severe burns the doctors have never seen before.
—Steve Blank

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