Thursday, October 31, 2013

Are Liberals Just as Bad as Republicans When it Comes to Rhetoric and Spin on the Affordable Care Act?

No one's ever accused me of being a patsy for the Republican Party. To the contrary, I've been a staunch supporter of President Obama, Democrats and the liberal agenda. I've also loudly, vociferously and consistently criticized the GOP for driving a wedge into our political system with its self-serving, obstructionist tactics. But what I've been witnessing and personally experiencing this week regarding the Affordable Care Act controversy has me wondering if, in the end, liberals are no better than their conservative counterparts.

Talk to a passionate Democrat and they'll more than likely offer you this lofty opinion of themselves: "We're the smart ones. The rational and logical ones. The ones who care about others. We're better than they are." But are they? Perhaps Washington is broken not just because of Republicans, but because of Democrats as well. As the saying goes, it takes two to tango... and liberals have been dancin' up a storm this week. 

The liberal spin on the ACA mess is astounding, and mirrors the typical partisan tactics of the GOP. Let's start with how Democrats are giving Obama an inexplicable total pass on the bold, unequivocal promises he's made repeatedly about ACA:

"If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor, period. If you like your health-care plan, you'll be able to keep your health-care plan, period. No one will take it away, no matter what."

"And if you like your insurance plan, you will keep it.  No one will be able to take that away from you.  It hasn't happened yet.  It won't happen in the future."

Pretty clear, right? " matter what." Yet the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that 10-million Americans will be forced into policy cancellations by their current providers (because their current coverage doesn't meet the new ACA standards) and have to buy new, possibly more expensive policies from these same insurers or from the ACA exchanges. So are liberals--who'd typically be outraged by this kind of blatant lie, misrepresentation or incompetence from a Republican--demonstrating outrage and demanding accountability? No. Instead, they're spinning like mad. Like Republicans. They claim that the new insurance will be better. Maybe so. But that still doesn't mitigate or excuse " matter what."

Then there's the condescending spin that these existing policies are nothing more than "substandard, worthless plans." Again, maybe so. But Obama never said "If you like your health care plan, you'll be able to keep your health care plan -- if we deem it to be adequate."

Perhaps the most egregious spin of all is this one: "Obama said if you like the plan you have you can keep it. He did not say if you like the plan you have they will keep you!" Really? This is the most fascinating parsing of words since the Bill Clinton days of "depends on what the definition of "is" is."

Self-righteous liberals now find themselves condescendingly lecturing people that they're too stupid to know that their current policies are dreadful and worthy of termination, and that they should in effect be thankful that these smarter liberals are forcing new, more expensive policies on them. To see liberals stoop to the same shameful, disingenuous spin levels of Republicans is quite disheartening.

It's been a rough week for ACA, Obama, and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and with good reason. Within the administration's ranks, the media, at Congressional hearings and on Main Street they've been skewering on the hot seat and have been forced to profusely apologize for the health care law's botched roll-out. Yet so many liberals are holding firm in their belief that ACA is perfect and wildly beneficial while summarily dismissing the opinions and experiences of others who may be negatively impacted by it. That makes them no better than the myopic, fanatical Tea Party "patriots" whom they loathe.

Yes, Washington is indeed broken, as so is the American electorate. People have become so angry, polarized and drunk on the party Kool-Aid that objectivity has all but disappeared. There's no middle ground anymore. No ability to appear or sound rational or logical. No right and wrong. Just red and blue.

To be sure, Obama could find the cure for cancer and most Republicans will criticize him for it while defending the overall merits of this dreaded disease. Similarly, Republicans could be 100% spot-on about something and most liberals will swiftly and summarily dismiss it simply because it comes from the right. It's become almost impossible to have an intelligent political conversation because most people can't objectively discuss a policy subject without injecting convoluted, hyperbolic partisan rhetoric.

These Republibs, as I call them, will practically call you a traitor if you don't toe the party line 100%. I had one old friend tell me yesterday that I "should vote Republican then" simply because I acknowledged ACA's flaws (despite being an ardent supporter of it) and suggested that Obama re-attempt a bi-partisan dialogue for the fix. Sadly, we live in a culture now where "compromise" and "objectivity" have become bad words.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Are Republicans Right About the Affordable Care Act?

The Affordable Care Act was ushered in with hyperbolic partisan fanfare, along with a bold promise from President Obama than anyone currently holding insurance would be able to keep their coverage and doctors, and that health care premiums would decrease not increase. But as we now know from the past several weeks, the rollout of ACA has been nothing short of a disaster. This includes the botched launch of the website; the fact that millions of people are receiving cancellation notices from their insurance companies; that premiums are, in many cases, increasing appreciably; that hardly anyone has been able to sign up for coverage, including, and especially, the 7-million young people needed to make guaranteed coverage work; to the likelihood that the deadlines for the individual mandate will probably need to be extended.

To say ACA’s problems have been an embarrassment for Obama is a colossal understatement. This is his signature law. He fought like an animal to have it legislated, adjudicated by the Supreme Court and affirmed in the 2012 presidential election against his opponent, Mitt Romney, who vociferously ran on its repeal. He then stood firm in the government shutdown showdown, sending House Republicans crawling back to their caucus room with their tails between their legs, their spirits broken and capitulating like the French army in WWII.

Obama now finds himself caught between a rock and a hard place, trying to deftly balance an appreciation for, and an acceptance of, his health care reform’s flaws while maintaining an upbeat, optimistic and steadfast defense of its ultimate merits and value. The president now promises a full website fix by November 30, a deadline which, even if met, would still present serious challenges in meeting enrollment deadlines.

Republicans have been demanding that heads roll, with Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius’s most notably on the chopping block. Putting aside partisan loyalties and/or bitterness, do they actually have a point here? Are they right about ACA after all? With new reports this week claiming that the administration knew years in advance that millions would be losing their coverage, is it time for Sebelius, and perhaps others, to finally go? And are we headed for another bloody Benghazi-like “What-did-he-know-and-when-did-he-know-it” witch hunt? Is the GOP justified in pursuing an intensified investigation into the program’s and the administration’s failures?

Perhaps it’s time for Obama to put his tail between his legs, admit monumental tactical and process failure, and attempt to start over with the full cooperation of both House and Senate Republicans. To be sure, ACA is not going away. It will become as bedrock an entitlement program as Social Security, Medicare and the Prescription Drug Plan. But at this point, and with each passing day, it’s becoming abundantly clear that it needs an overhaul, and a bi-partisan one at that, if it’s ever going to work successfully.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Tea Party Hates Obama Because He's Black

The examples are plentiful: Rep. Joe Wilson shouting "You Lie!" to President Obama from the House Chamber. Rep. Ted Yoho (FL) responding with "I'm not gonna comment" when asked if Obama's a "born American." Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) saying he doesn't want to be associated with Obama because "it's like touching a tar baby." Rep. Kerry Bentivolio (R-MI) telling supporters "I stood 12 feet away from the guy, and couldn't stand being there." Or Sen. Dick Durbin recalling how a high-level Republican leader told the president "I can't even stand to look at you" at a recent White House meeting. And then there was Newt Gingrich's bizarre statement that we can only begin to comprehend Obama's actions if we understand "Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior." Do I even need to bring up Ted Cruz, Sarah Palin, Donald Trump, Rush Limbaugh and other Republican leaders?

What does all this point to? A visceral hatred of Obama because he's black. Anyone who refutes this charge is either a racist themselves, monumentally naive, in supreme denial or all of the above. The Tea Party, and even many "mainstream" Republicans I'm sure, are sickened by the fact that a black man lives in the White House. With his black wife. And black children. These are bigoted people who grew up in an America where the only black people walking around the White House were servants. They're disgusted, angry, resentful and frustrated that a black man is the most powerful person in the world; a job that's been reserved for whites since the birth of America.

To be sure, the crippling polarization in Washington isn't a result of typical partisan differences. It goes so much deeper than that. It's rooted in an unprecedented level of bitterness, disrespect and the belief that Obama is neither American nor a legitimately elected president. They can't stand to be near him, or to talk with him, because, to them, he's no more qualified to be leader of the free world than the guy who shines their shoes at DC's Union Station.

Which is why they will never support anything he does, even if he discovers a cure for cancer. Which is why they quite calculatingly branded the Affordable Care Act "Obamacare." If you hate Obama, you gotta hate Obamacare, right? To them this law is nothing more than a black guy giving away hard-earned white money to poor, lazy blacks. And Obamacare is a sly symbol of that racial animus.

The blatant racism in America today is ugly. It's shameful. It's embarrassing. And it sure as hell exists.

Friday, October 18, 2013

The GOP Shutdown: One of the Worst Blunders in Political History

The radical Tea Party faction of the Republican Party last year hatched an ill-fated plan to kill the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which it has derisively coined Obamacare. In the end, what it couldn't achieve legislatively, judicially and electorally it tried desperately to achieve through extortion: holding America and the world economy hostage by threatening and then forcing a government shutdown and bringing the country to brink of default on its debt.

This utterly misguided war was recklessly commandeered by de-facto Speaker of of the House Sen. Ted Cruz who, while uber-marginalizing the Speaker-in-name-only John Boehner, manically poured ideological fuel on the flames of the House crazies' obsession and delusion. But the demands fell on deaf ears. President Obama refused to negotiate on his signature health care reform and held firm like a rock.

When attempts to defund ACA failed, these rabid right-wingers sought a 12-month delay. Then a repeal of the Medical Device Tax. Then a ludicrous attempt to force the First Family and congressmen to buy insurance from the ACA exchanges. When all that failed the big capitulation came, as Obama stood tall while Cruz, Boehner, Eric Cantor and the rest of The Obstructionists slinked back into their holes carrying nothing but their broken spirits. The Senate unanimously (82-18) voted to re-open the government and raise the debt ceiling, a bill which the neutered Boehner finally put to a House vote, handing an historically humiliating defeat to the GOP.

As Sen. John McCain lamented: "Republicans have to understand we have lost this battle, as I predicted weeks ago, that we would not be able to win because we were demanding something that was not achievable."

Similarly, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was asked when he first knew this cockamamie scheme would fail. "We had extensive discussions in July about how the defund strategy couldn't possibly succeed." Admitting the toll this debacle has taken on his party, he frustratingly vowed that there'd be no more government shutdowns. "One of my favorite old Kentucky sayings is there's no education in the second kick of a mule." 

What's astonishing is that what was so abundantly clear to GOP Senators was completely lost on their over-energized, under-strategized House counterparts. Logic, reason and maturity came from just one chamber. If Congress were a restaurant, House Republicans would be sitting at the kids' table.             

In the end, this embarrassingly botched strategy will surely go down as one of the most colossal miscalculations ever by a political party. Republicans were so rapacious and fanatical in their quest to kill or delay ACA that they actually missed one of the best opportunities to kill or delay ACA. Given all the technical glitches with the website, which has resulted in an embarrassingly plagued roll-out of the program, all the Tea Party loons needed to do was let the program define itself. But they acted like a bunch of spoiled rich kids who couldn't get their way and made the shutdown the only thing anyone talked about. They could've instead been sitting at their mahogany desks these past three weeks basking in ACA's botched launch. "See? We told you Obamacare's a failure!"

To be sure, there was a huge opportunity cost to Operation Shutdown. The GOP now has the lowest approval ratings in its history as it heads into the critical 2014 mid-term election cycle. Cruz took the party down a no-win path. He lacked vision and an end-goal. The Republican brand is now more tarnished, the party more fractured, than ever and he is squarely to blame. The Tea Party's irrational, irresponsible, reprehensible self-serving quest has been an affront to every American. It was an unnecessary waste of time and taxpayer money, and a shameful abuse of our legislative system, a snub at the Supreme Court and a disgraceful disrespect of the U.S. presidency.

Once again, in what has become a predictable inability to help itself, the Republican Party drove off a cliff, demonstrating an astonishing disconnect not just from the needs of average Americans, but from reality. Politico reports that Obama on October 2 asked Boehner why he shut down the government. "I got overrun," he said. If the future-ex-Speaker feels this way now, just wait till after next year's election.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Conversation with Ted Cruz

To Democrats and moderate Republicans, Ted Cruz is akin to the Antichrist...a demonic, destructive, self-aggrandizing maniac who just might destroy the global economy and the GOP in one fell Obamacare-hating swoop. But to right-wing extremists and Tea Party loyalists, he's a modern day Samuel Adams; a true American patriot and hero whose I-don't-give-a-fuck attitude makes them swoon more than Sarah Palin.

But there's something on which both sides can agree: Cruz is an enigma.  How is that this first-year Senator from Texas with the puppy-dog eyes and cartoon voice, who catapulted to overnight international infamy, has become the most feared man in Washington on both sides of the aisle?

And so I've imagined the following chat with the man so many people love to hate:  

Ostroy: Sen. Cruz, Might I congratulate you on being the first Senator to be hated by both Democrats and most Republicans.

Cruz: Why thank you! I've been working very hard to achieve that unique distinction.

Ostroy: Most people attribute the government shutdown and the looming debt-ceiling crisis almost exclusively to you. How and why have you gotten yourself into what Jon Stewart refers to as this colossal "Shutstorm?"

Cruz: It's all because of Obamacare. I've been one of the very few to aggressively oppose this welfare-state program which is destroying America.

Ostroy: "Destroying America?" Senator, that's a pretty dire, hyperbolic accusation. Can you please tell us exactly how Obamacare is destroying the country?

Cruz: No, I can't. Sorry.

Ostroy: What do you mean? You just made a broad-stroke attack on President Obama's signature health care reform. Was that just calculated fiery rhetoric?

Cruz: Yes, that's exactly what it is. You got me! Sounds good though, huh?!

Ostroy: You've said Obamacare is a disaster, and pointed to the recent problems--computer glitches and such--since its October 1st launch as proof that it's a failure.

Cruz: That's correct. There are millions and millions of people who've flocked to that website only to find that they couldn't access it. Couldn't even get online to get info or to register. So yes, it's an unmitigated disaster.

Ostroy: You're summarily dismissing the program's long-term merits and value because of near-term, temporary computer glitches? That seems terribly myopic. If "failure" is defined as initial website problems, will you then concede it's a success if, say, a month from now the site's easily accessible and millions of uninsured Americans have signed up?

Cruz:, how about those Cowboys!  But seriously, listen to the American people. They're telling you they don't like or want Obamacare. 

Ostroy: But what about those "millions and millions" you say who've been "flocking" to the site? As Stephen Colbert joked, "Too many people signing up is always the surest sign that nobody wants it." You realize your contention about what Americans want makes no sense, right?

Cruz: I do. Got me again! Dang, you're good!

Ostroy: And speaking of not making any sense, you're now calling for Obamacare's individual mandate to be voluntary. Voluntary mandate. Senator, you're starting to sound like Palin now. Do you realize how oxymoronic that is?

Cruz: Are you calling me a moron? The American people don't like that.

Ostroy: Let's talk about your visit this past weekend to the World War II Memorial in DC. You were protesting the site's shutdown, blaming it on Democrats who you, Palin and others accuse of causing the government shutdown. Isn't that a bit disingenuous Senator?

Cruz: It is.

Ostroy: Isn't that a patently false accusation in fact?

Cruz: You betchya! Oh, sorry. You hang around with that ditzy broad long enough you begin to sound like her!

Ostroy: You do acknowledge the fact that it is Tea Party Republicans in the House, led by your troop-rallying and sabre-rattling, that's responsible for it all, don't you? 

Cruz: Hell yeah! Why do you think I'm smiling all the time? I've been smiling more than Eric Cantor through this whole game!       

Ostroy: But that's just it, Sen. Cruz. It's not a game. 800,000 people have lost their jobs. Military families have lost benefits. Sick children can't get medical treatment. Our fragile economic recovery risks being hurled back into recession. The global financial markets could face catastrophic consequences.

Cruz: SHUT the front door! Really? I, er, um,...I....

Ostroy: America's standing in the world is being tarnished. We're an embarrassment overseas. The full faith and credit of the United States is being pathetically played by you and your henchmen like a bad poker hand. Do you have any idea what you're....

Cruz: ...I'm truly sorry, I....

Ostroy: ...doing to America? You're pissing on the Constitution, on the presidency, on Democracy...

Cruz: You're right. Jeez, you're so right. Excuse me for a moment. Betty...get me Speaker Boehner on the phone right away....!

Monday, October 07, 2013

Republican Terrorism

Consider this: a radical, militant organization commits threatening acts which place the United States on security lock-down. Or perhaps they hack into Wall Street's vast, intricate computer network, sending the stock markets and banking system into chaotic panic. Or they make hostile demands which, if not met, could bring down our financial system and the global economy.  We'd unequivocally label these acts terrorism. So why shouldn't we  consider the Republican Party's similar acts of extortion of the past week terrorism?

The GOP, and in particular its radical Tea Party faction led by "House Speaker" Sen. Ted Cruz and his second-banana Rep. John Boehner, has stopped the wheels of Democracy from turning by taking the government hostage over its obsessive, all-consuming hatred of President Obama and his signature health care reform, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which they've derisively named Obamacare. Never mind that ACA is standing law which passed both houses of Congress, has been signed by the president, challenged and upheld in the Supreme Court and reaffirmed in 2012 by voters who re-elected the man responsible for it while summarily rejecting his challenger who opposed it.

Make no mistake: holding a gun to Obama's head while shutting the government unless he caves in to their demand of de-funding or delaying ACA is not just "treasonous," as former Labor Secretary Robert Reich called it, but a despicable act of terrorism. The GOP is holding the American government, economy, people and political process hostage and, with the October 17th debt-ceiling deadline rapidly approaching, the threat of default has put the full faith and credit of the U.S. at grave risk. That this terrorism is domestic, and comes from within the Beltway, doesn't make it any less terrorism. It just makes it more shameful and unconscionable.

Republicans have irresponsibly and reprehensibly put party before country, using and abusing the levers of government in an ideological feeding-frenzy after forty-three failed attempts at killing ACA. And now with the government shut and ten days away from defaulting on its financial obligations, the economic impact could be "catastrophic," according to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew.

"I'm telling you that on the 17th, we run out of our ability to borrow, and Congress is playing with fire," Lew warned.

The House's suit-clad terrorists could end this unprecedented, apocalyptic standoff by voting on a clean continuing resolution which would immediately re-open the government and serve as the framework for reaching a debt-ceiling deal. Obama and Congressional leaders claim the CR would pass with bi-partisan support. But Boehner refuses to allow the measure to reach the floor.

"The votes are not in the House to pass a clean debt limit," the neutered Speaker said. 

Boehner won't allow a vote because he knows it'll pass. Though he more than likely would like to call a vote. But unfortunately these traitorous rebels are holding Boehner hostage as well. They've strapped him behind the wheel of the GOP crazy-bus, on Cruz Control, and sent him driving the party off a cliff.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

The Republican version of Suicide Bombing

A person walks into a foreign
cafe, a disco or a bus with explosives strapped to his or her body. In a flash there's horrific carnage and, soon after, a proud claim of responsibility by a fanatical group...all in the name of a heated cause which the violence is designed to further. But in the end this irrational, delusional, self-destructive act typically leaves a dead suicide bomber, innocent people killed and wounded, and a worsening, not a fix, of the root problem. That's what House Republicans, in particular the radical Tea Party faction, have done by shutting down the United States government. It's political terrorism at its worst.

All because they hate Obamacare, officially known as the Affordable Care Act (ACA), more than they hate the president himself. And they hate their view of the 'welfare state,' a stomach-turning landscape where their hard-earned money is being used, or more so abused, to subsidize the needs of a lazy, shiftless mostly minority poor and middle class. So they refuse to pass an appropriations bill, threaten not to raise the debt-ceiling by the October 17th deadline, and in effect close the country. The collateral damage from this unconscionable behavior is being felt by everyone from the 800,000 furloughed government workers, to the National Guard and Reserves, and to the children who cannot get cancer treatment at the National Institute of Health.

Additionally, many intelligence and counter-terrorism experts, including Rep. Peter King (R-NY), former chairman and current member of the Homeland Security Committee, and James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, said the shutdown has threatened America's security. A risk, Clapper said, which "will accumulate over time."

These "wacko birds," as Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has called grandstanding Tea Party poster-boy Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), apparently do not believe in Democracy and think they have a right to hold America's economy hostage--putting a gun to President Obama's head--by demanding the repeal or delay of his signature health care reform which has been passed by Congress, upheld by the Supreme Court, and re-affirmed in the last election by voters...who chose Obama over his repeal-obsessed rival Mitt Romney (whose health care reform in Massachusetts while he was governor, by the way, was the Heritage Foundation-created model ultimately used as a basis for Obamacare).  
"They won't even negotiate," charges House Speaker John Boehner and other conservative leaders. But that accusation is patently untrue. Obama and Democrats have conceded on single-payer, the public option, a one-year delay in the business requirement of ACA, and an agreement to adopt 100% of the cuts and spending in the $988-billion budget Republicans have sought (essentially, the Paul Ryan budget). As Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and others have said, the GOP's too stupid to accept 'yes.' Nothing can or will satisfy these right-wing loons, as the current fight is not over spending and cuts, but of their intense loathing of Obamacare and their unrelenting obsession with destroying it. 

"We've got divided government," Boehner said Wednesday following a nearly 90-minute meeting with Obama and Democratic leaders. No, Mr. Speaker, what we have is a divided GOP. Can't we bring back the good old days when Republicans were just a bunch of angry, rich, white elitist obstructionists instead of the certifiablyinsane, angry rich, white elitist obstructionists who rule your House today? Boehner lamented that what's happening in Washington right now, the seemingly impenetrable gridlock, is not the governance America's Forefathers intended. To be sure, our Forefathers did not envision a government in which one disgruntled party, obsessed over the majority's signature legislation which they've failed to repeal forty-three times, brings our nation and the global economy to the brink of financial disaster.

Republicans have pointed to Tuesday's computer glitches, caused by an onslaught of exchange website visits once ACA went into effect, is proof positive that the program's a disaster. And they're maintaining their claim that their fight is on behalf of the American people. That they're "listening" to the "overwhelming majority" who dislike Obamacare and want it defunded.  Right. As Stephen Colbert noted, “Too many people signing up is always the surest sign that nobody wants it.”

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

An Open Letter to House Republicans

Dear House Republicans:

Well, ya done did it. You shut down the government. Congratulations! Although I'm not exactly sure for what. But let me take a stab at it.

Maybe it's because you don't think the Republican Party is irrelevant enough. Or maybe it's because you want to speed up your complete obsolescence. Perhaps it's because you think your 10% approval rating is too high. Or maybe it's because you want to prove to Newt Gingrich that you're more reckless, irresponsible and crazier than he was back in '95. Or maybe you're all just too stupid to understand the economic implications of your unconscionable behavior. My guess? It's all of the above.

Celebratory cries of "Yay!" and "Yippee!" could be heard throughout the Republican caucus at midnight last night as Speaker John Boehner turned into an even bigger pumpkin. But let's be clear: this is no Cinderella story. There's no Prince Charming to save the day.

So now what, geniuses? Do you realize that the "Obama" of "Obamacare" is never going to throw his signature health care reform under the GOP bus? You do realize that you're at an impossible impasse, don't you? That you've boxed yourselves into a humiliating corner from which there is no way out except retreat? Have you thought of all this? Please tell us you've thought of all this. Because if you haven't then, yes, your brains have been marinating in crazy sauce.

It wasn't enough for you to be the most ineffective, do-nothing Congress in history. You had to attempt to overturn standing law by attaching your ideological insanity to a spending bill; law which makes your blood boil because you see it as little more than an arrogant black man using your hard-earned rich-white-folk-money to give free shit to a bunch of poor, lazy, shiftless blacks and Hispanics. Be honest. Just more welfare, right?

But I have some news for you. This isn't just about the poor or minorities. There's millions of middle-class people. White people too who desperately need health care. Who need help. Who want guaranteed coverage. Who are happy not to have lifetime caps. Who will no longer worry about being denied coverage over preexisting conditions. Who want to keep their adult children to age 26 on their policies. And guess what? Many of them are Republican. And Independents. And they live in your districts. And they vote. And they'll remember you in 2014 come election time. Together with their black and Hispanic brethren they'll remember how you acted like spoiled, angry, self-serving children who didn't give a rat's ass about them or America's fragile economy.

Remember the old adage: Be careful what you wish for.