Democracy Soup

Making sense out of the world of politics

Posts Tagged ‘health care reform

Keith Olbermann is back on sports TV, but politics world still needs him

leave a comment »

olbermann-espn-580

Keith Olbermann returned to television last week. Don’t be alarmed if you didn’t realize this. Olbermann is not on MSNBC or Current TV or Al-Jazeera or CNN. He is doing a show on some outlet called ESPN2.

That’s right: Olbermann is doing a sports show that is called “Olbermann,” but has the feel of “Countdown.” “Time Marches On” is the reel of odd videos from the Internet. And the Worst Persons are back, but they are sports-related, and Keith goes out of his way to ask the viewing audience to not take the list literally.

But this doesn’t feel right. Keith Olbermann should have been talking this week about whether to bomb Syria or the possible shutdown of the government. And he should be telling us who the worst people in the world really are.

I am of the generation that remembers the Big Show with tag-team partners and biscuits in baskets and players that are 206 years old. And the new show plays highlights of Olbermann from his earlier stint at ESPN and ESPN2. But I also remember the sports show he hosted on Fox Sports Net (yes, he worked for Rupert Murdoch) where he read these beautiful sports essays. And in those moments, many of which he has had on the air in the last couple of weeks, we find the amazing writing talent that is Keith Olbermann.

Admittedly, some of the potential sports fans were turned off by Olbermann’s politics and perhaps his anger. In politics, those that loved Olbermann for his politics liked that he got angry because they were angry. While sports draws more passion than politics, Olbermann isn’t as angry on this show … so far.

Olbermann gets enthused, passionate about what he is talking about (find the video where Olbermann talks about his father and Satchel Paige). The tone was similar to Olbermann talking about his father’s health care when he was in the hospital. But this Olbermann, so far, hasn’t been as angry. Sports matters, but politics is about real life. And so it’s good for Olbermann that he isn’t as angry as he was on Countdown, especially on Current TV.

When Keith got upset about concussions in the NFL and those players whose lives ended prematurely because of the impact of concussions, you saw some of the passion that was there on Countdown, especially the most recent MSNBC version. It’s great to have that passion and writing skill back on television. But you still feel, deep in the back of your heart, that he still belongs in talking about politics.

Previous coverage of Keith Olbermann on Democracy Soup

On occasion, sports is the topic, but the issues of the day are just underneath the surface. Olbermann spent Labor Day with a tribute to Marvin Miller, who won freedom from the reserve clause from MLB owners. Sure the talk was about players and money, but the labor market and freedom were there if your ears could pull in the proper frequency.

Olbermann was said not to have blown up bridges at ESPN, but to have napalmed them. True to that word, Olbermann does his show in Times Square in New York City, not in Bristol, CT. To be fair, when you can’t drive (Olbermann has a long-time eye injury that doesn’t allow him to drive), New York City makes more sense than Bristol. And ESPN hasn’t evaded Olbermann’s ire on sports topics, calling out his company when appropriate.

Olbermann started an episode obsessing about a New York newspaper sports columnist on some issue with the Jets quarterback situation that was picturesque Olbermann, except that outside New York City, no one cared about the topic. But the tone and controlled anger were sweet music, even if you didn’t care about the signal caller for the Jets.

Olbermann needs to be in a scenario where his anger is prevalent but controlled to an extent. Toward the end at MSNBC and throughout most of his time at Current TV, Olbermann was a little too angry. This made for beautiful TV, but his employers weren’t thrilled.

Tis better to have Keith Olbermann on television more than not having him on television, and sports is better off to have Keith critiquing that world. As a society, we were better off when Olbermann was going after the problems of the world. Keith seems to be very sincere in wanting to do a show about sports instead of politics.

In the first few minutes of his first episode, Olbermann made a joke at his own expense about Chris Christie’s reaction to a NFL-related story. Olbermann pointed out that Chris Christie was right … about the NFL. Perhaps that was a dig at those who love Keith but hate his politics. Or Olbermann’s way of saying “really, things are different.”

When Olbermann left MSNBC the first time, he went back to sports, so there is always a chance that he will go back somewhere someday. But the MSNBC landscape isn’t the same since he left, and Current TV is gone. That world still misses Keith Olbermann, even if he back on television. Sports, hope you appreciate what you have.

image credit: ESPN2

President Obama needs to sell us on Obamacare, even if we have to wait until 2014

leave a comment »

You might be ready to forgive John Roberts for his flub of the swearing-in of President Obama in 2009.

Roberts was the deciding vote in the 5-4 decision that upheld the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). For those who were hoping that Justice Anthony Kennedy was going to save the day, yikes.

“The fundamental problem with the court’s approach to this case is this: It saves a statute Congress did not write,” Kennedy said from the bench. “The court regards its strained statutory interpretation as judicial modesty. It is not. It amounts instead to a vast judicial overreaching.”

Not that a White House should excel in marketing, but the Obama Administration has done a horrible job at marketing this legislation. At stake was a tax, but it wasn’t called a tax. And so those that used the legal system to destroy health care reform came one vote away from accomplishing their goals.

After the ruling, President Obama explained to the American people why the legislation has helped some people, and will eventually help most of us.

When most Americans can’t take advantage of the health care reform, the opponents drive the message. You can argue that the government isn’t in control of health care or that there are no death panels, but without visible proof, your argument isn’t that strong.

Now that Obama doesn’t have to worry about the Supreme Court, and he wants to get re-elected, the president should show the American people why Obamacare will help them … even if that help isn’t coming until 2014. His inability to sell Obamacare cost the Dems the House in 2010; if he can’t get that marketing engine going, his chances of still being president will diminish.

Dems ahead of curve but neither party working toward full employment

leave a comment »

“Anything over four percent is not cause for celebration.”

Mitt Romney is absolutely right … but as you may have guessed, there is a catch.

Romney was talking about how anything above a 4% unemployment rate wasn’t acceptable. And he’s absolutely right.

The catch? Romney doesn’t have a single proposed program that addresses the unemployment issue. And President Barack Obama, Romney’s challenger in the fall, does have numerous programs that will lower the unemployment rate, though not to the level of 4%.

The last president to average as low as 4% was Lyndon B. Johnson. And given the changes to the unemployment rate during Reagan’s time, the actual unemployment rate doesn’t reflect the true state of employment insecurity.

The unemployment rate has been falling, and the job numbers are good if not great. Though, the unemployment rate looks better in part because the share of Americans as a part of the labor force has reached a 30-year low. So the battle for the White House could come down to “we are doing a lot better” vs. “we should be doing way better.”

For those who think President Obama is in really good shape for the fall election, the electorate, especially in toss-up states, will hear a lot of “we should be doing way better.” That message will be hard to resist.

If the 2012 presidential campaign comes down to who will do a better job in getting you a job, Obama would get close to 500 electoral votes and the Dems would win close to 400 House seats and win every single contested Senate race.

Romney, along with John Boehner, Eric Cantor, and Mitch McConnell, are much better at whining about how bad things are as opposed to doing something about that pain.

The card Romney is playing is the “Morning in America” card. A lot of people think of that as Ronald Reagan’s 1980 slogan when it was his 1984 slogan. Then again, Rick Santorum thought it was 1976 during his time in the campaign.

“I’m going to get America strong again,” Romney noted in that same speech. Economically, most Americans would kill to have 1980 back again. The “strong America” cry was false in 1980 and it rings more false in 2012. Infrastructure, education, a lack of commitment to building American jobs are all reason why neither Obama nor Romney will get American “strong” in the next four years.

One of Obama’s lines in the campaign was creating jobs for alternative energies that couldn’t be exported to India or China — jobs that would stay in the good ol’ US of A. The problem in 2012 is that even Obama’s supporters have no idea where we stand on that. How many jobs have we created? How many jobs are indeed still around? The American people want/need to know.

Romney is counting on the 1980 malaise that was partially true and partially part of the GOP hype machine. Americans have been beaten down the last few years either because they have lost their job, suffered with a job, or know someone who has lost a job and suffered through their job. Even if the Obama Administration is happier with the job numbers, many Americans are still not happy.

If Romney thinks he’s 1980 Reagan, he should note that the unemployment rate in Reagan’s first term is similar in numbers to Obama’s numbers (though worse in a few ways compared to now). Be careful what you wish for.

The challenger gets the benefit of the doubt, even when that challenger has literally no plan to help fix the situation. In 2010, the GOP didn’t retake the House and almost grab the Senate because they had a plan. They railed against Obamacare and unemployment and took control of the House. And we still don’t have any help from them.

Things may be better but they still aren’t good.

Voters believed Reagan in 1980. Voters believed the GOP in 2010. The voters got let down.

When the election cycle really kicks in around Labor Day, when Romney has a running mate, then we should have a long-term discussion about how to get more Americans working. Tax credits to companies, tax cuts to rich people, tax incentives for companies to ship jobs overseas, state and local officials bidding against each other for companies to come with no guarantees that they’ll stay when the next bid comes around — these are a lot of what the United States has tried to get jobs for Americans. And they have all failed.

While the Dems have had the advantage over the years in job creation, they had a golden opportunity in 2009 to revolutionize job creation in the United States, and blew that chance.

Ironically, the one area where Obama will help long-term job growth — the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) — still won’t kick in for most Americans … until 2014. This is IF Obama is re-elected, IF the Supreme Court doesn’t play politics, and IF the Dems can take one or two houses in Congress.

When people can start their own businesses after they can buy affordable (relatively speaking) health care, the job dynamic has the potential to change dramatically for the better. Those who can’t afford to quit can leave jobs they don’t want for a chance to do something they want to do. And those jobs won’t be shifted overseas.

Other than Obamacare, assumes it remains pure, politicians in Washington really haven’t done a whole lot to change the job dynamic. The Dems want small changes and the GOP wants no changes. That isn’t enough for the American economy to thrive. Until someone in power figures that out, we’ll be fighting about crumbs.

Ontario’s brothels ruling proves Canada is way more clued-in than United States

leave a comment »

A practical, unanimous ruling saying that prostitutes have the right to protect themselves in their work. The Ontario Court of Appeal, the province’s highest court allowed for brothels, but solicitation is still illegal.

Prostitution is legal in Canada yet its society hasn’t fallen apart. Unless you count the Toronto Maple Leafs (hockey joke).

Canada also has figured out gay marriage and single-payer health care. Sigh. Watching the U.S. Supreme Court possibly bring down Obamacare before it had reached the masses makes you wonder why we haven’t all moved to Canada by now.

For more on Ontario and brothels and why they won’t kick in right away, check out our take from our sister blog, CanadianCrossing.com.

American progressives can learn a lot from the legacy of Canada’s Jack Layton

leave a comment »

As regular readers know, I have a fondness for Canada and Canadian politics. But since Democracy Soup is devoted mostly to American politics, you might wonder what one has to do with another. Well, I’m going to tell you a story about a man named Jack, and what American progressives can learn from him.

Jack Layton was a fighter who stood up for those who needed the most help, someone who was respected by people whose political views were polar opposites. Layton convinced Quebecers in the last Canadian federal election to come over to the New Democratic Party (NDP), a difficult task since the NDP is a federalist party, and Quebecers have spent a generation relying mostly on the separatist Bloc Quebecois.

While Layton spoke the Quebecois French, he was a Toronto legend in politics. His wife, Olivia Chow, also serves as a MP from a different Toronto riding. And Layton was still able to get through to those who supported the NDP out west.

The United States has plenty of politicians who fight for the less fortunate, but they don’t get on TV much. And Layton certainly had difficulty getting his message through the clutter.

But Layton stayed positive and hopeful that things could be better. And in the last election, the voters reacted.

Sure Canada voted in a majority Conservative government, but the NDP became the opposition party for the first time ever. And Jack Layton was a large part of why that happened.

The election was May 2. Layton was recovering from a hip operation and prostate cancer as the election cycle started (about 5-6 weeks in Canada). In July, Layton was diagnosed with a new form of cancer. Last week, Layton passed away at the age of 61.

The obvious analogy is Moses, a leader who led his people to the Promised Land, but never made it himself. While that may seem sacrilege, the NDP had 13 members in Parliament when Jack Layton took over as leader in 2003, and now have 103 (of 308 seats in Parliament).

The loss is huge not just for a man, a fighter, but for the progressive movement in Canada, and on some level, the United States. A progressive was in the opposition chair for the first time in Canadian history. Having a progressive party such as the NDP in a high prestige would have rubbed off on U.S. politics at a time where progressives wonder where their voice is in the loud media landscape.

U.S. progressives were drowned out on health care reform, stimulus spending, and the jobs front, lacking that voice to speak up. True, Canadian media is more sympathetic to these issues than American media, and Canadians aren’t arguing health care reform or gay marriage. But Canadian media pay more attention when you are the opposition party instead of the third party.

The lesson American progressives need to take from the legacy of Jack Layton is to stand up for what you believe in, and you can do so in a positive fashion.

Progressives are demonized in both countries as being “out there,” but Layton was able to cut through to get his message out.

In covering the 2011 Canadian federal election, I was bemused as the NDP was gaining strength in Quebec that Jack Layton had been around since 2003, and yet was the new kid on the block. Layton didn’t change, the world around him changed.

Americans are more receptive to progressives’ message in these harsh economic times. People want solutions and progressives have them. What they have lacked is a strong voice to bring all of that to the table.

Over the last few years, I had often thought American progressives needed someone like Jack Layton in their world. Now Canadian progressives need someone like Jack Layton, but as we have seen, very few come along that are like Jack Layton.

We have often made fun of the teabaggers, but they speak with a voice, a simple clear message, even if that message was contradictory, borderline racist, and often incorrect. Jack Layton has proven that progressives can speak with a strong, upbeat, positive message.

Progressives are very good at being correct, but lousy on conveying that to those who don’t readily believe they have solutions. Layton went against the tide of his own party to broaden the message, but the results of the 2011 election prove Layton was right.

Now the NDP and Canadians have to build on Jack Layton’s legacy. Americans could learn a few lessons about that legacy.

Written by democracysoup

August 30, 2011 at 7:08 am

Canadians more free for ‘pursuit of happiness’ than Americans

with one comment

Today is Canada Day, the day where the Great White North celebrates the birth of its country. Fireworks, picnics, and beach trips dominate the landscape, and this year, the country has the newest Royal Couple, Will and Kate, visiting Canada.

The sense of “freedom” isn’t as dominant in Canada as in the United States for the Independence Day. As excited as people are about the expanded freedom of gay marriage in New York state, there are more provinces (10) that allow gay marriage in Canada than states (6) in the United States. Which country has more freedoms?

Throw in 3 Canadian territories and gay marriage covers way more ground in Canada than the United States.

“Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” is in the U.S. lexicon, not Canada’s. But Canadians have freedom that most Americans can only wish for having.

President Barack Obama is slowly warming up to the idea of gay marriage along the lines of a frog in water where the heat has just been turned on. Obama’s empathy for marriages not in the mainstream should stem from his parents mixed marriage, an illegal act in some parts of the United States when his parents were married. Unfortunately, that hasn’t helped his empathy level for gay marriage.

What little freedom that exists in the United States is extremely limited. A few states allow for gay marriage, but the vast majority of states have some barrier to recognition. Freedom also means the freedom to move around a country, especially in uncertain economic times. If you are gay married, you don’t have the freedom to move to another part of your own country.

Federal law in the United States doesn’t recognize gay marriage, so just because you’re American and gay married doesn’t mean you are in most of the country.

A lesbian married couple who lives in Ontario and gets married in Ontario, and one of them gets a better job in Alberta due to oil production, that couple has the freedom to move to Alberta and still have their marriage legitimately recognized because they’re Canadian.

Think about couples that have moved from New York to California over the last few years. Gay married? Not gay married? Some people who care would be confused about the Golden State in the last few years.

Canadians, gay or straight, are also free to pursue jobs that suit them best. Americans? Not so much.

Americans aren’t free to do so if they are tied to their health care plan based on their employment location. Want to be an entrepreneur in the United States? Better not have any health issues for you or your family.

In fact, some American couples, gay or straight, have divorced not from animosity but from financial practicality where being married is a drawback for getting insurance. And other American couples have been tempted or actual got married to get health care from their spouse. Is that what they mean by the Defense of Marriage Act?

Freedom can’t be just about the freedom to grill meat outdoors, shop at Wal-Mart, and blow up body parts with fireworks.”Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” has to mean something in Americans’ everyday lives instead of being a patriotic slogan that doesn’t translate in the 21st century.

One freedom that Americans have than Canadians don’t is freedom of speech. Canadians tend to limit speech based on hate, but you could easily argue that hate is rather difficult to define. But since Canadians have freedom to say mostly what they want, have freedom to move around based on marriage and health care, they are a lot more free than their Southern counterparts.

And the freedom of speech that Americans have and Canadians don’t has been damaged since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that money is speech, average Americans now have less freedom to make an impact in the political process, unless they’re rich. And average Americans aren’t getting rich these days. For full disclosure, the majority conservative government of Canada wants to strip political parties of federal funding, making corporate money a stronger player in Canadian federal elections.

Freedom needs to be a 365-day part of people’s lives, not just on the Canadian holiday (July 1) or the American holiday (July 4). The pursuit of happiness doesn’t guarantee happiness, but the pursuit does require maximum freedom to pursue happiness. Right now, neither Canadians nor Americans live in the ideal, but in a head-to-head North American matchup, Canadians would win it running away.

So enjoy your grilled meats, potato salad, and other picnic fare this weekend, Canadian or American. But once your holiday is over, think about what freedom really means to you, and do what you can to put pressure on your politicians so that you can pursue happiness.

One year after ‘Obamacare’ passes, millions still waiting for help to arrive

leave a comment »

We recently reached the one-year anniversary of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), known derisively as Obamacare. But millions of Americans don’t feel like celebrating.

Oh, there are the teabaggers and the like, who vilify the contents as they are told what is in there, even if the list doesn’t match reality, and don’t realize the bill will actually help them.

No, we’re talking about people who like the idea of the bill, would love the act to be stronger, but most importantly, are waiting for the bill to impact their lives.

Those who lost their health insurance when they lost their job, lost their COBRA when their former employers went out of business, and can’t buy insurance no matter how badly they want it. These people are still waiting.

And they will have to keep waiting until 2013 or 2014. And maybe longer.

If there is a President Palin or Pawlenty in 2013, their version of HHS may not want to explain a bill that they hate, that is confusing to those who like it.

The perception in the news and elsewhere is that the ACA won’t kick in for most Americans until 2013 or 2014 for budgetary reasons. The nay-sayers noted that 10 years of funding for 7 years of coverage was designed to make the numbers look better.

Imagine my surprise at a recent panel discussion on the ACA when two HHS employees explained that the delay was caused by needing time to set up the new structure, including state exchanges.

What… the… ?

After catching my breath, I informed them that this was news to me and anybody else I knew. They were surprised that I was surprised. And if you were surprised, trust us, you’re not alone.

We heard a ton from the anti-reform group, but very little from the pro-reform element, especially within the Obama Administration.

Every Democratic politician who lost a race in 2010 should be furious that the ACA wasn’t explained better.

Even a political neophyte could see that health care reform had to be overexplained. Yet the Obama Administration went for the very underexplained option. Getting sympathetic voters to the polls in 2010 was rather difficult given that the anti-reform people knew what they hated, even if it hadn’t kicked in, and the pro-reform people weren’t told why they had to wait for the reform.

Imagine how many more Democratic politicians would have kept their job if more of their constituents were helped by the ACA in 2010.

Recent college graduates got their help, being able to stay on their parents insurance unless, of course, their parents lost their health insurance. And there are a few peripheral moves, but most people are still left in the dark.

Oh, there is a program to help those who haven’t been insured for at least 6 months; not clear if this is part of the ACA. But this does seem a slap in the face of those who bought insurance and played by the rules. They have to wait and wait and wait.

The two women at HHS wanted me to note that there is a Web site — healthcare.gov — that explains what is in the Affordable Care Act. Overall, there is a lot of information, but you have to know what you are looking for, something that isn’t helpful if you don’t know what might be coming, someday.

Even when the ACA is fully implemented, presuming that the policies will be funded and implemented, the United States will still have the worst health care system in the Western world. We still will have insurance companies decide who and how they get treated, people will still live in fear over health care. Heck, we finally set a mark that gives a floor for insurance companies to make a 20% profit (making them spend 80¢ on the dollar for medical expenses).

The truth is that we don’t need health insurance companies in the way that other countries do well without their powerful input. Their citizens get better health care for less money.

True, the ACA will make things better than they are now. But the Obama Administration and the HHS should know that “too little, too late” doesn’t even apply here, because most Americans haven’t even received “too little” and “too late” went away a long time ago.