Posts Tagged ‘health care’

Guest POV: Arnold Is the Elephant in the Room

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

By Susan Rose
Special to Calbuzz

With all the hype about the California governor’s race, and insider jabber from outfits like Calbuzz, the media is paying insufficient attention to  Governor Schwarzenegger’s final months in office.

Sadly, the man can do a lot more damage to the state before his term ends.

From the time he took office in 2003, Arnold’s style of governance has been a combination of insults, bullying, threats and failures. From the beginning, he was unable to use the bully pulpit to break Sacramento’s political gridlock, as he had promised during his campaign.

Each year’s budget process has seen a tsunami of cuts, from parks to poor people’s health care. The governor’s manipulative tactics were most recently demonstrated by his budget proposal to defund the state Parks Department unless the Tranquillon Ridge oil proposal is approved, a highly controversial deal among California environmentalists.

This year California faces a looming $20 billion deficit. Completing his last budget cycle in office, Arnold is moving from cutting major programs to eliminating many of them unless the state gets a huge load of federal dollars. Only on Fantasy Island could anyone imagine Washington bailing out California.

A few examples of the governor’s draconian proposals to get us out of the quagmire he dug for the state: elimination of Calworks; In-Home Supportive Services; Healthy Families Programs; California Food Assistance Program and Adult Day Care Center benefits. Once again the poor, the sick, the disabled and the elderly are his target, as a reading of his proposed 2010-11 budget shows.

Other Schwarzenegger-era changes are reflected in the demise of our once highly regarded educational institutions. The UC and CSU systems are experiencing major increases in tuition, fees, faculty furloughs, loss of academic programs and a reduction in student admissions. Likewise, at the elementary level, school days and years are being shortened, teachers fired and class sizes increased. This is not the kind of change Californians voted for in 2003.

For many, it has been unclear who is managing our state government. Who is making these decisions? On Jan. 17, 2010 the LA Times answered that question with a front page story that fully described the role of Susan Kennedy, his chief of staff, as Schwarzenegger’s alter ego.

Kennedy, the one time liberal activist with strong Democratic Party credentials, was hired by Schwarzenegger in 2005 to run his office.  Neither political party was thrilled. In the process of retooling Team Schwarzenegger, Kennedy has taken control of steering the ship of state.

In light of Schwarzenegger’s acting career, it is easy to describe his administration in terms of a Hollywood B movie ,with Arnold as the lead. From the time he announced his plan to run for Governor on the Jay Leno show on Aug. 7, 2003, Californians in fact have been forced to watch the Terminator play a role, unfortunately on that did not end with his election.

A seven-year balance sheet of the Schwarzenegger- Kennedy years shows a few progressive environmental victories, stacked up against the worst economic social crisis since the Great Depression. Today, the paucity of leadership in the governor’s office has put California behind most states in the fields of education, business, technology and innovation.

Upon taking office, the Governor kept a campaign promise and rolled back a vehicle license fee that had been approved by his predecessor Gray Davis. Kenneth T. Rosen’s piece, “California’s Fiscal Crisis: Some Simple Solutions,” estimates $28 billion in revenue has been lost during the last six years, an amount that would have largely staunched California’s slide into economic despair, and possibly prevented it altogether.

An oil severance tax could also have eased state budgetary pain, but his dogmatic opposition to progressive tax increases, coupled with his movie start approach to governance, reflect a lack of compassion for the health and well being of those who elected him.

As if this is not enough, the Governor is leaving us with a parting gift: an $11 billion bond to “fix” California’s water system, a special interest grab bag that will add another $60 million a year to the state’s debt service burden, already the fastest growing item in the budget..

In short, the governor has fiddled while California burned, always more interested in appearing on Sunday talk shows than in real governance. It could have been avoided. That is the legacy of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Calbuzz contributor Susan Rose is former two-term member of the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors.

Wal-Mart & Obama: Unlikely Allies in Health Reform

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

lichtensteinBy Evan Wagstaff
Special to Calbuzz

As President Obama prepares to deliver a crucial speech on health care reform to Congress tonight, he has found a surprising ally in his bid to expand medical insurance to all Americans: retail giant Wal-Mart.

On June 30, Wal-Mart joined the liberal research group, Center for American Progress, and the Service Employees International Union in issuing a public letter to the White House that called for a “pay or play” plan, requiring businesses either to pay $750 per employee per year for government health care coverage or to offer an insurance plan through the company.

Wal-Mart’s unlikely alliance with liberal groups in pushing for a controversial employer mandate for health care plan was in part a conciliatory move to placate consumers in California, according to UCSB history professor Nelson Lichtenstein, who has published a new book about the company.

“Wal-Mart isn’t in danger of going bankrupt, but it wants to expand into coastal California,” Lichtenstein said. “Wal-Mart knows it has a problem there.”

But company spokesman Greg Rossiter said the plan simply reflects the company’s good business sense, citing a letter cosigned by Wal-Mart CEO Mike Duke noting that as much as $244 billion is lost from the U.S. economy every year due to sick time taken by uninsured Americans.

“We’re focused on efforts to reform the country’s health care system,” Rossiter said. “It’s costing all of us a great deal of money. All of the projections are for increasing costs.”

Wal-Mart’s support for the principle of universal coverage for workers appears at odds with the reputation of the company with a reputation for keeping prices low and profit margins high at the expense of workers, who have frequently and bitterly complained about wages and working conditions.

Lichtenstein’s new book, “The Retail Revolution: How Wal-Mart Created awal mart book Brave New World of Business” details the growth of Wal-Mart, from its beginnings to its gradual expansion into Canada and Mexico, a history plagued by questionable business practices and accusations of employee abuse.

He told Calbuzz that Wal-Mart has been “stymied” in its attempts to enter the retail market in large areas of California. While the retailer operates a number of stores in the Central Valley, they have been unable to establish “supercenters” in densely populated urban areas like Los Angeles and San Francisco.

According to Lichtenstein, Wal-Mart’s surveys have shown that 10 percent of people say they don’t shop at the retailer for political reasons, and such opposition to Wal-Mart’s practices has made it difficult to expand into the highly profitable urban areas of the Golden State.

The endorsement of expanded health care insurance is part of a concerted effort to clean up the company’s image, a trend that began in December 2008 when Wal-Mart resolved 63 standing lawsuits in 42 different states to avoid possible federal intervention. Although the company does not need positive press to survive, Lichtenstein said that a better image would encourage business in areas like California.

“California is a cockpit of opposition to Wal-Mart’s expansion into urban America,” Lichtenstein said. “California has a well-unionized grocery sector; the unions fought Wal-Mart and won.”

While Wal-Mart’s decision to back an employer mandate plan is viewed favorably by progressives, the conservative National Retail Federation (NRF) called the employer mandate proposal a “tax on jobs.” The NRF is the nation’s largest retail trade association, but does not include Wal-Mart. According to organization’s web site, NRF Senior Vice President for Government Relations Steve Pfister said that an employer mandate would worsen the recession.

“We can think of few more dangerous steps to take in the middle of our present recession,” Pfister said. “We need to add new jobs, not exacerbate the near double-digit unemployment numbers. We cannot afford to have new and existing jobs priced out of our collective reach because of mandated health coverage.”

Lichtenstein noted that although Wal-Mart made a significant gesture in its endorsement, nothing will change if Congress cannot pass health care reform legislation. If no action is taken, Wal-Mart associates will have to make do with what Lichtenstein called “phony health insurance” with large deductibles and coverage caps.

walmart-logo“If an Obama plan passes, Wal-Mart would brag about helping to put it through,” he said. “If nothing happens in Congress, Wal-Mart goes back to its old way of doing things and that’s the end of it.”

Obama’s speech will be broadcast on most network and cable news channels at 5 p.m.

Calbuzz intern Evan Wagstaff is Opinion Editor of UCSB’s Daily Nexus.

Dog Days: Manson, Nixon, Woodstock & Big Pharma

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009

mansonBack before the Earth cooled, it was an unquestioned article of faith among those laboring in the fields of the Fossil Fuel Media that August was “a slow news month,” especially for politics.

With schools, Congress and the Legislature all out of session, the highly-paid, glass-office suits headed for Tahoe or Bora Bora, leaving the peons behind to mind the city desk and confront long weeks of desperate striving to devise something – anything! – to fill the vast, barren stretches of newsprint strung between the Macy’s underwear ads.

Veteran members of the Calbuzz Content Production Team fondly recall their papers running massive, front-page color photos of rug rats sucking water from a garden hose – festooned with “How Hot WAS It?” headlines – or ersatz stories about alligators mysteriously spotted in urban lakes , or “Dear Reader” editor’s columns about the dearth of news in August (sort of like this one).

But now, it appears, the traditional slow news month has gone the way of other civilized newsroom traditions, like the pica pole, the early slide and the liquid lunch.

In California, partisans and pols have barely paused for breath in the 100-year war over the state budget , while wannabes disdain the quaint notion of taking a summer siesta off the campaign trail or halting tit for tat attacks.

And on the Right Coast, the Biggest Foot columnist for the New York Times
has declared that this month – August! – to be a make or break month for President Obama, a theme embraced, echoed and embellished by other powerful pundits:

obama“July proved the most difficult month of (Obama’s) young administration,” Dan Balz, the Boswell of Big O’s Administration wrote in a widely noticed WashPost piece:

“His approval ratings dropped. Disapproval of his major initiatives rose sharply. Neither the House nor the Senate met his deadline to pass a version of health care. Finally, the White House and its allies at the Democratic National Committee ended up in a high-pitched argument over whether citizens protesting health care were expressing real or manufactured anger.

That raises the stakes for August. As Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg put it: “Everybody understands they [Obama and his Democratic allies] have to be in a new chapter when they come back at the end of August.”

While Balz’s piece provided a characteristically clear and conscientious survey of the current political terrain, Calbuzz looked in vain for discussion of a crucial point about the perils facing the president: his closed door deal with Big Pharma.

Beyond the howls and shouts about the town hall meetings over health care, it is the ongoing White House double talk and conflicting reports about what Obama did or did not promise the pharmaceutical industry in secret confabs at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue which pose the greatest risk of self-inflicted political damage to the president.

Throughout the campaign, Obama famously promised that when he came to tackle the intractable problem of health care, he would broadcast on C-Span his meetings with Big Pharma, which he vowed would bend to the full power of the federal government in negotiating prescription drug prices for Medicare, perhaps the single most important and practical consumer reform at stake in the health care debate.

If reports are true, however, that Obama promised to cap the concessions on promised savings by the industry at $80 billion -– in exchange for a $150 million advertising campaign backing whatever plan the president supports — Obama will swiftly lose the mantle of political and personal integrity that was the crucial factor in his election as a tribune of new politics. Without that, his Yes-We-Can rhetoric about fundamental change will grow ever more empty and hypocritical.

Slow news month, indeed.woodstock2

P.S. Amid all the real news, it’s good to see that leading media organizations have not forsworn that hardy summer perennial, the August anniversary story. Here are three of our favorites:

1. Jon Pareles of the New York Times churned out a delightful essay on the coming 40th anniversary of Woodstock, accompanied by a cornucopia of multi-media delights that reminded Calbuzz of our head band and love bead days.

2. Speaking of head bands, the Post also made good use of what you like to call your multi-platform storytelling in a 40-year look back at the Manson Family and the Helter Skelter murders.

3. And lest we forget, the By God L.A. Times reminds us that the Big Dick, who almost screwed the pooch on Manson’s conviction by declaring him guilty before the verdict, resigned as president 35 years ago this month.

Swap Meet: Google Text Ads Meet Health Care Riots

Saturday, August 8th, 2009

stevepointingAt least he’s not defensive: Thanks to the anonymity-please Calbuzzer who forwarded a Steve Poizner Google text ad encountered during a no-doubt vigorous session of web surfing. It reads, in full:

“Be Well Informed in 2010 – www.StevePoizner.com –Meg isn’t the only candidate. See the alternatives.”

To which the alert member of the Calbuzz Insider News Tip Team smartly opines: “A little defensive, don’t you think?”

Yes, we do, though it’s not hard to understand the frustration that led Team Poizner to post it. While the Insurance Commissioner has begun to make  himself accessible to the press and is offering substantive speeches and policy proposals on issues like water, Meg merrily captures national attention by doing little more than flashing her Cabbage Patch smile.

Latest example of eMeg’s duck-the-press strategy is freezing Calbuzz out of a “Lincoln Speaker Series” fundraiser tossed by the Santa Cruz County GOP, a move which likely has Honest Abe spinning in his grave.

“I’ll be sure to let you know when there’s another event in the area that will be open to media,” Whitman flack Sarah Pompei told us.

Hey thanks a bunch for your faux sincerity, Sarah, we’ll be sure to hold our breath. Sorry about that whole volcano thing, BTW.

Milton_FriedmanWhat would Milton do: Speaking of defensive, Joel Fox over at Fox and Hounds Daily risked dislocating a hip by leaping up and rushing forward to respond after Joe Matthews Mathews wrote a smart column on the same site suggesting that the late, iconic economist Milton Friedman would see the present need to amend Proposition 13.

“I think it is safe to say,” Fox wrote, with a bit of a protests-too-much tone, “that if Milton Friedman were asked today if he would vote for Proposition 13, his answer would be ‘yes.’”

The brainy Mathews isn’t so sure.

He recounted an interview he had with Friedman four years ago in which the great chrome dome said that Prop. 13 had turned out to be a “mixed bag.” Even though Uncle Milton supported the tax cut measure at the time it passed – even making a TV ad for it – he said in the interview that “it’s a bad tax measure because the property tax is the least bad tax there is” adding that it helped bring about an over-reliance on sales and income tax revenue.

Mathews’ otherwise thoughtful piece was badly flawed, however, by his gratuitous inclusion of the fact that he – Mathews, not Friedman – was just five years old when Prop. 13 passed in 1978. A bushel of big fat raspberries from the Calbuzz AARP and Geezer Auxiliary Division for that crack, pal.

Assembly’s Hidden Ball Trick: The By God L.A. Times finally caught up with Capitol Weekly’s Anthony York, who first reported last week on how the political geniuses in the Assembly expunged the official record of the big budget vote against Arnold’s offshore oil drilling proposal. True, the Times did broaden the story to talk about the mischievous practice of dumping vote tallies on other controversial legislation (leading widely-known media critics to suggest their newsroom still operates on its pre-digital principle: “it doesn’t matter if we write it last, as long as we write it long”). But it was left to the reliable Timm Herdt to actually report the damn vote on his blog for the Ventura County Star.


Say it ain’t so Mark: Calbuzz has been second to none in bashing Senator Leland Yee for his preposterous notion to turn over governing authority of the UC system to the clown show of the Legislature. But even we have to admit that the Regents offered up a big fat argument in favor of the notion with their latest let-them-eat-cake move, awarding comfy raises and bonuses to top administrators at the same meeting that President Mark Yudof presented the board his plan to whack the salaries of every other UC employee through a mandated furlough policy. The relentless Nanette Asimov dug out the story for the Chron.

A shameful spectacle: All Right Thinking People agree that the recent spate of thuggish shout-downs and near-riots at town hall meetings, convened to talk about health care by members of congress across the nation, are a pure and simple disgrace, orchestrated in part by the kind of vicious-minded reactionary consultants who doubtless find amusing the dangerous ranting of the lunatic Glenn Beck and the repulsive Michelle Malkin.

These Brown Shirt exhibitions of George Wallace throwback behavior fuel not-so-latent racism and visceral fear of the rapidly changing economy among white working class folks who scream with fury when asked about a public option for health care insurance one minute, then shout out huzzahs for Medicare the next.

Always solution oriented, Calbuzz has a small but substantive suggestion for lowering the volume: require attendees to show some form of identification at the door to prove they actually live in the congressional district where the town hall is being held.

Breathless anticipation: Only 305 days to the 2010 primary. Have a great weekend.