Reflections on Healthcare Town Hall and the Public Option

If the crowd at Rep. Martin Heinrich’s town hall meeting on healthcare reform last Saturday was any indication, a majority of voters in the First Congressional District are chomping at the bit for real healthcare reform now.

About two-thirds of the people who waited for hours in the hot sun to get into the event wore stickers or white shirts that indicated they favored the public option plan favored by President Barack Obama and a number of those in Congress.

The public option would give consumers an additional choice in selecting their health insurance coverage – a government-run insurance plan. The idea is that more Americans would be able to be insured and that competition would keep costs down.

Inside the hall at the University of New Mexico Continuing Ed building, it was even easier to determine how many people favor comprehensive health insurance reform. They were the ones who cheered when Heinrich expressed strong support for a public option.

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Freak Show Friday at Clearly NM

Whew!  That’s all I can really say after watching the clip posted below.

Recently there have been a lot of stories about Fox News host Glenn Beck.  Not news they want to have out there – the stories about advertisers pulling their spots from Beck’s program in the wake of his calling President Obama a racist.

But Beck is ramping it up. On last night’s show he made an announcement that he’s tired of being a victim and the gloves are coming off!  He’s tired of being a sheep! From watching his show, I don’t know when the gloves were ever on, but tonight he promised proclaim his plan to show Americans exactly how to “take back their republic.”

Yet what might be even more interesting, or should I say entertaining, was the chart of words Beck pulled out last night on his blackboard on which he deciphered a conspiratorial code.

By assembling the first letters of words like Obama, revolutionaries, ACORN, hidden agenda, etc., Glenn produced the word OLIGARH, thus spelling out the secret plan that unites them all — the supposed Obama oligarchy to come.

That’s right oligarchy, not “oligarhy.” When Glenn asked the audience what letter was missing, I’m sure most said “C”. They must have been surprised when he said “Y” instead.  Obviously he was doing this to make a point of asking why, but in the end he raised even more questions about his rationale for what he says on his show.

Yet the Y that’s missing for me in this picture is “why” is Glenn Beck wasting so many people’s time by still being on TV?  Why are people still taking him seriously?

New Mexico Green Jobs Training in Action

I recently attended a pretty cool climate symposium last Friday that was held at UNM and hosted by the NM League of Women Voters and the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club.

One of the best presentations I saw that day was a panel composed of staff and members of Santa Fe “¡YouthWorks! and some City of Santa Fe representatives who have been helping to sustain the program.

¡YouthWorks! is a tremendous organization with a green jobs training model for youth that has a long track record of success.  It was a great feeling to listen to participants talk about their experiences and hear about the college degrees they’re currently pursuing.

But that’s enough of me talking about them.  Take a look at this video of the symposium panel and see for yourself why Youthworks’ work is so important.

Here’s the video:

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TIDD Panel Draws Fire from Legislators

Senator Bernadette Sanchez

Senator Bernadette Sanchez

State Senator Bernadette Sanchez’s attempt to present a “balanced” panel to address the state legislature’s Economic and Rural Development Committee on the issue of TIDDs today backfired as several legislators questioned why no one “from the other side” was on the panel.

Legislators including Rep. Ben Rodefer, Sen. Tim Keller, Rep. Nate Cote, Sen. Steve Fischmann and Rep. Debbie Rodella all questioned the make-up of the expert panel Sanchez had assembled to answer legislators’ questions about TIDDs, or Tax Increment Development Districts.

TIDDs were a hot topic during the last Legislative session, when, in the wee hours, legislators narrowly rejected a proposal that would have seen the state give SunCal nearly $500 million in future tax revenue so the company could develop a parcel of land it owns on Albuquerque’s West Side.

Despite the defeat, SunCal has said it will push the TIDD proposal again during the next legislative session.

At today’s hearing, Rodella and others objected to the presence of SunCal lobbyist and former state Tax and Revenue Secretary Dick Minzner, who announced at the beginning of the panel that he was there to answer general questions about TIDDS and not just to talk about the SunCal proposal.

However, the hearing threatened to turn into the SunCal show as legislators fired most of their questions at Minzner.

Fischmann said he can’t understand how taxpayers could benefit from a deal that would see them paying hundreds of millions of dollars and ending up not even owning the development. “Would any reasonable person enter into this agreement?” he asked.

Minzner replied that the government and taxpayers get a portion of any gross receipts generated by the project.

Rodefer drilled into allegations of bad fiscal management by SunCal, noting that top Lehman Brothers executives publicly blamed SunCal for a number of failed development projects the two companies collaborated on in California.

“Do we really want to hand $500 million to a failed California developer?” he asked in a brief interview outside the hearing.

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Viva Kennedy

Cesar Chavez, Ted Kennedy and Coretta Scott King

Cesar Chavez, Ted Kennedy and Coretta Scott King

Senator Ted Kennedy is gone.

Reflecting on his passing, I found myself recalling the night of June 3, 1980. Watching the returns come in from that day’s New Mexico Democratic Primary, we learned that Kennedy had defeated Jimmy Carter, a sitting President – 46% to 42%.

Here’s an amazing factoid.  The turnout in that primary twenty-nine years ago was 160,120. Contrast that with the last Democratic presidential primary held in New Mexico in 2000 (before the party switched to the caucus). In that one, just 144,902 turned out for the Gore-Bradley contest. You can look it up.

Indeed, the Kennedys always have held a special place in the hearts of many New Mexicans. To this day, I daresay that the number of JFK portraits hanging in New Mexico households, especially in the north, far exceeds per capita what you would find anywhere else in the land.

Throughout his public life, Ted Kennedy issued the trumpet call for liberal reform and economic justice. He fought the hard fight in the Senate for peace, civil rights and the environment. Most of the progressive legislation of the last 40 years bears his stamp.

He spoke to our hopes, not our fears.

And going back to the 1970s, Kennedy has stood taller than all the rest in his commitment to the fight for universal health care. In a recent Newsweek commentary, he called it, “The Cause of My Life.”

An essential part of our progressive vision is an America where no citizen of any age fears the cost of health care, and no employers refuse to create new jobs or cuts back on current jobs because of the high cost of providing health insurance.

-Senator Edward Kennedy, January 12, 2005

In times of tragedy and loss, his brother Robert turned for consolation to the Greek poets.  So today, let us consider the words of one the earliest, Hesiod:

The best is he who calls men to the best.
And those who heed the call are likewise blessed.
But worthless who call not, heed not, but rest.

Goodbye, Senator Kennedy. We will not rest. “The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.”

First Amendment still stands in NM, despite AG appeal

The Center for Civic Policy is disappointed that New Mexico Attorney General Gary King has chosen to appeal the recent decision by United States District Court Judge Judith Herrera in favor of New Mexico Youth Organized (NMYO) and the Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP).

“It’s unfortunate Attorney General Gary King – the top attorney in the state – refuses to acknowledge that the First Amendment applies the same in New Mexico as it does in the other forty-nine states,” said Matt Brix, policy director for the Center for Civic Policy – which sponsors NMYO. “Attorney General King’s actions spell trouble for all New Mexicans who care about free speech.”

King’s decision will needlessly cost the taxpayers of New Mexico, said George Lujan, communications director for SWOP.

“The Attorney General’s actions also spell trouble for all New Mexico taxpayers who are concerned about the waste of literally hundreds of thousands of additional dollars on irresponsible and pointless litigation,” said Lujan.

In her decision two weeks ago, Judge Herrera carefully explained why criticism of elected officials is not something that government can regulate, except in the narrow circumstance when the criticism occurs near an election and is accompanied by a plea to vote for or against a candidate.

It is dismaying that Attorney General King has chosen to ignore Judge Herrera’s decisive ruling on First Amendment rights and will instead subject taxpayers to more expensive and unnecessary litigation.

“Stand up to insurance industry,” radio ad urges Bingaman

Jeff_BingamanNew Mexico’s own Sen. Jeff Bingaman is currently helping craft a bipartisan proposal in the Senate Finance Committee, which will undoubtedly influence the final Senate bill.

The health insurance industry doesn’t want to see a healthcare reform bill that gives Americans the choice of a public option and is spending millions of dollars in Congress to lobby against it. Resisting that powerful force will not be easy.

Today the Center for Civic Policy released a radio ad urging Sen. Bingaman to stand up against the insurance industry and continue supporting a strong public option on behalf of all New Mexicans.

Here’s the ad:

Health insurance companies have been ripping Americans off for years.  In the current debate in Congress over healthcare reform, the best chance we have to keep them at bay is by keeping a strong public option in play.

A public option would provide a competitive alternative to more expensive private insurance and give Americans a true choice in their healthcare coverage.

Perhaps the Denver Post said it best in an editorial published yesterday.

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How about “Honest and Accurate” for a change?

FauxNewsThe recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll indicating that the anti-health care reform disinformation campaign seems to be getting traction raises serious questions about how the news media have been covering this story.  (For example, 45 percent of those polled are buying into the “death panel” lie that health care reform will allow the government to stop providing medical care for the elderly.)

It would seem that coverage focusing on detailed analysis of the actual provisions in the health care bills doesn’t make for good TV.  On the other hand, interviews with militia members explaining the finer points of health care policy apparently do.

There’s a great post on Daily Kos that gets at this question. Here’s the key piece:

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Reflections on Netroots Nation and the mainstream media

NetrootsNationI’ve been remiss in not writing a post wrapping up my trip last week to Netroots Nation in Pittsburgh.

It was the fourth annual conference organized by folks from the blog Daily Kos and it was – as it was when I attended last year – an intellectually-stimulating summit of the nation’s most influential and independent progressive bloggers.

For me the most memorable moment came during the event’s first night, when former President Bill Clinton gave the opening keynote to the gathering about 1,500 mostly appreciative bloggers.

You’ve probably read about how Clinton got heckled mid-speech by a gay rights activist regarding Clinton’s role in the military’s much-maligned ‘don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

Watching that testy drama unfold live in front of me was certainly fascinating.

But I think the most moving part of the speech came when Clinton thanked bloggers at Netroots Nation for “dramatically elevating the level of our public discourse” and increasing the base level of knowledge among people who read what we write.

“You hold the seeds of a genuine revolution in our public life, and you do it by mobilizing people and generating emotion, but also by getting people to think,” Clinton said.  “People trust you — even people who read you who don’t agree with you, they believe that you believe what you put down. They don’t believe that you fudge the facts, they believe that you’re being straight with them.”

I found myself thinking about Clinton’s comments this week as I read the results of an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll that found that, (from MSNBC), “majorities in the poll believe the plans would give health insurance coverage to illegal immigrants; would lead to a government takeover of the health system; and would use taxpayer dollars to pay for women to have abortions. Forty-five percent think the reform proposals would allow the government to make decisions about when to stop providing medical care for the elderly.”

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Putting the Brakes on New Mexico’s Solar Energy Industry?

solarpanelMany in our state have been working to uplift the solar industry so that many more New Mexicans can have access to the clean energy that is so plentiful and easy to harness here.  There is a growing awareness  of our state’s of the enormous potential for solar energy production, and of the fact that we have the scientific infrastructure, along with the public and business support, to maximize this opportunity.

Local advocacy groups, like the NM Solar Energy Association, are doing superb work in educating  the public about the benefits of solar energy  (make sure to check out their Solar Fiesta next month).  The Renewable Energy Industry Association, composed of renewable energy businesses, is enlisting ever increasing public and governmental support to help expand the solar industry.

Several state and federal incentives have been enacted in the past few years to assist in financing residential solar installation. And the Albuquerque city government is looking at yet another helpful financing mechanism to put into the mix.

We proudly recall the day when Governor Richardson  proclaimed  New Mexico the “clean energy state.” This year he took a bold step toward fulfilling this vision by helping to create the Green Jobs Cabinet. It’s mission:  “Enhance clean energy and clean technology economic development and job creation in New Mexico.”

So it would seem that we have all the right players in place, all partnering together to ensure that the solar industry grows to achieve this great vision and meet the demand in our state.

Unfortunately, there may be a hitch.

Recently PNM, our local electric utility, announced plans to discontinue its solar energy incentive program for residential and commercial users.

According to this NM Business Weekly article, PNM wants to drop the program because the “market is growing too fast”.

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