AmericaSpeaks: The Debrief

By Tracy Dingmann

This weekend, Albuquerque was one of 19 cities to host the latest incarnation of AmericaSpeaks, an interactive national town hall meeting focusing on real talk about America’s budget and economy.

Thousands of participants gathered at meetings all over the country or joined the conversation online. The organizers of the event had said they wanted to include as many diverse groups as possible to “reflect the authentic views of a large, informed, and representative group of Americans.”

In promotional materials, the organizers said:

“The discussion will not be manipulated by any side or point of view, and will give the American public a real chance to find common ground.”

Organizers say ideas raised at the town hall will be passed along to actual policymakers, including Congressional leaders and the President’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.

The Demographics

So who showed up, and what happened?

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Health Care Reform Act A Welcome Step Toward Worthy Goal

It’s not universal healthcare, but it is in fact a pretty big fucking deal.

With the health care reform bill that President Obama signed yesterday, 32 million of this country’s poorest people will now receive health care coverage for the first time and millions more will get help with paying for the health care they have. The practical effects of the bill go beyond health care – The New York Times called the bill “the federal government’s biggest attack on economic inequality since inequality began rising more than three decades ago.”

In New Mexico – one of the nation’s poorest states with one of the highest rate of uninsured people – at least 100,000 people will likely become eligible for Medicaid, and many more with moderate incomes will get help buying insurance.

Far from being a step toward socialism, as its hysterical detractors claim, what happened yesterday was historic and hard-fought and every bit as American as baseball and apple pie.

Students of history know that the health care act has echoes in the human rights campaign of The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. When he was murdered, King was in act of transitioning the civil rights movement against segregation into the broader “Poor People’s Campaign.” That movement called for an “economic bill of rights” for the poor that included governmental commitments to employment, housing and health care.

Movement marcher John Lewis was central to MLK’s movement then as an organizer and he was central again 40 years later, as a senior congressman from Georgia overseeing the campaign for health care coverage in Congress.

Last week, in an outrageous twist of events, Lewis was targeted on Capitol Hill by anti health care protestors who spit on him and called him a “nigger.” Some things haven’t moved very far in 40 years, I guess.

(You know what they say about those who ignore history.)

Inevitably, the “Party of No” continues to portray the health care reform bill in ridiculous and overblown terms. Horriffically ugly and inaccurate demonstrations marked the discussion of the bill, with protesters likening Obama to Hitler and Stalin – and Republican officeholders not doing much to tamp them down.

Ironically, the odd bedfellows who oppose health care include both those within the insurance industry who have benefitted hugely from the current, bloated American corporate system – and those with virtually nothing who have been victimized by the same system but fail to see the connection.

At Clearly New Mexico, we believe that universal health care for all is a basic human right deeply rooted in the history and promise of America – and we are gratified to see the bill yesterday as being a huge step toward that worthy goal.

Conservatives, Are You Listening?

I know it’s a bit long, but please watch this clip of Tea Party movement leader Mark Williams on CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360” last night.

In it, Williams sticks to his standard Tea Party talking points quite well until Cooper brings up something Williams wrote recently on his blog.

Here’s the exchange:

COOPER: What you are saying makes sense to me here when I’m hearing what you say but then I read on your blog, you say, you call the President, an Indonesian Muslim turned welfare thug and a racist in chief.

WILLIAMS: Yeah, that’s the way he’s behaving.

Watch the clip to see Cooper’s reaction, and the reaction of presidential advisor (to Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton) David Gergen.  And then, watch as Williams shovels himself in even deeper.

From the mouth of its leader, this is what the Tea Party movement stands for.

Conservatives, are you listening?

Lies of the Unhinged: Joe Wilson and the Perfect Match

AdultsAreTalkngIn the matter of Rep. Joe Wilson’s outburst during Wednesday night’s presidential address to Congress – Wilson is the liar, not President Obama. See the fact-checking, courtesy of PolitFact.org and Factcheck.org. (See also CNN).

Capturing the true essence of Wilson’s jaw-dropping eruption was Eileen at In the Pink:

South Carolina Congressman Joe Wilson, mistaking the House Chamber for an Obama Is Hitler town hall rally, screamed “YOU LIE” when Obama tried to dispel the rumor that illegal immigrants would be covered under the new plan. Wilson should’ve gotten his mother to write a note excusing him from attending the speech since it would be filled with socialist propaganda.

So was Wilson really mistaking a Joint Session of the United States Congress for a town hall shout down – or did he have some place else in mind?

How about the British House of Commons?

Credit Albuquerque Journal columnist and Tea Party organizer Jim Scarantino with this one. In his post on the blog/discussion forum he moderates for a crew of local libertarians and John Birchers (yeah, they’re back), Scarantino nominated Wilson for “folk hero” status and actually tried to justify his behavior, asserting that it would have been perfectly normal at Westminster.

Look how the British Prime minister gets treated during the PM’s Moment. “You lie!” shouted once is tame compared to what Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher have faced.

I think Jim is referring to the weekly “Prime Minister’s Questions” period.  Whatever. The trouble with the analogy is that it’s dead wrong.

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What message are these parents sending?

So now President Obama’s speech to the nation’s schoolchildren is over – and somehow we all managed to survive it.

It’s been ineffably sad to see a speech in which the President of the United States simply tells children to study hard and stay in school so distorted and politicized by those who hate him.

Truly, those who engage in such disgusting rhetoric threaten to drag down the rest of us.

But what’s even more dismaying is the effect this controversy has had on our children. It is one thing to hear adults bickering over Obama’s school speech and his right to give it – it is quite another for them to pass their spiteful political judgments on to children.

When I was a student, I was taught to respect the office of the President of the United States, no matter who held that office. As a parent, I continue to respect that authority and have taught my children to, as well.

The funny thing was, after the actual text of the speech was released, it was clear that the message was entirely appropriate, non-political, inspiring and within the scope of the duties of the President of the United States.

And for parents, that should be the bottom line.

I didn’t vote for George Bush, but when he was president, you never saw me screaming bloody murder because he made the cover of my sons’ Weekly Reader. Hell, I’d let George Bush read “My Pet Goat” to my kids, if I thought it would help them want to stay in school and be successful.

And even if – after seeing the transcript of President Obama’s speech in advance – parents still disagreed with the message it contained, what kind of lesson did they give their children by teaching them to simply ignore or get angry with any point of view with which they don’t agree?

Obama’s school speech is over now, but I’m sure that for the haters, it’ll be something they’ll keep talking about for a long, long time.

Health Care Reform 2.0

In an emotional town hall in suburban Annandale, VA today, President Obama spoke with Americans who shared their nightmarish experiences with the existing health insurance industry.

In pledging his commitment to health care reform, Obama spoke favorably of the so-called public option, a government-sponsored health care plan that would operate in competition with private insurance.  Recent polls show an overwhelming number of Americans favor the public option when considering health care reform.

Public forums like the one the president held today have given Americans a high-profile way to air their troubles – and have distinguished Obama as a great “Listener In Chief.”
But at the risk of overplaying the dreaded empathy card, Obama is doing even more to highlight Americans’ agonizingly real problems with the cost, availability and quality of their health care.

The folks at Organizing for America, Obama’s grassroots political organizing arm,  have compiled an archive of personal stories from regular Americans who share their health care horrors.  Organized by city (there are a number of Albuquerque ones),  the archive chronicles real problems from real people, in their own voices. It’s a great outlet for people who want to talk about why our health care system is screaming for reform –  and a handy resource for those who still need convincing.

Check it out.

Live From Rio Rancho….

Health care costs are on everyone’s mind, including some of the 2,300 or so New Mexicans who crowded into the Rio Rancho High School gym yesterday for President Barack Obama’s townhall meeting on credit card company abuse.

The first query right off the bat was about healthcare, and Obama ably converted the townhall into a forum about why he believes significant health care reform must be achieved by Labor Day.

“Medicaid and Medicare costs are the single biggest driver to deficits and national debt, as well as Social Security, defense and interest on the national debt,” he told the Rio Rancho crowd. “These are the lion’s share of the national budget. Most of what’s driving us into debt is health care.”

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Obama’s Office of Budget and Management director Peter Orszag writes more about why Obama believes health care reform is key to American’s fiscal future – and why it needs to be done now.

Go and read it. You’ll be glad you did.

Obama speaks with New Mexico tribal leaders

Obama made a surprise visit to the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque last Thursday, September 18th. This was before his scheduled appearance in Española, where an estimated 10,000 people attended. I was able to get down to the IPCC and talk with folks at the event and snap some shots of Obama supporters.


Obama supporters line up on 12th Street

Obama spent the morning speaking with tribal leaders from New Mexico, answering their questions and laying out his positions on tribal sovereignty, land and water issues, tribal jurisdiction and creating healthy communities for Native Americans.

Many of the folks I spoke with like, Charlie Dorame from Tesuque Pueblo, stated that they were encouraged by Obama’s visit and the time he has made to speak with Native Americans. Governor Salazar of Ohkay Owingeh said he felt like Obama spoke from the heart and that he understood Native issues and seemed open-minded to learning more.

Over the next week I will be posting video interviews that focus on Native Americans in New Mexico and their perspective on this important election year. Stay tuned.

DNC: Obama’s Speech

DENVER – History streamed into Denver’s Invesco Field last night in all shapes, sizes and colors. Nearly 84,000 people stood in line for hours to witness something many in this country thought they might never see – a Black man accept the nomination for the presidency of the United States.

But they also came to hear, finally, a call for leadership for a country weary of war and angry at economic and social imbalances that the current administration refuses to acknowledge, much less address.

And in his historic speech, Barack Obama did not disappoint.
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