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Health care reform will save lives and money

I usually stick to local and state issues, but, what the hell, let's wade into health care reform. Everyone else is.

A perfect piece of legislation, it isn't. Then again, that could be said about most of the bills passed in Washington. And Albany. And City Hall, for that matter.

That said, the big picture I take away from its passage of the health care reform bill is that it will save money and lives.

A study by the Harvard Medical School concluded last year that 45,000 Americans die annually because of a lack of health insurance, and thus, extending coverage to 32 million Americans is going save tens of thousands of lives every year.

Gee, that strikes me as pro-life.

Meanwhile, the bi-partisan Congressional Budget Office has calculated that the reform bill over the next decade would cut the federal deficit by an estimated $138 billion over the next decade.

You can argue whether the savings could or should have been greater, but $138 billion is not chump change.

There are a ton of details one can argue, but for me, the view from 10,000 feet isn't bad. Certainly better than the status quo, and let's face it, that's what we were looking at. The Republicans, when they in charge, never made a serious stab at health care reform. They were too busy starting wars, wire tapping and water boarding people, and turning Bill Clinton's surplus into a cavernous deficit.

There was room for honest disagreement over what health care reform should have entailed, but let's face it, the Republicans were never serious about an honest debate. It's been all about obstruction.

That's why I get a chuckle when I read Monday that John McCain - the flip-flopping fossil who gave us Sarah Palin -- said passage of health care reform means no cooperation from the GOP for at least the rest of this year.  

To quote the song lyric -- you can't lose what you never had.

Tell us about it, Muddy.

I see one clear benefit from health care reform. Obama and the Democrats have stopped pussy footing around. Or are at least wisening up.

Already, there's talk about pressing ahead with reform of the regulations governing the nation's financial system. That reform enjoys widespread public support and which will likely result in the GOP digging in and siding the the bankers and Wall Street investment houses. That won't go over well with the public, which is why the Republicans would like to keep talking about health care reform.

They'll keep yelling about socialism and other such nonsense. I'm reading a biography of Franklin Roosevelt and it's striking how the rhetoric emanating from the right hasn't changed much over the years. Back then, social security equated socialism. Now, it's health care reform. Race baiting continues unabated. Etc.

Budweiser It's funny how the right was OK with expanding government power when Dubya was president and it involved torture, wire taps and snooping to see what books people were borrowing from the library.

But provide health insurance to Americans - hold on there, you've gone too far.

Honey, find me my concealed weapon, and fetch me a Budwieser while you're at it.

I don't expect it will quiet down any time soon. The Republicans have seen their rule-or-ruin strategy of the past year fail, adding insult to the injury of not only having a Democrat occupying the White House, but a black Democrat. Their defeat over the weekend makes them that much more desperate.


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A rogue's gallery of politicians

Odds & ends for a chilly Tuesday (how soon until pitchers and catchers report?) ...

I read where the tab for Chris Collins and Tim Howard's insistence that they don't have to correct the documented mistreatment of prisoners at the county jail and holding center has hit $140,000 in outside attorney fees - and the matter hasn't even come to trial yet. At $450 an hour, things are going to get worse before they get better. Do you think his handling of the situation is one of the things Collins mentions when he is out on the stump campaigning for governor?

Mayor Byron Brown went to Albany Monday to complain about Gov. David Paterson's proposed budget, which, among other things, would trim state aid to cities by up to 5 percent. The mayor told a panel of state Senators and Assembly members that, far from a cut, Albany should increase aid to Buffalo. Hmmmm. The state is facing a multi-billion-dollar deficit, while the city has enough money in the bank that Brown wants to share the wealth by cutting property taxes. So, in effect, the gut with a fat wallet wants a raise from the guy holding a tin cup. Unbelievable. The city has been on the dole so long that it now suffers from a distorted sense of entitlement.

Senate wannabe Harold Ford made the rounds in Buffalo on Sunday -- if you can call a handful of wham-bam appearances making the rounds. You've probably read The News' account of the visit. Here's what the New York Times reported. And here's what Times columnist Paul Krugman has to say about Ford - it's not flattering.

Should girlfriend-beating Hiram Monserrate get the hook from the state Senate? Yeah. Does the party that promoted his coup partner Pedro Espada deserve the grief that comes with keeping him around? Oh yeah.

On the day Barack Obama took office I wrote that while I was hoping for the best, I was prepared to be disappointed. Well, folks, I'm disappointed. But also mindful that whatever grade I might give Obama for his first year it office, it is way better than the "Z-minus" his predecessor earned for eight years running.

I have a one-word response for those ready to toss Obama overboard for a return of the Republicans: Dubya.

If you've already forgotten the nightmare, take this stroll down memory lane.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I rest my case.


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A funny Obama Facebook page

Anyone with a Facebook account will LOL over this fictitious Barack Obama page.

Obama, Take 3

The Obama White House has a blog. Interesting.

Jeff Jarvis, one of the innovative new media thinkers in the biz, offers his two cents on his blog, Buzzmachine.

Now that Barack Obama is in the White House, he must continue to use and spread the tools of the internet and transparency that he so brilliantly plied to win the office or else it would make his promises of change empty ... 

A new age of government openness, and collaboration with the citizenry won’t be made on one blog or Twitter or RSS feed or YouTube stage. It will be made by issuing and instilling a new ethic of transparency in government.

I argue that we should abolish the Freedom of Information Act and instead make transparency the default for government’s business, which should occur digitally and in the open, so citizens may search, link, comment on, and analyze it. Rather than our asking the government to release our information, the government should ask our permission not to.

Speaking of which, Obama, on his first full day on the job, issued an executive order intended to make it earier for the press and public to obtain government information under the federal Freedom of Information Law. Dubya had tightened access.

We FOI Freaks, and anyone who supports government transparency, are real happy about this, although there are still a few hanging questions. I file 50 to 100 FOI requests a year -- mostly with state and local governments -- and it is an invaluable tool for prying loose information and data.

Hopefully, Obama's action will have a ripple effect, not so much on state FOI legislation, which is pretty good here in New York, but in changing attitudes of the gatekeepers of public information, many of whom remain either ignorant of the law or hostile to its intent.

And the new White House blog, and the push to bring the federal government into the Internet Age, should also prompt people in local and state government to do likewise. At present, almost everything around here is really lame.

Around Christmas, I went to Buffalo's web site in an effort to find out if trash pickups were delayed because of the holiday. Good luck. If the information was there, it was buried. Not to pick on Buffalo -- there are a lot worse local government sites out there.




Obama, Take 2

How can Western New York parlay an Obama presidency into progress?

I posed that question to a number of people I've dealt with over the years and I got back two overriding themes.

Obama "gets" cities and thus we can expect a more enlightened approach to urban issues. And we've got urban issues.

We've also got a lot of green potential, and Obama also gets green.

So, we've got some things to work with. Not that we've gotten off on the right foot.

Over the weekend, Erie County Executive Chris Collins and Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown held a press conference to unveil their respective county and city "stimulus package proposals." Really just a couple of wish lists of public works projects they'd like Washington to fund. Stuff including new docks at Erie Basin Marina, air conditioning for City Hall and numerous road repairs.

Collins and Brown couldn't even be bothered merging and prioritizing their lists, much less sitting down with the folks in Niagara County to develop a regionwide strategic plan.

Nope, it's everyman for himself.

This is what passes for leadership in this town.

Here's a flavor of what some of the folks who responded to my e-mail had to say, edited lightly for brevity and clarity:

Mike Clarke, executive director of the Buffalo office of the Local Initiatives Services Corp., a non-profit that underwrites local housing and community projects.

Obama, as our first urban president in many years, brings an understanding of the needs and importance of vital cities to regions that can't be understated.

He knows that cities are places that can spawn innovation and interaction among closely aligned institutions like universities and medical centers. That they more efficiently serve more people at less public infrastructure and maintenance expense than sprawling suburbs. That they still contain the industrial infrastructure that built this country and that those spaces can be redeployed to create the engines of production for green technology by retrofitting them for wind and solar manufacturing. That they are the hubs for new modes of transportation through the development of high-speed rail. 

He also has two very city-oriented appointees on his team. Senior White House adviser Valerie Jarret has been involved professionally in housing and finance in Chicago. Incoming HUD Secretary, Sean Donovan, is an extremely intelligent guy and provides Obama with another uniquely qualified person who comes with a deep understanding of the needs of cities.

Henry L. Taylor, director of the Center for Urban Studies at the University at Buffalo.

"Urban policy is going to be a significant component of Obamaism, and this bodes well. This will probably be reflected in the reinvention of HUD, greater collaboration among federal agencies and a transformation in federal – city relations.

This is good news for cities like Buffalo, but for the city to take advantage of the situation, I think we have to identify the top developmental priorities and formulate a strategy to link economic development to the regeneration of distressed communities.  Within this context, there are three areas of great promise.

1. Brownfield development and green industries—the numerous brownfields in the Buffalo-Niagara region could become green gold.  Many brownfields are located near or adjacent to distressed communities.  This creates a wonderful opportunity to link brownfield regeneration to community redevelopment.  Within this context, the Buffalo region is already carving out a niche in green industries. The key is to create a regional brownfield strategy that leads to synergistic development, rather than competition.  On this point, infrastructure initiatives ought to be tied to brownfield regeneration and bolstering the competitive edge of the city.

2.The Buffalo-Niagara region has a strong focus on knowledge-intensive industries, especially medical institutions and universities. This creates two interrelated opportunities for the regions. First, strategies, similar to UB’s 20/20 program, should be encouraged among the Meds and Eds to stimulate the development of quality, stable jobs and opportunities. Second, we must find creative ways to use the total institutions – Meds and Eds – from their purchasing power to intellectual prowess to work toward attacking the problem of distressed neighborhoods. The problem of urban distress is the most urgent problem facing the City and Meds and Eds can play a significant role in solving it.

3. The city needs to develop new and innovative approaches to battling neighborhood distress. The Obama administration will be looking to support innovative distressed neighborhood programs, such as the Harlem Project with its comprehensive approach to revitalization. "

Walter Simpson, co-founder of the Western New York Climate Action Coalition.

My hope is the Obama will focus so clearly and forcefully on climate change that Mayor Brown and other community leaders in local government, business, education, etc. will get off their duffs, develop climate actions plans and start addressing this problem.

I did not see the beginning of the green economy in the local project lists developed by the city and county.

Phil Wilcox, community affairs specialist with Local 97 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

Last month, Empire State Development Chair Robert Wilmers reiterated a decades old challenge – we have few if any shovel ready sites in WNY available for development.  The main challenge is our industrial legacy leaving behind brownfields.The environmentally compromised sites have otherwise very valuable infrastructure: rail, truck routes, industrial sewers, and most importantly – electric transmission lines.  Liability scares off almost all developers.

Any green energy of other industrial development must have a site to locate with these transmission lines nearby – or spend in excess of $1 million dollars a mile to have them built – if you can get permission to site an electric line.  An example is the steel winds windmill project in Lackawanna – located on a brownfield near transmission lines.

Having major stimulus funds available and being hamstrung due to an inability to address the challenge of “no shovel ready sites” would be another lost opportunity for WNY.  These sites represent an enormous economic infrastructure need in WNY – each telling a tale of former prosperity up to and including the 1,600 acre Bethlehem site.

In the massive effort of restoring to “shovel ready” these multiple sites - drive the River Road from Buffalo to Niagara Falls – don’t skip Buffalo Avenue - there is another major opportunity.  Last Spring Senator Schumer was the keynote speaker at the Science Museum to highlight that the region had nearly the highest underrepresented unemployment in the country.  There exists a shelf-ready plan to train underrepresented individuals from brownfields impacted communities remediation skillsets. How could this not be running full throttle?

Readers, let's continue the dialogue.


Obama, Take 1

Barack Obama assumes the presidency today and not a moment too soon.

For starters, it means we're rid of the most incompetent president in the history of the republic. Practically everything Dubya touched turned to you-know-what.

It also means we're past the run-up to the inauguration and all the fawning by the press. The final straw for me was this Sunday's edition of the New York Times Magazine, with a huge photo spread entitled "Obama's People" that treated the subjects like for rock stars. I got a quarter of the way through it before closing the magazine in disgust. Journalism it was not.

People, I don't think it's going to get much better for a while. The press, like much of the nation, is smitten with our new president. The public I can understand - it's been a long eight years. But the press needs to get back to work.

The national press often isn't good on the big stories anyway - witness the way it played lapdog to Dubya after 9-11 and the run-up to the Iraq fiasco, how it never saw the financial meltdown coming. So anything resembling real scrutiny - as opposed to meaningless controversy - of the new administration is going to have to come from the wings. At least for a while.

Me, I'll continue to read the mainstream press, but I'm going to be seeking out voices on the left and right to round out the picture. I'm not talking wind-bag entertainers like Rush Limbaugh, but people with informed, intellectual heft. I suggest you do likewise. 

As for Obama, I, like almost all Americans, save those still lamenting Lee's surrender at Appomattox, hope he succeeds. He's certainly a bright, capable guy who seems to have much of the "right stuff" necessary to be a successful president, especially during these especially difficult times.

My fear is that he'll get sucked into Washington's political culture and the thinking that goes with it and we'll end up with a lot more status quo than the nation thought it was signing on for when it voted for change in November. I think we're already seeing signs of it in some of his key appointments and early decisions.

I like a lot of his senior appointments, starting with the cast he's assembled to deal with global warming. Smart, accomplished, top-notch people. And a lot of other progressive people elsewhere. Finally, some brains and competency.

But some of the key appointments involving big problems, starting with the economy and foreign policy, give me pause.

In Larry Summers and Timothy Geithner, Obama has empowered two prominent members of the deregulation crowd that helped set the table for the financial mess we're in now. For encores, Summers got run out of Harvard and Geithner got nailed for failing to pay tens of thousands of dollars in taxes.

Yeah, yeah, I know, they're both "brilliant." So was Robert McNamara, and all he has to show for his smarts is 50,000 body bags shipped back from Vietnam.

I wouldn't trust Summers and Geithner with my 401-K, much less the national economy. Come to think of it, we did trust these two, among others, and look where it's gotten us.

Then there's Hillary over at the State Department. 

Let's see, as First Lady she botched health care reform. As a U.S. Senator, she didn't do squat for upstate and blew the biggest vote of her career, giving Dubya the green light to got hunting for imaginary WMDs. As a candidate for president, she ran what most observers agree was a pretty crummy campaign. And of late, we've been treated to the news that she used her clout as a Senator on behalf of big donors to her husband's  foundation. 

Yeah, this is someone I want to entrust world peace to.

And the beat goes on.

We've got Eric Holder incoming as attorney general, a guy involved in some of Slick Willie's most-dubious dealings.

We've got Tom Daschle lined up to be secretary of health and human services. Maybe he can ask the doctors to help him regenerate the spine he shed as head of the Senate Democrats when they decided to roll over and play dead when Dubya declared war on the Constitution and human decency.

And then there's chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, who took time away from government in the late 1990s and early 2000s to work  as an investment banker, parlaying his contacts into millions of dollars. In the middle of it, he served on the asleep-at-the-wheel board of Freddie Mac during a wave of scandals.

Look, I know much of this stuff is child's play compared to the Bush crowd, but Obama promised us better.

A few of Obama's early decisions leave me wondering, as well, starting with the economic bailout.

He still favors big tax breaks as a way of stimulating the economy, even though the consensus is that they won't deliver much bang for the buck. He's pushed Congress to release a second wave of bailout money without fixing the problems with the first one, which has been an unqualified bust. And too much of the Phase Two money is earmarked for purposes that don't strike me as having much to do with fixing the economy. But it will give pols like Chuck Schumer an opportunity to play Santa Claus.

Then there's the company Obama is keeping.

I didn't have a problem with him palling around with Bill Ayers. But breaking bread with George Will and his right wing buddies is another matter. I'm only half kidding.

Memo to Obama: Don't talk to those people. They give bad advice and are part of the crowd we just put out at the curb. 

My grumbling notwithstanding, I think Obama has the potential to be a good, maybe great president. But I'm prepared to be disappointed.