Saturday, April 18, 2009

Blogging from the Obama 100 Day Progress Report

Hi, this is a live blog from the Obama 100 Days Progress Report.  I'll try to update it with the information that comes out of various sessions.

Sylvester Brown speaking: thanks to everyone for their show of support earlier in the week. 'I never expected to have African American President.  Never expected to have such an engaging human being who spoke to millions across the world."

Goals of the event:

  • To hold the Obama administration accountable on critical issues/ campaign promises
  • To engage local groups in advancing their work on the selected issues
  • To actively engage citizens in issues that effect their families and/or their community
  • To aid in the strengthening of a progressive agenda and the overall movement

Education Committee:

Appointed Leaders:
Arne Duncan: Secretary of Education
John Easton, Institute of Education

  • Education Initiative of Obama's admin:
  • Increase spending on charter schools
  • Mayoral control of schools
  • Merit Pay/TAP
  • Alternative certifications, Teach For America
  • "Race to the Top" initiitives
  • Testing and Standardization
  • Anti-vouchers
  • Accountability systems (data tracking)
  • Transition GED students to community colleges and provide specific job training.

Stimulus Monies are being used to implement reforms "backdoor reauthorization of NCLB"
In order for states to get money, they need to buy into accountability structure, which is a framework for merit pay.
Schools can be closed and then reopened as charter schools (without a discussion of what kind of money public schools would need to improve).

Session will focus on frames and themes and analyze them in light of our own experiences.  Create new frames.  Come up with action plan.

Peace Committee:

Michael McPhearson, Executive Director of Veterans for Peace
Andy Heaslet, Peace Economy Project
Lori Reed, American Friends Service Committee

Talking about how militarism drives economic decisions.

Good grades: closing Guantanamo, but concern that Bagram will become a new Guantanamo.
Specific committment on Iraq.  Building infrastructure to address poverty in Afganistan.

Bad Grades: arms trade.  The U.S. is a major exporter of arms.  The position that arms trade stabilizes regions is dead wrong.  19 of recent major conflicts armed through U.S. weapons.  Nearly 700 billion dollars going to the pentagon.  Claim that war spending is good for the economy is mythology.  For every $20 spend on military dollars in Afganistan, only $1 spend on non-military.

Also will discuss new policies on Iraq and Afganistan.

Health Care Committee

10 people will be dead today because they don't have health insurance in Missouri.  Lots of opportunities to get involved in health care reform locally.  Opposition is well-funded, tight, strong, and "on message."  Throw five randomly in a room and they'll all say the same thing.  The Left is not on the same page.

Earlier had a Heath-Care Roundtable at SLU
Huge cuts in Missouri.  At local level in St. Louis, Terry Kennedy presented a report where, in North St. Louis, if you ask people where they get mental health care help, the #1 answer is jail.

Amy Smoucha from jwj and Julie Terbrock from Pro-Vote, Jerry Tucker from local labor groups.

I'm going to the Peace Breakout Session.

Andy, Peace Economy Project

Overall worst sign:

Defense spending still increasing by 21 billion under Obama, but could have been over $50 (Obama said no to many requests).

Obama's new plan alleviates need for Stop Loss, but not perfectly (since we're still committed abroad).

Accelerating orders of F35...buying something before we know how its going to work.  But this gave him an excuse to cancel F22, one of the most wasteful projects ever (built to fight a non-existant enemy).  

Reduction of contractors, cutting to 26% from 35%

Wrapping up production of C17

One of the most positive: radical changes to weapons procurement projects.  70% of such projects are currently over budget.

Mixed bag in general.  Military spending can be streamline (hawks and peaceniks can agree on this).  

400 bases abroad (more than one per country.

Bill Ramsey asks if Gates' cuts are even possible.  If Congress provides the money then Gates might not have any control.  Also, we should look at the role of contractors rather than just raw percentage: food service and custodial can be given to local contractors, but security jobs should not be handled by contractors (like Blackwater).

Michael McPhearson, Veterans for Peace

Both Iraq and Afganistan border Iran

Obama states that the mission has fundamentally changed starting in August 31, 2010.   But there will be combat troops in Iraq to train and to provide security.

Says their goals are to (1) get rid of al Qeada, (2) prevent Iran from acquiring nukes, (3) create long-lasting peace between Israel and Arab nations

Grades: C   Do believe he intends to leave Iraq, but timetable is way too long (and if certain things happen we won't leave).

Goals are much more attainable than Bush's, but not necessarily attainable.  Focus on al Qaeda with blinders could be a problem, lead to destabilization of Pakistan.

Bush didn't rely at all on non-military power; Obama does.

Continues to rely on drones.  Drones kill a lot of civilians.  Afghanistan asked them to stop.

Check out for more information.

Give People something to do.

Lori Reed, American Friends Service Committee

$171,700,000,000 is the current cost of war in Afganistan.

Could put 388,240 MO kids in Head Start

or provide 47,279 with health care coverage

People are not stupid. They know reasons why U.S. is in Afganistan.

Rand Corporation estimates liklihood of U.S. victory at 7 % .

Life expectancy there is 44 years.

Biggest recipients of U.S Weapons.

  • Pakistan
  • Iraq
  • Israel
  • Afghanistan 
  • Columbia

Not exactly models of stability.

G20 gives 1 trillion to International Monetary Fund.  Need to get rid of forced privatization, limiting government spending on infrastructure, reducing government work force.

Developing nations must be allowed to use fiscal stimulus, just like rich nations

Assistance to low-income nations should be provided in the form of grants rather than loans.  

"Anti-poor" conditions must be dropped.

What you can do:

  • Join something
  • Write a letter to the editor
  • Sign the countdown petition
  • Lobby

Hedy Epstein says, "those don't work.  Only thing that will work is getting millions of people in the street."

Mike Berger: given that our worst nightmare is al Qeada taking over Pakistan with their nuclear weapons, how can any rational military planner continue to use drone attacks (which are angering the Pakistani population)? 


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  2. Health Care Committee

    10 people will be dead today because they don't have health insurance in Missouri. Lots of opportunities to get involved in health care reform locally. Opposition is well-funded, tight, strong, and "on message." Throw five randomly in a room and they'll all say the same thing. The Left is not on the same page.

    Earlier had a Heath-Care Roundtable at SLU
    Huge cuts in Missouri. At local level in St. Louis, Terry Kennedy presented a report where, in North St. Louis, if you ask people where they get mental health care help, the #1 answer is jail.

    Amy Smoucha from jwj and Julie Terbrock from Pro-Vote, Jerry Tucker from local labor groups.

    The above was taken from St. Louis Activist Hub, author Adam.

    I broke out into the health care group.
    I see the impact of lack of health care with my neighbors, friends’ handicapped children, and my own work with handicapped teens and typically developing yet poor young teenagers on a daily basis. As I learned today, the Missouri State Senate and Legislators have in a crazy unison of take away and give back, managed to drastically cut Medicare benefits and all I can expect is to see more human suffering because of their decisions. I know that sounds selfish, but believe me after seeing this up close at my work for the past thirteen years, I do hurt along with them.

    Mike Mancini kept the discussion going at a pretty good pace for such an intricate topic.
    I learned so much today!

    Health care was looked at in three contexts: Federal, State, and local. Terry Kennedy from the 18th ward in North St. Louis Co. gave an excellent overview of the health care problems in that area. More later.

    Speaking to the State level was Megan Burke from Paraquad. Low income requirements for Medicaid for a family of 3 in Missouri are presently 20% of the federal poverty level.
    Governor Nixon wanted it to raise to 50% pf the federal poverty level. The legislature said no and in particular stripped much from mental health and disability funds such as diapers. There are growing waiting lists for services. But what the legislators took away the Senators gave back, kind of. It is in a piecemeal fashion and still is heavily waited against the working poor, mental health, and the disabled.

    Amy Smoocha from Health Care for All was able to hold both the present Missouri we have to work with and the long term goals in her mind at the same time. I personally enjoyed her perspective.
    I learned many of our legislators do not want the Government to fund health care; they still insist on it being privatized. Insurance companies, in other words. This is why they won’t expand Medicare for the working poor and have cut out others, to keep these people from getting used to it. Some people were added back in, but they only get 3 years. Maybe 2 more if you are in school, like a kid. When the Federal funds run out they are once again shut out under the present Senate plan.
    Oh, there is still time to protest this, it is not written in stone yet.

    Terry Kennedy spoke about health care at the local level and specifically, the contract between his ward and Barnes Hospital.
    They agreed to the Volunteer Money from Hospitals after contract negotiations over a desired parking lot. Kennedy and the African American Aldermen did a study on the effects of the lack of health care on the community in his ward also as part of an agreement for the Volunteer Money.
    I learned getting health care in N. St. Louis County is similar to living in a 3rd world country. There are 0 doctors based there. They do have some free clinics, but meet those requirements. It can be a huge hurdle for many, so the health is neglected. An African American Male in N. St. Louis has a life expectancy 15 – 20 years less than the average American. People are afraid of crime. Actually, the highest crime area is an area in the Central West End. The subject of racism and role models for African American children was brought up. The number of applicants of color to med schools has gone down.
    We can write to the CEO’s and Administrator of the Barnes Jewish Hospital System to encourage them to work with other organizations interesting in funding this area.

    Speaking to the Federal level was Jerry Tucker who also represented the one payer system and labor unions.
    He was interesting. His belief is that we can not compromise on this one payer system and we must continue to push it. He was not going to back down to the bitter end.
    I think we need people like him. He spoke to the problem of not presenting a united front. That is our undoing in Republicans’ mind, who do present as one (the Borg) and know what their united front against health care is. Ultimately he and many others, including myself, felt this is the way we must go eventually. The sheer number of the U.S. population will dictate that. The costs of health care will just be too high for businesses, insurance payers, and the emergency rooms of hospitals to bear.
    See Congressman Conyers bill, HR 676, Medicare for all.

    Obama’s Public Option Plan was also addressed as a group. It is seen by many as a way to bring about a one payer plan or Medicare for all. We are all encouraged to become part of that plan if we would like to see a one payer system. It was generally agreed that we would not get a one payer plan in the next 2 years, although there were some who said we must press for that.

    After this, we all got together and discussed what each group learned. I came away with a better idea of how the politics of health care works and what has so far happened.