Archive for the ‘Political’ Category

The Affordable Care Act is a godsend. Please don’t take it away from me.

I have been reluctant to share my story……just because that’s part of who I am. I don’t typically broadcast facts about my personal life…..to anyone. It’s not in my nature. Even posting on Facebook is an anathema to me. But this is different. And after much procrastination, deliberation, and consternation about what’s to come, I’ve decided that it’s too important to keep quiet.

I have ulcerative colitis. Have had it for almost 17 years. Ulcerative colitis is a chronic—meaning incurable—disease of the lower intestine, or colon, where part or the entire organ becomes inflamed, irritated, often with open ulcers that bleed and produce pus. People who suffer from ulcerative colitis, or are suffering from a flare up, cannot allow themselves to be very far from a bathroom, as the sudden need to literally rush to the toilet can hit them at any time. When experiencing a bad flare up, it’s not unusual for me to have to rush off to the bathroom more than 10-15 times in a single day. It can even cause the occasional incontinence.

Colitis sufferers also have the added bonus of chronic fatigue and low energy levels. It can be a severely debilitating affliction. No one knows what causes it, and even people who have lived with the disease for long periods of time (like myself) cannot know for sure what will cause a flare up. In some sufferers, certain foods are triggers. In others it can be stress related. Or a combination of things. Even after decades of research, ulcerative colitis is a near total mystery even to the best gastroenterologists in the world. And it cannot be cured, only (hopefully) controlled.

When I was first diagnosed I was fortunate enough to be working for the San Diego Chargers, a job that provided health insurance as part of my employment package. I was able to go to a doctor (several, actually), was eventually subjected to a colonoscopy, and diagnosed with pan-colitis, meaning the disease was well advanced and had affected my entire lower intestine. I was in bad shape. It was a living hell.

Because I had insurance at the time I was able to get treatment. I was prescribed several different medications—Asacol and prednisone initially—and eventually got the disease under control. It was also understood that I would be taking medication (the Asacol, or something equivalent to it) in order to keep the disease under control for the rest of my life. After finally getting the disease under control with a bombardment of prednisone, I was able to ween off of that nasty drug, although I still had it available just in case I needed it to help with the occasional flare up. But for the first 12 years or so the Asacol/Lialda/sulfasalazine (which is the cheapest and only generic alternative, but your options are limited) was enough to keep it in check.

However, as happens with many medications that one takes for a long period of time, your body builds up a tolerance to it and it becomes completely ineffective. For me this eventuality came at the absolute worst time.

It is very easy to take employer provided insurance for granted, even for someone like me with a chronic disease. My colitis was kept in check for the most part, and so I didn’t give it much thought when I was eventually forced to choose to leave the Chargers and the insurance they provided. I kept that policy for as long as HIIPA laws would allow, having to pay the full expense out of pocket—and it was expensive—as I went to work for a small real estate finance firm that could not provide insurance. After the HIIPA term expired, I bought a policy that on its face was semi-affordable, but with high deductibles and other bugs that made bankruptcy a likelihood in case of a catastrophe, or even an overnight hospital stay. And it almost did bankrupt me, but that’s another story for another time.

When the economy collapsed at the end of 2008, the small real estate finance firm eventually concluded it could no longer keep me on, and I was laid off. Unemployed, eventually I could no longer maintain even that crappy insurance policy. I became one of the country’s tens of millions of uninsured, and with a chronic disease that could flare up at any time.

And flare up it did. Around the end of 2011, beginning of 2012, it came on like a freight train. I continued taking the sulfasalazine because it was all I could afford, but doctor’s visits were out of the question. My life became a living hell. Just leaving the house became an extreme risk. For two years I suffered. I could barely function. Working full time was almost out of the question.

When Barack Obama began implementing healthcare reform, it gave me a glimmer of hope. And when the Affordable Care Act came into full effect and the health care exchanges were officially online, I took full advantage.

I am not going to tell you that the ACA is perfect. It is not. Everyone knows it could stand improvement. A public option would have been nice. Price controls on prescription drugs so that manufacturers can’t gouge American patients would be good too—this is quite possibly the biggest drag on the law’s effectiveness.

Here in California we are fortunate to have a decent menu of options when it comes to insurance providers, but there are other parts of the country—where Republicans have refused to step in and help make the law work in a deliberate attempt to undermine it—where shoppers have very few options, if any. This could easily be fixed if there was any sort of will to do so. But since Democratic supporters of healthcare reform aren’t in a position to go it alone, and need the cooperation of their Republican colleagues to implement those fixes, we’re stuck with what we have.

The initial plan I bought on the Covered California exchange was incredibly affordable (with the subsidies), but it gave me very few choices of gastroenterologists; it was still better than the nothingburger I had before. After nearly a year of battling with a doctor that simply wasn’t very good, I had to switch insurance carriers in order to gain access to a doctor that might actually be able to help me. The new plan cost quite a bit more—more than double what I was paying, and starting in 2017 my premium jumped another $70 per month—but has been well worth the expense.

Conservatives’ complaints about the ACA are generally centered around the increasing premiums. They think it costs too much. It doesn’t. The plan I was on pre-ACA cost me more in premium payments, covered far less, with enormous deductibles and exorbitant out-of-pocket expenses. With my ACA plan, my out-of-pocket expenses are limited, meaning I don’t have to be overly concerned with whether I’m going to eat and pay rent or pay my medical bills. Simply put, I can actually afford to get treatment for my colitis, whereas before I was forced to suffer.

Although I have had a hiccup or two with the ACA—or Obamacare, if you insist—my experience with the law has been overwhelmingly positive. It probably saved my life, and I am grateful beyond words for the ACA. Because I now have insurance, I have been able to get access to new medications that there is no way in hell I could ever dream of gaining access to. We’re talking thousands—in some cases tens of thousands—of dollars per treatment! (This is what I mean by the need for price controls.)

To be clear, Obamacare is not failing; it is not “crumbling” as Congressman Darrell Issa has insisted. In fact, it has been an overwhelming success. To kill it or significantly alter it would be a crass and cynical act of cruelty on the part of our elected leaders who are supposed to act in our best interests.

The prospect of Republicans taking away my access to healthcare is terrifying to me. Of particular concern is the affordable aspect of it. Health savings accounts are worthless for someone like me, and are no more than a callous joke for people with limited financial means. High risk pools have been tried before, and all they do is jack up the price of coverage for everyone, and bankrupt anyone forced to participate in them; with premiums in excess of $1,000 per month for high deductible policies, you may as well not have insurance at all.

I’m glad that people nationwide are finally beginning to wake up to what repealing the ACA will mean for real people; 20 million of us stand to lose access to health care, and that doesn’t count the millions who will lose Medicaid, and the folks who live in rural areas whose hospitals will close because no one can actually pay for their services without health coverage. But it would sure be nice to see members of Congress place actual, real Americans’ lives ahead of their political and ideological ambitions. It’s what we sent them to Congress for in the first place.

The worst thing that could happen is that Republicans will return us to the system we had before Obamacare, which is apparently what they want—to give insurance companies carte blanche to operate however they see fit. This would be absolutely catastrophic for me and millions of people like me.

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SD Congressional Watch–Feb 2017 Supplemental

Welcome to the supplemental edition of the San Diego Congressional Watch for February, 2017!

The calendar has flipped to 2017, and my how things have changed. With Republicans now fully in charge of the federal government, they have wasted no time in moving full speed ahead in flexing their policy muscles. As expected, among the first items on the agenda was taking steps to actually, fully repeal the Affordable Care Act—or Obamacare, if you will. For real this time.

With Donald Trump’s rise to the presidency, Republicans now actually have the ability, and not just the will, to dismantle Barack Obama’s signature legislative achievement. And this time they really, really mean it. They’re going to dump that abomination of an unconstitutional legislative overreach, nevermind that the Supreme Court has affirmed the law. Twice.

True to his word, Donald Trump’s very first act as president shortly after taking the oath of office was to sign an executive order that laid the groundwork for the repeal of Obamacare and to replace it with…..well, no one knows. What we do know is that 20 million people who have gained access to health care are poised to lose that health security.

Democrats are fighting back, albeit with limited power to do so. But they’re spreading the word on what the repeal of the ACA will mean for average Americans; on how it will affect the lives of real people.

susan-davis-aca-1-15To that end, on January 15, Susan Davis (D-53) and Scott Peters (D-52) held a press conference at Sharp Hospital in San Diego to highlight exactly what kind of damage a repeal of the ACA will do, and to whom.

“I get really frustrated when I hear the conversation in Washington. It seems to skip over the real impact the repeal will have on our communities,” said Davis. “I can’t tell you how many San Diegans I’ve spoken with who are scared to death of losing their care.”

If the repeal does become a reality, Davis says, 300,000 people in San Diego would lose access to health care.

“Unfortunately, some of my colleagues in Congress have fast tracked a repeal of the law without any plan for a replacement,” said Peters. “The repeal of the law would not only leave millions of Americans without health insurance, but it would blow a crater sized hole in the federal budget, and it would add $350 billion to the national debt in the next 10 years.”

scott-peters-aca-1-15The real impact of the press conference came from the stories of those who stand to lose the most if the law is repealed without a serious plan for replacement. Elizabeth Silva, a hospice worker and mother of a seven-year-old son, suffers from bronchitis obliterans, a condition with no cure. She is now waiting on a lung transplant for survival. She would not have had access to care without Obamacare.

Stephanie McMahon’s three-year-old daughter, Charlie, has leukemia. “We are an average American family,” said McMahon. “My husband and I both have good jobs, and we own our home in San Diego.” The McMahons both work for small businesses and buy their health insurance through Covered California, the state’s healthcare exchange. In six months their daughter’s medical bills have exceeded $250,000, not including prescription medicines.

“The misconception,” McMahon said, “is that the Affordable Care Act only benefits people who are needy, poor, or not working. This is not true. It guarantees people like my daughter access to health care who would otherwise be denied based on pre-existing conditions.”

“If the Affordable Care Act is repealed, my daughter will lose access to health care, and we will have to pay out of pocket for her treatment which will cost over $1 million.”

Juan Vargas (D-51), whose district spans the entire length of California’s border with Mexico, said Donald Trump is “a bit of a caricature president,” who “doesn’t seem like a real president at the moment.” Vargas appeared on MSNBC to discuss Trump’s executive order paving the way to build a border wall along the entire expanse of the U.S.-Mexico border.

“We already have the wall here. In fact, in some places, we have three walls,” said Vargas. “They put these things in saying it was going to stop immigration. They didn’t. People got bigger ladders, they tunneled underneath, and so unless he wants to build a fourth wall, we already have it.”

“We have a great relationship here along the border with Mexico. One of the little secrets is that we have a great relationship with law enforcement in Mexico both locally, at the state, and at the federal level,” Vargas said. “We work with Mexico quite closely to make sure that the problems they have with narcotraffickers don’t spill over into San Diego. In fact, San Diego is one of the safest large cities because of that.”

“The things that are happening here along the border have been good for both sides,” Vargas said. “I think it is time for Donald Trump to grow up.”

The plot continued to thicken for Duncan Hunter (R-50), as the San Diego Union Tribune uncovered more evidence of Hunter using campaign funds for personal expenses. Among the newly scrutinized expenses, the paper uncovered tens of thousands of dollars in expenses, including stays at several resorts in California and Arizona where Hunter’s daughters were competitors at Irish dance competitions.

Hunter has only repaid a portion of approximately $65,000 in personal charges that were paid for with campaign funds. The campaign has attributed the errors to “sloppy bookkeeping,” and said that any funds not repaid have been deemed legitimate.

“Having to collect all these things after the fact does suggest sloppiness and a lack of detail, and you have to wonder, ‘How far does this go, and what other rules are not being followed?” said Larry Noble, the general counsel for the Campaign Legal Center. “You can’t avoid all questions and review of what you’re doing by saying, ‘We kept sloppy records.’”

How Change Will Ultimately Be Brought About

Let me start with this:  What happened last week in Dallas was horrific.  It was terrifying.  It was unjust.  It was also inevitable.

Think about it:  An unarmed Trayvon Martin gets gunned down in a quiet neighborhood by an armed vigilante with an obvious fear-slash-hatred of black people.  No consequences.

An unarmed Michael Brown was gunned down by police as he walked down the street.  Eric Garner was wrestled to the ground by multiple police officers for selling cigarettes on a sidewalk.  They put him in a chokehold and strangled him to death.  No consequences.

12 year old Tamir Rice was playing with a toy gun in a public park when police roll up and with precious little warning gun him down.  No consequences.

Freddie Gray was thrown into the back of a police van, unsecured, while the driver—a police officer—took him on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, throwing him all around the back of the van where he hits his head, breaks his neck, and later dies.  No consequences.

17 year old Laquan McDonald was walking down the street when police pull up to him.  McDonald is allegedly armed with a knife, but was nowhere near any police officers and posed a threat to no one.  In fact, he is seen on police dash-cam video moving away from police.  That is the opposite of threatening.  He is shot 16 times by a police officer.  That officer is charged with murder—a small victory.

Walter Scott was shot in the back and killed by a police officer during a traffic stop.  Scott was unarmed, and was running away from the officer, who had pulled his firearm.  The officer lied in his report, which video later contradicted and was charged with murder.  Another small victory.

Then there was last week’s shooting in Baton Rouge, LA, of Alton Sterling, who was selling CD’s outside of a convenience store.  Sterling was armed with a gun—which he was licensed to own and carry—but it was in his pocket, and he in no way motioned for it as officers approached him.  It is still unclear why the police officers approached Sterling, what he had done wrong, but the two of them wrestled Sterling to the ground, pinned him down, and one shot him several times in the chest.  Video shows one of the officers later removing Sterling’s gun from his pocket, where it had remained throughout.  At no time were they threatened.  The United States Justice Department is investigating the case.  The officers are currently suspended without pay.

The very next day, Philando Castile was driving home with his fiancée and her daughter, when he was pulled over by a police officer, ostensibly for a broken tail light.  Castile, according to his fiancée, volunteered to the officer that he did have a weapon with him, and he was licensed to carry it.  Just so there was no misunderstanding.  Castile was asked for his ID, and as he reached for it, the officer shot him and killed him.  In front of his fiancée and her four year old daughter.  Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton (a Democrat) stated that if Castile were white, he would still be alive today.  That is a fact.  An uncomfortable fact for Republicans, who roundly condemned Dayton for his remarks.

The list goes on and on and on and on and on………and people are rightly angry, especially black people.  It seems as if it is open season on black men, and there are rarely ever any consequences.  And nothing has changed:  Police policies regarding how they handle traffic stops have not changed.  Procedures have not changed.  Police-community relations have not changed.  Attitudes have not changed.  Proof?  These killings keep happening!

Conservative politicians blame the Black Lives Matter movement for the continued killing of black men.  A preposterous notion.  But they’re an easy target.  It’s easy to blame the people who just want to feel safe in their own neighborhoods; who don’t want to continue to see the police as a threat, which is exactly what they are.  Conservatives say that by protesting how police treat people of color, by exercising their First Amendment right to demand a change to the way people of color are treated by police, that they are at fault for the police continuing to kill people of color, namely black people.

And by and large police departments are going to side with conservative politicians.  After all, the more civil liberties we have, in their view, the more difficult it is to maintain order.  The fewer rights we have, the better.  Law enforcement typically hews to the right of the political spectrum.  And yes, this is a political issue, because it is our civic and national leaders—elected politicians—who are going to have to ultimately solve this problem.

Sadly, I suspect that there is approaching zero chance that this gets solved by reasonable people, particularly on a national scale.  There are too many people casting blame on the victims here.  See President noun-verb-9/11, Rudy Giuliani, who embarked on a series of racists rants over the course of the past weekend on various news outlets, calling the Black Lives Matter movement “inherently racist.” 

“If you want to deal with this on the black side, you’ve got to teach your children to be respectful to the police, and you’ve got to teach your children that the real danger to them is not the police,” Giuliani said.

“The real danger to them — 99 out of 100 times — is other black kids who are going to kill them,” the Republican ex-mayor added, citing a fake statistic.

“That’s the way they’re gonna die,” he added.

If he “were a black father,” he said, he’d warn his son to “be very careful of those kids in the neighborhood and don’t get involved with them because, son, there’s a 99% chance they’re going to kill you — not the police!”

Or Texas’ Republican Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who blamed the Black Lives Matter protests for the Dallas shootings, calling the protesters present at what was an entirely peaceful event “hypocrites” for running away from where the shots were fired.

“All those protesters last night, they ran the other way, expecting the men and women in blue to turn around and protect them.  What hypocrites,” Patrick said on Fox News.

Scores of other Republicans have blamed President Obama for inciting hatred of police, a charge that’s impossible to take seriously.

Currently there is little chance of our leaders putting their heads together and implementing national reforms that will bring an end to the inherent yet mostly unintentional institutional racism that is rampant in our police departments.  Even when a new president is sworn in, the chances of unity on any subject, let alone one so rife with controversy, is nil.

There is only one way that, given our current circumstances, this will play out to affect real change.  And it’s not pretty.  Not in the least.

Here’s what I think is likely to happen:  A black man is pulled over by police.  He is legally armed, and legally licensed to carry that firearm.  Second Amendment, y’all:  It applies to black people too.

The black man, being respectful yet wary, informs the officer that yes, he does indeed have a weapon in the car with him.  And yes he is licensed to carry that weapon.  The officer is visibly nervous and places his hand on his own firearm.  This sets off alarm bells in the black man, who rightly begins to feel that his life is in danger.

The nitty-gritty details in this hypothetical at this point do not matter.  What does matter is that the black man shoots and kills the officer.  He is later peacefully taken into custody and charged with the murder of a police officer.

At trial, the defense argues that the black man was in fear for his life, and fired in self defense.  They have a myriad of incidents to refer to, seemingly justifying the black man’s fear.  The case goes to the jury, and the black man is acquitted.  Precedent is set that black people have reason to fear the police, and have a right to defend themselves from the police.

Will a scenario like this ultimately lead to the reforms that are so desperately long overdue?  We can only hope that it doesn’t come to this.  The tragic part is that this is what it might take to kick the powers that be into gear toward real reform.

Until then, however, as long as the killings continue, we can expect more Dallases in the years to come.

San Diego to the Chargers: Hasta la Vista!

Pound sand, Deno. That’s the message emanating from the San Diego commentariat to Chargers owner Dean Spanos when it comes to the team’s quest for a new stadium. Either build the stadium yourself, without any public contribution whatsoever, or pound sand. Go to Los Angeles. It’s where you want to be anyway, right?

The commentariat has decreed that the Chargers don’t really need a new stadium in order to remain in San Diego. But if it’s that important to them, let them take full financial responsibility for it. They’re billionaires. They can afford it.

It’s an asinine position to take, and demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of the issue, or an unwillingness to look beyond preconceived notions.

Let’s get one thing straight: There will be no new stadium built in San Diego without some sort of public component. That’s the reality; that’s the nature of being the #28 media market in the U.S. with a limited corporate sponsor base. And with a net worth of $1.2 billion–$955 million of which is the Chargers—the Spanoses do not have the resources to finance it themselves.

The San Diego Chargers cannot survive financially in San Diego long term without a new stadium. That’s a fact. And if they don’t get one, they will be forced to move. They will have no choice. The Chargers are not only competing with the rest of the NFL on the field of play, but they are also competing financially. And in a grotesquely outdated Qualcomm Stadium, they cannot compete financially with 29 of the 31 other teams all playing in newer stadiums. Only the Raiders and New Orleans Saints play in stadiums of comparable age, and the Louisiana Superdome underwent a complete overhaul after Hurricane Katrina tore it apart in 2005.

The newer, modern stadiums are in and of themselves revenue generators. From the digital signage and ribbon boards that can be customized for each event, giving the organization all kinds of freedom to get creative with in-stadium marketing packages, to the premium seating and luxury suites, to the more efficient and strategically placed concessions, all enabling each tenant to maximize its revenue potential. This is not possible in Qualcomm Stadium, which relies on stationary signs and outdated video boards. And that doesn’t take into account the poor sightlines in Qualcomm, the obstructed view seating, and the dilapidated state of the old concrete hulk, diminishing the game day experience of the paying fans.

There’s also the $15-$18 million hole Qualcomm Stadium blows into the City’s general fund budget every year to consider. With a new building, the City would actually have a chance to at least break even, if not turn a small profit. That’s not a guarantee, mind you, but at least it’s a distinct possibility. Instead, San Diego annually gushes red ink when it comes to the ‘Q.’

Meanwhile, the nature of the San Diego market places limitations on the Chargers’ potential revenue. The San Diego region is home to roughly 3.3 million people (including Imperial County), 3.5 million if the Southern Riverside County cities of Temecula and Murrieta are included. Compare that to the 14 million in the Greater Los Angeles area, the number two media market in the country.

NFL team net profits come primarily from the local revenues they can generate, and San Diego is limited in that regard, putting the city and the team at a distinct disadvantage in comparison. San Diego is home to five Fortune 1000 companies (two Fortune 500); Los Angles is home to 15 Fortune 500 companies; San Jose and the Bay Area combined are home to 53 Fortune 1000 companies. There just isn’t the economic base here to make a completely privately funded facility feasible.

To be clear: If the Spanos family really wanted to move the Chargers to Los Angeles, they could have done so at any time in the last several years. There are two shovel ready stadium projects ready to begin construction in L.A., one in the City of Industry and another in Downtown L.A. All either project needs is a team to commit to becoming a tenant and they’ll break ground. Contractually, the Chargers can opt out of their Qualcomm Stadium lease every year between February and May until the lease expires in 2020. The team would only have to pay a lease termination fee, starting at $56 million in 2009, falling on a sliding scale until 2020, when the team would owe the city $3.5 million. (If the team leaves in 2016, they would owe the city just over $15 million to terminate the lease.)

If they really coveted Los Angeles, they would already be gone.

If the team remains in San Diego, the best they could possibly hope for is to climb from the bottom of the league to the middle of the pack in revenue and valuation. Dean Spanos knows this, and he’s content with it. The team doesn’t need to be in the top 10 financially in order to be competitive on the field and in the stands. But they need a new stadium to even put the middle of the pack within reach.

The sentiment against using public funds to build a stadium is understandable, even justifiable. But that sentiment should be held against the value of having the Chargers remain a part of the San Diego community, hosting periodic Super Bowls, NCAA Regionals and Final Fours, a potential MLS team and future World Cups, and various other events the stadium will bring to San Diego, not to mention SDSU Aztecs football and the two college bowl games that will disappear along with Qualcomm Stadium.

If the prevailing point of view is still against any kind of public investment, that’s fine. It’s the voters’ prerogative and an acceptable and legitimate position. But let’s then end this charade, stop wasting everyone’s time and the Chargers money and allow the team begin its future in a new city. There’s no point in drawing this out any further, perpetuating the false notion that the Chargers can go it on their own. Shake hands and part ways amicably. If the City is not willing to participate financially, there’s no point in discussing it further.

The Chargers will get their new stadium, whether it’s here or elsewhere, and San Diego will survive without the Chargers. But it will never be the same, as a huge part of our culture and identity will have gone with them. And it will permanently mar our image as a forward thinking, dynamic, business friendly city that companies actually want to call home. That’s reality.

Chargers Season Ends with a Thud

Coaches, personnel staff has some serious soul searching to do this offseason

by Andy Cohen

The San Diego Chargers, in control of their own playoff destiny, walked onto the natural grass surface at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, and ended their season with a whimper. The situation was pretty simple: Win and you’re in the NFL playoff tournament; lose, and make your vacation plans.

To make matters even more favorable for the visitors, the Kansas City Chiefs would be playing without their starting quarterback, San Diego native and Helix High School grad Alex Smith. In his place, Chase Daniel would be making only the second start of his six year NFL career, his first coming in week 17 of the 2013 season against the Chargers.

The Chargers lost to the Chiefs 19-7, ending their playoff hopes and their season.

Instead of bowing up and playing to the occasion, the Chargers—particularly the offense—mailed in their 2014 regular season finale. With so much on the line, the team wilted.

To be fair, this was a Chargers team that probably wasn’t even as good as their 9-7 record would seem to indicate. Other than a rather impressive win against the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks in week two, the Bolts floundered against the best the NFL had to offer in 2014. The Chargers finished  3-7 against teams with a .500 or better record, and despite some heroic finishes by Philip Rivers and Co. against St. Louis, Baltimore, and San Francisco that gave a hopeful fan base an overabundance of confidence, this team was clearly not ready for prime time.

The truth is, even after a miraculous playoff berth in Head Coach Mike McCoy’s first season at the helm, the Chargers are clearly not a very good football team overall. They weren’t a year ago, and they aren’t now.

There’s plenty of blame to go around, with plenty of holes to fill on a deficient roster.

Personnel Woes

Two years ago, GM Tom Telesco inherited a depleted roster lacking depth across the board. Despite his best efforts, many of those holes remain. An offensive line unit that was once-upon-a-time one of the team’s greatest strengths is now one of its biggest weaknesses. A near complete overhaul, similar to what took place in 2004—when the Chargers replaced four of five starters, and eventually the fifth—is in order. The 2013 addition of right tackle DJ Fluker via the first round of the NFL Draft was supposed to be an improvement, yet he has struggled in each of his first two seasons. Both guard positions are a major liability, and with the pending retirement of center Nick Hardwick, a starter since opening day of his 2004 rookie season who missed all but the first few snaps of the 2014 season, the Chargers will need to find a replacement at center stat.

One option would be to move Fluker to guard, where he is probably much better suited at the NFL level. It remains to be seen whether 2014 third round draft pick Chris Watt is the long term answer at center (or guard), but it’s clear that four out of the five offensive line spots need serious upgrades, with left tackle King Dunlap the only player worthy of returning to his current spot.

The Chargers also need to find an answer at running back. Ryan Mathews is supremely talented, and a difference maker when he’s on the field. But therein lies the rub: The Chargers cannot count on him to stay healthy, and they cannot count on him to hold on to the ball when he is. Mathews just completed his first NFL contract, and he’s worth hanging onto at the right price. But the team MUST find another back that can carry the load. Which is fine. Running-back-by-committee seems to be the way most teams in The League are approaching one of the most physically demanding positions on the football field. But there is clearly no one else currently on this roster capable of being that every down threat, capable of supplying a consistent rushing attack for a team that is desperately in need of finding offensive balance between the run and the pass; a team that needs to rely less on an athletically limited Philip Rivers.

As well as Rivers has played at times, a consistent run game will only make him more effective, particularly considering his lack of mobility. If the team chooses to part ways with Mathews—a perfectly reasonable conclusion—they’ll need to find two such backs. As great a story as Branden Oliver has been in 2014, he is not the answer. Donald Brown was a waste of a free agent signing, likely a product of Telesco’s loyalty to players from his former team, the Indianapolis Colts. And while everybody sings Danny Woodhead’s praises, he is not an every down player, but rather a nice change-of-pace back and a good checkdown receiving threat out of the backfield.

The Chargers receiving corps remains solid, including future Hall of Fame tight end Antonio Gates and backup Ladarius Green, who possesses all kinds of as yet unrealized potential. Perhaps they could use another receiver for depth, but it is hardly their most glaring need.

Defensively, reinforcements on the defensive line are called for. Corey Liuget is a player the franchise can build around. The linebacking corps is relatively solid—Melvin Ingram is a difference maker when healthy, Manti Te’o has steadily improved, and Kavell Conner and Jerry Attaochu show great promise, while an aging Jarret Johnson has provided a steady hand. Yet while the defensive backfield seems rich in talent, they are sorely lacking in discipline and fundamentals. Still, with better coaching and a focus on fundamental skills, it’s a backfield that holds a good deal of promise for the future.

Speaking of coaching….

Deep soul searching called for

As a young, aspiring NFL scout way back when, I was perplexed by what I was seeing as I studied college game films. I could not understand why some of the most highly touted college prospects—including many certain first round draft picks, the absolute cream of the upcoming crop from some of college football’s premier programs—seemed so deficient when it came to basic football fundamentals. I asked then Chargers GM Bobby Beathard how that could be the case; why some of the best prospects were so lacking in basic skills.

His response was that most coaches tend to assume that prospects have been taught the basic fundamentals at the lower levels of the game; college coaches assume the high school coaches have it covered, and NFL coaches assume the college coaches have emphasized it. Coaches are far more interested in installing and tinkering with their exotic offensive and defensive schemes, spending an inordinate amount of time adding wrinkles to their playbooks and are loathe to spend much time reinforcing basic skills—the basic skills that make the game safer and can help prevent injuries (and blown plays).

Nearly a decade-and-a-half later, that problem persists, and in many cases is worse than ever. The Chargers under Mike McCoy have been among the biggest culprits. Defensively the Chargers are possibly the worst tackling team in the NFL; they take poor angles, they don’t stay square to the line of scrimmage, and they stop their feet, getting stuck in cement while the ballcarrier blows by them. The secondary can’t seem to cover a soul without committing defensive holding or pass interference. Their footwork is abysmal, and they have no idea what to do with their hands.

The offensive line is nearly as bad; a unit so short on talent cannot afford to be fundamentally deficient, with feet stuck in quicksand and shoulders getting turned out of square, unable to react to twists, stunts, and blitzes, leaving Philip Rivers, the epitome of a pocket passer, constantly under siege.

But even more disconcerting is the barrage of injuries suffered by the 2014 Chargers. Injuries happen.  They’re a part of the game.  But the number of injuries suffered by this Chargers squad cannot be explained by a simple case of bad luck. Something is very, very wrong with the way this team prepares. Many concussions can be prevented with the use of proper hitting technique, and yet so many Chargers defensive players insist on leading with their helmets, refusing to “see what they hit.”

Sound fundamentals can help prevent many injuries. When those fundamentals break down, however, injuries become far more likely.

Compounding the problem, the San Diego Chargers are a poorly conditioned, physically unprepared team. A well conditioned team is less prone to injuries to begin with, while fatigued players tend to breakdown in their fundamental techniques.  A team that is deficient in basic fundamentals is far more susceptible to major injuries when they’re not in peak physical condition.

NFL teams simply don’t burn through five different starting centers and nine different offensive line starters in all through the course of one season; well prepared teams don’t have to scramble just to field a complete defensive backfield week in and week out.

Say what you will about Dave Redding, Marty Schottenheimer’s strength and conditioning coach, but he had his teams physically prepared. Mike McCoy’s teams clearly are not.

McCoy and GM Tom Telesco have some deep soul searching to do.  They must take a good hard look at the way they and their respective staffs prepare their team for the rigors of an NFL season, beginning with the offseason strength and conditioning program. Personnel deficiencies aside, a better conditioned and fundamentally sound football team is a far more competitive football team.

The 2014 Chargers showed a lot of grit in securing last minute wins against St. Louis, Baltimore, and San Francisco. But they are clearly not in the same class with New England, Green Bay, Denver, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, even Seattle. They have a long way to go if they hope to compete for an AFC West title, let alone a Super Bowl.

Healing the Democratic Divide in San Diego

Fletcher-AlvarezLack of a unified, collective effort a major factor in Dems’ mayoral loss.

By Andy Cohen

San Diego Democratic leaders and Team Alvarez gathered last week at the Centro Cultural de la Raza in Balboa Park for a mayoral special election postmortem. City Beat’s John R. Lamb has a great recap of the group’s discussion, and their efforts to find “silver linings” in Alvarez’ defeat published in last week’s edition.

Alvarez and his team ran a strong campaign that, combined with their labor backers, appeared to choose a strategy focused on turning out the Democratic base to the polls. The theory was that with a strong Democratic registration advantage and a LOT of money, they could overcome the typical Republican electoral advantage in off year and special elections. Outspending the opposition combined with a registration advantage would equal victory on Election Day.

It was a sound theory. Or at least it seemed to be. If it works for Tea Party Republicans, why can’t it work for Democrats?

Call it a grand experiment that went awry. But why?

According to Lamb’s report, participants in the confab lamented the lack of participation by key local Democratic figures, namely Nathan Fletcher (Alvarez’ Democratic primary opponent) and State Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez.

It might be helpful to recall the rift between Mickey Kasparian, the powerful president of the UFCW Local 135 and defacto spokesman for the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, and Gonzalez, the former chief of said Labor Council.

Gonzalez, newly ensconced in her role as a member of the State Assembly, ruffled the feathers of the labor leader when she quickly endorsed her friend Nathan Fletcher in the mayoral race, before Alvarez had even entered the fray. Kasparian responded by allegedly threatening to run a primary challenger in Gonzalez’ bid for reelection in 2014.

So if there’s a current rift within the local Democratic Party, that’s where it begins.

But that’s also where Team Alvarez’ electoral fortunes seem to have gone astray as well.

The complaints of Fletcher and Gonzalez’ absence from the campaign trail are legitimate ones, as their explicit support and efforts surely would have bolstered Alvarez’ standing with potential voters, particularly those more moderate voters who apparently turned their gaze to the completely repackaged I’m-not-a-Republican City Councilman (now mayor) Kevin Faulconer.

Gonzalez did eventually come out in full support of Alvarez after the primary, taking to social media to promote his candidacy and making appearances on his behalf. But what about Fletcher? One would think that the newly minted Democratic mayoral hopeful would have wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to further cement his bona fides within the local Democratic Party. Yet he was nowhere to be found.

That proves it, right? He’s not really a Democrat. He abandoned ship once the primary was over and he had lost. Instead, he took a trip to climb a mountain in Argentina.

That’s the easy explanation, but like just about everything else in life, it’s not even close to being that simple. Or correct.

The mayoral special election primary was a brutal fight, at least for the Democrats in the race. Kevin Faulconer sailed into the finals with 42% of the vote, but Alvarez and Fletcher were caught in a battle royale to determine who would take on Faulconer—the presumed primary winner from day one—mano-a-mano.

Alvarez slipped through, taking 27% of the vote to Fletcher’s 24%.

Early on in the primary Fletcher became the target of both the GOP establishment and the Democratic progressive base, getting hammered from both sides as Alvarez’ backers, namely the Labor coalition, and the GOP’s Lincoln Club seemingly teamed up to do as much damage to the former Republican Assemblyman’s image as possible in order to set up a showdown between their two chosen candidates. The Democratic base clearly did not trust the Dem convert, and the Republicans saw him not only as a traitor to their ranks, but as the biggest threat to their prospects of retaking the San Diego Mayor’s office.

At his concession press conference, a clearly beleaguered Fletcher threw his full support behind Alvarez.  He committed to help get Alvarez elected in any way he could. So what happened?

This is where the story gets interesting.

Twenty-four percent of the primary vote is no small potatoes. That’s a significant chunk of the voting electorate that Alvarez clearly had to have in his corner if he had any hopes of winning in February. It only made sense that the Alvarez and Fletcher camps would work together to heal whatever fractures between the two sides—and within the Democratic ranks—still remained.

Only it never happened.

First there was the last minute trip to Argentina. In desperate need of a break from the grueling campaign he had just endured, a friend of Fletcher unexpectedly called an offered a vacant spot on an expedition they had planned into the Andes. Tough to blame him for jumping at the opportunity given the beating he had just taken. Fletcher would not return until early January, when early voting had already begun, which according to the Alvarez campaign played a role in their decision not to enlist Fletcher’s help.

Second, Team Alvarez never asked for the Fletcher campaign contact/donor list, a fairly customary ask for a winning campaign of a losing campaign of the same party. Team Alvarez could have used that list to reach out directly to Flecther supporters, many of whom were concentrated in neighborhoods north of Interstate 8, and cement their support for Alvarez in the runoff. Instead, the Alvarez campaign relied on a strategy of neighborhood canvassing, using both Alvarez campaign volunteers and relying on the efforts of paid canvassers organized and coordinated by outside expenditure groups. But no direct targeting of Fletcher supporters or moderate Democratic voters took place.

Upon his return from Argentina, Fletcher had every intention of making good on his concession press conference promise to support Alvarez. He called Alvarez and reiterated his commitment: I will do anything you want me to do. ANY. THING. Whatever Alvarez deemed appropriate, Fletcher was ready, willing, and able. He asked only one thing in return: Support Lorena Gonzalez’ reelection efforts.

It was a rather innocuous seeming request, but given the level of acrimony between Gonzalez and her former labor compatriot Kasparian, and Kasparian’s role in supporting Alvarez’ campaign, and the alleged threats to run a primary challenger against Gonzalez in 2014, he felt it right to recruit the backing of the potential next mayor of San Diego on behalf of his friend.

From Team Alvarez’ perspective, it was a deal breaker. Either you’re going to help us or not, no preconditions. No negotiation, no discussion. The fact that Fletcher would even suggest what was taken as a quid pro quo arrangement was an outrage. Thus Fletcher remained on the sidelines, his support deemed unnecessary.

This is the state of the San Diego Democratic Party as we head into the June primary election and the November midterms, torn between a strategy of “building a movement,” as an Alvarez campaign representative called it, and doing what is necessary to win an election; between catering a message to low propensity base voters and creating a more nuanced platform that doesn’t compromise core values, yet appeals to more moderate voters who actually do show up to participate in elections.

This is not to say that Team Alvarez wasn’t in it to win it. They most certainly were. They had a strategy that they thought would win and they stuck with it. But at least as important to the Alvarez camp was movement building for the long term. Whether that will pay dividends in future elections remains to be seen.

Hindsight is always 20/20, and with that benefit what we can say for certain is that the strategy cost San Diego Democrats the opportunity to keep the mayor’s office, and likely dealt a setback to Democratic priorities such as environmental concerns (e.g. Barrio Logan), a minimum wage increase, and put a crimp in efforts to increase affordable housing stocks.

Priorities have to change. Movement building is a noble cause, but it’s much more effective in the midst of a winning electoral effort.

Rethinking San Diego’s Democratic Electoral Strategy

ImageBy Andy Cohen

There are some valuable lessons to be learned from the recent mayoral special election here in San Diego, and as we head into the 2014 primary and general elections it would be wise to take stock of what happened so that we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past.  In case anyone’s forgotten, Republican Kevin Faulconer beat Democrat David Alvarez by a nine percentage point margin on Election Day.  The final margin ended up being closer to six points, but it was never really in doubt as the first returns rolled in on Feb. 11.

David Alvarez was a very good candidate.  He was the obvious choice of progressives.  He is a young Latino who has a record of soothing tensions in difficult negotiating arenas and coming out the other side with a deal everyone can live with.  He’s on the right side of all of the hot button policy issues that the progressive base holds dear.  He’s the kind of candidate that in theory should have drawn base voters to the polls in droves and maximized the Democrats’ huge registration advantage over Republicans—there are nearly 90,000 more registered Democrats in the City of San Diego than there are Registered Republicans.  Republicans are even outnumbered by NPP voters (no party preference) by nearly 16,000 voters.

When you outraise and outspend your opponent by nearly $1.5 million in a mayoral special election and still lose by six percentage points, and you have a voter registration advantage of 90,000 voters, it might be time to seriously rethink your election strategy.

The Democratic strategy, it seems, was designed to motivate base voters to get to the polls.  Massive GOTV efforts were employed in neighborhoods south of Interstate 8—neighborhoods with heavy concentrations of Democratic voters.  Get them to show up on Election Day, and Alvarez has a chance.

Only they didn’t show up to the polls.  They didn’t vote.  In the meantime, more moderate Democratic voters were largely ignored, and the enormous chunk of independent voters in San Diego were completely ignored…….by Democrats at least.  There were no discernible efforts to reach out to those voters in the middle, and it likely cost the Democrats the opportunity to hold on to the mayor’s office.  Kevin Faulconer, on the other hand, did everything he could to woo those independent voters, running as far away from the Republican label as he could in an effort to appeal directly to those independents and middle of the road Democratic voters who likely cast their ballot for Nathan Fletcher in the primary.

What Faulconer knew was that Republican voters were going to vote for him anyway.  He didn’t need to do anything to win their support.  He already had it.  It was those middle-of-the-road voters that were the key to his chances at victory, and that’s who he targeted.

Meanwhile, despite having Nathan Fletcher’s endorsement, the Alvarez campaign did nothing to reach out directly to Fletcher voters.  They did not ask for the Fletcher campaign’s contact lists in order to reach out to them directly, and they did not have Fletcher do any direct campaigning for Alvarez, which I’ve been told that Fletcher would have been happy to do.

The Democrats and Alvarez stuck to their base strategy, and because of it, and because the base did not turn out in significant numbers, they lost, and lost badly.  Comparing the turnout numbers in precincts that Alvarez won to the precincts Faulconer won is quite disconcerting if you’re a Democrat.  We’re talking high 20’s to mid 30’s for Alvarez, and high 30’s to mid 40’s for Faulconer, with a sprinkling of 50 and 60 percent turnouts here and there to pull his numbers up.

In 2012 Scott Peters ran for Congress in the 52nd District as a moderate Democrat.  He and progressive champion Lori Saldaña were vying for a slot in the runoff against Republican incumbent Brian Bilbray.  Peters won that primary race against Saldaña, and went on to narrowly beat Bilbray in the general election.  Had Saldaña moved on to the general, Brian Bilbray would likely still be a member of Congress today.  But Peters was able to win because he appealed directly to the middle voters.  The voter registration split for that election was roughly one third each for Dems, Repubs, and NPP’s.

Need proof that the middle won?  According to an analysis by iNewsource.org, in the 2012 mayoral race where the City of San Diego and 52nd Congressional Districts overlap, Carl DeMaio won 120 of the 189 precincts that Scott Peters won, while Bob Filner won only 69, and only one precinct that Brian Bilbray carried. 

Those moderate Dems and independent voters are looking for someone who appeals to them, who will reach out and communicate directly with them.  Remember, there are 192,000 registered NPP voters in San Diego.  And while that may not be completely relevant to the upcoming primary and general elections, it’s a fairly consistent theme throughout the San Diego region—huge numbers of independent voters who have the power to swing an election.

Now, those 2012 results could be merely a matter of familiarity as San Diego’s go-to political analyst Carl Luna suggests, since Peters did represent the City Council District 1 centered in La Jolla.  But I suspect it’s a lot more than that, since the City Council District only accounts for a small portion of the 52nd Congressional District.

Moving forward, Democratic candidates for public office would be wise to consider the middle instead of catering to a base that is unlikely to show up at the polls in a non-presidential election year.  If you’re a Republican running in a heavily Republican district, then it might make sense to all wingnut in the campaign, since those people actually vote.  That doesn’t work on the Democratic side, as we just found out the hard way.  Democrats cannot win elections by appealing to the base alone.

More importantly, if Democrats run solid, moderate candidates with strong backing (hint hint, DCCC) in the 49th and 50th Congressional Districts this year, they might actually have a chance to unseat some of the most divisive and bitterly partisan Republicans in Congress—not to mention getting rid of the guy who thinks it’s a good idea to nuke Iran.  (Dems might actually have that moderate candidate for the 50th, but more on that at a later date.) 

And in the City Council Districts, moderate Democratic candidates could very well win seats that were previously held by Republicans in District 2 and District 6 (both districts that voted for Faulconer in the mayoral race).  Candidates brandishing their progressive credentials have no chance.

The goal should be to actually win an election and not to make some sort of ideological stand.  Yet unfortunately that’s kind of where we’ve been headed in the last two election cycles.  It is better to win and get most of what you want than it is to lose and get nothing.

The GOP: The Party that Doesn’t Care

Republicans profess an unmatched love of country, but what they have is an unmatched disdain for the people who inhabit it.

There’s a line from the 1995 movie “The American President” starring Michael Douglas and Annette Bening that just keeps ringing in my head.  I’ve used the line in past posts, and I’m sure I’ll use it again (and again, and again, and again) because it’s so incredibly and pointedly accurate.  Even more so today.

A little refresher course:  “The American President” is about a widower, Andrew Shepherd (Michael Douglas), who in the wake of his wife’s death from cancer manages to get himself elected President of the United States.  He falls in love with a lobbyist, Sydney Ellen Wade (Annette Bening), and they begin dating.  During the course of their relationship, they are subjected to countless vicious, heinous attacks on their character by Republicans for having the audacity of being two single, consenting adults who find that they have much in common and enjoy each other’s company immensely.

The line in question comes from the scene where the happy couple is enjoying a quiet, private weekend “alone” at Camp David (the President is, after all, never really alone).  Responding to a particularly heinous charge hurled by Republican Senator and erstwhile presidential candidate Bob Rumson (Richard Dreyfuss), Wade asks her boyfriend, “How do you have patience for people who claim they love America but clearly can’t stand Americans?”

Back in 1995, in the aftermath of the Newt Gingrich led revolution and the Republican takeover of Congress (original version), Republicans found new ways to mask their disdain for the American people in a cloak of patriotism.  But while they claim a superior and unwavering love of their country (while accusing Democrats of being anti-American, or communists, or of having an absolute hatred of America, or the latest attack where former New Hampshire governor John Sununu laments that he wishes Barack Obama would “learn to be an American”), it is becoming more and more clear that what Republicans are doing is projecting their own growing hatred of this country onto Democrats.

Well, okay, maybe that’s not entirely accurate.  Republicans do love America.  They love the property they own.  They love the money they can make.  They love the power they can accumulate.  They love the rules they can flaunt.  What they so clearly hate, as Bening’s character said so succinctly, are Americans.  As in the American people.

Think about it in terms of the policies they support.  Prime example:  Health care.  The Affordable Care Act that was recently upheld by the Supreme Court provides for a dramatic expansion of Medicaid that will expand coverage to millions of Americans who earn up to 133% of the poverty level.  Until the health law kicks in, Medicaid is only available to the extremely poor with families or the disabled.  Now it will be available to anyone who otherwise would have no access to basic health care.  The kicker?  The federal government will pay for 100% of said expansion for the first four years, tapering down to 90% of all costs by 2020.

This won’t cost states any more than they’re already spending on Medicaid programs, and will open up access to health care to millions who need it but can’t afford it on their own.  Not so fast, say Republicans.  By imposing strict rules that opens the program up to more people you’re infringing on states’ rights, they say.  Several states headed by Republican governors have already declared that they will outright refuse to accept any expansion of Medicaid at all.  If people can’t afford health care, that’s their problem.  Florida’s Rick Scott, South Carolina’s Nikki Haley, Louisiana’s Bobby Jindahl, Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, Kansas’ Sam Brownback, and Iowa’s Tom Branstad have all vowed to reject the program.  Texas and Rick Perry have vowed to reject the Affordable Care Act altogether.

When challenged by Fox News’ Chris Wallace (I know, right?  A Fox News anchor challenging a Republican politician?!?!) on what Republicans would do to provide coverage to the 30 million who would finally get health insurance under “Obamacare,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell replied “That’s not the issue.”  The truth is they have no plan, and no intention of coming up with a plan.  People are uninsured and without access to health care unless it’s via the emergency room at taxpayer’s expense, and that’s just peachy with Republicans.  In fact, the only proposal offered by Republicans to counter the Affordable Care Act would have extended coverage to a mere 3 million people.  That was the best they could do, and they didn’t care.

The truth is that they have no desire to reform a broken system that denies health care to those with preexisting conditions, institutes lifetime caps on how much health care any one individual can receive, and won’t allow young adults who are just starting out on their own to remain on their parents’ insurance until the age of 26.  They don’t like the provision that says that insurance companies must dedicate a minimum of 85% of premiums collected to actual health care expenditures.  They don’t want to prevent insurance companies from culling their rolls of less healthy patients just to increase profits.  If it’s not excessively profitable for insurance companies, Republicans are against it.

They’ve even suggested that an individual without health insurance who is otherwise healthy but gets into an accident or suddenly becomes catastrophically ill should be left to die without the life saving care he needs.  “Let him die,” Republicans shrug.

And then there’s Medicare, the wildly popular (especially with seniors) and successful government program that provides health care to those 65 and older, most of whom would otherwise be entirely without it.  Republicans excoriate the ACA for cutting $500 billion over 10 years in waste and fraud out of Medicare, insisting that the ACA is making cuts to Medicare benefits, which is entirely false.  Meanwhile, the only “serious” proposal offered by Republicans is the Paul Ryan budget that turns Medicare into a voucher system, placing actual limits on the care seniors can receive.  A $6,000 per year allowance to purchase health insurance on their own is not going to get our seniors very far.  Ryan’s budget would significantly increase the burden on seniors, including benefit cuts, particularly to low income and disabled seniors.

Republicans have been itching to get rid of Medicare for decades, and the Ryan budget that has been passed not once but twice in the Republican controlled House of Representatives would essentially accomplish just that.  Medicare as we know it today would cease to exist.  And yet the hypocrisy is absolutely staggering when Republicans accuse Democrats of making cuts to Medicare via the ACA.

Bob Greenstein of the Center on Budget Policy and Priorities wrote of the Ryan budget:

The new Ryan budget is a remarkable document — one that, for most of the past half-century, would have been outside the bounds of mainstream discussion due to its extreme nature. In essence, this budget is Robin Hood in reverse — on steroids.  It would likely produce the largest redistribution of income from the bottom to the top in modern U.S. history and likely increase poverty and inequality more than any other budget in recent times (and possibly in the nation’s history).  It also would stand a core principle of the Bowles-Simpson fiscal commission’s report on its head — that policymakers should reduce the deficit in a way that does not increase poverty or widen inequality….

Specifically, the Ryan budget would impose extraordinary cuts to programs that serve as a lifeline for our nation’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens, and over time would cause tens of millions of Americans to lose their health insurance or become underinsured.

The Paul Ryan budget that is so fervently supported by Republicans across the board—including presidential nominee Mitt Romney–and includes the dismantling of Medicare and Medicaid programs, is a clear demonstration of the utter and complete disdain Republicans have for actual American people.

The list goes on and on and on with immigration, abortion rights (Republicans are incredibly concerned about the fetus, but once the baby is born, they could not possibly care less), pollution and the environment, voter ID laws designed to prevent certain groups that are more likely to vote Democratic from voting…..

Republicans have no solutions to any problems, but they sure like telling us about what they don’t like.  And what they don’t like are the people (non ultra-rich, of course) that government is supposed to serve.  And so the question is “How do the American people have such patience for a political party that claims to love America but so clearly can’t stand Americans?”  If anyone can possibly figure this out, please share.  I’m dying to know.

“Save KLSD:” The Corporate Consolidation of America’s Airwaves

San Diego’s last progressive talk radio station a victim of the loosening of media ownership laws

Talk radio has become big business in the last decade and a half, particularly conservative talk radio, which has seen an explosion in popularity and influence.  Progressive talk radio?  Not so much.

San Diegans have become accustomed to the conservative stylings of locally owned 760 KFMB and the not so locally owned KOGO 600.  When you’re looking for news in this city, there are no other choices.  You’re stuck with the nonsensical, anti-government, sensationalist, and sometimes maniacal ramblings of Rush Limbaugh and Roger Hedgecock.  But that wasn’t always the case.  For a brief while, San Diego did have a progressive talk radio station to call its own:  1360 KLSD (for “Liberal San Diego,” as we are informed by radio and television news personality Bree Walker).

KLSD at one point was the home of San Diego personalities like Stacy Taylor and Jon Elliott.  It was also San Diego’s home to Air America Radio, the national syndication outfit that brought voices such as Ed Schultz, Rachel Maddow, Randi Rhodes, and Al Franken, now a United States Senator from Minnesota, to the airwaves.

And the station, despite some limitations, and despite being hampered by a weak signal that didn’t reach the entirety of San Diego County, was doing quite well and continued to grow.  “I beat Hannity” in San Diego, said Ed Schultz, now a host on MSNBC in addition to his daily radio show.

According to Cliff Albert, the KLSD program manager in 2007, KLSD ranked number one in San Diego in time spent listening—the average amount of time a listener would actually tune in to the station without changing the dial.

“There are two things that make up ratings.  How long do they listen to you, and number of people,” said Randi Rhodes, the nationally syndicated progressive host.  “The time spent listening, I was number one in San Diego.  Advertisers look at time spent listening—TSL it’s called—because they want to see if I can hold the audience through the commercial so that their commercial gets heard by my audience.”

“The other part of ratings,” she continued, “is the number of people.  If you can put together 100,000 people, which is what we had, and combine it with four or five hours a week of listening, that is the ballgame.”

Despite its apparent success and continued growth, in August 2007 rumors began to surface that San Diego’s only progressive talk radio station was going to be taken off the air.  KLSD was about to go through a format change and become another all-sports talk radio station.

“Save KLSD,” a documentary five years in the making by former TV news producer and marketing executive Jennifer Douglas and Jon Monday, the current vice president of the Fallbrook Democratic Club, uses the demise of progressive talk radio in San Diego as a launching point for discussion of a much larger problem.  It uses the death of KLSD to make a broader point about the results of corporate media consolidation nationwide.

The documentary begins with a Benjamin Franklin quote:  “Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freedom of speech.”  It is the contention of the movie’s producers that corporate media consolidation is, in fact, having that very effect that Benjamin Franklin warned about.

According to the documentary, in 1983 there were more than 50 corporations who were major players in the American media landscape.  FCC rules prevented companies from owning more than four radio stations in any given market and more than 40 stations nationwide.  Those rules have been obliterated.

Today there are five major corporations controlling our airwaves, the largest of which is Clear Channel Communications, Inc.  Today, FCC rules allow for a single company to own eight stations in any given market, with no limitations on nationwide ownership.  As of the year 2000, Clear Channel owned nearly 1,200 stations nationally.  That figure has shrunk to 850 different radio stations, including seven here in San Diego, including XTRA Sports 1360 (KLSD’s current all sports format).

Clear Channel is also the owner of KOGO, the ultra conservative San Diego talk radio station, the local home of Rush Limbaugh, and until recently the home of the disgraced ex-mayor of San Diego, Roger Hedgecock.  It was Clear Channel that made the decision in 2007 to make the format change at KLSD from progressive talk to all sports talk, despite the growth, success, and popularity of the station.

“The story is not that (KLSD) failed,” said Randi Rhodes.  “The story is that we succeeded against all odds on low power signals, which is all we had access to.”

KLSD, though, is typical of what has happened in dozens of other markets across America.  Ninety-one percent of all of the news talk radio stations in the country are conservative, with only nine percent progressive.  And in San Diego, KLSD was competing directly with the more established Clear Channel property, KOGO.  KLSD, the documentary asserts, was cutting into the profit margin of Clear Channel’s local conservative darling, and they just couldn’t allow that to happen.

Based in Texas, Clear Channel was founded by Lowry Mays, a hardcore Republican supporter and a major backer of George W. Bush.  The company was taken private in 2008 by Bain Capital, whose founder and former CEO is none other than current Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

“We’re not in the business of providing news and information,” Mays told CNNMoney Magazine.  “We’re not in the business of providing well researched music.  We’re simply in the business of selling our customers products.”  According to “Save KLSD,” It was this mentality that was used to justify the format change, as it was the contention of the KLSD sales staff that they just couldn’t sell enough advertising to keep the station afloat.  It was the clear implication that progressives don’t buy products and services, but conservatives do.

“Save KLSD” is a fascinating and important look at the changes in the national media landscape that has resulted in the massive misinformation campaigns conducted by conservative media and made possible only by the corporate consolidation of our media nationwide.  Using KLSD as the example, the documentary examines the larger issue of what our media outlets have become because of corporate consolidation, and perhaps more importantly the resulting demise of local news and information.

“Save KLSD” is well worth seeing.  The next screening is scheduled for this Thursday, July 5th, at 7pm at the Fallbrook Democratic Club at 990 E. Mission Rd. in Fallbrook.  The next San Diego screening will be Tuesday August 14th at 6pm at 98 Bottles in Downtown San Diego.  The full length DVD can also be purchased for $25 at SaveKLSD.com.  See this link for complete screening schedules and information.

Dissecting the Supreme Court’s “Obamacare” Decision

ImageDissecting the Supreme Court’s “Obamacare” Decision

The Supreme Court today upheld the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, the signature legislative accomplishment of the Obama Administration in a 5-4 decision, a majority that included conservative Chief Justice John Roberts.  This is a big day for the Obama Administration, and for Democrats nationwide.  This was the day that the Affordable Care Act—an imperfect law with definite shortcomings, but a good start toward healthcare reform nonetheless—was ratified as the law of the land once and for all.

Since day one Republicans have assaulted the Act as unconstitutional on several grounds, spreading lies and misinformation about the Act in a propaganda campaign to ensure public opinion is squarely against it.  Lies such as calling it a “government takeover of healthcare,” or excoriating the “death panels” that the law supposedly contained, or that those who already had insurance through their employer were going to lose it, or railing about the trillions of dollars it will add to the budget deficit.

None of those things are even remotely true.  In fact, they’re all demonstrably false, but that hasn’t stopped the right wing from passing it all off as gospel.

In the 2010 midterm election, Republicans swept into power largely on the strength of their propaganda campaign against “Obamacare,” a sweeping piece of reform legislation modeled directly after the healthcare system in Massachusetts.  That system, which included the controversial “individual mandate,” was taken directly from the hard right wing Heritage Foundation, who first published the concept in 1993 in response to the Clinton Administration’s attempt at a massive overhaul of the nation’s healthcare system (which, of course, failed).

The individual mandate is the proviso that everyone who didn’t already have health insurance through their employer and can afford to purchase healthcare must do so.  Those who cannot afford to purchase insurance would receive government subsidies based on their level of need in order to help them do so.  Those who still could not or refused to buy insurance would be levied a fine in the form of a tax to be collected by the IRS (with incredibly weak enforcement provisions, I might add).

Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee (unofficial) and former Governor of Massachusetts, implemented this very system as governor.  In 2009 Romney went on “Meet the Press” and specifically endorsed the idea of an individual mandate on a national basis.  In 2007, Romney praised the Massachusetts law as “a model for the nation.” In fact, since they helped write the Massachusetts law, former Romney staffers were brought in to consult on the Affordable Care Act.

Upon the ACA’s passage in 2010, it didn’t take long for Republican state Attorneys General—26 of them, to be exact—to file a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the law on two primary fronts:  That the individual mandate itself is unconstitutional, as is the requirement to expand Medicaid programs or face the loss of federal funding.

Today, albeit by a narrow decision and one that would normally be the subject of much consternation and bring more charges of extreme partisanship upon the Supreme Court, the Republicans were nearly completely rebuffed in their assertions.

With the ruling in 2000’s Bush v. Gore that effectively handed the presidency to George W. Bush, and the highly polarizing Citizens United ruling that opened the floodgates for unlimited corporate cash to be spent wantonly and directly on political campaigns, and with a recent study that found the Court ruled in the Chamber of Commerce’s favor in 68% of the cases where it had an interest in the outcome, Justices are becoming viewed more and more as political actors.

Take Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissent in the Arizona immigration case earlier in the week:  Scalia took pen to paper to excoriate President Obama’s decision to allow some illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children to stay, despite the fact that the case before him had absolutely nothing to do with Obama’s executive order.  In fact, the executive order was issued long after the case against Arizona’s SB 1070 was heard by the Court.  Scalia’s dissent focused on matters not before the court, was entirely political, and completely unbefitting a Supreme Court Justice.

During his 2005 confirmation hearings, Chief Justice John Roberts told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he came “with no agenda,” and that he viewed his job as a Justice of the Supreme Court as that of an umpire, that it was his job “to call balls and strikes and not to pitch or bat.

With the precedent set by Citizens United and the reaffirmation of it in ruling against Montana’s 1912 state law banning corporate contributions in political campaigns, that promise was highly in doubt.  Until today.

In writing for the majority, Roberts said “Members of this court are invested with the authority to interpret the law; we possess neither the expertise nor the prerogative to make policy judgments.  Those judgments are entrusted to our Nation’s elected leaders, who can be thrown out of office if the people disagree with them.  It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices.”  As properly apolitical a statement as there ever was.

In his ruling on “Obamacare,” Roberts held true to his word, saying that it was the Court’s job to seek out a way to find the law constitutional.

This was a rather complex case, and it shows in the ruling of the Court.  The Obama Administration argued that the individual mandate was constitutional under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution.  In effect, the government argued that when a person declines to purchase health insurance and gets sick, the costs of treating that person get passed on to everyone else in the form of increased healthcare costs, and thus affected interstate commerce, since everyone at one time or other will need health care.  In this case, inactivity rather than activity was being legislated against.  The Court held, though, that the ACA could not be held constitutional under the Commerce Clause.

“The individual mandate forces individuals into commerce precisely because they elected to refrain from commercial activity.  Such a law cannot be sustained under a clause authorizing Congress to ‘regulate Commerce,’” Roberts wrote, deeming the law unconstitutional if judged strictly by the Commerce Clause.

However, under the government’s power to tax, “the Government asks us to read the mandate not as ordering individuals to buy insurance, but rather as imposing a tax on those refusing to buy that product.”

Under the mandate, if an individual does not maintain health insurance, the only consequence is that he must make an additional payment to the IRS when he pays his taxes. See §5000A(b). That, according to the Government,means the mandate can be regarded as establishing acondition—not owning health insurance—that triggers atax—the required payment to the IRS. Under that theory, the mandate is not a legal command to buy insurance.Rather, it makes going without insurance just another thing the Government taxes, like buying gasoline or earn­ing income. And if the mandate is in effect just a tax hike on certain taxpayers who do not have health insurance, itmay be within Congress’s constitutional power to tax.

Because the ACA enforced the mandate through the IRS via a “shared responsibility payment” by taxpayers, the individual mandate was thus deemed proper and constitutional under Congress’ authority to levy taxes.

The ACA also required states to expand their Medicaid programs to provide basic coverage to all individuals under the age of 65 whose incomes fell below 133 percent of the federal poverty line.  The federal government, in turn, would fund a minimum of 90 percent of the additional costs incurred by the states.  Failure to comply with this requirement, according to the ACA, could result in a state losing all of its Medicaid funding.

The Court ruled that the federal government does not have the power to require states to “govern according to Congress’ instructions.”  The Court was led to “scrutinize Spending Clause legislation to ensure that Congress is not using financial inducements to exert ‘a power akin to undue influence,’” Roberts wrote.  “Congress may use its spending power to create incentives for states to act in accordance with federal policies.  But when ‘pressure turns to compulsion,’ the legislation runs contrary to our system of federalism.”

The federal government can still offer funds to expand Medicaid programs, but it cannot threaten to withhold all federal Medicaid funding from states that refuse to accept the terms of expansion spelled out in the ACA, the ruling held.  It is my guess that most states will, in fact, take the federal government up on its offer to fund at least 90 percent of the costs incurred by expansion.

The short of it is that this is a victory for health care reform in the United States.  “Obamacare” is far from perfect, or even ideal.  But it was deemed the best they could do under the circumstances, and is without a doubt a good start.  The process of reform is far from over, and this is a necessary first step.  And while a public option was not included in this iteration of healthcare reform, there is no reason to think that we might not eventually see one implemented several years down the road.  The Affordable Care Act leaves room for that option.

The fact that it was John Roberts joining the liberal wing of the Court in affirming the legality of the ACA is a major blow to Republicans.  Roberts is a stalwart conservative and normally reliably among the conservative cabal on the Court, after all, and Anthony Kennedy, who is normally the swing vote in 5-4 cases, voted in dissent.  It was widely expected that the Court would either overturn the Affordable Care Act in a 5-4 decision, or affirm it in a 6-3 vote with Roberts and Kennedy both in the majority.

Ordinarily a 5-4 decision would be met with derision; the court would be ostracized for making a strictly political ruling.  But with Roberts siding with the majority, that accusation falls flat, and lends the finding additional credibility.

The bottom line is that the affirmation of “Obamacare” means that 30 million people will have access to health care that otherwise would not.  And it means that the United States is finally well on its way to completely reforming our healthcare system.  The implementation of the Affordable Care Act is merely the beginning stages of that process.

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