The Conversation: President Obama and the Left

Last week angry House Democrats, meeting to discuss the tax deal President Barack Obama negotiated behind their backs with Senate Republicans, chanted, “Just Say No!” at a meeting in the basement of the Capitol. In exchange for extending unemployment benefits the president agreed to keep the lower tax rates on America’s richest 2 percent that President George W. Bush had helped enact a decade ago—tax rates candidate Obama had promised to let expire. Those on the Left felt betrayed. Sen. Bernie Sanders, the independent/socialist Senator from Vermont, filibustered the bill for 8½ hours on the Senate floor, saying that Obama’s “credibility has been severely damaged.” The president did not appreciate opposition to the compromise from within his own party, calling them “sanctimonious” and unrealistic “purists.” Now there’s talk of someone from the left-wing of the party actually running in a primary against the incumbent, shades of Eugene McCarthy jousting with Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968! Has the Left been so dissed it’s time for a third-party challenge? Here to discuss are Lisa Tyson, executive director of the Long Island Progressive Coalition; Janine Melillo, regional coordinator for; and Nassau Legis. Kevan Abrahams (D-Hempstead).

Lisa: The idea that we’re purists is just wrong. This is a bad bill, and it’s basically giving everything away to the wealthy. The estate-tax component of it is a bitter pill that we are being forced to swallow. But does that mean we’re going to run a third-party candidate against him? No. What it does mean is that the grassroots need to build our own power, and we need to be more vocal and more organized just like the Tea Party is right now. Look at the health care bill. The president definitely took the Left Wing for granted on that one. We didn’t get the public option. He could’ve pushed harder to make sure that it was a requirement. He has never been a progressive. When he was coming into office, we always knew that. The question is how much to the right or how much in the middle is he. This latest bill really is scary for us because what’s going to happen in the next two years? How much to the right will he move?

Kevan: Well, during the campaign I will say that Barack Obama probably came across more as a progressive guy than I thought. I don’t know if I would technically agree with Lisa because he’s gone to the center on this one issue. He’s been more than progressive, I think, on health care reform. Again, he had to structure a deal with moderate and progressive Democrats. At the end of the day it’s something that other presidents hadn’t been able to do. I think he’ll have an opportunity to prove to progressive Democrats that he is definitely in line with their policies and what they’d like to see from their president.

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Janine: Progressives need to keep reminding Obama that he was elected quite convincingly by a majority of the voters because he talked explicitly and confidently about moving this country forward in a progressive direction.  This is what people wanted; this is what people expect. And so there is a lot of disappointment around his preemptive capitulation on the fight over the Bush tax breaks for the rich. MoveOn members have been extensively surveyed since the tax deal was announced, and most members oppose it. For starters, the lion’s share of the benefit will go to the very rich, and this is not an effective way to create jobs, according to most economists. What’s more, the deal would cut payroll taxes, endangering the long-term funding of Social Security−giving Republicans just the opening they want to gut or even nix the program.

Kevan: My response to progressive Democrats is: What would you have done on January 1 if there’s no deal in place? What do you say to those millions of Americans who are no longer going to be receiving job benefits? I don’t think that now is the time that we should be challenging within our own party. The president’s only been there for two years. From my standpoint he should be judged on his full term. America spoke on Nov. 2nd. Republicans took back the House. And it’s important that progressive Democrats, independents, everybody listen.

Janine: The most frightening thing is that we know this isn’t the end, or even the beginning of the end, of the Republican tactic of holding the middle class hostage to demand huge and unnecessary bailouts for the rich. Rewarding this tactic now will only encourage them to do it again. As for the president, we will keep urging him to articulate and fight for the progressive agenda he ran on in 2008. And whether he does or not, we will keep doing that ourselves.

Lisa: Right now he has basically put his name on a redistribution of wealth. But a third- party challenge won’t help. We need the left to be stand up and be organized in every district across the country. Having a third-party candidate could give the Republicans the win in the next presidential election. We saw the Ralph Nader effect in 2000, and that’s the last thing we need.

1st Congressional District Residents Protest Randy Altschuler

(East Setauket, N.Y.) — Residents of New York’s 1st Congressional District protested the corporate connections of Randy Altschuler, the Republican candidate for Congress in the 1st Congressional District. They were reacting to a new report by Citizen of New York finding that Mr. Altschuler, the former head of an outsourcing giant, received thousands of dollars from companies seeking a weakening of financial reform legislation, the repeal of health care reform and tax policies favoring the needs of the wealthy and corporations over those of the middle class. Mr. Altschuler is running against incumbent Timothy Bishop (D).
“Our new report details that Randy Altschuler’s campaign is funded through his own personal wealth and corporate interests rather than the people in the 1st Congressional District,” said Bob Cohen, Policy Director of Citizen Action of New York and the primary report author. “Mr. Altschuler received significant funding from the financial services industry and benefited from an onslaught of ads that lied to seniors about health care reform. It’s clear that Randy Altschuler’s corporate sponsors expect to get a good return on their investment, and that’s to get a Congressman who will turn his back on financial reform, repeal health care reform and oppose fair tax policies that are in the interests of working families.” Congress is expected to take up the expiration of the Bush tax cuts next month during its “lame duck” session.

“We need a Congressman who’s going to serve the interests of the 1st Congressional District, not someone who’s beholden to corporate fatcats like Bank of America. Randy Altschuler is not that Congressman,” said Lisa Tyson, the Director of the Long Island Progressive Coalition. “Bank of America recently resumed its foreclosures on families in Long Island and elsewhere despite a pending 50 state Attorneys-General investigation of their foreclosure practices. The new Citizen Action report is frightening because it raises the question of whether corporate interests are trying to buy our democracy and thwart the will of the people of the east end of Long Island.”

The report, “Corporate Cash, Personal Wealth: Randy Altschuler’s Campaign Funding and What it Means for Long Island,” is based on data from the web page maintained by the Center for Responsive Politics and press accounts. Among the report’s findings are as follows:

Randy Altschuler is funded primarily by a combination of corporate interests and his own personal funds rather than by individuals, raising serious questions as to whether he is accountable to corporate donors or to the working families of the 1st Congressional District. Two-thirds (65%) of his total contributions were from his own personal funds and PACs rather than from individuals.

Of Mr. Altschuler’s contributions from other than his personal funds, a disproportionate share were from the financial services industry and other industry groups with a vested interest in lax regulation — the kind of regulation that nearly led to the collapse of the U.S. economy in the fall of 2008. Specifically, he received $217,546 from the securities and investment industry, $37,600 from the real estate industry, and $31,560 from lawyers and law firms.

Mr. Altschuler, a strong health care reform opponent, benefitted enormously from support from corporate -funded PACs that oppose reform. Specifically, he indirectly received at least $147,694 in the form of advertising targeted at Timothy Bishop, a strong health care reform supporter. The ads were funded by the “60 Plus Association,” a so-called “Super PAC” that has placed more than $4 million in ads nationwide against House Democrats. has found that the advertisements are seriously misleading.

Randy Altschuler received a disproportionate share of his contributions from out-of-state contributors and from those outside of Long Island, likely reflecting the importance of Mr. Altschuler’s candidacy to out-of-state corporate interests. 41% of his contributions have come from out of state as compared to 20% for Tim Bishop, and $141,320 of his contributions have come from Long Island, as compared to $429,051 for Mr. Bishop. Generally, incumbents receive more out of state money than challengers.

The report recommends the passage of public financing of elections legislation, so that candidates can focus on the needs of working people in their communities rather the needs of powerful special interests that fund their campaigns. The bill, co-sponsored by Tim Bishop, has a “matching fund” provision to help candidates who are running against wealthy self-funded candidates like Altschuler.

“I am here in support of Congressman Tim Bishop, a man who truly represents the best interests of his constituents,” said Paul Gold, a member of the Long Island Progressive Coalition. “He stands for fair elections reform and transparency in campaign contributions. In contrast, Randy Altschuler receives disproportionate funding from the financial services industry and the insurance industry, which benefit enormously from lax regulation and opposition to financial and healthcare reform. He and his party would take us back to the Bush years of corporate abuse and financial deregulation, the failed policies that created the economic mess we find ourselves in today.”

Progressives rally under 'One Nation' banner, invigorated for midterm elections

Progressives – thought to be sitting out the midterm elections – came by the tens of thousands to rally in Washington, D.C. on Saturday, October 2. They came from different places and different backgrounds and championing different issues and agendas, but they came in force under a “One Nation” banner, in recognition of the consequences if Democrats lose control of Congress.

Many came to use their bodies as the counterpoint to the Tea Party and Glenn Beck who rallied at the same place, the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, in August. They wanted the pictures showing the rainbow of colors of t-shirts showing affiliations to unions and causes, to mirror the image and contradict the notion of an “enthusiasm gap” for Democratic candidates.

In contrast to Glenn Beck’s rally which had a religious theme, the progressives’ message, “Jobs, Justice, Education” more closely tracked Martin Luther King Jr.’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech, which was recited by a group led by James Dean.

Instead of the “Vote for Change” message of the Tea Party, the signs here read “Standing Up for the Change We Voted For”.

The 50 Long Islanders on the Long Island Jobs With Justice bus were representative of the range of issues, causes and groups that met up at the rally: peace activists, unionists, environmentalists, advocates for public education, universal health care, and an economy that brings about full employment. Some were veterans of protests going back to Martin Luther King and the Vietnam War, and some were on their first march on Washington, including 15 students from Stony Brook University.

The students were protesting the privatization of the state university system, the cuts in spending to public education that has resulted in the South Hampton campus being closed, and the rise in tuition at state and city universities, making them unaffordable, or sending them out with $25,000 in debt, and turning them into “wage slaves”

Helene Manas, of the Long Island Progressive Coalition and a New York City school teacher, said, “It is really, really important to show the nation that the Tea Party is minimal and the true majority are like us. I believe people deserve justice, equal rights, good education and health care.”

Helene and her husband, Mark Manas, said they were championing the issue of Fair Elections Now – publicly financed elections – to mitigate the massive flow of money now for wealthy individuals, corporations and special interest groups to literally buy candidates “Money is the cancer in politics,” they said.

The sentiment “Money is buying all our candidates, even Progressives,” was echoed by Esther Confino, but Confino, who is secretary of the Long Island Coalition for a National Health Plan, was advocating on behalf of a single payer system.

The so-called Obamacare health reform that has the Tea Party so teed-off, “Is only the beginning.” She expressed the upset Progressives had that the Obama Administration so quickly gave up on expanding the Medicare system through the age groups or offering a public option, and even recalled how single-payer advocates were arrested at Senator Max Baucus’ hearing. “Single payer people were in mourning.”

But, she noted,  “If we didn’t get [what we got], it would have taken 30 years” before there was any health care reform at all.

She reminded Progressives of what is at stake: Republicans are calling to privatize Social Security and repeal the health care reforms which were won, which only really provided access to health insurance. Connecticut’s Republican candidate for Senate, Linda McMahon, has said that the minimum wage should be reduced.

Naomi Feldheim of Great Neck, who has been marching since Martin Luther King, said she was marching this time to “change priorities of country.”

She urged support for the “War is Making You Poor” act that is in Congress. The spending on unending wars is “taking away from education, the social net, creation of jobs, all the things FDR addressed with WPA. We need to rebuild infrastructure, education and health needs instead of killing our youth in foreign wars.”

Charlene Obenauer, director of Long Island Jobs with Justice and the organizer of the bus, pointed to the “Move the Money” campaign, from war and foreign spending to domestic issues.

Since 2001, the cost of wars totals $1.1 trillion; the cost to New York State is $97 billion. The bill to Nassau County taxpayers in fiscal 2011 for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is $1.8 billion.

That same amount of money could provide 1,675,621 Long Island households with wind-powered renewable electricity for a year; pay for 25,051 police or firefighters, provide 297,243 scholarships for a year or provide Pell Grants to 321,719 students; provide health care to 717,661 low-income children, pay for 191,404 Head Start slots, pay 21,976 elementary school teachers, or provide 182,269 military veterans with VA medical care.

Nancy Durgan of Pax Christi, the Catholic peace movement, said, “We have got to stand up and make noise and not just make it like the Tea Party, and move the money to the intense need we have at home.”

Paul Auerbach of the Interfaith Alliance, said he was also showing opposition to war and to bring that money home.

Judy Gardner, Huntington, of Code Pink, said she was marching  because, “We have to be visible, or else you’re not there. If we aren’t involved, we get the government we deserve. We have to be out there.”

Charlotte Coons, also from Code Pink, said she is marching “to bring the war money home” and, because the perpetual “War on Terrorism” has resulted in compromised privacy, she added, ” I march for civil liberties.”

Bob Marcus, of the North Country Peace Group, Setauket, picked up on the themes of the march, “One Nation working together for jobs, justice, education, economy that works for all to create one million new jobs right away; a world class public education system; end racism; fix the broken immigration system; that workers have green jobs and safe working conditions; a clean environment; equality for all women; peace; energy independence; public education and transportation.”

Maria Contreras, with the Long Island Jobs with Justice board, was advocating to fix the broken immigration system, another theme of the rally.She urged support for the DREAM Act, languishing in Congress, which would have addressed the complex issue of undocumented immigrants (by some estimates 11 million people). It would provide that enrollment in high school or college as well as military service would provide a path to citizenship. But the group wants other paths – such as community service or owning a small business that employs other people.

Susan Darcy, of West Hempstead, a special education department chairman who also hosts meetings of Moving Forward Long Island, said she wanted to show that Progressives were just as much a force as Tea Party. “They say they want America back. We want to go forward.”

Zina Fayache of Mineola said she wanted to be at the rally because, “We have to support the President. He’s not perfect, he’s but going in the right direction, moving forward.. He was left a lot of problems and he’s solving them, making our world a better place. That’s very important to me.”

Jack Belelo recalled President Harry Truman’s Labor Day 1948 speech. “He called them Republican Reactionaries, not Conservatives That’s the term we should use. The Tea Party is reactionary.

“In 1948, which was only 15 years from the New Deal, Truman was the underdog. These Republican Reactionaries were against Social Security, the FDIC, the Wagner Act (that gives workers the right to organize and strike), child labor laws.

“He said, ‘If you vote for these Republican reactionaries, you will get what you deserve.'”

The same Republican Reactionaries, he said, were against Civil Rights Act in 1964, voting rights and Medicare in 1965 “and every Progressive legislation.

“Although Obama is not perfect, not as progressive as we would like, he is such a damn sight better, and if we don’t support him and the Dems in his corner, we will get what we deserve.”

“No matter how you feel about Obama and the Democrats,” echoed Andrew of Stony Brook’s Environmental Club, “they are all that we have to work with. Obama and the Dems are not perfect, but in November, we have to come out to vote. If not, it will be the Tea Baggers.

“The biggest problem with Progressives,” he said, “is that they don’t come out in support each other..My interest is environmental, but I support other causes. The only way for our agenda to succeed is to support each other.”

But march, gather, rally and support each other they did.

With some 400 different organizations supporting the rally, including United for Peace and Justice,, NAACP, 1199 SEIU, AFL-CIO, Green for All, United States Student Association, Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, Campaign for America’s Future, National Action Network, Center for American Progress, Jewish Funds for Justice, Veterans For Peace, Code Pink, and Progressive Democrats of America, to list but a few, the marchers poured out from some 2,000 buses, plus cars, the metro.

They carried signs as diverse as the people carrying them: “Corporations Are Not People.” “Make Food Not War.” “We March for Hope Not Hate.” “No Turn Right”

There were even signs thanking Obama, such as carried by twin sisters Valerie & Winnie Mackend, of New York City, “Thank you Obama for passing health care reform; withdrawing troops from Iraq; restoring our reputation abroad; increasing aid to veterans; appointing the first Latina to the Supreme Court and restarting Mideast peace talks.”

In fact, as marches go, this one was “mellow,” Feldheim later commented.

Seven feeder marches funneled towards the Lincoln Memorial. People lined the Reflecting Pool.

Gathered at the Lincoln Memorial, Progressives stood up for their causes, but were careful not to betray frustration with the Obama Administration or Democrats for compromises on everything from continuing the Bush war on terror in Afghanistan to the too-quick abandonment of single-payer or public option in the health care program, to the disrespect shown teachers in the press to tie compensation and job security to test scores.

Instead, the call was for unity.

“We are together. This march is about the power to the people,” said MSNBC host Ed Schultz. “It is about the people standing up to the corporations. Are you ready to fight back?…This is a defining moment in America. Are you American?..This is no time to back down. This is time to fight for America… We as one nation must fight … We must vote Nov. 2.”

One speaker lambasted “The high blood pressure of greed and anemia of deeds.”

Van Jones, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress, brought together the concern for jobs and the need to address climate change: “Most important is green power… We need to beat global warming and put Americans back to work at the same time.”

“Let farmers have a new business –not just food production but energy production” – wind turbines, growing energy crops.

“The environment is in crisis, and economy is in crisis. The Earth is overheating, temperature is going up and employment going down. Fix both at the same time.”

Al Sharpton, advocating on behalf of public education and summoning up the Progressives to go out and knock on doors to get out the vote for November 2, intoned, “You can’t scapegoat teachers- there’s a difference between accountability and union busting….

“In four weeks, is the midterm ‘exams.’ We’ve got to hit the pavement, knock on doors, from 10/2 to 11/2. We will pass the midterm exam.”

As of 3 pm, the peak of the march, the organizing group, One Nation Working Together, estimated 175,000 people, “representing all 50 states and our country’s great diversity – joined together at the Lincoln memorial to re-claim the American dream and raise their voices for jobs, justice and public education. 

“It’s inspiring to look out and see so many people — even more than we even expected — from so many different places coming together as one nation in support of jobs, justice and public education,” said Leah Daughtry, national campaign director of One Nation Working Together. “This is an important moment in the progressive movement – as each person returns home and continues to rally our fellow Americans as we head to the ballot box in November and re-commit ourselves to our common future.”

–Karen Rubin, Long Island Populist Examiner

Nassau Contracted Health Care Workers Win Full Raise

Written by Elizabeth Lanza Friday, 06 August 2010 00:00

Legislature Hears Employers’ Protest – Dismisses Plea

On July 26, a special session of the Nassau County Legislature was held to vote on the one dollar per hour salary raise promised to home health care workers employed by agencies that have contracts with the county, as per Nassau’s Living Wage Law. After debating a bill to put off the raise, legislators voted to leave the increase intact as scheduled for August.

In 2006, the Living Wage Law was unanimously passed by the Legislature. The law provided for a phased-in salary increase from $9.50 per hour to $12.50. The last one dollar increment had been scheduled to go into effect on Aug. 1, however, there has been much opposition from health care employers, who claim that the increase in cost will be unmanageable for them, and will result in layoffs.

Responding to this plea from the health care employers, NC Legislature Presiding Officer Peter Schmitt introduced a bill to delay the pay increase, allowing the employers to make their case before the Legislature. The bill proposed a raise based on the consumer price index or CPI, which would be about 18 cents as opposed to the mandated one dollar. It also proposed a six-month moratorium on the full Living Wage increase. This extra time was meant to allow the health care industry time to address problems they have been saying they experience at the state level that they say make another increase unbearable. The complaint is that New York State has been cutting what it pays the companies while also adding new taxes and costs to operation.

Presiding Officer Schmitt told Anton Community Newspapers, “I introduced this bill because of the disgraceful way the State of New York has turned its back on Long Island, with MTA cuts, the MTA payroll tax… now these home companies have had their reimbursement rate cut by the state while our cost to them is going up… That is a premise for discussion. They said no one else is listening. So, we let them make their case.”

The current living wage for Nassau contracted employers is $13.10 an hour or $11.50 with health benefits. On Aug. 2, this rate has been scheduled to go up to $14.16 an hour or $12.50 with benefits. Although an increase of only $1 does not seem like a lot to some at the hearings, representatives that testified on behalf of the agencies said that this increase would translate into a major problem.

Bob Callaghan, for instance, a representative of the New York State Association of Health Care Providers, a trade organization advocating for providers, testified that the 35 county approved agencies serve about 3,000 families and employ about 5,000 people. Callaghan and others speaking on behalf of employers, spoke to the idea that with an increase in salaries there would be ramifications and jobs lost.

However, both Democratic and Republican legislatures said that they needed specific details on exactly how many jobs would be lost if they went ahead with the increase. Legislators indicated that the agencies failed to come up with the concrete numbers they were looking for, and this swayed Monday’s vote to keep the raise as scheduled.

“We gave these providers one last opportunity to make their case that hardship would result from an increase. They failed,” Schmitt said after the hearing. “Everyone on the legislature agreed that they didn’t do it. There was no specific example of ‘agency x will turn back this number of county contracts,’ or ‘agency y will lay off this many workers.’ So we rejected the item and the wage goes into effect.”

Legislator Diane Yatauro, who serves as the Democrats’ minority leader, fought hard to make sure that the raise would go into effect, saying, “We are talking about hardworking people who earn approximately $22,000 per year performing tasks that most of us would shy away from. Keeping this one dollar commitment was not going to place anyone in jeopardy. It was simply the right thing to do.”

Lisa Tyson, director of the Long Island Progressive Coalition, testified at hearings and spoke out against the bill that would put the raise on hold. Tyson said, “The Nassau County Legislature did the right thing. Workers who do work for the county have been living on poverty wages and desperately deserved the raise. The health care companies should not balance their budgets on the back of workers. We thank the Legislature for doing their research and proving that the increase will not result in layoffs.”

Bob Callaghan expressed frustration on behalf of the health care employers, who he believes did make a sound case. He told Anton Community Newspapers after the hearing, “We are definitely disappointed. I thought we did a fairly decent job presenting our bottom line to the Legislature. We included a graph that showed pro forma that the business model doesn’t work with this increase.”

Callaghan believes the decision came down to politics. “They just didn’t want to hear it,” he said. “I think that between the sensationalism and the vocal union participation, it was a lot easier to just walk on this one.”

He added that the local health care industry should “weather” the pay increase but layoffs could be coming. Smaller agencies will be impacted the most, he said. But, many might qualify for a waiver from the Living Wage requirements.

“We’ll probably see a lot of waiver applications quickly coming in,” said Callaghan. “Agencies are considering other strategies open to them in order to avoid layoffs. I haven’t heard specifically yet of anyone turning in contract or laying folks off at this point. But that could be down the road a little bit.”

Schmitt said after the hearing that as a result of this experience, he will not support future pay mandates, sharing, “I am not passing any more automatic increases unless they are [based on the] cost of living. It is wrong to dictate specific dollar amounts for the future when you don’t know what the future holds.”

Small Business Health Care Press Event

By Julia Ryan

Survey: L.I. Small Business Owners Support Healthcare Reform

New York Small Business United for Health Care released a report Thursday in Massapequa that shows that New York small business owners want health reform and the possibility of a public health insurance plan.

The report, The Pulse of Main Street New York: Small Businesses, Health Insurance, and Views on Reform was based on surveys of more than 200 New York small business owners from New York City, Long Island, Albany, Binghamton and Buffalo. Based on the findings, small business owners are willing to contribute 4-7 percent of payroll to a public health insurance plan. Small business owners also said that they want more public oversight and government regulation in the insurance industry.

Margaret Petrucco, the co-owner of the Quilting Bug in Massapequa, said that real changes will have to happen to current health care programs if the government wants small businesses to recover.

“This health care mess we’re in is a major roadblock to economic recovery,” said Petruccco. The country is looking to small businesses to create jobs and help revitalize our economy. “We need a real health care fix to fulfill that promise.”

New York Small Business United for Health Care collaborated with the Long Island Progressive Coalition for the report. Jonathan Grindell, the community organizer for the Long Island Progressive Coalition (LIPC), said that healthcare reform is crucial because small businesses play an important role on LI.

“Small businesses are the backbone of the economy,” said Grindell. “Better healthcare puts small business employees in a better state of mind, so they can do better work.”

The release of the small businesses report coincides with the U.S. Senate Finance Committee’s recent decision to start marking up new healthcare legislation. According to Grindell, the LIPC will be sending a busload of people to Washington D.C. sometime in the near future to lobby Congress for higher-quality, more affordable health care.

LIPC is a local affiliate of Citizen Action of New York. Small Business United for Health Care is affiliated with the national Main Street Alliance, an association of small business groups in 12 states across America.
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