Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – November 29, 2013

The recent announcement of a potential nuclear agreement with Iran should have been greeted with thanks as Thanksgiving Week began. But, predictably, it was not. Meanwhile, the Teapublicans are intent on portraying Obamacare as a “disaster” even though it is not. Perhaps if they say it long enough and loud enough it will be true? And speaking of Obamacare, in 2014 the Supreme Court of the United States will decide whether corporations can impose their religious ideals on their employees. No kidding.

Diplomacy 101

After over three decades of mutual enmity, the United States (and several other nations) and Iran have agreed to an arrangement that will severely curtail its nuclear enrichment program in exchange for modes reductions of the international economic sanctions that are battering Iran. That this agreement would come to pass while the chicken hawks on Capitol Hill have been clamoring for all-out war with Iran on this issue is nothing short than amazing and can only be seen as a positive.

But, think again, there are the predictable Teapublican chicken hawks crowing for bombs and battle from the safety of their congressional cocoon. But there are also relatively sane members of Congress who are also opposing this deal because it does not fully eliminate Iran’s nuclear program. The fact that every country engaged in negotiating with Iran (United States, France, the United Kingdom, China, and Russia) has nuclear weapons – as does Israel, doesn’t seem to factor into the discussion.

Moreover, it appears that there may be a need to reintroduce the concept of diplomacy to the members of Congress who seem to think that any compromise is a sign of weakness and a tactical error. Of course, as a matter of course diplomacy is only effective when each side gets something but doesn’t get everything.

Hopefully, the members of Congress will return to reality in time to recognize the historic and global importance of this agreement.

The Disaster that Isn’t

The Teapublican playbook seems to be based on the belief that if one says something loud enough and often enough, it will be perceived as true – even if it isn’t. In the case of the continuing saga of Obamacare, the Teapublicans who closed down the entire federal government and voted to repeal it about 5 million times are now claiming that the law that they always hated is a “disaster”.

Exhibit A has been, of course, the computer/website problems that began with the October 1st enrollment process. There are anecdotal stories of individuals who have lost insurance or are paying more for insurance and there is always a doctor somewhere who will stand in front of a camera and explain how Obamacare will ruin “the best healthcare system in the world”.

These same naysayers ignore the millions of Americans who have benefited from Obamacare since it went into effect almost four years ago. That is four years of people not being denied insurance because of pre-existing and catastrophic illness. That is four years of adult children being covered by their parents’ health insurance until they are 26. And that is four years of healthcare costs in this country finally trending downward.

But the Teapublicans never let the truth get in the way of a good “Bad Obama” story.

Religion Incorporated?

Ever since the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in the Citizens United case that corporations enjoy the Constitutional protection of freedom of speech, we have waited to see when the other shoe might fall – or how many shoes there might be poised to fall in the further perversion of the United States Constitution.

The answer may be given in the spring of 2014. SCOTUS has agreed to hear a case based on the presumption that the religious freedoms of corporations can the subject of constitutional protection. Now you might not have realized that corporations, a legal mechanism created for commercial and organizational purposes, had any kind of religious affiliation.

We can all accept that Catholic Charities and the United Jewish Appeal have religious affiliations and those affiliations are recognized by the Internal Revenue Code. The idea that any commercial corporation could claim religious affiliation and “rights” is an awful concept and, a perversion of the concept of religious liberty that gave rise to it being constitutionally protected in the first place.

Imagine corporations determining what kind of healthcare their employees can have based upon the religious beliefs of the shareholders – no blood transfusions, no abortions, no contraception, no medical treatment at all – that would be the Brave New World of corporations as “people” as Mitt Romney so eloquently put it.

Have a great weekend – stay strong and be great!

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Point of View Columns

Remembering November 22, 1963

There are moments in life, some personal, and some shared, that are indelibly embedded into memory. I was in an airplane over Namibia heading to New York when my son was born. I was in a restaurant in Washington when my father died. I was in Ghana when the first man walked on the moon. And I was on crutches in the hallway of my high school when I first heard that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

This historical moment, which occurred fifty years ago today, is viewed very differently depending on the demographic that you occupy. Anyone born before 1940 had lived through the Great Depression and a World War – they had personally witnessed and experienced death, destruction and the explosion of dreams. While they would certainly have been moved to tears and carried very heavy hearts on that never to be forgotten Friday, the death of John Kennedy was one more painful episode in a life that had seen people lose their homes, their jobs and their lives.

Anyone born before 1940 had seen entire nations razed to the ground. Concentration camps in Europe, America and the Pacific were not distant memories. Anyone born before 1930 had seen much of the world turned into a charnel house, this planet had become the abattoir of the Devil. And the death of John Kennedy was one more familiar burden.

Anyone born after 1955 has only the faint memory of a child or a reference in a history book when it comes to the death of John Kennedy. Their memory is forever refracted through the prism of other people’s memories. And this particular death goes into the catalogue with other historical assassinations from Caesar to Lincoln. Historically important, deeply significant, but lacking in emotional burden – after all, no one weeps while reading a history book.

For those people born between 1940 and 1955 however, the killing of John Kennedy was a moment of profound significance – significance that went far beyond the horrific event of the president of the United States having his head blown off in full view of the world. For those of us in this particular demographic, the assassination was a wakeup alarm for a generation that was comforted with manufactured Technicolor dream scenarios.

In this scenario, all good things were possible, and bad things either happened to someone else in some other country, or just to someone else. In this scenario, the promise of the future was eternally bright and we were taught that this bright future was ours as a matter of birthright. In this scenario monstrosities and atrocities and cynicism belonged to the past.

The election of John F. Kennedy, the youngest person ever elected president, meant that youth was claiming its American – and global – inheritance. That youth was us and the idea of a New Frontier and a Peace Corps and “…asking not what this country can do for you but what you can do for your country” was intoxicating stuff.

It was cool to be optimistic. It was cool to care about others and the world. It was cool to be brilliant and educated and embracing of culture and sophistication. And it was so very clear that this would last forever, that this is the way it would be.

And then it wasn’t.

Black and white televisions broadcast the unbelievable news and radios crackled with reports that surely came from Hell. There was no way that dreams could just die. There was no way that a symbol of hope and promise could just be killed.

And there was no way that we could know that while the earth had barely settled on the graves of the young girls assassinated in Birmingham, Alabama that Malcolm X had less than two years left to live.

We had no way of knowing that both Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy would be dead in less than five years. We didn’t know that John Coltrane, John Lennon and Fred Hampton and Jimi Hendrix and George Jackson would also be dead before too long.

And we had no way of knowing that our brothers and sisters would be dying on battlefields in Watts and Newark and Vietnam and Waco and Ruby Ridge and Jonestown and Iraq and the World Trade Center.

But we began to learn how fragile dreams are and how precious hope is. We began to appreciate the uncertainty of tomorrow and unfortunately, we all began to drink from the cup of cynicism, too many of us too deeply.

And now, on the fiftieth anniversary of the death of innocence for an entire generation, it is now time for that generation to stop thinking about what might have been and spend the rest of the time with which we may be blessed working on what can be.

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Point of View Columns

Fake Fuss over Obamacare

The frenzied farcical furor surrounding the technology challenged rollout of the latest phase of the Affordable Care Act would be laughable if the subject matter wasn’t so serious. The Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, was passed into law in order to address a critical challenge for the people of the United States – quality affordable healthcare being made available to a third of a billion people. While the record is quite clear that Obamacare has begun to address the healthcare inequities of Americans, the Usual Suspects are only too happy, indeed gleeful, to celebrate even any misstep.

A bit of historical perspective is always useful. At the beginning of the 20th century President Theodore Roosevelt advanced the concept of universal health care, an obvious product of the Progressive Movement that initiated so many beneficial reforms in these United States.

Since that time, many presidents, including Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Bill Clinton have all tried, and failed, to implement a universal health care system that would guarantee medical care for all Americans. And since that time virtually every developed country on this planet (and many that are not so developed) has implemented a universal health care system for its citizens.

When Barack Obama became president in 2009 over 40 million Americans had no medical insurance and millions of other Americans were hopelessly underinsured. And this societal disgrace existed in a country with the best medical technology in the world and the highest medical costs in the world. That the Obama administration was able to shepherd a healthcare bill through a Congress that was already careening towards the partisan poisoned train wreck that it is today, will one day be noted as a great legislative and political achievement.

It should be no surprise that the Teapublicans have led the full throated disparagement of every aspect of Obamacare. But they are silent when it is pointed out that Americans with pre-existing medical conditions can no longer be denied health insurance – an established procedure in the health insurance industry prior to the passage of Obamacare.

They are also silent when it is pointed out that, since the passage of the Affordable Care Act Americans can no longer lose their healthcare coverage when they are afflicted by a catastrophic illness. Dropping people with such illnesses from health insurance coverage was standard operating procedure prior to the passage of Obamacare.

And the Teapublicans simply don’t want to talk about the fact that millions of Americans can keep their children covered by the family health care plan until that child turns 26. This is another new feature that was the stuff of fantasy before the passage of Obamacare.

So why would the Teapublicans and their right wing cohorts want to repeal Obamacare? The House of Representatives has voted to repeal Obamacare 47 times. The right wing zealots who populate that chamber have shut down the federal government and taken the entire global economy to the brink of an unthinkable cataclysm – all in the name of derailing a law which provides healthcare to Americans.

It has to make one wonder what is it about Obamacare that makes the Teapublicans cross-eyed crazy? Can they be so opposed to children with cancer receiving healthcare? Are they that opposed to men, women and children being able to see a doctor without the specter of bankruptcy looming over them if they get sick? And, have the Teapublicans ever offered a credible alternative to Obamacare?

The answer to the last question is “no”. And the answers to the other questions are probably “no” as well. In which case it is clear that the magma of hate for President Barack Obama has spewed forth in a volcanic eruption of opposition, confrontation, disrespect and invalidation that continues to this very day as Teapublicans are holding up President Obama’s third judicial nomination to the United States Court of Appeals. And there should be no doubt that there is a racialist and racist source to the white hot magma that flows through the halls of power of Washington.

And now we are supposed to believe that the Teapublicans are caterwauling over the technological missteps in the next phase of Obamacare because they care about the healthcare of Americans being jeopardized. Their record of crass and senseless opposition to All Things Obama makes them all look like they are crying crocodile tears.

The computer failures of Obamacare will be fixed. Obamacare will continue to be the law of the land. More Americans will have access to affordable quality healthcare because of Obamacare. And the opponents of Obamacare will find themselves being footnotes to footnotes of history.

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Point of View Columns

Don’t Let Them Eat Cake

At the beginning of this month we were all witness to a shameful illustration of ideological fantasy transformed into institutional cruelty. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) was forced to reduce food stamp benefits for tens of millions of American men, women and children in the name of austerity and fiscal probity. What was really happening is that the mean-spirited worst aspects of the right wing of the right wing were implemented in real time leaving American men, women and children to suffer.

Part of the fantasy of the right wing of the right wing of the Teapublican Party is that this country is based on principles of total self-reliance and that it has been by the sheer will of the individual that all progress has taken place in this country, indeed on this planet. That this patently untrue is obvious to even the casual student of the history of this country.

From the implementation of a national postal system to the construction of the Erie Canal to the establishment of a transcontinental railroad, major progress has taken place in this country only through collective engagement and governmental support. The public health system, the public education system and government support of and participation in scientific research in multiple fields have established a societal platform that has supported unprecedented industrial and commercial success in these United States.

There have been men and women who have been highly successful in their use and exploitation of this platform. But to quote President Obama, “…they didn’t build that.” The American people have built that platform over the course of more than two centuries and it is undeniable that the millionaires and billionaires who reside in America (even if their money doesn’t) cannot even imagine a more suitable place in the world where they could create and amass the fortunes that they possess.

And so it is more than odd, it is counterintuitive,  that men and women who populate the right wing of the right wing who are direct beneficiaries of government-based initiatives now wish to reduce and eliminate these beneficial initiatives for other Americans now that they and their families are comfortable and secure. Consider the example of Congressman Paul Ryan, the recently failed Teapublican Vice Presidential candidate who is considered a leading theorist in the right wing drive towards fiscal austerity and the shrinkage of government.

Paul Ryan’s family became very wealthy and comfortable in Wisconsin by building roads. What kind of roads? Public roads and highways that were funded by public funds are the key source of wealth for the Ryan family and is a major reason why Paul Ryan did not have to drop out of school and go to work when his father died (his brief stint at McDonald’s notwithstanding) and the reason why he has never had to hold a paying job in the private sector as an adult.

To make the irony even more bittersweet, Paul Ryan attended college with Social Security benefits that he received by reason of the unfortunate death of his father. The same Social Security program that he now wants to scale back and privatize, turning it into a shredded semblance of a social safety net once helped him and his family.

It should be clear that the narrative of Paul Ryan is not exceptional for its hypocrisy and crass betrayal of a system from which he has reaped enormous, life transforming benefits. Senator Rand Paul, another Teapublican avatar and faux advocate of self-reliance, had no problem reaping millions of dollars in Medicare payments while practicing medicine.

Senator Ted Cruz is another Teapublican avatar who claims that government is the enemy of the American people. But the American government wasn’t the enemy when his father immigrated to this country from Cuba. Presumably the elder Cruz could have selected some other country to pursue his hopes and dreams and to raise his family, but he chose the United States precisely because to the programs, infrastructure and societal platform that he son now seeks to destroy.

To compound his detestable and dangerous hypocrisy, Ted Cruz attended Princeton and Harvard, two institutions that have received billions of dollars of federal assistance over the years for research, scholarships and other supportive measures. Because these schools have been able to maintain a level of excellence over the years, Ted Cruz was able to reap those benefits. Again, these are now benefits that he would seek to eliminate for current and future generations of students.

And it is within this House of Hypocritical Mirrors that we see the Teapublican apostles of austerity cutting food stamp programs while they sit well-fed, well-educated and well-satisfied with the life that the governmental system has provided for them.

We are reminded of the selfish caricatures that climb up the ladder to success and then pull up the ladder so that no one can follow.

 

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