Monday, June 29, 2009

Hold the champagne on health care

By Don Klein

Just about everyone in the country is looking forward to universal health care being enacted by Congress before the end of this year. There will be surprises in store for all. I wouldn’t pop the champagne corks just yet. In fact when the bill is finally enacted we might not want to celebrate at all.

As expected the problem is that many Democrats want a law that will protect the millions who cannot afford health insurance without too much concern for the cost to the taxpayer and the Republicans want a watered down version of the same thing, but on the cheap with particular emphasis on protecting the profits of big business.

It’s the same old sequence. Give the "Party of No" a half hour to think about it and they will come up dozens of reasons not to support a social program for the benefit of ordinary citizens. It is the same party that submissively passed one deficit-laced budgets again and again during the Bush era with no concern for the damage it would do to future generations. Now, suddenly, they are obsessed with frugality.

Wouldn’t you think that nearly 50 millions Americans without health insurance was reason enough to work for a solution? But the Republicans seem never willing to spend for the benefit of the needy unless that can filter the funding through the coffers of big industry for their profit.

Everyone favors industry making a profit. That's not the problem. But should that profit take precedence over the health of the nation? There seems to be enough in Congress, including renegade Democrats, who believe it should because they depend on gifts from big business to fund their reelection drives.

That is the pity of the American political system. The big money guys have taken over the government that used to be for the people. It is the fallacy of most Republicans -- and some Democrats -- that business cannot survive in this country without feasting at the public trough.

President Obama’s initial health plan now making its way through Congress is headed for a stonewall. GOP leaders in the House and Senate claim the bill as is will gather not a single Republican vote. There is no way to know if that is true, but if it is, the bill will undergo massive surgery before it comes out in the end as law. Recall the old saying about Congress: A camel is a horse designed by committee?

No one wants the health care reform "horse" to end up looking like a "camel." Most people do not want Congressional nitpickers debating whether health care should have one hump or two. More importantly, we don’t want it to end up blown out of size looking like a pregnant elephant. The public deserves a horse, a slick equine that performs resolutely.

We’ve had enough distortions foisted on the public by Congressional manipulation in the past. Just look at the Medicare drug plan offered the public a few years back.

"The Medicare drug benefit was a camel of a program. It mated a liberal proposition — expanding a government entitlement — with a conservative solution — having private insurers dispense the coverage and forbidding the government to negotiate drug prices," said Providence Journal columnist Froma Harrop, "The result was a complicated benefit that cost taxpayers a lot more than it had to."

Why, you might ask, are members of Congress deaf to the opinions of the Americans in support of universal health coverage as exemplified in poll after poll, and in particular, a government plan that competes with private insurance? Powerful Senate Democrats pretend not to hear and are squirming in the opulent executive chairs offering phony alternatives.

Why do they insist that the country can’t afford public health care and insist such a measure would not pass Congress when they haven’t even started the debate or listened to enlightened testimony? They say they only want to help secure Republican votes for the camel which will displace Obama’s horse.

"Indeed, many of the most intransigent Democrats don't bother to make actual arguments to support their position. Nor do they seem to worry that Democratic voters and the party's main constituencies overwhelmingly support the public option and universal coverage." columnist Joe Conason contends.
"Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., has simply stated... that she refuses to support a public option. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who has tried to fashion a plan that will entice Republicans, warns that the public option is a step toward single-payer health care ..."

They ignore the Obama point that we’ve been told of how efficient American private insurers are that he doesn’t believe anything government does will effect their business. They’ll just have to compete instead of collude on prices. Further, he asks the nay sayers why worry since they are forever claiming that government cannot do anything well.

Conason points out that "Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., feebly protests that her state's mismanagement by a Republican governor must stall the progress of the rest of the country. Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., says he has a better plan involving regional cooperatives, which would be unable to effectively compete with the insurance behemoths or bargain with pharmaceutical giants."

Obama would be right to conclude that with Democrat supporters like these who needs enemies. Consider Sen. Landrieu, who represents one of the poorest states with a working classes badly in need of health coverage. She has received nearly $1.7 million from medical interests including insurance companies and drug firms, according to the Center of Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan watchdog group.

You can be sure that the cabal of medical interests will step up their financial involvement in senatorial contributions as the health care debate intensifies. Will political donors take precedence over constituents? They have in the past, so put away the champagne bottles. That’s the shame of Congress.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Bipartisanship is not dead

By Don Klein

In a story about South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford's return after a five day disappearance, Jim Rutenberg, of The New York Times Washington Bureau, referred to problems the Republican Party has been having lately with scandals and how that could effect the party's presidential prospects in 2012. He wrote:

"Then Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina, a fiscal conservative seen by many Republicans as an attractive standard-bearer for the next presidential campaign, went missing. Worse, he returned." How true.

We all thought he was hiking along the Appalachian trail and was out of touch when the governor fessed up and admitted he was in Argentina meeting with his paramour. In a mia culpa moment he finally told the world the truth.

For anyone who watched the painful public confession of infidelity as the seemingly confused and disraught Sanford came clean about his adultery and his effort to conceal his behavior with lies about his whereabouts, there had to be a feeling of sympathy for the poor man. But the instinct for compassion goes only so far and should be resisted in this case. After all, the man dug his own hole. He is not the victim.

I resist making moral judgments about people, especially about those whom I have no personal relationship. I really don't think it is anyone's business who is having sex with whom as long as it is consensual. Even if it is a tragic case that could end a marriage or a long standing interpersonal connection, it is not for me, or anyone else, to judge.

On the other hand I believe it is critical that public officials should be held to high standards of behavior, that they should not lie to their constituencies and above all never be hypocritical. Unfortunately it seems when a trusted public figure becomes a philanderer all these negative aspects come into play. First there are the lies to coverup the act. Then there is the public confession and plea for understanding. Worst of all when we look back over their record we usually find flagrant hypocracy.

That's the only level upon which to judge a public official who has strayed from the straight and narrow. It is not the sex or the spousal betrayal with which the public should concern itself. Those are personal matters. The public's only consideration should be focused on the elected official's lies and hypocracy -- and if pertinent, the commission of a crime.

When Gov. Sanford was a congressman way back in the late 1990s he chastised President Clinton for his adultery and demanded that Clinton resign because he had violated his "marriage oath." Shouldn't those demands now be applicable to Sanford himself? As long as Sanford remains in office it proves that his demand for Clinton's resignation was no more than a political stunt that even he did not believe in. Sanford deserves no sympathy from me despite his pathetic display of remorse. He should resign for lying and being a hypocrite.

I couldn't help drawing the similarity to Sen. John Ensign, who demanded that fellow Republican Sen. Larry Craig resign after he was charged with an illegal sex act in an airport men's room. After Ensign confessed recently to an extra-marital affair with a former staff member who incredibly was the wife of another former staff member, he did not resign. It seems not all sex acts are equally disapproved by Ensign. More likely it's a case of whose bull is being gored. He, too, should resign because who can ever trust a reprobate who profanes subordinates.

To this day Republicans still regurgitate the sorrowful Chappaquiddick incident whenever they want to besmirch Sen. Ted Kennedy for political reasons even though the tragic death of Mary Jo Kopechne, asleep in the back seat of the Kennedy car as it plunged into the tidal channel waters, occurred 40 years ago.

The Republicans who latch onto every Democratic official's scandal as unforgivable, never seem to have the same family value ardor when a member of their own party goes astray. To this day they proudly admire and give prominence to former Speaker Newt Gingrich, the hypocrite who took the high ground during the Clinton impeachment while dallying adulterously with a female member of his staff.

Not so with misbehaving Democrats other than Clinton. They have not been able to recover. Former senator and party presidential candidate John Edwards, and New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, had extra-marital relations and have disappeared from the political scene, for now anyway.

President Bush promised Americans a government of high moral values after the scandalous Clinton impeachment year of 1998-1999, but he took the country into a even worse scandal, a war that has plagued the country now for almost a decade and promises not to be solved for years to come. Who did more harm to the country -- a White House back room sex fling which had no effect on government programs or the death of some 4,500 American GIs and thousands more permanently injured in an unprovoked and unnecessary war?

Given the truculent GOP opposition to anything that President Obama proposes -- and their speed in criticizing the president for not being more bellicose on the Iran issue -- you would think there is little bipartisanship in Washington. Well that's not entirely true. It all depends on where you look. When it comes to sex scandals and other wrongdoings, there is plenty to go around on both sides of the aisle.

That's where Washington is truly bipartisan.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Abortion's not the issue, violence is

By Don Klein

"Tiller the baby killer." Repeat that epithet several dozens of times a year on one of the most listened national television programs. "Tiller the baby killer." Isn’t that enough to incite some people with lopsided and untempered emotions to violence. That’s what Bill O’Reilly has done.

Yet if you ask O’Reilly he will insist that "It’s not my fault" that some kook took a gun, sought out Dr. George Tiller, a well-known abortion doctor, and shot him dead while he served as a usher in a Wichita, Kansas, church.

O’Reilly is not alone as a rabble rouser in this case. Other anti-abortion proponents called Dr. Tiller, a mass murderer on a par with the infamous Nazi Dr. Josef Mengele, of Holocaust infamy. The brutal invective combined with the inflammable, but totally inaccurate, term "baby killer" is one of the most ugly aspects of the so-called pro-life movement.

After Randall Terry, founder of Operation Rescue, labeled Dr. Tiller a "mass murderer," he said, "We in the pro-life movement must not shrink from our duty to continue to use words that are highly charged..." Yes highly charged words that set off those who are fanatical about abortion. It is a way to attempt to frighten medical professionals from performing legal services.

Have any of these trouble-makers bothered to check the fact that abortions are legal in the United States? So the charge of murder or killer just doesn’t wash. Secondly, there are no baby victims. According to law -- and the dictionary -- a baby is a young child or an infant. Abortion, again according to law and the dictionary, is the expulsion of a fetus from a pregnant woman, not a baby.

These assassins don’t care about the law. They make their own law. They decide who is the victim, the perpetrator, and like a moonshiner protecting his illegal booze puts to death "offenders" as they view them. These are people who flaunt the law and embrace their ideals and beliefs above all others, including the government. They need to be hunted down like rampaging vipers and defanged.

There are reasonable people who believe that life begins at conception and therefore a fetus is a baby, but that is a personal belief not the law. And yet many of these same people are reasonable and accept that abortion should be a matter of choice for the woman involved. Abortion is a matter, they say, between the woman, her doctor and God, not government.

But how effective do you think a battle cry focused on "fetus expulsionists" or "fetus killers" would have on the emotions of the unstable. It just wouldn’t work, hence "baby killer" and "mass murderer" is used. This is incitement. A lure to appeal to the neanderthal’s that prowl out streets looking for a cause to exploit.

The death of Dr. Tiller is not a part of the continuing debate over abortions in this country. It is a matter of clear and direct exhortation to terror. The pro-life crowd enjoys motivating the gangs to picket medical clinics that provide abortions, they love to shout invectives at the poor women who enter the facilities.

They have been known to throw bombs and commit arson and shoot clinic workers. They do all of this in the name of God. They believe that God will reward them for their cowardly behavior. They are humorless, dismal, dogmatic and criminally bent on using violence to prove their point and usually end up with the opposite result by making heroic martyrs of those they hate.

Abortion is not the issue. Hatred and violence is.

The man arrested in the murder of Dr. Tiller had a record of being a malcontent for decades. Besides abortions, he hates government. He obviously was moved by the idiotic motto of Ronald Reagan and the GOP that concluded government "was the problem, not the solution." There are people today who still chirp that inanity as they cash their Social Security checks.

Then of course, provocateurs like O’Reilly, Terry, and others of that ilk throw gasoline on the embers smoldering in the brains of these violent people by branding the professionals who perform a legal service with inflammatory language.

There is no question that abortion is a legitimate political issue in the United States. There is plenty of opportunity for serious and calm discussion by opposing parties. We witnessed a very composed example recently when President Obama discussed the subject during the Notre Dame University commencement.

But that was at the university level where debate and serious discussions prevail. We don’t get that kind of talk from those who relish the idea of terrorizing people who do not agree with them. O’Reilly’s language is shameful. So is Terry’s. But they will never change, because they play to the lowest common denominator and engage people like street fighters.

For years medical workers providing abortion have been harassed, shot at, killed and their work places have be wracked by bombs and deliberate fires. Why? Because those on the lowest level of reason know they cannot win the battle to ban abortion legally so they will terrorized those workers in hopes of having a country which legally allows abortion, but has no one willing to perform them.

These pathetic creatures think they are doing God’s work but in reality they are dangerous simpletons doing the work of cowardly vipers who stand in the background and call compassionate medical workers incendiary and dehumanizing words. They are the real criminals in the case and should stand trial with the actual assassin.