Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Hopefully, a winning formula

By Don Klein

Finally, the Democrats seem to have come up with a winning formula for the highly contentious issue of providing health care for all. Senate majority leader Harry Reid has announced that the bill which will be presented to the full Senate will include a public option with a contingency for states to opt out of the program if they deign to do so.

It is more than just a political victory for liberals in Congress who fought so ardently for a public option in order to give teeth to the pending legislation. It also puts the Republican opposition as well as those Blue Dog Democrats on the spot.

It has thrust the issue of health care into the final crucial crunch.

Permitting individual states the right to bail out of the program is a clear boost to the concept of states rights, a point the opposition often uses to justify resistance to the concept of the bill. Now we will learn if the opposition is really opposed to health care legislation because it is unpopular among the residents in their states or if it is because the solons are satisfactorily impressed (paid off) by the powerful, well-heeled insurance lobby.

The Reid compromise is attractive because it ultimately allows the people to decide the issue. In states that accept the public option, which will be most of them, we should start seeing the uninsured becoming insured and further, the insurance premiums for all others to begin to show cost reductions. If for some strange reason this does not benefit the public, the states can always opt out.

In those states that opt out from the start there will be a different consequence. Their rates may remain where they are or might even increase because there will be no public competition on costs. Eventually the residents of opted out jurisdictions will realize they are paying a surcharge that others are not and they will demand to be included. State governments will not be able to resist these movements and still remain in office very long.

My guess is that many voices will be heard and soon all states, except the most stubborn, will rejoin the program which includes a public option. Give them five years and the public option will be uniform throughout the country.

So the opt out clause is good. To begin with, it will be hard to oppose because if you don’t like it you don’t have to accept it. And more importantly, it will be the first step towards affordable health option insurance for the entire country.

But Reid’s plan is still not the law of the land. There is a question whether it will pass Congress because of recalcitrant Republicans. There is another problem that needed to be faced from the very beginning. The Democratic caucus is still not unified behind the bill despite having a filibuster-proof majority of 60. There are still three or four Democrats (Sens. Landrieu, Lincoln, Nelson or Baucus) who are uneasy with the public option and one of the two independents (Sen. Lieberman) is a holdout.

No one expects any help from GOP senators despite Olympia Snowe’s positive committee vote recently. If she backs down, as she has threatened to do, so be it. This issue will come down to the effort put into it by President Obama using his immense patronage powers.

He must invite each of the unsure Democrats to the Oval Office, or send his envoys to Capitol Hill, and use gentle persuasion on them, reminding each marginal senator of what the power of the presidency can do in each of their home states. No politician in his or her right mind wants the president, especially of his own party, angry with them.

They will have to balance the benefits of an insurance industry which can provide funds to support their next political campaign against the extraordinary benefits to their states possible through White House largesse. This might even move rebellious independent Joe Lieberman, who represents the insurance industry-based state of Connecticut, to a positive position.

All that is needed is 60 votes to clear cloture then a simple majority of 51 is needed to pass the bill. The Democrats are certain of the latter number.

The opt-out concept makes a great deal of sense but you can bet it will not impress the Republicans. Even though it illuminates their states rights position on so many other matters, the GOP is only interested in one thing – how to make Obama appear to be a failure. They are afraid if the president succeeds they will remain a minority party for years to come.

If health care reform fails, they see the Democrats on the ropes during the 2010 elections. Winning or losing elections are more important than doing what is right for the public.

This entire issue of health care in America is loaded with ruptured axioms:

1. America thrives on competition – except when it comes to health care issues.
2. Rationing is bad -- except when insurance companies do it for profit.
3. States Rights are all important – except when providing for the needy.
4. Senior citizens enjoy a single-payer health plan, as does Congress -- but it is not good for the general public.

If this health care effort founders or is substituted with a feeble, industry-favored substitute which does not include any method to insert real competition into insurance charges I would be hopeful every member of Congress – Republican or Democrat -- who voted against the measure is justly defeated in the 2010 election because they dismiss the personal well being of their constituency as not important.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Learning a lesson the hard way

by Don Klein

I was a rabid Yankee fan when I was a Bronx teenager. That was before George Steinbrenner took over the team in 1973 and bought pennants by corralling every available top free agent around. He became famous as baseball’s free spender who drove up player’s salaries to absurd levels.

That’s when I became an anti-Yankees fan.

Today I became a Yankees fan again. And I’ll tell you why. They took a prudent step to discourage ethnic aspersions by people associated with the team.

Irish tenor Ronan Tynan was scheduled to sing "God Bless America" during the opening game of the American League Championship series at Yankee Stadium last Friday. Amazingly he was told not to bother. That was extraordinary since Tynan had become a fixture around the team singing the patriotic song with great zeal on endless occasions for ten years.

But the day before the current series began he admitted making a stupid anti-Semitic remark. Tynan was introduced to a potential tenant in his Manhattan apartment house by an agent who said, "Don’t worry, they are not Red Sox fans." He responded with "I don’t care about that as long as they are not Jewish."

When word got back to the Yankees they withdrew the invitation for him to sing on this occasion. Howard Rubenstein, a spokesman for the Yankees, said Tynan apologized to the offended party, but the team said he would not sing the famous refrain for them the rest of the playoff series this year.

No one knows what was in Tynan’s mind when he made the insulting remark which could have been meant as a joke or it could have been his true feeling. I’ll give the tenor the benefit of the doubt and say he was trying to be cutesy and that he really doesn’t care if a Jew moves into his building or not.

Even if that was the case, the Yankees did the right thing by barring Tynan from singing under their auspices. Ethnic slurs may be funny to some people but it should never be tolerated. There are enough other innocent approaches to poking fun at people. It is especially unacceptable in Tynan’s case.

Here is a man -- once was an integral part of the famous Irish Tenors – who is loved and admired by all ethnic groups. He lost both his legs in a tragic automobile accident when he was 20 but went on to star in numerous paralympics and at 33 he took up singing. He was already a medical doctor at the time. He knew strife and conquered adversity at many levels.

For him to sink to a reviling ethnic joke is inexcusable. Yet others have been punished more for what I think was a lot less.

Remember of 1988 case of Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder’s remark on CBS Sports. He said African Americans dominate sports because they were bred for strength. Snyder claimed that slave owners bred black slaves to be strong, that black athletes have bigger thighs which allow them to fun faster and jump higher.

Whether his comments were accurate is not important (there is so much inaccuracy flung around in sports talk) but certainly the comment in itself was not derogatory. Yet Snyder was dumped by CBS as it reacted too swiftly to the resentment felt in some black quarters.

That was a lot less offensive than the words of Jesse Jackson, a man who claims to be a great spokesman for minorities, when he referred to New York City as "Hymietown" during a 1984 interview with a black Washington Post reporter. He assumed the remark would not get into print because of his racial bond with the newsman. Hymietown was his way of demeaning the strong Jewish political influence in New York.

To this day many Jews never forgave Jackson for that remark. Neither has many members of the press who felt Jackson maligned them with his false argument accusing the press of deliberately misquoting him.

There is no way that should be the result of Tynan’s relations with American Jews or the press. He was man enough to stand up immediately, apologize to the injured party and take his medicine from the Yankees without passing the blame on to others.

The lesson here, given that Tynan was just joking, is we all must be a lot more sensitive to the feelings of others. I never quite got the point of indelicate ethnic jibing. Years ago in the Army I heard fellow GIs of Italian extraction call each other Wops and Dagos and who hasn’t witnessed black comedians, especially on cable TV, refer to themselves and others of their race as Niggers.

We have to make it clear to all that such language is not welcome in modern civilized company. I am sure Tynan is embarrassed by the whole incident and wishes he never had opened his mouth. It is certainly hard to understand since many of his Yankees admirers and top executives are Jewish and the song that thrust him to favor among Americans was written by a Jew.

We must remember in our criticism of Tynan that this is a man of great fortitude and courage. He never gave up despite his horrible youthful injuries and not only did he become a practicing doctor, a tough enough achievement for able bodied men and women, but also an accomplished performer and singer with an enchanting powerful voice.

So even though the Yankees were correct in disciplining him to the extent they could, he should be given the benefit of the doubt and be welcomed at future events as a man of considerable good nature and stature who made a puddingheaded mistake.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Catching up with a scoundrel

By Don Klein

What would you think of a man in his forties who plied with alcohol your 13-year-old daughter or granddaughter, then drugged her and finally took advantage of her impairment to have sex with her in numerous ways, including what many would consider to be unconventional?

Would he be candidate for Man of the Year? Or would he be a villain who you would hope the authorities would hunt down and send to jail?

Now let’s assume the rapist was not some back alley trash but an artistic genius, who was known near and far as the director of a collection great films in the US and around the world. Would his high esthetic achievements make him a figure of sympathy and admiration who deserves to be excused for his misbehavior and the recipient of your open support?

Sounds familiar? Yes we are talking about Roman Polanski, the peripatetic filmmaker who finally was arrested recently in Switzerland on a warrant from the United States in favor of the Los Angeles district attorney. He will soon appear in a Swiss court to fight extradition as a fugitive from American justice.

The announcement of his detention surprised many people, including myself, who concluded he had successfully alluded justice before sentencing on his admission of guilt in this 31-year-old case. Worse, it traumatize many of his admiring fellow creative artists. What was more shocking was the reaction of the Hollywood community and some preposterous European sophisticates who instantaneously came to the rapist’s defense.

British novelist Robert Harris, author of "The Ghost," which Polansky is making into a movie, said the news of Polansky’s arrest in Zurich on an outstanding international warrant made him "feel almost physically sick."

The news of his arrest made him sick? Not the crime to which Polansky pleaded guilty? What kind of man is Harris? "Mr. Polansky has become a good friend," Harris wrote in an op-ed piece in The New York Times. "Our families have spent time together. His daughter and mine keep in regular touch. His past did not bother me..."

Hollywood luminaries have expressed their support for Polansky, now 76. Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, Michael Mann, Harvey Weinstein and 100 others are circulating a petition demanding Polansky’s immediate release.

Fortunately not all Hollywood is on this ridiculous bandwagon. Alison Arngrim, an actress known for "Little House on the Prairie," who had spoken out in the past about being molested as a child, said pointedly, "If Roman Polansky was a Catholic priest or a Republican senator, would these people feel the same way?"

Weinstein wrote a column in a London daily supporting Polansky and tried to whitewash the case. Apparently if the crime is more than three decades old it is no longer a crime in his eyes. "Whatever you think about the so-called crime, Polansky has served his time," he said.

Weinstein has got to be delusional. How could he define "served his time" if Polansky has been living in posh exile in France and traveling freely all over Europe pursuing his film career and basically thumbing his nose at the US judicial system? Is Weinstein saying that if you are a renown artist you have a right to flaunt the law that everyone else has to live up to?

Besides, as The Times reported, "there is nothing ‘so-called’ about the crime. The passage of years does not alter the allegations in the indictment, which included rape, furnishing a controlled substance to a minor, committing lewd and lascivious act upon a child and sodomy." Polansky pleaded guilty to the single charge of unlawful sexual intercourse. In other words, statutory rape.

The child victim, now in her forties and having received in the past a handsome settlement from Polansky, is no longer willing to prosecute. But when rape is committed it is a crime against society, not just a violation of one’s personal and protected rights. Besides Polansky already pleaded guilty and fled before sentencing.

I can’t help but wonder whether the writer Harris who noted that Polansky’s past as a rapist of a child did not bother him would be comfortable to leave his daughter, when she was 13, alone with the errant director. I would ask the same of Scorsese, Weinstein and the others who feel Polansky should not be extradited.

I look at this situation on two levels, neither one of which is favorable for
Polansky. Of course the first is the rape of a child. No one should ever get a free pass on that crime, but Polansky with his money and connections was able to flee and remain to ramble wherever he could as long as the long arm of the law did not reach out to nab him. I think he should have been collared years ago when he first fled justice and am not sure why he was not.

But later is better than never in this case.

The other unforgivable crime is his calculated brushing off of the judicial system of the country that made him a multi-millionaire. He thumbed his nose at every law-abiding American during the 30 years of making films outside the reach of the courts. And we Americans foolishly went to his movies in droves and made him richer during his self-imposed deportation.

Hopefully his flight will have finally come to an end and the scoundrel will pay for his crime by spending the rest of his sordid life in prison.