Wise Words And A Question

ACBAlways a voice of reason, Nicholas Kristof has written yet another introspective and timely column in yesterday’s New York Times.  Whereas I tend to rant, Kristof is the calm voice of reason, yet even he admits that the United States may be on a backward-facing treadmill.  He concludes his column with an important question for us all.  I urge you to read what he says …


Will We Choose the Right Side of History?

In Amy Coney Barrett, Republicans are once again backing a Supreme Court nominee who could take us backward.

nicholas-kristof-thumblargeBy Nicholas Kristof

Opinion Columnist

Amy Coney Barrett has been following recent precedent in her confirmation hearing before the Senate, pretending that she has never had an interesting thought in her life.

Is it illegal to intimidate voters at the polls? She didn’t want to weigh in. A president postponing an election? Hmm. She’d have to think about that.

What about climate change? “I have read things about climate change,” she acknowledged, warily emphasizing that she is not a scientist. “I would not say I have firm views on it.”

If she had been asked about astronomy, she might have explained: “I have read things about the Earth being round. I would not say I have firm views on it.”

But for all the obfuscation, which nominees of Democratic presidents have engaged in as well, there is no hiding the essential truths that Barrett: A) is very bright; and B) would solidify a conservative Supreme Court majority whose judicial philosophy has been on the wrong side of many of the great issues of my lifetime.

We sometimes distinguish between “liberal judges” and “conservative judges.” Perhaps the divide instead is between forward-thinking judges and backward-thinking judges.

Partly because of paralysis by legislators, partly because of racist political systems, forward-thinking judges sometimes had to step up over the last 70 years to tug the United States ahead. Those judges chipped away at Jim Crow and overturned laws against interracial marriage, against contraception, and fought racial and sexual discrimination.

Just this week, Bernard Cohen, the lawyer who won the interracial marriage case in the Supreme Court in 1967, died — a reminder of how recent such progress is. In that case, Richard and Mildred Loving, a white man and Black woman who married in Washington, D.C., had moved to Virginia, where the police barged into their home at 2 a.m. and arrested them in bed for violating an anti-miscegenation law. Forward-thinking justices struck down such laws — and that wasn’t about “activist judges” but about decency, humanity and the 14th Amendment.

It was as recent as 2003 that enlightened Supreme Court judges struck down state sodomy laws that could be used to prosecute same-sex lovers. Three backward-thinking justices, including Antonin Scalia, Barrett’s mentor, would have allowed Taliban-style prosecutions of gay people for intimacy in the bedroom. (Barrett refused in the hearing Wednesday to say whether the case was rightly decided.)

It is true, as some conservatives argue, that this path toward social progress would ideally have been blazed by legislators, not judges. But it is difficult for people who are denied voting rights to protect their voting rights, and judicial passivism in these cases would have buttressed discrimination, racism, sexism and bigotry.

That brings us to another historical area where conservatives, Barrett included, have also been on the wrong side of history — access to health care.

Over the last hundred years, advanced countries have, one by one, adopted universal health care systems, with one notable exception: the United States. That’s one reason next month’s election is such a milestone, for one political party in America is trying to join the rest of the civilized world and provide universal health care, and the other is doing its best to take away what we have.

The G.O.P. is succeeding. Census data show that even before the Covid-19 pandemic the number of uninsured Americans had risen by 2.3 million under Trump — and another 2.9 million have lost insurance since the pandemic hit. Most troubling of all, about one million children have lost insurance under Trump over all, according to a new Georgetown study.

I’m not trying to scare readers about Barrett joining a conservative majority to overturn the Affordable Care Act. My take is that Democrats are exaggerating that risk; the Republican argument in the case, to be heard next month, is such a legal stretch that it’s unlikely to succeed fully, even if Barrett is on the court.

But it is possible, and that would be such a cataclysm — perhaps 20 million Americans losing insurance during a pandemic — that it’s worth a shudder. It should also remind us of the importance of renewing the imperfect, on-again-off-again march of civilization in America, away from bigotry and toward empowerment of all citizens.

Barrett is not a horrible person; on the contrary, she seems to be a smart lawyer with an admirable personal story. Yet she’s working with a gang of Republican senators to steal a seat on the Supreme Court. This grand larceny may well succeed. But for voters, this hearing should underscore the larger battle over the direction of the country.

Voters can’t weigh in on the Barrett nomination, but they can correct this country’s course.

Here’s the fundamental question: Will voters reward the party that is working to provide more health care, or the party that has painstakingly robbed one million children of insurance? Will voters help tug the United States forward, or will they support the backward thinkers who have been on the side of discrimination, racism, bigotry and voter suppression?

At the polls, which side of history will you stand on?

Bernie Sanders: The 7 Issues Guide

Today I bring you the 11th installment of TokyoSand’s excellent series, The 7 Issues Guide, helping us get to know a bit about the platforms of the democratic candidates running for the office of president next year. Bernie Sanders is on deck today. Bernie has been one of two Senators from Vermont since 2007, and was a candidate for the democratic nomination in 2016. I like Bernie, he has some good ideas and his focus is on humanitarian issues. Thank you, TokyoSand, and your diligent volunteers, for helping us get to know Mr. Sanders!

Political⚡Charge

There is a big field of candidates running for the Democratic nomination for President in 2020. The candidates each bring their own unique strengths to the table in a bid to take our country in a very different direction than the one we’re on today.

But as we well know from 2016, the media (and especially social media) gets fixated on non-substantial issues that take up all the oxygen. Plus, they don’t give the candidates the same treatment or the same amount of airtime.

In order to help voters get to know the candidates, I’ve gathered quotes and information about what the candidates have said or done in regards to the 7 issues that midterm voters identified as the most important. I hope that these guides serve as a helpful starting point for you as you look into which candidates (or how many candidates!) you are interested in supporting…

View original post 1,346 more words

Hey Democrats — Listen UP!!!

As a left-leaning, liberal-thinking independent voter, I have had serious reservations regarding the ‘blue wave’ that everyone is talking about.  It is a theory that democrats will win big in November simply based on the fact that Trump and his sycophants in Congress are doing such a horrible job that all sensible voters will vote in a democratic candidate … any democratic candidate.  For months, I have said that it wasn’t enough, that the democratic party needs cohesion, that the candidates need a solid, respectable platform.  I have called for the DNC to find and support candidates who are ‘squeaky clean’, who carry no baggage that would give the GOP an opening for mud-slinging and under-handed shenanigans.  Last night I found my sentiments echoed by Anthony Zurcher, a journalist for the BBC.

“One of the ongoing criticisms of Democrats since Barack Obama moved out of the White House is that the party has been defined by what it opposes, instead of what it wants to do.

They’re not Donald Trump. They’re against travel bans, border walls, trade wars, financial and environmental deregulation, corporate tax cuts and repeal of the Obamacare health insurance system.

But what are they for? What are their ideas?”

It’s true.  Think about it … we know exactly what the GOP stands for because they are loud and obnoxious about it.  They will defend to the death their 2nd Amendment rights, they applaud Trump’s vision of a wall along the southern border, they want immigration stopped, they want environmental regulations removed on businesses, especially the fossil fuel industry, and the list goes on.  There is no doubt what they stand for.  But ask the average person what the democrats stand for, and the answer would likely be … the opposite of all of the above.  They know what they are against, but they don’t know what they are for.  Which, of course, is not quite true, but one could be forgiven for thinking it was, given that the democratic party as a whole is not speaking above a whisper these days.

“We’re not going to win if we spend all our time bemoaning that he’s there. He’s there. And we have to offer an alternative.” — Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar

“People ask how come you’re not offering alternatives. And I say we are.” – Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown

During a recent “Ideas Conference”, democrats tried to zero in on the party platform …

  • Minimum wage increases
  • Expanding public schooling
  • Ethics, reform and oversight
  • Dismantling the oligarchy
  • Guns, the environment and health care

That’s it … that is what comprises the core values of the democratic party.  Okay, I am on board with all of the above, but there is so much more.  And why are the three arguably most important issues lumped together at the very end???

My concern is that this election will devolve into a mud-fest.  I am also concerned that for democrats, it will become a single-issue election:  gun regulation.  While gun regulation is certainly among the top concerns today, if it is allowed to become the central focus, I’m not sure how well the democrats will fare, for it is also the single most contentious issue on the docket, with far too many being told by the GOP that democrats want to abolish the 2nd Amendment and ‘take all your guns’.

While political ideologies do have a base platform, the day-to-day issues tend to be reactionary.  In this, the era of Trump, they are typically a reaction to whatever horrific thing he has most recently said or done, and there is no dearth of material on which to react.  But this gets us nowhere, it pulls us down to the level of the GOP, and it won’t win elections in November.

The Democratic Party stands for many things:  social & economic equality, social programs, labour unions, affordable college tuition, universal health care, equal opportunity for all, consumer protections, and environmental protections, to name a few.  This, then, is what the candidates need to be focusing on, the message they need to be getting out.  It will help that Trump & Co are making a mockery of our government, and the anger that generates will certainly play a role, but it is not going to be enough to carry the day.  It is absolutely essential to the continuation of this nation as a democratic republic that the demographics of Congress be changed.  The current majority in both the House and the Senate are naught but sycophants, book-lickers, who will bow to Trump’s will and who will fight to keep the madman in office, for he is their job security.

Please, democratic candidates, focus on the issues rather than simply being the “anti-Trump”.  Trump will, I firmly believe, help sink his own boat as well as that of the GOP, so leave him to it, and focus on presenting a united, sensible, humanitarian front. It is easy to argue against every single thing Trump has done or will do between now and November 6th, but there is a bigger goal here, and to achieve it, we must do better than to be the “Party of No”.

Open Mouth, Insert Foot

During his 2015-2016 campaign, Donald Trump vowed to dismantle our Affordable Care Act (ACA) that, while not without flaws, provided millions an opportunity to obtain health insurance that they would not otherwise have been able to afford.  After taking office, Trump, with the aid of many congressional republicans, attempted to relegate ACA to the bins of history with no viable replacement plan.  And most recently, Trump and the republicans in Congress snuck a repeal of the ACA individual mandate into their already-abominable tax bill in December.  The effect of this is expected to be a sharp increase in insurance premiums, and millions of people losing coverage.

All of which proves that Trump, a) understands nothing about healthcare, and b) cares not a whit, as long as he has his.  And yet, he had the unmitigated gall to criticize the UK and Theresa May for its National Health Service???

His tweet:

“The Democrats are pushing for Universal HealthCare while thousands of people are marching in the UK because their U system is going broke and not working. Dems want to greatly raise taxes for really bad and non-personal medical care. No thanks!” –  Feb 5, 2018

The National Health Service in the UK is not going broke and it works just fine.  I have a number of friends in the UK who benefit from this system and are able to visit a doctor, endure a hospital stay, receive home nurse visits, and purchase prescription medications … all at no cost!  Zero.  Zilch.  Nada. I, meanwhile, must spend most of my monthly earnings to purchase my insulin so that I may stay upright and breathing.

The marches in the UK that Trump refers to were actually in support of the National Health System and were calling for greater government funding.

Understandably, the Brits did not appreciate the uneducated words of our embarrassing leader:

“I may disagree with claims made on that march but not ONE of them wants to live in a system where 28m people have no cover. NHS may have challenges but I’m proud to be from the country that invented universal coverage – where all get care no matter the size of their bank balance.” – Jeremy Hunt, Britain’s health secretary

Responding to Trump’s tweet, a spokesman for British Prime Minister Theresa May said that “the prime minister is proud of our NHS, that is free at the point of delivery.” The spokesman said that funding “is at a record high and was prioritized in the budget with an extra 2.8 billion pounds. In the recent Commonwealth Fund international survey, the NHS was rated the best in the world for a second time.”

The organizers of the weekend march, People’s Assembly and Health Campaigns Together, said they were campaigning against a U.S.-style health-care system that they said is “expensive, inefficient and unjust.”  BINGO!  Our friends across the pond see our system more clearly than Trump, the republicans in Congress, and most citizens of either party.

Will the U.S. ever have universal healthcare?  I have my doubts, and the further we move toward a plutocracy, a governemt run by the wealthy, the less likely it becomes.

Perhaps one day, Trump’s handlers will find a way to either educate him or else shut him up.  Once again, I am deeply ashamed of and embarrassed by the ‘man’ in the Oval Office.

foot in mouth

 

Healthy and Educated? Or Sick and Poor? Your Choice …

Two talking points in this election year have gained a lot of attention: health care and education. While one side proposes to demolish both the Affordable Care Act and the Department of Education, the other side supports expanding ACA to a universal health care system and providing free college education for all. Perhaps there is a happy medium? What is your stance on these two issues?

Health Care

Bernie Sanders states that “We are the only major country on Earth that doesn’t guarantee health care to all people as a right.” Is Mr. Sanders right? It turns out that depending on how one defines “major country”, he is very nearly correct. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the United States and Mexico are the only two member nations that do not provide universal health care coverage. As of today, Mexico has made remarkable progress toward some degree of universal healthcare, given that Mexico is a much poorer nation than the U.S. and is still considered to be a developing nation. That said, one could argue that even Mexico provides better healthcare to its citizens that the U.S., even with ACA (Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare). ACA was never actually intended to provide universal care, but merely to make health care insurance affordable for all, a goal which to date is approximately 90% successful.

For the purpose of simplification, let us look at only the OECD member nations, though there are many nations around the globe outside this list that do provide some form of universal health care ranging from free health care for only pregnant women and children, to full care for all. Below are the OECD nations that do provide universal heath care:

• Virtually all of Europe has either publicly sponsored and regulated universal health care or publicly provided universal healthcare.
• Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Israel
• Asia: Japan, Korea

Just a few examples of non-OECD nations that provide a significant level of universal health care

• China, Hong Kong, India, Jordan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Pakistan, Qatar, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Syria, Thailand, Turkey, UAE …
• African nations of: Rwanda, Algeria, Egypt, Ghana, Libya, Mauritius, Morocco, South Africa, Tunisia

I bet some of these surprise you. As you can see, many countries that are considered “developing” nations yet offer better opportunities for at least basic health care than the U.S. There are some differences between “universal health care” and a “right to health care”, differences that are too detailed to cover in any depth here. Additionally, each nation has its own definitions of coverage that makes a complete analysis worthy of a book, which is not my intention. My point is that almost every other nation on earth has acknowledged the need to provide its citizens with some form of health care. Apart from Medicare/Medicaid, the United States had done very little toward that end until President Obama launched the Affordable Care Act. Even that is not enough, but it is a start and needs to be built upon going forward. I find it impossible to understand the mentality of those who completely oppose ACA without even a thought of alternate proposals. For one of the most technologically advanced nations on the globe, it is shameful to let people go without health care under any circumstances.

A couple of very useful links for anyone who is interested in delving deeper into healthcare systems around the globe:

http://chartsbin.com/view/z1a
http://healthcare.procon.org

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Education

Do you remember the time when you often heard “He/she is the first in the family to go to college”, or “I am going to make sure my son/daughter gets the opportunity for college that I never had”? That was once the way in the United States … each generation saw more young people entering college than the generations before. Today, however, the reverse is true. The reasons are fairly simple: college costs have soared, student loans are a lifelong burden for many, there is very little help available outside student loans, many “blue collar” jobs pay better than those requiring a college education. The OECD released a report on college graduate rates in 2014 saying that the U.S. ranks 19th out of 28 countries included in the study. Not the bottom of the barrel, but certainly far from top of the list. In 1995, we were at the top of the list, ranking first in graduation rates (33%) of all OECD nations. We have fallen from 1st to 19th in just over two decades, leaving us to wonder where we will be in another twenty years.

In this election year, the politics point to two polar opposite sets of ideas: one side seems convinced that we need to disband the Department of Education, that there should be no free rides for college students, while the other side strongly advocates at least two years of free tuition for all students. Free college tuition, while not nearly as globally prevalent as universal health care, is the norm in several countries: Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Demark, Finland, Germany, Slovenia, France, and Brazil. Many other countries provide additional assistance to students, including free college tuition for certain courses of study, no interest or low interest student loans, and other incentives.

The Department of Education, established by President Jimmy Carter in 1979, is a cabinet-level agency tasked with three main goals:

• Provide financial aid
• Collect educational data
• Identify education issues

Ronald Reagan attempted, but failed to abolish the department in 1980, and the republican party has rallied to abolish it almost ever since. The argument in favour of abolishing the department is purported to “end federal meddling in our schools, and promote family choice at all levels of learning.” The bigger reason, I suspect, ties to economic platforms and the desire to “get rid of big government”. (One word here, to be covered in depth in a later post, is that the U.S. is a large country with over 318 million people … such a large and diverse country requires a large central government.) With all the controversy surrounding “common core” today, there is ever-increasing and understandable support for abolishing the department. However, there are also some strong arguments against such a move:

• Some states would fail to implement minimum standards and there would be no national standard, resulting in inequalities from state-to-state
• Elimination of the Department of Education would also eliminate federal funding for schools
• Left to the states, it is almost certain that civil rights violations would occur in many states

In my own opinion, our system of education, both at the federal and the state level needs an overhaul, however I do not think that simply abolishing the Department of Education is the answer. I am almost certain that it would lead to a further drop in our ranking within the next decade, and that is not acceptable if we wish to maintain our status as one of the world’s leading technological and humanitarian nations.

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In sum, universal health care and education are two areas in which we lag woefully behind many other developed nations. Improvement in these areas will take much work. Neither education nor healthcare are free, but we need to address both as a nation, distributing the cost more equitably rather than simply shrugging our shoulders and leaving “every man for himself”. We will not resolve this overnight, it will take years, decades perhaps, to catch up in just these two areas. Any move in the opposite direction, such as dismantling the Department of Education or abolishing the Affordable Care Act is a step in the wrong direction and can only have disastrous results for the citizens of this nation. These are not the steps we need to take if we truly want to “make America great again”.