Archive for the ‘America’ Category

Is the Health Care Reform Act a Civil Rights Act?

Written by Rebecca Zietlow on March 23rd, 2010

59971869Should we consider the health care reform act, which President Obama signed into law today to be a civil rights act? There is good reason to do so. Though the Act is far from perfect, it does represent a commitment by Congress to expand access to a fundamental human right. Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well being of himself and his family, including . . . medical care.” Martin Luther King called access to medical care a civil right. Though our Constitution does not include a right to health care (or any other substantive economic rights), it does give Congress the authority to create such rights. And, in a speech after the passage of the Act, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi invoked the Declaration of Independence’s statement that all people are guaranteed a right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Before the vote, Pelosi and other congressional leaders marched through protesters hurling racial epithets, an act that self-consciously harkened back to civil rights demonstrations of the past. The Act falls within the tradition of Congress enforcing the rights of social citizenship – economic rights that are essential preconditions to one’s ability to exercise other civil and political rights.

Strangely, opponents of the Act also think the Health Care Reform Act is a civil rights act, and argue that this is a reason to oppose it. In February, Rush Limbaugh called the Act a “civil rights act,” a “reparations” bill which people should oppose. Last week, Newt Gingrich compared the Act to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, arguing that Obama’s support of the Health Care Reform Act would wreck the Demcratic party like Lyndon Johnson’s support of the 1964 Act did.

How ironic! I have always thought of the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act as one of the great moments in American history. I also thought that as a society we had achieved a consensus that civil rights were a good thing. What could Gingrich possibly mean by his critique? Johnson was re-elected by a landslide in the fall of 1964, and he relied on that mandate to push through the Medicare Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act the next year. When Gingrich says the 1964 Act wrecked the Democratic party, could he be referring to the fact that after passage of the Civil Rights Act, many of the pro-segregationist southern Democrats became Republican, eventually turning the South from a solid Democratic block to the solid Republican block we have today?

If so, why would Gingrich want to remind us of the southern Republican party’s roots in segregationism and racism? It’s hard not to see a connection between Limbaugh and Gingrich’s remarks and the racial slurs hurled by protestors against the African American and Latino members of Congress on Sunday. Like Congress’ tradition of expanding human rights in acts like the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the Social Security Act and the Medicare Act, there is an equally strong tradition of using race baiting as a tactic in American politics. One of the vestiges of segregation in our society is the racial disparity that still exists in our health care system. If this act helps to remedy this disparity, then it truly is a civil rights act.

The Public Option

Written by Henry L. Chambers, Jr. on September 30th, 2009

The public option took a shot to the kidney yesterday.  The punch was hard and it was not fair, but it is just a part of the game.  The public option may be getting a standing eight-count in boxing parlance, but it should not be counted out.  In the next several weeks, the pressure will continue to build for a public option.  Eventually, the House of Representatives will pass a bill with a public option.  The Senate may not follow suit, but eventually will have to compromise on some form of a public option.  What form the public option will take is anyone’s guess.  However, it will be in a form that will allow all sides to claim victory and get on to campaigning for 2010.

The Shoe Thrower and the Flame Thrower

Written by Henry L. Chambers, Jr. on September 16th, 2009

Interestingly enough, this week has seen the release of the Iraqi journalist who threw a shoe at President Bush on his trip to Iraq last year as well as the continued discussion of the Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) “You lie” lie thrown at President Obama during his address to Congress last week.  Interestingly, the two incidents and their aftermath are instructive.  The shoe-throwing journalisttmpphpIaM5Yi[1] tried to make a point with respect to President Bush’s policy in Iraq and the resulting carnage that resulted.  His conduct was inappropriate, but one can understand that he felt compelled to do something after witnessing the carnage that he had witnessed in his own country.   His disrespect for President Bush, based on President Bush’s policies and their effect, was clear.  Nonetheless, he was, of course, arrested and sent to jail.  Rep. Wilson tossed his lie at President Obama not after witnessing carnage and not after seeing the effects of President Obama’s plans.  He tossed his lie at his president at an inappropriate place at an inappropriate time on an issue about which Wilson was inappropriately confused.  He showed disrespect to President Obama and the office of the President not based on what the president has done and not based on the substance of what the president said as the statement that precipitated the insult was true.  Rather, Wilson showed supreme disrespect for President Obama because he did not like what the president said and, I fear, because of who the president is.  The political price for Rep. Wilson’s actions as measured by the regard in which the public and his fellow legislators hold him should be significant.  However, almost certainly, the price will be a pittance.

Bill Moyers’ Admonition to President Obama

Written by Robert Justin Lipkin on September 7th, 2009

Bill Moyers is quickly becoming the most sane and balanced progressive American voice. Check out the conclusion to his most recent Journal.

September 4, 2009

BILL MOYERS: The editors of THE ECONOMIST magazine say America’s health care debate has become a touch delirious, with people accusing each other of being evil-mongers, dealers in death, and un-American.

Well, that’s charitable.

I would say it’s more deranged than delirious, and definitely not un-American.

Those crackpots on the right praying for Obama to die and be sent to hell — they’re the warp and woof of home-grown nuttiness. So is the creature from the Second Amendment who showed up at the President’s rally armed to the teeth. He’s certainly one of us. Red, white, and blue kooks are as American as apple pie and conspiracy theories.

Bill Maher asked me on his show last week if America is still a great nation. I should have said it’s the greatest show on earth. Forget what you learned in civics about the Founding Fathers — we’re the children of Barnum and Bailey, our founding con men. Their freak show was the forerunner of today’s talk radio.

Speaking of which: we’ve posted on our website an essay by the media scholar Henry Giroux. He describes the growing domination of hate radio as one of the crucial elements in a “culture of cruelty” increasingly marked by overt racism, hostility and disdain for others, coupled with a simmering threat of mob violence toward any political figure who believes health care reform is the most vital of safety nets, especially now that the central issue of life and politics is no longer about working to get ahead, but struggling simply to survive.

So here we are, wallowing in our dysfunction. Governed — if you listen to the rabble rousers — by a black nationalist from Kenya smuggled into the United States to kill Sarah Palin’s baby. And yes, I could almost buy their belief that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, only I think he shipped them to Washington, where they’ve been recycled as lobbyists and trained in the alchemy of money laundering, which turns an old-fashioned bribe into a First Amendment right.

Only in a fantasy capital like Washington could Sunday morning talk shows become the high church of conventional wisdom, with partisan shills treated as holy men whose gospel of prosperity always seems to boil down to lower taxes for the rich.

Poor Obama. He came to town preaching the religion of nice. But every time he bows politely, the harder the Republicans kick him.

No one’s ever conquered Washington politics by constantly saying “pretty please” to the guys trying to cut your throat.

Let’s get on with it, Mr. President. We’re up the proverbial creek with spaghetti as our paddle. This health care thing could have been the crossing of the Delaware, the turning point in the next American Revolution — the moment we put the mercenaries to rout, as General Washington did the Hessians at Trenton. We could have stamped our victory “Made in the USA.” We could have said to the world, “Look what we did!” And we could have turned to each other and said, “Thank you.”

As it is, we’re about to get health care reform that measures human beings only in corporate terms of a cost-benefit analysis. I mean this is topsy-turvy — we should be treating health as a condition, not a commodity.

As we speak, Pfizer, the world’s largest drug maker, has been fined a record $2.3 billion dollars as a civil and criminal — yes, that’s criminal, as in fraud — penalty for promoting prescription drugs with the subtlety of the Russian mafia. It’s the fourth time in a decade Pfizer’s been called on the carpet. And these are the people into whose tender mercies Congress and the White House would deliver us?

Come on, Mr. President. Show us America is more than a circus or a market. Remind us of our greatness as a democracy. When you speak to Congress next week, just come out and say it. We thought we heard you say during the campaign last year that you want a government run insurance plan alongside private insurance — mostly premium-based, with subsidies for low-and-moderate income people. Open to all individuals and employees who want to join and with everyone free to choose the doctors we want. We thought you said Uncle Sam would sign on as our tough, cost-minded negotiator standing up to the cartel of drug and insurance companies and Wall Street investors whose only interest is a company’s share price and profits.

Here’s a suggestion, Mr. President: ask Josh Marshall to draft your speech. Josh is the founder of the website talkingpointsmemo.com. He’s a journalist and historian, not a politician. He doesn’t split things down the middle and call it a victory for the masses. He’s offered the simplest and most accurate description yet of a public insurance plan — one that essentially asks people: would you like the option — the voluntary option — of buying into Medicare before you’re 65? Check it out, Mr. President.

This health care thing is make or break for your leadership, but for us, it’s life and death. No more Mr. Nice Guy, Mr. President. We need a fighter.

The word is that President Obama will crack down on the progressives on health care reform. Hopefully, the progressives won’t crack. The President seems to be capitulating to the notion that any health care reform bill is better than none. But that’s, at best, a political calculation, not a commitment to principle. Obama promised to be different. Let’s see whether he can keep his promise.

The End of “an End of an Era”

Written by Rebecca Zietlow on September 3rd, 2009

As I watched Ted Kennedy’s funeral and listened to the coverage of his life and death last week, I heard the phrase “the end of an era” so many times, it convinced me that people should stop using the term “the end of an era.” What does an “era” mean? According to the Oxford English dictionary, an “era” is defined as “a system of chronology reckoning from a noteworthy event.” Perhaps the commentators mean their observation to refer to the era beginning with the birth of Joseph Kennedy Sr.’s children. True, a genertion of Kennedy brothers had passed away now, ending the era of that generation of the Kennedy brothers. True, many of us (including myself, born the year that Ted Kennedy entered the Senate) cannot remember a time when Ted Kennedy was not in the Senate. True, thousands of liberals in America can no longer count on Senator Ted Kennedy to always speak for us in the Senate, and never apologize for being liberal. But what is the point of calling this an “era?’ What more do we learn from this phraseology?

Perhaps those who called Ted Kennedy’s death “the end of an era” intend announce the end of liberalism in America that was most prevalent in the 1960s but lingered until Ted Kennedy’s death. If thatmpphpH7AOUT[1]t is the case, then I must, most emphatically, object, not only to the phrasing but to the sentiment behind the phrase. There remains a strong progressive tradition in the Democratic party, shared by many members of he general public who dop not affiliate themselves with that party. The progressive tradition was most recently re-affirmed by the election of President Obama (with Ted Kennedy’s crucial support) and his numerous Demcratic colleagues in Congress. It is reaffirmed in the polls that show that despite months of the healthcare industry spending over a million dollars a day to fight health care reform, the American public still strongly supports it, and still demands a change to our health care system. So, let’s put an end to this talk about “the end of an era” and concentrate on what we need now. There’s never an end of the era of need for the poor and middle class folks in this country who demand health care reform.

The Cause of His Life

Written by Rebecca Zietlow on August 27th, 2009

Ted Kennedy is gone.  Now is the time for Congress to enact meaningful health care reform, including a public option, as a tribute totmpphpN2Ylkc[1] the “Lion of the Senate.”  Last year, Senator Kennedy referred to health care reform as “the cause of my life.”  This was no exaggeration.  Kennedy ran on the issue of affordable health care in 1962, in his first run for the Senate.  Kennedy was instrumental in the passage of Medicare and Medicaid programs, both controversial programs that faced considerable Republican opposition at the time which have now become highly popular.  In 1980, in his famous “the dream will never die” speech at the Democratic National Convention, Kennedy announced that he would “continue to stand for national health insurance” because “the state of a family’s health should never depend on a family’s wealth.”  There would be no better tribute to a man who gave over 45 years of his life to championing the cause of the poor, the middle class and the disenfranchised, than for Congress to enact health care reform in Ted Kennedy’s name.

There is precedent for enacting major human rights legislation to honor a fallen senatorial comrade.  In 1875, Kennedy’s Bay State predecessor, the great anti-slavery advocate Senator Charles Sumner, lay on his death bed as he pleaded with his Senate colleagues to “enact my civil rights bill.”  Sumner’s colleagues in Congress responded by enacting the 1875 Civil Rights Act as a tribute to his lifelong battle against slavery and on behalf of civil rights.  The 1875 Act prohibited race discrimination in privately owned places of public accommodation.  (Historical note: The Supreme Court struck the 1875 Act down, necessitating the 1964 Civil Rights Act (which also passed with Ted Kennedy’s support)).

Like Sumner, Ted Kennedy worried about his life’s cause while on his death bed. From home, he continued to advocate for health care reform with his staff and colleagues. The week before he died, Kennedy repeated his request to the Massachusetts legislature to authorize the governor to appoint his successor instead of waiting until a special election filled his spot. Ted Kennedy knew that every vote would count in the Senate battle for health care reform.

So, members of Congress, it is up to you to realize Senator Ted Kennedy’s lifelong dream.  He deserves it, and so do we.

Edward M. Kennedy, 1932-2009

Written by Henry L. Chambers, Jr. on August 26th, 2009

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy has died.  He had already been re-elected as a senator from Massachusetts before I was born.  For me, he has always been a lion of the Senate.  He made some terribltmpphpzuNr4we decisions and some brilliant decisions in both his personal and political lives.  He dealt with great tragedy and great joy both in public and in private.  He caused great happiness for many and caused great pain for some.  Nonetheless, words are indequate to express the gratitude that America should feel for what Ted Kennedy did for this country, for how he made us think about how to make our country more perfect and for how he pushed us to be better.  Lord knows he had his flaws, but I always liked and admired Ted Kennedy.  May he rest in peace.

David Gergen’s Curious Assessment of the American People

Written by Robert Justin Lipkin on August 24th, 2009

On Anderson Cooper’s CNN on healthcare yesterday, August 23rd, David Gergen insisted the AmctmpphpFUKsSS[1]erican people would never embrace a single payer system. We’re too unlike Europeans and Canadians in simply not trusting government enough to run such a healthcare system.  We’re too rebelliousness and anti-authoritarian to tolerate such government control.  Maybe so.  But how then did Americans tolerate the virtual constitutional dictatorship of the Bush-Cheney administration in spying on Americans and in President Bush’s extraordinary use of signing statements turning that practice into a virtual line-item-veto.  Americans will never accept governmental control of healthcare, but will gladly embrace a soft dictatorship concerning governmental control of privacy. Something doesn’t compute here.

President Obama and Health Care in Four Acts

Written by Henry L. Chambers, Jr. on August 19th, 2009

President Obama will get the health care reform he wants.  If you want to know what it will look like, look at the principles he laid out at the start of the process.  We have seen this show before and I suspect I know how it will end.  The typical plot has four parts.  In Act 1, Obama sets out a principle.  In Act 2, critics attack him and his principle while supporters fret about whether he is doing the right thing.  In Act 3, when it appears as though the plan is about to fail, Obama gets to work and miraculous (or mundane) things occur.  The people rise up and demand that Obama’s principles win out or Democratic lawmakers decide that Obama’s plan is worth fighting for or Obama wades into the fight directly.  In Act 4, Obama wins and the result looks remarkably like what he proposed from the start.

We saw this in the campaign – he wanted to win some Southern states (unthinkable) and a broad mandate and did.  We saw this on the stimulus bill – he wanted $775 B and got $767 B.  We saw this on Sotomayor – shtmpphprXo1Fv[1]e was the top candidate from the start and remained so even after we were treated to a quasi-public display of him interviewing other people.   All President Obama needs is time for Act 3 to play out as he wants, with supporters of his principles standing up and showing that they are willing to fight.  Act 3 is happening now.   When Obama put public option on the table or chopping block, that was him getting to work.  He made it clear that it is time for supporters to stand up and be counted.  I suspect that they will demand a public option and many of the other suggestions found in President Obama’s original list of principles.  President Obama will return to his list of principles and may push them directly.  At that time Republicans will begin to claim that President Obama is going to ram his health care reform down their throats.  It is also the time when President Obama will put the Republicans, and maybe some Blue Dogs, in a corner and ask them if they really want to kill health care reform when the people have demanded it.  The safe Republicans may take an ideological stand, but the Blue Dogs will be reminded that many of their constituents could use a bit of health care reform.  Either we get Act 4 and the president takes a bow or we get midterm elections dominated by health care reform.

Michael Vick and Redemption

Written by Henry L. Chambers, Jr. on August 12th, 2009

Michael Vick is a former professional football player and a convicted dog killer.  Vick has sertmpphp3hkWmTved the sentence imposed on him by the justice system and is no longer incarcerated.  The National Football League has reinstated him and any team is free to employ him.  However, many protesters appear to believe either that he should not be allowed to play or that he should not be hired by any NFL team.  Undoubtedly, these folks have every right to refuse to support any NFL team or the league itself if it employs someone they do not like.  They even have the right to try to influence others to boycott the NFL.  However, the anti-Vick vitriol appears to be less about whether folks should like Vick and more about whether Vick deserves to play in the NFL.  That is, many of the protesters appear to believe that Vick has not sufficiently redeemed himself to play in the NFL and earn the accolades that come from playing in the league.  They may be correct, though that may be an argument for lessening the accolades derived from being an NFL player.

However, the question of redemption becomes more interesting when it is applied to Vick’s general employability.  It is unclear that Vick would need to redeem himself to work in a less glamourous field.  Indeed, Vick worked construction without much protest when he was on supervised release.  Presumably, if Vick worked a minimum wage job and was a member of the working poor for the remainder of his life, the protesters would not care.  Indeed, if protesters claimed that Vick should not be able to earn a living at all, the protesters would likely be on the defensive.   Many of the protesters likely would defend a released ex-con’s right to earn a wage from whomever would hire him.   Consequently, the protests in Vick’s situation appear to be soely about stopping Vick from regaining a privileged life.  That sounds far more like revenge than a real desire for Vick to demonstrate redemption.