Death Panel? What Death Panel?

So now Sarah Palin, private citizen, weighs in on healthcare via (what else?) Facebook.

She calls President Obama’s healthcare reform “downright evil”, and opines it will create a “death panel” that would determine who gets access to care. Death panel indeed! Where do they get this stuff from?

In this case, Palin’s fears about her son Trig and her parents have to do with a provision in the House healthcare reform bill that would provide VOLUNTARY end of life counseling to terminally ill patients. Somehow, and no one seems to be sure exactly how, that’s been turned into euthanasia, and medicine circa 1930s Germany (I’m not making this up).

So I guess this is what Palin means by trying to “effect change” from outside her elected office. Nice try. Combine Palin’s utter nonsense (and the attention it’s getting) with the disruption of town hall meetings on healthcare reform, and you have a small but vocal segment of the American body politic trying to impose its will on the rest of us.

medicare

Their end game is to dilute reform to make it virtually unrecognizable from what we have now. Anything else, they bleat, like a public option or single payer puts us on the path to socialism. But what path does the current system put us on? Could it be something like Social Darwinism, where only the healthy survive?

Strip away all the rhetoric, and what leg do opponents of healthcare reform have to stand on? Put simply, they want no part of a system that affords the working poor access to quality care. If you make so little as to qualify under Medicaid, fine. If not, those geometric increases in the cost of health insurance premiums are on you, pal.

And who funds reform opponents? A guy named Rick Scott, the founder of “Conservatives for Patients Rights”. He also founded a hospital corporation that paid out $1.7 billion dollars to Uncle Sam for fraud. So let’s see now. We’ve got a group of vocal opponents of Obama’s healthcare plan who disrupt meetings at the behest of a failed governor and a medical fraudster. Nice.

I for one am still not ready to give up on single payer, universal care for all. I know people are saying it’s not politically feasible, people have said the same thing about other, equally worthy pieces of legislation. There’s something utterly galling about having the debate on this issue hijacked by the small, the petty, the misinformed, and the deliberately misleading.

As they say across the pond, death panel my arse. What do you think?

Was Sotomayor’s Confirmation Really a Surprise?

It shouldn’t have been. The final vote was 68-31, hardly close by any measure. The media will lament the fact that only nine Republicans voted for her. So what? She’ll be sworn in Saturday, GOP support or not. I guess we should count our blessings nine Republican senators had sense enough to vote yes.

sonia_sotomayor

Throughout Judge Sotomayor’s confirmation process, Republican opposition was overblown. People like Jeff Sessions and Mitch McConnell were paraded on the Sunday talk shows as if they had the power to stop or at least derail a process that seemed inevitable by the numbers. Now we know how that turned out.

Aside from the fact this was a victory for the White House, it should tell President Obama something as well. Bi-partisanship is overrated. Why should this president waste his own political capital on finding common ground with lawmakers who have a naked, partisan agenda? For every Lindsey Graham, who voted in favor of Sonia Sotomayor because it was the right thing to do, there’s a Jim DeMint, who sees Obama’s undoing behind his every initiative.

Beat ’em down, Mr. President. And that goes for Democrats who cross you as well. I say this knowing it’s not Barack Obama’s style to use a stick on his opposition. His nice guy approach worked well during the presidential campaign, but these people are playing for keeps. Not for nothing they’re saying if he can’t get healthcare reform passed, it means the end of his presidency.

Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation is metaphor for a new reality that Republicans are having trouble figuring out. They’re not the majority anymore. That’s why they’re sending out minions to disrupt town hall meetings on healthcare. That’s why the birthers won’t go away, no matter how bankrupt their cause. Since January 20th they’ve been looking for an opening, any opening to land a mortal blow on the Obama presidency.

Time will tell if healthcare is in fact that blow. But for now, the Sotomayor confirmation, plus the extension of “Cash for Clunkers” both represent incremental victories for President Obama. They should also represent abject lessons about the limits of a bi-partisan approach with this particular batch of Republicans.

To be fair, not all of them subscribe to the “party of no” doctrine that their leadership embraces. Not even all those who come down as opposed to some Obama policies are bad people. It’s going to be up to this president to separate the chaff from the wheat.

So, back to the original issue. Were you surprised by Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation, or by her margin of victory? You tell me.

Paula Abdul or William Jefferson…Which Story’s Bigger? You Decide.

Today, dear reader, I’m going to let you decide which is the bigger story.

Is it former Louisiana Cong. William Jefferson being convicted on corruption charges, or is it Paula Abdul leaving “American Idol”?

I know which one is bigger to me, but that’s just me. If you go by the Google News tally, it’s no contest. So which should command our attention? Is it a marginally talented singer/dancer/choreographer who didn’t get the money she wanted, or the ethically challenged legislator who most folks now feel got what he deserved?

paula.abdul

I must admit, I don’t “get” “American Idol”. I’m not one of those who, like my wife and daughter, sit glued to the TV whenever Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and company are on. Talents contests are as old as the medium itself, and there’s plenty on the tube more spacey than Paula and more acerbic than Simon . Yet there’s no doubting that “Idol” is, as Abdul modestly puts it, an international phenomenon.

Does that mean she’s worth the money she was asking for? Not if I had to pay it. I’m sure Paula Abdul won’t miss any meals after her departure, and there are reports she’s already being wowed by other show producers. Good for her. I just never thought she had the chops to judge the talent of others. Her singing has been described, not be me, as “thin and transparent”. Yes, she’s a great choreographer, but “American Idol” wasn’t about dancing. Anyway, you get my drift. To me, her leaving “American Idol” will never, ever be confused with getting those journalists out of North Korea.

Nor does it compare to the stunning fall from grace of William Jefferson, the first black congressman elected from the state of Louisiana since Reconstruction.

WilliamJefferson

Some may have forgotten his sad saga, but in 2005, the FBI raided his CD home and found $90,000 dollars stashed in a freezer. The money was a payoff to the Vice President of Nigeria for help in launching a telecommunications venture.

William Jefferson became another first in May of 2006, when the FBI seized his computer hard drive and office files in the Rayburn House Office Building. It was the first time that happened to a sitting member of Congress. Now, Jefferson stands convicted on 11 of 16 counts, including bribery, racketeering, and money laundering. At 62, he could spend the rest of his life in prison.

Now, I happen to be a political junkie, which is why William Jefferson trumps Paula Abdul in my book. Yet I know I’m probably in the minority. Most people will be huddled around their water coolers today, talking not about a disgraced former congressman, but about an out of work former Los Angeles Lakers cheerleader.

So, you tell me. Which story is bigger?

Does Michael Vick Matter?

Ordinarily I shy away from blogging about sports. There are more than enough people who seem to live or die by what their favorite team or athlete does or doesn’t do.

Yet over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been asked a bunch of times about Michael Vick, and what I think about his incarceration, suspension, reinstatement, and possible return to football. What’s startling to me is the passion the mere mention of the man’s name engenders, whether the person is a supporter or detractor.

Vick Surrenders Football

There’s really no reason to go over Vick’s dogfighting transgressions here. Right now the media frenzy isn’t over his conditional reinstatement, or even when he’ll play again. It’s who he’ll play for, and that question has become a parlor game in sports media. The coach of a team says he’d like to have Vick on his squad, the the general manager or owner says the exact opposite. It’s great summer theater.

Yet the central question is more about whether he’s deserving of playing football again, and, one expects, earning that multi-million dollar paycheck. On the one hand, you have the Vick supporters, some of whom argue the man has paid his debt to society, and therefore should be able to play immediately. I’ve also heard some people make the argument, “well, they were just dogs”. I take specific issue with that. Cruelty to animals ought not be taken lightly. What Vick did was reprehensible, and one hopes he understands that.

However, the argument that he’s done his time does tend to resonate. Maybe he should have gotten a longer sentence, but he didn’t. Should he be banned from making a living because people still are repulsed by what he did?

michael vicks dog

One of Michael Vick's dogs

I don’t think so, not in this case. There are those who say he hasn’t been publicly contrite, or not contrite enough for them. That’s a tough one. How do you look inside a man’s heart, and determine if he’s really sorry for a wrong?

There is, by the way, something else looming over this entire debate . That would be the world of professional football. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell knows only too well that world has more than its share of miscreants, and to keep Michael Vick out of football for too long would invoke comparisons with past discipline meted out to others.

That’s why, on balance, Michael Vick got what he deserved. And he will play football again, not because some team is making a moral judgment one way or the other, but because they need that most precious of commodities, a seasoned quarterback.

71465466RM003_Dallas_Cowboy

Animal rights groups may protest, but it won’t do any good. I say this as a dog lover myself, one who can’t conceive of the horror Vick inflicted on those animals.

What do you think. Will Michael Vick play in the NFL this season? Should he?

We Lost Another Giant – Healthcare NOW advocate Marilyn Clement.

I’m fully aware that some of you do know, but longtime health care activist Marilyn Clement died Monday at the age of 74. Her list of accomplishments would take up this entire space, but suffice to say she was one of the nation’s greatest advocates for universal, single payer health care. This means she was talking about it a long time ago, before the current debate.

marilyn.clement.Coretta Scott king

Coretta Scott King and Marilyn Clement

And she spoke up for single payer, universal health care right up until her passing. Marilyn Clement was national co-ordinator for the organization Healthcare-NOW. Universal care was her passion. I consider it one of the missed opportunities of my career that I never had a chance to interview her. And yet, she shares a lot with many of the great people I’ve met in my life.

One word links them, selflessness. That is, to think of the greater good beyond what’s good for you. Marilyn Clement had this in abundance. Whether it was her work with the civil rights movement or helping fledgling organizations like Progressive Democrats of America, she did the work not for personal celebrity, but for regular, just plain folks.

Check out her speech at the Judson Memorial Church in New York back in June…

It was an event to honor her, but something struck me while watching it. Conservative groups that are trying to kill any type of health care reform (let alone single payer) constantly rally their troops. They send out e-mails that say keep up the fight, that progress is being made.

So it was with Marilyn Clement, though obviously in the opposite direction. She told that audience at Judson that we don’t have single payer yet, but eventually, we will. That the fight must be kept up, and so must the spirits of those waging the battle. She said those words knowing she wouldn’t live to see the result. To me, that’s the true definition of selflessness.

Let’s be clear. What passes the Congress and gets signed into law by President Obama won’t be single payer health care. Supporters like Cong. Henry Waxman say universal care could never pass the Congress. Still, because of the work of Marilyn Clement and those she inspired to get involve, universal, single payer care is closer than it’s been in my lifetime.

So, rest in peace, Marilyn Clement. I didn’t know you, but I am one of those who is grateful for all you did, and deeply mourn your passing. Your legacy is with those you’ve left behind to carry on your good work.

Cash for Clunkers…cars… A New Partisan Fight?

It sure looks that way. The Cash for Clunkers program, which gives buyers of new, fuel efficient cars rebates of up to $4500 for turning in old gas guzzlers, has become a political football.

That should be no surprise. What’s interesting is the fighting now is directly because of the program’s popularity. The $1 billion dollars budgeted for the program has quickly run out. Now, the House has passed an additional $2 billion dollars, but the Senate may not follow suit.

So what’s not to like? New car sales during Cash for Clunkers have gone up, dealer inventory has dropped, and in theory, gas guzzling relics are leaving American roads.

cash.for.clunkers

The problem, say Republican senators, is the cost and the fear on the part of people like John McCain that speculators are already abusing the program. In fact, he threatens to lead a filibuster against extending Cash for Clunkers any more money.

As usual, the McCains and Jim DeMints of the Congress are just saying no. Never mind that buyers exhausted all the money in the program in about a week. Never mind that Ford will post its first monthly sales increase since 2007. The point is to never give an inch, unless you absolutely have to. The government says it will continue the program until the Senate acts (or doesn’t), but like with health care, one has to ask why the GOP is so good at forging a united front, while Democrats seem to be hedging their bets.

To be sure, no one is saying Cash for Clunkers should go on forever, And yes, there have been some problems, like the government’s Website crashing, and too much paperwork. But still, it’s a popular program even has an environmental benefit (though no one’s talking about it).

Cash For Clunkers

Maybe this time Republicans are overreacting. It’s hard to argue with a program that offers a serious discount during times like these. Americans like Cash for Clunkers. Otherwise, the McCains and DeMints would be arguing it was a bad idea in the first place.

So give it the extra $2 billion, and let it run its course. More than that the Republicans might have a point. US car buyers know that nothing is forever, not zero percent financing, not employee pricing, and certainly not Cash for Clunkers. It’s a shot in the arm the economy could use, and, more importantly, you can’t treat every Obama Administration initiative like it’s health care.

But the Republicans should know that by now, shouldn’t they?

What do you think? More Cash for Clunkers, or no?

“Beer Summit”- Teachable Moment or Insult?

So was anything really accomplished at Thursday’s meeting between President Barack Obama, Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates and Cambridge police Sgt. James Crowley? Perhaps, in its own way, it was an amicable means of defusing what threatened to become a racial time bomb. The July 16th incident, and the president’s reaction to it, touched off a media firestorm only partly explained by the fact it’s summer, and media typically trolls for news about now.

obama beer summit

I have to admit, there’s a part of me that takes umbrage at the notion that this meeting represented a watershed event in US race relations. In fact, the idea of a “beer summit” insults the memories of people like Medgar Evers, the four little girls bombed to death in the basement of a Birmingham church, Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner. These were people who died so these three plus Vice President Joe Biden could share that beer at the White House.

A harsh assessment? Maybe. But in this age of media hype, there’s no other way to put it. Put simply, could Gates have chilled a bit when confronted by Crowley? Sure. Could Crowley have defused the situation instead of blowing it up by arresting Gates? Yep. Could Obama have chosen his words more carefully, so as not to stoke the media fire? Yes again. Yet none of these things rise to the level of scrutiny the incident has received.

Why all the fuss? Because by using the words “acted stupidly”, Barack Obama stepped out of his assigned role as America’s non racial black president. Suddenly, as far as the media was concerned, he became a spokesman for his race. You can almost hear people thinking, “Geez, we didn’t elect him to talk about racial injustice. Racial responsibility, fine. But not this”.

Which brings up the question, why not this? Why shouldn’t this president be as free to talk about race in  this context as, say, Bill Clinton was? Why hasn’t the issue of racial profiling moved beyond the occasional story in local media? Alas, Barack Obama learned he won’t be able to opine about these sorts of things in the future. Politically, the cost was too high.

When you’re trying to get health care reform passed, talking about race creates a problem. Barack Obama knows this, just as he knows knocking back a cold one with Crowley and Gates won’t change the attitude of that Boston cop who referred to Gates as a “jungle monkey”.

That actually takes work. So just what did Thursday’s beerfest actually accomplish? You tell me.