Saturday, May 17, 2008

Rove Redux?

Here's how "Sebastian", writing live from the Network of Rectal Aspirators (NRA) "Celebration of American Values" event yesterday for his blog, Snowflakes from Hell, characterized John McCain's comment on Barack Obama's willingness to talk to Iran's leaders: "McCain takes Obama to task for wanting to talk to our enemies instead of just kicking their asses." (You gotta love the NRA-types' grasp of diplomacy.)

Here are McCain's actual words:

Senator Obama would meet unconditionally with some of the world's worst dictators and state sponsors of terrorists. I would not add to the prestige of those who support violent extremists or seek to destroy our allies....Senator Obama has said, if elected, he will withdraw Americans from Iraq quickly no matter what the situation on the ground is and no matter what U.S. military commanders advise. But if we withdraw prematurely from Iraq, al Qaeda in Iraq will survive, proclaim victory and continue to provoke sectarian tensions that, while they have been subdued by the success of the surge, still exist, and are ripe for provocation by al Qaeda. Civil war in Iraq could easily descend into genocide, and destabilize the entire region as neighboring powers come to the aid of their favored factions. A reckless and premature withdrawal would be a terrible defeat for our security interests and our values. Iran will view it as a victory, and the biggest state supporter of terrorists, a country with nuclear ambitions and a stated desire to destroy the State of Israel, will see its influence in the Middle East grow significantly.

So now we have the outline of the Republican spin on one of the key issues in this fall's campaign: it's a choice between kiss ass or kick ass. This, from a crowd of neocons who let Darth Vader escape so they could go after the Ewoks and managed to f*** up even that! They unwittingly lured al Qaeda into Iraq by bringing down one of the few secular dictatorships in the Middle East and disbanding the Iraqi army and the mostly Baathist police--leading to anarchy and an opening for al Qaeda--and now claim that we must stay there indefinitely to restore order, despite spending billions of dollars to train hundreds of thousands of new Iraqi troops and police for that very purpose. The only sane reaction would be to tar-and-feather the entire bunch and carry them out of town tied to a rail. At the very least, we must hope that the American voters will turn a deaf ear to such complete and utter drivel. Else, we may find Karl Rove back in the White House in 2009.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Awk, Barack!

In today's New York Times, in a story headlined, "Republican election losses stir fall fears", appears the following quote:

"Woody Jenkins, a Louisiana Republican who lost in a special House election this month, said in an interview that the high African-American turnout in his district was 'probably the decisive factor' in his loss.

"The election results also raised questions about what had been a main Republican strategy for the fall, if Mr. Obama wins the nomination: to link Democrats in conservative districts to Mr. Obama. Mr. Obama, campaigning in Sterling Heights, Mich., said the outcome in the Mississippi contest, to fill a 'hard-core Republican seat,' proved that the strategy would not work.

“'They lost it by eight points, and they did everything they could,' Mr. Obama said. 'They ran ads with my face on it, and they said, "Oh, you look at this, a former liberal, and his former pastor’s said offensive things." They were trying to do everything in the book to try to scare folks in Mississippi, and it didn’t work.'” [Emphasis mine.]

Now, if I were a Republican muckraker from Louisiana, would I run an ad--in any medium--that described Barack Obama as a "former liberal"? Hell, no, I wouldn't. I would describe him as a dyed-in-the-wool, lifetime-card-carrying, unrepentant, blue-blooded liberal. Would I describe the Rev. Jeremiah Wright as his "former pastor"? I don't think so. I would say that Rev. Wright has been Obama's pastor for twenty years (which is true).

Something is fishy here. Why would Barack Obama misquote an ad that the other side has run about him? Well, he might want to make them look more disingenuous that they really were, for one. But that's not the case here. If anything, Obama softened the language to make him seem less out of step with the typical Louisiana voter. (Let's be clear about this: we're talking white voters here, as well.) Since the election is over, why would he do that? Only one reason that I would judge worthy of expending energy trying to explicate: Not only does Barack want to distance himself from his trusted spiritual adviser of two decades but also the political philosophy known proudly for 3/4 of a century as "liberalism". It would seem that Sen. Obama is as anxious to leave that piece of baggage to circulate forever on the carousel of discarded descriptors as he is to break free of the Wright curse.

Why would ANY candidate for president be ashamed of the label of liberal? Is it because George McGovern, Jimmy Carter, and Walter Mondale lost so badly to their conservative rivals, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan? Did Nixon prove McGovern wrong on the Vietnam War? How many lives--American and foreign--would have been saved had McGovern been president from early 1972 through 1976? Would Watergate have happened? If Carter had been reelected, would there still be solar panels on the roof of the White House? Would the US have done something about global warming twenty years ago? Would the US hostages being held by Iranian militants have been released sooner had there been no hope that Carter would lose? Would we have been well on the way to a treatment for AIDS before Reagan could even bring himself to say the word? Would we have invaded Grenada? Would we have suffered through the loss of many billions of dollars in the savings and loan debacle?

What part of the progress of the 20th Century would be left if liberalism had not been invented? Certainly, the Cold War would have been carefully preserved, along with McCarthyism, the Arms Race, the CIA-financed coups against Allende, Mossadegh, and a half-dozen others. The disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion would have surely have been employed, in all its ineptness. But what of the Civilization Conservation Corps, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Federal Housing Administration, and the Tennessee Valley Authority? What of Social Security, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Communication Commission, the Department of Labor, the GI Bill, food stamps, the Civil and Voting Rights Acts, Medicare, Medicaid, and the Peace Corps?

Here's the only non-tax-related program of Ronald Reagan's that turns up in the Wikipedia article on Ronald Reagan's presidency: the sales of arms to Iran in exchange for cash to assist the anti-Communist Contra rebels in Nicaragua, in subversion of a democratically-elected government. So, we see that, during the period of classic liberalism of the 20th Century, conservatism has a legacy of corruption, if they can be said to have a legacy at all.

So, what is Barack running from anyway? I think I've asked this question before (I can't check from this screen). He should stop cowering before the bigots and know-nothings and reclaim his religious and political heritage before it's too late.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

[Readers, please indulge me in a little fantasy. Pretend that I am a Unitarian Universalist candidate for the presidency of these United States, speaking on the subject of health care. Note: I actually did give this speech during both Sunday services on May 11, 2008, at First Unitarian Denver.]

It’s hard to imagine someone like myself—a gay, atheistic, unreformed, unabashed, and unrepentant 1960’s-era liberal—running for any public office today. Most likely, I could get every member of my political “base” to the polls in a Volvo station wagon, a Toyota Prius, and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

However, never one to concede “family values” to the likes of James Dobson and Pastor John Hagee, I will take these few minutes to explain how, for me, Unitarian Universalism informs my opinions on health care.

Because I subscribe to the proposition that every human being has inherent worth and dignity, I believe that a universal, single-payer, not-for-profit health care system is the ONLY moral solution to the mess that American medical practice is in today.

Many decry such a plan as “socialized medicine”. My response is, “Why shouldn’t the treatment of disease be socialized? Public health is the most socialized science known to the human race.”

For those of you who saw the recent HBO miniseries, John Adams, you will likely recall the scene early on when Abigail Adams, left alone to raise their four children and terrified at the prospect of the entire family coming down with smallpox, makes the incredibly courageous decision to have the family inoculated against that horrific disease. The doctor makes a house call with a horse-drawn cart containing the pox-ravaged body of a teenaged boy. Using a crude instrument, the doctor scrapes some of the erupted goo from a pustule on the boy’s body, which he then rubs into a small cut on an arm of each member of the family. The only daughter, Nabby, develops a mild form of the disease but survives.

Every new drug, surgical procedure, or therapy for a medical condition devised by the minds of men and women depends for its efficacy on clinical trials. Human bodies are the laboratories for medical breakthroughs. These people volunteer to subject themselves to some degree of risk for the sake of medical science. Since almost half of the American population either has no health insurance or say they’ve had trouble getting the health care they need despite having insurance, we must ask the value-driven question, “What in the Sam Hill is going on here?”

As Bill Moyers reported on his Journal on PBS this past Friday, if an ordinary citizen has had four major heart attacks, a quadruple bypass, an implantable defibrillator in his chest, atrial fibrillation, cardio vertigo, and a heart rhythm that goes out of whack, he would likely be uninsurable for having a preexisting condition. Vice President Dick Cheney fits this exact description and yet cannot be denied insurance at the public expense because he is an employee of the federal government, no matter how serious his heart condition.

We are the wealthiest nation on earth—for now—whose citizens experience disease, injury, and disability as capriciously as the citizens of any other country, yet for whom the ability to receive the care that would mitigate or cure these conditions is parceled out via an immoral and undemocratic merit system based upon ability to pay. Under such a system, there is nothing inherent about the worth and dignity of anyone. Your worth and dignity are measures of what’s in your bank account. My religious tradition finds this notion to be repugnant.

Justice, equity, and compassion in human relations is another tenet of my faith. Yet, within the health industry, justice, equity, and compassion is meted out based not upon need or professional opinion but often upon the career prospects of an insurance company employee whose bonus is based upon the number and size of the claims that he or she denies. My religious faith finds this notion to be odious.

My faith also values the free and responsible search for truth and meaning. To me, this means that when truth is established, the responsible thing to do is to make reality conform to that truth--even if it means brushing aside reactionary attempts to impugn, deny, or obfuscate the truth; even if it means confronting a very powerful lobby or forcing the privileged to face up to the injustice of their circumstance and put their lot in with “common folk”; even if it means admitting that we CAN learn from other nation’s experience, keeping the good and discarding the bad.

My faith also believes in respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. In this spirit, I would like to offer a truly radical notion that would make power brokers of both political parties and the Kings of K Street alike cringe: No one, no matter how wealthy or powerful, should have access to health care that is not available to everyone.

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

A for-profit health care system is a roadblock against Jefferson’s idea of the human birthright. If you believe as I do, I ask for your vote as the future President of these United States of America. Together, we can restore Life where today there is Death and Disease, Liberty where there is Financial Obligation, and Happiness where there is Misery.

Thank you.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Health care is an unalienable right

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

Never before in the history of the world had such a bold statement of the inherent worth and dignity of every man, woman, and child been conceptualized, let alone set down as the challenge for a new form of government of the people, by the people, and for the people. With these words, Thomas Jefferson conceived and the assembled representatives of the original thirteen American colonies affirmed that when “Governments, instituted among men and deriving their just powers from the Consent of the Governed, become destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it and institute a new Government so as to most likely effect their Safety and Happiness.”

It is the DUTY of government to effect the safety and happiness of the people. It is a duty so sacrosanct that the people have the right, if not the obligation, to change the government should it fail to do so. This is the most important principle responsible for the birth of this, the greatest, wealthiest, and most powerful nation on the face of the earth.

Yet, today, nearly one of every six Americans is vulnerable to bankruptcy, misery, and even an early death because they do not have the financial means to pay their medical bills. Why? Because Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness has been turned into just another commodity to be bought and sold on the open market, like butter, guns, and video games. If you can pay for it, you get it. If not, well, too bad. You can always go to the emergency room, if you can get there, where you will be humiliated and treated as a charity case.

For me, the most unforgettable scene in the recent HBO miniseries, John Adams, occurs early on, when Abigail Adams, left alone to raise their four children and terrified at the prospect of the entire family coming down with smallpox, makes the incredibly courageous decision to have the family inoculated against that horrific disease. The doctor—was he a specialist?—arrives with a horse-drawn cart containing the ravaged body of a teenaged boy with an advanced case of the pox. Using a crude instrument, the doctor scrapes some of the erupted goo from a pustule on the boy’s body, which he then rubs into a small cut on an arm of each member of the family. The only daughter develops a mild form of the disease but survives.

I don’t know if Massachusetts Mutual existed in 1776. If they did, they probably would have denied a medical claim for such treatment as “experimental”, which it surely was. Perhaps the doctor didn’t charge for his services; he may well have thought that that sick boy in the wooden cart paid more than a fair price for the services rendered.

What a powerful metaphor for the reality that, as human beings, we are all both the victims and the hope of each other when it comes to the security of our health. We have all felt threatened at some time or another by a person behind us sneezing on a bus or coughing on an elevator. We have known what it is to become ill following an airplane ride or worry when a coworker comes to work sick. None of us is truly healthy until all are healthy or, at least, receiving the quality health care we all deserve.

Maintaining a quality system of comprehensive health care, accessible to everyone equally, is as sacred a trust among the free peoples of a democracy as the assurance that we will not deliberately physically harm each other. If it is a crime to willfully do injury to another person, why is it not a crime to deny that victim the dignity not to have to "beg" for the treatment that will restore her to wholeness? A civilized society takes upon itself certain obligations, including the responsibility to not only do no harm but also to do good—to see that we all—men, women, children—never suffer from lack of the best health care we as a nation can afford.

Let us take up this cause—both today and for as long as accident, disease, mental illness, and visual or hearing infirmity afflict our fellow citizens. Let us make Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness more than a promise but a hallmark of our democracy and the fulfillment of our Founding Fathers’ dream of so long ago. Let us resolve today to make comprehensive, universal, not-for-profit health care the American standard and the freshest and brightest new promise to our children and our children’s children.