Monday, August 31, 2009

Give me back my Tea Party

We've been seeing and hearing a great deal about "tea parties"--gatherings of citizens who are mad as hell and not going to take it any more. With its typical lack of critical analysis, the mass media have omitted to point out that the self-described tea partiers are the antithesis of the Americans who took to the streets of Boston on the night of December 17, 1773.

Those who carried out that first Tea Party were not protesting against government, or even against taxation. They were agitating for democracy. They did not cry "No taxation!" but "No taxation without representation!" They stood for principle--representative government--not policy.

Those who are protesting now are not arguing for democracy. Indeed, they argue against the results of democracy. For these are the people who lost in 2008. Their complaint is not that they have been deprived of representative government, but that they are in the minority. They object not to a lack of freedom, but to the result of free choice. They are perfectly entitled to their anger and to protest, but they are not the true descendants of the patriots in Boston that winter night in 1773.

Health care insanity

Not enough attention has been paid to the astounding irrationalities of our healthcare system. Consider:

I read recently about a woman who, suffering from aggressive cancer, went into a clinical study for a new treatment. The trial was so successful that it was stopped before it's scheduled end. The woman in question could afford the new drug's cost, but some in the trial had to exhaust their resources to pay for treatment, and some could not afford full treatment.

Think of this: In the United State, you can die if you participate in a drug trial that is too successful.

Another example: The lovely Diane and I picked up dental insurance, even though the maximum benefit is only twice the annual premium. Why would we make such a financial commitment? Because my dentist's office manager pointed out that the dentist charges the insurance company less than he would charge me if I do not have insurance. And even if we have to pay the balance--because the insurer pays less than the amount charged--we'll pay less than we would have without insurance, and so the real value of the insurance is much greater than appears.

So, there you have it: we have a system that charges those who have too little to afford insurance more than those who are insured.


A place in history

In all of the weekend's remembrances of Ted Kennedy, Chris Dodd's comment stood out:

"John F. Kennedy inspired our America. Robert F. Kennedy challenged our America. Ted Kennedy changed America."

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Saying goodbye

A few minutes ago, I left my office and went down to the street outside to watch as Sen. Kennedy's cortege went by. It was a short procession and moving rather rapidly for such an event in the city's streets. Fortunately, the sidewalk in front of my building was not heavily packed, so I was able to stand at the curb and get a glimpse of the hearse, flag-draped coffin inside, and the cars and a bus holding the family that followed. The Kennedy family graciously had the windows down in the cars, so that they were able to sense the affection, even love, of those on the street. As the procession--still out of my line of sight--approached the corner of Court and Tremont Streets, the people who could see it began to applaud, and I found myself joining in. And so we said goodbye to Ted with a soft patter of hands.

They are saying on television that it is the end of Camelot, that never again will the Kennedy Compound in Hyannisport be the center of a major news event. Very likely, that is true--that this is the final act of the Kennedy family as the closest thing that we have had to royalty. Yet I prefer to think of the things that the family has done: the civil rights, immigration, labor and healthcare legislation that they were instrumental in bringing to reality, the Special Olympics, and above all the spirit of citizenship, service and friendliness that characterized, and still characterizes them.


Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R, KS) says the GOPhers are looking for a "Great White Hope."


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Brother Who Mattered Most

Richard Lacayo of Time on Ted Kennedy, "the Brother Who Mattered Most." "[A]s the Romans understood, there can be Emperors of no consequence - and Senators whose legacies are carved in stone."


For all those whose cares have been our

concern, the work goes on, the cause endures,

the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.

I never really thought the cancer would get him. He was Ted Kennedy, after all, and it was merely cancer. I guess larger than life wasn't large enough in the end.

Perhaps other nations think of legislators the way we revere some few of our senators, but it seems unlikely. Ted Kennedy walked in the shoes of Webster, Clay and Calhoun and perhaps a few others; Hubert Humphrey comes to my mind. He did things for people--ordinary people. (I was tempted to write, "people very different from himself," but from what I know of him--and I never met the man--I don't think he saw himself as different from the rest of us.) He was great in his accomplishments and great in his heart. He started from a privileged background, but had many obstacles to overcome, some of his own making, to become the giant we think of today.

We'll miss you, Ted.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

They just don't learn

From the NYT:
President Hamid Karzai seems poised to declare an overwhelming victory in Afghanistan’s hotly contested presidential election, even as allegations of fraud by his main opponent threaten to undermine the credibility of the vote.

The president’s finance minister, Hazrat Omar Zakhilwal, claimed Monday that Mr. Karzai had garnered 68 percent of ballots in Thursday’s election, quoting figures from election officials that he said had been provided to the cabinet.Such a showing would make a second round of voting unnecessary.
Apparently, they imported vote-counters from Iran.

How dumb do they think we are? How dumb do they think the Afghan people--that is, the ones who haven't written off the government entirely--are?

Just yesterday we heard reports that the western military commanders in Afghanistan are preparing to ask for more troops. As regular readers will recall, this page has long supported the Afghan war as necessary or at least justified. But in the end, as everyone recognizes, the Taliban and their terrorist allies (which allies are the reason we are in this, and the only justification for putting American and other NATO troops in among the warring parties) can only be defeated by the Afghans. If the Afghan people do not reject the Taliban, the country will only be a graveyard for foreign troops.

And it should go without saying that the only way that the people of Afghanistan will back the central government is if it presents something worth supporting. That means, as a first step. making serious inroads on corruption, cronyism and incompetence.

Apparently, there is no appetite for serious reform in the Afghan government. It's time for the US to tell Karzai (whom I welcomed early in his term) some home truths: that if he and those around him are not going to get on the stick and put the welfare of the nation above their own fortunes, the US will leave him and his cronies to their just desserts. As a first step in that lesson, no more troops until government improves.

Update: According to AP, fragmentary official returns give Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah (the former foreign minister) about 40% each. Returns are to be reported over the next few days.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Keeping our eyes on the ball

I heard someone (I think it was a Republican officeholder) say that we all agree that we want everyone to have health insurance.

Isn't what we REALLY want (or ought to want) if for everyone to have health care?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The surprise

It strikes me that the big surprise about the Republicans is how stubborn they are. They lost control of Congress in 2006. They lost the White House and got scalded in congressional races in 2008. Yet they maintain the same lock-step, hard-right, ideologically-driven attitude that got them where they are today. They are like Fouche's description of the Bourbon kings of France: "They have learned nothing and forgotten nothing. That can't be smart, or good politics.

Democrats, from the White House down, should remember that. Bipartisanship is fine, but it takes two to tango. If the GOPhers can't remember that they are very much in the minority, and negotiate in good faith from that position, forget them. Why hold progressive policies hostage to the troglodyte faction? Let the Grand Old Party slide further into irrelevance while the nation marches forward.

Barney Frank takes on the health care Nazis


(It's been all over TV and the 'net, but I couldn't resist putting it here in case you haven't seen it.)

Friday, August 14, 2009

A disgrace

The news media report that oldsters are angry. Specifically, they are angry about healthcare reform.

Now you might think that people who have benefited from Medicare would be up in arms at the idea that people would try to deprive other Americans of the high-quality that older citizens enjoy. And I'm sure that many seniors are making that point. But, at least according to what we read, it seems that most of these angry oldsters are outraged at the idea that the benefits of government-administered health care may be extended to younger citizens.

I suppose that I should not be surprised that older Americans show the same narrowness, ignorance and selfishness that characterize much of the electorate, but it is disheartening to realize that so many of them seem to have successfully resisted learning the lessons of their experience.

The best argument

It strikes me that the best argument in favor of healthcare reform with a public option lies in the raucous town halls that we have been seeing spread across our television and computer screens. Yes, there is great ignorance and meretriciousness displayed, but think about this: if there's a problem with Medicare, you can write to your congressman/woman. If enough people feel the same way, or if the situation is egregious enough, changes will be made. That's politics: even the most entrenched representative ultimately has to listen to the voters.

Now, try writing to the president of your private health insurer and see where THAT gets you.