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Archive for March, 2010

Terrorism.  Domestic terrorism.

I’m a big supporter of the First Amendment.  But with those precious First Amendment rights come responsibility.  Freedom of expression doesn’t include throwing rocks through windows.  It doesn’t apply to anarchists protesting Free Trade Organization gatherings, and it doesn’t apply to people who hurl bricks through the office windows or threaten to assassinate the children of democratically elected representatives when they don’t get their way.  Those are acts of domestic terrorism and they should be prosecuted as such.  Before someone really gets hurt or before some deranged fool decides to emulate Tim McVeigh.  What irony if the Patriot Act, that assault on civil liberties that was rushed through in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, before cooler heads could prevail, provided the ability to prosecute these acts for what they are — domestic terrorism.

Title VIII: Terrorism criminal law
Main article: USA PATRIOT Act, Title VIII

Title VIII alters the definitions of terrorism, and establishes or re-defines rules with which to deal with it. It redefined the term “domestic terrorism” to broadly include mass destruction as well as assassination or kidnapping as a terrorist activity. The definition also encompasses activities that are “dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State” and are intended to “intimidate or coerce a civilian population,” “influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion,” or are undertaken “to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping” while in the jurisdiction of the United States.

I’m not against dissent.  But these actions, along with their tacit approval by the GOP leadership, goes too far.  There are ways to disagree with something without resorting to insults, vandalism, and threats of violence.  I’m old enough to remember the civil rights marches in Birmingham, Selma, and Washington.  The quiet non-violent determination of the marchers stood in stark contrast to the fire hoses, the bombs, the batons and police dogs.  We are witnessing a rebirth of the mentality and tactics of the avowed segregationists as history’s call moved them to the sidelines.

UPDATE: At least 10 members of Congress have received threats related to their vote to pass health care reform.  A propane line was cut at the home of a Congressman’s older brother after a Virginia-based tea party group posted his address online in the mistaken belief that it was the Congressman’s home address.  To his credit, Eric Cantor has publicly condemned the threats and violence, as did John Boehner.  Right-wing talk radio and Sarah Palin have remained silent on the matter.  The anger has escalated to the point where it will be difficult to walk back, especially given the anti-incumbent mood of the tea party activists and their supporters.  Meanwhile, a local tea party activist, interviewed yesterday at a protest here, declared her opposition to the individual mandate saying that she doesn’t have health insurance by choice.  One can only wonder if the rest of us will have a choice should she contract cancer or be severely injured in a traffic accident and be unable to pay for her care.

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Today comprehensive health care reform has been signed into law.  It’s still up to that most dysfunctional of bodies, known as the United States Senate, to vote on the “fixes,” but some measure of reform has been passed by both bodies.  It is my fervent hope that the Senate gets on with the business of the People and does the same.  Am I satisfied with the result?  Not entirely.  But it is an important first step.  We could spend time analyzing the process, and there is criticism galore to go around.

Yesterday, former Bush speech-writer David Frum, who remains one of the rational and reasonable Republicans on the scene, pointed out that by not cooperating and working to push the bill’s provisions to the right, the GOP had managed to bring Waterloo down upon themselves rather than upon the president.  True to form, many of the rest of the party has decided to double down on their success in blocking reform totally.  There are at least two bills in the hopper to repeal.  I’m sure that approach appeals to their base.  But its logic borders on insanity.  They seem to have forgotten that they lack majorities in either house, that health care reform has already passed both houses, that any repeal would certainly be vetoed by President Obama, and that vetoes need a 2/3 majority in both houses to override.  Ahh, they say, wait until after the mid-terms.  Yes, they will probably pick up seats in both houses, but they would need virtually impossible gains to achieve that veto-proof majority.

Most importantly, what they fail to recognize is that a significant portion of the opposition to the current bill comes from people who don’t think it goes far enough.  There are many Americans who supported a public option and many more who supported a Medicare-for-all approach.

But reason clearly, let alone simple good manners, doesn’t count for much in the minds of the people who demonstrated against health care in Washington over the weekend.  Many of the signs bore the bloody red hand print of Americans for Prosperity.  Others were astounding for their overt racism and threats of violence.  At the offices of the Democratic Party and a member of Congress in New York and Arizona, windows were smashed.  A House leader received faxes containing racist messages and threats.  Members of Congress were spat upon and subjected to racial, religious, and homophobic slurs.  And yet,  rather than to condemn their tactics while supporting their opposition., some Republican House members went out of their way to lend their support to the protesters.

Those tactics shouldn’t come as a surprise to the GOP.  Indeed, they have embraced them in increasingly overt ways ever since Richard Nixon implemented his “southern strategy” in the aftermath of LBJ signing the Civil Rights and Voting Acts.  For decades the racist appeals in many parts of the country were coded as “law and order” messages, the most obvious on being the infamous Willie Horton ad.  But with the 2008 campaign, overt racism was once again given tacit approval when Palin’s rallies turned ugly.  She has claimed that she didn’t hear or see the signs or the shouts, but certainly someone from the campaign did.  And it chose to do nothing about it for weeks, until Sen. McCain finally confronted a single woman and a single town hall event.  But the damage was done.  The genie was out of the bottle.  And it was on full display over the weekend.

It has become impossible to deny the fact that some of the most egregiously reprehensible conduct of those supporting the tea party movement are motivated by racism and other forms of bigotry.  Apparently it’s not enough to object on policy grounds and hold a civil discussion or debate of the proposed policy on its merits.  Instead we’ve seen an attempt to drown out civil discussion and debate by the tea partiers and their corporate underwriters.

What an irony it was that last weekend was also an effort in some states and communities to bring attention to the damage caused to our kids by bullying!  It is becoming increasingly clear that bullying is at the root of many of the worst school violence incidents.  Yet, too many people simply dismiss it as kids being kids.  Seems that these bullying kids don’t grow up.  Now they’re trying to bully the rest of us.  As one who was the object of bullying in school, I know how hard it is to rise above the abuse.  And let us make no bones about it.  Bullying is abuse.  And those who spat and hurled epithets at members of Congress are abusers.

If this is the best that the Republican Party has to offer — obstruction, insults, fear-mongering, and abuse — they deserve to go the way of the dodo bird.  The sooner the better.  I had really hoped that David Frum’s advice might penetrate.  We need a viable two-party system in this country.  I can only hope that independents will turn away from the fringe before the hate and incipient violence becomes more than a few broken windows.  If not, we will need more health care than ever.

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A big part of the reason I began this blog was to shed “more light than heat” on current issues.  It would be preferable to call out both parties when they need some facts (light) injected into the heated political debate.  With the changing media business model, too often the media fails in its duty to fact check and too often gives equal weight to both sides of a debate as if the facts support both sides equally.  The result is that talking points, which have been tested in focus groups for maximum impact, are presented as fact instead of what they are — points intended to persuade, not enlighten.

Context is critical in understanding comments and sorting through the talking points.  Case in point was the exchange between Sen. Lamar Alexander and President Obama at last week’s health care “summit.”  Alexander claimed that premiums would rise if the proposed reforms are enacted.  Obama countered that they would go down.  Turns out that both are correct, but the President provided the needed context to understand how that seeming contradiction could both be correct.  Yes, premiums would decline, according to the Congressional Budget Office.  But the CBO also said that many people would end up paying slightly more, and here’s where the context is critical.  They’d pay more because for a bit more money they could afford much better coverage, and many people would opt to do just that — pay a little more for a lot better coverage.

Now, let’s look at the claim about the so-called “death panels” — the supposed government plot to kill old people.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  The provision that led to those wild claims was that Medicare (or one’s private insurance company) could be billed by doctors when they counsel patients and families either when drawing up (or revising) a living will or in guiding decisions on when palliative care might be considered instead of restorative care.  Without such plans in place, the medical profession must do everything possible to keep the patient’s heart beating, regardless of what the patient and families might want done.

Another of the GOP talking points is that reform would strip half a trillion dollars from Medicare.  Again, true, BUT not from benefits received by seniors.  What it would do is strip out the additional 14% that insurance companies charge the government for services provided under Medicare Advantage.  That’s an additional 14% that goes directly into the coffers of the insurance companies.  While it is true some seniors cannot afford insurance to pay for expenses not covered under Medicare Part B, targeted subsidies could cover them at lower cost than the 14% surcharge.

The latest deception is the conflation of reconciliation with the “nuclear option.”  Apparently, an up or down vote is only desirable when your party is in power.  The term “nuclear option” was first used by Republicans when Democrats threatened to filibuster President Bush’s judicial nominations.  But it is so emotionally powerful an image that they are now using it to describe reconciliation — the very same process that was used by Republicans in passing the Bush tax cuts!

And speaking of reconciliation… Sen. McCain, on one of the Sunday shows, harrumphed that reconciliation should never be used for entitlements.  Yet he previously voted for Medicaid cuts and cuts to docs (the precursor to the annual “doc fix”), which were both done through reconciliation.  Perhaps the most intriguing statements concerning reconciliation were made recently by Sen. Lamar Alexander.  On Sunday, he fumed that if the Democrats use reconciliation to bring the House and Senate versions of the health care bill it would be the beginning of the end.  End of what?  End of the Senate’s protection of minority rights.  Given the history, especially recent history, of GOP antipathy to minority rights, this was laughable.  But Monday he topped it, promising that the GOP would use … [drum roll] … RECONCILIATION to repeal health care reform.  That statement is laughable on at least two counts.  First, it is an indication that the GOP figures that the health care reform package, imperfect as it is, will pass.  Second, the good senator is either delusional or ignorant of the rules about presidential vetoes.  Should the Senate actually repeal health care reform, President Obama is certain to veto the repeal, regardless of how it is passed.  And it requires a 2/3 majority (even more of a super-majority than to end a filibuster) to override a veto.

And then there is Sen. Jim Bunning… currently operating as a one-man wrecking crew, thumbing his nose at the nation’s doctors, the unemployed, federal highway workers, and anyone who just happens to live in a flood plain.  That’s a pretty large number of folks when you add them all up.  Bunning has taken obstruction to new heights in the name of fiscal responsibility, but he was on board when the GOP pushed through the Bush tax cuts, Medicare Part D, and two wars — all of which were unfunded and that represent far more money than his current grandstanding.

Yes, the Dems can’t claim total innocence, but we’re currently in the midst of the greatest recession in 70 years, fighting two wars, and dealing with a health care crisis that Warren Buffet compares to an economic tape worm — demanding an ever greater portion of our total economy.  It’s time to starve the beast of corporatism by imposing some common-sense regulations.  Regulations that the Founding Fathers understood were necessary to prevent the country from devolving into an oligarchy, wherein power was concentrated in the hands of a relative few.  I suspect those august men (and women) are whirling in their collective graves at what we are rapidly becoming.

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