Thursday, July 19, 2012

"You People"

During an interview with Robin Roberts of ABC News, Ann Romney, wife of the presumed Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney, made what most would consider to be an “Oops!” moment, when answering a question posed by Roberts about the Romney’s and the conditions behind their decision to release only 2 years of tax returns for public review.  Through the course of the response to Roberts’ question, Mrs. Romney practically admits that there would be, within additional years’ tax returns, “ …   so many things that will be open again for more attack ...” But that phrase, while it will most likely bear a great deal more scrutiny in the near future, wasn’t the one that made internet and talk radio ‘headlines’ within minutes of their utterance.  No.  What will be remembered, this day, is she then went-on to refer to the news media (and possibly Robin Roberts specifically) as “you people” … “We've given all you people need to know and understand about our financial situation and about how we live our life.” 

     It deserves mentioning that the phrase “you people” has long been considered to be a racial slur, particularly when the words are directed toward someone of African American descent.  It essentially delineates a social distinction that the person utters the words is believed to hold toward those who lack wealth or a lower social order (rich vs. poor, white vs. black).  With respect to Mrs. Romney and her interview with Roberts, It is also worth mentioning that Roberts is, in fact, African American.

     I don’t believe that Mrs. Romney is a racist, or is bigoted towards others of different ethnicities.  I do believe, however, that Mrs. Romney does suffer from a similar kind of ‘elitism’ that plagues her husband.  What is surprising about her “slip-up” is that up to this point in the campaign Mrs. Romney has been given a pretty significant degree of latitude with regard to her public comments and interview responses.  Most Americans admit that, while Mrs. Romney is part of the very wealthy Romney family, it has been a safe bet that she was not used to the level of scrutiny that presidential candidates and their spouses receive from the news media and the voters.  And so, when she would say something ‘inarticulately,’ or when she would make an ‘inartful’ comment, it has been largely shrugged-off.  Not anymore. 

     The days of giving Mrs. Romney credit for facing an inordinate amount of intrusiveness by the news media, and allowing her to make verbal gaffes without calling her on the content of what she has said.  No.  Disdain for those who do not “measure up,” money- and class-wise, is now going to be hung squarely around both Romney’s necks from this point forward.  As well they should be.  While I’ve no doubt that Mrs. Romney does not think Robin Roberts of ABC News, as an African American, is any less of a human being as she herself is, I also do not doubt that Mrs. Romney firmly believes that people like herself and her husband … people of significant wealth … are “better people” than those of lesser means.  Mrs. Romney most likely feels that people of wealth have undertaken a great deal of effort by which they have been able to amass their money; that they deserve to be regarded as “special” because they’re smarter than the “average person,” and are willing to do whatever it takes to garner those financial resources.  It’s fine that she feels that way.  It’s not likely that anything anyone says will change her myopic and “stuck-up” views.  It’s not fine that she, even if she were not the wife of a presidential candidate, publicly holds herself and those like her and her husband to be somehow “above” most everyone else. 

     I consider myself a pretty reasonable individual.  I am happy to give a person a break when they get tripped-up by a question posed to them by a member of the news media.  But I cease being quite so reasonable when I get the very strong impression that the person who is “slipping-up” is doing so while they’re looking down their nose at “the rest of us.”  I do not care what someone thinks about me within the confines of their mind.  But I do care if they publicly express a conclusion they hold about me that is not a true reflection of who I am.  Mrs. Romney can hold as much disdain and disregard for us “poor folk” as she would like.  But she should do so within the confines of her mind, or within the company of others like herself.  Not in public.  And certainly not as the wife of a presidential candidate … the person that is essentially auditioning as “America’s mom.”  She can be a stuck-up boor.  But I would prefer that she not do so while she is trying to convince voters that she cares … she really, really cares about “all of us.”  She doesn’t.  And to suggest otherwise is simply dishonest.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Supreme Health Care Deliberations

As three days of oral arguments began before the U.S. Supreme Court with regard (primarily) to the constitutionality of the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act, the following is a response I composed to an article posted on about the legal issues of the President's most prominent legislative success, as well as some of the pros and cons of the arguments being offered 'in favor' or 'against' the health insurance reform bill.  After reaching the comment's conclusion, I realized that I was, perhaps, a bit too verbose for a commentary posting on a blog site.  So, I instead decided I would post my response here, seeing how I believe that much of the opinions I offer are of sufficient merit to stand on-their-own in the ongoing health care insurance and access debate.  Here is a link to the article which I was responding to:

In many respects it was a foregone conclusion, before the Affordable Care Act was even drafted (let alone introduced to Congress), that elements like true Universal Care and a Single-Payer system would never see the light of day. The political will to fundamentally change how health care is distributed in the U.S. simply does not exist. While most who favor the two aforementioned options place responsibility for their fairly square on the President's shoulders (which is where a good deal of the responsibility should rightfully lie), it's important to remember that at the time of the bill's formulation, debate in Congress and eventual passage that many Democrats were more-than-unwilling to sign-on to the level of restructuring of the health insurance industry which Universal Care and Single-Payer would require. If the President is unable to count on the support of members of Congress from his own party, it's a bit disingenuous to suggest that he bear sole responsibility for the failure of those two important elements to be included in the legislation. Sure, there were a relatively small number of Democrats (especially in the Senate) who loudly called for Universal Coverage and Single-Payer. But there was never the vocal support for those two principles upon which the President, or anyone for that matter, could or should have staked the passage of some kind of reform on. It simply wouldn't have happened (reform) had it been done.

Like many Progressives, I am not particularly proud of the ACA. I would have hoped for, and infinitely preferred, reform that would have made significant in-roads toward wresting control of the health care industry from the hands of health insurers. But I do believe that what was passed opens some doors for those not able to obtain coverage to gain access to insurance. And, it also begins to put the onus of paying for health care provided to those without insurance on those who receive that care. As someone who has faced huge medical expenses in the past while covered by health insurance, it is easy to see how someone without coverage could quickly find themselves in serious financial difficulties should they face a medical emergency. But while I don't believe that a person or family should be forced into taking bankruptcy over medical bills (there's something inherently immoral about devastating an person or family because they simply wanted to have an illness or injury treated), I also believe that those individuals not covered should at least make some effort to pay for the care they do receive. Studies have shown that a majority of those who receive care while not covered by insurance make little or no effort to reimburse the hospital for the care provided. Granted, the amount uninsured patients are charged for services rendered is exponentially greater than the costs charged to insurance companies and their policyholders. But self-responsibility should have some place in the health care conversation.

I have no illusions about my ability to 'foresee' how the US Supreme Court will decide the legal issues before it about the ACA. I do believe that should a majority decide that the individual mandate is unconstitutional, it could well undo established precedence that could affect much more than simply whether or not it is within the federal government's purview to require all Americans be covered by some form of health insurance. I also see problems with the position held by opponents of the ACA that the law violates states rights. With all due respect, it doesn't take any great leap of intellectual ability for anyone to see that health care costs continue to increase at a rate that far outpaces inflation for other consumer goods and services. It also doesn't require any significant intellectual gymnastics to recognize that if the collective states recognized that a problem with regard to access to health care and/or insurance and chose to fix that problem, they well could have. In fact, should have. But the overwhelming majority did not. When the citizens of our nation endure a problem which affects each and every one of them to one degree or another, and the states refuse to marshal their respective (or even collective) resources to combat the problem(s) at state level, then it falls to the federal government to become involved and at least attempt to address the issue. And honestly, it is pretty difficult to argue that access to health care and health insurance is somehow a unique privilege that should only be offered to those residents of one state or another. While the ACA

And I would be remiss if I did not briefly bring-up the irresponsibility of those clamoring for a single-payer system, who would, if they had their way, agree to the elimination of the majority of private health insurance companies. A single-payer system WOULD be more efficient. It WOULD provide more equitable coverage at more affordable rates to most Americans. It WOULD help to rein-in health care costs. But it is important to remember that the health insurance industry is a multi-billion dollar industry that is responsible for a not-small portion of our nation's total GDP. Just as many Americans were up-in-arms at the willingness of some politicians to see the automotive industry be thrown to the economic wolves, so too should they be concerned that some politicians and a sizable number of Progressives see little wrong with the federal government telling the private health insurance industry (not a company or two, or even three, but the entire industry), "Thank you but no thank you." It is one thing to provide access to insurance, and thereby medical care. A true Universal Care program would do that. It is something entirely different to consign millions of Americans employed in the health insurance industry to the unemployment rolls because their industry has been deemed unwelcome and unnecessary. Believe me; I am not a huge proponent of the health insurance industry. As mentioned before, I, too, have seen bills totalling in the tens of thousands of dollars as a result of medical care I received WHILE covered by health insurance. But I am not willing to support the federal government wresting trillions of dollars of health insurance business from private companies without any meaningful consideration of what to do about/with the millions of average Americans employed by the private health insurance industry whose livelihoods would largely cease to exist. If any politician or Progressive had put-forth a plan that would create single-payer while also addressing (in humane and ethical and moral ways) the dismantling of huge portions of the private health insurance industry, then I would be much more willing to support such a proposal. Doing the right thing sometimes means helping those who you might otherwise wish to fend for themselves. And I've yet to see any real demonstrations of politicians on the Left to step-up and do the right thing with regard to how the dismantling of the private health insurance industry would be done in a just, reasonable and fair way.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

A Republican Misunderstanding

You would think ... or at least hope ... that most sane, reasonable and responsible Republicans would be ashamed and embarassed that the current field of candidates is the best the party could scrounge up. It's perfectly acceptable to have a few off-the-wall beliefs or the occasional personality quirk. What's not acceptable is to base one's entire political belief-system on off-the-wall, contemptible, and in many respects just plain ignorant positions. And even more unacceptable is to then do your damndest to foist those beliefs on the American people. What Mr. Santorum and many like him fail to understand and appreciate is that they have entirely the wrong view of the U.S. Constitution. It's his, and those like him, belief that unless a 'right' is specifically mentioned, then it simply does not exist. He could not be more wrong. The U.S. Constitution lays-out in fairly straight-forward language the boundaries within which the various branches of the government must operate. It also carefully enumerates a few specific "rights" which it has been felt from time-to-time throughout this nation's history needed to be reaffirmed; in case anyone got the idea that they could act in ways which abridged those rights. All other rights/liberties/freedoms not specifically mentioned in the Constitution belong to the people. The U.S. Constitution was not crafted to serve as a checklist for what Americans could and could not do. It was created entirely for the singular purpose of defining and instructing how our government can and cannot conduct the people's business. Perhaps Mr. Santorum and his fellow candidates need a refresher course on Constitutional Law. Or perhaps he should simply READ the copy of the document he professes to have on his person at every waking moment. Whatever he chooses to do, he should also STOP trying to turn the document upon which this nation was founded into his own personal "Whack-a-Mole" hammer with which to squash the rights, liberties and freedoms that belong first, foremost and forever to the American people.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Rational Minds Must Prevail

On the eve of the Iowa Republican Presidential Caucuses, Iowans should take a few moments (at the very least) to consider the choice(s) they face.  Many pundits and self-professed know-it-alls have suggested that the 2012 Presidential elections are among the least important of its kind in generations.  They base their opinions on the fairly widely-held belief that whatever choices voters face in November, the problems this nation faces, and the real solutions to them, will remain largely unchanged, regardless who wins the presidential contest.  There may be some validity to those assumptions.  The past two years the American public has witnessed one of the most offensive demonstrations of partisanship in our nation's halls of power.  Whether it is the intransigence of the Congressional Republicans, who refuse to consider supporting any measure put forth by their Democratic peers.  Or the Democrats who have failed to truly  wield the mantle of authority and responsibility given them by the voters in 2008.  Whatever position one chooses to support, the other circumstance also continues as a reality.  And when considering who to support in the presidential contest, voters must carefully consider who they truly believe would be best suited to move this nation forward.

Nearly every Republican presidential candidate has spent the past several months criss-crossing Iowa in an attempt to convince Iowan voters that they are the one who can best lead the United States.  Unfortunately, when looking at those vying for the Republican nomination, it would be reasonable for one to arrive at the conclusion that the Republican Party has not brought their best men/women forward to run for the nomination.  In fact, one could surmise by the collection of candidates on-hand in Iowa on this chilly January night, that the party has, in fact, tossed its collective hands in the air. 

More important than the people actually running for the nomination are the policies and positions that they support.  And how those viewpoints are almost diametrically opposed to what many believe to be the more common-sense, realistic policies and positions that candidates should put forth. 

Among the various candidates two common themes hold positions of prominence in their plans for America: Less regulation for businesses, and lower taxes for everyone (individuals and corporations alike).  Let's briefly look-back on what most recognize as the primary causes of the severe recession the U.S. has experienced the past few years. 

First is the serious retraction of regulation and supervision over the financial industry.  During the Great Depression of the 1930's the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt managed to enact the most sweeping restructuring of how business operated in the United States since the founding of the nation.  The stock exchanges of the 1920's was often viewed as being nothing more than a legalized house of gambling.  Companies were able to operate largely in secret; seldom (if ever) disclosing the true facts of how they did business to neither the general public, nor the investors who purchased shares in American busiensses.  Through a number of legislative actions, Roosevelt was able to bring-to-heel the once rampant practice of insider influence peddling and profit-taking that had threatened to destroy the world's most vibrant economy.  Banks were required to divest their investment holdings, once again returning to actual banking as their focus of operations.  American businesses were required to publicly disclose and report via quarterly reports how each respective company was operating.  Along with the requirement that officers of any company with holdings of more than 10% stock ownership of a company report any time that they purchased or sold any of their significant personal stock holdings.  And those are only a few of the remarkable changes that were ushered in as part of the "New Deal."

During the presidency of George W. Bush, much of what Roosevelt had managed to create, while attempting to right the U.S. economic ship (which at the time was experiencing its most severe economic depression since the country was founded), was either repealed, amended or deemed not important enough to enforce.  In the midst of the largest sustained growth in federal government spending in our nation's history, funding for regulatory and enforcement agencies who were charged with overseeing America's financial industry sectors was decimated.  Bush didn't go quite so far as to leave the 'fox' to watch over the chicken coop.  But he was not far from it. 

Yet, in the face of dealing with the worst economic recession, second only to the Great Depression of the 1930's, Republicans remain seemingly oblivious to the notion that many of our nation's economic problems came-about largely because of the absence of real, effective oversight and regulation.  Ironically, it is the position of the majority of Republican candidates that American businesses, including those in the financial services industries, are daunted by too much regulation.  Those candidates are, pure and simply, wrong.

The other mantra that Republican candidates are inexhaustively preaching is the need for lower personal and corporate income taxes.  It has been the suggestion of Republican presidential candidates and Republican members of Congress that any increase in taxes on the "job creators" will only undermine the slowly recovering economy.  And as the nation faces horrendous unemployment and an ever-widening gulf between the "haves" and the "have nots," Republican believe that in order to put the federal government's financial house in order it is necessary to decimate the support programs that are providing food and shelter to tens of millions of Americans.  All while individuals and corporations enjoy the lowest rates of taxation in generations. 

While Republican voters in Iowa are being asked to choose the candidate that they wish to support for President, they would do well to remember that the state's "first in the nation caucus" position is a relatively tenuous position, at best.  As polls of nearly every stripe are conducted across the state, and as nearly every single candidate has enjoyed surges of popularity in those polls at some point during the run-up to Caucus night, much of the media is portraying Iowans as being given a position of authority/responsibility in the presidential candidate nominating contest that they are ill-suited to be given.  Relying on the landslide of polling being conducted across the state, media outlets and personnel widely trumpet each time a different candidate manages to garner any measure of  a lead over their rivals.  Such polling is not only disingenuous in its ability to accurately discern what a majority of Iowan voters are thinking at any given time, but it also severaly misleading, in that it best promotes the candidate that has "caught fire" most recently. 

The growing belief of absurdity surrounding Iowa continuing retaining its first-in-the-nation status should give Iowans a moment of pause.  Should Iowan Republicans give a majority to any one of the seriously questionnable candidates, the state could face losing it's vaunted position in the election process.

Iowans are better than how the media is portraying them.  Many Iowans who participate in the local, state and federal politics take their responsibilities as a voter very, very seriously.  They are loathe to commit to a candidate too early.  Instead choosing to spend the weeks and months leading up to the caucuses to find-out where each candidate lies with regard to their policy positions.  And while the voters of Iowa have in the past supported candidates that failed to win the national nomination, they are able to demonstrate to the rest of the country, and to those politicians, the fears and concerns of the "average Iowan." 

It is my sincere hope that Iowa voters will carefully consider the field of candidates before them.  And then choose the one they feel is best qualified and equipped to do what is necessary in order to put the United States on a more stable path of recovery and growth.  If Iowans instead allow themselves to be swayed by candidates who believe it entirely appropriate to legislate morality and who believe religion DOES have a role in the running of our nation's governments, the state may well find itself relegated to a status of "just another 'fly-over' state." 

Monday, December 19, 2011

Fallen Woman

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It’s getting to be a bad joke: Pick a Republican who’s attacked same-sex marriage and they’re either gay themselves or done something totally skeevy to besmirch the holy institution.
The latest culprit is Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch (left), who stepped down from her leadership post Friday after allegations surfaced she was having an adulterous affair with a male staffer.
Color us stunned. Really.
Koch isn’t resigning as a state senator, mind you—just her leadership post (and refusing to seek re-election). Because it’s genetically impossible for a Republican politician to fully understand the nature of hypocrisy. Koch and her cronies helped get an amendment into the voting booth next year that will let the people of Minnesota vote on whether same-sex marriage should be banned. That makes sense—she’s something of an expert on things that destroy marriages.
“I think in the end there are probably only two people who really know what kind of relationship [it was] and how long it had been happening,” interim Senate Majority Leader Geoff Michell told the Star-Tribune. “It certainly had risen to a level within our Senate family that people were coming to us.”
While Koch’s male paramour hasn’t been named, Michael Brodkorb—her communications chief—is no longer on staff as of Friday. Draw your own conclusions.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Anti-AIDs Discrimination Rears Its Ugly Head ... Again

The 1980's was a frightening time for many in America.  Particularly so for those who were/are members of the LGBT community and others who suffered from any number of illnesses where blood transfusions were or might be necessary.  Initially known as the "gay cancer," HIV/AIDs quickly came to symbolize the single greatest threat to not just gay men and women, but to ever sexually active person.  During the early years of what has been for a number of years referred to as a "global pandemic," little was known about how the virus was transmitted from one person to the next.  As a result, individuals, organizations, businesses and many other entities responded in many instances with knee-jerk reactions on how to address the issue of those individuals infected with HIV/AIDs.  Rampant discrimination and active and blatant ostracization and oppression of those suffering from the then-100% fatal disease was accepted and even promoted by some. 

This unwarranted sense of fear of those who were infected continued for many years (many would say it still exists more readily than most would like to admit or accept), even after medical researchers and doctors discovered that transmission was only possible by direct contact with the blood supply of an infected individual with the blood supply of an uninfected individual.  Despite America being told via a nearly unprecendented media storm of information, the result of tireless effort by many activists and AIDs support organizations (ASO's), the paranoia over possible infection continued to be prevalent years later.

During the 1980's a teenager named Ryan White became the virtual 'poster boy' for those afflicted with HIV/AIDs, as he was forced to leave the junior high school he was attending because school officials believed he posed a significant threat to the remaining student body.  Despite the nation slowly learning that someone with HIV did not present any risk of transmission as the result of casual, and even some limited intimate, contact, citizens of the United States remained seriously divided as to whether White's school acted responsibly, or reprehensibly.  White's legal case was ultimately decided in his favor, requiring that his school allow him to attend classes.  Such legal precedence would, seemingly, only have since been strengthened by passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act (1990), along with a more recent package of amendments to the original legislation that effectively widened the scope of influence over what was deemed discriminatory, liberalizing (to some extent) what a disabled person would be able to expect/require of any potential (or current) employer or other public accomodation.  However, the Milton Hershey School believes otherwise.  In fact, their denial for admission to the school of a 13-yr. old who is HIV-positive is rather conclusive that despite legal protections afforded those are HIV-positive or who have been classified as having AIDs, along with the incredible medical advancements that have produced medications which reduce exponentially the threat of possible exposure (even through intimate contact) as they reduce levels of the virus in many of those infected to levels at which doctors refer to them as "undetectable," suggests that the school cares little about the facts about the science behind HIV/AIDs nor the legal responsibility it bears toward potential students who are HIV-positive. 

Officials at the school offered in defense of their actions denying the 13-yr. old admission, that,

“We understand that the risks presented by an HIV-positive individual who is on medication are low,” the school said in a recent statement posted on its website. “Taking all these and other factors in consideration, including the fact that we would be prohibited by law from informing our community of the young man’s HIV-positive status, we concluded that the risk was significant, and rose to the level of a direct threat to the health and safety of others.”

Ironically, the possibility that a student might be exposed to the HIV virus while conducting themself as a student is not the school's concern.  Instead, they are most concerned about the fact that students may well engage in sexual intercourse.  And that despite the univeral procautions against the transmission of bloodborne pathogens that all public accomodations are required by law to follow, students could find themselves exposed to the virus. 

It is difficult to decide which is most reprehensible about the school's behavior: their blatant and unnecessary discrimination against a potential student who is HIV-positive, or the fact that they consider themselves responsible for every Hershey student's sexual conduct.  If the latter is the case, then one could come to the conclusion that should an unexpected pregnancy of a Hershey student, or one that was caused by a Hershey student should occur, that the school would then agree to providing any/everything needed for the care of the expectant mother and the child before and after the child's birth.  However, it's HIGHLY unlikely that that is the case.  No doubt, if a pregnancy occurs the school most likely is of the opinion that while it may concede to making 'reasonable accomodations' to the expectant mother so that she could continue her studies while the pregnancy progresses, it in no way accepts any measure of responsibility for the student's condition.  Which gives Americans reason to ask, "Then why is it different for the kid with HIV?  Why consider sexual conduct that results in pregnancy NOT the school's responsibility, but that which might be engaged-in by someone who is HIV-positive is within their purview?" 

Let's face it: HIV/AIDs discrimination still exists.  Ask anyone who is afflicted with the virus and they will no doubt quickly accede to the notion that although federal law makes such discrimination illegal, it's still around, and it's just as ugly as it has ever been.  And in a strange twist of irony, while Americans find themselves in an era where those who embrace a conservative philosophy of government believe government at all levels, especially in areas like education, tries to provide too much to citizens, it's a private educational institution, one largely removed from many of the fiscal ties the federal and state governments have on their public counterparts, that is exhibiting blatant discriminatory practices. 

HIV/AIDs discrimination is offensive enough when it happens to an adult with the disease.  But such behavior reaches an even lower level of depravity and reprehensiveness when it targets a child. 

The Milton Hershey School should apologize to the student denied admission.  And the student should be allowed to attend the school, if he still desires to do so.  Furthermore, the school should willingly agree to pay all of the costs associated with the student's attending private school, whether that school is Hershey, or some other learning institution.  The school should also make some sort of public apology to all Americans who have been diagnosed with HIV/AIDs, stating clearly and unapologetically that their behavior was not appropriate.  That they failed to appreciate the challenges someone who is HIV-positive might face, but instead ignored those possibilities and rathe embraced a fairly unsophisticated and insufficiently educated position on the question of whether or not to extend admission to an HIV-positive student.

Schools should be this nation's, and the world's, "citadels of learning."  Institutions dedicated to providing the very best education possible for students.  This could not be more true than it is today, when a growing number of young persons who identify themselves as gay are resorting to suicide in order to free themselves from the constant threat and mistreatment suffered at the hands of bullies.  Those who are HIV-positive experience the isolation that is a common factor in the lives of members of the LGBT community, only it is usually more severe, direct, and even more harmful.  Hershey could stand in the way of the further marginalization of those with HIV/AIDs.  The school could also send a loud and clear message to educators everywhere that all students, regardless of their station in life, should be treated with the respect afforded to all human beings.  It is 2011, after all.  Nearly 30 years after the virus first 'officially' reared its ugly head, all Americans can and should do better by those who are HIV-positive.  And those who are HIV-positive or have been diagnosed with AIDs should be able to expect all institutions to respect them first, foremost and always as human beings.