Sunday, December 20, 2009

Making Peace With The Senate Health Care Bill

To support the health care reform bill, or not to support it, that is the question being debated across the Internet. Now that Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson (D) has agreed to support the Senate version of the bill, it looks as if the Senate has the 60 votes necessary to pass the legislation. The new question is, "What's in the Senate bill?" I think that this is the 9th edition of the bill and it's been changed more often than Madonna has reinvented her image. After scuttling around on the Internet, I think that I reasonably understand the current content with the most recent amendments that will be voted upon at one a.m. on Monday. Of course, this all may change by the time I finish writing this entry.

Costs
According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the legislation, with the proposed changes that are being offered as an amendment to the Senate's version of the health care bill would cost about $871 billion over the first 10 years. Those costs would be offset by $483 billion in spending savings and $498 billion in revenues over the period. Factoring in tax increases and lower payments to doctors, the CBO asserts that the Senate bill would reduce the deficit by about $132 billion between 2010 and 2019.

What's Changed
Elin (Mrs. Tiger Woods) and the government run insurance option (the Public Option) are gone. She may come back but the public option isn't likely to return in time for Monday morning's vote. It has been replaced with a plan to create two national or multi-state health insurance exchanges (exchanges) to be run by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM). One of the plans is to be non-profit. The CBO has stated that it is unclear whether insurers would be interested in contracting with the OPM to offer these plans. A move to replace the public option with a plan to expand Medicare to provide coverage for uninsured Americans over 55 was stopped by opposition from Sen. Nelson and other alleged Democrats and the ever present Joe Lieberman.

The Medicare payroll tax increase is 0.9% (was 0.5%) for couples with an income of  $250,000 or more and individuals earning $200,000 or more. This is a revenue raising measure. To save money, the Senate proposal cuts federal government reimbursement rates to doctors by 21% effective in 2010.

Funding for abortions has been a lightning rod in the Senate's debate about this legislation. In spite of the legal right to choose to have an abortion within certain medical guidelines and provisions, the anti-choice contingency have latched on to the health care reform legislation as an opportunity to try to make inroads in their ongoing effort to undo Roe v. Wade. The bill now includes more restrictive abortion funding language that strengthens the prohibitions against the use of public money for abortion services. The bill now separates federal funding from private funding for abortion services on the exchanges, and lets states choose not to allow insurance companies to cover abortion on their health exchanges. This change has left both pro-life and pro-choice groups unhappy (I didn't take the time to read all the reasons that both sides are upset with these changes).

Under the proposed changes, more firms would qualify for the small business tax credit for health care coverage. The tax credit would be available in 2010, a year earlier than originally proposed. The income threshold would be increased so that the tax credit will be available on a sliding scale to firms with fewer than 25 workers and an average wages of less than $50,000. Employers with 10 or fewer workers and average wages of less than $25,000 can get the full tax credit.
 What Stays the Same
Insurance Reforms to health insurance stay the same as in the first Senate bill. This means that insurers will be prohibited from denying or stopping coverage based on the cost of care or the health of the customer, or in other words, denying coverage based on preexisting conditions.

The requirement that all individuals purchase health insurance by 2014 remains the same, as do penalties for employers who do not offer insurance to their workers; however, businesses with fewer than 50 workers are exempt.

The so-called 40 percent "Cadillac tax" on high-dollar insurance plans does not change and will go into effect in 2013.

The provision remains that provides that the federal government will subsidize the cost of insurance for families who make between 133 percent and 400 percent of the poverty level.

The bill also continues to include provisions offering new federal insurance for Long Term Care.

What's next
According to the knowledgeable pundits, now that Sen. Ben Nelson has agreed to support the bill, the Democrats will have votes from 60 senators and can defeat the Republicans' efforts to filibuster the health reform bill. If all goes as predicted, the Senate will move quickly through a series of procedural votes on the bill, beginning at 1 a.m. Monday morning, and likely finishing at 7 p.m. on Christmas Eve.

However, it isn't over until it's over. Assuming that the Senate passes its bill, Democratic leaders from the House and Senate will negotiate a compromise between their competing versions of health reform. Major differences remain between the House and Senate versions, with the most significant being the creation of a public option (the House does it, the Senate does not), and who will pay higher taxes to pay for the expanded coverage. The House raises taxes on the wealthy with a five-percent income tax increase on people making more than $500,000. The Senate increases the Medicare payroll tax and creates the "Cadillac tax," which could hit middle-class workers by taxing expensive health plans.

If the conference committee reaches a compromise, the House and the Senate will both vote on the new and final version of the bill. The goal of the Democrats is for President Obama to sign the measure before his State of the Union address at the end of January.

Why a watered down bill is better than no legislation
I offer this summary because I think that it's important in this emotionally charged climate to have a clear understanding of the substance of the House and Senate bills. People that I respect and like are split on this issue, with some advocating that progressives should make our displeasure known and withdraw support for any health care legislation that doesn't include a government funded or public option. Others believe that even if the final bill is watered down, including lacking a public option, that it's better to go forward with it than to get nothing. I happen to be in the second camp.

I think that while a lot of good things have been removed in the Senate version, a lot of good things remain, most notably, prohibitions against denying coverage to persons based on preexisting conditions or charging outrageous premiums to insure those people. Even more importantly, politics is a game. It's a pretty disturbing game because the rules aren't written down and they are constantly being amended. The constants in this game are negotiation and compromise. You always ask for the moon, but you know from the outset that you're not going to get it. You leave yourself some room for compromise and negotiation.

Maintaining a facade of civility is of prime importance, unless you have had years to hone your image as an eccentric maverick and you also have acquired power through a system of favors and debts owed to you. Arguably one of the least powerful offices in the federal government is that of the president; the drafters of the Constitution designed it that way in an effort to prevent this new government from ever having the power concentrated in the hands of any single individual.

It's easy enough to call for the president to simply tell the wayward Democrats in the Senate what to do; however, the reality is that he can tell them and if they don't acquiesce, what then? He can't throw them out of the party. He could perhaps refuse to help with their reelection campaign, but chances are that their constituents don't need or want the president's input. However, this issue isn't about the president; it's about beginning the process of reforming our health care system.

That's right, reform is a process. It doesn't happen in the blink of an eye. The Senate bill cuts away far too many pieces of this bill, but the House version isn't dead. The final bill will be a compromise of the elements of both versions of the bill. However, when it comes to legislation, final doesn't mean that it's forever written in stone. More than half of the bills submitted during any legislative session aren't brand new, but rather amended versions of existing law.

If this bill dies, then chances are good that it will be several administrations in the future before the issue even makes it on the table again. The battle will have to start all over from scratch, and there is no guarantee that it will meet with any more success eight or 12 years from now. Now is the time to pass the best bill possible under the reality of the opposition and start working on the drafts of the reauthorization of the health care legislation (federal law is ripe with reauthorizations of major pieces of legislation in every legislative session). The only way that health care reform dies is if we let our righteous indignation kill it.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Sex, Lies, and Texting

Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

I've been trying to resist writing a single word about Tiger Woods, but I'm weak. When I was in college, I arranged my class schedule so that I had a midday break that allowed me to watch All My Children. When I began teaching, I purchased a VCR so that I could record AMC, One Life to Live, and General Hopital. My name is Sheria and I'm a soapaholic.

Three years ago, I stopped watching daytime soaps, about the same time that I took up blogging. Alas,  I'm still a soapaholic and I've been enmeshed in the Tiger Woods drama, also known as Golf Is A Four Letter Word.

When the story first made the news on the Friday after Thanksgiving, like everyone else I was concerned about Tiger's welfare. However, by the next day, my familiarity with the basic rule of soaps--nothing is at it appears--along with massive inconsistencies in the story that the Woods were presentig to the media, led me to believe that there was a juicy truth hidden behind the public story. Of course, we now know the details: a cheating spouse making a hurried escape in his vehicle and a hurt and angry spouse carrying a golf club.  I think that it was my blogami, Mark Olmsted, who first suggested the applicability of the R&B hit, Bust the Windows Out Your Car by Jazmine Sullivan, to the Tiger and Elin saga.

I totally understand the public fascination with the private lives of public figures, where I draw the line is trying to defend our rabid curiosity as being grounded in righteousness. Just because a person is a public figure does not automatically mean that every foible of his or her private life is the business of the public. Don't try to dress up basic nosiness as symbolizing some ethical concern for the sanctity of marriage. The argument about the public's right to know may have some merit when it comes to cheating spouses who are elected officials, but only if the individual has used or abused his or her elected office in the process of engaging in extramarital flings.

I admit that I have no personal stake in Tiger's marital woes but his troubles have provided me with a fix almost as fascinating as Erica's marriages to most of the men in Pine Valley, some of them more than once. It's not a matter of entitlement to know, just my general fascination with bad human behavior.

I am also fascinated as to whether or not Tiger or any of his fellow in-the-public-eye-cheaters have just been so busy with their conquests that they missed the update--it's the cell phone that is now mightier than the sword, or in some cases it's the Blackberry. What is it with all of the texting? Why do these unfaithful types always send sweet vulgar nothings to the objects of their affection in a hundred text messages per day? How do they find the time for all of this texting? Did Tiger miss the 2008 scandal involving former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick who paid a huge settlement, was forced to resign, sentenced to serve time, and disbarred in a legal case that ultimately centered on revelations from thousands of text messages exchanged between Kilpatrick and his mistress who also was Kilpatrick's Chief of Staff?

When they aren't texting, they are leaving voicemail. Just to be certain that there is no doubt when the media eventually latches on to the voicemail, they announce themselves on the message. "Hello, this is Tiger,..." When I call people that I know well and speak to frequently by phone, I figure that they recognize my voice, and I seldom announce myself. If I were having an illicit affair, I certainly wouldn't do so.

Perhaps the larger question is why do the cheaters hook up with women who hoard text messages, voicemails, and dirty dresses (remember Monica Lewinsky)? I wouldn't argue that there is any appropriate way to be an adulterer, but there was a time when one's partner in adultery refrained from sharing all the details with the public. Eisenhower and Kennedy were alleged to have mistresses, but none of them popped up loudly proclaiming, "Yoo hoo, here I am!" Far be it for the modern mistress to show any discretion. While weeping on Good Morning America and proclaiming, "I'm a good girl, I am," she is selling copies of text messages in which her married lover describes in explicit detail what he wants to do to her body when they next meet.

So far, 13 women have identified themselves as Tiger Woods' sex partners; I think that's enough for a coven. Perhaps Tiger should ask them to cast a protection spell.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Hobbes, Rousseau, and the Nature of Humankind

Somehow, two weeks have passed and I haven't written a single blog entry. I think that my brain has been suffering from an overload of "WTFitis." I watch the news, read Newsweek, and scroll through newspapers and news sites on the Internet, and like Evilene in The Wiz, I just want to scream, "Don't nobody bring me no more bad news!"

Of course, not hearing or reading bad news doesn't make it go away. However, it isn't just the bad news that disturbs me, it's the mindlessness of the general populace that makes me want to slap somebody. As engaging in acts of violence could land me in a jail cell, I've been refocusing my disgust on trying to understand what it is about human nature that can move us to engage in great acts of creativity but can also move us to engage in acts of great cruelty and destruction.

I've been rereading two of my favorite political philosophers, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract 1762) and Thomas Hobbes (The Leviathan 1651). Both works focus on an analysis of why government is necessary and the purpose of government. However, they have different takes on why it is that humans spend our time fighting and squabbling among ourselves.

They each speak of the "natural state" [aka state of nature] describing it as humankind without the conventions that we have come to call civilization. Hobbes views humankind in its natural state as focused on individualism to the exclusion of any concern for the well being of others; self-preservation and aggrandizement is the reason for existence. If we occasionally act in an altruistic manner it is motivated by self-interest and not any concern for others. In Hobbesian analysis, we are motivated by self-preservation in all of our actions. We see the possibility of our own misfortune in another's misfortune and offer assistance in anticipation that we may at some point need assistance.

In this natural state, if I want my neighbor's cow, I attempt to take it. Naturally, my neighbor resists. Whichever one of us is stronger or has more friends to help out in the fray, gets the cow. Of course, then the winner has to guard against some stronger person coming along and taking the cow away. It's an ongoing cycle and no one can be truly secure and all our energies are spent on survival. We are therefore in a perpetual state of war. Hobbes defines a state of war as the absence of peace, that is, living in a society where individualism reigns supreme and it's every man and woman for themselves.

Hobbes perceives this natural state as being the essence of human nature and that governments were implemented to save us from our baser impulses. According to Hobbes, without absolute government, life is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."

Rousseau takes a more positive view of our natural state. He proposes that humankind in its natural state is essentially good. It is the development of society that has corrupted us. The advancements of civilization, while wondrous, have also corrupted us. Often Rousseau's philosophy is defined as promoting the image of the "noble savage." Humans living relatively solitary lives, motivated only by basic needs of food, clothing and shelter. In this state, there is no competition because there is no desire for power. The individualism that Hobbes sees as innate in human nature is an acquired trait in Rousseau's philosophy. For Rousseau, it's the development of society and all its trappings that has turned humankind into greedy, selfish beings focused on self preservation.

Both Hobbes and Rousseau propose that in this natural state, we have unlimited personal freedom, sort of like Cartman, citizen of South Park, who frequently declares, "I can do what I want!" In Hobbes viewpoint, a powerful central government is needed to check that personal freedom which is motivated only by self-interests. Rousseau argues that the people create government in a desire to promote harmonious interaction. The power of the government comes from the people, who voluntarily cede their personal freedoms to the collective group, not a single authoritative power, in order to promote the common good. For Rousseau, the people are the government, while Hobbes arrives at the conclusion that the people must cede their personal liberties to the control of a strong central government, an absolute government, to protect and promote the common good.

I tend to be Hobbesian in my beliefs about the nature of humankind. I think that self-interests are the norm and concern for humankind is the exception. At the heart of the arguments against any type of social welfare program is always a stated belief by the opposition that it is not the responsibility of those who have to provide for the have-nots. People stand in town halls and shout in trembling voices that their tax dollar should not go towards supporting any program for people that they deem to be undeserving. Those of us who express a belief that we are our brothers and our sisters keepers are dismissed as stupid, naive, un-American purveyors of socialism.

We are in such a constant state of war that many of us have come to believe that war is the norm, and there is no need to call for its end. I am so tired of seeing some sad parents or a sweet young woman with an infant bravely facing the television cameras, reciting the oft repeated litany, "He died doing what he loved. He died serving his country." As long as we continue to glorify dying in war, as if it is a noble loss of life, we will do nothing to put an end to war.

Where I part company with Hobbes is that I don't believe that selfish individualism is an innate quality. I think that Rousseau was on to something; perhaps we learn to elevate self-preservation to a religion because so much in society rewards and thereby reinforces selfishness. If that's true, then like Pandora's box, there is still a flame of hope that we have to fan into a fire. We can become better than we are.

If you are intrigued by the theories of government that influenced the development of the governing philosophies of the United States, click this link for a good place to begin with summaries of the political theories of Hobbes, Rousseau, John Locke, and Charles Montesquieu.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

A Single Step: Making Health Care Reform A Reality

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

The above line is often attributed to Confucius; I read it in a fortune cookie once. It is such simple logic, but often we become so wrapped up in the obstacles that impede the journey that we become mired in fear of failure and stand still, stuck in our own misgivings. I've been thinking about how important it is to take that single step as I've been reading reactions to the Senate vote to proceed with debate on the Senate's version of the health care reform bill.

I've had misgivings about both the House and Senate bills; I don't think that either of them goes far enough in making the substantive changes that are needed to provide affordable health care to everyone. However, I think that the passage of the House's bill, and the Senate's vote to move to debate and avoid a Republican fueled filibuster are steps forward on what may prove to be a long journey to health care reform on a grand scale.

My friend Beth (Nutwood Junction) observed in a Facebook comment that if health care reform legislation is defeated, it will be perceived as a failure of the Obama administration. I agree, if this reform of health care fails, then everything that Obama attempts after this is likely to be met with such resistance that it fails. A victory, even a flawed one, will give impetus to future change and there is so much more to be done.

Politics has always been a game of compromises. Draw a line in the sand and all you do is lose. (Former President George W. Bush was fond of drawing lines in the sand; he described himself as the Decider. Of course he didn't actually decide anything, he just drifted into one bad policy after the other, but he perceived his no compromise stance as indicative of a position of power.)

So although neither of the health care reform bills goes as far as is needed for real reform, I believe that the hybrid of the two that is likely to be passed (today I'm an optimist) will move the debate forward, laying a foundation for additional reform in the future.

I don't think that I'm dreaming. I was born in 1955, one year after the U.S. Supreme Court declared in Brown v. the Topeka Board of Education that separate but equal was inherently unequal. Yet, I grew up under segregation. The south didn't rush to take down the "colored not allowed" or "white only" signs. I attended segregated schools until I was in tenth grade (1971). It took a seemingly endless stream of legislation to bring to fruition the promise of the Brown decisions of 1954 & 1955: the Civil Rights Acts of 1957, 1960, 1964, 1968, 1991, and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

The journey towards a health care system that serves the needs of all of the people, that doesn't deny access to health care to the people, and is not motivated by profit margins, is a good thousand miles, maybe more. However, I do believe that a win now will lead to additional changes until we get it right. I've seen it happen before; I have lived change that once seemed impossible. All we have to do is to take the first step. President Obama has already begun the journey; all that we must do is have a little faith and travel with him.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Revelations and Creativity

It's always satisfying to have your work recognized and I am very grateful to Gerry, Daughters of the Shadow Men, for selecting me as one of her recipients of the Kreative Blogger Award. I recommend that you check out Gerry's blog and experience her creative spirit.
As a recipient of the Kreative Blogger Award, I'm supposed to reveal seven things about me that you don't know. Having been a blogger for three years, I'm not certain if I have any unrevealed bits of me, but I'll try.

1. Several years ago, when I was still teaching high school English, I literally ran into Maya Angelou. I had joined my friend HR in going to a performance by Ms. Angelou of her poetry. As we were leaving, HR and I were separated in the exiting crowd and I took a shortcut to the car that necessitated walking past the stage exit door. Hurrying along, I nearly bumped into a tall, imposing woman who was coming out of that exit. Looking up, I came face to face with Maya Angelou. I muttered, "Excuse me." She replied, "That's all right, dear." Feeling that I needed to say more, I added, "I'm a teacher." Without missing a beat, she patted me on the cheek and said, "That's nice, dear."

2. When I was a junior in high school, I discovered that I was a poet. My high school had invited Calvin Atwood to be our poet in residence for a two week program in which a small class of students wrote poetry. I liked to write short stories, but I had never written a poem. This is my very first poem:

sometimes I'm good,
sometimes I'm very good,
and sometimes I'm very, very good
but most of the time
i'm just mediocre

I didn't think that the poem was particularly good, but Atwood liked it. I've been writing poetry ever since.

3. I met James Dickey, the author of Deliverance when I was a junior in high school. Calvin Atwood, the poet-in-residence, was friends with James Dickey, who was speaking at the local college, Atlantic Christian College (now known as Barton College). Atwood and Mr. M, the English Coordinator for Wilson County, invited me to accompany them to hear Dickey speak. After Dickey's presentation, they invited me to come back to Mr. M.'s apartment. I was starry eyed, and particularly enchanted by the jacket which Dickey wore. It had been worn by Burt Reynolds in the film, Deliverance.

4. I can play the guitar. When I was 14, guitar masses became popular in progressive Catholic churches. Sister Mary gave me my first guitar, a six string steel guitar. I taught myself to play it. It was the height of the civil rights movement and the peace not war ideology of the 1960s. For mass we played guitar and sang Kumbaya, Blowin' in the Wind, and We Shall Overcome. My favorite song had the lyrics, "Hear O Lord, the sound of my call; Hear O Lord, and have mercy; My soul is longing for the glory of you; O hear O Lord and answer me." I no longer own a guitar but I've decided to buy one, soon.

5. I can tie a knot in a cherry stem using only my teeth and tongue. I discovered my talent when I was in college.

6. My best category in Trivial Pursuit is entertainment. I once won a game because I knew who played the munitions expert in The Guns of Navarone. (David Niven)

7. My favorite flavor of ice cream is vanilla. I'm particularly fond of Ben and Jerry's French Vanilla. I don't like plain chocolate ice cream. I like chocolate fudge ice cream mixed with other flavors, but not straight run of the mill chocolate ice cream.

I think that I'm supposed to pass this award along to a few other bloggers. However, I think that I will pass on doing so. I like so many blogs; each offers something unique and I just can't settle on who deserves an award. So consider yourself awarded for your creativity and copy the Kreative Blogger icon to add to your blog. Then tell us a few new things about yourself. In the end, we are all deserving of appreciation for our creative efforts.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Health Care Plan: Battle Won But Not the War

It's always something. The U.S. Senate is making it perfectly clear that it has no intention of accepting the baton when it comes to running with health care reform. The primary Senate objection is to the government health insurance plan in the House bill passed on this past Saturday.

The party affiliation shape shifter Sen. Joe Lieberman (Independent) has declared , "... as a matter of conscience, I will not allow this bill to come to a final vote." South Carolina's Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) has proclaimed, "The House bill is dead on arrival in the Senate." In addition, a few moderate Democrats said to hold the power in the Senate, are opposed to the government health insurance plan included in the House bill.

The power in the hands of the few moderate Democrats is the power to stop a Republican led filibuster. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) needs 60 votes to start debate and 60 votes to end discussion and call the bill to a final vote. Those few moderate Democrats' votes are very important in the scheme of things.

The primary opposition to the government plan is that it puts the government into competition with private insurers. I feel as if I've missed something. Haven't the conservatives supported capitalism and its system of free market enterprise with cries of competition is good?

Lieberman asserts that his opposition to a public option arises from his belief that it could be a huge and costly entitlement program. Entitlement is a big buzz word, implying that a slew of undeserving persons will benefit from the public option. How do you deserve medical care? How can you be undeserving of medical care? In one of the most affluent nations in the world, how can it possibly be acceptable that some people don't receive health care because of exorbitant costs for medical care and/or health insurance?

I smell more compromise in the air. Already, Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, who voted for a version of the Senate bill in committee, has provided the Democrats with a fallback position. She's proposing the "trigger" option which would allow a government plan as a last resort, if after a few years premiums keep escalating and local health insurance markets remain in the grip of a few big companies. Frankly, I think that the trigger has already been pulled, over and over again. Exactly how costly do premiums have to get and how extensive does the monopoly of the health insurance market by a few major players have to be before the need for a government plan is triggered?

There are other major differences between the House and Senate bills:
  • The House would require employers to provide coverage; the Senate would not.
  • The House would pay for the coverage expansion by raising taxes on upper-income earners; the Senate would use a variety of taxes and fees, including a levy on high-cost insurance plans.
  • The House plan would cost about $1.2 trillion over 10 years; the Senate version would cost under $900 billion.
Sigh, I guess that I need to keep my senators on speed dial. In the words of Yogi Berra, "It ain't over till it's over."

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Health Care Reform: One Step Closer to Reality

My favorite Dickens' novel, A Tale of Two Cities, begins with the line, "It was the best of times; it was the worst of times..." It's a seemingly contradictory statement, but I think that Dickens got it right. Darkness and light, good and evil, joy and sadness, everything comes in pairs. Thus it is that landmark health care legislation passed in the Democratic controlled House on Saturday night, legislation that proposes to provide health care coverage for 96% of Americans; however, women who are receiving a federal subsidy to aid in securing insurance under a private plan will be denied coverage for abortions.

The vote in favor of the health care legislation was close, 220 to 215, with one lone Republican, Rep. Joseph Cao (Louisiana) joining 219 Democrats in favor of the legislation, with 176 Republicans and 39 Democrats opposed. The vote on restricting access to a legal abortion for certain individuals and small groups was passed by a vote of 240 to 194.

However, as I read the news about the House vote, I am nonetheless encouraged by the overall victory, even though it was by a slim margin. The House's vote was historic, approving the broadest overhaul of US health care in 50 years and providing President Obama with a significant victory on his top domestic priority. To all the naysayers who said that he couldn't do it, I say a very adult, "Na, na, na, na, na!"

I am reminded why I voted for President Obama. He has the patience and tenacity that most of us lack. This was a hard fought battle, not at all an easy victory. The Senate will also be a difficult vote and I expect the victory to be by a narrow margin but I do expect there to be a victory.

Following is a summary of the key provisions of the legislation passed by the House:
1. Requires most Americans to carry health insurance;
2. Provides federal subsidies to those who cannot otherwise afford health insurance;
3. Requires large companies to offer coverage to their employees;
4. Imposes penalties on consumers and employers who do not comply with the government's mandates regarding coverage;
5. Prohibits insurers from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions;
6. Prohibits insurers from charging higher premiums on the basis of gender or medical history;
7. Removes exemptions from federal anti-trust restrictions on price fixing and market allocation that have been held by the insurance industry; and
8. Creates a federally regulated marketplace where consumers may shop for insurance and allows the government to sell health insurance.

My personal favorite is #7. It means that the insurance companies will have to be competitive in attracting consumers. This should make everyone happy who believes in free market enterprise.

What's missing from this legislation is a robust public option; what's left of the public option has been watered down considerably. It also does nothing to alter health insurance as a for profit industry. I don't believe that this legislation is what is needed to provided health care to all. My dream is a single payer, not for profit, health care system. In the midst of celebrating this step forward, I wonder if perhaps now is the time to fight for more meaningful reform. However, I can't help but think of the protesters and elected officials shouting about socialism and I wonder if perhaps I expect too much, and that this is an incremental step towards broader reform. The best articulation that I've read on the weakness of the passed legislation is by Rep. Dennis Kucinich, who explains why he didn't vote for the bill. He's either got chutzpah or he's an idealistic dreamer, or maybe he's both.

According to news reports, Speaker Nancy Pelosi compared the passage of the health care legislation in the House to the passage of Social Security in 1935 and Medicare 30 years later. This is huge step forward and I like to think that all of our telephone calls and emails made a difference. However, there's no time to rest. The Senate has to pass this legislation before a final version ends up on the President's desk, awaiting his signature. The good news is, you only have two state senators to contact.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Disturbing Image: Assault as a Spectator Sport

Teach your children well,
Their father's hell did slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams
The one they picked, the one you'll know by.--Graham Nash

William Golding wrote a novel called Lord of the Flies (LOTF) in which a group of English schoolboys being evacuated from home to escape an unnamed war crash land on an island. With all the adults killed in the crash, the boys must fend for themselves. Control of the group descends into a power struggle between Ralph who represents order and the better parts of civilization, and Jack who represents anarchy and our base desires run amok. I thought about LOTF today when I heard a horrifying story on the evening news.

In Richmond, CA, a young girl, age 15, left her homecoming dance at 9:30 pm to go home. She never got home; instead she was gang raped on the school grounds. According to the police, as many as four to seven people assaulted the victim while a dozen or more watched. Some of the spectators took pictures. No one called 911. The young woman was found after someone who wasn't present at the ongoing assault overheard people talking about what was going on and called the police. They found her severely beaten and semi-conscious, her injuries so severe that she was airlifted via helicopter to the hospital. The police report that the attack lasted more than two hours. So far there have been two arrests, a 19-year-old ex-student and a 15-year-old student at the high school.

Like most people, I am horrified by the actions of the perpetrators who physically assaulted this young woman, but I'm perhaps more disturbed by the spectators who watched, commented, and took pictures as if witnessing some carnival side show. The perpetrators, once apprehended, will suffer the consequences of their actions, but it is not likely that anyone who "merely" observed will be punished. According to legal experts offering an analysis of the events, there is no affirmative duty under California law to undertake being a good Samaritan.

It's easy enough to shake our heads and ponder what has become of our young people; however, I think a better question is what have we taught our young people?

The message that we communicate to our youth is muddled and hypocritical. We give lip service to values--love thy neighbor, be truthful, be responsible--but our actions are totally disconnected from those values. Dishonesty reaps rewards until you get caught, then you may go to prison but when you get out, you go on the speaker's circuit and/or write a bestseller about how you managed to be a cheat for so long. The homeless, the poor, those who speak with a foreign accent, aren't our neighbors and we don't have to love them. Hell, we don't even want them in our neighborhood. Rehabilitation has nothing to do with our prison system; it's all about vengeance. Much of the opposition to a public option in the health care plan rests on the ideology that we have no responsibility to ensure access to health care for all who live within our borders.

The underlying theme among those who are opposed to health care reform is a belief that some people are undeserving of health care. Topping the list are illegal immigrants. Elected officials demanded and received assurances that no health care reform program would include providing care to illegal immigrants: Love your neighbor as you love yourself unless your neighbor is an illegal immigrant in which case they're on their own. There is also an overt concern with allegedly undeserving poor people getting health care at the expense of the rest of the hard working people otherwise known as, I am not my brother's keeper if I don't find him worthy of help.

We are engaged in a struggle for the soul of this country. This isn't a battle in which you can afford to be neutral, playing the role of spectator like those young people who stood on the sidelines watching and doing nothing. Our youth are us, stripped of the veneers of polite society. If we give them no sense of real values, of ethics that aren't situational, of a belief in the collective responsibility of us all to be our neighbor's keeper, then what can we expect except that they will become like LOTF's Jack, an amoral wild child without conscience, relentlessly selfish and cruel, willing not only to perpetrate violence but to stand idly by as if the brutalization of another human being is a spectator sport.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Act Today to Support Health Care Reform

Want to do something about health care reform? Pick up the phone and make a call to Congress today. There is power in numbers.

I just made today's 44,322nd health reform call to Congress. Help us get to 100,000: Call Congress today! It will take you less than ten minutes to click the preceding link, get the appropriate phone numbers, and make the calls. If you are not part of the solution you have only yourself to blame when the problem persists.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Ballon Boy Update

Since my post last night, it appears that the authorities have determined that it was all a hoax. Once the balloon landed and they were able to examine it up close, based on the materials of which it was constructed, experts determined that it was impossible for the balloon to have carried Falcon aloft.

Why did the parents concoct this farce? The local sheriff surmises that it was "a publicity stunt done with the hopes of marketing themselves or better marketing themselves for a reality television show at some point in the future." People really are crazy.

There's Crazy and There's Damn Crazy

I was listening to my favorite country music station this morning when I heard a tune by Billy Currington, People Are Crazy. I like the simplicity of the chorus: "God is great; beer is good; and people are crazy." The crazy people have definitely been highly visible this week; it makes me wish that I drank beer.

Another Reason Not to Shop at Walmart
Three years ago, Heather Ellis and her cousin went shopping at a Walmart in Kennett, Missouri. Among the reasons I vowed to never set foot in another Walmart was that even when a store was packed, only two or three of the 20 checkout lanes would be open. Heather, an enterprising college student, and her cousin found themselves facing long lines, so each of them got in a separate line. Her cousin's line moved faster and Heather joined him. The checkout person accused Heather of cutting in line. The manager was called, Heather exchanged words with the manager and refused to leave the store. The police were called and things went from bad to worse. Heather was eventually charged with disturbing the peace, resisting arrest and two counts of assaulting a police officer. If convicted, she faces 15 years in prison.

Since the incident, Heather has been public in her protest that the charges against her are unwarranted, but I'm not interested in arguing the merit of the charges. What caught my eye is that it appears that the KKK does not approve of Ms. Ellis' public protest against the charges against her and have offered her a friendly warning to cease and desist via cards delivered by a helpful local police officer stating, "You've just been paid a social visit by the Ku Klux Klan; the next visit will not be social." It seems to me that "social visit" and "KKK" just don't belong in the same sentence. Personally, I'm boycotting Walmart and although Walmart has not acknowledged the impact of the loss of my patronage, I'm certain that I am missed. People are crazy.

Up, Up, and Away in My Beautiful Balloon
My sister suspected that it was a hoax from the start. She thought that the likelihood of six-year-old Falcon Heene being in that balloon was a variation on the boy who cried wolf. I had my doubts when it was revealed that the only confirmation of Falcon's being the balloon boy came from his slightly older brother. Why is it that adults don't recognize that more than half of the eight and under set still believe in bunnies carrying eggs in baskets and at least one out of five has seen Santa Claus come down and go back up the chimney? They are not reliable witnesses to anything.

Nonetheless, the entire nation, courtesy of the omnipresent media, was caught up in watching the frantic pursuit by land and by air of a helium filled, saucer shaped balloon, covered in aluminum foil, and allegedly carrying little Falcon off to Oz. The sigh of relief breathed when Falcon was discovered in the attic over the garage hiding in a box was quickly followed up by mutterings about it all being a hoax.

The hoax theory gained momentum when the Heene family was interviewed on CNN. Papa Heene asked Falcon why he hid for so long. Falcon responded, "You said we did this for a show." Kids do say the darnedest things. The headlines on Saturday proclaimed that the local sheriff plans to charge Papa and/or Mama Heene with something; he's consulting with the DA to see what's the strongest charge that is likely to stick. So far it appears that any applicable charges would be misdemeanors.

Maybe it's just me, but if you're going to perpetrate a hoax, you really should get a better partner in crime than a six-year -old. People are crazy.

But What About the Children?
I respect people who represent the interest of children, and it really pains me to question the sincerity of Keith Bardwell, a white Louisiana justice of the peace in his efforts to protect the future progeny of interracial couples. For the last 2 1/2 years, Mr. Bardwell has refused to marry any interracial couples that request that he perform the ceremony. By his count, there have only been four couples who he has had to turn down. I can't help but wonder if perhaps no more have approached him because they are familiar with his policy.

According to Justice Bardwell, whenever a couple contacts his office seeking marriage, he inquires if they are an interracial couple. If they answer affirmatively, then he explains that he can't marry them. Bardwell is acting out of humanitarian concerns for the children that such marriages may produce.

"There is a problem with both groups accepting a child from such a marriage," Bardwell said. "I think those children suffer and I won't help put them through it."

Bardwell is not a racist. How do I know this? Because he stated in an interview, "I'm not a racist. I just don't believe in mixing the races that way, I have piles and piles of black friends. They come to my home, I marry them, they use my bathroom. I treat them just like everyone else."

I don't know where Bardwell stores his piles of black friends, but perhaps he should ask some of them to explain that a rather significant element of racism is a belief that the races shouldn't mix. If there is anyone who is reading this who is tempted to leave me a comment favoring Bardwell's concern for the children produced from mixed race marriages, don't. If you do, I won't be nice; I will hurt your feelings and you won't be happy.

Now that Bardwell's manipulation of the law to suit his own world view has been revealed, the ACLU and other civil rights organizations are calling for his dismissal. Quite a few of the commenters on the news boards appear to believe that Bardwell is within his rights because he is entitled to his opinion. Bull, he's an officer of the court and his opinion isn't worth crap; his job is to uphold the law. The 1967 Supreme Court decision in Loving v. the State of Virginia specifically prohibits imposing any restrictions on marriage based on the race of the parties. As officers of the court, judges, justices, magistrates, and lawyers do not get to choose which laws we enforce and which ones we don't. We certainly don't get to act contrary to the law and substitute our personal judgment.

Mr. Bardwell's own words identify him as a bigot and his position of power over people's lives certainly elevates him to the status of racist. Some people aren't just crazy; they're damn crazy.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Trying to Live a Green Life

Today is Blog Action Day and the topic is climate change. My thanks to Alan over at Roberts Roost for inspiring me to participate. The way it works is that bloggers all around the world write on the same issue for a day.

I think of myself as environmentally aware; I recycle and try to minimize my carbon footprint. However, I'm not doing as well as I thought. According to the carbon calculator on The Nature Conservancy (TNC) site, I generate 26 tons of carbon dioxide annually; the national average for an individual in the U. S. is 27 tons; the world average per individual is 5.5 tons.

There are many carbon calculators online that provide you with a ballpark figure of your carbon footprint (all the greenhouse gasses you emit or that are are emitted on your behalf). The Mother Nature Network has identified the top 15 carbon calculators, just click here. I selected TNC because it also offers concrete actions that you can take to offset your carbon footprint.

My biggest use is energy consumption in my home. I've replaced some lights with energy efficient bulbs but not all. I plan to remedy that this weekend. I do set my thermostat low in the winter; I don't mind being a little cool, but I confess that during the summer, I blast the a/c. Next summer, I'm going to set the thermostat higher.

My city provides us with recycling bins and I need to use mine consistently. There are some things that I have already done that lessen my carbon footprint. I've gone paperless; I pay all my bills electronically and I do all of my banking online; my paycheck is on automatic deposit. I send e-cards for birthdays, anniversaries, congratulations, etc. I buy locally as much as possible; my favorite place to shop is the state farmer's market which happens to be located in my city. I try to plan my errands so that I can do them on my way home from work rather than make a lot of repeated little trips. When I go to the grocery store, I take my own canvas bags. They are much stronger than plastic and reusable.

Participating in Blog Action Day: Climate Change has made me seriously evaluate my individual efforts to combat global warming and to live green. I know that I can do more. I encourage each of you to do as much as you can; the more that we learn, the more effective we can be in combating climate change. There is a wealth of available information just a mouse click away.

My great nephew is 9 1/2 months old. He's the joy of my life. I want him to have a world where he can run and play outdoors the way that I did many years ago. I don't want him to have to buy his water in plastic bottles. I want his sky to be blue, his earth green, and his water drinkable. I see my efforts to do my part to protect the earth as a sacred trust owed to the generations that follow.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Anti-Obama Folks Are At It Again

I really have to stop reading comments on the Net. Generally the criticism Of President Obama's selection for the Nobel Peace Prize goes something like this: he was only in office for 11 days when the nominations were made; he hasn't brought about peace any where; he hasn't done any thing; he's the sorriest president ever; he needs to be thrown out of office; he should give it back; etc. Allegedly, there is a petition circulating via the Net calling upon the selection committee to revoke the award. I didn't seek it out; I really don't want my head to explode. Following is my general response to all of this anti-Obama claptrap. I don't recall there being this much hate when Yasser Arafat was a recipient.

There is no prerequisite that a Nobel Peace Prize recipient must be a president of a country so Obama's time in office isn't relevant. Indeed, most of the recipients are not presidents of any country. He's been a voice publicly calling for diplomacy and peaceful resolution of conflict since he began his campaign for president more than two years ago. The award is not for being president, it is for advocating for the use of diplomatic means to settle disputes and for advocacy on behalf of engendering peaceful interactions among nations. All past members have not necessarily been successful at accomplishing their goals; many have failed. President Woodrow Wilson received the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to start the League of Nations which ended up being a dismal failure, primarily due to the United States refusal to be bound by the tenets of the League. The current United Nations evolved out of the ash heap of residual ideals left from Wilson's efforts.

I'm not interested in debating whether people share my belief that Obama does deserve the honor bestowed upon him. I know that you can't change my mind and I doubt that I can change anyone's mind who doesn't agree with me. However, I do think that the discussion needs to be framed in relevant facts.

In addition, the Nobel Peace Prize has never been awarded based on world consensus. The committee has never in the past called up the U.S. and asked us how we feel about a proposed selection. It's sheer arrogance to believe that Americans should be able to dictate how the selection is made. The nominees do not nominate themselves and they don't campaign to win. The nominees are not even made aware of their nomination until the winner is announced.

President Obama did not seek this honor. I've read comments on other sites where people have taken him to task for not refusing to accept the award. What an insult to the selection committee and the entire process for him to do so! He respectfully and with humility thanked the committee. To do otherwise would contradict all precedent.

Finally, if we examine past recipients, this isn't a new thing to select a winner based on that person's philosophical ideology, a person who has not brought about peace or brokered a treaty. Desmond Tutu and Mother Teresa come to mind. Tutu was recognized for his opposition to apartheid, his strong support of human rights and his message of reconciliation in South Africa. He has never ruled a country or held a political office. Mother Teresa was recognized for her leadership and self-sacrifice in her humanitarian efforts to attend to the needs of those living in poverty. Again, she was not a ruler or elected to public office. I don't note this to disparage the selection of Tutu or Mother Teresa. To the contrary, I believe that both were deserving based on their commitment to offering a consistent message regarding our obligations to humankind, especially those who have the least of any of us. Their ideological beliefs motivated their actions in actively advocating for change to ensure advancement in human rights. However, Tutu didn't eliminate apartheid nor did Mother Theresa eliminate poverty.

If you are interested in reading a history of the awarding of the Nobel Peace prize there is a very informative article online, The History of the Nobel Peace Prize, 1901-2000, that provides some insight as to the criteria for selection.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Obama, the Nobel Peace Prize, and Hope

My favorite time of the morning are those early hours right after sunrise. I wake up, go to the bathroom, then climb back in bed for a couple (okay more like three) more hours of sleep Friends and family know not to telephone me before 9:00 a.m. (except my mother but she had special privileges). So when the phone rang this morning and I opened one eye and saw that it was 8:10 a.m., I did not have pleasant thoughts. However, as I have a vivid imagination, I couldn't simply ignore the ringing phone as it could have been some major catastrophe like my sister calling to warn me of an impeding tornado heading my way.

"Hello."

With way too much cheer for 8:10 a.m. my brother-in-law's voice came through the phone line loud and perky, "Wake up sleepyhead, Obama won the Nobel Peace prize!"

I mumbled a response and then realized that I could communicate more efficiently if I removed my mouth guard (I grid my teeth in my sleep) and took of my C-PAP sleep mask (sleep apnea). "Yeah, I know. I was up late and heard it on the news about 2:00 a.m. Funny, I thought about sharing the news with you but I figured you were asleep."

Bob's enthusiasm was contagious and once I had managed to open both eyes at the same time, I shared in his delight. I also shared his disgust that already Limbaugh, Beck, and Steele were busy disparaging President Obama's selection . Sadly, their comments reflect the underlying qualities that have come to characterize the image of Americans in the world during the last eight years--arrogance and ignorance.

As I've read blogs and news stories on the Net, it's not just Obama's detractors who have criticised his selection by the Nobel Peace prize committee. His supporters have also expressed concern that as a recipient, there is more pressure on him to perform miracles.

I've never confused Obama with Jesus Christ. However, he is a man who does not fold under pressure. He did the unthinkable less than a year ago; he played the game his way and he won the election. All throughout his campaign he was under attack--accused of being a socialist, decried as unqualified, alleged to not be a U.S. citizen, labeled as a traitor with a secret agenda to sell America out to Islam. His detractors began their campaign long before he was elected to office, but in spite of or perhaps because of their vitriolic attacks, he won decisively. I still recall my shock when the election was called by 11:00 p.m. est.

Admittedly, he does not have a lengthy track record of being an advocate for peace, nor can he point to a treaty that he has brokered. Our own country continues to be embroiled in the wars that he inherited from the Bush administration. So why did the committee select him for the Nobel Peace prize?

I think it is because he represents hope. This award is an affirmation that the rest of the world is beginning to again view America as a positive force, a leader among nations. The prize is not Obama's alone; it is an award to this country for once again turning towards a path of leadership in adhering to ethical principles and fostering diplomatic resolutions to our differences.

There were many policies espoused by the Bush administration that troubled me and among them was the emphasis on tough talk and displays of might that only served to escalate conflict. A president who referred to other nations as evildoers and challenges them to "bring it on," doesn't bode well for conflict resolution.

The entire world has a vested interest in our path. As much as some Americans deny it, the reality is that the advancements in travel and communication have moved us from a collection of individual nations to a world community. Our weapons have gotten more powerful but so have the weapons of everyone else. When we blow the world to smithereens, there will be no victory, no dancing in the streets for anyone. There is no logic in cheering for Obama's failure, and those who do so fail to recognize that if his vision fails, we all fail. We should all be praying for his success, instead of taking pleasure in painting him as the devil incarnate.

I am pleased and proud that President Obama's vision of a better world has been so publicly recognized with the awarding of the Nobel Peace prize. The myth goes that after Pandora opened the box and let out all the ills of the world, she was overcome with the enormity of what she had done and filled with despair, until there was a sound of one final creature exiting that box and her name was Hope.

Fire and Ice
by Robert Frost

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
1920

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Racism & Prejudice: Two sides of the same coin

I appreciate every comment that I receive and every now and then, one of your comments gives me new fodder for a blog entry. A long time friend (we were teachers together and left the high school where we taught in the same year) left a comment that reflects how well he knows me.

He blogs under the pen name jack-of-all-thumbs (Jack). I began responding to his comment via email but then I got carried away and my email became longer and longer, and I thought, why waste my wisdom on an email when I have the makings of a blog entry!

I think that there are inherent limitations in communicating without the benefit of vocal expression, body language, and tone of voice. I am not engulfed in anger, I still love a good laugh. I haven't buried my off kilter sense of humor but I am grateful for the concern that some of you have expressed for my emotional well being.

I simply wanted to express that I have accepted that anger is a normal response to racism and that I don't apologize for being pissed off royally at times. I actually think that this is much healthier than feeling guilty after the fact because I may have offended someone who expressed some variation of bigotry and I chastised them for it.

Jack and I have had some pretty deep conversations over the years, so I always take his observations seriously. In a discussion that we had about racism many years ago, I do recall stating that I didn't believe that black people could be labeled as racists. However, I don't think that I clearly explained that it isn't because I think that we are genetically incapable of racism. I really was speaking specifically in terms of black and white interactions in the United States, and my comments never reflected any belief in the moral superiority of black people.

During the civil rights movement, leaders of the movement worked to define the issues. I don't recall who proposed it first, but racism became defined as being not only about prejudice or bigotry, but about power. I still believe that racism has a power element that's missing from bigotry or prejudice.

Definitions of racism vary somewhat, but when I checked online, all the definitions had as a common element that racism involves classifying people based on physical characteristics such as skin color and believing in the superiority of one's own racial group over other groups.

They rarely mention power, but I would argue that in this country, black people responded to racism with anger and sometimes prejudice, but that it has never been a common thread of thought among black people to think that white people were inferior. Indeed, the focus of civil rights has been about attaining equality. There is no logic in demanding equality from a group that you believe to be inferior to yourself.

I also think that the subtext to a demand for equality is that the group with whom you desire equality holds the power to block you from achieving that equality. To me this is more than semantics, but I do take full responsibility for never fully explaining why I made the distinction in the first place. I still think that racism is about power and goes beyond prejudice in its ability to impact the lives of victims of racism.

No matter how prejudiced or bigoted an ethnic or racial minority group in this country may be, their ability to impact the majority group is negligible. We cannot block their access to jobs, to economic security or anything of significance. Traditionally, black Americans have been without power to affect the political, social, or economic structure of the US. That's why I make a distinction between racism and prejudice. I know that all people are capable of prejudice, it is certainly not limited to any one group. I also accept as valid that racism is not a uniquely American practice. I think that some of the power struggles in Africa can be ascribed to racism. Racism was a powerful force in the civil war in Bosnia.

I dislike prejudice but I don't waste my time addressing prejudice. I have no desire to interact with people who don't want to interact with me. I address racism because of the power element. If I move into your neighborhood, you don't have to like it. You can complain about it to your neighbors and refuse to speak to me; I'll survive. But when you have the ability to implement and maintain laws and/or policies that prevent me from moving into that neighborhood or the power to drive me out after I move in, then it becomes my concern. The first behavior is prejudice; the second is racism.

I've never intended to suggest that only white people are prejudiced or bigots. When I say that black people have played the cards that we were dealt I mean quite simply that we have reacted to the post-Reconstruction Jim Crow laws that ushered in racism as an acceptable part of the laws of this country.

My analysis is that the birth of modern racism happened after the civil war. I think that before the war, during slavery, the focus was on maintaining an economical work force. I think that records support that while slaves were regarded as lesser persons than whites, that just as a sensible farmer wouldn't abuse his livestock, that for the most part, the focus wasn't on abuse of black people, but on maintaining control of the large population of slaves in the South. Punishment was used as a method of maintaining control.

Prior to the civil war, the southern states had various laws referred to as Black Codes that were designed to maintain control over the slave population through fear and intimidation. I'm not suggesting that they were benign or not that bad, but their primary purpose was not about denying rights to black people; it was about controlling the slaves to maintain a free labor force. The structure of the society was based on the notion that slaves had no rights; there was no need to deny them what they did not have. (Note that when the civil war ended, the defeated southern states passed a new crop of Black Codes designed to deny rights of citizenship to the freed slave population. )

Reconstruction spurred a growing concern among whites that the newly freed slaves might prove a threat to the social order. Blacks were seeking to become landowners, vote and run for political office, and demanding full citizenship rights. Towards the end of the 19th century, the response was the start of the passage of Jim Crow laws designed to specifically corral us into lives of second class citizenship. The racial prejudice that was the foundation of slavery, that made bondage of other human beings acceptable to the majority, morphed into racism--the systematic, legalized oppression of a people based on skin color. The case of Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896 marked recognition by the highest court of the land of the ultimate in Jim Crow law, that segregation was legal and acceptable; separate but equal remained the cornerstone of legalized discrimination until Brown v. the Topeka Board of Education overturned Plessy in 1954. Jim Crow laws were the original race card, and we've been playing with that deck ever since.

I thank my old friend for his thoughtful comment and for making me take the time to think about the basis for my beliefs. I think that I'm done with writing about race for a bit. I take to heart Jack's advice that I shouldn't loose touch with my fun side. I think that I shall indulge in a bit of frivolity in my next post and write about my love life.

Wearing My Anger Like Armor

My friend Phyllis called just as I was coming into my home this evening.

"Hi Phyllis." (I love caller ID)

"Sheria, when did you start writing for Newsweek?"

"Huh?"

Phyllis and I have known each other for 20 years, and she enjoys confusing me. She proceeded to read excerpts from an essay in Newsweek entitled "Play the Race Card," that wasn't written by me but by a black female author by the name of Raina Kelley.

I wish that I had written the article because then I would have been published in Newsweek. Phyllis, who happens to be white, is a really close friend and I shared with her that one of my regular readers characterized me as an angry black woman. He didn't offer it as a criticism, merely an observation. Phyllis and I decided that he was wrong, because I'm Mother Teresa compared to a truly angry black woman.

However, I may have to backtrack on that. I have a subscription to Newsweek, thanks to Phyllis and her husband Steve who have been renewing my subscription every Christmas for about 20 years. Naturally, when I got off the phone with Phyllis, I read the article that she called me about and totally concurred that it was well written and thought provoking. I decided to find the article online and link to it on my Facebook page.

I put in the author's name and the title of the article as search terms and came across a link with the title, "Nigger Raina Kelley Says Play Da Race Card." Needless to say, I was a bit intrigued, so I followed the link and landed at a Word Press blog entitled The Black Plague with the subtitle, "Not a white supremacist, but a white realist." It is not about the bubonic plague.

I read about a dozen entries, all of which featured the word "nigger" in the title. A lot of the commenters used similar language. His or her blogroll includes blogs of similar merit. The author uses the pen name, nigga mortis. Clever.

When I was younger and more innocent, I would have been hurt and wounded by such hatefulness, but although I felt some hurt, my primary emotion was anger. If I were able to confront the author of this piece of trash, I think that I could do a credible impression of an angry black woman and open up a can of whup ass on this ignorant, lowlife excuse for a human being.

As I was contemplating going up beside his or her head, it dawned on me that I should embrace my status as an angry black woman. My righteous anger is my armor. It makes me sharp and protects my soul from the destructive forces of ignorance and racism. You see, I have this notion that I should be able to live my life without repeatedly encountering hateful, racist nonsense.

People who really know me, understand that I never direct that anger at anyone who doesn't deserve it. I don't have a generalized anger towards all white people. My friends know and understand this.

Black people have never been the dealers. we don't play the race card; we play the hand we were dealt. I know that this bothers some of you and that you can't accept it. You want the world to be all Kumbayaish and you desperately want to believe that we have all overcome the nasty little evil of racism. It ain't so; it just ain't so.

Sometimes, I forget that, especially when I'm communicating with my friends who are a very diverse group people. They don't buy into any of this racist nonsense, but invariably, something will pull me up short and I have to look the reality of racism right in the eyes. That's when I need my anger; it keeps me safe and strong.

A few days ago I wrote about feeling weary and hopeless about the racism that continues to work its way into the fabric of American culture. I have my moments of weakness. Dealing with this crap on a regular basis takes a lot out of you. But I only wallow in despair momentarily, I always get back up and continue forward because I am an angry black woman and I will not be broken.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Revenge Is A Dish Best Served Cold

My friend Mark Olmsted, who introduced me to the Huffington Post (HP), is now a blogger for HP and a darned good one. If you haven't done so already, go to HP and check out Mark's posts.

Generally when I read anything that Mark writes, I find myself nodding my head and going, "Yes, yes, yes!" However, on occasion, I do find myself in disagreement with his point of view, but our friendship manages to survive.

His most recent post, What's It Going to Take, Barack? A Screed, is everything that I've come to expect from Mark's writing--cohesive, focused, and provocative, but I'm not feeling him on his point of view. It's difficult to accurately summarize Mark's argument in a sentence or two. He is never simplistic and I don't want to misrepresent his views; please read his post for yourself.

I read his post as suggesting that it's time for Obama to take the gloves off and cease his efforts at a bipartisan approach. I don't agree and lay out my thoughts below.

I think that Obama is fighting in the best way that he can; he's the president of the United States, not Mike Tyson. If he loses his cool, comes out swinging, he'll play into the hands of his attackers by becoming the poster child for the angry black man. I think that the president understands that the only thing that frightens white America more than an angry black man is an intelligent black man and he is playing to his strengths.

His detractors continually emphasize that he is dangerous, a secret Muslim sympathizer run amok, a black man who hates the Constitution. What he wisely has chosen not to do is feed those fires by behaving in a manner that allows his attackers to say, "See, we told you he was a loose cannon." It's not the wingnut elected officials that are publicly leading the "Obama is the progeny of Hitler and Mussolini" contingency; it's Don and Ethel from small minded America. Those of us who support Obama, who support his policies, we are the ones who can get into the fray and take on the fight.

Obama has to stay above this. He can't take on Beck or Limbaugh. By even addressing their attacks, he gives them more credibility than they deserve. Rahm can't do it either. The labeling of Obama as a Nazi, the accusations of reverse racism, can't be given any credibility by his administration. To address them directly, to argue that they have no merit, gives them a semblance of merit.

I don't think it's accurate to characterize Obama as wanting to be liked. If the man was shallow enough to be in this because he wants adulation, he certainly wouldn't have chosen to seek the presidency. There has not been a president who wasn't despised by some of the people at all times. It's not about placating people, it's about Obama remembering what the nut cases do not--he's the president of all the people, even the rabid crazies.

There is a serious rift in this country that has the potential to destroy us. Obama's focus is on bridging the rift and moving forward with a policy agenda in the face of opposition. Please don't misread Obama maintaining his cool with being fearful or indecisive. He ran his campaign with the same sense of calm control. Some of his followers wanted him to take a more aggressive stand with his detractors. He won doing it his way. Obama doesn't need to call us to Washington. The tea party folks organized themselves; we can do the same thing.

Confession: I stole the title of this post from the Klingons.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Exploding the Dream Deferred

I have a bone deep weariness that I can't quite shake. No doubt some of my mood arises from commemorating the one-year anniversary of my mother's death this past Tuesday. My father came up for a visit. We spent Tuesday at my sister's home with her husband Bob and their grandson, Donovan. He's not quite nine months old and a total delight. We spoke with my brother and his family via telephone. They live in Charlotte.

However, I am also weary of the unrelenting attacks on President Obama. The attacks go beyond disagreement with his policies; they are personal and vicious. The comments on a variety of Internet news stories are getting worse. The racism isn't at all subtle. The comment inspiring story doesn't even have to be about race or Obama for some commenter to start a thread about how shiftless, no good, etc. black people are and how we should all leave the country. The dittohead chorus immediately begins to add three part harmony. I don't want to read the hateful words, but I know that they are there whether I read them or not. Besides, ignorance isn't bliss; it's dangerous. It's the unknown threat that I fear the most.

Former President Jimmy Carter's assessment that racism fuels the anti-Obama fervor was a bold and honest statement. I've read Carter's books about his life growing up in Georgia; he truly understands racism. He knows of what he speaks.

I'm glad that Carter spoke out and I fully appreciate his doing so, but I'm dismayed that it took Carter stating the obvious for the major media to pick up the story that has been playing out in black media for months--racism in America is not dead. We have had some pretty sorry presidents during my life time but I have never seen such unrelenting hatred directed at any of them; attacks on their policies, yes, but not assertions that they should be killed offered up by a minister!

Years ago, when I was a teenager, someone in the civil rights movement leadership (can't remember his name) made a speech at a rally that I attended in which he directly addressed "our white brothers and sisters" who were a part of the movement, and charged them with the task of calling other white people out on their racists beliefs. He said only when whites challenge the racism of other whites is the challenge heard, because when black people use the term racism, the immediate reaction is to dismiss the charge as being imagined abuse because of black people's hypersensitivity about race. Nowadays, we are accused of playing the race card, but that term wasn't in use forty years ago.That's why I'm glad that Jimmy Carter has spoken up. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, radio personalities like Tom Joyner and Michael Baisden, and pretty much any and all public voices in the black community have been calling the attacks on Obama what they are--overt racism. Carter's speaking out certainly gladdens me because it adds legitimacy to the claims of racism.

However, it still insults and pisses me off that it takes a white man to make people sit up and take notice of the racism that is as obvious as the nose on my face. It also saddens and disgusts me that far too many people don't recognize that the need for white confirmation of what black people have been telling white people for generations is in and of itself a manifestation of racism.

It's not just good ole boys wearing sheets that propagate racism; it's just as likely to be elected officials, soccer moms, or the sales clerk at the convenience mart. I'm not feeling very nice or forgiving any more when it comes to racism. I want neighbors, and co-workers, and family members to start calling each other out on their racist beliefs. I'm tired of a lifetime of not only being the object of racism but also being expected to explain to white people what the problem is over and over again, and possibly help them see the error of their racist ways.

I never tolerate anyone expressing bigotry in my presence. If a black friend characterizes all Hispanics as dirty or all whites as evil, I don't just look away in embarrassment. When I hear homophobic talk in any group which I'm a part of, I speak out, even if it means that I'm not going to be popular with that crowd any more.

Carter did the right thing but in my mind its a great social tragedy that he gets so much praise for doing what should be done. What it says about the rest of this country leaves a really foul taste in my mouth. Does anyone have to tell us that it's child abuse if you throw a baby against a wall? It's a shame that Carter had to state the obvious and that the general public sees it as an astounding observation and if they then believe what Carter says, as a revelation.

In the 1960s, I watched southern law enforcement turn loose the dogs against civil rights protesters on the evening news, and I wondered why they hated us so much. I feel that black folks have been fighting the same battles against racism over and over again from generation to generation, and I, for one, am tired.

I'd like to have the luxury of not thinking about race. When my BFF Sarah and I were in Mexico four years ago, for the first time in my entire life, nothing happened to make me aware that my skin color was anything more than a color. At first I couldn't even define what was different, but after a few days I realized that when I went shopping, no one followed me to see if I was going to steal anything; sales people were actually anxious to wait on me instead of ignoring me in favor of a white customer, at the restaurants, service was always gracious. People assumed that I had a brain and no one asked me to serve them a drink, where the clean towels were, or marveled over how articulate I was. There was no place that we went that I had to wonder if my race had anything to do with how I was treated. It was an amazing experience and I resent that I had to leave my country to find it.

When I was 14, I learned to play the guitar. I cut peace signs out of contact paper and pasted them all over my guitar case. I believed that the world was changing and I really believed that one day we would all join hands and sing about peace, love, and unity. I admit that I've become cynical. I don't believe that I will ever know such a world in my life time. I don't think that Donovan, who is all of 8 1/2 months old will know it in his either. What's really sad is that I don't think that he will even have the luxury of dreaming of such a world.

I've buried the innocence of my youth and I can't resurrect it. All I feel is tired, continually disgusted, and sad because my rose colored glasses have been shattered beyond repair. Obama was my last hope, but this country isn't worthy of him and I truly fear that some hate filled ass is going to make an attempt on his life before his term ends. The yahoos may be just a loud minority, but where are the equally loud and very public countering voices?

Monday, September 7, 2009

Grits Are For Eating, Not Thinking

Is it just me, or has stupidity become fashionable among a lot of Americans? Have so many of us always been incapable of thinking our way out of a paper bag or is this something new? The persistence of people choosing to believe in misinformation and out right lies regarding the proposed health care reforms is bewildering enough, but WTF is it with the folks who have gone into hyper drive complaining about President Obama's plan to address schoolchildren about the importance of education?

The speech and some follow up classroom activities are scheduled for today (Tuesday) at noon. The President will make his speech at Wakefield High School in Northern Virginia. The speech will be broadcast to other schools via C-SPAN and the Internet, should they choose to participate. Some schools have elected not to participate and others have informed parents that they may have their children opt out of hearing the President's speech.

I don't know why I'm surprised, but the outcry against the president's proposed presentation to America's students left me momentarily speechless. Ronald Reagan and George H. Bush (GWB's dad) addressed the nation's school children without having to get prior parental clearance for the content of their speeches. However, it seems that the same grits-for-brains people, aka grits-brain, went into conniption fits because: "I don't think that government should be meddling in our children's lives;" "I don't think that socialism has any place in our schools;" and "Obama is trying to shove his socialist propaganda down our throats through our children;" (all comments read on the Internet). That last one gives me all sorts of interesting visual images.

The ever reliable YouTube has collected news broadcasts from around the nation in which parents express their concern that President Obama is attempting to brainwash their children. My favorite is a brief video in which one woman becomes tearful at the thought of her babies being exposed to the evil power of Obama. The video is at the end of this post.

The White House released the transcript of the speech yesterday (Monday). Let's see, the president plans to tell the students, there is "no excuse for talking back to your teacher, or cutting class, or dropping out of school. That's no excuse for not trying. Where you are right now doesn't have to determine where you'll end up. No one's written your destiny for you. Here in America, you write your own destiny. You make your own future."

He also mentions the importance of regular attendance, doing your homework, working hard, and washing your hands to avoid the flu. Radical stuff that may lead to more children staying in school and getting an education. Of course, a well educated populace might decrease the ranks of the grits-brain contingency, which explains their opposition to their children hearing the president's speech.

What I keep hearing from these folks goes something like this, "I have a right to my opinion. This is a free country. Mumble, mumble...First Amendment...Second Amendment...right to bare arms... (they tend to use the wrong term, substituting "bare" for "bear"). I concede that anyone is entitled to hold an opinion, no matter how stupid that opinion is. However, the rest of us are also entitled to express our opinion that your opinion is stupid.

All of these expressions of stupidity have led me to one conclusion, there are people in this country who have serious issues with having a black president. I've gone through all other possible explanations, and even serious grits-brain stupidity doesn't explain the utter idiocy that falls out of the mouths of these people. This actually gives me some comfort. President Obama won the election with solid support from a cross section of Americans, so I'm counting on that the "I am not a racist" grits-brain folks are a numerical minority who just happen to be very loud.

I suspect that these folks are motivated by fear. For generations they've believed that they were superior based on their status as white people. Then along comes this man that they label black, even though in reality he is just as much white as black. However, as they've pigeonholed him as black, then their superiority is a given. Except, this is one very intelligent man and that really throws a monkey wrench into everything that they've always believed about themselves. Unable to deal with this challenge to their reality, they have descended into a state of cognitive dissonance that has turned their brains to mush and voila, grits-brain.

The woman in this video is a perfect specimen of the grits-brain group.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

What If?

“It's an outrageous precedent to set, to have this kind of, I think, intensely partisan, politicized look-back at the prior administration.”-- former Vice President Dick Cheney

Let's suppose that Cheney is right--prior illegal acts, violations of international law and/or the Geneva Convention, violations of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA)--any and all offenses, including torture of prisoners, that take place under one administration are water under the bridge and off limits to scrutiny by subsequent administrations. Of course, we also have to ignore that these acts were illegal under our system of law when they were committed, and look beyond the previous administration's sanctions, tacit and/or explicit, of practices and policies that were violations of federal and international law. So what's the result of the application of the Cheney policy?

The lower ranked CIA officers, the ones busy inflicting physical and psychological torture on individuals who might be terrorists, get to say that they were just following orders. Of course, the higher up the chain of command that we go, the more that excuse doesn't fly, after all, someone had to give the orders. However, we don't want to make it so that no one wants to engage in illegal activities like torture, and according to the Cheney policy, that's exactly what will happen if Attorney General Eric Holder continues with a preliminary investigation into whether any CIA officers went beyond what they were told was legally permissible in interrogating detainees.

I read a comment posted somewhere in which the commenter said that innocent people weren't tortured, only evil bad terrorists. I've been looking for a provision in federal or international law that permits torture of evildoers. So far, I haven't found it.

Did you ever notice how we referred to the alleged terrorists as detainees, not prisoners? Maybe it's because the majority of these people had never been tried and convicted of any crimes; they were being held as suspected terrorists. We refused to call them prisoners of war, because as such, they were entitled to certain rights under the Geneva Convention. The Bush administration finally settled on enemy combatants, an essentially meaningless term that allowed the indefinite detaining of people without the benefit of trial under military, criminal, or civil law. Of course, if we had proof of their crimes, we wouldn't have needed to attempt to obtain confessions through the use of torture.

I can't live in former VP Cheney's world. His policy frightens me. It makes the law meaningless and powerless. It may sound corny, but I became a lawyer because I believe in the ideals of law. I recognize that those ideals are not always upheld; in fact, those ideals get trampled on a lot but they're still there, the beacon of justice shining in the night. The redemption of this country, our redemption as a people, lies in being unafraid to shine the light of justice into our dark corners and reveal our own failings. To do so, makes us strong; to fail to do so, to hide behind some smug notion that what happened in the Bush administration stays in the Bush administration demeans the very values that we so vociferously shout that we support. Mr. Cheney, you are so wrong.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Goodbye Senator Kennedy

It's 1:35 am here on the east coast and I'm sitting in front of my television. I was watching Craig Ferguson interview Eric Idle; it was a very humorous interview. However, CBS news just broke into the broadcast to announce the death of Senator Edward Kennedy. I don't have anything wise or pertinent to say about his passing; it just seems to me that the loss of such a statesman cannot be ignored.

The Kennedy family was the beacon of my youth. I was five when JFK was elected to office and eight years old when he was killed. I remember that Mother Theophane, the nun who was principal of my school cried as she told us of his assassination. I had never seen her cry before that day. My mother was crying when I came home from school. She had never let me see her cry before either.

When Bobby Kennedy was assassinated, I was 13. I had been enthused about his campaign,especially his vocal support of civil rights. He was young and forthright and I really believed that he could change the world. I was only 13 and still capable of believing in the impossible.

Ted Kennedy didn't have the immediately apparent charisma of his two brothers. The first significant attention that I recall him attracting followed his unfortunate accident that resulted in the death of a young woman. However, as I grew older, the Senator from Massachusetts impressed me more and more. He was a fierce champion of civil rights, access to a quality public education for all,and social programs to ensure that the needs of the most needy in our society were met, including access to health care.

His death saddens me. I think that his presence in the U.S. Senate will be sorely missed. His are big shoes to fill. May he rest in peace and may his family take comfort that his life was well spent in public service.

I looked for a song and settled on Bob Dylan's Knockin' on Heaven's Door. Dylan was the voice of an era when I was young, optimistic, and believed in heroes. Senator Kennedy was one of my heroes. (Hit the pause button on the music player before you hit play on the video.)

Knockin' on Heaven's Door
by Bob Dylan

Mama, take this badge off of me
I can't use it anymore.
It's gettin' dark, too dark to see
I feel I'm knockin' on heaven's door.

Chorus
Knock, knock, knockin' on heaven's door
Knock, knock, knockin' on heaven's door
Knock, knock, knockin' on heaven's door
Knock, knock, knockin' on heaven's door

Mama, put my guns in the ground
I can't shoot them anymore.
That long black cloud is comin' down
I feel I'm knockin' on heaven's door.

Repeat chorus

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

On the Mountain Top

A friend sent me a link today to a couple of videos by a singer-songwriter named Patty Griffin. I had not heard her before, but within a few bars of the first song, I knew that her music spoke to me. I listened to several of her songs (I love YouTube) and then sent my friend a thank you note.

How to describe her music? Patty Griffin is in a league with the best of the singer-songwriters. Her lyrics are intricate and yet accessible to the listener. She speaks uniquely, yet she speaks to any one of us who takes time to listen. Her voice is slightly weary and yet rich and nuanced. I'm in love.

I selected one song to share here. Griffin says that her inspiration came from Martin Luther King, Jr.'s speech, I've Been to the Mountain Top. I re-read that speech today and it moved me to tears. I think that is just as relevant to the issues confronting all of us today as it was 41 years ago. Dr. King made the speech the day before he was assassinated. The link above is to the entire speech; following is the final paragraph of that memorable speech.

Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

The lyrics are posted below the video. Please hit the pause button on the music player in the left column in order to hear this video.

Up To The Mountain
I went up to the mountain
Because you asked me to
Up over the clouds
To where the sky was blue
I could see all around me
Everywhere
I could see all around me
Everywhere

Sometimes I feel like
I've never been nothing but tired
And I'll be walking
Till the day I expire
Sometimes I lay down
No more can I do
But then I go on again
Because you ask me to

Some days I look down
Afraid I will fall
And though the sun shines
I see nothing at all
Then I hear your sweet voice, oh
Oh, come and then go, come and then go
Telling me softly
You love me so

The peaceful valley
Just over the mountain
The peaceful valley
Few come to know
I may never get there
Ever in this lifetime
But sooner or later
It's there I will go
Sooner or later
It's there I will go