Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Great Socialism Paranoia of the Right

A fellow blogger left an interesting comment on a post to The Swash Zone in which he offered an explanation as to why Americans are so quick to cry "socialism" when presented with any programs or policies that seek to provide to each according to her need. He cites one candidate's comments on a Tulsa City Council Questionnaire as indicating the core belief of those who see socialism in every social justice program or policy: 
I almost fanatically hate bullies and tyranny; I love individual liberty and the exercise of the individual human will. I am strongly opposed to any form of socialism, since all forms of socialism are based on force and the theoretical superiority of the group over the person. I strongly support the free market and the right of people to organize their own lives and make their own choices in their lives….All Government is based on force or the threat of force. The more government we have, the less liberty we enjoy. The less liberty we have, the less success we enjoy. Freedom just naturally produces success; that's what made America great. As the federal government tightens its coils around us, the nation begins to fail. 
The Tea Party is a bold manifestation of the underlying belief that individual liberties are of more significance than the good of all. The reality is that we do cede some of our individual liberties to government in order to promote a civil society in which the rights of the few are just as significant as the rights of the many. Perhaps it's time for the left to stop denying that socialism is an acceptable and even desirable element of a government by the people and for the people, if that government is to truly serve the interests of all of the people.

Social Contract theory as proposed by Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau has at its core a belief that individual liberties have to be tempered by government if we are to live in an ordered society where the basic rights of all are protected. I confess that I am Hobbesian in my beliefs. Humankind in its natural state without the controls of government is selfish and each person is focused on his/her own interests. In this state of nature, each person would have a right, or license, to everything in the world. Hobbes argues that leaving us to pursue our own individual interests would lead to a "war of all against all" and  lives that are "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." To prevent this perpetual state of war, men in the state of nature agree to a social contract and establish a civil society. (A good place to start if you are unfamiliar with social contract theory is with the Wikipedia article; it's not comprehensive but it provides a good intro.)

Where I part company with Hobbes is that he thought the most efficient government was to have an authoritarian monarchy to whom all ceded their natural rights for the sake of peace and protection. Hobbes was a true proponent of big and authoritative government. Locke proposed a more liberal monarchy and Rousseau advocated that government should be modeled on liberal republicanism (has nothing to to do with the Republican Party). I support a government that makes room for individual liberties but recognizes that those individual rights must be subsumed when they would result in the denial of basic rights to some individuals. 

The common good must exceed individual liberties. Over emphasis on individual liberties would result in the strong always being able to exploit the weak. Our government wasn't implemented to enforce the rule of the majority but to protect the rights of the minority. The Constitution that the right babbles on about incessantly has at its core the premise that the government's role is to uphold equal treatment of all under the law. Those founding fathers that Palin, Beck, and Limbaugh claim to know personally, didn't look to the Bible for guidance in determining the governing structure for this country but they did look to the work of Locke, Rousseau, and Hobbes. You can hear the echoes of their various philosophical treatises on the purpose and structure of government in the Declaration and the Constitution. 

This promotion of self benefits the individual and the common good be damned. It is a philosophy that supports that if people are hungry and without shelter it's because they are lazy. It's an ideology that concludes that people remain unemployed not because they can't find a job but because they would rather not work. It is a belief that concludes that welfare recipients, the homeless, the poor, have no one but themselves to blame for their lot and it's no concern of the rest of us to do anything to provide them with the necessities of life. It is a selfishness that supports denying access to health care to those who cannot afford to pay for it. We have become a nation of nasty and brutish people, and we revel in it.

We are also a nation of hypocrites. The very people who sing the praises of individual liberty and oppose programs designed to help the underclass, deriding such programs as entitlements, also firmly assert that this is a Christian nation founded upon Christian values.  What Christianity is there in the philosophy of every person for herself? What happened to the core Christian concept of being your sister's keeper? From what I know of Christianity, Jesus definitely had socialist leanings.

The next time someone accuses me of being a socialist, my response will be, "Yes I am and proud of it."

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

An Unholy Alliance: Health Care and Insurance Companies

I just read an interesting post about a new book by Wendell Potter, a former communications director for Humana and then CIGNA, two of the nation's largest health insurers. Potter's book has a very long title: Deadly Spin: An Insurance Company Insider Speaks Out on How Corporate PR Is Killing Health Care and Deceiving Americans.  I haven't read the book (I plan to do so) but I have read the transcript from Potter's interview on Democracy Now about his book.  It's a fascinating interview and the following assessment by Potter of the health care reform legislation really caught my attention.
WENDELL POTTER: They do. And that’s why this will not be repealed. They like a lot about it. This legislation, we call it "healthcare reform," but it doesn’t really reform the system. There are a lot of good things in there that does make some of the practices of the insurance industry illegal, things that should have been made illegal a long time ago, so that—
WENDELL POTTER:—for that matter, there are good things here. But it doesn’t reform the system. It is built around our health insurance system, as the President said. And they want to keep it in place, because it also guarantees that they will have a lot of new members and billions of dollars in new revenue in the years to come.
The Health Care Reform Act (HCR) didn't go far enough but it certainly moved forward. Potter's key point is that the legislation didn't reform the health care system. Of course it didn't. The climate in this country wasn't conducive to totally throwing out the health care system and building a new one from scratch. Anyone who honestly believes that such a massive overhaul was  possible in one fell swoop is terribly naive. Congress was never going to pass such a bill in 2010. Change is a process and the more intensive the change, the longer the process. The 13th amendment ended slavery in 1865 but 90 years later Jim Crow laws were the norm. The Brown decisions in 1954 and 1955 said that separate but equal was inherently unequal but my local school system was among those that did not fully integrate until 1971. I don't advocate that change should occur slowly but experience has taught me that it generally does. The question now is what do we do next? There is little to be gained from decrying what wasn't done as we cannot time travel backwards and change anything.

Our most significant problem is that health care is a for profit industry in this country. In spite of the right's constant assertion that the HCR act is socialized medicine, it is far from such. A major obstacle to reform is that Americans have an exceptional fear of anything that even smells of socialism, which most wrongly equate with communism. I don't think that Obama ever stood a realistic chance of getting HCR passed that included a single payer plan or the loosely defined public option.

I don't disagree with the many disappointed progressives who assert that there is an unholy alliance between government and business. I do disagree that nothing has been gained via the current HCR. It's far from perfect but I think that our focus needs to be on generating specific ideas for how we advance the movement to a single payer plan or at minimum a plan that includes a public option. I think that it's important that we, the citizens, develop specifics as to what we want rather than continuing to engage in bemoaning what we do not have. I think that we all need to share ideas and engage in some useful dialog.

From my perspective we have a public that has a significant number of members who continue to believe lunatic ideas such as there are death panels as a result of HCR. There is a general public suspicion that HCR is a socialist plan that will destroy "the greatest health care system in the world." The politicians are playing on those fears. It seems that a key component is mounting a PR campaign to dispel myths and fallacies about what HCR does. I don't think that our side has done PR particularly well in the past and we need to change that.

There is also a need to disseminate powerful and clearly stated information about the reality of our health care system; certainly we have highly skilled medical professionals and excellent are in or medical facilities. However, a lot of Americans don't have access to that great health care which I contend makes declaring ourselves to have the greatest health care system in the world meaningless. We have to work on showing the people who are in deep denial that the health care system is broken. We have to redefine what health care is. Ideally the focus of health care should not be profit but providing preventive care and treatment as necessary. It sounds simple, but the opposition to the moderate level of reform of HCR demonstrates that there are a lot of Americans who do not adopt this belief.

We have to deal with the reality of the current beliefs regarding health care reform. We have to take seriously the ongoing opposition expressed against HCR as passed because it's not just elected officials with a vested interest in maintaining their relationships with the insurance industry who oppose HCR, it's also a lot of the people who stand to benefit from health care reform. People who are acting against their own best interests.

By the way, when I say "we" I mean anyone who believes that our health care system does not serve the needs of all of the people and is need of a major overhaul. We have to become the public voices advocating for change. We have to become a public force that can be pointed to as representing a counterpoint to the very loud voices who decried health care reform as President Obama struggled to push through some level of reform. The Republicans continue to insist that the public doesn't want health care reform and they point to the Tea Party and other voices from the right who loudly protest any government input into health care. We are also the public and we need to make our voices heard and not siphon our energies off to engage in supporting third party candidates who stand no chance of winning and sulking in the corner because the road to reform has more curves than we expected.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Repeal DADT? Yes We Can!

Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT) is still law. I think that it's bad law; however, I also think that President Obama has logical reasons for wanting Congress to repeal DADT rather than allowing a court ordered injunction to halt application of DADT or usingan Executive Order to end DADT. Here's why.

It's dangerous territory for the president to attempt to repeal duly passed legislation via exercising his executive power. There is a tendency to make comparisons to Truman's use of an Executive Order to end segregation in the military. It's an invalid comparison. Truman didn't have to contravene existing federal law in order to desegregate the armed forces. Jim Crow segregation laws were a hodgepodge of state laws. It also should be noted that it was five years after Truman issued his executive order before the armed forces was more than 90% integrated. 

A good friend feels that Obama needs to play hardball to earn the respect of Congress, either by directing the Justice Department not to appeal the court decision or by issuing an Executive Order to end DADT. I disagree. Obama won't earn their respect, they'll just use his actions as a ground for the ever growing rumblings about impeachment. It doesn't matter that they can't oust him; it didn't stop them when it came to Clinton. Impeachment is a time consuming process and detracts from time that the president needs to spend on important matters such as the economy.

Another risk is that if DADT is repealed by a court order rather that a change in law, it could succumb to the same fate as Brown v.the Topeka Board of Education. In the 1990s, white parents began bringing lawsuits against school systems arguing that the 1954 Brown decision had exceeded the authority of the courts. Specifically they opposed busing to achieve integration and the use of race as a factor in pupil assignment to achieve integration. These cases were filed and won in federal courts. In 2007, the big kahuna of these cases was heard before the U.S. Supreme Court when two cases were combined, Meredith v. Jefferson County Board of Education and Parents Involved in Community Schools (PICS) v. Seattle School District. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the school systems in Seattle, WA and in Louisville, KY had violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment by their use of a student's race in deciding whom to admit to particular public schools.
The decision has resulted in public school systems across the country being barred from using race as a factor in student assignments. Some systems have realized that they can still achieve racial integration if they use socioeconomic class in pupil assignments. However, the new trend is the one playing out in my local school system. The newest board members want to abandon the use of socioeconomic class and make assignments to neighborhood schools, the same term used in the 1960s as not so subtle language for maintaining segregated schools. The result has been a resegregation of schools not just in the south but particularly in major cities in the Midwest and Northeast.

What courts render, they can undo. It took nearly 50 years to undo Brown, I think that it won't take nearly as long to reverse a decision from the courts to repeal DADT. Especially as the current decision is from a federal district court, not the Supreme Court.

Let's say Obama successfully issues an executive order ending DADT. Let's assume that he wins in 2012. DADT will remain repealed. In 2016, he can't run again. Say a Republican wins the presidency, a conservative right winger who ran on a program of promising to reinstate DADT. He/She could follow Obama's precedent and do it using an executive order. He or she wouldn't be making new law; the law was never repealed. Or a party with standing could file a federal lawsuit that DADT was unconstitutional--perhaps some members of the military who believe that DADT demeans morale. SCOTUS agrees to hear the case and holds that the use of an executive order to repeal DADT was a violation of the authority of the executive office because it stepped in prior to there being a chance for Congress to hear and vote on whether to repeal DADT.

All of this is supposition but it's plausible supposition. If I've thought of this, you can bet Obama, who is a true constitutional scholar and a lot more knowledgeable lawyer than I am, has considered this and that he and his staff have been discussing all the angles.

I'd like to see DADT repealed by Congress. However, it's like in the horror movies when some nitwit knocks out the monster and doesn't make certain that it's really dead. If DADT isn't killed outright it will rise again and bite us in the butt.

So what can we do? Contact the Senators who are sitting on the fence. The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) recommends that we contact the following Senators via email, snail mail, or telephone calls and tell them that you support repealing DADT. Harry Reid (D-NV), Carl Levin (D-MI), Susan Collins (R-ME), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Mark Pryor (D-AR), Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), Richard Lugar (R-IN), Judd Gregg (R-NH), Scott Brown (R-MA), George Voinovich (R-OH), Kit Bond (R-MO), Joe Mancin (D-WV), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Mark Kirk (R-IL).

There are multiple sites that you can use to get email, snail mail addresses, and phone numbers for your senators. My favorite is
Other sites are:

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Absence of War

I believe in compromise and bipartisanship. We have to live together; we can't separate ourselves into liberals, lefties, progressives, conservatives, tea partiers, libertarians etc. and each group stake out their own territories. As righteous as I think my beliefs are, I cannot force my neighbor to share them nor can persuade them to do so by telling them that their own beliefs are stupid and so are they.

Spinoza wrote in the 17th century, “Peace is not an absence of war, it is a virtue, a state of mind, a disposition for benevolence, confidence, justice.” I don't know that humankind has ever been at peace. We mistake rationality and thoughtfulness for weakness. Liberals are as bad as conservatives although all I read lately are protests to the contrary. I also read words that hold nothing but contempt for others, a massive disdain for those whom we determine to be less intelligent than ourselves. I'm not talking about blatant lying which is so often the modus operandi of the right. I'm not even talking about the public voices on the left. I'm talking about the blogs of the left; we regular folks who decry all who haven't reached our level of enlightennment to be virtually unworthy of existence. Those of us who refuse to recognize that most of the people who are swayed by the Tea Party rhetoric are just angry and scared and feeling adrift, and the Tea Party just offers them a convenient anchor. They aren't the enemy; provide them with another anchor and they might even jump ship. However, that's sort of impossible to do while you're calling them stupid. Most people just don't listen when you start the conversation with an insult.

Don't get me wrong, I'm no saint. I get angry and frustrated, and there are days when I really want to slap somebody. However, I'm not proud of my irrationality and I work to let the anger go and focus on what I can do to make the society in which I live a better one.

I've been an activist ever since high school when I refused to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. I didn't feel that the final part about "liberty and justice for all" was even close to true. I still refuse to recite the pledge or stand when it's recited by others. I suspect that I may well go to my grave still having my personal little protest. I believe in taking a stand, being involved, doing something rather than just thinking about doing something.

I grew up in an age when being subjeted to blatant racism was just the norm for a black child growing up in America. My memories of racial discrimination, bigotry and cruelty from the larger white culture are intact but I let the anger go a long time ago. There was a time when I thought that white people in general were evil because my experiences had revealed the evil inside of far too many. But as I grew older, I recognized that humans are complex creatures and evil is an oversimplication of the motivations for any human action. Spending my life hating and mistrusting white people seemed an incredible waste and I chose to exhale and let my anger go.

My point is that holding on to hurts, no matter how real, is not productive; it's crippling. Anger is a temporary release and it can serve a purpose. However, holding on to and nurturing anger and despair only eats away at you until you become a bitter shell of a human being.

There is nothing wrong with disagreement. I do not accept racism. I challenge it whenever I encounter it and I have no qualms about calling people out on their bigotry. I am neither naive nor Pollyanna's twin sister. However, I do believe in working to find common ground and I don't think that we can give up because the ground is rocky.

We are at a crossroads as a country. We have had one civil war when competing ideologies grew until there was no chance for common ground. The aftermath of that war was the end of slavery but it was also the inception of more than 100 years of Jim Crow. Our unrest as to race relations in this country continues and is at the heart of much of the current Tea Party fervor.

Do not mistake my call for rational responses as a willingness to lie down and roll over. It's a given in my world that one speaks out loudly, and with clarity against injustice of any sort. When necessary, direct attack is appropriate. However, anger must be tempered with reason in order to develop an effective strategy for change. I don't have any admiration for the Tea Party. They have no idea what they really want. They have some vague platform about taking their country back, a meaningless concept. Ask them what it is that they need to accomplish in order to take back their country and about the only concrete action that they have is to remove Obama as president. So hopped are they on their irrational anger and fear that they don't even recognize that they have channeled all of their anger into a personal animosity for one man--Obama.They state with all sincerity that it is not about race but about his corruption of the constitution but cannnot articulate one specific action that constsitutes the aforementioned corruption.

My concern is that we need to think rationally and determine precise goals and methodologies for achieving those goals. I've never advoacated being nice because it's important to be nice. I have been consistent in speaking of reasonableness which is not a synonym for nice.

We have fallen into the trap of responding rather than intiating. The Tea Party comes out with some far right position and we decry their beliefs and pronounce them stupid. It accomplishes nothing. Those who are already TP supporters are just further convinced that they are correct in their beliefs. But those who are not so sure about the TP haven't been provide with an alternative path by us, instead they are left confused and looking for guidance.

We have to devise an action plan. We have to present a platform that refutes the TP and proposes an alternative view of the world. We have to understand how the political system works and how to effectively use the system to promote a progressive agenda. We can't do that while we're caught up in anger and frustration. It takes cool heads to strategize.

I have no problem with progressives bitchin' and complaining in house, but to the opposition, we need to present a united front. "A house divided against itself cannot stand." I do have a problem with bitchin' and complaining and failing to offer any concrete steps that we can take to effect change. If that makes me a moderate, so be it. I'm also an activist and I never sit any battle out.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Election 2010: Not Exactly a Knockout

The bad news is that the Democrats took some solid punches in the midterm elections; the good news is that  the injuries aren't life threatening.

There was significant voter turnout, especially for midterm elections, but the numbers weren't as good in some states as in 2006. I've been reading blog posts, mostly from the young folks--the 35 and under crowd--which called for showing the Democrats their displeasure by not voting. A lot of these calls for desertion of the Democrats came from young African-Americans and Latinos who have decided that President Obama has betrayed them. They have all the impatience of youth and and want everything yesterday.

One young blogger refers to Obama as the Changeling, the mythical creature from the fairy tale who replaces the human child and has evil intent on the unsuspecting family. It's an interesting but inaccurate metaphor.

In order to make a statement to Obama about his imagined betrayal and to teach the Democrats not to take them for granted, there were a number of folks who advocated not voting at all. I'll try and remember to ask them in about two years how that "I'll show those Democrats" thing has worked out for them.

In the meantime, the Democrats have a few moments of glory from Tuesday night. It appears that reason prevailed and Chris Coons defeated  "I am not a witch" Christine O'Donnell in Delaware. Harry Reid pulled the rabbit out of the hat and managed to wrestle a win away from mad hatter Sharron Angle.  Blumenthal out wrestled Linda McMahon in Connecticut. Jerry Brown is back as governor of California and Barbara Boxer managed to hold on to her senate seat. (Click for NY Times' Election Results)

There are a lot of serious bruises. Republicans have gained 60 seats giving them control of the House with a possibility of gaining four more when all the counting is done. In comparison, the Republicans gained 54 House seats in 1994 (Clinton administration). In 1946, the Republicans gained 56 House seats and in 1938 a record 80 House seats.

However, although the Republicans gained Senate seats, the Democrats continue to control the Senate and Harry Reid still holds his position of power in the Senate.

Two states were still too close to call as of 6:30 a.m. --Colorado and the state of Washington. In Alaska, it appears that the write in candidate has the most votes. The only candidate running as a write in candidate was Murkowski, but Alaska has some law that prohibits identifying the write in candidate until the ballots are counted. Of course, Murkowski has been all over the news thanking her supporters. Go figure!

I read a comment on Facebook by a 35-year-old who declared that all was lost and that we (progressives) were done and may as well accept that there is no hope. I'm far from Pollyanna but I think that's pretty extreme. Unless you're planning on dying today, how can anyone be done? It's an election and there will be other elections. The political scene changes like the wind; you never know which way it's going to blow. 

The Republicans cannot do most of the things that they touted in their campaigns; even if they get legislation through the House, they still have to get the necessary Senate votes. If they succeed in getting it through the Senate to the president's desk, he can veto it. They can override his veto if they can get enough votes (a 2/3 vote in each chamber) to do so in both the House and the Senate. If they adjourn before the president decides to sign or not to sign, then the president has effectively killed the legislation with a pocket veto. Isn't politics fun? 

What does their win mean? Probably a lot of deadlock where nothing much gets done and what is accomplished is done very slowly. In other words, business as usual.

P.S. Don't worry about the Republican threat to repeal the Health Care bill. I doubt that they want to tell the American public that they've decided to allow the insurance companies to end coverage for all those newly insured folks with preexisting conditions and are taking away grandma and grandpa's Medicare donut hole benefits.