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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Why A Health Insurance Mandate Is A Good Idea

In the aftermath of the passage of health care reform in the United States, conservatives are on the attack, promising a repeal. One of the sections drawing the most ire is the mandate that people carry health insurance coverage.

Though I know that it will outrage a fair number of people, including some of my friends, I belief a mandate to carry insurance is a good and responsible requirement. People forget that insurance is actually purchased more to protect others than to protect oneself. A man buys life insurance not for himself, but to protect his family in the event of his unexpected death. People purchase long term care insurance so they won't be a burden to their family or taxpayers in their old age. All but one or two states require automobile insurance and impose penalties for failure to comply. This insurance is required to protect others in the event you are at fault in an accident..it is your responsibility as a driver to have the financial ability (generally through insurance) to imdemnify another driver if you cause an accident that causes their loss of property.

I fail to understand why health insurance coverage is any different, given the potentially catastrophic financial costs of some health problems. Unfortunately, your failure to secure insurance to cover these catastrophic expenses comes at my (and the public in general) expense! The real truth of the matter is that when a person fails to purchase health insurance and is unable to pay their medical bills, the rest of society pays those bills. They are paid in higher charges at physicians offices, pharmacies, hospitals and medical supply companies, or in higher taxes when the government is forced to step in. I don't see how you have the right to make the rest of us pay because you choose not to act responsibly. Most opponents object to having to pay all sorts of costs either privately or through taxes so should we just allow you to go without insurance and then refuse to provide treatment when you have a major health event?

My final comment has to do with this conservative opposition to this idea. How many of you who oppose this idea realize that it was originally a Republican idea decades ago and was part of the 1993 Republican health care proposal made in response to Hillary Clinton's health care reform proposals? Those who led the 1994 Republican congressional revolution actually proposed and supported mandated health insurance coverage!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

What Each Party Should Do Right Now

With the battle over health care reform essentially over, the question becomes: what next? Here is what I believe each party should do in the immediate future.

I give Republicans credit for their swift and clear condemnation of the threats that were directed at Democrats in the aftermath of the passage of health care reform. It is a great start on what their most pressing priority ought to be. That priority should be to communicate in a loud and clear manner to everyone, particularly the Tea Party movement, that there will be absolutely no tolerance of racism, hatred, threats and violence. While certainly a very small minority within the Tea Party movement, these angry, hate mongerers are bringing dishonor to this grassroots movement. The Republican Party wants to bring more people into their party, but they need to make it clear that people who behave this way are not welcome in the party. Truth be told, if the Republican Party can find a way to effectively integrate the Tea Party organizations into their campaign, it could be a boon to their election prospects in the Fall 2010 elections. However, if they make this effort and fail to eliminate that aspect of the conservative movement, it will be used as an effective tool against them by Democrats. If they are truly committed to winning elections this fall, they need these groups to join with them. But they have to decide in what manner they are willing to win those elections. Do they want to win on principles and ideas or are they willing to win at any cost, even making unholy alliances with those who exhibit the worst America has to offer?

Democrats, on the other hand, need to take steps to show that they are not just about expanding government and controlling everyone's lives. They could obtain significant political capital if they spent the near term conducting and implementing a genuine and determined effort to eliminate outdated and ineffective federal programs. Let this be the time where they disprove the notion that once a federal government program is established it is eternal. Force every department of the federal government to identify 10% of their current budget to be eliminated. It could be eliminating a single program that is no longer relevant or effective, or it could be doing businesslike reductions in staff, purchasing, and program delivery across the breadth of the agency. Require these evaluations be done, no exceptions, within 90 days. Then pass these measures into law so they take effect with the next budget. This would amount to around $350 billion (350,000,000,000!)While this would not eliminate the budget deficit, let alone the national debt, it would be a meaningful step in the right direction. It would also show the electorate that Democrats hear their concerns, recognize this IS a major problem in need of attention, and that they really are not just big government tax and spend types.

Thursday, March 25, 2010


Without question, the thing that has irritated me most about the health care reform debate is the incessant questioning of my love, loyalty and patriotism toward my country. Sure, the nasty rhetoric and propaganda from both sides, the vitriolic attacks on congressman voting for the reform bill, and the appearance of backroom politics all irritate me. However, those problems arise ocassionally in our democratice political system.

However, I have absolutely no tolerance for people who question another's love for their home country. Although not limited to conservatives, at this moment they are engaging in far more of this despicable behavior than are liberals. Conservatives are waging an open attack on all who disagree with them on health care reform. It started with accusations about socialism and communism. When that failed to move people sufficiently, they moved to accusations that supporters of health care reform had a devious plan to destroy the United States. And finally, the coup d'grace was to question their love for this country.

To conservatives I say the following. First, if this doesn't describe you...you have an absolute responsibility to stand up and denounce those who engage in this behavior. Remaining silent on these anti-American assualts implies that you agree with and support those beliefs. I know of many conservatives who recognize that those with whom they disagree are still loyal Americans, they just seem loathe to stand up and denounce those who do.

Second, for those who don't believe this is happening or that it is blown out of proportion, just look to the comments being made by conservative leaders. Sarah Palin talks about "taking back our country" as if it has somehow been hijacked by a disloyal band of extremists (even though conservatives actually rank third in self identification polls behind independents and liberals). Sean Hannity and Glen Beck regularly question the loyalty of those who dare disagree with them. And a number of conservative congressmen have openly accused proponents of health care reform of hating the United States.

Finally, using loyal opposition (disagreement) is one of the fundamental pillars of our democratic system. It is my right to have a different opinion, to have a different vision of what this country should be, without my loyalty being questioned. That is exactly what the British did when colonial Americans disagreed with their policies! Has the McCarthy era really been so long ago that we have forgotten the lessons of widespread hysteria brought about by accusations of disloyalty? And as a disclaimer, I also criticize liberals when they question whether opponents of health care reform love people because disagreeing on public policy issues does not mean you don't love your friends and neighbors.

Criticize me for my views. Challenge my assertions. Disagree with my ideas. But STOP questioning my commitment to my country NOW!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Conservative Hypocrisy on CEO Compensation

Four conservative Republican Senators are questioning, even threatening, federal funding for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America because they are concerned about the nearly $1 million annual compensation package for CEO Roxanne Spillett. Charles Grassley (IA), Tom Coburn (OK), John Kyl (AZ) and John Cornyn (TX) are expressing concerns about whether the head of a non-profit group should be earning so much money when the organization lost $13 million in 2008, is having difficulty funding local clubs and is even closing clubs in some cities. To quote the Senator's letter to the national organization, they "..find it hard to reconcile this loss given the amount spent on executive salaries, perks and lobbying expenses..." They also questioned the organization's travel expenses. To summarize their concerns, they are troubled that such a large compensation package comes at the expense of those the organization serves: the children.

Did I miss something here? It sounds to me like the Boys & Girls Clubs is operating in a manner that would make these Senators and their corporate cronies proud! All four of these senators have aggressively defended CEO compensation in the wake of scandals in the financial and health insurance industries. They have shown no empathy for the employees and communities who have been harmed as a result of layoffs and closings that have been accompanied by even higher CEO compensation. Where is their concern about the effect that $1 million, $5 million, $10 million and higher compensation packages prevalent in corporate America has on ordinary workers? How do they reconcile corporate compensation with high unemployment levels and rising poverty? How do they reconcile it with rampant layoffs, reduced work hours, and lower pay for ordinary workers? This is an incredibly clear example of the hypocrisy among current Republicans over the issue of income disparity which is growing worse in our nation.

Don't get me wrong, I actually agree with their concerns about the compensation policies at the Boys & Girls Clubs. I just wish these senators would show as much concern about the compensation policies of corporate America.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Myth of a Dramatic Shift to the Right

Conservatives have convinced themselves that the country is in the midst of giant transformational shift in their favor. They have come to believe that the nation has experienced a dramatic shift away from President Obama and his liberal policies, especially in light of growing criticism from other liberals. They have been even more emboldened lately because of a U S News and World Reports editorial (usually viewed as liberal publication) critical of Obama's performance to this point in his presidency.

I would argue that they are mistaken, that they either have misinterpreted the facts or are selective in the facts they choose to use to bolster their position. The truth is that most of the criticism of Obama by liberals is because they believe he hasn't been liberal enough!

One only has to examine the various approval polls to see that this shift is far less dramatic than purported, if it exists at all. While conservatives trumpet the drop in Obama's approval numbers, theirs have dropped even further, and some of Obama's lower numbers can be explained by liberals who are disappointed that he hasn't been more liberal. Obama's approval ratings (48-53% on average) are higher than Democrats (36%), Republicans (30%) and Congress as a whole (19%!!!!). What in these numbers suggests a dramatic shift to the right? In fact, polls show 57% believe that Republicans are acting simply as obstructionists at the expense of the American people. Claiming a greater mandate than your opposition when your opposition's approval numbers are over 50% better than your own doesn't even make sense.

On the most contentious issue, health care reform, the numbers show an equally dubious claim of a shift to the right. In general, national polls show more people support a "public option" than oppose it (49%-41%). When polled on specific points within the plan, polls generally show support. Certainly, there are portions which raise opposition: the overall cost and abortion funding and coverage among them. Because people may support part of the plan and oppose others, it is possible to explain why people are equally split between continuing to work on the plan now before Congress and starting over from scratch. People clearly want meaningful health care reform, but they want it to be bi-partisan.

Perhaps the voices of conservative opposition to Obama and his policies and plans are louder than those in favor, but that doesn't prove a dramatic shift. As they say on the TV show Mythbusters, this myth is busted.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Liz Cheney's Un-civil Comments

I unequivocally believe that anyone not outraged by the comments made this weekend by Liz Cheney and the Bill Kristol ad that attacked Department of Justice lawyers defending terror suspects is clueless about the foundations of basic rights in our nation.

Liz Cheney and others like her believe that we should only have the rights they themselves assign to us in their infinite wisdom. They constantly accuse those on the left of conspiracy to take away our civil liberties when in fact they are far more dangerous to civil liberties than any liberal wacko. They believe that basic civil liberties only apply to those who they select...and certainly not to anyone who is not a citizen. They forget that a nation is judged by how they treat those who are most vulnerable to abuse and discrimination. They espouse the idea that everyone who is accused must be guilty or they wouldn't have been arrested. And we all know that no poor slob with an inept lawyer has ever been wrongly convicted and no innocent man has ever been sent to death row.

The continuing success of our Constitutional system and our reputation in the world for fair treatment of all demand that we provide the same right to a fair defense to those who pose the most danger to our safety as we offer to everyone else. It may be a bit like taking a bad tasting medicine, but it is the right and Constitutional thing to do. The outrageous and un-American nature of Liz Cheney's comments demand immediate and clear rebuke from every legitimate Conservative. Failure to do so severely damages their credibility.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

A Meaningful Sacrifice

In my mind sacrifice is defined as surrendering something of value to gain something of greater meaning. This means giving up something important, usually a material thing, for the purpose of achieving a moral or spiritual objective. As a Christian, I believe we have a responsibility to honor the sacrifice made by Jesus on the cross by willingly making sacrifices for others less fortunate than ourselves. Unfortunately, it's a concept that doesn't get much publicity in modern America. Some would argue that we, as a nation, have lost sight of the concept of sacrifice and haven't been called upon to practice it in recent years. While I would agree with this statement in general, there are exceptions that show that sacrifice still exists in this country.

Last week a woman in California made a dramatic, but impressively meaningful sacrifice when she learned that several people in her office at the City of Lathrop would be laid-off as a result of the economic crisis gripping the state. Patricia Overy, although keeping her job, was disheartened by the news. She sat down and discussed the situation with her husband and she concluded that her family was better situated to handle the loss of a job and its income than most of the others facing a layoff. Even in the face of raising three children, dealing with health insurance, and the difficult prospect of finding another job, she decided to ask her supervisor to lay her off instead. As a result, another woman kept her job, a 63 year old whose prospects of finding a new job would certainly have been hindered by her age. The Overys don't sound like wealthy people, which makes the sacrifice that much more striking, yet it doesn't appear that it was a difficult decision.

Events like these are not receiving enough publicity in the press or the pulpit, but there are numerous examples of people volunteering for pay cuts to save the jobs of others, or of taking shorter shifts so others can keep their jobs. However, given that these examples seem to be coming from the most ordinary of our citizens, I once again wonder where the leaders of our nation are in this time. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we were hearing stories like this concerning politicians, CEOs, entertainers and athletes? How many more great stories would there be, how much closer would we grow as a nation, if our leaders were actually leading by example?!