Friday, October 30, 2009
Regardless of where you live, what color your skin is, who you love, what deity you worship or how you identify yourself in terms of sexual preference or gender ... we are all human beings, and we are deserving of the same rights and responsibilities. Women deserve equal pay with men. Gay couples deserve to marry, just as their heterosexual neighbors can. Pagans deserve the same right to worship as Christians.
Equality is something we all should agree upon, and the fact that we don't saddens me.
Writer Joss Whedon is another who's done his part for equality, particularly in terms of gender issues. Known mostly for the creation of strong female characters, Whedon is best known for the TV shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. He also created the short-lived TV series Firefly and its resultant feature film Serenity.
Whedon also created Dollhouse, which currently airs on FOX.
In 2006, Equality Now honored Whedon for his efforts. As a fan of (most of) his work, I understand and appreciate what Whedon tries to convey with regards to equality in his work. This isn't a political message, and it doesn't really relate directly to any of the topics currently being debated in this country, but Whedon's message resonates beyond his little world of vampires and space westerns and programmable people.
His words can also be applied to just about anything.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
This will probably be the only time this blog ever links you to ESPN.
The NFL recently commissioned a report that suggested a link between football-related head injuries -- like concussions -- and future dementia and even Alzheimer's disease. Though the report suggested such a link, neither NFL commissioner Roger Goodell or NFLPA director DeMaurice Smith were willing to admit as such.
Let's face facts; the only way to completely prevent injuries in football is to get rid of the sport entirely. Football is inherently a violent game, which is a large part of the game's appeal. There's a reason the NFL and college football are so popular, and I'm venturing to guess it has a lot to do with the hitting.
I'm generally weary of Congress getting involved in sports matters; I thought the Congressional hearings on steroid use in baseball in 2003 were a waste of time. I've thought the same thing in recent months whenever Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) has asked for Congressional hearings regarding the legality and fairness of the way college football crowns its national champion.
At first, I felt the same way about this hearing. But when Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) began questioning Goodell on the NFL's actions regarding the league's retired players -- many of whom are broke, destitute and/or battling severe health problems -- I saw where the connection was. The league runs a pension program for retired players, a program that, largely, has failed over the years.
Congresswoman Waters, who is married to a former NFL player, chided Goodell for his generalities (something I wish more sports writers would do) and threatened to take away the league's anti-trust exemption if action wasn't taken.
The NFL isn't exempt under the McCarran-Ferguson Act, like the health insurance companies and Major League Baseball. Sports leagues are exempt under a 1961 law for the purposes of broadcasting. The NFL has raked in billions of dollars over the last two decades in television broadcasting deals, thanks in large part to its anti-trust exemption.
With the kind of money the NFL is raking in -- even in this tough economy -- it's only fair for Congress to keep an eye on its practices and consider taking away that anti-trust exemption if the league doesn't shape up when it comes to the health and financial well-being of its players ... current and former.
But Wednesday marked President Obama's first major action when it comes to equal rights for gays, as he signed the Matthew Shepard & James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which extends federal hate crime protections to those based on a person's sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or disability.
The measure is named after Matthew Shepard, a gay college student who was tortured and killed in 1998, and James Byrd Jr., a black man who was chained to a pickup truck and dragged to his death that same year. Democrats, including the late Ted Kennedy, had tried for years to pass such legislation, but met stiff opposition on several occasions.
The solution? Add the bill as an amendment to a defense appropriations bill. That way, when Republicans voted against the bill on the basis of their opposition to the Shepard bill -- which they did -- Democrats could point out Republican hypocrisy in noting how they voted against a defense bill after crowing on an on about defending the country.
So not only does the Shepard bill make good policy in the fight for civil rights, but it could be politically shrewd for the Democrats -- which is good, when one considers how convoluted and complicated the health care reform fight has become.
Still, ignoring the health care fight for a moment, Wednesday's signing ceremony is a victory for gay rights advocates. DADT and DOMA are still on the books, and they do need to be addressed, but Congress and President Obama took a huge first step with the passage of the Shepard bill. By extending hate crime protections to the GLBT community, as well as those who are physically or mentally disabled, this administration is sending a strong message that violence rooted in intolerance of any kind is unacceptable.
Bravo, Mr. President. Thank you.
Video of the signing ceremony:
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Let's just say I'm not a fan of Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.). I didn't like him in the 1990s, when he joined up with former Wisconsin Democratic Senator Herbert Kohl to begin attacking video game content and other forms of media. That crusade has continued over the years, even as studies disprove any link between violent video games and violent behavior -- and even as the video game industry has adopted a ratings system designed to keep violent games out of the hands of children.
I didn't like Sen. Lieberman when he joined with Al Gore to run as Vice President in 2000 -- mostly because I remembered his crusade to censor video games and other forms of popular media. I didn't like Lieberman this past election cycle when he decided to campaign on behalf of Republican presidential nominee John McCain.
An independent caucusing with the Democrats campaigning on behalf of Republicans -- there has to be some sort of punishment for that, right? Apparently not; Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid decided earlier this year that Lieberman would not lose his chairmanship of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs.
How does Lieberman thank Reid for not punishing him? By threatening to help Republicans filibuster a health care reform bill if it includes a public option. Lieberman is opposed to a public option, even though Connecticut has one, covering nearly 10,000 people, according to Countdown's Keith Olbermann.
Why is Lieberman against the public option, even in its current opt-out format? The health insurance industry -- which is vehemently fighting reform -- has a large presence in Connecticut; there are eight separate companies from which to purchase insurance in the state, including industry giant Aetna.
Aetna and Cigna are based in Connecticut.
Lieberman has received a combined $1,144,604 from insurance companies, health professionals and pharmaceutical companies since 2005. Think that money, combined with the industry's presence in Connecticut, has something to do with Lieberman's stance?
As a point of reference, the other Senator from Connecticut, Democrat Chris Dodd -- whom Ralph Nader once called "the Senator from Aetna" -- has received $2.3 million in contributions from the insurance industry in the last 20 years. Only difference is, Sen. Dodd is a huge proponent of the public option, seeing its inclusion in the HELP Committee bill passed over the summer.
Sen. Lieberman said he would not filibuster to prevent debate on the bill -- which is where Senators can offer amendments to change the bill before it comes to a final vote -- but that if a public option survives that process, he would be inclined to join the Republican minority in filibustering -- thus blocking the bill from a vote.
The Republican minority is so small -- there are only 40 in the chamber -- they would need someone who caucuses with the Democrats to join the filibuster effort. Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) and Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) have been likely candidates, because of their opposition to the public option, but Sen. Lieberman is the first Senator to publicly say he would aid the filibuster effort.
At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, Sen. Lieberman could kill health care reform.
Then again, Sen. Lieberman has never voted in favor of filibuster before, even if it involved a bill he would vote against. This could be nothing more than political posturing, publicly assauging the concerns of his donors, while secretly telling Democratic leadership he would allow the bill to come to a vote, even if he votes against said bill.
But, if Lieberman does let the Republicans filibuster, there should be consequences. Not just in terms of Connecticut residents voting him out of office -- though Connecticut voters overwhelmingly support the public option -- but in terms of his chairmanship.
If I'm Sen. Reid, I tell Lieberman that if he supports a filibuster, he will be stripped of his chairmanship. Then, if Lieberman goes through with his threat anyway, I make good on that threat. This issue is far too important to delay to death; issues like this are exactly why we gave Democrats a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate in the first place.
But what do I know? I'm just a liberal with a blog.
Monday, October 26, 2009
The line of thinking was thus: if a source isn't willing to put his or her name on something, then they either don't have the authority or clearance to say it, or it's not true. Dr. Cosco did admit there were times where anonymous sources couldn't be avoided, but using them, as a rule, wasn't a good idea.
I recount that story because of an article that appeared on The Huffington Post over the weekend, written by Sam Stein and Ryan Grim. With the huge red headline "Leaderless," the article quoted numerous anonymous sources claiming President Obama was against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's push to add a public option with an opt-out clause for states to the health care reform bill in that chamber.
According to the sources, Obama preferred a public option with a trigger -- which has been supported by Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) -- that would establish benchmarks that the health insurance industry would have to meet; if those benchmarks weren't met after a period of time, the public option would take effect.
Thing is ... the trigger would never be tripped, because the insurance industry could always fudge its numbers to make it appear as if they're meeting the benchmarks, even if they're not. Not to mention how deep into the pockets of many politicians the insurance industry is; a trigger could in effect kill the public option, even if one is in the final bill. In essence, a triggered public option would result in RINO -- Reform In Name Only.
The only source in Stein and Grim's story to be named was Dan Pfeiffer, a top White House aide who called the report false when talking to the website Talking Points Memo. Every other source in the story is anonymous, some nameless quote claiming to have intimate knowledge of negotiations.
If that sounds a little suspect, it probably is.
President Obama has repeatedly expressed his preference for a public option; though he has never explicitly said he would sign a bill without it and has remained open to other ideas, the President has, time and again, said he felt the public option was the best way to accomplish his goals of lowering costs and introducing competition in the marketplace. Four of the five health care reform bills in Congress include a public option, and Reid insists he's close to getting the 60 votes needed to block a filibuster on the opt-out public option.
And, for what it's worth, Stein reported on Sunday that the White House denied the initial report, saying it was "absolutely false" and that Obama and Reid were on the same page. The initial report claimed the President was backing the trigger idea in an effort to get Sen. Snowe to vote for the final bill, so Obama could call the bill bipartisan.
"A rumor is making the rounds that the White House and Senator Reid are pursuing different strategies on the public option," Pfeiffer wrote in The White House Blog on Sunday. "Those rumors are absolutely false."
Pfeiffer recalled President Obama's speech before a joint session of Congress on Sept. 9, where he made a clear case for the public option, claming it was his preference and likening it to the country's ability to choose between public and private universities. While many in Congress have either changed their mind when it comes to the public option -- which some in the House are now calling "Medicare part E" -- and others have refused to commit one way or another, the President has been consistent in his message: though the public option is just one sliver of reform, it is important and, he believes, the best way to lower costs and keep the insurance companies honest.
Keep in mind: this process is far from over. The House still needs to combine its three bills into one, and the Senate is currently in the process of merging the Finance Committee bill with the HELP (Health, Education, Labor and Pensions) Committee bill. Once those things happen, each bill will be put up for a vote in each chamber. Then, the House and the Senate will get together to merge their individual bills, with a final bill possibly reaching President Obama's desk by Christmas.
We're farther along than we've ever been in this process, but there's still a long way to go. We need to keep up the pressure, both on the White House and our representatives in Congress. The insurance lobbyists continue to fight against reform, and they have deep pockets. We need to be louder than them, as loud as we were back in November when we elected Obama.
But you know what else would help? The mainstream media reporting the actual facts, instead of relying on anonymous sources to stoke anger and fear among a populus that stands to benefit greatly should health care reform -- with a robust public option -- pass. Shame on the mainstream media, and shame on The Huffington Post; they should know better.
Maybe they need to take Introduction to Journalism again.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Is Huffington off-base in her suggestion, or is she onto something?
Part of her reasoning is Vice President Biden's reservations regarding the war in Afghanistan, which President Obama called the "war of necessity" in last year's campaign. It is also based partially on an in-depth feature on the vice president in this week's edition of Newsweek. According to Huffington, an intelligent and well-mannered media voice in a landscape sorely lacking in both, Biden would be better served to resign due to his convictions than keep his job and write a mea-culpa tell-all after the fact.
Which might be a valid argument, if Vice President Biden was being silent in his dissent. This isn't like former White House press secretary Scott McClellan, who kept his mouth shut as the Bush administration pushed its flawed case for the war in Iraq, only to later issue his own mea culpa in his book What Happened (which, incidentally, is a thought-provoking and well-written book).
Biden has been outspoken throughout the entire process, as outlined in the Newsweek article. So even if he didn't resign, his conscience would largely be clear, because he will have made his case known to the rest of the administration, even if he would ultimately support whatever decision President Obama made.
Dissent is not necessarily betrayal or a sign of weakness within the ranks; President Obama has made it known on multiple occasions he doesn't want an administration full of people who agree with everything he says or does. Healthy disagreement and debate are helpful to the process, and it's nice to have a President in the White House who realizes and embraces this fact. I wouldn't read that much into Vice President Biden's reservations regarding troop increases as suggested by Gen. Stanley McChrystal; Biden has been in Washington long enough to understand how the game is played, and his foreign policy experience has been and will likely continue to prove vital to President Obama.
I argued when John McCain picked Sarah Palin as his vice presidential candidate that a good candidate picked a VP that was strong where the presidential candidate was weak; since McCain's weakness was the economy, it would've behooved him to pick a running mate who was well-versed in economic policy. Instead, McCain went with Caribou Barbie, who wound up being Rush Limbaugh in a skirt.
Meanwhile, Obama selected Biden, in large part because of his foreign policy experience (and his penchant for speaking the truth, which a lot of Washington insiders don't like). Though Biden's role is less visible than Obama's, and there are times where Biden's frankness has spelled trouble, his presence pays dividends, as he's able to say things and ask questions and take hard stances so President Obama doesn't personally have to.
Make no mistake; this is not Vice President Cheney, who was notorious for trying to operate a shadow presidency and was fond of keeping his lips sealed. If Vice President Biden holds a certain opinion or disagrees with a course of action, he will let all interested parties know. I think Biden would be better served staying on, if for no other reason than for his own, and the administration's, credibility.
Think about it; if Biden were to resign, that would give Republicans plenty of ammunition for election advertisement attacks. Considering all the grief Palin got for resigning as governor of Alaska, the heat on Biden -- and by extension, President Obama -- would be nearly unbearable. Considering how vehement the right wing is in its attacks on this administration when it's not provoked, I'm not keen on giving them any more ammunition.
Not to mention ... say Biden were to resign. Wouldn't that adversely affect any criticism he would have from this point forward? Politically, where would Biden go from the White House? His Senate seat has already been filled, and it would be quite the undertaking for him to run for that seat again. If he resigned, anything Biden would say in the future would be met with cynicism and his credibility would be shot.
It's not like Biden disagrees with the administration on everything; he's expressed disagreement and reseverations about the war in Afghanistan. Is that one instance really grounds for leaving the vice presidency? Are we really that intent on surrounding President Obama with yes men? I realize Obama faces a ton of criticism and some part of us believes he shouldn't have to face it within his own administration, but really?
If Biden stays on board as the Vice President, as I expect he will, his beliefs and criticisms will not be automatically discounted; as Vice President, Biden has access to the President that few others enjoy; Biden would not be able to shape policy nearly as effectively from the outside as he can currently.
I respect Huffington for her intelligence and the work she does on her website, but in this instance, I respectly think she's horribly off-base. Joe Biden resigning the vice presidency over the war in Afghanistan would help no one -- expect maybe the Republican Party.
After days of controversy and hand-wringing in the sports world, news broke on Wednesday that Rush Limbaugh would not be a part of an ownership group looking to buy the St. Louis Rams. So either everyone (including yours truly) made a bigger deal out of this than it really was, or the NFL made a pretty telling statement in its tasteful rebuke of the conservative radio talk show host.
Limbaugh's response was predictable: "This is not about the NFL, it's not about the St. Louis Rams, it's not about me. This is about the ongoing effort by the left in this country, wherever you find them, in the media, the Democrat Party, or wherever, to destroy conservatism, to prevent the mainstreaming of anyone who is prominent as a conservative. Therefore, this is about the future of the United States of America and what kind of country we're going to have."
Umm ... yeah. Considering NFL ownership is probably one of the most conservative groups of people in this country, that's not the issue here (though in Limbaugh's inflated noggin, liberals are responsible for everything ... probably even his Oxycontin addiction and his anal cyst). The issue was Limbaugh's history of racially-insensitive comments as it related to his bid to own a portion of a team in a league that is roughly 70 percent African-American.
Not to mention, that quip about the NFL resembling the Bloods and the Crips without weapons? That really didn't help.
Three-quarters of NFL owners have to approve any ownership bid in the league, and it was clear -- between Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's comments during the week -- that Limbaugh wouldn't have had the necessary votes. As a private entity, that's the NFL's right, just as Limbaugh had the right to place a bid in the first place.
Of bigger concern to me was the stunt CNN pulled Wednesday evening. Wolf Blitzer was hosting a panel discussion including Huffington Post founder and editor-in-chief Arianna Huffington, who on Wednesday wrote a lengthy and thought-provoking op-ed detailing a scenario in which Joe Biden should resign the vice presidency.
The discussion was serious and important -- you know, considering the grim reality of the war in Afghanistan -- when Blitzer interrupted for some Breaking News! Fancy graphic, important-sounding music and everything! This had to be pretty important, right?
Not so much. Blitzer interrupted the Afghanistan-Vice President Biden discussion to tell us ... that Limbaugh would not be part of the bid to won the St. Louis Rams. Seriously? That was the important, cannot-wait bit of news that pre-empted discussion of troop escalations and the idea of the Vice President of the United States leaving the administration over disagreements within the White House with regards to said war?
We've been in Afghanistan for eight years, and we desperately need to decide a new course of action; I realize the NFL is a big deal in America, but is it really more important than an unfocused war that might see a troop increase in the coming months ... or the possibility, however minute, that the Vice President might step down?
CNN and Rush Limbaugh ... EPIC FAIL.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
If the process holds, and doesn't get derailed, a bill might be on President Obama's desk by the end of 2009. The quality of said bill remains to be seen, since the Finance Committee bill is being panned by both sides of the aisle (now there's bipartisanship!), but the truth is ... the process is further along than it's ever been.
But one thing's missing. There's one aspect of the health care reform debate that no one is talking about. Almost no one in Congress, no one in the White House, and certainly no one in the mainstream media.
As it stands today, the health insurance industry is exempt from the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, which was passed in 1945 and forced virtually every other industry to maintain competition and fair treatment of customers. The Sherman Anti-Trust Act makes such practices as price-fixing and market allocation to limit competition illegal -- but health insurance and medical malpractice insurance companies are exempt from this law.
Instead, insurance companies are "covered" by the McCarran-Ferguson Act, which was also passed in 1945 after a Supreme Court case in which the South-Eastern Underwriters Association, which offered fire and other types of insurance, argued that insurance did not constitute commerce, and was thus exempt from the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. The SEUA won the case, and the McCarran-Ferguson Act in essence gave health insurance companies the right to ignore federal anti-trust regulations that most other industries had to follow.
On Sept. 17, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) introduced the Health Insurance Industry Anti-Trust Enforcement Act of 2009 (S. 1681 and H.R. 3596, which was introduced by Michigan Democratic Rep. John Conyers), which would effectively repeal the protections afforded to the health insurance industry by the McCarran-Ferguson Act. Though this bill is separate from the health care reform debate, it remains part of the process, since part of the reason for reform is the fact that the insurance companies are not heavily regulated.
As they stand now, health care reform bills would make it illegal for insurance companies to deny people coverage on the basis of pre-existing conditions, or to drop a person's policy arbitrarily once they become sick. These are important provisions to be sure, ones that have received little play in the mainstream media since virtually everyone agrees upon them (why focus on areas of agreement when the debate over the public option is so much more entertaining?).
In conjuction, passage of Sen. Leahy's Health Insurance Industry Anti-Trust Enforcement Act would enact further regulations, making such practices as price-fixing and market manipulation illegal. As it stands now, some states have one private insurer that holds at least a 70-percent market share. The lack of competition is part of what drives insurance premiums upward; with anti-trust legislation, insurance companies would be forced to compete, which (theoretically, anyway) would lower premiums.
The insurance companies charge whatever they please, knowing full well consumers do not have a myriad of options. Auto insurance is more affordable because consumers have several companies to choose from; one can pick GEICO or Progressive or State Farm or Allstate or Nationwide or any number of other companies. In a lot of states, you're stuck with one health insurance company; it's either Aetna or nothing.
Cigna or nothing.
WellPoint or nothing.
Naturally, the media said nothing about this bill, which would be another step in the process of fixing this country's broken health insurance system. The website Politico did, however, run a story on Wednesday reporting that Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) would call for an amendment to the health care reform bill that would remove the anti-trust exemption that health insurance companies enjoy.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) also expressed support for this amendment.
Removing anti-trust exemptions and holding this industry to the same standards as almost every other industry in the country is not only practical, it's the right thing to do. Competition and choice would lower costs, and Sen. Leahy's bill is one step in that process.
Write your Congressmen, write your Senators, write the White House asking them to support the Health Insurance Industry Anti-Trust Enforcement Act of 2009 on top of true health care reform. This bill is too important to hide in the proverbial weeds.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
I'm going to defend Rush Limbaugh.
Well, more specifically, I'm going to defend his right to bid as part of a group interesting in buying the NFL's St. Louis Rams. Limbaugh, a Missouri native, has expressed interest in having an ownership stake in the team, a development that has drawn the ire of several NFL players, the league's players' union and Rev. Al Sharpton.
Which, let's face it ... what's a good race debate without either Sharpton or Jesse Jackson?
Some players, including Mathias Kiwanuka of the New York Giants and Bart Scott of the New York Jets, have come out and said they would never play for Limbaugh if he came into the league as an owner. Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb said the same thing, though in his case I believe him, since McNabb was a target of Limbaugh's during the conservative radio host's controversial and highly laughable brief tenure as an NFL analyst at ESPN in 2003.
Let's face it ... if an NFL player is offered millions of dollars to play in St. Louis, he'll have to at least consider it -- even if Limbaugh is the one signing the check. NFL players are, for better or worse, mercenaries -- they go where the money is, as well they should. Contracts in the NFL aren't guaranteed, and the average NFL career only lasts three and a half years.
Is a player really going to turn down millions of dollars because they don't want to play for Limbaugh?
Besides, how can players take a stand against Limbaugh and yet forgive the countless players in the league who keep getting in trouble with the law? How can players defend guys like Pacman Jones and Michael Vick, who have repeatedly broken the law and endangered others, but turn their back on a guy who's nothing more than an insensitive, conservative blowhard? Sure, Limbaugh can be offensive, but he's really nothing more than a harmless radio host.
Limbaugh's assertion that McNabb was successful only because the NFL wanted a successful NFL quarterback was offensive, as was his assertion that in President Obama's America, black kids beat up white kids with other black kids cheering. Limbaugh's desire for the President to fail is offensive, as is his comparing football to a battle between the Bloods and the Crips without the weapons.
But is it really grounds to keep him from owning a portion of the Rams?
I would guess most NFL owners are pretty conservative, and some might even share Limbaugh's controversial views. They just don't have a public outlet to express those views. Besides, Limbaugh would be a minority owner (oh, the irony), no different than Jimmy Buffett or Serena Williams with the Miami Dolphins. Yeah, they own part of the team and they make money on it, but the Dolphins aren't exactly going to Buffett for personnel advice.
The big story here is Limbaugh, who has a history of racial intolerance (anyone else remember Barack the Magic Negro?), looking to break into a league that is 70 percent African-American. If the bulk of the NFL was white, we probably wouldn't be in the middle of this admittedly-absurd firestorm.
Limbaugh is, to some degree, an act. I don't doubt he believes his bloviations, and I don't doubt he genuinely has a distaste for anything liberal or of color. But I don't believe for a second that players would honestly boycott him and leave millions of dollars on the table. Limbaugh's politics would have no bearing on his owning an NFL franchise; he's in this to make money. This is just a business proposition for him.
If nothing else, Limbaugh's a businessman. There's a reason he makes millions of dollars a year. But if he was really as powerful and influential as we sometimes make him out to be, President Clinton wouldn't have served two terms and President Obama wouldn't have won the election.
Now, mark this down ... because this is the only time I will ever defend Rush Limbaugh.
Friday, October 9, 2009
Though the President has made several efforts with relation to international relations -- setting a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, delivering a speech to the Islamic world in Egypt, trying to hold diplomatic talks with Iran in spite of glaring opposition, chairing the U.N. Security Council while trying to dismantle the world's nuclear powers -- concrete results have, admittedly, not yet come to fruition.
The award could also be politically complicated, since President Obama still presides over wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and has ordered counter-terror strikes in Pakistan and Somalia. The President also faces an important decision in the coming weeks with regards to the war in Afghanistan; does he increase the troop level, decrease the troop level or try to change the war's focus now that it's in its ninth year?
A Nobel Peace Prize, and the perception that comes with it, could complicate such a decision. It could also prove complicating if President Obama decides to take on Iran militarily at some point.
The Norweigan Nobel Committee defended the move, saying that by awarding President Obama with the award, it was trying "to promote what he stands for and the positive processes that have started now."
Committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland added, "He got the prize because he has been able to change the international climate ... some people say, and I understand it, isn't it premature? Too early? Well, I'd say then that it could be too late to respond three years from now. It is now that we have the opportunity to respond – all of us."
Obama is the third sitting President to win the Nobel Peace Prize; Theodore Roosevelt won the award in 1906, and Woodrow Wilson took home the prize in 1919.
The Committee's rationale cannot be ignored, given the processes Obama has begun in his short tenure in the White House -- not to mention his personal popularity worldwide and the fact that he often leaves people around the world with undeniable feelings of hope for the future.
It's not unpatriotic or ill-willed to simply question whether that's enough to award the Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama at this point; it's perfectly legitimate to question the timing of this, since nothing concrete has come of Obama's foreign policies yet.
Three years from now? Things might be different.
That's not to say Obama shouldn't accept the award, even with the potential political complications. What is disheartening, though, is the right wing's continued insistence that anything good for President Obama is inherently bad. Rooting against Chicago in its 2016 Olympic bid was bad enough; now the GOP is growling bitterly at this award ... which has prompted the Democratic National Committee to release the following hard-hitting statement:
"The Republican Party has thrown in its lot with the terrorists -- the Taliban and Hamas this morning -- in criticizing the President for receiving the Nobel Peace prize. Republicans cheered when America failed to land the Olympics and now they are criticizing the President of the United States for receiving the Nobel Peace prize -- an award he did not seek but that is nonetheless an honor in which every American can take great pride -- unless of course you are the Republican Party. The 2009 version of the Republican Party has no boundaries, has no shame and has proved that they will put politics above patriotism at every turn. It's no wonder only 20 percent of Americans admit to being Republicans anymore - it's an embarrassing label to claim."
By all means, congratulations to President Obama; winning the Nobel Peace Prize is a remarkable and worldy achievement, regardless of the reasons behind the award. I merely worry about the timing of it, and the political ramifications in the future as Obama's administration faces important decision abroad.
Thursday, October 8, 2009
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
I have tried framing this issue pragmatically, I've tried approaching it as an issue of morality. Even looking at health care as a human right hasn't worked. But MSNBC's Keith Olbermann, one of health care reform's loudest supporters, may have said it best when he devoted the entirety of Wednesday night's show to a Special Comment, titled "Health Care Reform: The Fight Against Death."
Olbermann does not look at this issue pragmatically, or through a lens of morality or even civil rights. Instead, he frames this as an issue of life and death. We all want to live, and health care is the way we fight death. Everyone deserves that, and no one should have to worry about paying bills when they are fighting death.
"How are we not united against death?!" he said at one point, echoing the essence of this issue that so many -- the President, Congress, lobbyists and grassroots activists -- have missed. But rather than continue to recap what he said, I will offer Olbermann in his own words.
Fair warning: his words are stark, harsh and emotional. There is a frankness and reality to Olbermann's comments that will likely hit you in your core. It will shake your foundation and either strengthen your resolve in this debate, or it will effectively change your mind.
Whichever, I hope it inspires action. This country -- and the people in it -- need this.
This is not partisan bickering, nor is it self-righteous shouting -- both of which have been Olbermann's staples at times during his program. This hour-long story about the sad state of the American health care system is a tale both personal and practical, and it is little more than Olbermann expressing his sympathy to those who are not as lucky as he and his relatives, and his desire to help make sure no one has to worry about financial ruin because of illness or injury.
I share his sentiments; though I have long campaigned and supported a public option to keep the insurance companies honest and bring down costs, I no longer feel that is adequate. More than ever, I am convinced this country would be better off without the monopolistic and greedy insurance companies. Making it illegal to deny coverage because of a pre-existing condition or drop a policy when someone gets sick is not enough, because these corporations will surely find ways to skirt those laws.
The reform bill, public option or no, will likely not contain costs, shifting more of the financial burden of health care on the middle class. I don't care if the Senate Finance Committee bill will reduce the federal deficit; it will not healp middle-class families. This is not an issue of government takeovers or death panels -- this is a case of making sure middle-class and low-income Americans are not ruined financially when they need medical care.
Everyone deserves medical care, and no one deserves to go bankrupt getting it. I've always favored a single-payer system, similar to what most other industrialized countries -- like Canada, France and England -- have. Now, in light of Olbermann's comments and the realities of the stories I read daily regarding the insurance industry's atrocities, I feel we would be better served if Medicare was opened up to everyone. All United States citizens, from birth until death, covered under Medicare.
All working Americans already pay into Medicare; I do every month, even though I'm not eligible for the program for another 37 years. I would gladly pay a little more every month if it meant a child with leukemia could get his chemotherapy, if it meant Olbermann's father, or anyone else who needs it, could afford his dialysis.
Right now, many Americans have a choice; go get health care and risk financial ruin, or do nothing and hope their issue isn't serious. That is no way to run a health care system, and that's not the meaning of this country. It's not right, it's not fair and it's downright immoral.
We spend our lives fighting death. Our insurance companies are pushing us closer to it. It needs to stop now. Write the White House, write your Congressmen and Senators. Find activists who share your cause. MoveOn.org, Democracy For America and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee are all fighting for health care reform; join them.
This is a matter of life-and-death. I'm choosing life.
Friday, October 2, 2009
At any rate, I'm back now. Let's take a look at a couple things that have happened while I was away.
-The Senate Finance Committee is nearing completion on a health care reform bill, one that has been the subject of attacks from both sides of the aisle. The Republicans -- including the three (Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Mike Enzi of Wyoming and Olympia Snowe of Maine) who helped craft the bill -- are against it simply because they oppose the entire process -- while the Democrats are upset because the bill isn't liberal enough ... and it doesn't contain a public option.
If both parties hate it, is the bill still bipartisan?
Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) each proposed the public option in amendment form -- both were shot down, with committee chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) voting against both. Baucus' logic? He likes the public option, but wants to see a bill go through, and he doesn't think there are 60 votes in the Senate for a public option.
Senator, if you like the public option, vote for the public option. Otherwise, all you're doing is thanking the insurance industry for the nearly $3 million it's given you in campaign contributions.
The public option is by no means dead; the Finance Committee bill is the only one out of five total health care reform bills in the House and Senate not to contain one, so it's possible the public option would find its way into the bill that winds up on President Obama's desk. What form it ultimately takes remains to be seen, but the public option is not dead, even if Republicans and centrist Democrats in the Finance Committee are doing everything they can to make sure it is.
The Finance Committee bill also contains an individual mandate, which would require everyone to purchase health insurance or pay a fine to the IRS. While I'm not necessarily opposed to the philosophy behind the mandate -- I happen to be a big proponent of personal responsibility -- I can't get behind forcing people to buy a poorly-managed product they can't afford. If the Finance Committee bill had some way to lower prices and improve service -- like, say, a public option -- then an individual mandate would be more acceptable.
As it stands, though, there is no public option, and while the Finance Committee bill offers subsidies to help low-income families afford insurance, they're insufficient and the bill does not adequately address issues such as price control and quality of service. Sure, it makes pre-exisiting conditions illegal as a basis of denial of coverage, but who's to say insurance companies won't just jack up the rates as much as they can, knowing people have to buy it?
Give Sen. Baucus one thing -- at least he's honest about the fact that he's in bed with the insurance companies.
-Stunning news out of Denmark, as the International Olympic Committee selected Rio de Janiero, Brazil as the site of the 2016 Olympic Games. Well, the fact that Rio was selected wasn't shocking; the fact that Chicago was the first city to see its bid eliminated was. The star power provided by Oprah, as well as President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama apparently weren't enough to sway IOC voters.
It's a shame, because having the 2016 Games in America would've been a financial boon, not just for the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois, but for the country. Preparing for the Olympics requires the creation of thousands of jobs, including construction, security, logistics and the like. The biggest criticism of Obama's administration thus far is that job creation has been nonexistant (which is simply not true); giving the 2016 Olympics to Chicago would've created an untold number of jobs, which would boost the economy leading up to and including the Games themselves.
That's why I had to laugh when the right-wing echo chamber criticized the President for flying to Denmark to help make the city's pitch. "Doesn't the President have better things to do?" they said. "He should focus on our problems here," they said. Well, that's what he was doing. He knew the economic impact the Olympics in Chicago would have, and he wanted to bring that to America. Having the Olympics in Chicago would've not only been a really cool thing; it would've helped this country's economy at the same time.
Besides, don't these people know the President can -- and has to -- multi-task?
-Florida Rep. Alan Grayson (D) came under fire earlier this week when, on the House floor, he declared that the Republicans' health care plan was, "Don't Get Sick. And if you do get sick, Die Quickly!"
Republicans jumped all over Grayson for his remark, completely ignoring the fact that several of their own members had taken to the podium in the House and told C-SPAN that health care reform would lead to killing old people (I'm looking at you, Virginia Foxx of North Carolina and Paul Broun of Georgia). Republicans demanded an apology, likening Grayson's comment to Rep. Joe Wilson's screaming at President Obama during a joint session of Congress.
Apples and oranges, nimrods ...
While Grayson's tone might've been a bit over-the-top (and I denounce his reference to the Holocaust the following night when he apologized to those who had already died because they lacked health insurance), his basic point is indisputable; while the Republicans are quick to attack President Obama and the Democrats for their health care proposals, they've not yet offered a proposal of their own.
Republicans promised back in June that they would offer their own set of ideas ... yet here we are, in the first week of October, and the GOP has nothing. No ideas, nothing substantive to add to the debate. All they're doing is screaming their objections, sticking their fingers in their collective ears and fanning the fires of the lunatic fringe of their party.
Congratulations, Republicans. You're officially the 6-year-olds of Congress.
I've long said that I don't mind healthy disagreement; if the two parties could remain civil and have honest discussions about these deeply important policy issues, this country would be better for it. But Republicans have no interest in having a substantive debate; they want to scream at the top of their lungs and change the subject, because they know they will lose on the merits of the issue.
The Republicans are adding nothing positive to this country, and I'm tired of President Obama and some Democrats who keep trying to curry their favor. We gave you hefty majorities in Congress for a reason, and it wasn't to play nice with the right-wingers. The Republicans are not going to play nice with you, so stop trying to play nice with them.
I want Rep. Grayson to tone down the rhetoric a little (though I admit, I laughed out loud when he called Republicans "knuckle-dragging Neanderthals" on The Rachel Maddow Show Wednesday night), but his point is no less valid.