Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Republican values

About a month ago, I read a column in the Phila Inquirer written by a woman discussing classic republican values as republican ideas and the fact that these values are always "in". She listed 4 values; patriotism, hard work, individualism and traditional marriage. I was surprised to find that I shared 3 of them yet considered myself a democrat. Perhaps I am in the wrong party? Below is the letter to the editor which I sent in response to that column.

To the Editor:

Thanks for the article by Mary Manjikian about Republican values. While I am a registered Democrat, I was surprised to find that I shared 3 of the 4 values that she listed as classic Republican ideas; patriotism, hard work and individualism. So I thought I should think more deeply about her words so I could shed some light on this seeming contradiction.

Focusing on her 4th value, traditional marriage, started the ball rolling, as it seems to contradict the very idea of individualism. I guess, the republican version of individualism only accounts for those individuals who are like them. To me, believing in individualism includes the acceptance that everyone is different. Conversely, only supporting individuals who share your beliefs, only acknowledging groups of people who live as you do, and working to deny the very rights that you hold sacred from those that are not the same as you is the antithesis of individualism.

As for patriotism, I am hard pressed to recall those praising the tea party movement had any praise for the anti-war demonstators in the Bush years. In fact, my recollection is that those citizens who expressed their disagreement with what they thought was an immoral and unjustifiable war were called unpatriotic, even sympathizers with the enemy. Again, it seems that the republican version of patriotism is limited by their belief in what they think is good for the country, no quarter given for those that disagree.

I don't find it worth commenting on hard work as, to me, stating as fact that the group you belong to works harder than another group is about as arrogant as you can be.

So again, thanks for Ms. Manjikian's article. While I hope her opinions don't reflect the attitude of all republicans, for me it is clear that she has no interest in debating the issues of the day because she already knows that her verison, the republican version, of values such as patriotism and individualism do not include the opinions of anyone else.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

More Health Care Debate

I read an article today in the Phila Inquirer by John Yoo. He is against the health care reform bill and is especially concerned about the mandate to buy health insurance that is included in the bill. His article focused on the coming legal battle over this mandate aspect of the reform bill and cited a number of cases that may affect the eventual court decisions. If you don't know you John Yoo is, he is famous for being one of the lawyers who helped fashion the definition of torture as applied by the Bush Administration. Here is the letter I sent.

To the editor:

While I generally disagree with Mr. Yoo's opinions, I read his latest column "The individual mandate an intrusion on civil society" in its entirely. I found it refreshing to read an argument against health care reform which didn't focus on misconceptions such as death panels or sound bites such as socialized medicine. However, I do have a problem with Mr. Yoo's assumption that we live in a civil society. Is it a civil society that allows its citizens to lose their homes due to medical bills? Is it a civil society that stands by while upwards of 40,000 of its citizens die each year from a lack of health coverage? Is it a civil society that spends $850 billion in one year for "defense" yet argues about spending $950 billion over 10 years so that those citizens with serious health issues will be able to have health insurance?

Clearly, Mr. Yoo has a brilliant legal mind. Unfortunately, his concern for his fellow man is not as developed. The coming legal battles over the health care reform bill may make for interesting mental gymnastics but will do nothing to help America figure out how we are going to pay for the health care services that are required by those with severe physical issues such as heart problems, diabetes and cancer. No matter how you slice it, a society that worries more about money than the health of its citizens has some ways to go before it can be called civil.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Hateful speech

A few Sundays ago, there was a column in the Phila Inquirer by Michael Smerconish which discussed the unfortunate situation involving the members of a Baptist church who demonstrated across the street from the funeral of a recently killed soldier. These demonstrators carried signs and made remarks that were not very charitable to the dead soldiers's family. I sent the following letter to the Inquirer in response to Mr. Smerconish's article. The Inquirer sent me an e-mail saying that they were interested in pubishing my letter but did not so I am reproducing it below.

To the editor:

Michael Smerconish's Sunday column brings to light a situation which tests the very core of our freedoms. In essence, do we allow the freedom of speech and assembly to include speech, signs and sentiments that we find abhorrent? Mr. Smerconish concludes that in this case, the right to assemble, demonstrate and display opinions that most people consider hateful should be denied in favor of a grieving family's right to privacy as they mourn the loss of their son, a man who made the ultimate sacrifice for his country and his beliefs. To me, like the difficult legal battles and emotional reactions that surround flag burning, we need to remember that our constitutional rights were created by a group of men who understood that the rule of rational law is needed precisely because emotions flare and wane and laws based on feelings will never be fairly adjudicated. The problem in this case is that the members of the Westboro Baptist Church value their own opinion over the true spirit of the First Amendment. Rather than asking if they have the right to such a demonstration (I believe they do), they should be asking if they should exercise their right in such a manner. Would they be as supportive of the First Amendment if protestors began demonstrating in front of their church, disrupting their Sunday service? As the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility. Our constitutional rights have provided each and every American with great powers of expression. Here is hoping that we exercise these rights with more responsibility than the Westboro Baptist Church.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Stimulus Package

Copy of my letter published in the News Herald

To the editor:

This past week marked the one year anniversary of the Economic Recovery Act, better known as the stimulus package. Much debate has taken place with the usual perspectives in full force; Republicans/conservatives claiming it has done nothing and calling it a huge government waste, Democrats/liberals touting that it staved off financial collapse and has saved and/or created a few million jobs. Everyone seems in agreement that we are far from clear of the recession but consensus on how to proceed continues to polarize the country.

For me, I have no doubt that the stimulus package did some good as it has helped me and my family directly. Let me explain. Unfortunately, I lost my job on January 4 of this year. I was in sales in the transportation industry. My job consisted primarily of maintaining my account base while bringing on new business. I periodically visited about 200 local businesses in a typical 2 month period. As I only started this job in May 2007, I was witness to the reduction in business both for my company and my customers beginning in late 2008. On a weekly basis, especially at the end of 2008 and the first half of 2009, I experienced the loss of customers due to bankruptcy and the loss of contacts due to layoffs and job eliminations. In some cases, my customers dropped employees that may have not been pulling their weight, in other cases, mid-level managers and supervisors, some with 12, 15 even 20 years experience, were let go to save money. There just wasn't enough orders. No orders meant less employees, and less shipping business for me. And, while some businesses began shipping again as 2009 drew to a close, hiring did not follow as companies focused on improving their bottom line. The recession was all too real to me then and it was clear that businesses by themselves were not in a position to move us out of its grip.

Which brings us back to the stimulus program. Many people are unaware of this but it included a subsidy to help defray the cost of COBRA for anyone who lost their job from Dec 2008 through Feb 2010. In my case, a COBRA payment that would have been an unreachable $1500 a month for the exact same coverage I had for myself and family while employed dropped to just over $500 a month. While still quite a sum of money for someone unemployed, it gave me at least the opportunity to pay for a few months coverage while searching for something new. Without it, my family would have joined the ranks of the uninsured. And, to be honest, even with this subsidy, I may be faced with a decision to drop coverage if I can't secure a new full time position in the next few months. For those of you who believe that our health care system does not need reform, check with your employer to see what your COBRA cost would be should you lose your job. And for those who think that no one has benefitted from the stimulus package, I would imagine that since unemployment is close to 10%, you probably know a number of people who have benefitted. If not personally, then certainly you are encountering them in your neighborhood. They are in line at the grocery store with you. Or in the stands at your son's basketball game. They are ex-coworkers, your friends' cousins, the clerks at your local pharmacy or department store.

Was the stimulus program perfect? Of course not; it contained the usual pork and big money for large political contributors and special interest groups. But it is providing some money for the millions of unemployed people and their families so they can continue to eat and pay their mortgage. And it is helping untold American families (like mine) to at least have a shot at affordable healthcare coverage at a time when they can least afford to lose that coverage.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Health Care Reform

It is Monday morning, March 22, 2010. I have read my daily newspaper which featured multiple articles on the historic health care reform bill passed last night in the House. I have watched taped bits of the debate on C-SPAN wherein the Republican speakers decried the bill in the most horrific tones while the Democratic speakers lauded its many accomplishments. I have spent the last six months talking to my neighbors, friends and family who also reflected this split in opinion. And I have spent the first 2 months of this year struggling to pay for healthcare while on COBRA due to the loss of my primary job on January 4th of this year. So, which is it? Financial doom and the beginning of the end of our freedoms or a step towards utopia?

My hope is that the majority of us who are too busy making a living, driving their kids to soccer games and swimming practice and working 2 or more jobs to pay their bills will join me in the understanding that it is neither the best legislation ever nor the end of America as we know it. My hope is that we will demand that the rancorous debate that we have seen in Congress and in the streets, debate which seemed more like professional wrestling than serious discussion, will be replaced by civil discourse based on the issues, not fear. And finally, I hope that we will all take a good look in the mirror and remember that our founders gave us the basis for the greatest governance in history but that it requires an incredible individual and personal responsibility to make it work.

The baseline debate, to me, is; should all Americans have access to affordable health care? I believe that if you asked that question, a large majority of people in this country would answer yes. But let's take it a step further. Should all SICK Americans have access to affordable health care? Sounds like a no brainer; if you are sick you should be able to get treated and not go bankrupt or lose your home. Yet, think about it folks, that is precisely what we are debating. Insurance companies take everyone's premiums and wager that they will pay out less than they take in. When you are healthy, they win and when you are sick they lose. To offset their losses, they give better rates to large companies where the risk is spread out. Individuals or small companies that don't have this advantage, are the first to lose their coverage or have to drop it because it is too expensive. In other words, the sicker you are (or the people you work with), the more likely you will lose coverage. Now, don't get me wrong, I understand why insurance companies do this; they are trying to make a profit just like any other company. The problem is that their making a profit can and does cause Americans to lose health care coverage. When it was recently discovered that Toyota may have ignored problems with their accelerators because it would have cost more to fix the issue than to address it, and that upwards of 50 people in the last few years may have died because of it, there was some outrage and immediate congressional hearings. Yet, isn't it obvious that in the name of profit, health care insurance companies deny benefits and coverage? Some say up to 40,000 Americans die each year for lack of health care coverage. Even if it is only 10,000, shouldn't we be just as irate?

So clearly, it seems to be about money. Yes, we think everyone should have health care coverage and yes, certainly anyone who is sick should be provided health care services and coverage but who should pay for it? Obviously, healthy people need to contribute premiums to help pay for the sick. Healthy people should accept this burden because some day they could be in need. I sometimes hear people complain that they never get sick so why should they pay for health insurance. I usually ask them if they would rather be sick so they were getting their money's worth. Or if they plan to die early so they don't waste all those years of life insurance premiums.

Speaking of money, why do we spend almost twice as much per person as any other county for health care but have poorer outcomes? Undeniably, our health care system provides tremendous care. But is seems that the care is accessible in proportion to one's income. When you see certain pundits claim that America has the greatest health care system in the world because they just got treated or all these famous people always come here, focus on the fact that the main thing in common is money and resources. But what about all the people without those advantages? Are we really comfortable with the provision that like any other product in a free market system, access to quality health care should be based on one's ability to pay?

While I am no economist, I do know that my recent loss of my full time job resulted in a COBRA payment that was unaffordable. Luckily, the stimulus package included a 65% subsidy for those who lost their jobs since Dec 2008 and even more fortunate, I was able to secure a job this month that provides health coverage. So again, if we accept the premise of universal access, then we must face the real life question of cost. Should we cap the profit of insurance companies or mandate that they be non-profit? Should we cap the salary of doctors? Should we cap the cost of technology such as X-ray machines? Should we cap the cost of services such as heart bypass surgery? Should we cap the cost of liability insurance for health care providers and lawsuit payouts when medical negligence occurs? Should we do all of those things so that we can truly say that America has the best health care system and have actual facts and statistics to prove it?

And what about you and me? Should we pay better attention to what we eat so we don't need to take so much medication? Should we exercise a little more and watch TV a little less? Should we change our unhealthy behaviors rather than asking for a drug to counteract our poor choices?

We have major issues to discuss concerning health care in America and those issues have not been decided with the recent passage of the health care reform bill. I trust that Americans will continue the debate at work and at home and I look forward to that debate on this blog. You know my thoughts; what are yours?

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Introduction: I am a Liberal

In the current political landscape, the Democratic party is associated with a left or liberal perspective and the Republican party a right or conservative viewpoint. As far back as I can remember, my opinions have leaned left of center. Consequently I have been a registered Democrat for most of my voting life. Considering the fact that our President is a Democrat and both houses of congress feature a democratic majority, one would expect that everyone even remotely left of center would be demonstrably proud to be called a liberal. Strangely however, it seeems that very few elected officials or media pundits claim to be a liberal. I don't mean to say that liberal viewpoints aren't being offerred; it just doesn't seem that many liberals are proud to identify themselves as such. So, I will (hopefully) start the ball rolling.

I am a liberal and I am proud to stand behind my liberal perspective.

In the coming weeks, I will detail my personal opinion on the various topics of the day. Most will seem liberal while some might not, but it is my hope that my offerrings are consistent with the definitions of liberal as found in my American Heritage Dictionary.

Liberal, adjective. 1. Having, expressing, or following political views or policies that favor civil liberties, democratic reforms, and the use of governmental power to promote social progress. 2. Having, expressing, or following views or policies that favor the freedom of individuals to act or express themselves in a manner of their own choosing.

In addition to dicussing topics such as health care, gay marriage, capitalism, war, the deficit, climate change, morality, etc, I hope this blog to allow for the civil expression of all viewpoints, contradictory as well as complimentary. There are far too many radio and TV shows that glorify those with opinions that agree while demonizing those who disagree. Positive discourse allows for a sharing of opinions that represent a range of perspective. And while passion is always welcome, I hope this blog will allow for a forum that is respectful, not hateful.

Two hundred and thirty plus years ago, a group of business leaders, land owners, thinkers and statesmen met in Philadelphia to put into writing a set of rules to help guide an experiment in governance never tried before. While they produced two of the greatest political documents ever created, they didn't always agree on the details. Debate was often rancorous, passions ran high and compromise was a part of the process. Let's try to make our founders proud by continuing the debate as it relates to finding solutions to today's problems.