CANADA, OH CANADA

14455067-rocky-mountains-at-whistler-canadaI spent New Year’s in Canada and an ear infection sent me to the doctor where in very short order, although a visitor from another country, I was examined, diagnosed, treated, and even without insurance the cost was 48% of what it would have cost me in the US.

The Trump administration and its Republican cohorts have made it clear that they intend to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA). There are problems with the Act, but what the naysayers never mention is that the reason for those problems was their obstructionist efforts to derail the law when it was being drafted in the legislature. Most of the stakeholders, the drug companies, the insurance industry, the Republicans, and many corporations with large workforces, rather than work with the administration, opposed it at every turn.

So, it’s no surprise that we’ve ended up with a system that has been the bone of so much contention. For the most part the criticism has been partisan rather than constructive, but say what you will, increasing coverage cost and all, Obamacare has been a massive improvement to what we had before.

I have personal experience regarding the benefits of the ACA. I had a pre-existing condition and could not afford the cost of the medicines I needed which was approximately $3,000.00 per month. Although I had a decent income I still had to rely on assistance to afford my medications. Fortunately, because of Obamacare I could afford my prescription expenses.

There is no public option in the ACA, and the public mandate is one of the most criticized parts of the legislation. We need both. The former to keep the costs down and available to everyone and the latter to be able to pay for it.

I was visiting another state and developed a hearing problem that required flushing wax from my ears. At home this would have been covered as a regular doctor visit but because I was out of the area my insurance covers only emergency care and this was not. Therefore, I would have to pay the full $130 charge.
I declined the treatment there and sought it at the next stop on my trip which was Canada. There would’ve been no charge to a Canadian but as a U.S. citizen I was charged US $37.00, and the medication for the infection was $24.50.

I am confounded by the fact that representatives who claim they are working for the interests of the common man are so shamelessly disingenuous. The ACA is not perfect but it does work and it is better than the no-protection-nothing-but-unfettered free market system we had before that left nearly 40 million Americans without access to healthcare readily available to every citizen in every other developed industrialized country in the world.

So, I challenge our political representatives, for the sake of the constituents you took an oath to represent, fix the system; change the name if you want to, but do so with the spirit to work in the interests of your constituents and not solely the big moneyed lobbyists and special interests.

TRUMP: THE NEW NORMAL…HE AIN’T

Martin Luther King Memorial, Washington DC
Martin Luther King Memorial, Washington DC

HAPPY NEW YEAR.

Donald Trump has won the White House.

He’s played by the rules, bending them, pushing them to extremes, avoiding them, and dissing them, but playing by them nonetheless, so at least for now (now being the next four years) he is our president. And with all the branches of government under Republican control he is most certain to believe that he is free to do whatever he chooses to do.

He may be right. We must make sure that he isn’t.

He is my president, but I didn’t vote for him and I abhor the lack of principles for which he stands. By myself I have no power to stop him, but by sticking to the principles of malice towards none and justice for all, I believe that he can be curbed.

People of good will, DO SOMETHING, anything, no matter how small to advance the cause that you care about. Justice is what we call love for all, so work towards overcoming injustice in some way. And it isn’t simply about the direct human condition, there are issues of justice that involve the environment, the earth,  or any attention to the natural world which in its complexity impacts the lives of all of us on this planet.

Be intentional, and do something more than you’ve done before, and make it in the interest of something greater than or beyond yourself. And it cannot be just a one-off event.

Commit yourself to full time engagement in advancing your chosen cause. If enough of us take this step wherever we are a movement or movements will coalesce that will protect an advance our cause even in what seems certain to be difficult times ahead.

The corollary to this effort is that we must not to sink to playing by any standard less than the ideals embodied in the golden rule. There has been a tendency to forget this on the part of progressives disheartened by the results of the elections. We must resist this temptation or risk becoming a caricature of those principles we oppose.

This is not going to be easy. We face difficult times. The rights of the working-class, poor, middle-class, people of color, women et. al. are going to be under a level of assault unknown to recent generations.

However, this is not the time to despair or disappear. Martin Luther King said it well and we must keep it in mind, ‘the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.’

It’s All Over But The Voting

I’ve stopped watching the debates. Yes there’s still some drama left to be wrung from the candidates but the outcome seems obvious. For the Republicans it’ll be the reign of Machiavelli v the Dem’s optimistic (in small letters) hope.

Yes this is the view through my ‘progressive’ prism. From here the only question left before the vote in November is how much wealth will be transferred to the 1% owners of corporate media in the advertising orgy to come as the campaign rolls on.

Trump is the presumptive GOP’s candidate, and in the unlikely event it’s another, their agenda will be as disingenuous regarding the interests of the middle class, not to mention the poor which no one has bothered to mention for the last two election cycles. In no particular order the Republicans views on the issues making the headlines are virtually indistinguishable.

Immigration: They are are all against comprehensive immigration reform, except for Kasich, though he joins in the call for border control, which is their watchword of the day, with building a ‘beeyootiful’ wall the ultimate solution to the problem. Never mind that just like the anti-voting rights agenda where they’ve been obsessed, since the Obama presidency, with solving a problem that doesn’t exist, illegal immigration has been on a downward trend in recent years and is currently at a statistical trickle. If there are those that do not seek whole scale deportation of the undocumented they’re not in favor of a path to citizenship either. Regardless of the candidate, addressing the real issues of the undocumented immigrants’ value to our economy, their humanitarian needs, and the long term issues of poverty and violence in the countries from which most of these immigrants are fleeing are off the table as long as the current group of Republicans in Congress hold sway over the legislative agenda.

National Security: In varying degrees their solutions are to turn up the anti-Muslim rhetoric and fan the flames of hate and fear. Not all are as direct as Trump but their solutions in essence are the same; baton down the hatches at home, increase the military response and go on the attack abroad.

This is a complex problem and I don’t pretend to have answers but there are lessons from history that point to the comprehensive nature of any strategy needed to reach a long term solution. There is a legitimate need for an effective cooperative military strategy, but such a strategy must reflect our core national values, otherwise the terrorists will have already won. I have nothing but abhorrence for their violent tactics but in order to defeat them we must understand clearly what motivates them, and stop relying on convenient platitudes such as ‘they hate our way of life. More often they couldn’t care less about us. It’s a power struggle between our cultures and what they hate is that we are in their countries and they’re losing control to us over their way of life, and they want us to leave them alone.

This is not to suggest I agree with them; sometimes yes, but not always, especially on basic issues of human rights particularly to minorities and women. But they’re humans not animals and if we treat them as such we will never be able to exemplify the difference in our values and and counter the narrative they use to attract their followers. When for short term goals we dismiss values such as justice under law and resort to unrestrained violence of torture, it gives the terrorists a platform from which to undermine our moral claims in the eyes of their potential recruits. And make no mistake, this is a war over the moral core of our cultures. In addition to military and police actions we must address the conditions of corruption, poor governance, education and poverty that create the milieu from which acceptance of their vile use of violence and hate arise. We must be willing to listen and learn as well as to attack and impose. There are times when our military might is needed but as the Iraq and Afghanistan wars show, winning the peace is more difficult than winning the war.

The Economy: The GOP recently began giving lip service to the problem of inequality of wealth, yet their solutions are all variations on an old and discredited theme; trickle down economics. Cut taxes for the wealthy so that they’ll create jobs for the many. Throw the needy off entitlement programs that only increase the deficit, while tax loopholes remain for the wealthy, and ‘yuuge‘ transfer payments take place for wealthy corporations in the defense industry, energy sector, agribusiness, foreign aid, and manufacturing. Their austerity scalpel is prepared to slice away only at the weakest and most marginalized sectors of the social fabric.

Health Care: GOP candidates are uniformly dead set on blowing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to smithereens without any credible plan to replace it. Health care for their constituents is not a right but rather another commodity to be left to the forces of the market without any check on the greed of the drug and insurance companies, and the corporate healthcare providers despite their history of gouging the market with massively overpriced medicine and services and leaving nearly 40 million Americans without access to comprehensive healthcare prior to the passage of the ACA.

Climate Change: The most serious problem facing humanity but it doesn’t exist in the parallel universe of the Republican Party.

This is the unfortunate state of affairs in the divide between conservatives and progressives. Never mind the current rhetoric of prejudice and scapegoatism that overwhelmingly comes from the right and which has become a real threat to the stability and health of our democratic process. If there’s any substantive change in the position of any GOP candidate I’d be happy to reconsider my position, but in light of the above, I’m ready to vote right now, not so much for those on the left, as against everything coming from the right.

GENESIS OF THE TRUMP FACTOR

It’s interesting and mildly amusing to read the litany of opinions bemoaning the rise of the Donald as the standard bearer of the Republican Party. I’m as horrified as the next person that a candidate that embraces hate and division as the source of greatness of the American character is the one whose message is resonating with a large segment of the body politic.

There’s no lack of theories about how we got here. They range from a public angry with the greed of Wall Street that has robbed the middle class of its wealth, to a government in Washington that does not work, to a morally weak group of Republican candidates for the presidency, unwilling to take on the Donald and be forced to endure the scathing personal attacks that he substitutes for substantive policy debate.

All of these critiques have some merit, but there’s one factor that is being overlooked because in my opinion, it indicts so many of those now heaping coals on the Donald.

The fact is that ever since the election and inauguration of President Obama there has been a virulent strain of racism in the charged atmosphere of the opposition to him from all sectors of the Republican Party. No doubt many will deny that this was the basis of their animus towards Mr. Obama. It was his policies they will insist. But to those of us minorities long accustomed to the latent racism still present in the American lifeblood, as well as many of the unbiased observers in the majority community, there is no doubt that ever since this black man became President of the country, a license of acceptance was granted to those opposing him on open and thinly veiled racist arguments.

The disrespect heaped on him by both public and private figures, the vilification of everything about him from his birth, to his integrity for no other than personal dislike and hate of the man caused a groundswell among those on the far right. Hate groups have grown at an alarming rate, and there is no end to the most ridiculous of conspiracy theories about his motives to seize power and destroy the constitutional rights of the white citizens of this country.

Rather than disassociate themselves from this noxious bigotry the denizens of the Republican Party, including several of the candidates for the presidency, fanned these flames for their own political gain, and the division in the country is arguably at its worst since the Civil War period.

Into this putrid soup of discontent came the Donald to take the lid off the bowl and stir the pot even more by validating unequivocally the hatred and bigotry that many in the mainstream had exploited while pretending that they were engaging in serious policy debate. The Donald has openly engaged the lowest common denominator of our fears and taken the largest step in setting this country back in its march towards a more perfect union for all.

There is still time to stop his march, still time for us to realize the serious threat this brand of hate filled politics poses to our national interest. There is still hope that whether or not he is the Republican nominee a democrat will win the general election. (My preference of course) But even so there will be need for all of us to work doubly hard to push back against the rise of outspoken bigotry and hate that will remain after the hoped for failure of his candidacy.

To Republicans and Democrats alike who believe that we are all Americans first, and allegiance to party is about a real conviction in choosing a different path to arrive at the same destination of a better society for us all, our work is just beginning and we will have to be committed to it not for an election cycle but for a very long time to come.

The Spirit of a New Election Year

One of the blessings to the cyclical rhythm of life is the opportunity to start over again. It is present in the seasons of nature, and in the offer of forgiveness and redemption in our religious heritage. And the beginning of a new year is an opportune time to reflect on where we are individually and corporately on the path to becoming better than we have been.

Better for present purpose is being further along the path to creating a just society. Our ability to achieve this is directly related to our ability to feel connected to the other; to see ourselves in the other and recognize either through faith in the divine or our own reason that safeguarding the other’s welfare is the best safeguard of our own welfare.

One whose needs are satisfied is far less likely to threaten our own needs.

In a recent documentary on Paul Simon’s making of the Graceland album with the South African group, Black Mombaza, Simon defied an international boycott of apartheid South Africa and traveled there to record the album. He was blithely unaware of the situation on the ground in South Africa and when he was advised that the black liberationists were opposed to his efforts, ignored their opposition on the grounds that their attitude infringed on his artistic freedom. The South African black musicians who collaborated with him were vilified. Even today 27 years later, many of the liberationists remain deeply disappointed with them.

Ironically, the acclaim of the album raised the profile of the genius of South African musical talent, and did more to galvanize worldwide attention and opposition to apartheid than almost anything else at the time.

The spirit of the anti-apartheid sanctions was to benefit the oppressed people of South Africa. The breaking of the letter of the sanctions turned out to be more in keeping with their spirit than abiding by them.

This illustrates how often we forget that the spirit of the law is more important than the letter, and that we must be careful as we make choices in our personal and corporate lives that we remain true to the spirit rather than to rigid adherence to the letter of the law.

This precedent exists in Christ’s teachings. On one occasion he picked corn and fed his disciples on the Sabbath and was accused by the authorities of breaking the law against working on God’s holy day. In response he observed that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. The spirit of the law was intended for the benefit of the people’s welfare.

In this election year many of our political debates suffer the same failing. Issues from war and peace, to immigration, income inequality, racism, and gun violence all risk suffering  this flawed analysis as the populist cheerleaders forget the original spirit of our democratic experiment, to form a more perfect union with justice for all.  

This is the spirit to which we as a nation must be dedicated. The beginning of this New Year is a perfect time to push the reset button on trying to live it.