Monday, August 31, 2009

RNC poll pushes lies on health care reform

The conservative movement in America continues to get loonier and loonier.

Last week, the Republican National Committee distributed a newsletter that included a push-poll questionnaire -- a method of polling that isn't designed to actually get people's opinions but rather to disseminate negative information about the opposition in order to get people who take the poll to think badly of them.

Within this questionnaire it was suggested that the Democratic plan for health care could be used in the future to refuse Republicans health care coverage simply for political reasons.

"It has been suggested that the government could use voter registration to determine a person's political affiliation," it says, "prompting fears that GOP voters might be discriminated against for medical treatment in a Democrat-imposed health care rationing system. Does this possibility concern you?"

An RNC spokeswoman said that the wording of the question was "inartfully worded," and that "the RNC doesn't try to scare people."

This from the party that brought you death panels and lies about the health care bill funding abortion procedures.

Of course, the RNC -- and the conservative movement in particular -- ARE trying to scare us. There's nothing else they can do. Poll after poll has shown that Americans support health care reform, support a government option for insurance, and support raising taxes on the rich to pay for it.

So what do conservatives do? They make THIS particular bill look scary, and cause mass hysteria over provisions that don't even exist. Then, they use this hysteria to say Americans DON'T support reform, a government option, or raising taxes on the wealthy.

We can't let them get away with it. We need to continue the campaign to educate people, push for the truth from our legislators and from our media. We need to continue the fight for health care reform in our country.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Right-wing town hall: still "astroturf" to me

A town hall meeting was held in Madison last night to discuss the issue of health care reform in the U.S. The event had between one to two thousand in attendance, with most voicing dissatisfaction with the Democratic proposals for reform (though some brave souls did come out to state their support, too).

The event was billed as open to all, with an invitation sent to Rep. Tammy Baldwin to make an appearance. Baldwin, however, declined, and its understandable why: the town hall wasn't meant to be a true open forum -- it was designed primarily for people to voice their opposition to the proposals made in Washington, without much room for persuasion among the people in attendance.

The event was set up by Americans for Prosperity, a right-wing organization that helped organize the "Tea Party" demonstrations across the country earlier this year. ABC's John Stossel and former Rep. Scott Klug were also on hand, creating a conservative-triumvirate (conservative media, politician, and organization) that would have been anything but accommodating to progressive speakers like Baldwin.

Those two speakers in particular, citing the size of the crowd, scoffed at the notion that such events were examples of "astroturf" movements, a term coined by the left to describe fake grassroots campaigns orchestrated by the right in recent months.

I wasn't in attendance at the event, so any speculation about what went down is just that: speculation. However, judging from the behavior of people at other town hall meetings in recent weeks, it's a safe bet that a lot of what was talked about was probably misinformation on the proposed bills rather than true statements on what reform would mean for the average person in the room last night.

I base that judgment in part due to another event that I DID attend: the Tea Party protest that was held in Madison. As mentioned before, the same organization that organized the event last night also organized the Tea Party on April 15. While I was there, I saw dozens, if not hundreds, of signs that made many incorrect assumptions on Obama and his economic policies (including the belief that the president isn't a naturally-born citizen of the United States...and that, of course, he is the anti-Christ).

Now, again, I could be completely wrong; I wasn't there. If I am wrong, I welcome anyone reading this who DID attend the event to correct me. But my basic intuition is telling me that the event held last night was probably more like a campaign town hall meeting rather than a grassroots one. With two more stops in Wisconsin alone, that comparison isn't too far off.

The right-wing fear campaign is still going strong, and unfortunately, it seems to be working: nearly half of all Americans believe in the "death panels" lie, among others. If that many Americans now consider the lies on health care to be truths, then we're in for some serious trouble.

The public needs to be informed, not scared into opposition. As I've stated in the past, the right could bring up many reasonable talking points in this debate -- but instead, they've opted to "swift boat" health care reform, hoping unsubstantiated fears can defeat Obama and Democrats in Washington.

Which begs the question: can you really trust a side of a debate that would rather scare you than inform you? Personally, I'm going to support the side that provides the most concrete facts and figures, not the one that lies to my face about made-up issues like death panels or funding for abortion. For that reason, the movement by the right to defeat health care reform -- even if supported by misinformed citizens -- is still an astroturf movement.

A movement that is created through falsehoods and lies still lacks legitimacy in my book.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

AARP Poll: Americans want reform

A new poll by the AARP shows some encouraging trends with regards to health care reform in the United States.

More than half of all Americans (56 percent) believe that "it is more important than ever to take on health care reform" right now, versus 32 percent who believe that we cannot afford to take it on right now.

Most Americans, however, don't want to pay higher taxes for such reform (64 percent). Despite this finding, there's a silver lining -- under the proposals for reform the Democrats have crafted, only the top two percent of Americans would actually have to pay higher taxes for reform.

And if nearly two-thirds don't want to pay higher taxes, nearly three-fourths (74 percent) don't want to pay higher premiums among those who already have private health insurance.

86 percent of all Americans believe that "insurance should be available to everyone regardless of health history" (that is, they want pre-existing conditions to go away), a key selling point in the health care reform bill.

72 percent of Americans support "limiting the deductions that higher-income people can claim on their income tax returns" in order to fund health care improvements, a strong signal that Americans support higher taxes on the wealthy to pay for such reform.

However, there is troubling news as well. Most Americans couldn't correctly identify (even when given a choice between three options) what was meant by the "public option." Only 37 percent could correctly identify what it really was.

Still, the poll should be seen as a positive sign for health care reform proponents. That more Americans want reform -- despite more Americans starting to believe the falsehoods that right-wing liars have spread -- speaks volumes.

Edward Kennedy: 1932 - 2009

I cannot put into words the important role that Edward Kennedy played in American politics over the past half century. Even as a writer, my words wouldn't do any good in describing the accomplishments this man has done in the name of public service.

It'd be enough for some to simply say he was a "Kennedy," and therefore understand that he held a certain place in our hearts. Yet, he was more than just the name, more than just a member of a prestigious family in U.S. politics.

Ted Kennedy was a champion of the people. He worked hard for the past 47 years as a Senator to ensure that equality and justice for all was more than just a nice catch phrase. Working on reforms ranging from civil rights to education, immigration to health care, and much, much more, Kennedy was a tireless advocate from the day he assumed office until the day of his death.

It is unfortunate that his death must come at a time when emboldened extremists on the right will undoubtedly try to tarnish his legacy, to make his life's work seem inconsequential. To be sure, he didn't live a perfect life, having his share of scandal over his time as Senator. But for all his mistakes, for all the flaws he exhibited, in the bigger picture the legacy of Edward Kennedy will not be those mistakes or flaws -- the legacy he has painted for himself will be one of a man dedicated to public service and to his country.

It would be a fitting tribute to his life to pass health care reform, an issue he called the "Cause of my life." For Teddy, it would be better than any memorial in his image could ever capture.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Van Hollen defends WI Constitution by ignoring key parts of it

JB Van Hollen is not following his job duties.

This week, the Republican Attorney General stated that he would not defend the state in a lawsuit involving the legality of the domestic partnership registry law.

From the Wisconsin State Journal:
"My decision isn't based on a policy disagreement," he said. "As Attorney General, I prosecute and defend laws that I wouldn't have voted for if I were a policymaker. That is what I believe the job entails.

"But I will not ignore the Constitution. My oath isn’t to the legislature or the governor. My duty is to the people of the State of Wisconsin and the highest expression of their will — the Constitution of the State of Wisconsin. When the people have spoken by amending our Constitution, I will abide by their command. When policymakers have ignored their words, I will not."
In choosing to sit out this legal challenge, Van Hollen also forces the state to seek outside help, costing the taxpayers more money.

Not that we should want to have Van Hollen defend for the state anyway; he'd probably do a half-decent job at it in an effort to purposely lose while at the same time saving face with those who think he should do his job.

But Van Hollen mistakenly believes his duty is to the people. On some level it is -- he was elected by them and is thus responsible for upholding his job duties pursuant to their wishes. In that way, he'd be right to sit this case out on the merits that the people voted for the ban on gay marriage.

On the other hand, he is the top lawman in the state -- his job is to uphold the laws Wisconsin has established, as he himself said. If he can't do that, then he doesn't deserve to be Attorney General.

In addition, if Van Hollen had done his homework, he would know that an amendment to the State Constitution can only have one clause for the people to vote on at a time. The ban on gay marriage had two clauses, one for banning gay marriage and one for banning recognition of unions substantially similar to gay marriage, but only one vote for both issues. You couldn't vote for a ban on gay marriage and support civil unions, for had to oppose both or support both.

In that way, the ban on gay marriage itself is unconstitutional. Yet, we don't see Van Hollen making that assertion. He says he will not ignore the rules of the Constitution -- by ignoring the rules of the Constitution!

If Van Hollen were honest about his position -- which, it should be pretty plain to see, is that he doesn't agree with the domestic partnership law -- then it'd be fine for him to say, "I can't take on this case because my beliefs contradict it. It might be a conflict of interest, then, for me to defend something I don't want to defend."

Instead, Van Hollen used the people as a means to defend his position. He should either "man-up" and admit his prejudices or do the job the people of Wisconsin elected him to do. Either way, though, Van Hollen is ignoring the rule of law in Wisconsin.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Health care realities scarier than right-wing lies

The author sits humbly at his computer desk, thinking of ways he can influence his readers into thinking that health care reform is a good idea. A realization comes to him: just lie! If it works so well for the conservative die-hards in this country, surely the same tactics can work for him and his cause. Fear, after all, is a great motivator, capable of changing public opinion just like that (snaps fingers). He sits down and types his first lie:

"Lie" #1: If you don't support health care reform, an insurance company might get between you and your doctor, preventing you from getting the care you might need, all in the name of profit!

He sits back and re-reads his "creation." It occurs to him that this lie is actually a lie at all -- it's the truth for millions of Americans who are denied coverage due to pre-existing conditions, or whose medical procedures insurance companies might deem unnecessary due to high costs. "Hmm," he thinks to himself. "This lying business might be harder than I thought." He takes a second stab at it:

"Lie" #2: Without any change to the current system, the government is going to bankrupt itself! We spend 17 percent of our gross domestic product on funding health care, and if current trends continue, that number could get higher!

Again, as he re-reads his lie, the author realizes it isn't one. "This lying stuff sure is hard work," he grumbles. "Ah...I've got a doozey now!" He sets back to work, wondering shortly to himself if anyone still uses the word "doozey" these days:

"Lie" #3: Six out of every ten bankruptcies are due in part to high costs in health care. In the year 2000, it was half that! In 1981, it was only 8 percent! Think of where this is going!

Another truth slips into the author's writings. "This isn't working out very well!" the author thinks aloud. "What to do, what to do?!"

"Aha!" he says, "I just need something so dreadful, so connected to human life that anyone who disagrees with health care reform after hearing THIS lie will seem inhumane!"

"Lie" #4: Estimates show that 22,000 people DIED in 2006 because they lacked basic health care coverage, either because they didn't have any to begin with or because they were "underinsured." That estimate is up from another one in 2002, where 18,000 people died due to similar circumstances, and between the years 2000 to 2006, 137,000 people died. If we don't do anything to remedy the health care crisis in this country, we're LITERALLY KILLING tens of thousands of Americans!

Feeling very accomplished with the "lie" he wrote, the author sits back and smiles confidently. Until the doubt sets in -- "Maybe I should just do a quick Google search on that one to make sure it's not true, like the rest of my lies that didn't work out."

He's stunned by the results: it's another truth! "Oh, for crying out loud!" he screams, much to the horror of his cat who sits under his desk while he works. "Just how am I supposed to strike fear into the hearts of people with all these truths in the way?!"

Something occurs to him. He sits back at his desk, and offers the following thoughts on the matter...

It seems that the fears right-wing extremists have been spreading recently are nothing compared to the fears people should REALLY be having over the CURRENT health care crisis. Each of these "lies" presented before you is in fact a truth. We live in a system where millions go without coverage and insurance companies refuse to provide for the services you need; where the country spends nearly one-fifth of its GDP on keeping the system going while more than 60 percent of the country is going bankrupt trying to get their health needs attended to; and where tens of thousands of people die annually because they can't get the coverage they need.

Are you scared yet? You should be.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Will Obama pull the plug on the public option?

The Obama administration is signaling it might be ready for compromise on health care reform, and may drop the government-run public option in favor of funding non-profit private health care co-ops using government grants.

It could be the biggest blunder of the president's political career.

Though he will get some reform passed (such as abolishing the practice of denying coverage based on preexisting conditions), a compromise like this would have minimum effects on those who can't afford insurance coverage anyway. Nearly 46 million Americans go without any type of health coverage whatsoever. Millions more are "underinsured," paying for what they believe is full coverage but in actuality covers very little. Tens of thousands die every year because they fit into one of these two categories.

Politically speaking, the move is suicide for Democrats. Though moderates would call it a victory nonetheless, in the eyes of die-hard conservatives like the TEA Party enthusiasts, victory will be all theirs. Their methods for defeating Democratic plans will become legitimized, and a stronger, more powerful extremism in conservatism will come about from this. Republicans will be forced to move even more to the right, and liberal Democrats may form a third party to compete with a Democratic one they see as defunct.

As in years past, the Democrats seem to have lost their spine. I'll be the first to acknowledge the benefits that bipartisanship has -- if you can pass a bill with a lot of cooperation, that's the best way to do it, and if you need to compromise in order to get something important passed, you should do that when feasible. But that is not the situation we find ourselves in -- Democrats, like Obama himself, were elected in part because of the promise of health care reform in this country. With a majority in both houses of Congress, Democrats should not be acting like cowards on this important issue.

When I first read that the public option may be dropped, I was stunned. I had so much hope for this country, so much hope for the millions of Americans who were depending on such a program.

I was not alone -- my hope was (still is) shared by a majority of Americans. More than 60 percent of citizens support a public option as part of the health care reform bill; only about 30 percent oppose it. But those who oppose it's passage don't always have the facts right.

There will be no "death panels" or rationing of care; no massive tax hikes on the middle class or waiting lines. No bureaucrat will stand between you and your doctor, the way that some insurance company might do today.

Here's what WILL happen: people will have affordable health care. Prices will drop substantially in the private sector. Everyone will have access to some form of health coverage. Companies will no longer be able to deny you coverage if you pay for it. No one will keep you from receiving the medical examinations or procedures you need because it's too costly (while they collect billions in profits in the process). Most importantly, the 22,000 Americans who would normally die due to lacking health coverage would instead have their lives spared, given a second chance because they had a government option to fall back on when everyone else turned their backs on them.

This country NEEDS this kind of reform. It NEEDS a publicly-run insurer, and it NEEDS to provide competition to the companies that gouge our wallets while providing little coverage.

Call your Congressional representatives. Tell everyone you can to do the same. All it takes is three phone calls a day -- one to your Representative in Congress and two to your Senators. Below is the information you need. Forward this information to as many people as you can! Together, we can change the momentum on health care.

Tammy Baldwin
(202) 225-2906 (Washington DC)
(608) 258-9800 (Madison)
Russ Feingold
(202) 224-5323 (Washington DC)
On the Web Contact Form
Herb Kohl
(202) 224-5653 (Washington DC)
On the Web Contact Form - Contact any Rep in Congress

Saturday, August 15, 2009

No Doyle re-election: advantage Democrats?

Ordinarily, when an incumbent politician states that he doesn't plan on running for office for another term (when doing so is legal, of course), it can mean trouble for that political party's hold on that office. The incumbency advantage is nothing to laugh about -- in 2002, less than 4.5 percent of all Congresspersons running for re-election lost. In a two party system, the odds of losing an office you already hold go up nearly tenfold if the office-holder decides they aren't running again.

When Gov. Jim Doyle announces Monday that he won't seek re-election in 2010, however, it might actually be a good thing for Democrats. Doyle's poll numbers show that his approval rating is only 34 percent, with 60 percent of voters disapproving of his job performance as governor.

Meanwhile, disapproval for GOP front runner Scott Walker is near that of Jim Doyle's, at 31 percent. But 37 percent of Wisconsinites don't know what to think of Walker. As a relatively unknown candidate elsewhere in Wisconsin, having one-third of the state already disapproving of your job performance is a very serious problem to face one year away from the general election.

A formidable Democratic gubernatorial candidate, then, could prove to be a real challenge for Walker. For the Democrats, such a candidate is better than a candidate that the people have lost their confidence in. Doyle's decision to sit out the election next fall is not only good for him politically, but also for the party he represents. We can expect a close race in 2010, with Democrats already having a slim advantage.

Jim Doyle will NOT seek re-election

Gov. Jim Doyle is set to announce Monday that he will not seek re-election to the governorship, leaving Wisconsin's highest job in the state without an incumbent running for office.

Doyle's approval ratings have dipped considerably in recent months, and the governor faced a formidable opponent in Scott Walker (despite his flaws, he is a favorite among the GOP and conservative-leaning independents in Milwaukee County).

It's not clear yet who will be the Democratic nominee now that Doyle has stepped out of the race. But there are several names being thrown out there.

Among them: current front runner Lieutenant Gov. Barbara Lawton (who has expressed she would run if Doyle didn't), Congressional Rep. Ron Kind, Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk (who had a failed primary run against Doyle when he first became governor), Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and State Sen. Jon Erpenbach.

It isn't official yet, but you shouldn't count on Doyle to resign before his term ends, as former Gov. Sarah Palin did -- much work remains between now and the 2010 election, and since he's free from campaign responsibilities, you can be sure Doyle is going to push as hard as he can to get things done. Among them? A transit rail system to connect Madison, its suburbs, and Milwaukee.

Of course, Doyle could resign if he get's offered a position within the Obama administration, a very likely possibility.

Friday, August 14, 2009

MT town hall: No shouting, just questions from polite conservative audience member

This is an example of how you ask a challenging question on the health care debate.

The gentleman -- Randy Rathie -- asks calmly and nicely for Obama to address the issue of taxes with regards to health care. He's skeptical, you see, of how we're going to get the money to pay for all these people who will enter into the public option.

It's a reasonable concern over a big issue. And Obama answers it. We ARE going to have to raise taxes -- but Obama and the Democrats will only raise taxes on those making over $250,000 a year.

But that wouldn't be the only source of revenue. In fact, as Obama points out himself, "Two-thirds of the money we can obtain just from eliminating waste and inefficiencies. The Congressional Budget Office has agreed with that, this is not just something I'm making up. Republicans don't dispute it. The other third, we would have to find additional revenue, but it wouldn't come on the backs of the middle class."

A good question from Randy and a good answer from Barack. This is how town halls are supposed to work. Notice that Randy wasn't yelling over Obama's answer -- he listened, and though he probably still disagrees with him, he respected his answer as a legitimate part of the back-and-forth they had.

"We're going to find out about the president," Rathie told CNN's Wolf Blitzer, "because he's made some promises. And now he has given me his word personally that he's not going to raise my tax. And I'm a big man on living up to your word, so I'm going to take him for that."

A class act. Now that's how conservatives will gain my respect.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Don't fear public option: fear the status quo

Press Secretary Robert Gibbs today stated that the various town hall meetings that have been held recently -- where raucous crowds and inflammatory rhetoric/actions have flared up -- are "not completely indicative" of what's going on in America.

"I don't think all the town halls are as you are seeing them on TV," Gibbs said, stating that not every town hall ends in "pushing, shoving, and yelling."

For the most part, Gibbs is right; most of the conservative voices that have disrupted town hall meetings in recent days are not how real Americans truly feel about proposals being made by Washington with respect to health care.

To be sure, there is a sizable amount of people who do believe that health care reform is bad for America. Their voices are legitimate in the debate, and should be respected as such.

There are other voices, on the other hand, that are misinformed on the issues, spreading lies and distorting facts to fit their beliefs, and are determined not to let the debate further itself in any way by disrupting town halls and striking fear into the lawmakers who will be key to reform's passage.

These are the people who are making claims that health care reform will mean that grandpa or grandma will have to face "death panels" to prove they deserve medical care in their old age, or that a bureaucrat will stand between you and your doctor, or that the government will decide what procedures you can have and if it's too costly to let you have it.

The ironic thing? These are the exact arguments FOR a public option in health care reform. Private insurers today carry out the very things that are scaring these people into opposition. They DO determine your fate by a board vote (or a "death panel" if you like that more) if a life-saving procedure is too costly by their standards. They DO put a person between you and your doctor if a preexisting condition can save their company a few thousand dollars.

It's ironic, then, to see these people protesting the things they fear that a public option will bring about. Those fears have already been realized, have been a part of our health care system for years now.

You'd think that people would be fearful enough of the current system that allows 22,000 people to die annually due to lacking adequate health coverage. You'd think that system of health care would show people that a profit-based health system just doesn't work.

You'd be right in your assumptions: the majority of Americans DO want health care reform, in some way or another. Most Americans DO want a public option in the end for health care reform, with 62 percent favoring the idea. They DO want the practice of denying people coverage based on preexisting conditions to be abolished.

REAL Americans want reform. Let's not let our Congressional representatives forget it.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Judeo-Christian principles don't justify gay marriage/domestic registry ban

In reading today's Wisconsin State Journal's Opinion page, I was dismayed by one woman's strongly worded letter to the editor regarding the domestic partnership registry that is now law here in Wisconsin.

The woman, from the village of Argyle, WI, considered the registry a violation not only of the ban on gay marriage that passed in 2006, but also on her religious convictions:
Nowhere in scriptures, our country's Judeo-Christian ethic, does it say that two of the same sex constitutes a legal marriage. In fact, it condemns it in the Old and New Testaments.

We should not give illegally-yoked persons another reason to thumb their noses at those of us who believe a marriage is between a man and a woman. They have chosen unorthodox ways to express their sexuality and want society to pick up the tab for legal and medical "rights," among others.
There are two things wrong with this woman's statement: first, she wrongly believes that our nation's laws on morality are based off of Judeo-Christian ethics, found in the scriptures of the Bible. In fact, our laws, though they often coincide with those ethics, are in no way founded upon any religious establishment, but instead come from the inherent rights we have as human beings.

  • The First Amendment establishes that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
  • One of our nation's first treaties, the Treaty of Tripoli, asserts that, "the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion."
  • Thomas Jefferson wrote that we should establish a wall separating church and state in our country, and was in fact a fierce opponent of establishing any religion as the nation's own.

    These factoids (and many other examples) are indicative of our nation's founding having nothing to do with religious principles. Furthermore, were we indeed a Christian-based nation (in terms of the law), wouldn't the founding fathers have made it a little more obvious? We would, for example, see the word God appear in the Constitution at least once (instead of the zero times it appears in the document), or, in the Declaration of Independence, see clearer references to a Christian Creator rather than references to Nature's God (which implies a natural law rather than a Christian one).

    The second problem with this woman's statement is that she is being highly hypocritical. She seems to despise same-sex marriage advocates who "thumb their noses" at her while they are trying to make gay marriage legal. Despite this sentiment, she herself is thumbing her own nose at these advocates. She is imposing her will and her beliefs over a group of people that want nothing more than to have the same marriage benefits that straight couples have.

    The only difference is that, by imposing her will over gay and lesbian couples, she is creating a REAL barrier for same-sex couples to have to cope with; with same-sex marriage, however, nothing would change in her personal life -- the supposed imposition made by gays on straights would be superficial. The only thing that could really bother opponents of gay and lesbian marriages would be knowing that someone, somewhere could be having a homosexual relationship acknowledged as legitimate by the government. Heaven Forbid!

    The domestic partnership registry does no harm to any marriage, invalidates no existing relationship between straight couples who have sought to exchange vows with one another. Anyone who thinks otherwise should be spending more time loving their neighbor and less time on worrying what two men or two women do in the privacy of their own homes.
  • Tuesday, August 11, 2009

    Sarah Palin: "death panels" will kill us all!

    Sarah Palin's rising star is fading fast.

    After publishing a Facebook note post this last weekend discussing the possibilities of "death panels" deciding the fate of the elderly and people with debilitating conditions (using her son Trig as an example), several GOP lawmakers and commentators have called the former Alaskan governor's comments inappropriate, with one senator calling the notion "nuts."

    Writes Palin:
    The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama's 'death panel' so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their 'level of productivity in society,' whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil.
    Palin's comments are not only nuts...they're completely fabricated. There is no provision for a board of health or governmental officials in deciding who will get health care or not under any health care bill being currently debated. Any plan similar to "death panels" is far from what Palin describes -- they are decisions made by you and your doctor about end-of-life matters, such as whether you would like to be resuscitated or not, whether you have a power of attorney to make your decisions for you, and so forth.

    The lies on health care in America that the right wing are creating are staggering. Another one worthy of debunking: illegal immigrants will receive health care coverage if the Democrats' get their way. In fact, that's also untrue: it's laid out specifically in legislation that undocumented persons will not receive basic health coverage (unless they buy their own, of course).

    Stop the distortion; speak up against the lies.

    Monday, August 10, 2009

    Canadian health care myths

    For all that is said about the health care system in Canada, such criticisms are really unwarranted, especially when compared to the American system of health care coverage. In terms of both cost and effectiveness, our neighbors to the north have us beat on both.

    Such a realization has only come to me in recent months, earlier this year. Like many Americans, I heard the criticism of the Canadian system and thought, “That sounds awful.” Hearing of long lines and unavailable doctors, in addition to the skyrocketing costs that were supposedly bankrupting the country, the Canadian health care system sounded like a well-intentioned but failed exercise in government spending. Being a proponent of universal care, I resolved myself to look elsewhere for a model of government-run health care to tout, and disregarded Canada as an anomaly, a concession I made several times to conservatives I engaged in debate with.

    That was long before the current debate on health care. When that debate began in earnest this year, I began to think to myself, “Wait a second: if the Canadians hate their health care so much, why don’t they change it?” Even the conservative party in Canada supported a universal form of health care. So why did the Canadians support something they supposedly abhorred?

    I got to researching, and discovered the awful truth: Canadians don’t actually hate their health care. For the most part, most of them LIKE it. In fact, proportionally speaking, fewer Canadians reported unmet health care needs than Americans did (11.3 percent in Canada vs. 14.4 percent in the United States).

    What else did I discover? Canadian health care cost their government much less than American health care did, even though American health care is supposedly a private system. The Canadians spend just ten percent of their GDP on health care coverage that covers 100 percent of the people; in America, we spend 17 percent of our GDP and still have nearly 50 million Americans left uninsured.

    What about those long lines we keep hearing about? Complete phooey, for the most part. If you need emergency care in Canada, you get it, on the spot when you show up. For specialists’ care, there are reasonable waiting lists, comparable to the American system, and with elective surgery, you have to wait a bit longer. However, that wait is worth it to many Canadians when you compare what you get out of it -- free medical surgery. It might be worth waiting 14 months for replacement knee surgery if you don’t have to pay $35,000 to receive it.

    There are many more Canadian health care myths worth looking into, including the myth that doctors work for the government, that bureaucracy runs the system, and that the government decides who gets health care coverage and when. Such myths and more can be refuted in an online article from the Denver Post by Rhonda Hackett.

    Is their system perfect? Of course not. But it sure beats what we’re living with down here in the States. So I have this advice for conservative readers: Before you tout the line of how much universal care has hurt Canada, do some research, and ask a Canadian yourself.

    Saturday, August 8, 2009

    Bully politics in town hall meetings

    The madness needs to come to an end.

    From the New York Times:
    ...members of Congress have been shouted down, hanged in effigy and taunted by crowds. In several cities, noisy demonstrations have led to fistfights, arrests and hospitalizations


    Some [conservative commentators and web sites] urge opponents to be disruptive. "Pack the hall," said a strategy memo circulated by the web site Tea Party Patriots that included instructions to "rock-the-boat early in the Rep's presentation. It added, "Yell out and challenge the Rep's statements early...Get him off his prepared script and agenda...Stand up and shout and sit right back down."
    Extremists on the right need to come to their senses. It's one thing to oppose the health care reform that Washington desires to pass; if you don't agree with something, it is your right to voice your opinion to your Congressional representative. It's another thing to use violent tactics in order to do so.

    There have been many instances over the week of violence, shouting down representatives, and overall threats to democracy. You heard me right -- what these thugs are doing is nothing less than threatening our very ideals of democracy.

    Imagine if you will: you're at a town hall meeting. Your Congressman is talking about health care reform -- only you can't hear him over the dozen or so right-wing extremists who are shouting over him every ten seconds or so. What will come of these actions, you wonder? Will violence erupt, like it has in St. Louis? Will you witness an effigy of your Congressional representative as you leave the hall? Will you ever attend such a meeting ever again?

    These violent protests -- conducted at times by people who are not even part of the district -- are nothing more than bully tactics meant to scare both the legislators and the people whom they represent. It's a shame that people cannot be civilized and utilize the democratic principles our nation is based on, cannot use anything but fear to make their point.

    And what of the conservative organizations that have encouraged such behavior? What are they afraid of, that these politicians will actually be able to articulate their opinion? That the people they represent are unable to voice their opinions, too? I'm sure there are plenty of respectable citizens who oppose health care reform for legitimate reasons. Why not arm them with talking points instead of strategies on how to disrupt a town hall meeting?

    This isn't American; this is bully politics.

    Thursday, August 6, 2009

    Pscyhologists: You can't "cure" gay

    A recent resolution passed by the American Psychological Association states that "reparative therapy" -- the so-called practice of "curing" or "converting" homosexuals to heterosexuality to satisfy their (or oftentimes someone else's) religious preferences -- is detrimental to the psyche of the patient in question, citing research that has proven such "treatment" can cause severe depression and suicidal tendencies.

    The resolution passed with near unanimity, by a vote of 125-4.

    The APA suggests to psychologists who are "treating" patients hoping to remedy their "ailment" seek other alternatives in dealing with their homosexuality, if it conflicts with their religion in a way they find unappealing. The suggestions include seeking a spiritual life of celibacy or finding a church that will accept their sexuality.

    "Both sides have to educate themselves better," says Judith Glassgold, who chaired a task force on reparative therapy that much of the resolution is based on. "Religious psychotherapists have to open up their eyes to the potential positive aspects of being gay or lesbian. Secular therapists have to recognize that some people will choose their faith over their sexuality."

    The APA should be commended for issuing such a proclamation. That conservative Christians continue to insist that homosexuality can be "cured" is nonsense, inconsistent with the research done by the esteemed group of psychologists.

    This resolution should give added weight to the same-sex marriage debate, a movement that has had some setbacks in recent months (most notably in the California Supreme Court). As part of the overall argument against same-sex marriages, conservative opponents who are ignorant of the facts often state that homosexuality is a condition or phase that can be eradicated from a person, something they can rid themselves of it they just tried a little harder.

    The resolution passed by the APA, however, and the research that preceded it, shows that is simply not the case.

    Wednesday, August 5, 2009

    Opposition to Sotomayor satisfies extreme-right base, nothing more

    Former presidential candidate and current Arizona Sen. John McCain says he plans to oppose the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court when she comes up for vote in the full Senate later this week.

    "Regardless of one’s success in academics and in government service," McCain said, "an individual who does not appreciate the common sense limitations on judicial power in our democratic system of government ultimately lacks a key qualification for a lifetime appointment to the bench."

    According to McCain, the politics of a person's heritage should never play a part in a judge's decisions -- which is why he opposed Samuel Alito's confirmation to the High Court in 2006 after Alito divulged he took such considerations into account, citing his Italian background and his parents' lives as immigrants as helpful in forming a judicial decision. Said Alito: "...when a case comes before me involving, let's say, someone who is an immigrant, I can't help but think of my own ancestors, because it wasn't that long ago when they were in that position."

    At least McCain was consistent, right? Except he wasn't. McCain voted a resounding 'yes,' confirming Alito even though he, like Sotomayor, cited the importance of empathy (Alito did so DURING his confirmation, however, while Sotomayor's comments came years ago). That McCain now finds a problem with Sotomayor's use of background in helping her to be a better judge, but had no problems when Alito said he did the same thing, speaks volumes.

    I'm not suggesting that John McCain favors one person's heritage over another, or that he's a racist; I'll leave such talk to Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Lou Dobbs, who seem to be the authorities on such subjects. More likely, McCain is succumbing to political pressures from hard line conservatives, who have hijacked the Republican Party in recent months, and are demanding that the party submit to their ideals and beliefs, including the opposition of a Latina judge or some more outlandish requests (see also: Birthers).

    Should a judicial nominee be scrutinized? Of course: a lifetime appointment is nothing to take lightly. However, Congressional Republicans have focused more on speeches Sotomayor has made and disregarded the thousands of rulings she has taken part in, where it's evident that she has ruled in favor of the laws before her and the stare decisis that preceded the cases in question.

    People often say that actions speak louder than words; were it the other way around, with Sotomayor ruling strictly out of empathy but publicly stating the importance of judicial norms and principles, Republicans could make the case that she would make a terrible justice for the Court.

    However, that isn't the case: in speeches, she says empathy plays a part, but in practice she has ruled based out of precedent and law. By ignoring how well-qualified Judge Sotomayor is in her rulings, the GOP has done this nation a disservice. They ought to be ashamed for having submitted to outside pressures in order to satisfy a growing extreme-right base.

    Tuesday, August 4, 2009

    On Zenger Anniversary, celebrate Free Speech

    Today marks the 274th anniversary of the famous Zenger trial, in which printer/publisher John Peter Zenger was acquitted of charges of libel against then-colonial governor William Cosby of New York. Zenger had published several articles (though not necessarily written by him) critical of Cosby. Despite Cosby's hand-picked panel of judges, the jury ruled in favor of Zenger, through his lawyer's insistence that, though his client was guilty, the law itself was wrong.

    The case is an historic example of two important aspects of the American legal system: first, the important role that jury nullification plays; and second (what will be discussed in greater detail), of free speech rights in America, a value we have held in high regard for literally hundreds of years. To benefit a democratic society, our founders knew that, through examples like Zenger and others, we required specific freedoms and access to information without restraint. Thus, the ability to speak one's mind became paramount, essential to any functioning, free society.

    This is not a right that hasn't had its share of vicious attacks in the past; countless attempts have been made since Zenger to suppress free speech, to quell dissent, and to hold those with conflicting views accountable for having dared question the authority's viewpoints. From the Alien and Sedition Acts during the time of John Adams to the "Free Speech" zones of George W. Bush's presidency, the move to suppress and even prevent free speech has lasted just as long as the value of free speech itself. We must continue to guard this treasured right, for without its constant defense, we risk losing our very freedoms.

    There continue to be assaults on free speech rights to this day. Cities across the nation require permits to prevent or diminish the number of protests seen challenging the status quo. In the founders' day, a permit to protest wasn't necessary; it was downright illegal to object so openly to the king's rule. Despite the consequences they faced, they continued their efforts, setting in motion the events that led to Revolution and eventual independence.

    With all rights, of course, there are limits -- speech is no different. If what I say will endanger the livelihood of another individual, then my right to speech ceases to be protected. You can't yell "FIRE!" in a crowded theater when there isn't a real emergency, for example, because doing so will cause a panic and may leave some injured in the free-for-all to get out alive.

    But the limits placed on free speech are often made without any real threat to a person's livelihood. The "Free Speech" zones instituted by Bush (and copied by the DNC as well) were done to keep dissenting voices far from the cameras, to keep up the image of a president who didn't have a disagreeing public, when such a public was literally blocks away from him. The Espionage Act during World War I focused on keeping people from hiding behind free speech when aiding the enemies, but was so broad it extended to people who simply opposed the war, who just wanted to express their belief that it was an unjust intervention into the world's affairs.

    Free speech is something our country requires. Things like "Free Speech" zones and permits for expressing an opinion go against our founding fathers' intentions. Whether you agree with everything someone says or not is one thing -- the fact that everyone is allowed to express their ideas is a principle we must hold onto. Our very freedoms depend on it.