Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Clinton Campaign's Dishonest Approach to Health Care

I get so angry when I read about the Clinton campaign's dishonest approach to the issue of universal health care. Her campaign recently sent out a mailer with a photo of several desperate-looking people with the caption "Barack Obama, which of these people don't deserve health care?" The allegation of the mailer is that Obama would not cover everyone with his health care plan and is therefore not universal.

Does the Clinton campaign really think that the American people are this stupid? Until recently, when has anyone ever argued that universal health care must include mandatory individual coverage? It's infuriating that Clinton is resorting to demagoguery on this issue and alleging (erroneously) that only her plan is truly universal. 

"Sen. Clinton's idea is that we should force everyone to buy insurance," Obama has noted, "She's not being straight with the American people because she refuses to tell us how much she would fine people if they couldn't afford insurance."

Sen. Ted Kennedy recently responded to Clinton's charges, noting, "They both effectively have universal health care programs. The point of this ad is to undermine people's belief that Barack Obama is committed to universal health care, and that is simply a distortion, a misrepresentation… that is the kind of distortion that we had back in 1994."

Notably, Obama's plan likely would actually cover more people than Hillary's and would not include any unworkable government enforcement mechanisms in the process. As former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich has argued:

"She says his would insure fewer people than hers. I've compared the two plans in detail. Both of them are big advances over what we have now. But in my view Obama's would insure more people, not fewer, than Hillary Clinton's. That's because Obama's puts more money up front and contains sufficient subsidies to insure everyone who's likely to need help – including all children and young adults up to 25 years old. Hers requires that everyone insure themselves. Yet we know from experience with mandated auto insurance – and we're learning from what's happening in Massachusetts where health insurance is now being mandated – that mandates still leave out a lot of people at the lower end who can't afford to insure themselves even when they're required to do so. Clinton doesn't indicate how she'd enforce her mandate, and I can't find enough money in Clinton's plan to help all those who won't be able to afford to buy it. I'm also impressed by the up-front investments in information technology in Obama's plan, and the reinsurance mechanism for coping with the costs of catastrophic illness. Clinton is far less specific on both counts. In short: They're both advances, but Obama's is the better of the two. Clinton has no grounds for alleging that Obama's would leave out 15 million people."

It is certainly ironic that Hillary has stolen the idea of mandatory coverage from a conservative Republican, Mitt Romney, who as governor instituted such a plan in Massachusetts. As Jonathan Gruber, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology economics professor who was an adviser to Romney on the state's health care reform law, has noted, "Hillary's plan is just like the Massachusetts plan. There's not a whole lot of difference."

Moreover, there have been many problems enforcing such a government mandate in Massachusetts, with all kinds of unanticipated consequences in health care costs and fines on individual households. Hillary's plan is based on the flawed Romney Mandate Model and should be anathema to Democrats for that reason alone.

I'm Proud to be a Liberal

I'm a liberal (i.e., progressive) Democrat who believes strongly in environmentalism, civil libertarianism, feminism, and other forms of egalitarianism. Yes, I'm proud to be a liberal. I don't care what those loud-mouthed idiot conservatives say about me.

I believe in a mixed market economy that is highly regulated, though not controlled by the federal government. Corporate greed and monopolization is a major problem in our economy today, especially when companies outsource jobs overseas and betray American workers in the process. It is time to eliminate all corporate subsidies and deny tax breaks for companies that outsource large numbers of American jobs or fail to comply with environmental and labor standards overseas.

I strongly oppose racism, sexism, heterosexism, ethnocentrism, classism, ageism, and related ideologies of hate and intolerance. 

I reject the Religious Right and their exclusionary message, especially their myopic focus on the ostensible "sin" of homosexuality. As has been aptly demonstrated time and time again, the leaders of the Religious Right are mostly hypocritical demagogues who misquote the Bible to support their own narrow-minded theocratic agenda. 

I support same sex marriage rights and equality. Why should heterosexual couples maintain a monopoly on the legal institution of marriage? Why should gay couples be denied over 1,000 legal rights and privileges that accompany marriage licenses? There is no rational reason for such bigotry. Just as mixed race couples were once criminalized by an oppressive government, the same thing is happening today with same sex couples.

I often identify with the Religious Left, since I believe, for example, in helping the poor and the less fortunate (as Jesus advocated). I embrace what I believe to be the real message of Christianity - love your neighbor as yourself, judge not or you will be judged, etc. 

I recognize that a majority of welfare recipients in this country are working poor people and their children. We should support these families, not stigmatize them. I support voluntary workfare programs, earned income tax credits, living wage rates, and free or heavily subsidized worker training programs and publicly funded college coursework for all persons who meet minimum academic standards. 

I favor the reform of Social Security payroll taxes that would raise the cap on taxable income, thereby saving the system and making it more equitable. It is incredible that the wealthiest Americans do not pay their fair share of payroll taxes. Why should I pay as much in Social Security taxes as Bill Gates? It makes no sense. 

I support universal health care and believe that health care should be considered a civil right, rather than a privilege. Every industrial nation in the world has some form of universal health care, with the exception of the U.S. At the same time, the U.S. has the most expensive health care system in the world.

As a civil libertarian, I also believe that the war on drugs has clearly failed; it is especially time to end marijuana prohibition. Along those lines, our criminal justice system is in dire need of reform. It's time to shift the focus from treating drug abuse as a criminal justice problem and instead spend more tax dollars on drug rehabilitation and related human services. I also reject mandatory minimum sentences and the death penalty, which I am convinced are highly racist and classist in application, not to mention ineffectual in actually deterring crime.

In terms of foreign policy, I am a strong supporter of human rights and believe that debt relief for Third World nations is imperative. Torture is always wrong and should never be used by the U.S. government. I find it particularly offensive that the Bush Administration has established secret prisons, arrested people and held them without charge, and tortured suspected "terrorists," thereby clearly violating the Geneva Conventions. 

I support military action only as a last resort or in cases of direct military attack on the US or our closest allies. I am a very strong critic of Bush's neo-conservative foreign policy and jingoistic doctrine of preemption, which has made the world a much more dangerous place and succeeded in vilifying America in the eyes of the world.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Barack Obama has the Right Kind of Experience

I am so tired of hearing some folks say that Barack Obama lacks the "experience" necessary to become President of the United States. Such folks need to remember that experience should not be narrowly defined as simply working in Washington, D.C. Indeed, that kind of inside the beltway "experience" can sometimes be a major drawback rather than strength. Look at how the government's been managed for the past eight years. Is that the best we can do?

In contrast to the other major presidential candidates, Obama brings all kinds of new and novel experiences to the table. It's important to remember that experience is much more than just simply being a national politician. There are many other ways in which to gain valuable life experience that would prepare one for such an important position as President of the United States. 

For example, what other presidential candidate in recent memory has actually majored in international relations during college? Obama did just that, graduating from Columbia University after studying global politics and foreign affairs in depth. 

What other candidate has been president of the Harvard Law Review and graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School? What other candidate has worked as a community organizer, civil rights lawyer, best selling author, and college lecturer of constitutional law at the University of Chicago? In this respect, Obama clearly understands the importance of preserving our constitutional freedoms, unlike the current occupants of the White House. He also has witnessed and experienced firsthand the negative impact of racism, classism, and poverty on American society.

Who else running for president has emerged from the grassroots of inner-city urban politics, as Obama did in Chicago? Who else has served for years as a state legislator and was highly respected by members of both political parties? What other candidate has served with distinction on the U.S. foreign relations committee, bringing his academic expertise on international relations to the national stage? 

This is all very important experience and much more significant than what George W. Bush brought with him to the White House.

Moreover, Obama's demeanor and personality along with his strength of character is tailor-made for leadership and diplomacy both at home and abroad.

When you think about it, Obama is the definitive "bridge" candidate - he's actually biracial, which may be one reason why he instinctively appeals to so many people of all races. He even seems to bridge the gulf between Christians, Jews, and Muslims; though he clearly identifies as a Christian, he also has a strong understanding of Islam and Judaism. Ideologically, he's a liberal on most issues but also often uses value-laden language, invoking God and his Christian faith. He's the kind of candidate that could actually get votes from card-carrying ACLU members and evangelical Christians alike. 

He's an intergenerational candidate too, representing the first major presidential candidate in U.S. history to come of age in the 1970s - the post-Vietnam cohort of younger baby boomers and Generation Xers. His message is refreshing as he often employs the language of youthful idealism and belief in change agency through social movement activism, essentially synthesizing 1960s style civil rights concerns with the modern era. Images of John F. Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King come to mind when I watch him speak, with messages framed specifically for a contemporary post-9-11 world. 

Obama's charismatic personality helps to bring people together too, along with his language of inclusion. I have been impressed by the fact that he has repeatedly rejected the Bush-era scapegoating of gays and lesbians, for example. He also says all the right things about the Iraq War, including the fact that he opposed this war from the very beginning (while running for the U.S. Senate) and considers the war to be a "tragic mistake." He has a clear plan and timetable to end America's military involvement in Iraq. But at the same time he frequently expresses concern and admiration for our returning veterans, thereby bridging the perceived gap between the peace movement and our troops in Iraq and elsewhere around the world. 

Let's hope that Obama continues to bridge these gaps (both real and perceived) and finds a way to help make America whole again. It's high time we elected a candidate with the right kind of real-world experience who truly has a fresh outlook and rejects politics as usual. That's why I'm supporting Barack Obama for President!

Bush, Torture, and Creeping Fascism

George W. Bush and his neo-conservative advisors and Congressional allies have succeeded in turning the U.S. into an international pariah, with torturous interrogation techniques having been performed by the CIA since 2002. This corrupt oligarchy is quickly leading us down the path to fascism.

The Democratic Congress recently voted to outlaw such barbaric practices as "water boarding" (originally known as "water torture," which dates back to the Middle Ages and was used extensively by the Waffen SS of the Third Reich), while the Bush Administration claims that such extreme methods are needed in the war against terrorism.

It is important to put this whole debate in an international context. For the past several years, the Bush Administration has been attempting to "amend" the Geneva Conventions unilaterally to allow extreme interrogation techniques. Many such practices are clearly inhumane and torturous, according to Amnesty International and other human rights groups. 

The Bush Administration and their allies in Congress have been claiming the right to broadly "interpret" Article 3 of the Convention - the provision that bans torture. As a result, Bush is claiming that he has the power to commit Medieval-style torture against imprisoned combatants and suspected terrorists. Now, he's threatening to veto any new legislation that would prevent the U.S. from engaging in additional acts of torture.

This is not the first time we've heard about rampant human rights abuses directly or indirectly encouraged by the Bush Administration. From Abu Ghraib to Guantanamo Bay to secret prisons in Eastern Europe, this President has systematically established an American torture network. Meanwhile, by engaging in the illegal abuse of POWs and other detainees, the U.S. has lost the moral high ground that we had in the initial aftermath of 9-11.

If the US abandons or departs from important provisions within the Geneva Conventions, then other nations - including our enemies - may do likewise. It is very important to note that not all of our current and prospective enemies are terrorist groups. 

Besides, we should never lower ourselves to the level of terrorists. If the U.S. continues to succumb to the temptation to extract information through torture, then we are no better than the Jihadist thugs that cut off the heads of "infidels." It is important to maintain (or regain) the moral high ground, while at the same time striking hard against any nation or group that directly threatens American lives, property, or security.

This is an issue that clearly shows who actually supports our troops and who does not. As many veterans have argued, tampering with the Geneva Conventions would likely cause our enemies to do likewise, thereby threatening the lives and safety of our soldiers.

The Bush Administration's unilateral approach to the Geneva Convention is counterproductive to long-term American interests. We cannot go it alone. We need allies to wage any kind of effective war on terrorism. Such unilateral actions are bound to fuel even more resentment and hatred against the US. Taking such steps has been a propaganda victory for many of our adversaries. Such neo-fascist unilateralism has isolated the U.S. further, thereby weakening U.S. foreign policy and endangering Americans at home and abroad.

Ironically, studies have shown that such extreme interrogation techniques are often ineffective in extracting reliable information. It is important to note that waterboarding is not only highly painful, but can also cause permanent harm. People have even died by waterboarding (at least when used by other nations), so that definitely qualifies not only as torture, but also as potentially premeditated homicide.

But that's aside from the main point: We should never pick and choose when to adhere to the Geneva Conventions, or attempt to reinterpret the agreement unilaterally. That is a very dangerous slippery slope. We must treat all prisoners of war and enemy combatants the same under both international and domestic law.

Otherwise, we risk becoming a despotic outlaw nation, even further condemned and isolated by the world. If we condone such actions as a society then we risk not only our international reputation and respect abroad but also our own national identity as a freedom-loving people.