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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

No Right to Be Healthy in America

By Harry T. Cook

Try to understand the strategy and tactics of the newly energized Republican Congress as first it wishes to seize from paying customers the health care insurance they were able to obtain through the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
The GOP majority may get away with it, thinking that anything connected in any way with a former two-term African-American president can be canceled out without too much blow-back. And they may be right in that respect.
Next up for demolition: Medicaid. As a volunteer at a not-for-profit social agency in the inner city of Detroit, I have seen the results of Michigan's expanded Medicaid in the lives of many of our clients who live at -- and many well below -- the poverty line. Now they can actually obtain prescriptions written for them by physicians whose ministrations they can actually receive. Ours is therefore a healthier city.
Moreover, I haven't had to write a voucher to our local, God-blessed neighborhood pharmacist in nearly a year. Thus our agency can do more in other areas of need with our limited non-government funds.
Our clients are far off of the radar screen of the Republican Party, which, among other atrocities, continues to make it more and more difficult for minorities to vote. People on Medicaid are less likely to vote for GOP candidates anyway, and the party strategists know it.
Let's assume that they are successful in ruining people's lives by repealing the Affordable Care Act with nothing comparable to replace it. (I suppose they could just change its nickname to "Trumpist Care," thus to blot out memory of Barack Obama, which they'd like to do in any event.)
Surely the geniuses of the GOP realize that millions of voters who cast their ballots for Trump in November are insured through the ACA, but they must be betting that those voters will believe that their Man will fix everything in the same way that fundamentalists believe Jesus will come again.
If in 2018 the Republicans keep their majorities in the House and Senate and President Trump has not yet quit or been impeached, the march against Medicare will begin. Indeed, it may have stepped off already.
It will come when it comes under the old political cliché of "reform," which means in practice demolition. One of the plans being talked about would entail federal subsidies in as yet an undetermined but fixed amount to be given to those of us now on Medicare.
Gone would be Medicare as we have known it and paid into it from our first paycheck on after its inception 50 years ago, and by deduction from our Social Security benefits in retirement.
With the subsidies we would be free to buy policies from for-profit insurance companies who rank right up there with J.R.R. Tolkien's dragon Smaug for kindness and mercy. Such policies would resemble those of old with a thousand exceptions to coverage. In the end, we pensioners would find ourselves billed for the balance between what hospitals and surgeons charged and what the insurance companies deigned to pay.
I'm not much of a mathematician, but I can add and subtract. It will come to this: that people like me would be shelling out thousands of dollars a year for the treatments we've already paid for more than half our lives. Savings will melt away in a neverending flow. After all, hospitals and physicians have to be paid for the care and treatment that keep us alive. No argument there.
I've been a patient at Detroit's Karmanos Cancer Center for almost three years, and I cannot say enough about how expertly my care is rendered there from parking valets to clerks to technicians, nurses and physicians. I know the cost of the various scans I undergo every three months and the monthly injections ($14,000 each) and infusions ($36,000 each) I receive to treat my particular cancer. Without Medicare, even with my supplemental insurance, I would by now have put my family into bankruptcy. That I will not do.
I am declaring now for the record that if and when Medicare is destroyed by the mindless zealots who are running the U.S. government into the ground, I will refuse any treatment that would eat away at my wife's financial future -- most of which her hard work, careful saving and planning has secured.
If necessary, when the time comes I will decline anything but the cheapest pain reliever and go out biting down on a stick -- my left hand holding the hand of the woman with whom even in that extremity I shall still be falling in love. The middle finger of my right hand will be held high as I can in the direction of Washington, D.C.
I will hear in my head the words of Charles Dickens' Ebenezer Scrooge: "If they would rather die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.* I will see in what's left of my mind's eye the leering faces of the executioners in Congress looking down upon me and saying, "There goes another liberal. Good riddance."
As for those Americans who gave us the Congress we now have: someone forgive them, please, for they know not what they did. I am sorry to say that they will find out soon enough.
*A Christmas Carol. New York, NY. Columbia University Press,1956. 14  

Donald Trump made bold to quote "the Bible" in his inauguration speech. Said he "The Bible tells us how good and pleasant it is when God's people live together in unity." Well, almost, Mr. President. You were quoting Psalm 133:1 that actually reads: "Behold, how good and joyful thing it is for brethren to live together in unity."  Not just "God's people," sir, but surely including Muslims when they appeared in history, not to mention Hindus and Buddhists who pre-dated both Judaism and Christianity. Maybe the better quotation might have been that of Psalm 24:1: "The earth is the Lord's, and all that therein is; the compass of the world, and they that dwell therein." That rules out "America first."

Thursday, July 6, 2017

How a Presidency Ends

  As a patriotic, American I want our country to succeed in every way I think is important. It goes without saying that I hated George W. Bush as president, but I wanted him to succeed.  I thought from the get go that the invasion of Iraq was a colossal  mistake.  Bush and his minions said that once Hussein was deposed, democracy would erupt and flourish.  Even though I thought that prediction was pure fantasy, I hoped  I was wrong and Bush was right.
     When Trump was elected I hoped that he was capable of changing into a normal human being.  Talk about pure fantasy.
       Now I am consumed with the hope that this dishonest, corrupt, hateful, incompetent  fool  fails to complete his term.  This is a terrible thing to wish for.  I wish our country were not in the throes of a constitutional crisis, but it is what it is.
        I was particularly struck by Frank Rich's column in the current issue of New York Magazine (attached below).  Rich presents an exhaustive comparison between Watergate and Trumpgate.  Rich argues persuasively that all of the elements of Watergate are present today.  He also argues that the antipathy against Chump is far greater than it was against Nixon at this stage of the presidency.  Rich doesn't predict that there will be an impeachment.  He does say, however, that the various forces now in motion may compel the cowardly Republicans to abandon Chump just as they did Nixon.  
      By the way, unlike Nixon Chump also has to deal with the twenty fifth amendment to the Constitution.  No one, including his political enemies, ever accused Nixon of being incompetent.  The twenty fifth amendment provides that the President can be removed from office if he is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.  Make no mistake, there are plenty of Republicans in Congress who have looked at the twenty fifth amendment.
       I hope all of you have  much more enjoyable things to do today  than read this e mail and Frank Rich's column.  But if you have nothing better to do, enjoy the column.  Enjoy the Fourth.


Let America be America again

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.
(America never was America to me.)
Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.
(It never was America to me.)
O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.
(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)
Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark? 
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?
I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.
I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!
I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.
Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”
The free?
Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.
O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.
Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,
O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!
Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!
-- Langston Hughes (1902 - 1967)

Monday, July 3, 2017

Up for Grabs: The Survival of the Nation

By Harry T. Cook

During the Q&A period of a recent lecture, I was asked by a member of the audience if I thought the United States and its Constitution would be able to survive the upheaval of the first months of 2017. The substance of the lecture was an analysis of the Trump administration and its governance.
I began my answer with a complicated subordinate clause, only later getting to the verb, because I had to think as I went. The answer was that I did not know because we were on somewhat new ground with strange, unprecedented developments occurring on a daily basis. Therefore perhaps no one really knew.
Almost immediately I realized there was more to the question than my answer suggested. So I spoke of episodes in American history that might have caused people to ask the same question.
Surely, I said, our founding parents had to have been somewhat uncertain during the years between the end of the War of Independence and 1787, when the seven articles of the Constitution -- which did not fall to the ground from on high in their final form -- were finally ratified by 12 states.
Insufficient, as it turned out, the U.S. Constitution needed amendments and, after no smooth process, Congress produced 10 of them called "The Bill of Rights," ratified on Dec. 15, 1791. A number of representatives and senators came to see that, without the promulgation of such rights, it would be possible for the new nation to become a kind of monarchy of which they had only recently rid themselves.
Later in the American experiment came the Know-Nothing movement in the 1850s, which turned out to be a nativist political party -- anti-immigrant and dedicated to what they called "pure elections," i.e. keeping "impure" foreigners (many of them Catholic) from voting. It is said that an argument with a Know-Nothing was like trying to converse with a full brass section playing a Beethoven finale at triple forte. Along with the pride of knowing nothing, does any of this sound familiar? The country survived that with its Constitution intact.
Its greatest challenge came next: the ruinous War Between the States that left well more than 600,000 dead on Union and Confederate battlefields. A bitter war it was, not only over slavery but economic jealousy and the legitimate role of the federal government. Thanks to the steady hand of Abraham Lincoln, America emerged from those terrible years tattered but in one piece.
Jim Crow was soon to follow and remains today among the dark places in our national life, despite the 14th and 15th constitutional amendments guaranteeing equal justice under the law and forbidding denial of the vote based on race. Both of these amendments have been sorely tried. The racial uprisings of the mid-1960s were a reaction to those times of trial. By 2008, American voters had elected an African-American president, though the noose reappeared here and there in otherwise polite company and the sale of guns went gangbusters. Yet there was nothing approaching a secession crisis over a president with black skin even with the Ku Klux Klan lurking.
In less stable countries, the Great Depression of the 1930s might well have rent asunder its political fabric. That did not happen in America, and there is little doubt that the labors of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his team made the difference there. Revolution of the kind history has documented elsewhere was far from materializing. Just the same, the Communist Party gained membership among Americans who had ceased to believe that economic democracy worked except for the wealthy who had been smart enough to get out of the market before the crash or simply had more wherewithal that the bottom did not fall out of their lives.
A generation later came the anti-Vietnam War resistance. One could feel the red-hot anger against its waging, against the appalling loss of more than 50,000 American military personnel. The war was Lyndon Johnson's downfall, leading to the election of Richard Nixon, the first president ever to resign the office under pressure not only from political higher-ups but a disgusted populous. Collapse came closer than we might think at this remove, but the Constitution survived and served as the lubrication for a peaceful transition to a post-Watergate administration.
So now recurs the original question as to whether the United States and its Constitution can survive the strain put upon both by Donald Trump and his team of grotesques. The answer I should have given at first was this: "America has suffered worse. The Constitution has seen the nation through hell and back a number of times in the 230 years since its formative articles were ratified. That's no guarantee for the next 230, but, in the meantime, it is an enviable record."
* * *
On behalf of my editor, the good folks at Constant Contact who send out these essays at 6 a.m. ET each Friday and myself, I wish you a thoughtful Fourth of July holiday.